Tag Archive for Training Karma

Understanding Your Stubborn Dog

Few things are more frustrating than having a dog who “knows the commands” but for some reason, seems to refuse to perform them on cue. Dogs like this are the ones who have owners saying, “She knows how to sit, she just doesn’t always do it,” or, “We went to training classes and he knew everything then, but now he only does it when he wants to.” There are a lot of these dogs out there, and if you happen to share your home with one, just know that there are ways to overcome this.

Before doing anything else, make sure your dog has been to the vet recently for a full exam. Stubbornness could be a sign that, instead of refusing to do a command, perhaps your dog can’t hear the command anymore, or can no longer see well enough to distinguish your hand signal. Not doing a command could also also be a signal of that command causing your dog pain.

If your dog has been cleared by the vet, next on the list is figuring out why your dog won’t listen every time. It is important to understand your dog’s individual personality and motivations. My Basset Hound, Lou, had a problem with coming when called. Sometimes he did, sometimes he just looked at us like we were crazy, and other times he acted like he couldn’t hear us with his head turned away, freezing on the spot and seeming to hope that we didn’t see him.

Lou never really had a strong coming when called foundation. He wasn’t taught as a puppy, he had no set word used every time and wasn’t given motivation to follow through. I tried using all the baby step techniques – walking backwards with tasty treats in my hand, using a leash to ensure he couldn’t get too far away, and more. As it turned out, the only reason Lou was “stubborn” is because his motivation and way of understanding is different from many other dogs. Lou loves treats, but he loves to know what is going on even more. He froze because he didn’t know what was expected of him. He stared at us, waiting for more direction. The key to this stubborn dog was really to just coax him along, praising every single step until his tail wags, his tongue hangs out, and he is happily trotting towards me. As time goes on, he needs less and less direction.

My Great Dane/Coonhound Mix, Daisy, on the other hand, is an entirely different sort of stubborn dog. Daisy’s main motivation in life is to simply avoid punishment. She is a sensitive dog by way of touch, sound, and quick movement, but she is also a take charge and a “make me” sort of dog. Even when I knew Daisy was aware of what commands meant, she would quite simply refuse to do them, as though she did not see the point. Treats and praise meant nothing at all and performing the cue was not worth the tasty morsels of meat or cheese after she had done a few repetitions flawlessly.

Daisy needed constant challenges and a lot of patience. One of the golden rules to dog training is to never let your dog get away with not doing a command when asked. This is the number one golden rule when working with dogs like Daisy. I once found myself standing in front of her on a walk, getting ready to cross a street, asking for a Sit and refusing to move for a good seven or eight minutes before she finally sat down. It now takes only a few seconds for her to decide that sitting is worth it in order to continue on the walk.

These dogs need structure. They need routine and your expectations of them need to remain consistent. I expect Daisy to sit at every street corner before crossing. I haven’t once let her cross without doing so. I expect her to lay down and wait for her food at breakfast and dinner time and have not fed her without her doing so. These behaviors do become automatic in dogs – even ones like her – with enough time and patience.

The key to working with stubborn dogs is to take the time to figure out why they are so stubborn. Do they really, truly, understand the command and have you taken the time to teach it well? (Be honest here because this is the number one reason that dogs appear stubborn!) Is there a physical ailment that has so far been undetected? Is the motivation you’re using in line with what your dog needs (ie. Treats, praise, toys, etc.)? Have you ever let your dog get away without performing the command after you have asked for it? (If you have done this often, it may be time to start at the beginning and retrain your dog to a different word! It is easier to start from scratch than to teach your dog to pay attention to a word she has already decided has no meaning.)

Your stubborn dog just needs a lot of love, some detective work on your part, and a great deal of patience. She is not stupid, or particularly defiant, she is merely operating in a world that is foreign to her and doing the best she can with what she has learned so far. Remember to be diligent, forgiving, calm, and consistent and you’ll have an obedient dog in no time!

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

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Scaredy-Dogs

We’ve all probably been called a Scaredy Cat at some point in our lives – maybe because we were too afraid to follow through on a dare, or because of an irrational fear of spiders , roller-coasters, etc. Fears are common among people and a part of life. We either learn to deal with them, or we learn to avoid fear-inducing situations.

What do you do, however, when you find that the dog you love dearly is a Scaredy Dog? It could be anything – fireworks, thunderstorms, strangers, children, even the vacuum cleaner – that sends them into a trembling bundle of fear. One of my client’s dogs happens to be afraid of the stove. Another client’s dog is afraid of dark places.

There are many different reasons why dogs develop phobias, but the reasons aren’t important. Once a dog has a phobia, “why” doesn’t matter – helping them to overcome it, does.

Dogs who are afraid need to know that they have a leader who is fair, consistent, and patient. It takes time to build the level of trust with a dog that is necessary to help him overcome his fear. But, trust me, it is well worth the effort.

The first step is to figure out exactly what your dog is afraid of, and you’ll know it because every single time that object enters his life, or that situation occurs, your dog will tuck his tail between his legs and run. He might give a bark or two, but you can distinguish fear from aggression by watching how close he gets to the object of his fear and by deciding whether there is an element of skittishness to his barking.

Next, check to find your dog’s “behavior threshold” – the point where your dog can still respond to obedience commands and will accept food treats. He may still be nervous, but he should be able to focus on you for the most part. This is where you will begin.

The tricky part with learning to be a leader, is learning to what “fair” means to a dog. Fair means that you understand their canine instinct, and that you allow them to express themselves while helping them learn new ways to cope, instead of finding new ways to avoid the situations.

What this means, in a real life situation, is that when the object of fear appears (and after you have established your dog’s behavior threshold), allow your dog to run away, but only to the point where you know for sure that they can reasonably focus on you, and will accept food treats. You may find yourself 10 ft. away, or 50 ft. This is your dog’s decision.

Next, it becomes your job to be upbeat and distracting. Ask your dog to to Sit, Shake, or any other favorite command your dog may have. Do not acknowledge your dog’s fear,and instead, reward with treats for completed commands. After a few times of listening to you and being rewarded, leave the fear-inducing situation completely. Your dog is learning that listening to you is much more fun than being afraid. He is also learning that looking to you for guidance when he is feeling a little unsure will be rewarding and positive for him, and that when he does, nothing bad happens.

The next time the object makes an appearance, try allowing your dog to run less far – even just 6 inches less. Remember – it is your dog’s decision on whether he is capable of listening to you and on whether or not he will accept food treats.

Stay consistent, fair, and very, very patient and in no time, your dog will forget why he was ever afraid in the first place.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Toy-Guarding Dogs? There is a Solution!

My dog, Rusty, has a problem of toy-guarding against my other dog, Rosie. Whenever Rusty has a toy and Rosie gets close, he growls and snaps at her until she leaves him alone. I want to keep giving my dogs toys, but I’m afraid they’ll start actually fighting one day. What can I do to stop Rusty from being so mean to Rosie?

The good news here is that there is a lot you can do to create doggy-harmony in a toy-guarding home! Before we begin, however, if Rusty also toy-guards with you and shows aggressive signs when you try to take a toy away from him, please consult a professional dog trainer and keep the toys out of your dogs’ reach for now.

Toy-Guarding comes from a natural canine instinct to guard resources. In a dog’s mind, if he loses that toy to another dog, he may never get it back. The goal will be to show Rusty that if he chooses to guard his toy, he will lose it (but will get it back after showing appropriate behavior). If the following protocol is followed with his toys 100% of the time, he will eventually learn that if he toy guards, he will lose his toy, and if he does not, he will keep it.

To begin, make sure Rusty has a strong understanding of the “Give” command. If he does not, work on that for at least one week until he will drop the toy every time you ask him to. To do this, wait until Rusty is involved in playing with his toy. Tell him “Give” and trade him a treat for the toy. Be sure to always give the toy back to him after he finishes the treat so that the “Give” command won’t mean, in his mind, that he loses the toy for good.

The next step is to wait for Rusty to display his toy-guarding behaviors around Rosie. A problem can’t be solved until it actually occurs.

When Rusty starts growling, approach both dogs and have Rosie move away from Rusty. Once Rosie is away, say “Give” to Rusty, take the toy place it near Rusty on the couch or floor. Do NOT allow Rusty or Rosie to get close to the toy, and do not hold the toy yourself. Rosie and Rusty will be learning to ignore the toy and will see that the other dog is not going to make a move or take it (Rusty’s biggest fear!).

The reason behind having Rosie back off is to advocate for Rusty, who becomes nervous due to her presence. Rusty will start to see that you understand that he is nervous and that you are willing to step in and help him. He is also learning, however, that toy-guarding is not the answer! Rosie is learning that you will advocate for her as well, which will decrease the possibility of a future fight.

Once both dogs have stopped fixating on the toy, give the toy back to Rusty. This part is crucial. In the dog world, a fair leader would not say “Since you can’t play nicely with this toy, your sister is going to get it.” If the toy were to go to Rosie after Rusty displays toy-guarding, Rusty’s mind would tell him that he was right to toy-guard! Afterall, Rosie would have just gotten the toy, which is what he feared in the first place would happen.

Be sure to keep another toy available to Rosie, and to advocate for Rosie in the same manner – by keeping Rusty away from her while she is playing with her toy. If the dogs can play nicely when Rosie controls the toy, no problem. If, however, Rusty has a habit of stealing her toy, or if Rosie becomes noticeably uncomfortable when Rusty approaches, you will need to step in for awhile and keep Rusty at a distance.

After a couple of weeks of advocating for each dog, and of following through with taking Rusty’s toy, keeping it near him, and giving it back to him when he calms down, both dogs should calm down considerably around toys. You will be showing them that there is no need to fight, because you now control who plays when, and you will have shown them what behaviors are and are not acceptable in your household.

I’m very glad that you see the importance of toys and that you wish to keep them around for your dogs to play with. Keeping the toys out reassures the dogs that they will indeed still be there and that toy-guarding is not necessary. Also, with dogs, it is important to face their issues head-on. Removing toys for good will do nothing but increase their frustration levels the next time a toy, or something resembling a toy, makes an appearance in their lives.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.