Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing digging problems

In this fifth installment of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss digging problems.

Dogs may dig for many reasons, and like a lot of problem behaviors, it is a natural dog behavior. Some of the reasons why your dog may be digging up your yard or other areas include boredom, lack of attention or other constructive outlets, the desire to escape, trying to get at prey, or just a need to cool off and be more comfortable!

Cain enjoys some digging in an approved spot--on the beach!
Cain enjoys some digging in an approved spot–on the beach!

My dog Jasper LOVES to dig to find cooler ground in which to lie. He has done this from puppyhood, and we have allowed him to do it–in one spot. He has one spot that he chooses in our yard and that is his approved–and only–dig spot.

For a lot of cases, I do recommend giving a dog one dig spot (or some of my clients make a dig box out of materials they buy or out of a kiddie pool or something similar). This “compromise” of having an approved dig area can really be the most effective, and you can encourage him to dig in this one spot to help ensure it’s only one spot. I will praise, give treats or toys, whatever the dog likes, if he is digging in that spot to reinforce that is the place to do it. I will also even hide goodies in the dig spot for them to dig up–so much fun for the dog!

Another strategy for dogs who are seeking cool or comfort of some kind is to provide alternatives to address this: bring him in more often; have access to a water bowl, a wading pool, a softer surface or cooling pad on which to lie; provide a dog house or install items that can provide shade, etc., can all make your dog feel more comfortable and cool while outside.

If your dog is bored, or not getting enough attention or outlets, make sure you have alternate activities and enrichment for him, as this will be critical to success. Make sure your dog gets time to interact with you (walks, playtime, training sessions, having fun with puzzle toys or scent games), as well as provide other forms of enrichment (such as eating meals out of Kongs). Doing this daily can help tire him out in a more constructive way and lessen the likelihood of digging. Make sure to supervise your dog more closely while he is outside to ensure he doesn’t get the opportunity to dig, and engage him in other fun while you’re out there.

If your dog loves to dig to escape the yard, you definitely don’t want to leave him unsupervised until you come up with a long-term solution to fortify your fencing. You can make your fencing go deeper into the ground, or use rocks, chain-link fencing or chicken wire to prevent and discourage digging at the fence. Doing other activities and providing other outlets while he’s in the yard can also help him make a more positive association with staying in the yard. A tether can also be helpful, but we do not recommend EVER leaving a tethered dog alone unsupervised because they can possibly get tangled and hurt. If a dog is motivated and strong enough, he could possibly break it and still escape.

In some cases the dog may also be trying to get at prey–besides reinforcing your fencing and supervising per above, you may want to find ways to relocate the animals that are attracting him in a humane way. Seek help from a relocation professional if necessary. You can also work on a better come when called with your dog so when you are supervising, you can more easily call him to come to you in case a rabbit or other possible prey is tempting him.

If you are facing problems with digging or anything else, we highly recommend the help of a qualified professional who uses positive reinforcement techniques for the best success, and we would love to help. Contact us now!

Happy training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing chewing

In this fourth installment of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss chewing issues.

From puppyhood to adulthood, dogs LOVE chewing. It is a need, it is a way to help themselves relax, and it is a very enjoyable activity. As with many problems, chewing is a normal dog behavior, and understanding the motivation of the chewing is very important if you’re looking to address any destructive chewing your pup may engage in.

Puppies Teething

Josie enjoys a good chew break during a training session
Josie enjoys a good chew break during a training session

Puppies are very similar to human babies–EVERYTHING goes into their mouths! It’s how they explore the world, and they have an actual physical need to chew in order to help alleviate the pains of teething. By the time hit six to seven months of age, they should have all their adult teeth so things will get easier at that point. In the meantime, it’s important to be patient and have LOTS of desirable alternatives.

  • All-natural animal parts of all kinds are absolutely great for puppies. Bully sticks, pig snouts, tracheas, chicken feet, cow cheeks and hooves, and much more disgusting (wink) delights are some of the best options you can invest in. We’re not a huge fan of rawhides, but we do love the Earth Animal No-Hide bones, and raw bones you can get from your butcher. Be careful with elk antlers–they can be a little hard for those tiny puppy teeth–so you want to make sure they do not chew too heavily for too long on those so be mindful of this.
  • Nylabones can be great and if their flavor wears away, you can soak them in a hot broth to “refresh” them to make them more appealing.
  • Dental chews of all kinds are available on the market, from CET chews to Greenies and more.
  • Kongs and other enrichment toys that you can stuff with a variety of food, including their regular ration, are some of our favorites. Kongs can easily be frozen as well, which can soothe puppy teeth. We’re also big fans of the West Paw Design line of toys for enrichment as well as their tug and retrieve toy options.
  • Even taking old clothing strips and wetting them, twisting them together to leave them in the freezer and then take out as needed for your puppy’s relief can be a good alternative.

In ALL these cases you will want to supervise your puppy to ensure he won’t get hurt. The Nylabones should be taken away if they’re destroying them into little bits, and rope toys as well as the clothing strip option we mentioned can be very dangerous when left alone. Kongs and other similar products, as well as all-natural chews can be generally safer for unsupervised time but be very careful and supervise whenever you give something new to ensure they don’t hurt themselves.

Remember your puppy will require patience and understanding. I call them puppy piranhas for a reason!

Boredom

Chewing can be a very fun activity. If a dog doesn’t have enough outlets, they may engage in fun you’d rather they not! All dogs should get mental and physical activity daily to be happy and have a great quality of life. Taking sniff walks, enjoying tricks training, doing nose work and scent games, practicing manners and going for outings in the park–there are so many wonderful activities you can do with your dog to engage them. If you’re running short on time, you can hire us for Day Training, consider hiring a dog walker or jogger, or finding a quality daycare option to help fill in gaps. We are happy to help provide referrals for professionals so just ask!

Anxiety or Stress

Some destructive chewing results as a symptom of underlying anxiety or stress. The dog may have separation anxiety or isolation distress, or they may be afraid of something that is happening that causes them to stress, and therefore chew as a way to try and alleviate the stress they’re experiencing. In these cases it is VERY important to never punish the dog. We do not use unpleasant consequences to punish a dog as a way to train. This can actually increase fear and anxiety, and make fixing the problem more difficult.

Setting up video cameras or other monitoring devices can help you see what is happening if it is while you are away, so you can better determine what is happening to cause the anxiety, or also rule out boredom. It can be hard to know for sure without doing such homework. If your dog is experiencing stress while you are away, or if you know it is caused by stressful events or triggers, we urge hiring a professional to help you. If you are struggling with destructive chewing, nothing can replace the value of hiring an experienced professional.

Need help right away? Contact us now!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing barking

In this continuation of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we’ll go over barking and what it may mean, and how to address it.

Dogs bark for many reasons. It could be to alert us to something (and they have been bred for many years to alert bark for us!), because they’re excited, frustrated or bored, because they’re seeking attention and it works, or because they’re afraid of something, and it can be an effective strategy to make space. In any of these cases, it’s important to understand the motivation for your dog’s barking, or you won’t be able to adequately address it.

The overly excited, bored or attention-seeking dog

Some dogs love to express themselves vocally. My old cattle dog would sometimes just bark because she was feeling well, instead of ill, so I considered it a great thing when she would head out of the house on her walks, announcing herself. It still meant she had spunk! But for some it may be going overboard and causing neighbors to report your dog.

Gretta Mae attests, barking is fun!

In any case, if you know your dog may be too excited, frustrated or bored at times, how can you change this? While we can’t address all the triggers for dogs in this one blog post, knowing those triggers and why they occur is half the battle. If you know your dog is going to bark at you when you get home because he’s very excited to see you, for instance, you can have some treats ready to toss away from you to redirect him to playing a FIND IT game, rather than bark at you. You could also have a toy ready if your dog loves toys, to give a more appropriate outlet. Leaving him at home with enrichment toys and activities can also be helpful to “wear him out” a little more prior to your arrival home.

If your dog learns that by barking at you, he gets your attention, ignoring him COMPLETELY is key. Even “negative” attention is attention, and if it works, there is no reason not to bark! By ignoring, you should not even look at or talk to your dog. I’ve even left the room when a dog starts barking to make that behavior elicit a response they do not want. Quiet means I stay and interact with you. Some dogs, if they have been very successful for a long while at barking for attention, may get “worse” before they get better. Since it had worked a lot they will work harder before giving up. This is called an extinction burst. Don’t give up or give in–keep ignoring and know it’s darkest before the dawn.

Teaching calm behavior as rewarding can also help. There are many protocols but this wonderful video from Emily Larlham shows some great tips in capturing and reinforcing calm behavior. We often ignore our dogs when they are calm and quiet so it’s important to be proactive in making these behaviors rewarding.

Alert barking

When a dog is alerting us to something, it’s an important job for them. Many times I have clients who like having a dog that will alert them to something–because you never know what could be happening, and it’s a great deterrent to have a barking dog in some cases–but it can reach a point of too much.

For most clients they want to be able to just successfully interrupt and redirect the dog. Conditioning the dog’s name and/or a positive interrupter will help you do this. If you say your dog’s name and he looks to you, click and treat. Do this many times, in many situations. You can also do this with something like a kissy noise or other word or sound you want to make, just like in this video from Emily Larlham (she makes so many great videos!). If you do this successfully over time you will be able to increase distractions, including the moments when the dog is alerting you to someone in the yard, going down the alley, coming to your door, etc., but remember you have to practice without these triggers first.

Over time you will be able to call your dog’s name or make another positive interrupter noise, and pair it with coming to you for a treat, or redirecting him to another activity or toy. Great job for letting us know someone is here–now you can have your ball and play!

Barking out of fear

When dogs bark to make space, they learn quickly it is very effective. Making yourself look bigger and making a threatening noise is very reinforcing for dogs who are terrified of what is in their environment. We’ve had dogs who react in many ways to many triggers: at the front windows/doors at passerby, in the yard at strange people, dogs, trucks, bicycles and more, or in parks or other public areas at any or more of these kinds of stimuli; the list goes on and on.

Determining what your dog is afraid of and barks at is the first step. Then it’s your job to limit their ability to get practice at this, so if you have a dog door, it may be necessary to cut that all-access way of going out to bark out of the picture while in training. It could also mean taking shorter walks to minimize exposure to triggers, or blocking access in some way to windows, doors, etc.

Following a well-thought-out desensitization and counterconditioning protocol is key to addressing the underlying emotional state of fear these dogs have. Before worrying about any behavior, we need to make those items very positive. Then they will be able to calm down, and offer calmer alternate behaviors we can reinforce.

For clients with dogs who are fearful I recommend choosing one or two very high-value food items (i.e., bits of hot dogs, chicken, roast beef, cheese–whatever your dog loves most!) and use it in conjunction with these triggers. If strangers walking down the alley mean meatballs, over and over, they will be less scary and more wonderful! It’s important to not overdo it–if the dog is allowed to still rush the fence and react (we call this going “over threshold”), that’s not the best scenario. I will recommend putting the dog on a well-fitted harness and leash and stay as far away from that fence as possible to cut off the rushing at the fence, and therefore limit the barking/reactivity. It is also important to remember that the trigger should make the food happen; if the food shows up first, you risk not only having an ineffective method, but you could very well make the food a negative association for the dog as the food means a scary stranger shows up.

In all these cases, particularly with fear, we do recommend hiring a professional who can help you plan out training to be more successful. There is no substitute for such! And it can save you a lot longer of a training path if you are clearer from the very beginning. It takes far longer to undo a bad protocol so we encourage anyone facing these problems to reach out.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

VIDEO: Handling a reactive dog that has gone over threshold

We had a mishap with our former YouTube channel getting deleted–apologies as some of our previous blogs with videos no longer work/are accessible–but we’re working on getting those videos back up on a new channel, and making new videos!

Speaking of new videos, here is a new one featuring one of our recent clients, Gordie, who is leash reactive: he barks, growls and lunges when he notices another dog while on leash. We did extensive Day Training with him to get better loose leash walking skills and address the reactivity by doing more structured setups, followed by real-life walks. This video is from one of the real-life walks, where we are surprised by another dog.

Besides dealing with this “over threshold” moment, there are other tidbits of seeing how we worked with him on reinforcing walking beside me, giving me attention and noting signs of stress.

As always, if you’re facing dog training and behavior issues, we’re here to help, so contact us!

Happy Training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing jumping on people

In this part of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss the problem of jumping on people.

Like most problem behaviors, jumping is a very common and acceptable behavior for dogs—it’s a way to greet someone they like, so in a lot of ways, it’s a great compliment. However, it’s not what most people want, and while it may be cute when the dog is smaller or a puppy, larger dogs and older dogs can be seen as a nuisance and, at worst, injure people by jumping on them.

We do not advocate for allowing the dog to jump, and then punish the behavior. At best it may stop the behavior in the moment, but it’s still allowing the dog practice at jumping. Jumping can be very self-reinforcing to the dog so allowing it to continue is still helping the dog learn how to get better at doing it. At worst it will damage your relationship with your dog; they may start to view you as a scary person, or feel the need to fight back. Punishment has the potential for some very devastating fallout, so we opt for other approaches to cut off the behavior and teach the dog what we want, instead. It’s more productive and safer for all involved!

Arranging your antecdent

As discussed in our introduction to this blog series, antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

If you’re expecting house guests and you know your dog loves to jump on them as soon as they come in, putting your dog in a crate or Xpen, behind a gate, or even in another room or the backyard, can cut off this behavior from happening. You could also put him on his harness and a leash and have him tethered to a sturdy piece of furniture, or to a leash hitch attached to the wall, or if you have others in your home who can hold the other end of the leash, he will be able to be managed while they arrive. Remember to make ample space, whatever management technique you use.

In other environments, having your dog on a harness and leash at all times, and ensuring there is enough space between them and the person to not gain access to jump, is key. A portable crate, Xpen or other tethers can also be used. The goal is to ensure the dog is unable to get to and jump on the human, but we also want to make sure whatever we are using that is safe for the dog, and doesn’t create anxiety. If your dog is not properly crate trained you shouldn’t use a crate but perhaps tether instead. We also do not want to leave a tethered dog unattended as they can get tangled and possibly injured. Whatever management technique you use, make sure it is safe and that you’ve considered all the possibilities.

Luna is learning that sitting gets more attention; her harness and leash is on for management in case she gets too excited!

Teaching an alternate behavior

Now that you’ve addressed how to stop the jumping from occurring, it’s important to have a plan to teach what you want your dog to do instead. For a lot of people, sitting for greetings is a goal. If your dog is managed well, you can reinforce a sit as the dog is able to sit. However, some dogs find it difficult to have the self-control to sit, even if you ask for it. It may be because the visitor is too close and he REALLY loves your aunt because she always bring him a special gift!

It’s always important to consider what the dog is able to do and how to teach him by starting where is able to be successful. For this special aunt, I may be treating him for standing as she comes in, starting the instant he notices her, and I may use a higher-value food reward because she is so exciting and I have to have the right motivation for my dog. By lowering my criteria—rewarding for the standing as soon as he notices her arrival—I am meeting him where he can be successful, and making it very rewarding to be standing rather than jumping in this moment, with a very potent food reward.

Over time, I will be able to get a sit. If I have done a great job of reinforcing him, over time he will be able to offer behavior more consistently, and relax more to offer a sit. That sit may mean aunt comes over more quickly to say hi! Standing/sitting are both alternatives that can mean attention from the aunt. If he is too excited and jumping, the aunt takes steps away, or possibly leaves. Being consistent with the consequences will mean he will learn faster and be overall less frustrated.

A harder part of this equation is instructing guests to COMPLETELY IGNORE the dog and not approach him so that he understands that jumping or trying to get at the guests doesn’t result in getting to greet them. Some people will accept being jumped on by puppies or adult dogs but it can work against your training as it won’t provide consistency for your dog to understand that jumping isn’t the way to interact with humans. Start with coachable humans and plan carefully. The human should know they can approach if the dog is standing or sitting, but should stop or even move away if the dog starts to jump.

Being patient and consistent will mean more success for you both. It’s important to repeat this process with different kinds of people who come to visit so that you can help your dog learn that ALL humans prefer standing or sitting, and do not like jumping.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: how to address problem behaviors

Welcome to our new blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, on addressing common problem behaviors!

In this first post we’ll discuss some basics of how to approach problems and considerations when dealing with any problem behavior you’re facing. Future posts will give insights on how to apply this to different common problem behaviors clients want to address, and change.

Many times in training, and in life in general, we focus on consequences for behavior. Consequences are of course important. If the animal we’re teaching finds consequences reinforcing for a behavior, that behavior will likely increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the consequence is punishing or unpleasant, the behavior will likely decrease. Having this knowledge and understanding how it applies based on the animal and the behavior s/he is presenting is crucial. Far too often, however, we are looking at it from our own point of view and not through that of the animal’s.

Mac is learning that sitting will get him out of his kennel

Let’s take a simple example of this: if my dog is barking at me because he wants me to feed him dinner, and I feed him, then I’m reinforcing his barking. That seems pretty simple and most people can understand how feeding the dog dinner if he is barking at me is actually working against me and my goal of a quieter dog.

If my dog is barking because he not only wants dinner, but my undivided attention, and I decide to yell at him or tell him QUIET to communicate that I’m unhappy with him, then I am very likely still reinforcing the behavior even though I’m trying to discourage it. Any attention, even if it’s “negative” attention to try and dissuade him, is still reinforcing for him. This is not as obvious to some people–attempts to discourage him are actually giving the dog what he wants: attention!

However, if I know once I get home my dog is going to bark at me for dinner, or attention, and I ignore him COMPLETELY–maybe even going straight from the front door to the bathroom, shutting the door–then I have removed myself, and the attention he finds reinforcing. I then wait patiently for quiet. Once it’s quiet for a few seconds, I go out and give my dog a treat, or attention. The dog will learn that by being quiet, he will get what he wants, if I’m consistent with these consequences.

Consequences are important. Sometimes, though, they can be too little too late, and make for more frustrating or stressful training. With barking, it may be just as stressful for the human as the dog because the loud noise can be jarring and unpleasant. Also, if the dog has been rewarded a lot for barking, it can take longer for the dog to quiet, meaning the person has to be patient and deal with the noise.

What if I told you there is a better way?

Antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

So, if you know your dog is going to bark as soon as you get home, how can you arrange things to make it work better for you?

If your dog is very good at a behavior that is incompatible with barking, you can ask for that behavior as soon as you walk through the door. One option may be to go get his favorite toy. If you’ve taught your fabulous, food-loving Labrador retriever to “go get his ball,” then ask for that as soon as you walk in. He can’t bark with a toy in his mouth! Once he brings it to you, you can play with him.

ABCs of behavior graphic courtesy of Lili Chin, doggiedrawings.net

If you take careful consideration of how to set you and your dog up for success to prevent or redirect the problem behavior through antecedent arrangement, you will benefit the most: your dog won’t get practice with the behavior you don’t want, making it stronger, and you will instead be able to reinforce behaviors you want instead of resorting to punishment, and experiencing frustration and a deterioration in your relationship with your dog.

You will learn more about the ABCs of teaching dogs as we continue this blog series with addressing common problems like jumping, digging, bolting doors and more. Most of what we perceive as problem behaviors are naturally occurring behaviors for dogs, which is why we have named this series Dogs will be Dogs. With patience and careful planning, you can remedy problem behaviors, give your dog appropriate outlets, and instill good manners in him.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Four tips for surviving the Fourth

The Fourth of July can be an amazing celebration for many—but for some, including our pets, it’s one of the hardest. The sounds of fireworks and the smell of sulfur can cause many dogs to go into a fight-or-flight response, so it’s important to be mindful of this and plan ahead to minimize stress. Here are four tips for a safe Fourth:

  1. Get out of town: If you have another alternative to being around the festivities, take it! Go to a secluded cabin, go for that camping trip, head out for an evening drive—whatever works in terms of getting away from the stressor in the first place.
  2. Safety—and comfort—first! Remember to always consider safety and comfort first if you must stay in town and at home. Don’t allow your dog out in the yard or have them outside when festivities begin. Take that long walk and potty break before so you can stay in the home, safe and sound. Your dog should be microchipped and wearing tags for identification just in case anything were to happen. Making a safe space within the home that is comforting for the dog to stay in while the celebrations are happening can help keep them safe and calmer. Some dogs find crates comforting, while others may like a closet or small room. Play a white noise machine and/or soft, soothing music. If your dog likes aromatherapy or could benefit from dog appeasing pheromones, use them. Have puzzle toys or enrichment toys ready for feeding dinner so they have something else to do and enjoy. Doing some fun play or training games can also be a good alternative. Draw curtains and blinds, and do comfort your dog! Giving them support will NOT reinforce their fear so don’t let that hold you back.

    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog's brain during fireworks time
    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog’s brain during fireworks time
  3. Talk to your vet: Some dogs have so much anxiety and pure panic that it may be best for them to have some medical support, especially if they are prone to having other anxiety or are sound-sensitive to many different stimuli. There are some natural alternatives but you should never shy away from pharmaceutical intervention if it can help your dog be happier and less stressed. Talk to your vet about what options would be best for your dog. Stay away from acepromazine! It can sedate the body but not the mind, increasing overall anxiety in time.
  4. Counterconditioning is key! You can use desensitization and counterconditioning techniques before the Fourth to see better success when the celebrations take place. You will need to prepare and have on hand LOTS of bits of VERY high-value food. (Human foods like cheese, boiled meat or unflavored/non-spiced deli meat, hot dogs, etc. are best so don’t skimp—use something super wonderful!) Using a recording of fireworks, play it at a VERY low volume that won’t upset the dog, and pause as needed to give breaks. When your dog hears a firework, feed this food. Repeat and gradually raise and vary the level of the volume. You want to keep it low enough so that your dog doesn’t get panicked—your dog should be relatively comfortable but still able to notice the sound. Do this many times before the Fourth and have lots more food ready on the Fourth to pair with the real deal. If fireworks mean bits of salmon consistently, your dog can begin to see fireworks as a good thing due to this association you build over many repetitions.

Need help? Contact us!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies