When life presents those WTF moments immediately my brain switches to first breathing and then assessing the environment thinking through "The ABCs of Behavior". This has helped me triage situations and reduce risk. Because of my profession and business my l live dog training. Its a constant in my life.
Behavior analysis was introduced to me in the online course Living and Learning with Animals. The instructor, Dr Susan Friedman PhD was fantastic at breaking concepts down and always providing examples that made sense. She is a wonderful individual and teacher. Taking Dr. Friedman's' online course LLA was one of the many courses that helped shape me into the trainer I am today. Others I recommend, Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr Ian Dunbar, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Michael Fox, Mark Beckoff, Dr. Karen Overall, Dr. Raymond Coppinger, Sue Sternberg to name a few. I highly recommend if you're interested in dog behavior, dog training or just learning and understanding our furry friends please look up any or all of these Canine Scientists and experts who have dedicated their lives to research and sharing about the world of the dog.
Dr. Friedman does an outstanding job teaching Applied Behavior Analysis in her online course Living And Learning with Animals. She explains, and I’m paraphrasing here, “we can't stop behavior – any behavior we can’t stop it because the animal is getting something out of doing that behavior. The consequence is rewarding to the individual. What we can do is instead is to help the individual learn to change their behavior by changing the environment. And so, by changing the environment we essentially change the consequence of the behavior changes. We will unknowingly reward unwanted behaviors i.e. jumping on us because our dogs are soooo cute, barking at us because its annoying and we’ll look at them, walking away from another dog because our dog wants to jump on them or bark at them and we are embarrassed, etc etc. I’ve shared the “Attention Seeking Behavior Report Log” to use as a means to reduce and eliminate unwanted behaviors however you have to make sure you’re consistent. Consider the next time your dog presents an unwanted behavior and think about how you want to handle it. The way we approach ABC of Behavior is,
Life can be crazy and sometimes things are thrown at us or present themselves. However breaking behaviors down into manageable pieces and focusing one behavior at a time will help. Sometimes there’s just too much going on and we are emotionally affected. In those times we are completely overwhelmed by the situation we are in remember to BREATH. This will help us to focus and THINK rather than become REACTIVE (sound familiar people???). We are verbal individuals unlike our canine friends however we are affected by our environment and emotions just the same.
I'm sure you can all agree that life is not perfect. For a behavior trainer like myself teaching moments (to share with my students/clients) present often and sometimes I happen to be wearing pajamas! Say for example this morning while in my PJs my husband decides to spring on me that he's about to bring my brothers 80lb long haired shepherd over to meet our dogs for a future overnight.
So after my coming down from my initial stress point (threshold) WHAT??! I'm not ready I do a quick check off.
EMOTIONAL SAFETY is as important as physical safety with any interaction and how an individual FEELS DOES AFFECT the BODY. Think about times you are over worked or stressed and fearful about something. Your heart and respiratory rate increases, short of breath...maybe you faint? Dogs go through the same emotions of fear and love. We unknowingly damage a dogs perspective to the environment by allowing them to physically get too close to something they don't feel comfortable about which leads to emotionally scarring. If you know what your dog fears (called their triggers or scary monsters) are you can help your dog by giving them distance from what ever it is they fear. So think about the environment, their perspective and emotional state of mind.
So here I tried to set up a safe environment that allowed for as much distance as possible with no to low distractions for learning new behaviors. The other important piece is you and learning to get into your ZEN ZONE. Learn to breath in and breath out under pressure. Doing so a few times slowly to a count of 4 will help reduce your heart and respiratory rate causing more blood flow and oxygen to your brain so you can become calm and think.
Use your “eyes” - your observational skills to listen to what your dog is saying, you’ll better understand your dog and be able to manage them more effectively. How do you evaluate your dogs emotions? Through learning dog body language, communication and stress signals. Think about your dog based on body language (body language and other visuals by Lily Chin here.) What is the dogs body language telling us? (body stiff or wiggly? mouth closed or open? ). Figure out what is your dogs emotional state at any given moment. What color zone is the dog in?
( green=calm, yellow=hyper active aroused, red=over threshold and completely bonkers)? What is the threshold for any given trigger (their scary monster)? Is it 5 feet? 10? 100?
Video Background and Full Disclosure:
You'll observe I am somewhat still anxious (not in green zone and calm) because I was surprised and dealing with a mother who was coming in to let me know my garbage can smelled and a videographer (aka my husband who was not jazzed to help me out last minute) I am clearly not prepared for the set up (note the pajamas and my disheveled self) nor for working with our new visitor Lola (a long haired shepherd) who has no skills. Hey but that's how life works right? I do try to narrate behaviors for the video while multi tasking and managing my stress levels as you'll see.
A couple of points to keep in mind.
For some of us we may not want our dog to reinforce the chase with a small animal or child is my point here. Sure we can throw a ball or toy however have rules when you play and always let the dog win (or think they've won). Do not have your dog chase children or small things around as while this can start out as what looks like fun the dog could tip and become quickly aroused (enter the Red Zone of the Emotional Spectrum.)
Knowing a dogs traits, or natural behavioral tendencies and temperament (personality) is helpful. In this case below I want to interrupt even the beginning of the Motor Pattern so I'll look for and interrupt the Orienting (the focus behavior) at the same time because Lola is new to my home I want her to also pair good things with my dogs in my home (or association to my dogs - sounds, smell, sight). This must happen RIGHT AWAY AS SOON AS THEY MEET!
On the other end I also know my dogs are reactive to big dogs coming into thier/my home and so will become anxious quickly (trigger stack). So from the onset I’m going to think about my criteria setting. What behavior(s) do I want to reward?
I’ve done no real training with Lola who’s entered my home only introduced the secondary and primary reinforcers (the clicker and hot dogs respectively). You will see there are multiple layers of behaviors being presented by all dogs and some that could become a problem if I don’t act quickly to desensitize (DS) by interrupting, pairing or redirecting. In the clip, the proximity or distance of the dogs is a MAJOR factor for my dogs. My space is limited and for the shih tzus they are affected more than the shepherd. The shih tzus (Jimmy Choo and Stella) don’t know the new dog (Lola) that comes into the environment (their home). Lola, is too close for them and so they do tip and wig out (go over threshold into Red zone or the high arousal, with low to no ability to think). They respond by saying "bark bark bark grrrrhhh move away– I'm little but I will bite your nose!!" Distance seeking vocalizations. At the onset someone may laugh at a small dog behaving like this however its so stressful for the small regardless of their size we have to respect their need for space due to fear.
Lola on the other hand as you will be able to read from her body language has a loose body, wagging tail and at times an open mouth..she isn’t as bothered. You'll see her go toward the gate where the shih tzus are but that's only because the treats I tried throwing over the gate fell short. Lola does focus on the dogs a little longer than I would want at times and I’m trying to work on a few behaviors with her but decide the more important is to pair good things with the dogs and interrupt the possible future urge to chase the small dogs by practicing looking at me to get rewarded. Since we know our dogs world is all about equal or better values of things, the cooked greezy smelly hot dogs win out in this video. Calmer behaviors do prevail and we end after a short exchange. Always leave while the party is hopping right?
From the onset I'm also working on desensitizing (DS) both Lola and my shih tzus jimmy & stella to each other. A greater distance and having someone throw food to the shih tzus when they looked at Lola would have helped but hey did I say I was perfect? Lesson learned for next time.
On the matter of physical risk it is reduced because A) I have Lola on a leash (prefer a freedom harness but she didn't come over wearing one), B) we have a gate up to safely separate the dogs while the dogs can still see and smell each other C) I have a high value reward (hot dogs and redbarn meat). D) distance is a huge factor and I do fail here as you’ll see since I'm very close for the shih tzus. I could have moved further back or out of site but ….they worked through their emotional response to Lola. If the shih tzus continued to vocalize with barking I would have ended the session.
When we live with another species and spend so much time with them we do a disservice not learning their language. Training for me becomes a bridge to help us communicate with our non verbal canine companions. Do yourself and your family a favor and start to practice your observational skills. Look at your dogs body language and evaluate your dogs emotions. Determine where they are emotionally. We can not know what they are thinking but we can learn to understand how they feel. Have their needs been met? What is their body language saying? Are they in the Red zone? Yellow Zone? Will moving away from the trigger increase or decrease the behavior they are presenting?
As I'm hopeful I've explained using myself as an example, stress affects and interrupts our focus and thinking. Same for our dogs. Practicing training exercises allows your dog to use a different part of their brain (neo cortex) and make connections with emotional part of the brain (Limbic system) which is very close to the thinking part. So our aim is to get our dogs to practice thinking instead of reacting. For example once at a safe distance ask your dog to look at you (prompted attention exercises) or sit, or paw shake, or twirl. If your dog does a “shake off” on their own remember to MARK then REWARD every shake off. Life's not easy and its not perfect BUT it will get incrementally easier if we are able to understand and meet their basic needs. They will become more reliable to what we ask of them IF WE CONTINUE TO PRACTICE our exercises with consistency.
Okay, enjoy the clip and feel free to share your thoughts, comments or if you have any questions.
P.S ignore my morning attire pls
See video clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzNGZtekSzc
Coppinger, Ray 2002. Dogs
Dr. Susan Friedman, Online course Living and learning with Animals
Vivian Zottola, CBCC, CSAT, CPDT
Certified Behavior Canine Consultant
Lola meets my dogs take 1
Lola meets my dogs take 2
can you see a difference in the dogs behaviors from take 1 to take 2?
Technology is allowing us to remotely reinforce training behaviors. This is exciting news to me and for thousands of urban dogs living alone in condos. We want to reinforce the "right" behaviors as much as possible. We know Dogs are social and cooperative individuals, the reason why we live together, but unfortunately not all guardians can work from home. Canine Science tells us dogs don't do well in isolation for long periods of time, that they are not den animals, and need limited exposure to a group of dogs without structured interactions. We also know practicing too much stimulation without structure and adequate supervision can teach unwanted behavior problems. So what's a guardian living in the city to do?
Technology is part of the answer! New products are allowing us to positively reinforce alone time, physical activity and mental engagement. This all of course still requires your planning and being creative while always taking the animals perspective into account. We know the best option and general rule is to provide both physical and mental stimulation in a safe environment daily.Technology now gives us the opportunity to extend our reach and train at home.
There are a few remote training products I like and listed below with video. I use these in my behavior modification training to reinforce behaviors. These are not intended to take the place of a training plan or babysit your dog for hours on end. Technology allows you to now call our dogs to check in talk to them and even give them a treat remotely or, we can use technology to reward a behavior. You can now engage remotely in between social interactions and dog walks filling up that down time if needed. This may help with reducing any possibility of depression or learned helplessness.
I use these when desensitizing to absences (Separation Anxiety) and counter conditioning behavior (reduce barking). Confinement combined with low stimulation may result in depression (or a condition called learned helplessness). Keeping pup engaged is important and having a mix of things to do is fantastic! We want to both physically and mentally stimulating those brain cells and pathways to keep growing and sticking between limbic area of the brain and the cognitive parts of the brain. Your pup will grow up to be one who will pause to make decisions rather than be reactive. Continue with scheduling multiple walks and asking your walker to give a prepared food/dispensing toy/stuffed kong after the walk. And consider the products below as an addition to your routine especially if you are reinforcing behaviors (or if you just want to check in to say hello). These products are even more salient when used in conjunction with a behavior mod training plan. If you have questions or you're interested in a demonstration please call me. Dog Blessings! Vivian
This exercise is about creating a "Zen Zone" for yourself and your dog. Originally introduced by DVM Behaviorist Dr. Voith this particular protocol was designed Dr. Karen Overall also a DVM Behaviorist. Used in Behavior Modification Training Plans it is a wonderful way to reduce your dog (and your) stress. If I'm working with an especially stressed dog I will prepare the bedding by spraying one of my three handcrafted calming blends, and maybe even light a candle and play soundscape music. Ancillary calming tools are helpful in providing a calm environment. This way I start to relax and dissipate out only calming hormones which help relax my dog to start the process.
As you may know without knowing we condition behavior unwanted or otherwise all of the time ( i.e. jumping on us models jumping on other people, barking at us for attention models barking at all people this way). In some cases just seeing their person elicits a state of high arousal for some dogs. A dogs guardian may for example rough play with their dog all the time without using a toy to interact. They may rough play without working impulse control exercises in between for breaks (sit, wait). So the dog becomes conditioned - see guardian = play and excitement shoots up quickly ...OH BOY MY PERSONs HOME! and off they go.
How we feel has a direct affected on our dogs. As some of you may know all mammals have the ability to take in large molecules ( i.e. cortisol, the stress hormone or oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone) through the Vermonasal Organ (just under the palette of the mouth located between mouth and nose). This organ allows for mammals to take in and identify the hormone thereby understanding how another individual is feeling at any given moment. You can imagine if you don't have the ability to speak the same language but need to know if another animal was friend or foe how useful being able to smell their feelings would be.
Every day life is packed full of pressure and I'm sure we are all in agreement reducing our stress levels every now and again is good practice. So why not practice with our dogs? Plan a date with your dog or include a relaxation session as an exercise instead of or after exercise. This relaxation protocol is so useful for stressed dogs, those experiencing separation anxiety, isolation distress or ones who have come home from a rambunctious day at daycare. You can do this in the comfort of your home any time. Its probably best to practice in the evening between 7-9M when your dogs cortisol level is lowest and they are at their most relaxed state naturally. But of course you can practice anytime!
The beauty of this is you can practice anytime. Start with your dog seated. If s/he offers you a down instead of sitting, this is fine. If s/he starts in a sit and shifts to a down this is a sign of relaxation! Walk through the protocol, calmly and methodically. You can go through each Day consecutively or stay at any given Day for as long as you like.
Warm Up (use to practice a solid sit)
Day 1: Dog's Task
Day 2: Dog's Task
Day 3: Dog's Task
Day 4: Dog's Task
Day 7: Dog's Task
NatureNose.com product Mello Mist is a very special blend made specifically for dogs exhibiting mild stress, fear and anxiety. I call it Nature "nose" because Nature does know that using essential oils and flower essence from plants is best to heal the body. Essential Oils are from plants. They are alive they are not synthetic. And dogs olfactory receptors (their nose and sense of smell) is integral to how they "see the world". It is important to how the take information in and understand the world around them.
Olfactory Therapy is a new concept I've been practicing and term I've been using. I don't think I came up with it but rather that Integrative Veterinarians have possibly used it. It is the systematic use of specific and safe Essential Oil blends that affect the mind, nervous system and immune system. Combined with behavior modification for dogs using Olfactory Therapy helps reduce anxiety, fear and aggression.
Many clients over the years were asking for a natural solution instead of synthetic chemicals to help reduce anxiety in their fearful pets. Through careful study of the science that supports Aromatherapy for small animals combined with Applied Behavior Analysis I found a solution that works. Trainers and my clients become less stressed, less fearful as do their dogs and as a result the dogs gain trust and confidence.
The use of scent or Olfaction and the Jacobson Organ in dogs, is arguably the most important part of their being. So powerful and important is the ability to scent in dogs that we can use it to safely change their emotional state. Over the years I have successfully used Reward Based Behavior Training methods supported by Science and in conjunction with the application of our essential oil blends to help dogs reduce anxiety and improve unwanted behaviors.
Essential oils are easily recognized and identified by the body because they are made of similar compounds that we are made of. Its nature! They are active and live natural chemicals that can be used and then broken down and eliminated by the body. Only specific Essential Oils are safe for dogs so make sure to work with a Small Animal Aromatherapy Practitioner versed in taking a history, evaluating and matching specific needs to safe oils for your dog. There is ample evidence of the many benefits of Essential Oils to improve circulation, the immune system and change physiological and emotional modality (state of mind). As for reducing anxiety in dogs I'm working with. Even with years of experience understanding stress signals and managing high risk dogs does not mean I can control their emotions. Its only through chemical changes that this can be done. For example classical conditioning, pairing food or something good with something scary can change that experience to something pleasant. So too can acupressure change the chemical and physiological changes. Petting a dog reduces anxiety because feel good hormones are released (in both people and dogs) when we touch.
Essential oils allow us to, from a distance, change the physiological which affects then the emotional state by reducing stress. If an animal (dog) is less stressed they are more receptive to a trainers skilled gentle behavior modification training. We apply anti anxiety EO blends as an exercise to desensitize our dogs making positive associations with things, places and individuals (people or dogs) who may be frightening to them. I'm a fan of starting naturally first to reduce anxiety in our dogs and combining safe anti anxiety blends with reward based behavior modification training techniques. BAT by Grisha Stewart teaches a great system, Emma Parsons has a great book Click To Calm and there are tons of conditioning exercises by other wonderful teachers including Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Sue Sternberg and Pia Silvani.
When using NatureNose Mello Mist product specially formulated to reduce anxiety in conjunction with a Positive Reinforcement Training Treatment Plan many trainers have observed a reduction in dogs stress levels and improved learned behavior. For dogs exhibiting extreme stress, which may or may not include physical harm we recommend consulting a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org).
More information on buying this product at NatureNose.com or call BostonK9Concierge at 617-464-1005
Walking dogs may seem like an easy task to most and while a degree is not required take it from us it is work that requires focus, creative problem solving skills and consideration of other safety concerns. All of our walkers are insured & bonded and go through thorough training with managment. We use only humane collars when walking your dog.
A short list of things we practice when walking dogs..
Have you happened to notice more and more dogs are reactive these days when you're walking your dog around the neigborhood? To a large extent one could argue the reason we're seeing more reactivity in dogs in the city is because of our environment. Dogs are not getting enough exercise.
Sure, the reactive dog you see around could have been adopted through a rescue and never trained, had a bad experience, be recovering from a recent operation and on and on. The fact of the matter is Dogs need to exercise. They need physical and mental exercise every day. They NEED to expend energy and when they can't (because they are cooped up in a small condo all day) they end up channeling their energy into a rude greeting or overly excited greeting that is not well received.
Essentially there are limited spaces for our dogs to run around and get their ya yas out here in the city. Sue Sternberg talked about this a few months ago at one of her workshops on Dog Dog Aggression I attended. She's ABSOLUTELY right. So what to do? Well there are options. You could move out to the burbs, take a Class offered in a safe and controlled environment where your pet can think and get exercise or yes, take your dog to the dog park.
Take your dog to the Park:
Yes if you must, take your dog to a local dog park BUT be smart about it. Supervise your pet when you take them to the dog park. Please don't be on your phone talking or texting. Don't use the time to catch up with your friend and sip your latte. Play with your dog. Watch your dog AND more important learn when to INTERRUPT your dog if they are being bad. Or, help your dog when and if they are being bullied. Bullied you question? Yes bullied. When dogs are running after each other it's not always cute. Often times whate we primates perceive as cute play is BULLYING! And, depending on your pets age if you're not careful the experience could instill fear and worse create behavioral problems where your pet then becomes a bully or fearful of all dogs and REACTIVE. Oy vey! So yes, essentially we create these reactive dogs by either not taking them out to exercise or taking them out to the wrong places to exercise.
So whats a dog owner to do? Take time to learn more about how dogs communicate, what a predetory sequence is, what their actions mean. Sue Sternberg developed an iTunes application called Dog Park Assistant which you can find on iTunes for ONLY 99 cents. It is absolutely brilliant. It describes what dog behaviors there are, what they look like through pictures and there are videos that show you exactly what it looks like. I am NOT a fan of Dog Parks but I do recognize they are a neccessity especially living in the city where we have limited space for Rover to run free. Check out DOG PARK ASSISTANT iTunes application here
Take your dog to a local Agility or Competition Class:
If you need a place that offers a safe, controlled and fun place to exercise your dog, one of my favorite places to join for classes is the New England Dog Training Club (NEDTC.org, full disclosure I am a trainer at and member of the club). They offer AKC Canine Good Citizen exercises taught in Step classes 1-4, Rally, Novice and Utility/Open. For more information check out the www.nedtc.org site here.
When ever you sense your dog tensing up or perhaps observe them behaving stressed and anxious (pacing, head turns etc) or just acting hyper. Try moving away from the "trigger" you believe making them anxious (car, person, dog etc) and sit or kneel down beside them. Begin to gently massage their back side, near the tail area. Use light strokes. A dogs hind side is analogous to our neck/shoulder area. Like us they hold all the stress in this area. Doesn't it feel good to get a neck and shoulder massaged? Breath slowly and deeply, massage your dog in the same rythmic way. I promise you your dog will immediately relax. They may move their rump closer to you inviting you to rub them a little more. This helps them decompress. Its a great way to diffuse trigger stacking (consessive cummulative occurances of events that cause stress ). This weekend I'm participating in a a day long Tellignton Touch dog massage workshop. I look forward to folding what I learn into my practice working with dogs. I will be learning more massage techniques by a certified TTouch practicioner.
WHAT IS TTouch:
TTouch consists of light, non-invasive massage movements and guided walking exercises designed to enhance the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of your dog, cat or other companion animal. TTouch exercises improve an animal’s confidence, balance and focus, relieve stress and fear, and allow thinking before reacting, thus breaking the cycle of repetitive behavior patterns. Developed more than 30 years ago by internationally renowned equestrian trainer, Linda Tellington-Jones, this work complements massage therapy, veterinary care, training, and behavior modification while creating a deeper rapport between humans and animals through increased understanding and more effective communication.
Tellington TTouch Method consists of light, non-invasive massage movements and guided walking exercises that are easy to learn and use. These movements effect the body’s nervous system, resulting in increased awareness and range of motion, tension and pain reduction, and a re-patterning of habitual ways of holding the body which can have a profound effect on a dog's behavior.
• Puppies who are very mouthy, lack focus or don’t like to be handled Adolescent dogs who are over stimulated, rambunctious and hard to control on leash
• Aggression issues with people or other dogs
• Separation anxiety, noise sensitivity and other fears and phobias
• Service, show or athletic dogs who underperform due to nervousness or lack of confidence
• Dogs who are recovering from injury or illness
• Older dogs with stiffness or pain from arthritis or hip dysplasia... and much more
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