Age or Ability – Kids and Dog Walking

There are various lists about age appropriate chores for children. Some of the chores are pet-related. One list says a child of 12 should be walking the family dog. I am all for children learning to help care for pets. However, I am not a fan of the term “age-appropriate.” I prefer to think in terms of “ability-appropriate.” Ability-appropriate covers a wider range of considerations.

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Connor and D’Argo probably summer 2004 or 2005.  That was the trainer with them.

While at a busy intersection, I watched a girl who was around 10 – 12, struggling to walk a large dog. They were close enough that I could see the dog was wearing a prong collar. The dog was dragging the child along the sidewalk when something caught his attention. He pulled the struggling child into traffic. Even with the child violently yanking the collar, the dog ignored the pain to get at whatever caught his attention. This dog was completely ability inappropriate for the child.  There was no way this child was able to safely intervene and prevent the dog from entering the street.  What if the dog was going after another dog or a human? Could the child have prevented a bite? This child was completely unable to safely manage the dog she was walking. Luckily the dog decided to return to the sidewalk.  Well, you may think a better trained dog would have been a better fit.

No matter how well trained a dog is, we must remember that there will always be something that can and will cause a dog to not follow training.  This is an excerpt from another blog of mine to illustrate this:

One of my early clients tragically lost her dog. He was a sweet boy.  Very responsive, a dream to work with and the owner did her work. We had discussed safety, using leashes on walks, etc. over our sessions.  She liked to have her dogs off leash when she hiked.  Well I used to hike with my dogs, off leash, specific areas where it was allowed at the time, and my dogs had a lot of training, proofing and testing.  Even at that, often my dogs were on leash.  That was also over twenty years ago and I have changed my views a lot since then about general safety.  You see, I knew my dogs’ limits but I cannot control other elements such as oh…  Other loose animals.  So now, I keep my dogs on leash unless it is a competition requiring off leash work.

One weekend this owner took her dog hiking and decided to let him off leash.  Rufus was a young guy – not even a year old.  He had just begun training.  He was far from ready for any off leash work.  As luck would have it, Rufus saw something.  He took off in the direction of a parking lot and access road. No amount of calling got him to return. At that moment, another vehicle pulled into the lot. Rufus was killed.  – Deadly Trust

Even a well-trained dog is still capable of pulling a child over as he tries to get to something.  For sake of argument, let’s say the dog is very well mannered and ignores many things going on around him.  Is the child able to recognize potentially risky situations and avoid them?

With one case, a small dog that was not friendly to anyone except family was put in a bad spot. A teenage child was given clear instructions, numerous times, not to let the dog out of a back room if there were guests.  Mom and Dad were at work and the child brought friends home after school. The child decided to bring the dog out to meet her friends.  The dog panicked and badly bit one of the friends.  I had watched older kids not recognize stress behaviors in dogs and end up with their pets in other bad situations.

How many times do we see kids (and adults) fully engaged with their phones and ignoring everything around them? Part of safer dog walking is being unplugged and aware of your surroundings. Another case I advised on occurred when an older teen was walking the family dog. The boy was plugged in and oblivious to the dog’s behavior along with the surroundings. He missed the sounds of kids playing. He did not see the kids running around. The dog was on a retracting lead and had gotten to the full length of it. The teen walked into the line of play.  The dog was over 25 feet ahead of the boy.  He chased and bit a child.  Now, the dog was well within the physical ability of the teen.  The dog was also pretty well trained.  However, the dog was put into a dangerous situation because the teen was oblivious to his surroundings.  The teen, when I was in the house, was always on the phone.  His inability to be responsible (not to mention the chosen leash) resulted in injury.

When my children were little, I was very careful what dogs of ours they could walk with us and what dogs they could not.   My children were born in 1998 and 2004.  Just being kids of a dog trainer did not mean my kids could walk any of our dogs as they were growing up. Not all of my dogs were ability appropriate for my own children.

Ryker was my first serious show dog and was a therapy dog for several years.  He came to us in 1993.

Hunter was a big goof who had less self-control. There was a reason why his first owners gave him up.  He was 70+ pounds of impulsive lunacy.  He came to us in 1996 as a young adult.

D’Argo, even as a pup, was laid back.  Adolescence with him was easy.  D’Argo was slow to rile up and handled life with ease.   He came to us in 2000.

Seven was a great dog but as a livestock guarding breed, she was large and strong. She would go on guard and alert frequently. She came to us in 2001 as a young adult.

What of these four dogs would be ability appropriate for the kids?  Ryker and D’Argo.

How can you start kids out walking dogs?  You walk the dogs and they help.

In the beginning, we would have the kids hold the leash with us. Then we went to two leashes on Ryker or D’Argo. After that they would be able to control the leash themselves, but we were always with them. Connor and Sarah started learning how to train and show dogs with D’Argo. He was an ability appropriate dog for both kids to get their feet wet.

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Sarah and D’Argo – Agility 2009

As parents and dog owners, it is our responsibility to recognize the various abilities our children have. We need to be mindful of situations they may encounter when walking our dogs. It is our duty to work to keep them safe. Know your child, your dog, and keep things ability appropriate with supervision.

 

  • Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training
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Ankle Biters

The things many little dogs endure. People behaving rudely towards them. Body language and stress signals ignored as they are passed around like novelties to visitors. They are toted around like an accessory. Forced to wear clothes that may be uncomfortable. They are teased to make them growl as people think aggressive responses from little dogs are funny.  All you have to do is watch shows like America’s Funniest Videos or go to YouTube and you will see exactly what I mean.  Eventually the little ones start to react even before anything is done. Finally, they are labeled “Ankle Biters.”

 

Mrs. Jones loved luxurious things. She saw pictures of small, elegant dogs and felt one would complete her image. This was the extent of canine research she did: what style of dog she thought would best compliment her appearance and her museum quality home. After going through, and getting rid of, several dogs who were not what she wanted, Mrs. Jones obtained a Yorkshire Terrier.  She had seen pictures of these dogs in full show coat and paintings and…  You get the idea.  The pup was named Annabelle.

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The dog renamed Annabelle for this entry. Picture (c) West Wind Dog Training

Annabelle was expected to lie quietly on cushions. Barking was forbidden. She was carried around like a toy. Annabelle was not allowed to play or get dirty. When she tried to hunt crickets and grasshoppers in the yard, Annabelle was punished. Forget digging!  That was a big no.

Annabelle was expected to tolerate Mrs. Jones’s nieces dressing her up and pushing her around in a stroller. Then the constant being hauled up and loads of kisses and silliness as Mrs. Jones got in her face.  Annabelle was learning to hate being picked up. Annabelle was not allowed to be what she was at all: a dog. Annabelle started to respond in ways Mrs. Jones did not like.  This was when her veterinarian suggested Mrs. Jones call me.

When I am working with small dogs, I ask people to step into the dog’s collar. When you are tiny, the world can be a big, scary place. I ask humans to lie on the floor with their heads at the same height as their dogs’. Have people walk around. and rush into your face as if they are going to scoop you up. Now, think about what it is like to be disturbed while you are sleeping, dressed up, treated like a stuffed animal, poked and teased to get a reaction. Behavior is a response. How would you respond? Annabelle responded by becoming an Ankle Biter.

Understand that no matter how small and cute, behaviorally these are dogs. Research the history of the type of small dog you are considering. This means understanding what the breed was designed to do. In Annabelle’s case, Yorkshire Terriers were originally bred to eradicate vermin from farms and mines. They were working terriers. Take the time for appropriate socializing. Insist all those interacting with your dog treat her with respect. Be a mindful, thoughtful owner. Annabelle wanted to do what her instinct was telling her to do as a small terrier.  She was becoming frustrated. 

I put things like being picked up on a cue.  Work is done to help the small dog associate the cue and being picked up with good things.  There is never any sudden grabbing.  I have humans get to the dog’s level with training.  Hovering over any dog is scary.  Imagine what it is like when you are tiny. We need to respect small dogs.  I outlined a program that would meet Annabelle’s needs.  With those needs met and training, Annabelle had a good chance of becoming a fun dog to live with.

After weeks of working with Mrs. Jones and Annabelle, Mrs. Jones decided Annabelle would never be what she wanted. Mrs. Jones acquired yet another small dog to focus her attention on. Annabelle was relegated to the garage where I found her one of our sessions. I asked Mrs. Jones if she would like me to help place Annabelle. A week later, I acted as an agent for a breed rescue and Annabelle was surrendered.

The days she was with us before transporting to her foster home, Annabelle got to be a dog. She interacted with respectful children and played with our dogs. She relaxed. She learned to enjoy being picked up.  She could hunt bugs. Annabelle was really a great little dog.  Had we not been at our legal limit for dogs, my husband (who is not a little dog person) said we would have applied to adopt Annabelle.

Though occasionally we do get dogs with a predisposition to concerning behaviors, most Ankle Biting behavior is a response to what is happening to the dog. When we bring in a little dog, it is our duty to be respectful. We need to do what we can to reduce the chance of Ankle Biter Syndrome beginning.

 

  •  This may be reproduced with credit given – West Wind Dog Training, Karen Peak
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Cruisin’ With Care

I remember when a friend’s house was struck by a car. Inside the vehicle, a tiny kitten was found. It was after animal control’s hours and the kitty had suffered some injury. My daughter and I headed over, carrier and blanket in hand, collected the kitten and took her to an emergency clinic. The driver had not secured the kitten and the kitten became a projectile. Luckily the kitten survived.

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It is safest for dog and human for dogs to ride safely and quietly in a crate. This was at a dog show.  We fit three crates in a Honda Fit.  (c) West Wind Dog Training

I was forced out of my lane by a vehicle swerving dangerously along a major road. The car was swerving violently across both lanes. A dog was bounding around the vehicle, crashing into the driver and causing her to repeatedly lose control. Eventually we came to a red light and I was able to see the driver. She was one of my clients and we covered vehicle safety the week before!

Shortly after moving to VA, a woman was killed on the highway near where we live after her small dog jumped off the front seat and scooted under her legs.  The woman lost control of her car.  Had the dog been secured, this would not have happened.

Your dog sits up from your lap, bumps your arm and causes you to swerve.   Your dog lounging in the back window is flung into the back of the front seat as you jam on the breaks. Your dog is so loud in his crate that you run a red light as you turn to settle him. Airbags deploy in a collision and your pet is injured by the device. These are just a few things that can happen when your dog is loose.

Car safety begins with manners. This means working to make your pet comfortable with trips of any length. Your pet should not be any distraction. If your pet has problems in a vehicle (bounding about, barking, lunging at windows, etc), contact a trainer for assistance. Now we need to look at riding options for your dog – other critters should be securely crated or in a species suitable carrier.

Crates are considered the safest place to ride. There are crates rated for high impact, sadly they are financially out of the range of many owners.  Any crate is better than no crate. Keep crates secured in the back of your vehicle (not the trunk if you have a sedan – secure them in the back seat) to help prevent them from becoming projectiles or from being struck by deploying airbags.

Another option, though not as safe is a vehicle barrier.  If you have a large dog who may be too big for a crate in your vehicle, a barrier is a safer option than being loose.  However, I have watched dogs leap out of the vehicle before the owner could grab the leash.  All dogs need to learn to wait in the vehicle (even if crated) until you have the leash in your hand and give the dog permission to come out.

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Dog in a crate and note the vehicle barrier.  These dogs were taught to wait until lifted out of the vehicle.  (c) West Wind Dog Training

Recently, the Center for Pet Safety looked at various seat belts for pets and found they all could cause serious injury even in lower speed crashes. However, they will keep your dog from bounding around, being a distraction and becoming a projectile. ONLY use them in the rear seat, so your pet cannot be struck by a deploying airbag. (www.centerforpetsafety.org)

If you are in a situation where a crate, barrier, or seatbelt cannot be used, it is important all dogs learn to down and stay quietly on the floor of the vehicle until told to get up. Your dog must not be a distraction. Being on the floor reduces the chance of a dog becoming a projectile (and long as the vehicle does not roll).  When I was volunteering years ago with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, we taught puppies to quietly remain on the floor of any vehicle.  Obviously, visually impaired people will not be hauling a crate around with them in cabs, Uber/Lyft, subways or buses.  I also do not recommend this if you are driving alone with your dog.  If the dog gets up, getting him to go back down is a distraction.

Never allow your dog to ride in the open bed of a pick-up truck – even if the dog is leashed. If the bed is enclosed your dog needs to be in a secured (tethered down) crate to keep him from slipping about.   Dogs allowed to hang out windows are also at risk. A fast stop or swerve could result in injury.  I have seen dogs jump out of windows and almost slip out as a vehicle as corners were turned.

I love traveling with my dogs.  All my dogs are seasoned travelers who are quiet and calm in their crates.  It is safer for them and for others on the road.

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Socializing Ideas on a Budget

The first sixteen weeks of a puppy’s life is a crucial period for socializing. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, it is important for development and skills learning that puppies remain with their mothers until 8 – 10 weeks of age. During this time the breeder or rescue should be building the foundation for future homes. From there the owners take over construction. The first weeks you have that pup you need to hit the ground running.  However, this does not mean taking your puppy every place and expecting him to interact with every one.  Nor does this mean expecting your puppy to suck it up and deal with stress.  Socializing means positive, low-stress, experiences with the puppy determining how fast things go.  What is good for one pup will be too slow for another and too fast for the other.  Socializing must be done, it is not a luxury.  Many owners worry about the cost of socializing. As someone who has lived on tight budgets, I recognize the need to help owners manage costs wherever I can. There are many things you can do for socializing that are low cost to free.

Careful working with puppies and different sounds can reduce the risk of sound phobias developing. Various things we have can be used to give positive associations to sounds: music of all kinds, different movie genres, sounds from video games, let puppies listen to traffic, booms and rumbles from Quantico training, incoming storms, etc. Use what is in your neighborhood to your advantage. Check out different sound effect videos on YouTube and sound effects phone apps.  I often pull out my phone, find a sound effect on YouTube and play it for my clients as I teach counter conditioning and desensitizing.  The more different sounds I can get a puppy comfortable with, the better.

Puppies who are not exposed to different surfaces may have apprehensions about walking over new things. In most neighborhoods you should be able to find: grass, asphalt, concrete, mulch, and gravel. Find areas with sandy surfaces. Mesh cake cooling racks, placed upside down, can mimic grated surfaces. Get creative. Allow pup to walk over weird surfaces like bubble wrap or tarps. Use low trays and put paving stones and gravel in them.

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4 1/2 week puppy walking on a grated surface – the Kong toys are also stuffed with canned food.

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Puppies 5wks (2)

Puppy’s need positive associations with their own species. A carefully run puppy play group or socializing class is safer than a dog park. This is one place I would recommend spending the money. Alternatively, if you have friends with social dogs that are accepting of puppies, get together for frequent play dates at each other’s homes. Make sure you learn dog body language and when and how to intervene if needed.  I have been lucky over the years to have tolerant cats who have been wonderful for puppy socializing.

Each week you should visit 4 – 5 new places with the chance to observe and/or carefully interact with different things. It sounds like a lot but, it can be done easily. Vary the routes you walk. How many open college campuses are around here? Sit away from commotion and watch the activities. Allow pup to interact with respectful people who are not overwhelming him.  Sniff walks in fields or park trails. I used rest areas along the interstate near my house.  We would sit in a quiet area of the parking lot and listen to traffic. Multiple short, low stress, fun sessions are better than trying to accomplish it all in one day. Longer, stressing sessions may negatively impact a puppy’s socializing.

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When your pup is gaining confidence, increase the amount of activity he is exposed to. Check out historic areas in different towns. Some garden centers and home improvement stores allow dogs. The Bass Pro Shop in my areas has an elevator I have used to teach elevator work. We have many open-air shopping centers. Teach your puppy how to behave at cafes or ice cream shops with outdoor seating. Again, start when it is quieter and do not allow people to overwhelm your pup.

 

There is a small window for optimal socializing. As puppy owners, the more, careful work we do the first 16 weeks or so of life, the better it is for pups. Many undesired behaviors I work with come from a lack of socializing or from improper socializing when puppies are young. Early work is not an option. It is an obligation to your companion. However, you can do a lot of great work on a small budget. Get out there, get creative, get socializing.

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Adopting a Special Needs Pet

This was originally written for the local paper.  Since it was only in the paper edition, I have expanded it for this blog.
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Stig at about 17 weeks. West Wind Dog Training

While perusing online pet adoption sites or at a store with an adoption event, you see a special needs pet. Your heart breaks. You want to make the critter yours. Over the years we have adopted various special needs pets including:

Whisper – a purebred Persian cat from a known, severely traumatic background.  We were her 4th or 5th home.  She had been placed in each home with her littermate.  The last placement was with a family with a toddler.  The toddler was allowed to torment the cats so severely, they stopped eating.  Her littermate died and she was removed from the home.  She was half her weight and being force-fed by the rescue group.

Hunter – a dog labelled high energy who was in reality anxious.  He was a dog in need of a job and direction.  His first home failed because he grew to large and was too active.

Neelix – a Himalayan kitten from a person with various Himis and Persians. He was one of 68 cats pulled from this situation.  Most of the females were pregnant, all had behavioral worries and most had ringworm.  Neelix was 8 weeks old and slated for euthanasia.  80 – 90% of his body was covered in ringworm and he had a very large hernia that could not be operated on due to the fungal infection.

Stig – a three-legged kitten with a missing ear.  He was brought into a vet clinic where my sister worked.  It was not sure what happened but he was mangled.  He is now about 9 years old.

Adopting special needs pets is rewarding, but are you prepared to make the commitment?

Before you bring in a special needs pet, do some homework. You do not want to go into this blindly. Contact veterinarians, veterinary specialists, behaviorists and good trainers. Is the concern short term or for life?  How may it progress?  What are treatment options. You need to know as much as you can about what you are considering.

Be careful with online resources. There is a lot of questionable to bad information on the internet as well as good. One piece of bad information given to a person I worked with was the medical condition her dog had was always caused by food.  No, it is not.  The dog was pulled off all medication placed on special diets.  The dog started going downhill as the medication levels dropped in his system.  After weeks of listening to this one “expert” and all her garbage recommendations, I convinced the owner to talk to actual qualified, medical professionals. There was absolutely no dietary cause for what the poor dog was undergoing.

Once you understand what is going on with the critter, look at your life.

Pets are a long-term financial commitment and we must prepare for the unexpected. With a special needs pet, you know there are probably going to be increased costs at the beginning. ask about costs associated with what is going on. Will the pet need medical testing and how often? Can you afford long term medications or prescription diets? What about behaviorists to assist with a behavioral special needs animal? Are there trainers who have worked with blind and/or deaf animals in your area? What about surgeries? Are there devices you will need to help with mobility? Can you afford changes to your home and yard if needed? If you rent, will your landlord allow you to make these changes?

All pets require modification of our lives and environment. Special needs pets may require increased or different types of changes from us. Can you and will you do this? Are you able to learn how to give injections or sub-cutaneous fluids? We had to set aside quiet areas for Whisper and create an isolation room for Neelix. Do you have this ability? However, I had to turn down a three-legged dog a rescue tried to match with us. At that point, my husband and I hiked, camped, and cross-country skied. I was involved with dog sports that required four legs. Instead we adopted Hunter who had behavioral special needs I knew we could handle. Our lives gave him the jobs he needed. He loved wearing a backpack on hikes and skijoring in the winter.

What about behavioral special needs? Some behavioral problems have a medical cause. Are you able to rule this out? Is the animal good with other animals or not? What about children and other people? How many foster homes or failed placements has the critter endured? The more an animal is shuffled through homes, the harder things become for him. Even minor behavior concerns may worsen due to lack of stability when stability is needed the most. Are you willing to accept liability for a pet who has a bite history? Before your commit to a behavioral special needs animal, talk to trainers and behaviorists. You need to make sure the behaviors are ones you can safely, sanely and humanely live with.

On July 20, 2019, we welcomed Weeble into our home. She has Cerebellum Hypoplasia. This is a neurological condition that affects balance and coordination to varying degrees. The more I learned about it, the more I felt we could be a good match for a CH kitten. Weeble is 14 weeks old and mildly to moderately affected. She is a handful, but we can be what she needs.

 

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They Do What We Teach

Dogs are not out to get us nor are they out to dominate us. Dogs who are not doing what we want are not defiant, they are either not motivated enough, do not understand what we want, or doing what we taught. In an earlier column I discussed unintended results: things we may accidentally teach without realizing it. What about when we think we are teaching what we want and the dog still does not get it? There are various reasons this happens. Here are a couple of examples. One is in a class setting and the other in the home. Both examples are for two behaviors owners often want: lying down and housetraining.

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Photo by Kasuma on Pexels.com

When I was doing more group work (before I started concentrating on private work only), I had a student with a great first class (name, sit, loose leash walking) and a good second class (review previous class and learn down and stay). At the beginning of the third class, we reviewed “down.” When the dog was cued “down,” he jumped back and sat. I had the human try again. Same result. The class before they had the lure motion down and were already removing food from the lure. They seemed solid on what they needed to do to teach the dog the behavior that went along with the word. I asked them to do the lure again and see what happened. This is when I figured it out.

Instead of luring down and out, at some point over the week, the humans changed to lunging forward with the food. This forced the dog to go back and sit. The dog was doing exactly what the humans showed him. The fix was easy. I retaught the student how to lure the down. Since the dog learned down meant jump back and sit, I taught a new cue. By the next class, the dog was going into a down as desired and without a lure.

House training is another area dogs can learn things we do not want depending on how we teach the lessons. Owners are often taught to punish the pup or dog when they see him begin to eliminate inappropriately. Then owners notice the dog begins to move away and eliminate in areas where the human is not. The dog is often labeled defiant. When on walks, the dog may begin refusing to potty outside when the human is present. Why?Teaching proper elimination can teach a dog that going when a human is present is bad. Therefore, the dog moves to an area the human is not or waits until the human is out of sight.

Instead, increased supervision and positively teaching appropriate elimination and how to signal us when a dog has to go is more effective. I need my dogs to eliminate in my presence and tell me when they need to go. This means the dog learning how to signal me and me learning what my dog’s signals may be. Setting up for success is more effective than waiting for a failure and punishing.  Then of course, highly reinforcing that success!

Another way we can teach dogs things we may not want follows the line of housetraining.  Jumping is a pretty common behavior in dogs.  You can read more about how this behavior is often reinforced here. However, how we handle jumping can teach dogs to be afraid of your hands or even being near you.  A common recommendation to stop jumping is grab the feet and hold the feet or pinch the toes.  Well, now you need to clip your dog’s nails or check for something between the toes, whatever, and he does not want you to touch his feet.  Another common suggestion is knee the dog in the chest.  Well this hurts!  Why would your dog want to come near you if you are going to hurt him?  Instead, teach a more acceptable behavior such as sit.  If your dog is sitting, he is not jumping.  I do not want my dogs to learn I am going to hurt them.

When your dog is not “obeying” you, ask yourself why. Dogs do what we teach them. I cannot emphasize enough that every interaction we have with our dogs is a learning experience – even if we do not realize it. Therefore we need to be mindful of what we do and how.

Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training

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Unintended Reinforcements

It is no secret dogs (and in reality any animal as you will see in the video) do what works to get them what they want. Knowing what motivates dogs becomes a valuable training tool. However, if we are not careful, we can reinforce undesired behaviors. Let’s look at a couple common situations many owners inadvertently teach their dogs.

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Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

How many owners have a raging lunatic when it comes to leashing up their dogs for a walk? The dog bounce and barks, leaps and wriggles as the human struggles to get that leash on. The owner struggles until the leash is on and now the walk begins. What behavior is the human reinforcing? What does the dog learn must happen in order to go for a walk?  The behaviors may begin with the phrase used to indicate a walk is coming or seeing the leash in hand.  When he shows excitement, the leash goes on.  Therefore this act gets a walk started.  Since this behavior got something good, pup is more likely to repeat it next time.  Sadly this becomes annoying for many owners who may resort to punitive methods to stop the actions.

In this video, you will see a behavior many would find annoying that was reinforced in a cat.  Linus is my Persian.  Love him dearly but he is not the brightest cat we have owned.  But he learned bumping and patting up gets him scratched or his eye gunk cleaned out – yes he will drive his face into your hand to get his face cleaned.  All it took was a couple pokes that we absentmindedly touched him after and “BING!” that dim bulb over his head got a tad brighter.  Poking = pats.  Therefore I poke.

 

As humans, we need to realize every interaction we have with our dogs is a learning experience for them – even if we do not mean it to be. For example, my daughter’s dog, Uhura, loves going for walks. However, somehow, she learned freeze and drop gets her leashed up. I teach my dogs a nice stand or sit so we can put leashes, collars or harnesses on. At some point, Uhura laid down, the leash went on and off we went. Therefore, dropping to the ground, in her mind, got the leash on and the walk started.

Now let’s look at responses from us. Ways we respond to undesired behaviors may give the illusion of them being fixed. However, long term we can create more problems.  I am going to use jumping as an example of how things we do to try and stop a problem can cause more issues.

How often do humans reinforce jumping without realizing it? Puppy jumps on us – oh how cute! We pat the pup. What as pup learned?  Jumping is desired by humans! As the dog grows, jumping becomes less cute and more annoying. It can even become dangerous. Yet we reinforced that behavior because we thought it was cute.  Being bruised, knocked over, clothes muddied, etc. is not fun at all. 

A common recommendation to stop jumping is to grab toes and squeeze. The unpleasant feeling will stop the dog. Well, this also teaches a dog my hands on his feet is a bad thing. Now what happens when I must handle his feet? Will he be as comfortable with it? Instead, why not teach that feet on the floor is the good behavior and not reinforce jumping? Teaching an incompatible behavior can be tougher when the jumping behavior is a big part of the behaviors the dog does to get something.  Therefore we need to teach the manners we would like from adult dogs to our pups.

Let’s look at another common complaint: dog will not walk on a leash. This often comes from how we are taught to teach leash work. One recommended way is to leash up the pup and follow him until he gets used to feeling the leash as he walks around. We praise and encourage pup along while we tag along behind. Then we change the rules. Now we want pup to follow us. Pup does not do what we want. He puts on the brakes, pulls away, struggles, etc. We call him stubborn or dominant, defiant or poorly trained. The dog is confused.

How many owners turn to punitive methods to fix the problem? Leash corrections, choke or prong collars, even electric shocks sadly are suggested and used by many trainers. Short term using these harsh methods, things may seem better, but are they? Over time we can create a dog with increased stress, fears, develop leash reactivity and even aggressive behaviors. Instead, why not teach what we need from the start, using thoughtful methods that recognize how learning happens best? This way, we can avoid the unintended consequences of how leash manners are taught and “fixed” by some.

As owners, pet parents, guardians, whatever you call yourself, remember: every interaction we have with our dogs is a learning experience.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training and the Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Northern, VA.

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