Saturday, February 27, 2010

How To Turn Puppy Into Kujo Aggressive Dog

All pups have sharp teeth. All pups are mouthy. One of the biggest complaints we get from clients is that the pup is biting them too hard. (In fact, at seminars we do we frequently get people holding up their scarred and scabbed hands as evidence of their problem.) If you treat your puppy like a human child or baby and do not take the role of pack leader (or the pup's real dog Mom) and the puppy begins biting too hard, nipping, lunging at people and generally getting away with bad behavior, there is a very real possibility that the pup will learn to bite people.

Recently we heard about a 7 month old chocolate lab who had bitten her owner several times (hard--drew blood) and a number of other people recently. We ended up bringing the dog home with us after she bit Kate as she put the leash on the dog. It was too serious a matter to leave the dog in her own home environment because the behavior was escalating and the family did not have the experience to know how to react properly with this dog.

The dog is a sweet tempered dog almost all the time. Typical Labrador Retriever. Except when she feels threatened or is being pressured to do something she does not want to do. The first time she bit the owner in a nasty way, she was only about 5 months old and her owner needed to wash the mud off her paws before going in the house. The "correction" that was given to the dog at that time was for the owner to yell "No!" and turn his back on her. (This advice came from a "trainer" at the obedience class at a big box store.) So the dog won that battle. Turning your back on a dog is NOT A CORRECTION!

Now this sort of behavior does not just suddenly appear. This undoubtedly started in puppyhood. At about 5 or 6 weeks, the breeder should be taking over slowly from Mom the duties of caring for and disciplining the puppies. (Caring for a litter of puppies is VERY TIME CONSUMING and if done correctly should set up the pups for a successful life.) This is a very big reason to get your pup from a reputable breeder and not a pet store where the pups most likely came from a puppy mill.) It is very important for the pups to stay together as a litter until at least 7 weeks. If the pup is going to an only dog home, I recommend that the pup stay with it's litter mates as long as 10 or 12 weeks. From 3 weeks to 4 months is a very critical time in the pup's life. The more time the pup can spend with other dogs in the early stages, the better the pup's chances of being well adjusted.

When the pup bites Mom, he will get an appropriate correction. She may give a little shake on the scruff of his neck and after he learns that lesson, all it may take from her is a look and a warning growl. We see the pups take a submissive position to Mom and other older adult dogs when they get a correction from them. Often the vocalize to "cry Uncle." This may look to a human like a really sad, pathetic thing and it might be tempting to feel sorry for the pup--or even "save" him from the situation. Wrong! Dogs are not furry humans! Dogs are not "politically correct." Dogs speak dog and conduct themselves the way they need to in order to have a well balanced and effective "pack." What we humans need to do to be successful puppy raisers is to study the pack behavior and take the role of pack leader.

The breeder should be knowledgeable and experienced enough to be able to give proper dog-like corrections to the pups after Mom turns over the duties. If the pup bites the people feeding him and cleaning his quarters--even though the bite might be playful, he should get a little correction. When the new owners take the pup home, they should be willing to give appropriate, dog-like corrections too.

This is where so many new dog owners get into trouble. If people are not willing to give their pup a correction for transgressions like biting too hard and are not willing to be pack leader around food, then the likelihood that a behavioral problem like aggressive biting will develop increases. And once the dog becomes a mature adult, the problem becomes much more difficult problem to fix.

Luckily for Lucy, the 7 month old Lab, she is still enough of a puppy that her aggressive biting behavior can be changed fairly easily. Our job is not finished though with fixing Lucy's behavior. In order for these changes to stick once she returns home, the people in her life must be willing to change their behavior. They must learn how to deliver swift, appropriate corrections to this dog when needed. Otherwise the dog will return to old habits and the bad behavior will become worse.

Most aggression that we typically see is a direct result of human ignorance. In order to live well with dogs, we must understand that we must give them what they need. They need us to be good pack leaders. In the absence of leadership, dogs are hard-wired to step into the leadership role. It is not something they "decide" to do, it is something that kicks in through instinct. A dog "leading" humans is a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Memory Of Silverbrook's Ginger Lei Senior Hunter

Silverbrook's Ginger Lei SH went over the Rainbow Bridge this afternoon. She was only 10 years old.

She taught me a lot over the years. She was my first pup that I got for hunting & retrieving. Boy, did I have a LOT to learn. For the last couple of years she had been teaching people new to the sport of retriever training how to handle a dog on marks and blinds. A good handler makes it look easy on even a green dog. A great dog makes a green handler look good.

Ginny continued to help teach new handlers until almost the very end. Good-By Gin Girl. We miss you so much and we will see you on the other side.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Human Components Of Dog Training Can Be Challenging

Tune in to KLAY 11.80 am this Saturday at 1:00 pm pacific time for a discussion with Kate Johansson, Tacoma dog trainer, on how a handler's expectations, attitude, body language and heart can influence dog behavior. If you want your dog to be different, YOU need to be different!

Recently some members of our training, picnic trial club wanted to change the rules of running in the mock trials we put on several times a year for our retrievers. They wanted to allow "training equipment" to be used while running the dogs. The reasoning went that everyone knows that dogs "know" when they are at a trial. That is why they act so much more excited and are so much more difficult to control. There is something about the excitement of a trial and all the many trucks and the more formalized waiting for a turn in front of the judges--having to wait behind all those holding blinds, etc.

We've been hearing this for years. How dogs "know" when it is a trial and act differently. So, if we could just have a "trial" and use "training equipment" the dogs would learn not to behave differently at a trial.

Problem is that the dogs are NOT reacting to the different atmosphere of the trial. We humans are. We are in competitive mode. We are being judged. There are spectators watching us. We had to get up in the middle of the night and drive a long distance to get there. We had to pay a significant entry fee for the opportunity to be judged. We might have had to get a hotel. We have a LOT invested in this trial. We have been training for months or years for this opportunity. And now its show time!

And the dogs look at us and sense something is different--about us. If we want our dogs to act the same way at a trial that they do in training--we need to learn to act and feel the same way we do in training. The only way to get comfortable at trials and tests is to enter our dogs in a lot of them. The more "line time" we get taking our dogs to the line in front of the judges at trials, the better we will get at doing it.

Trying to trick the dog into thinking he is at a trial while still being in training mode might give the trainer/handler a false sense of accomplishment. But when that handler gets out of his truck at a real trial next weekend, his dog is going to know something is different. Because that same old feeling is going to come back to the handler.

We see this problem in pet dogs too. The problem of owners/handlers having anxiety, nervousness, and negative emotions while dealing with their dogs. Many, many dog problems are really confidence problems with the owners. And that is where so much education comes in to play with dog training. Training dogs is easy. Teaching and building confidence in the owners can sometimes be more challenging.