Thursday, August 31, 2017

My dog is anti-social ... now what?!

I think one of the most common inquiries I receive day to day is regarding someone with a dog that doesn't like other dogs. Most of these dog owners see their dogs display aggressive behaviors, or what appear to be aggressive behaviors, towards other dogs either in the home or outside the home, or both.

As a society we've been listening to decades of information that states "dogs are pack animals" and they are "social creatures by nature" and do best with a companion.  This has many dog owners with dogs that don't seem to like other dogs quite upset. They are concerned that their dog is "broken" or something is wrong because he doesn't like other dogs. And they want to seek out a way to fix the dog and make him like other dogs.

You should know something. Not all dogs like other dogs, and that's ok.  While we can help dogs, like the ones I've described here, become more comfortable with the presence of other dogs, sometimes dogs just don't want to mingle with other dogs. Period. They are introverts if you will. They want to stay home and be with their human counterparts.  Some dogs don't like sharing their home with other dogs either, and that's ok too.

I recall a client I had years ago that was just dead set on her dog liking all the dogs in the neighborhood because, as she stated, "We are a social neighborhood and all the dogs always just hang out together. She needs to be able to hang out with us when we do this!"  I think I was a little speechless for a moment.  Then I said, "Do you know any introverts? They really are happy with their small circle of friends and sometimes that's just the person(s) living in the home and that's it. All the therapy in the world would likely do nothing to change this for those introverts."  She was not happy with my analogy and was very determined to get her dog to be social.  Note: It didn't happen. In case you're wondering, she never did finish her training. If she had, it would have involved me helping her get her dog emotionally stable upon seeing other dogs, and later when being near other dogs.... and some other stuff likely. I can't say for sure what the "other stuff" would be because I never got that far with her dog.  There is a whole protocol for these situations, very customized to each dog as each is different.

There are categories of tolerance levels dogs have for other dogs: social, tolerant, selective and aggressive.  Here is a good illustration and some explanation of this. Illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings: Dog-Dog Relationships. A collaboration with Laura London and Sara Reusche. More details in this blog post HERE.

If your dog is specific to whom he likes and dislikes it's important to "listen" to him.  Your dog doesn't want to be around other dogs.  There is often a belief that if a dog is put into a situation with a lot of dogs often enough they will "get used to" dogs and be fine, or "get over it". Unfortunately, this isn't how it works. More often than not that will backfired badly for you and your dog.  Throwing a dog into a punch bowl of other dogs and hoping he'll learn how to deal is called Flooding.  It's a behavior therapy technique used in psychology. It's got a lot of emotional drawbacks and sometimes, depending on the individual (dog or otherwise), it can be emotionally damaging.

If you have a dog that is in the tolerant category you may see her become agitated at times with certain dogs and become quite upset. This category is highly common but most frustrating for owners because they think their dog is good with other dogs ... then one day they get snarky and the owner is incredibly upset over it.

It's ok. Your dog is just fine until a dog does something she doesn't like. Just like we don't like all people we mingle with or know, dogs don't either, or at least tolerant dogs don't.  If your dog is tolerant it's really important to respect your dog and back your dog up when she becomes irritated with another dog, likely it was the other dog's fault.  Your dog deserves no backlash for this, she wants some space from the dog she was snarky with. Give it to her. Remove her, leave or listen to her body language before this happens.  

One of my dogs doesn't like a lot of outside dogs that aren't the two he lives with.  So, guess what? I keep him away from other dogs. I have a lot of dogs in and out of my home for boarding and training.  So, he could be forced to be around them. But .... why? Why do I have to force him? I don't. He is very clear in his body language and he lives very well with my dogs.  So I don't see any reason at all why he has to mingle with strange dogs.  Also, I admittedly don't have the time or inclination to work with him on how to change his behavior around other dogs. I could, I very easily could, but ... meh. I'm fine with how things are, and so is he because I listen to him and respect his tolerance level.

Well, there are two things you can do 1) try and change this behavior through behavior modification or 2) respect your dog and keep her away from other dogs altogether. She's been loud and clear, I'm sure, on how she feels about them. So either listen and respect it thoughtfully or do something to change it.


If your dog doesn't like other dogs but isn't aggressive towards them (won't do harm to them but puts on a big show) you can work through your dog's emotions and help your dog learn to be more relaxed, calm and behaviorally tolerable when around other dogs. This should only be done with the help of a qualified professional that knows how to work with reactive dogs.

If your dog really doesn't like other dogs and would likely do harm to one (or maybe already has) then it's imperative that you find a qualified behavior professional to help you.  Your dog isn't a lost cause and yes, there can be things that can be done to help both of you!  There are a lot of factors involved when a dog is truly aggressive (has the intent to do harm or has already done harm) and only a qualified professional can lay out a plan of action for this type of dog.

The main thing you need to understand is that for your dog to live a long, happy and fulfilled life he doesn't have to have doggie friends. Yes, it's true. Some dogs are completely fine just having human friends. There are many things you can do to engage your dog in activities, training, and enrichment that don't involve play or interacting with other dogs.

Something you should know about "socialization" is that it's done with after about 18 weeks of age for puppies, probably closer to 16 weeks.  Most behaviors and associations towards people, animals, places and things are set after this age.  Which means after this age you are just changing how they react to these things with training.

Here is a great read on when you're past socialization but you want to "socialize" your dog by Laura VanArendonk-Baugh of Canines in Action, Inc. in Indianapolis: "Don't Socialize the Dog!"


Dog parks and doggie daycare aren't ideal for most dogs. Yes, some dogs might be ok but for the most part, dogs aren't keen on being in a large room/open space with other [strange] dogs just roaming around.  There is really not a lot of fun in that for a dog.

In a setting such as these dogs aren't being dogs, they are just walking around in a large space with too many dogs thinking of things to do, which often end up as wrestling, humping or even pacing.  It's not at all "natural" dog behavior to plop dogs in a large group in order to play and have fun. Dogs do not walk around with large groups of dogs to socialize. Society has designed these things to appease the dog owner.

A great read on dog parks and "socialization" by Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota: "Dog-Dog Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park"

The single best thing you can do with your dog is work around other dogs with your dog and
teach them how to behave and be calm and comfortable in that setting.  You can even get into a well-set-up and well-run group class of your choosing. That means whether it's manners and skills you're working on or tricks or agility, or whatever ... you're working with your dog around other dogs. Your dog isn't mingling around with other dogs in class. It's not social hour.

You can also find a place on your own where dogs physically hang out (city parks) and go there to work with your dog and his skills.  If you choose a park to work your dog in you should work with your dog at a safe distance from the other dogs but so that he can still learn and work as you wish.


If you cannot do the above  join a well-run group class to work on skills around other dogs without mingling with other dogs  then you really need to hire a trainer to come in and start you on some good foundation skills for you and your dog.  Once you get a good baseline you can go from there, depending on many factors.  I really cannot stress how important a qualified trainer is in order for this type of behavior training program to be successful.

BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your dog. Either stop getting him around other dogs or hire a professional to help you change his responses and feelings towards and around other dogs.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The most important thing to teach Fido ...

I think this is the single most important thing you can teach your dog that lives in your home.  This is 10 x more important if you're going to have a baby or have kids in the home.

So, what is it?

Teach your dog to be ok with being alone in another room, either in a crate or behind a closed door.  By this I mean the dog can be confined, away from you and be calm, relaxed and quiet.

While I have a lot of clients that crate their dogs, a lot of those crated dogs are only crated, gated, or confined when the home is empty of humans.  I've found that people rarely crate or confine their dog away from the family when they are home.

  • Fido learns that being alone is ok.  This starts with being alone/confined while owners are home.
  • This can really be beneficial to combat any possibility of separation anxiety*.
    (*Note: this does not apply if the dog is already exhibiting signs or full-blown separation anxiety, that requires a whole other set of training! Contact a trainer if your dog has separation anxiety as quickly as possible.)
  • Gives Fluffy the ability to relax, on her own, and allow people in the home to do other tasks while not feeling bad for Fluffsters.
  • Allows people to put Fido away while guests are there, if it's a chaotic time (holidays), or if kids are chaotic and Fido needs to be put away for his and their sake.
  • If a new baby is in the home Fluffy can be put away, not stress out already exhausted parents and relax.  Dog and baby should be separated at many times so this is hugely beneficial for new parents!
  • If Fido ever got injured and need a lot of crate rest this would make it that much easier on him.
Having a dog that can be alone, in a crate or confined to another room is such a stress relief for the all the people that live in and visit your home.  For example, I have 3 dogs of my own and their crates are in my bedroom.  If I need to put them away I never stress because they just go in and usually just take a nap regardless of time of day or what they've been doing prior to being put away.  

I recall years ago I had 4 dogs at the time and we had a lot of my family over for Christmas.  My grandmother said, "Um, don't you have a lot of dogs?! Where are they?!"  I laughed and said, "Yes. They are in there [pointing to my bedroom door] just relaxing."  She asked to see them. She walked into my room and they were all just lying in their crates.  She was just floored that they were so quiet and peaceful.  

Dogs that can be alone, relaxed and calm, are easier to live with. Period.  You don't have to have guilt or worry with them being anxious when they are separated from you. 

For expecting and new parents this is vital. Part of my Family Paws Parent Education program involves teaching the dog(s) in the home to learn to relax and be ok with being away from the parents and, when the time comes, the baby.  I have an entire protocol for this with new and expecting parents but the truth is that all dog owners should be doing this with their dogs, not just parents!

  • During a dinner party or other time when several visitors/guests are in your home.
  • While you eat dinner so that you can eat in peace.
  • If you have a new baby and you need to tend to the baby and not worry with Fido.
  • If you have kids and the dog needs some of her own "down time" (which should be done regardless of dog's thoughts on the kids!)
  • Because you just want to have the dog out of the way!
  • If you have a puppy that's still not fully house-trained and/or trustworthy with chewing habits.
  • While you have workers in your home -- plumber, electrician, cable technician, etc.
  • While your training behaviors and need to use management to help (this applies to many things!)
While you don't necessarily have to use a crate, I prefer it to all other things (please see footnote below*).  You can shut them in a room or bathroom but I don't love this one as much. I like the dog to have their own space just set for them that's 100% safe (dogs can chew up baseboards and doorframes!). I also prefer this to an x-pen or area designated to just the dog.  It's more intimate.  You can crate train any dog, at any age at any time when you have the right tools and information to do so. (Read: Find an awesome trainer to help you out if you don't have one already!) 
*Footnote: You can, and probably should, practice these behaviors with your dog behind a gate where he can see you but cannot get to the same room as you.  As gates and other forms of confinement may be necessary as well and Fido should be comfortable in all confinement situations in the home, with you in another room. However, for the sake of using fewer words, I'll only refer to crating in the majority of this blog post. 

While I suggest you hire a trainer to help you through things, there are several things you can do to get the process going on your own.  If you run into any hiccups I'd suggest finding a trainer near you.

1. Feed your dog in his crate. Every meal.  I prefer a stuffed KONG to feed from so that is utilizing some mental enrichment.  However, a bowl will do too. Put food in crate, take out when you let Fido out. Do not leave in there if Fido doesn't finish it!

2. Leave her in there for short periods while you are just milling about your house.  If Fluffy is quiet then you can let her out after a few minutes.  If she's vocalizing then try to give something that will occupy her and keep her making good associations with being in the crate.  I suggest a stuffed KONG, bully stick or something else pretty fun and/or high value.

3. Start Crate Games by Susan Garrett. I also love all of these great games from Casey Lamonaco's article on crate training here.

4. If your dog doesn't go into the crate well, start shaping your dog to do this. Best done with a clicker, but not mandatory. You can find a great video on this here.

5. Play soothing music in the room where Fido is crated. Through A Dog's Ear is fabulous for this!

6. Gradually increase the amount of time that Fluffy is in the crate while you are home. Increase it by 2-5 minutes every couple of days for dogs that are doing well, not vocalizing and are pretty stress-free while doing this.

7. If you must, cover the crate with a sheet or crate cover.  Some dogs are visually stimulated and do better when covered. Some don't do better.  You can check to see if your dog does better covered or not covered.

  • Don't rush it if your dog is stressed or anxious when left alone, go slowly. Dogs that aren't used to being left alone, crated/confined while you are home will usually show some signs of distress. If you aren't sure how to tell if it's "normal" stress (part of learning) or more than that (possibly high stress that will inhibit learning), locate a qualified professional.
  • If your dog just whines a little or barks a few times don't rush to let them out. Allow them some time to settle if you've been following the above tips. Some dogs will do this because they aren't used to being in there while you are home. (For lots of vocalizing or dogs that won't settle please contact a trainer near you for help.)
  • If you suspect more than mild agitation or distress, contact a trainer that is well versed in separation anxiety. For separation anxiety cases I highly recommend Malena DeMartini or one of her certified trainers, they are truly experts in separation anxiety.
  • Always make tons of great things happen while Fluffy is in the crate, door closed.
  • Utilize the crate for all meals and yummy chew items. None of these should be available outside of the crate.
  • Work on Crate Games for about 10 minutes 2 x a day.
  • If you can't seem to do all this on your own, or have specific questions, call in a pro!
    (Need help locating a pro, try one of these organizations: IAABC, PPG, KPA, APDT)

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Friday, July 14, 2017

Stop leash pulling & start loose leash walking.

Your dog pulls on the leash when out on a walk. You've tried everything, to no avail. So, what's a great collar or leash or harness or go-cart that can help with this? . . . I'm going to tell you. I'm going to reveal my secret . . .


Here it is: There isn't one.  The secret is that you train your dog how to walk on a loose leash.

[You look at your screen with disdain.]

It's really pretty simple.  May not be easy but it's simple.  All dogs can be trained to walk on a loose leash.  You just need the correct handling skills, attitude, feedback, and rewards.  That's it. Simple? Yes! Easy? Not as much. However, with some consistency and dedication, you can achieve this in a shorter amount of time than you think!

Polite leash walking is one of the most requested things to work on by my clients.  So, I'm going to tell you what I tell my clients.  Dogs pull on leash because they learn that you keep going forward when they do.  I mean what happens when your dog pulls on the leash? You either pull back, jerk the leash, stop, something. You react in some way, however, after that moment you continue to move forward in the direction your dog was pulling, right?  So, why would they think that there is anything wrong with pulling if they are still going to move forward at some point?

I often hear dog owners say, "But he's choking himself! Doesn't that bother him enough to make him not want to keep that up?!"  The answer is, no.  Dogs don't care much for slight discomfort if they have a mission in mind.  When walking, most dogs just want to go.  They will take some choking, if it means they still get to go, go, go!

Your dog obviously needs some equipment to be worn while walking. You can find loads and loads of tools that are marketed to the desperate dog owner and boldly boasts "Stop leash pulling instantly!" or something to that effect.  However, the bottom line is that the tool isn't going to be the factor that stops the pulling. You are.

But ... your dog has to wear something, so ... I like harnesses hands down better than anything else. It eliminates choking and it gives more control.

My favorite is a body harness. I have three, at the moment, that are on my favorites list.  The Freedom No-Pull Harness, Perfect Fit Modular Harness, and the Balance Harness.

Freedom No-Pull Harness
Yes, this has the wonderful buzzword "no-pull" in the title to market it.  However, this harness does in fact help with pulling (help not fix) and does make the training much easier, in my professional experiences.

The harness is nice and padded with a soft, velvety material under the arms. It has a hook on the front and the back, and has a double leash designed for the harness, ... although I prefer the leashes I mention below for this instead.  The back piece does tighten up slightly if the dog pulls, like a martingale collar, unlike the other harnesses on the market. This one also has a huge variety of neat colors for any dog.  You can purchase here.

Perfect Fit Harness
This harness is padded all over and comes in a size for literally any dog, from super tiny to really giant!  I love how well it fits, as the name suggests.  It's a front and back-clip harness as well. This harness literally fits any dog of any size, even those with deep chests that are often not good candidates for other types of harnesses.

It comes in 3 pieces that all connect together to get the perfect fit for any breed or size of dog. This harness also comes in an array of colors for the fleece lining on the harness. You can purchase here.

Balance Harness
This harness has a front and back-clip but different than the other two listed above, it's not padded but it doesn't fit under the dog's armpit area.  The dog shouldn't wear a collar around it's neck while wearing this harness, for the best fit. It works with pressure points on the dog to help balance as well as give it complete freedom of movement.  I have not used this harness myself as I have the other two.  So you'll have to judge this one on your own. I listed it here because several trainers I know highly recommend this harness. You can purchase here.

The best leash is 6-foot leather leash.  Most durable, most reliable and will last you a lifetime. You can get a double leash that's leather as well, if you need one for a harness that has a front and back-clip for a leash.  You may also just clip the leash to either the front or back clip, depending on what your dog works best with. This is my favorite leash by far, as far as quality and use click here to purchase. This is also a good one, which is quite similar.

Some people are sold certain types of collars that "are the only thing that worked for my dog's pulling", according to your neighbor or best friend with a huge strong dog.  I'm not going to discuss training tools I dislike or do not approve of, in depth on this blog post. I'll just say that with my training I don't recommend choke chains, pinch (some call prong) collars, or electronic, or vibration collars.  If you want to use one you'll need to hire a trainer that utilizes one or all of those tools, as I do not. I started my training career using choke chains and prong collars, so I'm not unfamiliar with them at all. However, I've learned a lot over the years (and continue to do so) and therefore I no longer use these tools at all. I can and will gladly discuss my thoughts with anyone who has questions.

... Now ... for other collars to wear on a walk ... I really do prefer just a harness for walking.  I do like dogs to wear a flat collar at all times, except when in a crate, with an ID tag for safety reasons.  However, for walking on a leash I prefer a dog wear a well-fitted dog harness.

So, now you're thinking -- yeah, yeah, I just wanna know how to teach my dog not to pull!  Well, many factors go into why a dog pulls or doesn't pay attention when outside, or sniffs too much, and on and on . . . Therefore, the absolute best way to accomplish good leash skills is to hire a trainer that can show you and work with you and your dog on this skill set.  Yeah, I know. Not what you were hoping for, but it's quite honestly the best way to accomplish the goal of loose leash walking successfully.

Side note: If you have more than one dog, you must teach this skill separately.  Once all dogs are well-behaved and walking on a loose leash you may then decide to walk them together.

1. Start with pre-leash attachment.  By this I mean, don't let the dog start getting crazy, attach the leash and then head out the door. You've already lost. Your dog has pulled you to the door and out the door. Now, you get to the driveway or sidewalk and suddenly you want to start showing your dog that pulling from here on out isn't acceptable.  Don't let it start in the first place.

2. Work on leash skills without a leash indoors first.  Add the leash later.  I simply get the dog on the side I want her on (I prefer the left) and give rewards while the dog is on that side, next to your leg and walking with you. You'll be dispensing a lot of food, one right after the other (like a Pez dispenser!) at first. These are great videos on how to start this and train it. Part I and Part II.

3. Don't rush! Sure, this may be time-consuming and you just want to walk your dog but ... if you rush it you'll have a dog that pulls on a leash.  So, don't rush, you'll be so happy in the long run that you didn't!

4. Set your dog up to succeed! Remember that each time your dog is on a leash he's learning
, even if you aren't actively training!  So, is he learning what to do or what not to do? You control what he's learning. Don't allow the dog to pull, ever. If this requires you to skip a walk altogether until leash skills are better or until you have time to make a walk a training walk (training is being done the entire walk), then so be it!

5. Hire someone to help you.  I know, you really didn't want to hire someone. However, it really is best to learn leash skills when a trained professional can come in and help you do it. It's invaluable to learn how to walk on a loose leash in person because so much coaching can take place for your specific dog and what may be best for her.

Part I
Part II
Here are two lovely illustrated posters of loose leash walking, illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings

If you'd like to have these enlarged to read better and/or to have these in printable PDF formats please click here: Part I and Part II.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I don't wanna: The dislike of management in training.

I have loads of amazing clients that do the work we discuss and put forth the effort to train their dogs using the advice and plans I give them.  However, depending on the case and specifics of the issues we are working on, this may possibly mean a huge shift in change for both the dog and owner.  This very often involves what we call "management", and this can often be met with some real crazy "whaaa?" faces and words.

Management is utilized a great deal in the beginning of a training program, especially when really changing behavior in dogs, because it sets the dog up to succeed.  It's like the alcoholic that's decided to stop drinking.  They cannot successfully do this by going to the bar, even if just once a week.  They have to manage themselves and set themselves up for success so that the long term result is the person no longer drinking.  This means attending AA meetings and getting rid of all alcohol in the home, not going to bars, etc.  It's a whole new system they have to adopt if they want to change.  There is no easy way around it.  Either they do these things and manage themselves tightly in the beginning (so hopefully when further into their program they can actually go to a bar with a friend and use self discipline) or they will fail. It's just that simple.

We must do the same with our dogs.  When we want to change their behavior we have to find ways to set them up for success while we are working toward the bigger goal or end goal.  If your dog is barking viciously out of the windows at home then gets out on a leash and is very reactive (or aggressive) toward other dogs then we need to change something.  Management here would include blocking the window (so not to practice and get amped up) and not walk the dog --for now-- so that he cannot practice these behaviors. This is not fixing the problem but it's putting forth a management protocol that will aid in the success of all the other training we will be doing to help in the long run.

While most people clearly can see the situation with the alcoholic and respect it, they cannot seem to do this with their dogs when it comes down to it.  I find a lot of resistance to management protocols with dogs.  As humans we seemingly so often just find that dogs are here to do what we say when we say it and if they can't we'll force them into the scenario to make them understand what's wrong and why.

Fido lunges on a leash? Well by golly then I'll slap this correction collar on him and yank it really hard when he does that! He'll learn not to do that again! ... Hmmm ... Is that really setting the dog up to succeed? Is this actually teaching the dog what he should be doing instead of lunging on the leash?

puppy in a safe area: management!
Management is just as important in a training program as the actual training and changing of behavior.  It is part of the protocol.  If one doesn't manage and set their dog up for success the dog will not succeed in the way that it should.  Trainers don't give you the rules to stop doing certain things with your dog or to change the current way you might be doing something so that they can really disrupt your life.  They do it to help you and your dog for the goal you have in mind.

This could be as simple as putting a puppy in a crate so that he cannot chew your things while you're out to quitting your daily walks if your dog is reactive on a leash.  Neither are a life sentence, but a management protocol that can be eventually totally changed to something different.

So just remember, setting your dog up for success and managing your dog isn't a failure, it's a step in the right direction.  I have a client right now that's doing an amazing job with her very leash reactive dog.  We are to the point where I've suggested she can now start short walks.  She knows what to do and how to help the dog when she sees other dogs.  So she says to me, "I feel like I really chickened out the other day walking Fluffy.  I saw another dog and I wasn't ready so I jumped behind the closest car and hid there with Fluffy until the dog was gone. I know I should have worked on her and done something else."  I said, "Are you kidding?!  That's great!  If you knew you weren't mentally ready to handle that then you did the right thing. You set her up for success. She was not able to see the dog to react and you stuck it out until it was safe and she wasn't put in a position to react!  I call that a success and good thinking!"

Don't ever feel like you're failing if you set your dog up to succeed, even if in that moment it's not actually "training".  If your dog is put in a position to make a good choice, or at least not make a bad one, then you're winning! 

Happy training ... and keep on working with your dog to set her up to succeed!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC