Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Dogs & Toddlers: Don't pet the dog.

You want your toddler and your dog to be pals. You work hard on teaching your child"gentle" by showing her how to nicely pet Fluffy. You may even take her hand and help her stroke the dog correctly and gently. 

What if I told you to stop letting your toddler pet your dog? What if I told you that your toddler has no reason to pet your dog?

For the sake of stating it over and over in this blog, when I use the word "toddler" I'm referring to children in the 2-4 years of age range.

It's best that toddlers have has zero access to the family dog unless a parent is in the room and proactively supervising (planning and preparing safe separation with a gate, crate or x-pen) or actively supervising (actively interacting with the dog and child on proper interactions between the two).  

Successful separation can be done via crates, gates and x-pens with what Family Paws Parent Education has coined as "Success Stations"(read my blog on Success Stations here.) See the poster from Family Paws Parent Education on supervision stages to the right. Click the picture to download it.

The thing with toddlers is that they are mostly impulsive and parents aren't being proactive with supervision because they don't realize how critical this is. This is when I usually get the call because the dog reacts aggressively after being pestered for the last time. Parents are at the point of blame for the dog when in fact the dog reacted normally for an animal in response to being pestered and/or hurt.

So, for this age group it's best to have very short interactions with the dog and those should be respectful toward the body language of the dog. Does the pet want to be petted or scratched? You'd be surprised how many people don't know when a dog really does not want to be petted. (I wrote a blog that explains how you can tell when and when not to pet a dog.)

Even if a dog does want to be petted I am still not completely on board for allowing children in the 2-4 age group to learn to pet a dog. Yes, you heard that. And yes, you may feel like clicking off here now.  You may be thinking ––"My child cannot pet the dog?! Why?!!! That's absurd!" But hear me out . . .

My training focuses on teaching you to have children that appropriately co-exist with the family dog, and how to make that last for the life of the dog. This can include a few things such as: dropping food on the floor (treats) a couple of times or having the child set the food bowl down at mealtimes. You can also have the child throw a toy or ball for a dog that enjoys that.

The above are appropriate interactions that still allow the child to hang out and interact with the dog while each party is in a respectful place and mindset. Once this is achieved your child and dog will form a lovely relationship and petting won't be a concern, over time.

Children in this age group just aren't good at physical touch, in regards to pets. They are often too forceful with touch, do too much stroking (over and over), or they become a bit aggressive. This might include hard petting, pulling hair, tails and/or ears, or even hitting. These aren't ok, and because gentle petting can escalate to more aggressive forms of touch quickly, it's best to not encourage any forms of touching with toddlers.

Having a toddler learn to pet a dog isn't a goal you should have. Your child will grow up and there will be plenty of opportunities for your child to be able to pet and touch your dog. Your goal should be a dog and child that coexist and get along well together. Petting will come later.

I evaluate each family, dog and child to set up a plan of action specific to each family's needs.  Each program is specific to help your dog and your family. So I will not go into any training plans on this blog. 

I do virtual consults all over the world and can help with more great tips, tricks and fun ways to teach your child to have appropriate interactions with your dog if you'd like to go deeper into this!  Email me if you need help! –– stacy@sunshinedog.com 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

He does it for YOU, but not me ... why?!

I've had the last few of my board-n-train dogs' owners say to me, "you're so patient and gentle when you're training" with (insert their dog's name).  I had one lady say it to me after every video I'd send of us working together, i.e., me and her dog. It was very kind of her to say. It struck me though as she said it in a way that sounded like she was surprised I could get such compliance out of her dog by being so kind and patient.

People think that I'm magic and wish they could get the compliance from their dog that I can get. Guess what, you can!  Communication and delivery of said communication is key!

I find it sad that people feel like they cannot get their dog to "listen" or train without being loud or worse. Training a dog doesn't require anyone to use a harsh tone, yell, physically manipulate the dog or any other number of more non-patient or gentle ways in order to get a dog to do what you ask. 

You can actually train your dog to do anything without being a loud, stern and/or a harsh. I think it's been believed for so long that we must show this absolute domination over our dogs that we have lost sight of the fact that dogs do have emotional cups just like humans do. They can become stressed just like humans. Often a dog that doesn't "listen" or work for someone isn't doing it because they are dumb or stubborn, they are doing it because the trainer isn't carrying out the training in a way that fits the dog in front of them.

One of my daughters is an incredibly sensitive and anxious person. If I'm frustrated with her she'll mentally go haywire. I noticed this when she was pretty young. I recall once she spilled a gallon jug of sweet tea (read: sticky!) all over my floor and I was having a day as it was and I got very mad and yelled at her. I yelled "GET SOME TOWELS! DON'T JUST STAND THERE!" She actually fumbled around like she didn't even know what a towel was. She was probably 7 years old, so she clearly knew what a towel was. I got more angry as the tea trickled down my kitchen floor filling the floor with more sticky sweet tea. I finally just got up and grabbed some towels from my bathroom myself.  After this little incident happened I realized that mentally she began to shutdown after I became so angry at her. She couldn't really even think in the moment so she appeared to not know what to do or where to get a towel from. This was just her anxiety taking over in that moment of my harsh response to the situation and lack of her so-called compliance at my request.

Dogs can respond the same way my daughter did –– seemingly as if they are dumb and don't know what to do, or not do anything and seem obstinate. Neither of those is actually what is going on, though. The dog is likely mentally shaken up and in a small state of "crap, crap, crap" and so they can respond in a way that isn't what we want. What is interesting is that dogs respond in several different ways when they are presented with something that stresses them out or causes confusion and/or frustration. 

I've seen dogs that are frustrated, confused and/or shutdown do the following behaviors in response to their owner's yelling, punishment and/or frustration:

  • freeze / do nothing
  • do a quick sit
  • become mouthy
  • become bouncy or jump all over the person
  • quickly run off
  • get a case of the zoomies
  • act goofy
  • roll over & show their belly
  • snarl or growl
  • snap 
  • urinate
  • defecate

I realize that dogs can often be annoying, frustrating and hard to manage . . . when we don't know what to do or how to do it. However, this is also why it's critical to do the following . . .

1) Learn to understand dog behavior, body language & what it all means. 

2) Forget all that dominance and alpha theory stuff, it's pretty much all wrong! (sources here, here & here & video here)

3) Hire a trainer that actually understands dog behavior & how to apply learning theory properly in training. (Read my blog post here on how to find the right professional)

4) Take a step back & breathe. If you are finding yourself frustrated or your dog isn't doing what you ask, crate your dog with a safe chewy & leave the room.

5) Did you hire that qualified professional yet? Dogs can learn without the use of positive punishment (learn those operant conditioning quadrants so you know what this is!) purposely being applied to get what you want. This means any dog, any breed, any age, any size. Certain breeds don't require special macho training or a "more dominant leader".  

You know what every single dog needs in order to learn and comply? Someone who knows what they are doing; someone who knows how to apply the proper methods and tools all while keeping the dog's welfare, body language and behavior in mind.

We lose sight of the fact that dogs are not robots. We often feel that a dog "should do X" because ... he's a dog! "Why can't he just ______!" 

I could go on and on about how many people put such high expectations on these fabulous mammals we have as family companions. We don't realize that all behavior happens for a reason. 

Dogs don't do things to purposely be annoying or a burden.  It's our job to figure out why a dog does do what he does and why. That's when we can use that information to get the behavior we want, in a manner that suits the learner and the trainer!  

The best way to best help your dog is to find a qualified professional that can help you. Ask me how, or read my blog post on how to choose a qualified professional.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Stop messing with your dog while he eats!

Yeah this blog title is abrupt, right?! But here's the thing . . . somewhere back when someone gave the advice to "put your hand in your dog's food and mess with it while he's eating so he gets used to you doing that and he won't become aggressive around his food . . ." Sadly, this advice will do no such thing, and at its worst it will actually cause your dog to become aggressive around food. This is called Resource Guarding behavior.
How to Deal With a Dog Who Guards Food, Toys, Places, or People
Guarding things isn't a totally abnormal behavior in canines but it isn't acceptable or safe behavior when we have to live with those dogs and give them all the things that they deem as "resources". This is especially true if/when children live in the home or are around these dogs often. This can range in manageable behavior to dangerous behavior. 

For dogs resources that are valuable will vary from dog to dog but most dogs feel that these common things are valuable resources –– food, toys, treats, bones, beds (or sleeping spots), and sometimes their people (or just one person).  If a dog feels that any of these valuable resources are at risk of being taken away and they are conflicted about that they could start to show resource guarding behaviors when around these things. Resource guarding behaviors usually look like one, some or all of these behaviors –– dog lowers head, growls, snarls, snaps, bites and/or lunges to tell the offender to back away and "this is mine, you cannot come near it!"  

It should be known that some dogs will live their whole lives and never guard anything or show any signs of stress when someone comes to take something from them. However, it's still always a good idea to never test a dog or do things that could possibly cause a dog to feel the need to become a resource guarder.  

Sadly, this behavior can be taught and when it is no one ever knows that's what they have done as no one ever intends to teach their dog to become aggressive around resources!  I've heard some really poor advice given to people (or that they've read somewhere) on ways to "prevent your dog from becoming a resource guarder" which actually will do the very opposite for some dogs and teach them to actually become resource guarders. 

The old advice to put your hands in your pup's food when he's eating or mess with them while they eat is some of the worst advice you could ever take on this matter. This will cause more stress and likely teach a dog that may have never felt a need to guard suddenly feel the need to do so. Why? How? Well, let's use you as an example. You're sitting down with your meal, about to enjoy a bite when your spouse reaches over and starts putting their hands in your mashed potatoes. They do this every meal and finally one day you slap their hand as you see them reach over toward your plate. You've had enough! You just want to eat in peace!  While do get that dogs aren't humans, the analogy is pretty much the same only dogs have teeth to use as "back off" signals rather than words or hands that slap!

Messing with dogs while they eat in any fashion builds frustration, and sometimes builds such frustration that the dog becomes aggressive about it. They literally just want to eat with no on messing with them. So, it's only going to teach the dog that being messed with when eating is super annoying, at best. At worst, it will teach a dog that they should defend their food so that the annoying humans will back off and let them eat in peace.

Often dogs that are not confrontational will develop some behaviors around food but these behaviors may not actually develop into aggressive or dangerous behaviors. Something that I often see with a dog that is uneasy about someone taking their food or just a perceived threat around their food is that they become incredibly fast eaters. They will almost inhale their food. They feel very uneasy so they eat quickly to get the meal over with so that they can be done and hopefully have no one mess with them. Some dogs will start out what we'd call "fine" but then develop some more concerning behaviors due to how they are treated when around food or some other things that may cause them to have preconceived notions around eating.

Now, with all of this said you should know that some dogs that are resource guarders are not this way due to some poor advice that the owners followed through with unknowingly. Genetics has a huge role in resource guarding behaviors and some breeds are more predisposed to guarding behaviors than others. So, sometimes you'll have a dog that resource guards without any past behaviors that would or may have caused them to do so. Some dogs will become resource guarders due to circumstances they lived in such as living with a lot of dogs and resources were scarce or living on the streets and resources were scarce. There can be other reasons that dogs guard resources that may not having anything to do with associations made due to humans and their interactions around food.
All that to say that it's important to know that we should be leaning towards teaching dogs that good things happen when people are around food, so that resource guarding behaviors never become a thing in the first place!

So what does one do to prevent resource guarding from happening
Note: If your dog already exhibits some resource guarding please seek a professional's help first and foremost. The following is only suitable for dogs that are show no signs of stress, frustration or aggression around their food bowl currently*.

Make eating with people around = good things! When going near your dog's food just casually drop some high value food into their bowl, then just walk on by. This could look like you grabbing up some little pieces of cheese or boiled chicken, walk by and drop several pieces of that into your dog's bowl. Then just walk away. Say nothing. Do nothing but drop the food in and go.

You could call your dog away and feed him higher value food and then let him return to the bowl as well. However, I'm not as keen on this one because it could possibly cause some frustration if they are interrupted while eating. Interruption while eating can be a reason for frustration build up and/or anxiety to build up. So, if you use this little technique be sure to be 100% sure your dog is enjoying it and it's benefiting the situation and not building stress or frustration. If you're not sure then nix it and just stick to the dropping the bowl thing!

I won't go into a detailed bit about what to do or not do any further as this can be such a problematic behavior that I feel a professional should always be consulted for anything related to resource guarding. There is a great read by Puppyleaks here with much more detail and info on resource guarding. I do recommend you read it! 

*Disclaimer: Resource guarding is a serious behavior. If your dog is a resource guarder it is advised that you seek the help of a professional. Resource guarding won’t just go away, and it tends to gets worse if not managed properly. A professional is the best course of action even if you're unsure whether your dog's behavior is safe or unsafe. If you need help locating a qualified professional let me know and I'll help you find one.

Monday, June 22, 2020

When it's not behavior.

Your Dog Making A 'Sad Puppy Face' May Be Trying To Tell You ...When dogs do something that humans don't like or that is out of character for the dog it's very common for most people to immediately blame it on the dog's behavior. The dog is often mis-labeled as "naughty" or "spiteful" or even "dumb". More dangerously, the dog is often mis-labeled as "dominant". More on the whole "dominant" thing later . . . Let's look at more common [and logical] explanations for behavior that we don't like or that are a bit "off" in our companion dogs.
Anxiety and/or stress can cause a dog to present with a wide range of behaviors, many of which can look more like an un-trained dog or what some would label as a "naughty" dog. For example, excessive defecating and/or urinating can be a sign of anxiety. Dogs that chew excessively or destroy things can be anxious or stressed and do these behaviors as a "stress release". Dogs can withdraw or hide when nervous or anxious and be mis-labeled as "shy". There are quite a few behaviors dogs can present when they are stressed and/or anxious. It's critical to get a proper evaluation for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Dogs don't always show a lot of symptoms or let us know when they are in pain. So, if your dog is acting in a way that you don't approve or is doing something you really want to be angry about (like snapping at your kids!) then don't jump to the conclusion that your dog is bad or aggressive or needs you to be "more dominant" (never assume this!). Instead, make an appointment with your vet to rule out a physical and/or medical cause. Also, find a qualified trainer or behavior consultant (need to know how to know who to hire? Read my blog on choosing the right professional here) to help set up a proper behavior modification program that will benefit everyone involved.

Dog Anxiety: What dog Owners Need to Know
Growling when being touched could be anxiety or the dog is in pain and has not been diagnosed yet with what is causing the pain. The same goes for snapping or biting.

Potty accidents are a main cause of stress in many dog owners, for obvious reasons. However, it's critical to know what the cause of your dog's potty accidents are before jumping to any conclusions. Always set up an appointment with your veterinarian first and go from there. Never assume your dog is doing something "on purpose" or because she's "mad at you". Those are never reasons a dog does any behavior, there is always a reason and it's important to find out what that reason is so that it may be addressed appropriately.

I remember some years ago I had a client have one of her dogs very uncharacteristically attack her other dog. She was so angry at the dog for attacking her other dog unprovoked. She had every right to be upset but I calmly explained that it was important we find out why the dog would do this when he had never done this before. Upon further investigation we found that the dog had a tumor on his leg she didn't know about and when the dogs were playing we think he likely caused the dog a lot of pain and so the dog just reacted out of pain.

I've also seen dogs that had urinary tract infections (UTIs) get attacked, seemingly "out of no where" by another dog in the home. Once the owner took both dogs to the vet it was discovered that the one being attacked had a very bad UTI that had likely been going on undiagnosed for quite some time. It doesn't seem to make sense that the sick dog would be the victim, however, this is a case in point here. This is the reason it's very important to always look at the root cause instead of jump to conclusions.

Amazon's Alexa is a lot like a bad dog.
If you feel your dog is doing things as a "naughty dog" or out of "dominance" you'll treat your dog differently and it will have an effect on your dog's future behavior.  This would likely not be a good thing as you'll be reacting out of frustration and/or anger, which will only lead to more problematic behavior.

In conclusion, never assume. Always look into a mental, neurological, physical and/or medical cause for your dog's behavior and then go from there on a plan of action. 

On a last note . . . Never, ever assume your dog's behavior is due to "dominance" that is rarely, if ever, a reason for any dog's behavior. If you'd like to read more on this please read this article here.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

What kind of dog pro do I need & how do I find one?

Finding the right type of dog professional can be a daunting task. There are so many "titles" that dog professionals use. Sadly, some are made up, some come with a little education while others come with a vast amount of education and certification. It's a huge range!

Why is this? Sadly, it's difficult to know who is who and what each person does because the dog training industry is not regulated and there are no governing bodies to qualify a person in the dog training and behavior industry. There are no degrees or formal education for a dog trainer. Anyone can become a dog trainer. There are many "schools" out there with their own type of "certification", heck I even attended one way back in 1999. However, this still isn't a green light that one should immediately say, "Oh then he must be a qualified trainer..." Sadly that may or may not hold true. The best way to find a good trainer is by referral and your own observation and interview process. I'll give you more info on this later ...

Professionals in the pet-behavior field fall into a few different categories (according to myself):
  1. Dog Trainers
  2. Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
  3. Behavior Consultants (CDBCs)
  4. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist (DACVBs)
  5. Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs) & Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs)
1. Dog Trainers.
This could be anyone, and by anyone I mean anyone. So, this is the most loose category that there is. However, there are lots of trainers that are actually quite qualified in their skillset, continuing education and training abilities. But there is a huge hole where anyone could walk up to you and say "hey, I'm a dog trainer need some training for your dog?" and they could have read one book and trained 2 dogs and decided to make a career of it. So, this category can be hard to navigate through when hiring a professional.

Most box-store trainers go through a program provided by said box-store but it's minimal and doesn't give near the amount of education and training that should be required to train people and their dogs. However, some box-store trainers are totally fine for basic training classes and minimal problem behaviors if you're not looking for anything fancy or too formal. Ask the trainer about their background and where they learned to become a dog trainer. Many trainers started out as box-store trainers only to advance their training career to learn and educate themselves more and become even more skilled and knowledgable! 

There are also trainers out there that do not get any type of certification as listed in our next category but do attend seminars, join organizations that provide education and conferences (such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers [APDT], The Pet Professional Guild [PPG] and Karen Pryor Clicker Training [which offers the ever wonderful Clicker Expo and many fabulous online resources] in order to further their skills and education. Many trainers are still wonderful trainers even without certification, although it's definitely recommended that one does aim to achieve certification at some point. 

2. Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs).
Not all dog trainers have any formal education, but some do further their education, as mentioned in the last paragraph above. Many are self-taught and self-educated, which may be a red flag if they do not further their education and skillsets on an on-going basis. So, the key here is how they are furthering their skills and education in their field. However, it's definitely preferable to hire someone who has chosen to educate themselves through some type of academy, program or by becoming certified through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers to earn their CPDT-KA status and/or their CPDT-KSA title. To learn more about these certifications for trainers, and even find a list of certified trainers, visit the CCPDT website.

Some trainers-to-be choose to go through an academy that provides individuals with the proper education and training to become a trainer. Here are some recommended training academies that provide quality training, education and how to apply these skills when training dogs and coaching people to train their dogs. Each of these academies has their own type of "certification" that the individual will receive upon testing, meeting certain criteria, and completion of their program. Each of these websites also provides a list of trainers that have graduated from their program so you may look for one in your area.
3. Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBCs).
Many dog trainers also cross over into learning about behavior. It's pretty difficult to not know behavior to some degree if you want to be any good at training on any level, but especially if you are going to deal with more problematic behaviors in dogs. As with dog trainers, anyone can call themselves a behavior consultant and some even have titles that aren't even real titles, such as "behavioralist". So, do be wary of those!  

A behavior consultant will have a solid understanding of how to apply dog training skills, read and understand body language and design an appropriate behavior modification program to help dogs with various behavior challenges. A behavior consultant will also be able to know when it's appropriate to call in a Veterinary Behaviorist in the event a case may warrant the use of medication for the dog to be successful with the laid out behavior modification process.

One of the best organizations to find a qualified behavior consultant for your pet dog is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). It has a very extensive and wonderful certification program for individuals that have been training animals (they have certifications for dog, cat, horse and parrot consultants) and meet certain criteria in order to be able to be certified through their organization. The IAABC also has extensive criteria they must meet in order to show that they are able to properly consult and help pet owners with their behavior problems. The program is one of the best ones out there for becoming a CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant). You can read more about their requirements for certification and find a professional on their website here.

4. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVBs)
An individual who holds this title is a licensed veterinarian who has completed a residency or training program in the discipline of veterinary behavioral medicine after they have completed their studies to become a licensed veterinarian. As part of this program they have studied topics including: sociobiology, psychology of learning, behavioral genetics, behavioral physiology,
psychopharmacology, ethology and behavioral endocrinology. In other words, they have to go through a lot of schooling to earn this title!

Veterinary Behaviorists (VBs) have the medical and behavioral knowledge to evaluate cases to determine if there is a medical component to explain an animal's behavior. VBs work with individual pet owners, other animal professionals, and facilities that care for animals in order to manage behavior problems and improve the well-being of animals. They evaluate and layout treatment plans for behavior modification and choose which medication would be best suited to help the specific animal in order to help with the behavior modification treatment plan they have designed.

All standards and procedures of Veterinary Behaviorists are approved by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) which is an organization within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Professional conduct standards are set by both the AVMA and the ABVS, as are requirements for training programs. Specialists in veterinary behavioral medicine are also held accountable to local and state laws of veterinary practice.

5. Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs) & Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs)
An individual who has one of these titles must obtain it through the Animal Behavior Society. This is the leading professional organization in North America for the study of animal behavior. These individuals have an educational background where they have earned a Bachelor of Arts and/or a Bachelor of Science degree in either biology or psychology and then gone on to earn a postgraduate doctoral degree (PhD) in Animal Behavior. These animal professionals may work in various professional fields that may or may not pertain to dog or companion animal training. They are the most highly educated professionals in this list, as their education goes far beyond dogs and training. Some fields they may be in may include: psychology, biology, zoology and/or animal science. Some Animal Behaviorists may also be licensed veterinarians who have had additional training in applied animal behavior outside of their veterinary studies and coursework.

It should be noted that these individuals are versed in animal behavior that includes a large variety of animals including companion animals as well as exotic animals and wildlife. Some Animal Behaviorists do have dedicated practices/businesses that are targeted to help companion animals with behavior challenges beyond the scope of some trainers. However, some are not equipped to work with dog owners and their dog's behavior challenges. So you'll want to "interview" one of these professionals to determine their scope of expertise and ability to help dog owners.

The requirements to become either an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist are quite rigorous. You may learn more about these requirements and the qualifications of these individuals on the Animal Behavior Society's website

So, how do you know which one is right for your situation?

Knowing which of these professionals is best for your dog and your goals is equally as confusing! How does one know?!  

If you have a puppy or dog that you just want to learn a few manners and skills a qualified trainer would be sufficient for this. A trainer should at least have continuing education on their schedule throughout the year in some way –– ask what they are doing to further their skills and education on an on-going basis. They should at least be a member of an educational organization for trainers (see last paragraph in #1 above) if they aren't certified or going through a training academy of some type. It is preferred that they have completed an academy or program with some type of certification at the very least. Again, if they aren't certified they should be able to provide you with their on-going continuing education and what they are doing to keep up with their training skills.

If your dog exhibits aggression, anxiety and/or fear-based behaviors it would be best to find a qualified Behavior Consultant or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Although it should be noted that some certified trainers can and do work with these types of cases and can do so successfully, you'd just need to know what questions to ask when hiring one.  

You would need a Veterinary Behaviorist if medication would be warranted to help in your dog's situation. A qualified trainer, Behavior Consultant and/or Applied Animal Behaviorist would be able to tell you if they feel that you need to seek the advice of a Veterinary Behaviorist (VB). The VB would work together with your trainer, applied behaviorist and/or consultant for the best outcome for your dog. 

You want to always find a professional that adheres to current science-based training and doesn't follow training methods that are out-dated. This includes a trainer that's training methods do not rely on the use of punishments when trying to change behavior or the old-school ideals of pack theory and dominance-based training. 
(You can read more about dominance and how it's been wildly misconstrued and misinterpreted here.)

Ask the professional that you are interviewing the following:
  1. What are your qualifications and where did you get your education from? 
    (You're looking for the qualifications & info that I provided in the above information, i.e., uses science-based methods & not outdated training or punishments to change behavior.)
  2. How long have you trained dogs? How long have you trained humans to train their dogs?
    (Look for someone who has at least trained people & their dogs for a few years. This isn't a deal breaker & some green [new] trainers are good at this but it's going to depend on what your goals are or your dog's challenges encompass. For dogs with behavior needs find someone that's definitely been doing this for a minimum of 5 years, preferably longer. Ask them what their history & background is with your dog's specific behavior challenge.)
  3. What methods of training do you utilize? Do you use choke chains, prong collars or electronic collars in your training? (You're looking for someone that does not use these tools! Look for a professional that is based on relationship building & utilizing rewards & does not rely on aversive tools. When training tools are needed stick to those who don't use leash corrections & corrective collars & equipment.)
  4. How do you handle it when a dog makes a mistake? What about when they do something right?
    (Look for someone that concentrates on teaching dogs what to do & how to make good choices vs corrections & telling the dog what not to do. Also look for professionals that are reward-based & not afraid to adequately reward a dog using food & toys & what motivates dogs. They should also be very happy to tell the dog when it does something correct, makes the correct choice & appropriately rewards it for doing so. No professional should sound hesitant to stick with or use rewards or bash the use of those that do use rewards.)
  5. What are your thoughts on dominance in dogs?
    (Stay away from professionals that follow the outdated dominance & pack theory with companion dogs. For more details on this read here.)
  6. Do you have references I could speak with or email?
    (No professional should deny you speaking with current and/or past clients or even another professional in the field that could vouch for them. They should happily give you references.)
  7. Can I come observe a class you teach?
    (Professionals should always allow you to watch them train by observing first. You may not be seeking out a group class, so private lessons are likely not going to allow this due to privacy issues, however a group class should always allow for observation before joining.)
  8. Do you offer guarantees?
    (Stay away from those that do! Read more about the code of ethics for members of the APDT [Association of Professional Dog Trainers] that discusses why they cannot & do not offer guarantees in training here. These reasons are why any dog professional should not offer guarantees.)
Always remember that even with credentials and educational backgrounds there can be bad apples in every bunch. So, personal and professional referrals can go a long way for this reason. Use good judgment and some good gut instincts as well! Be thorough in your interview process. Any professional worth their weight in gold will be glad to provide as much information as possible about their background as well as provide references when you ask. A good professional will also know when to say "I'm not the right fit for you, please contact XYZ professional instead" and offer a referral to a more qualified professional for your needs.

Copyright© 2020. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Friday, June 14, 2019

He's good with kids.

DOG GOOD WITH KIDS! –– Have you heard this said to you by others about their dog? Read it on an adoption site or at an adoption event? What does this actually mean anyway?

This is really a pretty arbitrary statement. As a professional who has turned more toward helping families with dogs after becoming a mother myself (3 kids –– girls ages 10, and twins that are 6) I now see things with dogs and kids in a different light. After becoming a mother I'm more vigilant and aware of dog body language and stress signals. I'm also more aware of what kids should and should not do around, to, or with dogs.

What I see is that most often "good with kids" means the dog hasn't actually done anything negative to a child, or that the dog is very tolerant with kids antics and behavior. This doesn't mean the dog should allow this behavior, just that for some reason it does. This is where the label comes, because the dog has a high tolerance level.

On the other hand, I've seen a dog labeled as "not good with kids" when the fact is that a child did something inappropriate to the dog, the dog reacted well within its rights and therefore now the dog is labeled as "not good with kids". This really comes down to a matter of education on the human side of things for both adult and child (um, and likely rescue group or shelter!)

A label of "good with kids" doesn't negate a parent's job of learning how to read dog body language, respect what that language is saying, their space and their tolerance levels. Also, the parents need to be in touch with someone who is able to appropriately able show their child(ren) what is appropriate dog-etiquette that includes the same things in child-friendly terms and interactions. Finding a Family Paws Parent Educator and/or The Family Dog private trainer will be key here. Family Paws is geared more towards expecting parents, newborns and babies up to toddler years while The Family Dog focuses on child/dog/family interactions and training for kids ages 5 years and up. Also, note I have many kid-dog resources on my website's free resources page.

I find this statement, often seen on adoptable dog sites/ads, very misleading and without further education it could be dangerous. A dog should not ever be disrespected by a child or adult just because the dog is tolerant and allows people to "do anything" to them. This does not mean, if your dog allows your child to grab it quickly, climb on it, or other behaviors like this, that you should allow your child (or anyone else's) to do this. Would you do this to a dog as an adult? Would you allow a child to do this to you as a human –– grab your hair? Hit you? Pull your clothes? Climb all over you? Then why is it ok for us to allow kids to do this just because we have a dog that's not reacting when this happens?

Dogs are sentient beings and should be respected the same way you would respect another living thing, item of someone else's and national treasures! You don't allow your kids to climb all over restaurant tables and up walls in public places, right? Then why should they be allowed do this to a dog? Just because a dog allows and tolerates this does not mean the dog is enjoying it, and more importantly that they will always tolerate it.

Dogs, like humans, do have a breaking point and this is where most "he bit my son for no reason!" comments come into play. Usually those "out of the blue" bites are not out of the blue at all. The dog had put up with a lot for a long time and finally had enough! ... or the dog had issues with personal space, the child got into the dog's personal space, the dog was uncomfortable, or something else happened that caused the dog to react negatively.

A dog that reacts negatively to being climbed on, grabbed by the face, pulled on or even hugged (most dogs do not like hugs, especially by children and strangers) are actually not labeled correctly. This should not deserve a label of "not good with kids". A more appropriate label would be "training mandatory by family dog trainer, inquire if interested in Fido to be part of your family!" Let's take this scenario: Every day after lunch you sit down, want to relax and have a little down time. I come over and sit on you. I tug your ears. I move around all over you. I try to lay in your lap. Maybe the first time you'll say "Um can you move, please?" I might then move. But what if this continued to happen every day? I'd likely be pretty accurate to assume by about the 3rd time this happened you'd either yell at me or push me off of you forcefully to give me the idea that it's really not ok with you.

Now let's do this scenario: Fido lies down comfortably on his bed in the afternoon and is relaxing. Little Susy comes over and sits on him, or lies on him or kisses him constantly. Fido might just get up and walk away the first time, or he may just lay there and do nothing, just hoping Little Susy will go away soon so he can finish his afternoon nap. Then the next day Little Susy does it again, then the next day and the next. Finally, one day Fido snaps at Little Susy when she gets her face too close to his. He's had enough. He wants to be left alone and Little Susy is just not respecting his space at all!

In the above scenarios the human one seems to make sense, right? But does the dog scenario make just as much sense? It should! Because Fido is a dog and cannot verbally tell Susy she's bothering him, after a while he'll use his voice (he could just bark loudly at her) and/or his teeth (snapping or biting) to communicate his dislike for Little Susy's antics.

The problem isn't a dog that snaps at children. The problem is that we need to know why the dog chose to do this behavior. Was the dog in the right? If we investigate the situation and find out that the child was not being respectful, then it's not a lost cause. The dog can, and likely will, be totally fine living with children. The success in this scenario will happen when the family as a whole can get a professional to come in and teach them appropriate skills to live with their dog and understand his needs and behavior.

Now, all this to say, there are in fact some dogs that are not good with children. They may react to kids for no reason or in such an aggressive manner that it isn't safe. So, this isn't to say that all dogs that snap at children will and can be ok with them. This is also why a professional must be consulted with when a family adopts any dog, regardless of the label the shelter or rescue has given it.

I personally think all families who acquire a dog at any age should hire a professional that knows how to educate every member of the family on how to live peacefully with a dog! Please do check out all the great, and free, resources on my Free Resources page on my website for books, downloadable handouts and more. ... and if you have kids and a puppy or dog, don't wait, hire a professional today that can help!

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Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas