Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Success Stations: What & how?

A what?! What in the world is a Success Station? A success station is a management tool. This means there is no actual training going on, but the dog is learning that good things happen in this particular place while other things are occurring in another part of the home. For example, pleasant things happen while they are in their crate while mom feeds the baby in the nursery.
SUCCESS STATION — any designated spot that a dog is limited to so that they have no option but to succeed. This spot must be introduced in a positive manner and is for limited periods of time only. (as defined by Family Paws Parent Education®)

Family Paws Parent Educators primarily promote the use of these for parents with infants and small children, although there are many situations where a Success Station would be beneficial. (download handout pictured)

When a family has a new baby these stations are critical in helping mom and dad maintain some semblance of sanity. They create safe, enjoyable places for the family dog to stay when the regular routine is challenged because of the adaptations that come when accommodating a newborn’s needs. 

I personally do not like thrusting a huge training plan on to new parents. It's not fair and it's not realistic, and ... well ... it's not going to be followed. The truth is that new parents have too many other priorities than training the dog to respond to new behaviors. Success Stations are lifesavers for this very reason — they are simple and easy. When done properly, Success Stations get a dog in a safe place while he makes positive associations with what's going on with this new little attention-sucking human around. 

You can anchor a dog with a tether safely to an anchor (eye hook) in the wall (securely installed in a stud) or to a secure stationary object like a non-movable piece of furniture or do a reverse doorknob tether. A reverse doorknob tether (tm) — I totally just made that term up! — is when you put the leash on the opposite side of the door, on the knob, and shut the door on the leash so that it's completely secure. 

The tether is a great Success Station tool if you don't want your dog behind a physical barrier or out of the room (or he isn't good in those situations), but still safely secured so as not to be able to get up, move around and/or get to the baby. (Note: This is best when used only with non-mobile babies! Moving babies could easily approach a dog tethered and that's not safe, so other Success Stations are recommended for mobile babies, toddlers and kids.)  

My personal favorite Success Station is the crate. This is a great tool because it's totally secure and dog is completely out of the way and totally enclosed in a safe spot. This is also great for dogs that may be in the stage where they are still really unsure about the baby and you aren't certain of her feelings about this new little person, so they may feel better being in an entirely different room alone in a crate.

A crate Success Station is also perfect to use when you are very confident in how your dog handles being crated while you're home. If your dog is really crate-savvy and comfortable, this option is fantastic. If she's not, look at my troubleshooting section below.

Gates (or x-pens) are a great option as they help set boundaries for both dogs and children. They can also be located in various locations in your home and you can section off space that is large enough that Fido is comfortable and can have a nice space of his own away from baby. 

Be sure to get a secure gate and one that is tall enough for your dog. Also, be sure you know whether or not your dog will jump a gate or knock one over. If she does jump gates or knock them over I suggest maybe utilizing a different Success Station tool and do more training — you know in between all those baby feedings! — which is covered in my troubleshooting section below.

There are many times when a Success Station would benefit you and your dog. Here are a few examples that are very common:

baby feeding time 
tummy-time on the floor
toys & fun for babies on the floor
when baby starts to roll over &/or crawl
toddler(s) playing & dog needs a safe place
kids running in & out of the home
kids having kids over to play (read: chaos!)
you have to work from home & need alone time
during dinner parties
holidays (read: lots of family & guests)
entertaining at your home (guests moving about your home)

You may be asking – “Why can’t Fluffy stay out with me and baby? I want them to learn to live together!” This is a very common thought process for parents. They want their dog and child to learn to cohabitate and live around one another, to bond and build a relationship. However, the key to a fruitful relationship between Fluffy and baby is setting her up to learn to cohabitate peacefully and safely with baby. Remember: babies are only babies for a short time. This means that there is a lot of time for your child to learn and grow with Fluffy. 

In those beginning months, usually first few years, it’s most important that we simply teach Fluffy that having a child around means good things and no one will allow anything unsafe to happen.  Unsafe for dogs could mean a child: grabbing an ear, crawling quickly across the room, reaching for Fluffy’s toys, making loud baby sounds and many other things a child does that may be uncomfortable for Fluffy.

If Fluffy learns that a child equals loud sounds, unpredictable movements and grabbing, she may just decide children are no fun to be around at all.  So, it’s safest to teach her that in those beginning years we will keep her safe and offer good things while that unpredictable child is living in the same home. This will ensure that Fluffy builds good associations early and begins to look forward to being around your child because she knows you will not let anything uncomfortable happen and you’ll provide wonderful things when your child is around! Win!

Your dog's Success Station should be very comfy and inviting. I suggest having a comfy bed or blanket for Fido in the Success Station area. Also, provide safe Success Station Goodies for him (see list of goodies to use below) while in there. Providing rewarding things ensures he will make positive associations with the Success Station.

I also highly recommend adding a Pet Acoustics cube near or in the area of the Success Station. This is a 2" x 2" x 2" cube that is a little speaker and emits calming tunes designed just for dogs. It comes with a little strap (like those cell phone straps) and you can hang it on a wall. It goes almost anywhere it's so small and portable! I love mine! 

Get Fluffy and take her to the Success Station*. Attach the tether to her collar, or put her into a crate or behind the gate. Give her a pre-stuffed, frozen Kong once she’s in the station. (For Kong Recipe ideas click here to download my recipes handout.) I also suggest you take time to get at least 3-6 Kongs, pre-stuff them and have them in the freezer and ready to serve as needed! If you need to use something other than a Kong you can use a mixture of several different goodies to give Fluffy while in there. 

Other SUCCESS STATION GOODIES instead of a Kong
Provide a bully stick for Fido to chew on (braided ones last longer)
Sprinkle Fluffy's kibble in a Snuffle Mat 
Deer/Elk/Moose antlers are good chews
Stuff a water buffalo horn with food; Fido can chew the empty horn too!
Fill a few interactive food puzzles for Fluffy to work on (more on my Pinterest board)
Give Fido a marrow bone (these can be raw/frozen or dry flavored)

It's really important that you provide some type of goodie while Fido is in the Success Station so he will build up good associations with being alone while you are with baby. He will start to think — oooh when mom feeds that little squeaky baby I get to be safe in my own little place & I get yummy things! That little squeaky thing can't be all that bad!  It’s even better if the only time he does get a goodie is when he is in the station.

This may vary depending on what’s going on. It’s great to do all the things laid out here so that whether Fluffy is in the station for 15 minutes or a couple of hours, she’s totally relaxed and fine with either.  Ideally, Fluffy should be ok in the station for whatever amount of time you need her to be in there.

Is your dog not comfortable in a success station? Won't sit still? Whines? Paces? Barks? Stresses out when left alone when you’re in the other room? If your dog isn't good when alone, separated from you when you’re home, you'll need to do some training. This would ideally be before your baby comes but that isn't always the case. You can still do this slowly and successfully without having to spend a lot of time training.  The key is consistency and dedication. 

I also wrote a few blog post that may be of benefit as well, the first one is called “The most important thing to teach Fido” . Also another great one revolves around crates and their use, tips and more, titled “Crate Training Truths & Tips.”

You can do this, even with a busy and demanding lifestyle! So, start setting your dog up in Success Stations now, regardless if you are pregnant or already have a child …
  • Feed all meals in the area that will be used as a Success Station. No food or meals should be fed outside of this area for the next 30 days, only inside the crate, behind a gate or in an x-pen. This will help Fluffy think all the great things happen when inside the Success Station, hence she will want to be in there more often!
  • Put Fido in the Success Station for short periods of time and gradually increase the time he is in there. Be sure to put several goodies in there and make it as fabulous as possible.
  • Make all times Fluffy isn't in the room with you or is in any way separated from you a more desirable experience than being with you. This means when she's with you don't make it as fun as being without you. (Note: This is temporary until she finds being alone just as good as being with you.)
  • While working on Fido getting used to being in a crate, behind a gate or in an x-pen you can utilize the tether option for a Success Station. This is one that is good to use as the dog can be in the same room without being in or behind a barrier. Still provide all the same Success Station Goodies while Fido is tethered, listed above in the Success Station Goodies list. If baby is mobile you’ll also need to use an x-pen to put around Fido so dog cannot reach baby.
Success Stations are designed to help dog and baby cohabitate peacefully while parents can have peace of mind. There is a lot of info in this article, however, I do highly recommend you find a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator near you to come in and help your family draw up a plan to suit your needs best. If there isn’t an educator located near you there are several who do consults via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.  There is also a hotline that is answered all the time, free of charge (877) 247-3407. Family Paws Educators receive very specialized training (outside of normal dog training education) to specifically help families that are preparing for a baby, have a baby (or babies!) and toddlers.
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA,
& Private Trainer with The Family Dog™
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas, USA metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Growling dogs: Should we punish or not?

So let's discuss a Facebook post from last week that I made on my business page – Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior – that stated a quote from a trainer (I've yet to identify with certainty who said this so it's stated as "unknown") – “Punishing a dog for growling is like taking the batteries out of your smoke detector.”

What does that even mean?! I mean heavens no Fido shouldn't be growling at my 2-year-old just for wanting to come over and pet him! I'm not going to allow that behavior in my house!

Whoa, whoa ... Let's back up a bit.

Dogs don't speak English ... or German, or Spanish, or French ... they don't speak at all! So, they have a set of skills they use to communicate in the same way we humans use verbal language, some are vocalizations and most are body language cues. So that we can better understand, since we aren't canines, let's use this example . . . Have you ever seen a deaf person "speaking" with sign language? If you are not proficient in sign language then you likely thought to yourself, "hmmm, I don't know what she is saying." However, you might begin to read their body language and get some idea, but not as much as you would if you knew sign language and/or if they could speak to you. Why? Because this is our first line of communication as humans – using verbal language to communicate with one another. So everything else is foreign and sometimes confusing.

Do we punish deaf people if they are using sign language to try to communicate with us and we don't understand? No we try to understand and figure out what they are saying so we can help them. Why should we not extend this courtesy to other species so that we can live harmoniously together?

Dogs growl as a form of communication. It’s one of their “voices” just like barking is one of their voices, as well as snapping. Dogs have many “voices” but since they aren’t like what we are used to and they are much more cringe-worthy at times, us humans often have emotional reactions to when dogs use their “voices” to communicate.

It’s important to note that if your dog has resorted to growling 99% of the time many previous signals have been ignored and so the dog has resorted to growling. Growling isn’t usually the first line of communication for dogs. In most situations a dog will give off subtle body language cues and signals that let others know they are not comfortable. When those cues go unnoticed or, at least to the dog, unheard (so-to-speak) the dog will resort to growling or other more dramatic means of communication.

When a dog growls they are possibly saying one of a few things:
• I’m highly fearful/nervous
• I’m uncomfortable right now
• I’m hurting/ill
• I’m unfamiliar with this
• I’m worried you're gonna take my stuff!
• I’m playing!
• I’m a growly-talker
• I’m confused & very conflicted

So, let’s discuss these reasons for growling in more detail. While reading these details keep in mind that growling is part of a set of communication and body language signals. You should always, as with all animals, look at the entire dog to put the puzzle together.

It’s important to always take into consideration – body language of the entire dog: ears, eyes, facial expression, tail, body, hair, paws, and mouth/tongue. What do all these things put together indicate the dog is “saying”? The below details of why dogs growl is only part of a puzzle piece. In order to help dogs that may communicate with a growl, we must take into account the rest of the puzzle.

Some highly fearful dogs growl when they feel afraid and uncertain about the situation they are in, and/or the person/animal that is approaching them. When I say “highly fearful” I’m speaking of dogs that react with extreme fear in normal situations – hiding from all people, hiding for no real apparent reason, retreating fearfully from people, situations and/or sounds (one or a mix of those).

What does this sound/look like?
Often this presents as a low growl, an under-the-breath-type growl with no teeth bared and no open mouth, followed with hollow barking – not loud and alert-like but more several barks, some growls, and some woofs that are half-hearted. Some highly fearful dogs are completely silent and make no sound at all, and would rather just retreat to a perceived safe place. However, more commonly I’ve seen the scenario with the low growl and hollow woofs.

If a dog is cornered or becomes incredibly fearful due to lack of space or way to escape, often they will bare teeth, squint eyes, blink a lot, tighten their body into the smallest ball they can (like when hunched into a corner) and growl low and guttural. This is an extremely fearful dog that it trying it’s hardest to “keep it together” while also telling someone they are afraid and their flight response is frozen but they don’t want to directly go to the fight response.

It should be noted that in some scenarios a highly fearful dog may go directly from growling to a fight response. A common scenario where this may happen is at a veterinarian’s office. Please note, in these cases a dog goes to fight-mode quickly due to lack of space, overwhelming fear and uneasiness in this environment. Add to this, a veterinarian or vet tech that continues to approach the dog regardless of her obvious signs of stress, and you have a recipe for the perfect storm. This dog may resort to snapping or biting when the veterinarian or tech reaches for or touches the dog. Not all dogs will respond this way, but it’s definitely not uncommon. (More on that later.)

What is an example case?
One client case I had a dog was horrified of strange people coming into the home. As soon as a stranger (to the dog) entered the home the dog would growl very low, no teeth bared and no mouth open. Just a low, soft growl sound could be heard, with low hollow woofs. While this particular dog was growling and woofing he was also showing severe signs of stress with the rest of his body language – head lowered, ears back, tail under his body and he was darting quickly back and forth to “get away” from the person as they moved further into the home while also maintaining a huge amount of space between the person and himself.

This dog was extremely afraid of people, it was quite obvious when listening to and reading the dog.

What is a likely outcome?
Dogs that are highly fearful and/or nervous have a much higher propensity to snap and/or bite. This does not mean all fearful dogs will bite, however, a highly fearful dog is usually mentally unable to cope appropriately and therefore, a much higher risk for inflicting a bite.

It is imperative that highly fearful dogs get professional help, even if they aren’t biters, from a qualified trainer/behavior consultant that can consult with a qualified veterinarian and/or Veterinary Behaviorist if necessary (often fear cases do need medication, but only a veterinarian or Behaviorist can make this decision.)

A treatment plan – both medically and behaviorally – are the only way to work with a dog like this. It isn’t unusual to have extremely fearful dogs that never become totally normal household companions. While this isn’t an absolute, it is definitely more the case than not. However, these dogs can learn to cope and live a much better quality of life with the right protocols in place and dedicated, patient owners.

Here is an excellent video from FernDog Training with a fearful dog that barks/growls (you cannot hear the growl so much in the video.)

Many dogs become growly in certain situations, environments or with things that make them uncomfortable as a non-confrontational way to say “um, please don’t do that again” or “you’re making me very uncomfortable right now, please stop/go away”.

What does this sound/look like?
Often this presents as a low growl, an under-the-breath-type growl and if the person doesn’t hear or respect this first line of communication, the dog often begins to bare teeth while growling. Often in these scenarios the dog is frozen and doesn’t really move. This can often be mis-read and brushed off, or worse the dog is reprimanded in some way for growling in this scenario. Reprimanding usually causes the growling to escalate to more growling and very often snapping or biting.

I have often heard, “if he was uncomfortable why didn’t he just get up and walk away?” Often this is due to the dog feeling so uncomfortable that he freezes in fear of making a move or making things worse for himself. His brain freezes and he is unable to get up. Then, sometimes the dog doesn’t move because he was there first and/or was comfortable. Plain and simple!

What is an example case?
One client case I had a dog kept growling at the toddler in the home when she would try to pet the dog while she was lying on her dog bed on the floor. The dog was not comfortable with the toddler during this time and more often than not, would end up growling at the toddler.

Another case was a dog that would growl when the owner tried to grab him and pull him out of his crate. As soon as the owner’s hand went in the dog began to growl. If the owner kept going in to grab him the dog would snap at the owner’s hand.

What is a likely outcome?
Dogs that are growling when the dog is uncomfortable have very positive outcomes when the owner is able to work with a qualified trainer. The trainer should be showing the owners’ how to implement classical counter-conditioning (making the dog form a new association that elicits a pleasant emotional response, or no response to the trigger) and desensitization (gradually making good associations to the trigger) to the trigger(s) that usually cause the dog to start growling.

With proper training this type of growling can be totally diminished and go away completely.

Many dogs become growly when they are in pain and/or sick. Some dogs are very good at hiding pain/illness, however, some are sensitive or the pain or illness causes enough discomfort that it triggers a growl or snap.

What does this sound/look like?
Often this presents as a low growl, an under-the-breath-type growl, often with teeth bared (but not always). If the person doesn’t respect this canine communication the dog often snaps quickly once then retreats. Usually the dog that growls when hurt and wants the person to go away and leave them alone. This is why the dog will often snap once and retreat if the person doesn’t leave them alone. However, don’t assume that all dogs will react this way. Some will bite and make contact with skin or break skin when in pain.

Often this is stated to be “totally out of the ordinary” for the dog and the owner is quite surprised by the dog’s reactions. This is a very good indication the dog should first be seen by a veterinarian, as they are likely reacting due to pain or illness.

What is an example case?
This is actually a case where the dog was growling out of character toward the other dog in the home. The two dogs had always gotten on very well with one another and one day, for several days consecutively, the owners noticed when the dogs played one dog would become really agitated and began to growl and snap at the other dog in a non-playful manner. It was recommended that a vet visit was in order. The vet found the offending dog had cancer in his front leg. The dog was in a great deal of pain unbeknownst to the owners.

There was a case where a dog would growl at the owner every time she picked the dog up. She felt this was a behavioral thing as the dog had done this for well over a year. She took the dog to the vet and the dog was found to have arthritis in its little hips (it was a small dog). The dog had been uncomfortable for quite some time and luckily for the owner had only resorted to growling and never snapped or bit the owner.

What is a likely outcome?
Dogs that are growling when in pain usually stop when the medical condition is treated and resolved, if it’s a treatable condition/illness.

In some cases, like the little dog with arthritis, the owner was just more respectful of the dog and learned how to handle the dog in a way that wasn’t painful or would just leave her be if she wasn’t comfortable enough to be picked up. Medication helped that little dog but she would still have bouts of pain and growl if the owner mishandled her at all, so she learned a work around that respected the dog and lessened her need to growl.

Many dogs become growly towards inanimate objects or sometimes people they don’t immediately recognize or if the person appears in the dark or in an abnormal situation (like walking through the back gate, instead of the front door, and startles the dog).

What does this sound/look like?
This is a very common behavior with puppies when they are learning what the world around them is like and they encounter new, unfamiliar things. Usually the dog shows some strong “oh my gosh I cannot get near that whatchamacallit” body language while growling and huffing at it. This often presents as body stretched out long and far but not too far so that they don’t get too close to said whatchamacallit. Usually they are trying to sniff the object to get a feel for what it is, often stopping to growl and huff while moving stealthily around the thing.

When this presents with people often the dog is backing up while growling and huffing and/or darting from side to side trying to make sense of what they are seeing.

What is an example case?
One of my own dogs was like this when I rescued him. He was very wary of strange men in particular and once a friend entered through our backyard gate when we were outside. People rarely, if ever, entered our yard. This set him off and he darted to the back door first then crept a bit closer while low growling and huffing a bit.

Another case was a puppy that was uncertain about fire hydrants on the sidewalk. This puppy was around 3-4 months old and when he first saw a hydrant he jumped back, then went back in with a long body stretch and tried to sniff. Then he backed up and growled and huffed and barked a little bit.

What is a likely outcome?
If this involves a young puppy, usually just proper exposure while conditioning the dog to make good associations with unfamiliar things will do the trick on this. They will totally move past it.

If it’s an adult dog with some fears of objects or people in unpredictable scenarios, a qualified trainer can help lay out a plan to help the dog overcome these reactions. Most dogs can totally overcome this with proper work and dedication, and some dogs don’t, or the owner decides to just live with these infrequent bouts of growling.

Some dogs can growl when they are in possession of an object, toy, bone, food, water, or even a person. This is due to the dog fearing what they are in possession of will be taken away from them. We refer to this as "resource guarding". They are guarding something they view as a valued resource. 

What does this sound/look like?
This is actually a pretty common behavior with dogs. It is definitely not something us humans see as desirable or tolerable in any way, however, it's not an uncommon dog behavior. As listed above, people can also be resources to a dog and the dog can growl when someone approaches a person the dog is standing/sitting near or if the person is holding the dog. 

This usually shows up with the dog lowering his head, stiff body, frozen body (not moving), ears pinned back, lips turned back and teeth showing while a low, guttural growl can be heard. The closer someone gets to a dog guarding something the lower their head usually goes and the more intense the teeth showing and growling becomes. If the person actually approaches this dog it is not uncommon that the dog lashes out and bites the person and/or lunges to snap at the person.

It should be noted that resource guarding can vary greatly. It can be a small growl at times without all the display of teeth, etc. or it can be so extreme the dog just lunges from across the room if someone enters and the dog is in possession of something (this is an extreme case, and not as common). So, resource guarding is on a huge sliding scale.

What is an example case?
I had a case where the dog would grab a toy, run under a chair and begin to rip the toy to shreds. This case the dog had things taken from him so often and was "getting in trouble" for it that he began to just guard the things he'd steal. His behavior had escalated as the owners (unknowingly) scolded him and got very upset with him 1) for stealing and 2) then for growling once he took the item and they tried to retrieve it. 

This escalated the dog's fearful behaviors and therefore his resource guarding behaviors. He was so confused and afraid that he responded with growling and snarling and snapping. 

What is a likely outcome?
If this behavior is handled correctly with the appropriate training style and method  not punishment or "showing who's boss" type stuff, then the outcome can be very good. There is no other way to handle this than to hire a professional who is very well versed in dog behavior and how to overcome this behavior. This behavior can escalate and become dangerous if it is not handled properly or is mis-handled. 

Many dogs become growly as a form of play or during play. This is totally different than growling as a warning sign. This is play growling! Often seen when playing tug-o-war with your dog or if two dogs are playing tug-o-war with a toy together.

What does this sound/look like?
Often seen when you are playing tug-o-war with your dog or if two dogs are playing tug-o-war together. It’s not always with toys or tug, but it is only presented during play. This growl is usually low but the important thing to remember with this growl is that the rest of the dog’s body language is clearly not afraid, nervous, conflicted or confused. The dog is in total play-mode – bouncing around, jumping, loose body, happy and clearly having fun.

What is an example case?
Since this is a different category than the other growl categories, I don’t really have a case example. I will say that my Beagle loves to play tug and if I start saying “Get it! Get it!” while I’m holding the end of the tug in my hand, she has the other end in her mouth; she’ll let out growls.

What is a likely outcome?
Dogs that like to play!

Many dogs become growly as a form of “talking” to their owner or other people. Usually this isn’t as much a growl as it is a low weird sound. It’s honestly best described as “talking”. But some dogs do some growling as talking. If your dog does this you definitely know what I’m talking about!

What does this sound/look like?
This is usually a weird sound that sounds like growling but talking but weird sounds. It’s different with all dogs but it’s usually funny to hear. It’s also very obvious to most dog owners that this is a silly growl/talk.

What is an example case?
Since this is a different category than the other growl categories, I don’t really have a case example. However, my Great Dane was a huge talker with some low deep growl-type sounds mixed in. It was really funny to hear him.

What is a likely outcome?
We put it on cue for my Dane and if you said “tell me, tell me” he’d start talking to you.

Many dogs become growly in certain situations if they are confused or do not know what we are asking of them. I see this more often in dogs that have been corrected for certain behaviors, usually including growling, and have a huge distrust of their owner. This is usually with a very impatient dog owner and a dog that has learned that it cannot do anything right in the eyes of the owner.

What does this sound/look like?
Often this happens after the owner attempts to ask the dog to do something (like lie down) and the dog is clearly confused at the request. The dog usually presents her confusion as body language of fear, then when the owner continues to confuse or correct the dog for not complying, the dog often begins to growl out of pure desperation to make the owner stop.

As stated, this often presents as fear behavior at first – the dog will bare teeth, might squint eyes, might blink a lot, might tighten her body into the smallest ball she can (like when hunched into a corner), or may just freeze and growl low and guttural. This is a very conflicted dog that is trying her hardest to “keep it together” while also telling someone she is confused and wants the owner to stop whatever they are doing or asking of the dog.

What is an example case?
It should be noted this is more along the lines of what I’d be apt to call abuse. So, I’ve not personally worked with a lot of cases with dogs like this but I’ve seen it in public and in other venues, on TV, etc.

I do recall one case I had many moons ago in a group class I was holding. A man had pretty high expectations of his really young Labrador. We were going over a basic cue – sit or down, I don’t recall – and his dog wasn’t given clear instructions (from my point of view). The dog kind of flopped to the ground in what I call "silliness defense". The owner became highly frustrated and raised his voice to the dog, repeating “get up!”. The dog began to squint his eyes and blink and look away – all the signals to say “please stop, I am so confused and scared”. Then, the dog began to bare his teeth and let out a low growl, as an act of desperation. Keep in mind this happened in a matter of seconds and I was trotting as quickly as I could over to stop this mess while saying to the owner "Stop!"

You should also know that this man became one of my best clients and did several classes with that dog, successfully. The dog and man did form a lovely bond and he stopped berating his dog and instead trained him appropriately.

What is a likely outcome?
Dogs that are growling when totally conflicted are often very “soft” (sensitive) dogs to begin with. So, with proper training of the human this will likely be a thing of the past! 

The question of the day! The truth is that if we can learn to “read”, understand, respect and communicate with our dogs we can avoid all kinds of unnecessary things.

I feel that there is no time that it would be beneficial to the dog or the situation to punish or correct a dog for growling. I feel that a dog that growls should either be respected, such as in case that the dog is uncomfortable (just remove the dog or the thing that is making said dog uncomfortable) or more training on the end of the owner is needed.

Punishing growling can often lead the dog to believe that line of communication isn't working so she needs to get more direct next time. Perhaps this means a snap or a even a full bite to someone. She may skip growling altogether if it either gets punished or ignored over time.

If we can train our dog to move off of a bed when we ask, there would be no need for a dog to growl when attempted to be moved. 

If we could read our dog when she showed signs that the hug we innocently thrusted upon her made her very uncomfortable, we would likely avoid a growl from her telling us to “please don’t do that.” This would in turn diffuse a situation that could escalate from a growl to a snap or bite as the dog would perceive that your lack of “listening” to the warning growl was insufficient and more drastic communication was necessary.

Of course the trainer is going to suggest training. However, this is truthfully one of the best ways to help learn more about your dog’s body language and communication skills, as well as what to do with all that information.

Training dogs to understand cues from us is a key to a dog not being confused or finding the need to do what works for them because they don’t understand what is being asked or what is happening. As stated before, we have to teach our dogs our language and how to understand it. We also need to learn their language and how to understand it. This is what will build a trusting relationship and make living with one another a happy and stress-free experience!

Stacy Greer
& Private Trainer with The Family Dog™
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas, USA metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Can my kids walk the dog alone?

When a family has a dog very commonly parents want their child(ren) to bond with the family dog and really learn the responsibilities that come with dog ownership. 

This is commendable and definitely should be part of every family's priority list when dealing with a family pet. However, adding "walk the dog" to your kids' responsibility chart may need some considerations to be taken into account first.


Ø  Do your child & dog have a respectful & considerate relationship with each other?

Ø  Does your dog follow/listen to directions/cues from your child?

Ø  Has your dog ever shown signs of aggression toward any other person or animal?

Ø  Has your dog ever chased cars or other animals?

Ø  Can your child read/interpret canine body language & what it means?

Ø  Can your child interpret situations & make appropriate/quick decisions when/if necessary?

Ø  Is your child physically able to handle your dog if it starts to pull on the leash if a distraction were to re-focus your dog?  


Ø  What happens if your child were walking the dog and they were approached by a strange dog, off-leash? Would your child be equipped mentally and physically to handle that scenario?

Ø  What if your dog spooked or became highly aroused by a darting cat or squirrel? Could your child act fast and remain in control of your dog?

Ø  What if your dog's leash pops out of your child's hand and takes off running for some reason or another? Would your child know what to do in that situation?


Ø  What are the local dogs like that live around you, that you may encounter on a regular basis?

Ø  Are there many off-leash dogs you encounter on your normal walking route? In your neighborhood in general?

Ø  If you encounter off-leash dogs, are they friendly?

Ø   Does your dog react in a friendly manner towards dogs that may approach him/her when on-leash?

Ø  Is your dog controllable if excitable/distracted while walking on a leash?


ü  Be sure that Fido has received a good deal of positive training with regards to leash work & how to handle distractions & other dogs that may approach.

ü  Fido should be able to be verbally & physically controlled by whoever is holding the leash. If only one family member has this ability they should be the only one walking the dog until more training for all family members takes place.

ü  Be sure to go over body language, social cues & what-if situations with your child prior to allowing him/her to take on this responsibility. 

ü  Train now, don't wait for an incident to occur that makes you realize that you must now train the dog and the child how to understand all that involves walking a dog.

ü  Take your child with you when you go for a walk and slowly build up where s/he can take full control of the leash, gradually increasing the distance walked while they are in full control. Once your child has built up confidence, you can start to hang back a little bit and observe how s/he does. (Stay close behind!)

ü  You should ask your child probing questions about what they would do in challenging situations, such as if another dog approaches. It's important to try and prepare them as best you can so they aren't startled if something unusual should happen.

ü  Make sure you always remind them what a big responsibility it is to walk the dog and that they must always pay attention to what is going on around them. No cell phones or distractions during the walk. (Hey this should apply to you too, adults!)

ü  As a general rule, kids under 14 years of age, should always be accompanied by an able-bodied adult when walking a dog. Some kids 10 or older may be able to do this depending on many of the factors listed above as well as maturity level of the child, physical abilities and confidence level with walking the dog.

ü  As a general rule kids under the age of 10 years old should never be in possession of the dog's leash (when a dog is attached to it) without an adult either holding a 2nd leash attached to the dog at the same time, or adult holding the end of the leash while child holds the middle of the leash.

ü  Kids should be taught proper leash holding skills, training skills, how to read canine body language and what to do in certain scenarios that may come up while out on a walk with the dog. A trained professional is recommended to help with this process.

The most ideal situation would be to go walking as a family unit and make it an activity everyone gets involved in and enjoys! Take a training class or better, have a trainer come to your home to work one-on-one with your family to show everyone how to work with and train your dog. 

There are great training programs that are taught by licensed Private Trainers through The Family Dog and their training programs for families and dogs.

Most children under 14 wouldn't be safe walking the dog alone [without an able-bodied adult], especially when considering all possibilities and scenarios that could arise. However, this isn't going to be the same for all families and kids, so this is why training and good judgment calls are important when deciding and allowing kids to walk the dog alone. No child under the age of 10 should walk a dog alone at any time.
The bottom line is that your dog should be reliably trained to walk with a loose leash and be able to be controlled both physically and verbally by the person holding the leash. This person should also be able to act swiftly if an unforeseen circumstance were to arise.

The person holding the leash should be able to take quick action if/when needed to ensure safety for all parties. So, find a great trainer to help you and your family learn all you need to for dog safety when walking as well as how to gain great leash skills and loose leash walking with your dog.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA 
licensed Family Paws Parent Educator 
& Private Trainer with The Family Dog
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.