I debated putting pen to paper on this one for a long time... A really long time! I finally am putting this out there.
Leash reactivity drives me up a freaking wall. It's relatively simple to fix with classical conditioning (appearance of stranger in a place... at a distance below threshold) allows an association of scary thing with full on reward. It's also pretty easy to fix with operant conditioning. This is more of "do this" (sit, look at me, down, etc) and I will reward you while the scary thing walks by. That's somewhat of a management technique. Also, bribery works really well if you find yourself in a situation where your reactive pup is in sensory overload and a stranger walks out of some dark alley 3 feet from you... I find a steady stream of roast beef or cheese will get us through this situation as long as the stranger doesn't reach for the dog to pet them- or anything silly like that. This is also the reason basket muzzles were invented and should be normal, I think!
But long term, I often wonder "where does this come from?"
I don't mean where does this come from like "I don't understand how this starts". Surely, it can come from many sources- An introverted "non-dog" dog being put into busy situations, a dog who has had a bad experience on a leash, or a dog whose leash is used as a "seatbelt" strapping them in to situations they are not ready for time and time again. (Well, they can't hurt anyone... So what harm is it doing?... I hear...)
We forget, our dogs aren't robots. We cannot and should not have robotic expectations of them. If your dog is showing signs of stress on a leash again, and again, they are going to start associating being leashed with those stressful situations. You can easily and readily create anxiety on a leash as you can creating anxiety at the vet.
I've had this foster dog, Elton. He's an incredible dog. He snuggles on the couch. He looks to you for answers. But I noticed from the first time that I met him he has heightened anxiety on a leash. Not heightened anxiety like-- lunging and growling. Nothing crazy... For a pittie especially, he's just a big ole scaredy cat! To be honest, he's so emotionally in tune and sensitive, he'll know the second you are having a bad day (he's on your lap)! Or, if you are training with him, he'll pick up that he's moving in the wrong direction with just a look. He's incredibly trainable. He was my foster pup for months!
It took me about 2 months to find the original story; Elton was tied to a pole on Elton St in Mississippi and abandoned originally as a pup. It makes a lot of sense. The second he was stressed (base level anxiety from being leashed in the first place), he remained emotionally heightened for the week- resulting in mild resource guarding with other dogs, generalized anxiety (chewing something), being "on edge" with other dogs, and not listening/cueing in to his human handlers. His anxiety would remain amped up for the duration of the week. It wasn't that he was generally bad at anything - He wasn't a dog with these behaviors when he was living a low anxiety lifestyle overall. Easily, these behaviors could amplify if he was not allowed to settle back down (have the same routine, seeing the same people for a week or so).
Alternatively, I quickly learned with Elton, that leashes (and crates!), my typical management tools for dogs, caused and ramped up generalized anxiety for him. Also, we spent a lot of time on my property at home- off leash, happy, running around with as many other dogs and new people as he could. He was super stable with changes in his environment as long as he stayed put (from 3 new dogs in and out every day), to visitors. I taught him a goofy version of a non-militant "place" cue. Every time someone came in, I told him to "go to his couch". I could tell he was cueing from me whether he should be anxious and greet the stranger or not. When he was off leash at my house, he had the ability to "make his own decisions". He could, for example, flee a dog that was making him uncomfortable outside. He could wide-eyed stare at the other people, and settle/play as soon as he felt comfortable. And that moment of "comfort" came faster and faster.
In this situation, and when I tell people of Elton's problems (including families he'd trialed with), they'd say "we just didn't know how he'd be so we kept him on a leash". This was the problem right there! With heightened anxiety on a leash, and the addition of new stimuli, along with Elton not being able to make his own choices, Elton wouldn't know how to handle himself, or his interactions with other humans and dogs. When he knew he could wander into the woods, or be safe on his couch, he no longer had any interest in the "fight" response that comes with stress. He'd choose reassurance. He'd choose non-confrontation. He'd choose to self-sooth with a toy, or he'd choose to hide on his couch or distract himself by sniffing in the woods.
Off leash for this pup was critical. As founders of a rescue with so many strays and runaways, the girls who had assigned him to my care as his foster Mom were nervous. Elton had been returned for running away many times down South. But, rebuilding his confidence around people and other dogs surely would teach Elton to default to relying on his human, not on his own responses and triggers.
Elton doesn't want to make his own decisions. He wants to be one of a group of dogs, off the leash, with the ability to move himself away from danger.
I like to think of anxiety like a cup. "Triggers" for any particular dog add to the cup, and positives like the freedom to move away from the trigger removes a bit of water from the cup. For Elton, anxiety inducing things (like being on a leash) fills up about 80% of this cup. Right away. In one fell swoop. Being crated or contained or always leashed outside, adds about a 20% base level of water to this cup. These "containment" things that are typically safety measures for other dogs will just fill his cup right to the top, so the first new stimulus that happens will just push him over the edge. On a normal basis, this would be a "flee" response for goofy Elton. But, in extreme cases, this results in more of a "fight response" for him. As long as this cup is empty, he is GREAT with other dogs, humans, children, and absolutely anyone he comes across. He loves car rides, dunkin donuts, and things he's associated as positives.
To the careful, type A person, they always believe in a dog being leashed or being the one controlling the situation. If this is you, Elton is not at all for you. He will take kindly to cues, working for his food, and light direction, but forced containment will cause Elton a boatload of anxiety. It will trick you, as being on a leash will not make him lash out uncontrollably the second it is put on... But it will make him anxious internally. And anxiety leads to reactions. He'd be a great dog for someone who wants to leave him home on his couch for 12 hours a day, and enjoy laughing at his zoomies outside for only 30 minutes. He promises to never make you exercise too hard, or have an abundance of energy. He doesn't need 2-4 hours of aerobic exercise a day like a vizsla. He doesn't care if you go out for a drink after work. He probably hasn't even noticed he hasn't been out to go to the bathroom since the morning, as he sleeps so soundly. Fortunately, if you want the lowest key/routined dog on the planet, then Elton is for you.
Elton is searching for his forever home. Reach out if you think these circumstances could be a great match for your home, and I will connect you with his rescue.
We all know our pet doesn't understand the English language, but us well meaning humans talk to our dogs in all different scenarios. We tell them about our day, we explain where we're going, and we tell them how much we love them! It's natural to tell them, in English, what we want them to do and what we don't want to see.
When I first enter a client's home, I see owners stating "No!" or "Down!" then try it a little louder while their dog is jumping all over me when I come in. It makes me smile... It's not a big deal in that moment. These well-meaning pet owners just haven't quite learned how to communicate with their dog, and it's really one of my favorite things to teach.
It really truly shows the pet owner the magic of dog training... or "family therapy", as I like to call it.
There are three things that happen when you learn your dog will never understand a negative, "don't", "no", "down!" and "stop!" just are not in their vocabulary. Dogs exhibit behaviors when they work, or alternatively it's their default because they haven't learned what to do to get what they want yet! From that perspective, I'd like you to take a look at why your dog may be jumping.
1. It gets your attention.
2. They've been ignored. Jumping at some point has been reinforced, so that tells them to do the behavior that once worked (even that one time, when grandpa stopped over!... or with the kids... or only with Dad...) just a little bit more... and more... and more... until you're forced to be chasing them around again.
This is why we see continual jumping problems even when the dog is ignored.
Now, let's chat about if we stop telling our pup "not to" and we start teaching them that there is a faster way to get what they want! To take it even further, let's add a little incentive the first few times (like a food based reward) to show them that that is really the fast track to the attention they are looking for.
We're going to bring our dog from:
People coming in (pup is looking for attention!) => Jumping = people yelling and chasing and pulling me down = "That was great attention... Let's do it again!!!!"
People coming in (pup is looking for attention!) => Jumping = being ignored = jump EVEN MORE until they have to pull me down ("YAY! Attention... Jumping MORE worked!)
Ignoring is part of the equation, but it doesn't work on it's own! You may see your pup jump MORE THAN EVER the first time you ignore that behavior.
People coming in => Sitting => Human comes down to my level to greet me (Reward: Attention!), and I might get a food based reward
People coming in => Place cue => Reward (food based, attention- when I'm in my "place", etc)
People coming in => Going to grab my toy for a game of fetch! (sit cue, drop toy cue!) => Reward (game of fetch, squeaky toy reward, etc)
The key is showing your dog what you DO want them to do, as well as a variety of steps to ensure that we're setting them up for success.
You can see here, from these examples, that you teach many alternate behaviors/rewards to prevent jumping... but telling them "No!" surely won't explain to your pet what you DO want to see!
We are ridiculously excited to announce our new business venture...
A dog daycare is a great way to socialize your pet, help them enjoy interactions with other dogs, and tire them out! Who doesn't love coming home to a tired, happy pet? And we LOVE the idea of that.
In practice, typical and traditional dog daycares manage 100+ dogs in a facility. It is a space for your dog to exercise. It is a place for the most stable, extroverted of dogs to play, run, romp, and socialize
... But some of your dogs need just a little bit more!
Many of our client dogs join us on hikes and low key trips to the dog park during the day with our pet care service, either in lieu of or in addition to their regular daycare facility. With the success of these programs, such as day training, puppy socialization, and longer hikes, we decided we'd really like to provide the same individualized care in a central facility, which will be open from 5:30am to 7:00pm. We can even transport your pet to and from the facility with our pet care company.
For some pets, daycare is just too stressful of an environment with too much stimulation. This can lead to dog fights, bites, poor behavior, or simply one very stressed dog during a long day at daycare. In addition, many pets need the individualized care and training that comes with a day school facility. From teaching your pets to "sit" before opening doors (showing impulse control) to controlled play sessions tailored to your dog (hikes, romps with other puppies of their size), and a calm "meditation room" featuring a TV, human companionship, and comfortable couches. These are the pups whose excellent pet parents require excellent care- academy style!
We look forward to caring for your pets while you are away! We will also be ecstatic to offer care where your pet can join us all day at the day school, and sleep in their own home at night. Ask us how we can help your pet!
We are ecstatic to meet the unique needs of your pet!
We're coming to the town of Berwick, ME in winter 2019!
Follow us on facebook for updates: www.facebook.com/canineacademyberwick
Here at Kara's Pet Care, we are passionate about in-home pet care. Pets in an environment they are unfamiliar with, regardless of the quality of care, may exhibit signs of stress in even the best of situations. We would like to help you identify what is right for you and your pet!
Typical signs of kennel stress:
-Low activity upon return home
-Low appetite upon return home or within first few days at a kennel or boarding situation
-Loose bowel movements or diarrhea upon returning home
-Holding urination or defecation until returning home
-Illness at a kennel or upon return
Almost everyone in our industry cares incredibly deeply for your pet, and are very well-intentioned, even if you see the above signs of stress. A change in environment can cause stress for some dogs, while other dogs remain unaffected. For example, wild parties are a great source of fun for many people, who tend to be more extroverted. They enjoy the busy nightlife, and socializing extensively with friends at all hours of the night and day. I, however, tend to Netflix Friends for extended periods of times on my CRAZY Friday nights, so I find the wild party on a Friday night to be EXTRAORDINARY stressful- and I tend to massively oversleep after a big event.
Watching for these signs in your dog, especially upon returning home, may help you decide what is right for your pet. Unfortunately, in a large group caring for the needs of many dogs, these signs may be difficult to monitor for kennel staff.
It is common to believe many of these signs are from your pet having so much fun--- but sometimes the distraction is not an indicator of fun, but an indicator of being stressed or hyper stimulated for an extended period of time. Therefore, they are not concerned with fulfilling their most basic needs (water, food, elimination).
With in home pet care services, your pet receives the closest care to the care their own pet parents give at home. Their familiar napping spots, the food they eat, their daily routine, and their favorite activities can all be enjoyed while their pet parents are way. Pet care services in your home allow you to dictate the best care for your pet- and we feel you know your pet, and what they enjoy, the best.
Of particular importance are pets with severe medical issues. Many pets in our care take medications, and a professional pet care company will give medications in the exact way, timing, etc by trusted pet care professionals with backgrounds in veterinary technology, dog training, shelter work, and other related fields. Many trusted in home pet care companies will provide assurance that your pet's needs were met, with updates from apps such as Scout, Handlr, Time to Pet, etc. These apps will show GPS tracked check in and check out, photos of every medication your pet was given, photos of food dishes, photos of litter boxes, and house sitting tasks attended to.
With personalized in-home pet care, you are sent reports and can be in touch - personally - with those who are caring for your pet. You can also indicate the type of exercise and frequency that your pet is used to! Many pet care companies will give you a choice of on-leash walking, on-leash hiking, off leash hiking, mental stimulation/exercises, dog park adventures, etc. Personalized in-home pet care can also be a great tool for "reactive" dogs, pets with medical concerns, or simply great care for pet parents who prefer to stay well-informed.
Here at Kara's Pet Care, which serves the NH seacoast, and Southern Maine, we love sharing how we can help your pet be incredibly comfortable and feel like they are on vacation while you are away!
-Kara Dello Russo
Kara's Pet Care
170 Commerce Way #203
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Download the Handlr app today to book a complimentary consultation.