Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dealing With Food Aggression

Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog becomes defensive and uses threats, like growling, to force other animals or humans away from a food source. If not dealt with, it can lead to a bigger problem of being possessive of everything-- toys, beds, treats, food, ect... Before I begin on the steps that dog owners can take to deal with a food aggressive dog, I should lay down a common ground rule for all dogs--> Humans (including, and especially, children) should never mess with a dog while its eating. This includes the common myth of making a dog eat out of it's bowl with your hand in it.

There are three levels of food aggression:
1. Mild-- a dog will show it's teeth and growl.
2. Moderate-- a dog will snap and lunge.
3. Extreme-- a dog will attempt to, and/or maybe succeed, at biting another animal or human.

If you are a dog owner that has a dog with extreme food aggression, your best measure is to get an expert to help you with the problem. Do not try to deal with it on your own.

Food aggression can stem from a dog trying to show it's dominance in a pack (aka the alpha male) OR it can be from a stressed out, high anxiety dog. As a dog owner, the first thing you need to recognize is why your dog is being aggressive. Is your dog trying to maintain rank in the pack? If so, then you, as the dog owner, must establish yourself as the leader in a calm, assertive way. If your dog is food aggressive from stress and anxiety, then you must teach your dog that food is safe and build up your dog's confidence level. Once the reason is established, you can move forward with desensitizing and counter conditioning your dog to associate humans (or other animals) being around the food as a positive experience. 

Signs of Food Aggression :
  • Hovering over the meal-- the body will be stiff with the head down. 
  • Whites of the eyes are visible
  • Ears are back 
  • Tail is lowered
  • Hackles rise
  • Growling
  • Lunging
  • Biting
*A food aggressive dog can show any or all of these behaviors.

Steps To Take:
  • Be Consistent With Meals: A dog should not be "free fed" with a large bowl that they eat out of at all times of the day. There should be a designated meal time(s) at the same time(s) every day and once the meal is done, the bowls should be put away. If you have more than one animal, each pet should have it's own bowl. 
  • A Dog Should Work For It's Food: While you are preparing the meal, the dog should sit and stay outside of the room and remain at "stay" while the bowl is being set down on the floor. Your dog should only be able to eat once you have given permission with a command.
  • Pack Leaders Eat First: You, the dog owner, are the pack leader. Not the dog. Therefore, your dog needs to wait until you have eaten before he/she can eat. You dog should never be eating at the same time you are eating or before you have eaten.
  • Stay With the Bowl: Instead of the dog learning they win the food when you walk away, stay near them while they eat. This teaches your dog they win the food when you stay.
Three Addition Steps To Consider: 
  1. If needed, hand feed your dog it's meal one kibble at a time like you are giving a treat. You can also use your hands to put the food into the bowl so that your scent is on the food, but never actually stick your hand in the bowl while your dog is eating. 
  2. While the dog is eating, occasionally toss a really good treat into the bowl. The treat should be something your dog absolutely loves, but only gets during meal time. He/she will start to associate you being around the bowl as being a positive experience (the really good treat).
  3. Trade up during mealtime. The goal of "trading up" is to get your dog to stop eating and take food from you (again, using the really good treat). This teaches your dog that no one will steal his food if he looks up from his bowl.  
Food aggression is something that needs to be dealt with before it gets out of hand. It is a common problem many dog owners encounter. But, can easily be dealt with and remedied with patience and positive reward.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Teaching Your Dog "Stay"

Teaching your dog to "stay" is a handy skill for when you are doing something and you don't want your four-legged friend all up in your business (or if you want to take cute photos of your dogs sitting politely on a tree stump). Before we begin on the actual steps, there are a few things you need to decide:
  • Are you going to have your dog sitting or laying down when they "stay"? The more comfortable your dogs is, the longer they will actually stay. Example: sitting position will require more effort, but laying down may make your dog feel vulnerable. You need to assess the situation and your dog's temperament to decide what will be the best. 
  • You need to decide on a "release" cue. This will be a word or action that tells your dog they no longer need to stay. When choosing a word, try to choose one that you do not use in everyday conversation. Otherwise, you may end up confusing the dog if you have your dog in "stay" while talking to another individual and you end up saying your release cue in conversation. In addition, you don't want to ask your dog to stay or start a training session during a thunderstorm or on hot pavement or in freezing cold temperatures. That would be a ridiculous request. 
  • When handing your dog the treats that you will be using for the training of "stay", you will want to reward them either between the paws if they are laying or by their chest if they are sitting. Most people make the mistake of holding the treat up high, while repeating the word "stay" and them giving them the treat s..l..o..w..l..y.. Don't do that. The treat should be unseen and given quickly when the behavior has been executed. 
  • Last, there are three things you will be working on with the "stay" command: distance, duration and distraction. Distance is how far away from your dog you can be while your dog remains in "stay". Duration is how long your dog is in "stay", and distraction is having your dog stay while there is things going on around them. When training, you want to work on one thing at a time otherwise, you run the risk of just confusing your dog. 
Ok, so let's get started!

  1. Ask your dog to lie down. Instead of giving your dog a treat right away, wait a few seconds while saying something like "yes" or "good boy". Then, give them the treat. If your dog has the issue of bouncing up right away, have two treats available. One treat will be for laying down, and one will be for staying a couple seconds. Repeat, repeat, repeat... once your dog has this nailed down, start increasing the duration of time before the treat is given.
  2. While the dog is in down position, give the release cue. When your dog gets up, give them another treat. 
That's pretty much it! Remember, that dogs should only work on behavior training for about 15-minutes per session in order to avoid mental fatigue. To work on distance, slowly walk backwards one step at a time increasing your distance with each training session. You do not want to turn your back on the dog while increasing distance. Instead, maintain eye contact. Finally, to work on distraction,  start with little distractions like bouncing a ball. First one bounce, then two bounces, ect... teaching distraction is the most fun because you get to be creative with your distractions. You could jump rope, juggle, cook a steak.. the options are endless! 

When Mistake Happen:
 When your dog makes a "mistake", make sure you go back a step to an easier progression. Also, be mindful to check if your dog is just mentally tired from training. They will make mistakes if mentally tired. 

With all that said, never punish your dog for making a mistake. Always reward, reward, reward. Training is all about consistency. Once your dog has a behavior nailed down, you still need to practice it regularly. Otherwise, the behavior will slowly start to disappear and you'll have to start back at square one. 


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Training: "Leave it" in 5 Steps

"Leave it" is a training skill that could potentially save your dog's life. Before you start to train your dog on how to leave something on the ground, it's best that they have already mastered "sit" and leash walking. Below, I have outlined how to teach your dog how to "Leave It", but first I would like to explain how to go about teaching your dog this skill:

1. Only teach your dog a new skill for about 15 minutes a day in 5 minute sessions. "Leave it" is a good skill to practice during commercial breaks. 😏 If you go all hard core on the training and do more than 15 minutes a day in 5 minutes sessions, you risk over saturating your dog and stressing them out.... or they will just become plain ol' bored with the task and not listen to you.

2. In my steps, you will see "P/R". This means "Praise and Reward". Praise= a "good job" or "good boy/girl!" with lots of happy enthusiasm. Reward= a treat. Usually pea sized treats are sufficient for training sessions. If your dog does not respond to food treats, you may need to get creative on what reward to use.

3. Do not move onto the next step until your dog has mastered the previous step. Mastering a step may take a few days. These steps are not meant to be blasted through in one day!

And now.... the steps!

Once your dog has mastered step five, you can move on to practicing with real life objects: table scraps, cat boxes, dirty diapers... pretty much all the gross stuff dogs like to get into that they really shouldn't. Once the skill is learned by your dog, make sure to practice it weekly in order to maintain the training! Otherwise, you may have to start all over again. 😞