Dog Trainer Raleigh | The Dog Behavior Experts | Born to Lead Dog Training


Easing Separation Anxiety

Easing Separation Anxiety

Many dogs will whine or bark for a few minutes when left alone, but if this behavior escalates to continuous vocalization, destructive behavior or out-of-character housebreaking accidents, then your dog has separation anxiety. Many owners believe their dog is “getting back at them” for being left alone. In actuality, chewing, digging and barking help the dog relieve stress. Anxiety speeds up their digestive system and they often can’t control their bladder and bowels. To top it off, many people come home, find the mess their dog created, and punish the dog. This leads to more anxiety and that leads to more destructive behavior. To ease separation anxiety, you may have to modify your own behavior as well as that of your dog. Your goals are to make your dog less dependent on you when you are present and to actually look forward to your absences.

Low-key entrances and exits: Your dog may perceive a huge difference between times you are home and times you are absent. To lessen this difference, pay no attention to your dog (no petting, no talking, no eye contact) for twenty minutes prior to leaving your house. Do the same when you come home. We know this is hard to do when your dog is trying to greet you, but keep busy by checking answering machines messages, reading mail, or eating a snack. If you need to take the dog outside right away, do it as unemotionally as possible. Leave the TV or radio on when you are gone.

Independence training: When you are at home, encourage the dog to be away from you.  Place him in a down/stay on either side of the room. Discourage him from following you from room to room. If he tries to constantly gain your attention, ignore him. If he is crate-trained, crate him while you are home occasionally. Never let him out of his crate while he is barking, whining or scratching. Wait until he is calm and then let him out. Ignore him for a few minutes afterward. You can still spend time with your dog, but don’t pay attention to him constantly while you are home.

Exercise: Increase your dog’s exercise as much as your schedule and your dog’s health allows. Wear him out!!! If possible, get up a half hour early and exercise him before leaving for the day.

Vary your routine: If every morning your alarm goes off, you wake up, get dressed, make coffee, walk the dog, eat breakfast, put on your coat, pick up your keys and then leave, your dog’s anxiety may begin as soon as your alarm goes off. His anxiety may escalate with each event he knows precedes your departure. By the time you pick up your keys, he is a bomb waiting to go off. Vary your routine as much as possible to avoid this escalating anxiety. Go through your routine but don’t leave. Occasionally, pick up your keys and put them back down. Don’t let him predict your departure. Vary the amount of time you are gone and the time of the day you are gone. For instance, sometimes leave and come back two minutes later.

Fear and Aggression

Fear and Aggression

Let me preface this whole thing by stating flatly: fear aggression is THE single worst behavior problem to deal with in a dog. It is also THE single hardest behavior problem to "correct". "Get thee to an expert" should be the response to almost all queries concerning fear aggression. That said, there is something to be learned in a generalized discussion concerning fear aggression.

Fear Aggression:
Fear aggression is not a simple behavior that can be easily diagnosed and treated. It is an entire spectrum of behaviors, ranging from a simple snap on a single occasion to Cujo, foaming at the mouth maniac. What produces fear aggression is a mixture of things; socialization, temperament, abuse, genetics, training, or just rotten luck. Like all behaviors, this is not a nature vs. nurture issue - it's a nature AND nurture issue. What is inevitably true however is that untreated, fear aggression only gets worse.

Fear aggression is exactly as it sounds - aggression produced as a result of fear. Not all scared dogs will get aggressive and not all dogs will get scared in similar circumstances. Knowing this gives us an insight into how to approach the problem behavior. One way is to ensure the dog won't get scared, no matter the circumstance. The other is to prevent the dog from becoming aggressive if it does get scared. Most people address the former but not the latter.

The former method is used with dogs that can be "turned around". Early socialization is a key ingredient to preventing fear aggression, as well as a proper breeding line of dogs. Fearful parents produce fearful pups. Boldness is inherited to some degree. By socializing your dog as much as possible, you are showing him not to become afraid, no matter the circumstances. This entails taking your young dog with you into lots of different environments and exposing him to lots of different people, dogs, noises, sights, etc. Familiarity produces calmness. The first time you jump out of an airplane at 5,000 feet, you're petrified. By the 500th time, it becomes blasé' and old hat. The first stranger your dog meets is going to be scary. The 500th won't be (if all the encounters have been positive). Setbacks to this include lack of exposure (if you only get to 3 strangers, then this isn't familiarity by any means), abuse (abused dogs learn to distrust people in general), or a bad encounter with a stranger (dogs have good memories and one bad encounter with a hair-pulling child can turn a dog off to kids for example).

Once the dog is a bit older, the method is the same but the approach is slightly different. Obviously, the more nice people your dog meets, the more he will begin to see strangers as nice folks. Quantity is very important here. Quality of encounter is also very important. All meetings with strangers should be as upbeat and positive as possible. Oftentimes, this means that the strangers engage in play or give treats to the dog. If your dog is a food mongrel, then a treat from a stranger will make all the difference in the world. If your dog is a Frisbee nut, then a few tosses from each person will help break the ice. After many weeks or months (depending on your dog) this slow desensitization may bring your dog around to appreciate and enjoy meeting strangers. Without the fear, there is no need for aggression and hence, the problem is solved.

However, with many dogs, this approach will not work. If the genetics of fear inherent in the dog is "strong", if the dog was abused badly enough, or the bad encounter was sufficiently terrible, then the dog may never trust strangers, no matter how much one tries to desensitize the dog. I equate this with a battered woman. Some women, depending on their circumstances, learn after a great deal of time, to trust men again. Some women, if the abuse was bad enough or they are less trusting in nature, will never trust men again. No amount of exposure to men will make them regain their trust (and maybe rightfully so). Some dogs are this way too.

For dogs that will never trust strangers again, we must analyze the behavior a bit. Why do fearful dogs become aggressive? (the second part of our approach) Fear in a dog (or person for that matter) produces some very strong instinctive responses. This "fight or flight" instinct is simply a coping mechanism to the fear-producing stimulus. If the dog sees a way out, flight is often the best manner in coping with its fear (not risking injury). This results in the dog running away, hiding behind its owner, or cowering in order to make itself look small. However, if the dog feels trapped like there's no way out, then it becomes the proverbial "dog backed into a corner" and feels it must fight its way out in order to survive. Feeling trapped does not mean that the dog is necessarily in a real physical corner. The trapped circumstance may be imagined but is nonetheless real for the dog. After one or two successful attempts at warding off the fear-producing stranger (most strangers go away when a dog rushes them), it becomes a habit and the dog learns that this coping mechanism is perfectly safe and effective.

The key to breaking this habit is twofold. The first is to prevent the dog from becoming as fearful as it would naturally, on its own. The second is to prevent the dog from receiving positive rewards when it utilizes this approach. Let's look at them separately.

In the first aspect, this is where most dog owners go wrong, though through no fault of their own. The idea is to display confidence and strength to the dog upon the approach of a stranger, quelling the fear within the dog. However, this almost never happens. And it's easy to understand why. If you own a fear-aggressive dog, you become worried that the dog will bite someone. When a stranger approaches, you tense up, fearing the worst. You don't want to be sued, you don't want to see the person hurt, and you're worried about the consequences for your dog. You tighten your grip on the leash. You may cross to the other side of the street. You may pull back on the leash, anticipating the inevitable lunge. I know people that walk their dogs at 2 AM just to avoid seeing strangers in their travels. In some neighborhoods, there are whole squads of these folks out walking their dogs in the pitch-black - risking encounters with others of their guild.

While this is going on, your dog is looking back to you to determine how to react to the approach of the stranger. When it sees you tense up, it senses the fear in you (though you are fearful of something else) and responds by becoming even more scared, and hence, even more aggressive. The dog becomes more aggressive, resulting in the owner becoming more worried about the aggression and tensing up further in the next encounter. This spirals downward until the dog and the owner are incapable of dealing with it. This is very natural to react this way, but very counterproductive. The solution to this is not easy. One must gain trust and strength in the fact that their dog won't become aggressive and everything will be all right. It then spirals upward, as the dog becomes less aggressive and the owner becomes more confident. Very easy to say - almost impossible to accomplish on your own. This is where a behavior professional becomes indispensable. You need help to become confident, as it is rarely accomplished alone - simply by deciding that you will be confident from now on.What about the dog that doesn't respond to this method? This is where the "getting in his face" becomes useful. Far too many dogs are allowed to get away with aggression and with the positive reward of the stranger going away, it becomes a self-perpetuating behavior. The WORST thing to do with a dog that becomes aggressive with a stranger is to remove them from the encounter (though this is only natural to do). The dog soon learns that this coping mechanism actually works. He gets scared, he shows aggression, and the stranger goes away (or he gets pulled away from the encounter). It's the same reason that dogs bark at the mailman - mailman comes, dog barks to scare them away, mailman goes away, dog learns that barking causes the mailman to go away, so dog always barks at the approach of the mailman.) The positive reward of being removed from the situation should be stopped.

Secondarily, the dog can be controlled through the use of dominance (note that this is not necessarily the same as meeting aggression with aggression). Dominant dogs determine how a pack is to react to an approaching stranger. If the alpha dog says everything is OK with this individual, then it is not up to a subordinate member to start a fight with them. Alpha dogs determine who to fight and when to fight. The alpha dog does not tolerate any form of unwanted aggression. This is how the worst cases of fear aggression are controlled. It relies on two things - that the alpha member is present and that the alpha leader is in control of subordinates. If you are not the alpha leader of the pack and your dog is, then you will have no way to control your dog's reaction. If you don't know whether you are boss or not, you need to take the dominance test. This is where "getting in the dog's face" becomes dangerous because if you're not truly the one in charge, you can get bitten yourself. All of this should be undertaken with the assistance of an expert.

If you are the alpha, then you must control how the dog reacts to strangers. All forms of aggression are met with stern warnings, growling reproaches, or physical means if necessary. In this case, you are meeting aggression with dominance (which may itself include aggression). The fear is still there in the dog but it knows that this coping mechanism is unacceptable. Giving the dog another coping mechanism is often very helpful in resolving the tension. Again, you need to determine the best coping mechanism with the assistance of a professional.

In the end, you still have a fear aggressive dog, but it is controllable. As long as you are present, the dog looks to you to see how to react and behaves accordingly. Leave them alone in the yard and they're going to tear apart anyone that enters. Not a bad thing to have but still dangerous in today's world nonetheless.

Fear aggression is not something to be taken lightly, nor is treatment to be entered haphazardly. I'd venture to say that more dogs are put down by their owners in this country for fear of aggression than old age. (This is only a personal opinion). Stop it early and get help. 

House Training Dogs

House Training Dogs

There are 2 methods to housetrain your dog, the crate method and the paper training method. The crate method is preferred but requires constant supervision. The paper-training method is a bad idea and can lead to real difficulty down the road, after all, you’re training your dog to relieve herself in the house! This is only a good idea for a small percentage of pet owners depending on their circumstances.

The Crate Method

The crate method uses the principle that the dog would prefer not to soil her living area. The dog is crated for a couple of hours at a time and then taken out to one place in the yard to use the bathroom. Introduce a command like "go potty" while the dog looks for a place to go, as soon as the dog goes, praise warmly, and give a treat. The focus is on positive motivation. Things to remember for all housetraining:

Regulate food and water intake. Feed on regular schedules and do not leave water and food in the crate or lying out. Allow the dog to drink as much as she wants at mealtimes and after playing or exercise.

Take up all water after 8:00 pm, or a few hours before your bedtime, and use the crate for sleeping overnight.

If your house is not temperature controlled, you cannot remove water during the day if it is hot inside your house because the dog may dehydrate. However, this may destroy your schedule.

Things to Avoid

Do not hit or yell at the dog if she goes inside the house. Do not take her to a mess and scold her. This teaches the dog only to be afraid of you and will encourage her to relieve herself out of your sight. If she goes inside the house, consider it your fault for not properly supervising her. Take her directly outside even if it is after the fact, and give her the "go potty" command near her bathroom spot outside.

Avoid leaving the dog unattended. If you see her circling to use the bathroom inside, make a loud noise such as a hand clap, grab her and take her immediately outside and give the “go potty” command. When not supervised, the dog should be in the crate.  Period.

Gradually lengthen the time the dog is crated between bathroom breaks, allowing for age and success. If the dog is still having accidents or has an accident in the crate, you must give more frequent bathroom breaks. Always give a bathroom break initially directly after eating, or playtime being patient and consistent. Be sure to overdo the number of bathroom breaks the dog needs at first to ensure she doesn't have the opportunity to have accidents. Again, this requires a lot of supervision.
Be patient when taking the dog outside, you must be more persistent than the dog! Sometimes you may have to wait 10 or 15 minutes until she goes in her spot outside. Always remember to praise warmly and give a treat for each success.
Use a vinegar and water solution to deodorize any accident spots in the house so the dog is not drawn to them by smell and incorrectly thinks that is where she is supposed to go.

How to Live with a Dominant Dog

How to Live with a Dominant Dog

What is dominance? Because dogs live in packs, they need a way to avoid fighting over limited resources such as food, bones, and mates. They establish a pecking order with the most dominant dog as the leader. If there is one bone and two dogs, the more dominant dog usually gets the bone. Each dog is born with a certain amount of dominance in his personality. Even in a litter of puppies, you can see which are the natural leaders and which are happy just to be part of the pack. When a naturally dominant dog lives in a human household, he can become very confused. He feels the need to behave like the pack leader, but the humans around him send very mixed signals. He may develop anxiety, aggression, or just be very disruptive and disobedient. Here are some signs that a dog is expressing dominance:

- Demands attention by nudging people for petting or bringing them toys.
- Purposely bumps into people or puts a paw on them.
- Shows aggression when people approach his food, toys or bones.
- Shows aggression when people wake, startle or try to move him.
- Shows aggression when touched over his head or around the neck.
- Deliberately slow in obeying commands.
- Hyperactive and unresponsive.

Establishing yourself as your dog’s leader is the key to easing his confusion and modifying his behavior. Let your dog know he has a full-time job. He must be obedient to you in order to earn anything he wants. Avoid situations that tend to bring out your dog’s aggression. Rather than confront him physically, control his environment so that he understands his subordinate role in your household.

Dominance Control Program:

Feeding time: Let your dog know that you control his food. Don’t leave a bowl of food available for him whenever he feels like eating. Instead, chose one or two times to feed him each day. Fill the bowl with his kibble and tell him to sit. If he sits, put down his food and say “OK” to allow him to eat. After 20 minutes, remove his food bowl until his next mealtime. If he doesn’t sit, don’t repeat the command. Say “too bad” and put his food away. He doesn’t get to eat until the next scheduled mealtime. If he misses a meal, don’t feel bad. He knows how to sit and is choosing to not obey your command. Eventually require him to sit and stay while you put down his food. Always require obedience when giving him treats.

Helping Your Fearful Dog

Helping Your Fearful Dog

Dogs can be fearful because of past trauma, lack of proper socialization during puppyhood, genetic predisposition or a combination of all these factors. Our natural instinct when our dogs are fearful is to soothe and comfort them. Unfortunately, this sends exactly the wrong message to our dogs. From their point of view, we are praising and rewarding them for being fearful. Obedience training can help your dog gain confidence and allow you to slowly ease them over their fears. Never force you’re your dog to confront something that scares him. Instead, introduce the scary thing at a distance, while rewarding him for being calm. Slowly, and over many training sessions, decrease the distance to the scary thing. Your dog will begin to associate the scary thing with something positive such as food, toys, or praise.
The following is an example of how to overcome fear. Mitzi, the Poodle, is afraid of men. Her owner has enlisted a male friend to help in the training. They do two or three10-minute training sessions a week.

Beginning training sessions: The man sits on a park bench, while Mitzi’s owner heels her through the park. Twenty feet from the man, Mitzi’s owner stops and has Mitzi sit. She rewards the dog with the little bits of hotdogs (a treat she never gets). She heels Mitzi away and repeats. If Mitzi shows no signs of fear, she gets a little closer with each repetition. The training sessions end with Mitzi being treated for staying calm ten feet away from the man. The man ignores Mitzi entirely throughout the session. In the next session, they start at a distance of fifteen feet. As they slowly decrease the distance, Mitzi seems a little nervous, so her owner heels her away and increases the distance for the next few repetitions. Mitzi is always rewarded for remaining calm. Mitzi’s owner continues these sessions until Mitzi is calmly sitting five feet from the man and taking treats. Now Mitzi has learned that whenever the man is around, so are hotdogs!

Intermediate training sessions: Mitzi has been practicing her sit-stays at home, so she is ready for a new game. As Mitzi’s owner heels her up five feet from the man, she has Mitzi sit and stay. She tosses a treat on the ground while Mitzi holds position. She releases Mitzi with OK and allows her to eat the treat. She immediately has Mitzi sit and stay again. If Mitzi still shows no fear, the man begins tossing treats on the ground, but he still ignores Mitzi. Mitzi’s owner releases her with OK, allowing Mitzi to eat the treats. After a few more training sessions, Mitzi is taking treats out of the man’s hand. Mitzi’s owner keeps her under obedience control at all times. As soon as Mitzi eats the treat, she sits and stays again.

Advanced training sessions: Now the man starts paying attention to Mitzi, talking to her softly and making eye contact as he feeds her treats. If Mitzi shows no fear, he gently pets her under the chin (over the head can be intimidating). He rewards her with treats, and since Mitzi likes toys, he gives her a new toy to take home. Now Mitzi’s owner enlists the help of another male friend. She repeats the beginning and intermediate training sessions with the new man. The training goes quickly with the new man and Mitzi is soon approaching a variety of men. Mitzi thinks men are great!

This process takes patience but it does work. How much progress your dog makes depends in large part on his temperament. Some dogs may totally overcome fears, while others make small progress. A dog that is fearful of strangers may never become a social butterfly but may learn to be less anxious and fearful around them.


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