Tag Archives: dog training

Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

A different take on dog resource guarding

Resource guarding is a big deal. But most people’s first instinct on what to do about it is exactly the opposite of the answer. If you take away the resource the dog is guarding, the dog’s fears come true. It doesn’t solve the problem. It convinces the dog it was right.

This week we saw some advice on a dog training social media group that made us cringe. Somebody was asking what to do about their little Shih Tzu who was suddenly “guarding” her from other people in the family. Even growling when their family’s toddler child ran into their bedroom and approached the bed. The dog apparently even snapped and lunged at the child. The woman was asking what to do.

That’s not  the bad part. The bad part is the advice some old-school people were giving. Comment after comment saying “Don’t let the dog on the bed until it learns better.”

That’s absolutely the worst way to address the situation. And luckily, someone else pointed it out before we had the opportunity. If you take away the “resource” the dog is guarding, the dog’s worst fears come true. They have even more reason to protect what they think is theirs!

Times have changed

People used to use the adage “let sleeping dogs lie.” It’s no longer used, because society seems to have decided that dogs can’t object to harassment. Apparently dogs can’t object to anything being taken away from them, or done to them.

We don’t think that’s right. And it’s certainly not fair. But it’s all over, including supposedly “cute” videos showing toddlers climbing on dogs, getting in dogs’ faces, even playing with their flews. The dogs in many videos are giving clear signs they’re not comfortable, and yet people are shocked when dogs finally react.

Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

Most dogs give signals when they’re not happy in a situation. They’ll look sideways, or their eyes will get large (whale eye). Licking their lips is also a sign of discomfort, as is turning their head away. Pushed further, most dogs may curl a lip, or emit a warning growl.

If you see any of these dog signals, it’s time to stop whatever it is that’s happening. When people persist despite the dog’s indicators, that’s when bad things can happen. And good dogs can be labeled aggressive, or reactive.

What’s the answer?

For resource guarding, the person’s first instinct is to take away whatever it is that triggers the dog’s possessiveness. Which convinces the dog they were right – that precious object/person/food is under threat. 

A teaching approach changes the dynamic. Instead of taking away the food bowl, drop more food in it as you go by. Rather than ban the dog from the person’s lap, give the dog incredibly yummy treats as you approach. Instead of removing the dog from the bed, designate a special place (blanket/mat) on the bed where they’re always safe. 

Children should be taught to respect dogs, including their best friend, the family dog. Everybody, including the dog, should be allowed to have limits. Watching and learning to read a dog’s body language can go a long way to solving many dog issues.

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Picture of a Boston Terrier carrying a foam block to illustrate Expect More From Small Dogs

Expect more from small dogs

Small dogs are just as smart (if not smarter) than medium or large dogs. Many breeds of small dogs had the job of controlling pests, like rats. They were bred to work hard and independently, to solve problems and figure out ways to outsmart their prey. So why don’t more small dog people get involved in dog training and dog performance sports? Why don’t people expect more from small dogs?

We see lots more people with medium or large dogs in our training classes than small dogs. Which contradicts the demographics in the nation, since there are more small dogs than any other group. We think we know why. People know medium and large dogs must be trained because they cannot physically control them. Small dog people can. If a little dog’s being obnoxious, the person can just pick them up and remove them from the situation.

While we understand what’s going on, we wish it weren’t so. It deprives both people and dogs of the fun they could be having together. If you’ve never seen your dog’s glee when it figures out a new trick or behavior, you’re missing out.

Try some tricks

Almost every dog, large and small, knows the basics; sit, down, wait, off, etc. But what about all the adorable things your dog does spontaneously? Have you ever wished you could capture those little behaviors and teach your dog to do them on command? You can! It’s really easy. 

Just like it’s actually easy to teach your dog a “polite greeting” for occasions when you have visitors, or meet someone when out and about. It just takes a few minutes a day, it’s a lot of fun, and your dog will be happier when they know what’s expected of them. It leads to a richer, bigger life for both of you.

Smart dogs are troublemakers

Picture of a Boston Terrier carrying a foam block to illustrate Expect More From Small Dogs
Booker putting his blocks away

The smarter a dog is, the more likely they are to find ways to get into trouble. They’re not content to just lounge around and eat bonbons. They’re curious about the world and want to explore. You may not think it’s exploring when your dog topples the bathroom wastebasket to see what’s inside. But your dog does!

Channeling your dog’s natural curiosity into learning can be a great outlet. And only your imagination limits what you can teach your dog. If you want to see a great example of how little “tricks” can lead to big things, watch the winner of the 2022 AKC Virtual Trick Dog Competition. Maddie-Moo, an Australian Terrier, won with “Dogwarts: School of Witchcraft” routine. This little bitty dog did some wonderful tricks – that your dog can do, too!

Start today

If you watch that video and think to yourself “My dog can do that!” You’re absolutely right. You can start right away – you have everything you need. A good place to start is by teaching your dog to touch a “target” – which can be something as simple as the (clean) lid of a yogurt container. We talked about it in a 2-Minute-Dog-Training tip here.

It’s called 2-Minute Training because that’s all you need. Dogs don’t have the attention span or the focus to concentrate for long stretches. And they don’t need to. With the right motivation (treats, toys, pets, praise), dogs are very willing “workers” and love interacting with you. 

You don’t want your dog to fall into the stereotype of “obnoxious little dog.” Expect more from your small dog. You and your dog can do it!

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Picture of a tan Pit Bull to illustrate

“Why Does My Dog?” has no answer

You’re never going to know why your dog does what they do. That’s really hard for lots of new dog owners to understand. Probably because dogs are so in tune with us in so many ways, the parts that aren’t aligned seem incomprehensible.

It’s especially hard to know what’s going on with your dog when they do weird things. We’ve had Boston Terrier Simon for almost five years now – Fran got him when he was a little puppy. And since Day 1, he licks vertical surfaces. Cabinets, walls, furniture. Until we tell him to “knock it off,” he licks. 

We know some “whys”

We know that licking and chewing are forms of self-soothing. As dog trainers, we recognize behaviors when we see them. If your dog barks at you, they want attention. If they yawn or scratch at someplace like the vet’s office, we recognize it as a stress behavior. So we know Simon finds some kind of comfort in licking things. But it’s still weird. And we’re not crazy about washing walls.

Dogs can’t ever tell us “why.” Why is a dog afraid of people wearing hats? Were they terrorized by someone wearing a hat? Probably not. The odd shape of the person’s head wearing a hat may signal something’s wrong to your dog.

You can never be absolutely sure of how your dog will react with something different. Twice in the last couple of weeks dog owners predicted one reaction and got something entirely different.

Picture of a tan Pit Bull to illustrate Why Does My Dog

In Hope’s “Manners” class, the facility had left a little ramp that the day-care dogs play on. It’s large, plastic, brightly-colored, has three steps that go up about 15 inches on one side, a flat center, and a “slide” on the other side. The whole thing is about ten feet long. One of the dogs in class is Happy the pit bull. Her people looked at it and thought she’d charge right over it and have a blast. 

They were wrong. Happy was nervous and didn’t want anything to do with it. Despite the fact that she loves class, is normally a happy and inquisitive dog, and the ramp had to have delightful doggy odors all over it. As it turned out, instead of a rambunctious play session, we had the opportunity to teach the people how to introduce new, scary things to their dogs.

Same thing, different day

In our Club’s class this week, the puppy/beginner class had a few extra minutes at the end for playtime. The facility had a large, blue, outside ball with a handle in the room. Hope asked the people how they thought their dogs would react. The people with Alfie, a five-month-old giant-breed mix, said he’d love it and want to play. So we dropped it on the floor and found out they were wrong. Alfie was terrified of it – barking and backing up. By the end of class, he still wasn’t crazy about it, but no longer frightened.

What should you do if you get an unexpected or strange reaction from your dog? The absolute worst thing you can do is drag your dog over, as if to say “See? You’re being stupid.” For whatever reason, and you’ll never know what it is, your dog is cautious about something. How do you train your dog to check out new stuff?

Distance is your friend. Get far enough away from the thing so your dog is comfortable – no side-eye staring, no hunching, but relaxed, and happy. Gradually approach while talking to your dog and giving them treats for being calm and good. At the point your dog starts showing fear, stop and just wait. If they relax, get a little closer.

Working through it

Both Happy and Alfie were better by the end of class, but neither made “friends” with the scary object. That takes some time and familiarity. You never want to force your dog into something they find frightening. You want to take away the scare, not add to it.

Why are we talking about this now? It gives you time to think about and prepare. Because we’re getting close to the time of year when scary things crop up in yards all over the place. You may think the inflatable, 9-foot-tall, fire-breathing, purple dragon is a great Halloween decoration. Your dog may think it’s as terrifying as a real one swooping down to snatch him. 

So bring extra treats on your walks with your dog. Stay calm, talk soothingly, and give your dog time to adjust. Reward them for being calm. If you can gradually approach the scary thing, give it a try. The more chances your dog has to see, smell, and lick new things, the more confident they’ll become.  

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Picture of a fawn French Bulldog in a crate to illustrate Separation Anxiety

Routine helps dogs avoid separation anxiety

One of the dog issues that bothers devoted dog owners most is separation anxiety. We hate causing our dogs stress of any kind. But even the best-behaved dogs can’t go everywhere, all the time. And when we leave these devoted companions home alone they may cry, whine, howl, or get destructive. So how do you avoid separation anxiety?

It’s just not possible for dogs to go with us everywhere. So what can you do to make sure your dog is calm and happy home alone?

Have a routine

Dogs love routine. They love knowing what’s happening, and when. Establishing a routine for every time you leave your dog home alone will let them know what’s happening, that it’s normal, and that they don’t have to worry.

As with all dog training, you have to start small. Decide what your “going out by yourself” routine will be and introduce it to your dog. For us, the last thing we do before leaving the house is give our dogs special treats they only get when we’re not there.

We use treat-dispensing toys that we’ve prepared in advance. We stuff them with a mixture of plain yogurt, peanut butter, kibble, maybe even some Chicken Heart Treats or blueberries, and put them in the freezer. (Note: be sure whatever treat-dispensing toy you use has holes at either end so no suction effect can trap your dog’s tongue.)

Scatter for their crates

When our dogs see us pulling those toys out of the freezer, they run for their crates – the only place they ever get these toys with the goodies inside. This extra-special treat is reserved for when we’re not home, so the dogs associate our leaving with something wonderful.

And we do always crate our dogs when we’re not home. While we don’t have to worry about house-breaking accidents, we do worry about other things: wrestling matches that can smash breakables, chewing on or getting tangled in electrical cords, and even possible break-ins. Our dogs are more valuable to us than any stuff we own. We’d rather a burglar grab what they want and get out, leaving our dogs safely crated and unharmed. 

Picture of a fawn French Bulldog in a crate to illustrate Avoid Separation Anxiety

If you can, set up your routine and introduce it to your dog(s) in steps. Take the toy from the freezer and put it in your dog’s crate. If the dog is used to being in a crate, shut the door and leave the room for a couple of minutes. If your dog isn’t used to the crate, close the door and stay there. As soon as they finish the goodies, let them out. Let them see you refilling the toy and putting it back in the freezer.

The next time, leave the house for a few minutes after you give your dog the toy. Come back, without fuss, open the crate, take the toy and let them watch you refill it and refreeze it. The next time, actually go on an errand and see how your dog does.

Don’t lie to your dog

When people know their dogs have separation anxiety, it’s their tendency to “sneak out,” or try fooling their dogs. It’s a mistake. Aside from not really fooling anyone (including the dog), it’s a form of lying. Dogs don’t understand deception in any form. Attempting to fool them only breaks the trust your dog has. And like any trusting relationship, once broken it’s hard to repair.

Don’t make a fuss about either leaving or coming home. Your dog may take the cue from you – it’s no big deal when you leave. And it’s not a big deal when you come home, because you always will. You can alleviate or avoid separation anxiety by establishing a routine your dog knows.

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