JUMPING UP – training for controlled greetings

There are three main treatment elements which alone, or in combination, work well to control unwanted jumping behaviour: withdrawal, control devices (leashes and head collars), and teaching an alternative behaviour such as “sit” or retrieve.

■ Withdrawal

Remove any inadvertent reinforcement for the behaviour by ignoring the dog and withholding all interactions until the dog is calm.
• The person should stand calmly, turn away from the dog with arms crossed with no eye contact until jumping ceases. In cases where the dog persistently jumps, the person may need to walk out of the area, closing a door, or the dog may need to be persistently (but only briefly) confined in another area until it learns to greet the person calmly.
• Once jumping has stopped, the person can return attention to the dog and calmly interact with the dog but should cease interaction if jumping begins again.
• People should avoid rewarding the jumping with interactive responses such as pushing the dog off or yelling. This response is giving the dog what it wants: attention!

■ Increasing control and using control devices:

• Head collars greatly facilitate owner control and the ability to restrict jumping by providing much improved control of the head. Pulling the head up and guiding the dog into a sit will help stop the dog from jumping up and encourage an alternate behaviour.
• Visitors can be greeted outside or inside with the dog on a leash and in a head collar, or the dog’s access to the situation can be restricted by placing it in another room until the visitor is seated, and then the head collar and lead will further assist control of the dog in greeting the visitor.

■ Teach “sit” and “stay” as an alternative method to greet people

 
• When the dog is calm and relaxed, practice sitting for a food reward in different areas of the house with the dog wearing a leash and head collar.
• Begin with short sessions of 3–5 minutes with 8–12 repetitions per session.
• Use highly palatable food rewards cut into small pieces.
• Add the word “stay” or “wait” when the duration of sitting is a few seconds; take a step away, return to the dog and give the food reward.
• Gradually build up the time away from the dog to 30 – 60 seconds.
• Repeat these exercises, getting nearer to the front door each session, and with the addition of leaving and returning to the dog placed in the sit-stay position.
• Next, ask the dog to sit for a food reward when entering the home following a brief absence – start with only a second or two, and build it up to several minutes, then to fifteen minutes, then when returning from work or other absences of a few hours’ duration. This must be done very gradually and only increase the time after many successes (e.g. 9 out of 10)
• Repeat the process by enlisting familiar visitors – ask them to enter, ask the dog to sit, and give a food reward.
• Alternatively, the owner can reward the dog for remaining seated as people enter also using the head collar and leash for control.
• Eventually the food rewards can be reduced to intermittent use.

■ Some hyperactive dogs remain too excitable to achieve a sit-stay when visitors or even the owners enter the home. These dogs may do better if a ball is tossed in another area as a visitor enters. This is more beneficial if a dog has been taught to sit prior to an item being
tossed again.

■ In all situations, the owner/visitor should avoid increasing the dog’s excitement. Always enter calmly, maintain no contact until the dog is calm/indifferent/sitting, and then introduce only gently, slow contact, speaking in a quiet voice.

■ Stepping on the dog’s toes, kneeing it in the chest or squeezing the paws should never be done; activities like these are cruel, are ineffective at diminishing the jumping behaviour, and can lead to more problematic behaviours, including fear and aggression.

MANAGING BOREDOM – digging, barking and shredding (washing-pulling)

■ Boredom busting strategies are absolutely essential in every dog’s life, particularly when left home alone. Dogs are very playful and intelligent creatures and they require constant stimulation. You need to have a toy box full of a large variety of interesting (and safe) toys, but the secret is to only have several of the toys available to the dog at any one time, and to change the toys around every few days so they remain “new” and interesting.

■ Boredom buster toys include hanging rope toys (the ‘Aussie Dog’ Home Alone toy is brilliant, but home-made versions can also be very effective), Kong chews stuffed with mince or peanut butter, Kong or other premium brands of bouncing chew toys, feeder balls and cubes which dispense treats or dry food as the dog rolls them around, and, of course, fresh meaty femur bone from the butcher for a long-lasting chew. Be very cautious of cheap brands of toys and rawhide chews which disintegrate and can cause obstructions in the dog’s bowel. Always remove bones once all the chewy bits have been removed, as old hard bones can cause cracked teeth.

■ I recommend only premium brands of indestructible entertainment/chew toys, including Kong, Aussie Dog, Everlasting, Tuffy, Bob-A-Lot and Tucker balls. A low cost alternative is a simple cardboard box – the action of shredding a box can be very entertaining and helps defuse anxiety.

■ Stimulation is very important when you are home with your dog, and should not only include a good physical workout at the local dog off-leash area, but mental stimulation through training in obedience commands, as well as a good range of challenging tricks and complex skills. The latter are very useful when inclement weather restricts outdoor exercise as they can be performed indoors, even as you relax in front of the TV.

■ Another essential element in beating boredom behaviours in your dog is to provide him with a ‘legal’ opportunity – an outlet – to satisfy this instinctive canine behaviours. All animals come hard-wired with natural behaviours. Unfortunately, from our human perspective, society deems them to be ‘bad’, such as digging in our prize rose garden, barking the neighbours out of bed, or shredding the contents of our clothesline. Being allowed to do what comes naturally goes a long way to satisfying instinctive behaviours and creating a happy, well-behaved dog.

This could involve filling one half of a child’s playtime clam shell with sand and teaching the dog to dig for treats and toys in his very own sandpit, or providing him with an area in his yard/your garden where you can teach him it is okay to dig. This may mean fencing off certain areas of your garden or laying down chicken mesh to prevent digging in certain areas initially, but he will soon get the idea.

For the shredder, providing him with a large cardboard box for him to ‘discover’ and shred into tiny pieces can be a wonderful release, especially in anxious dogs that may otherwise shred your lounge cushions while you are out. Please exercise caution and always observe the first few occasions you give him a box to shred, to ensure he is not one of those dogs that eats what he shreds. If so, avoid giving him anything but indestructible chew toys or edible bones and rawhides.

Finally, if he is barking out of boredom, teach him to bark on cue, and then to stop barking on cue, so the behaviour can be allowed at times and controlled when it is not appropriate. It is also important to take him to the dog park and allow him to bark and play with other dogs, to satisfy his instinctive urge to give voice.

More information on specific strategies for managing these behaviours are outlined below:

 

Digging

 
■ Some dogs dig because they are too hot or cold – they dig into the earth to create a cool or warm den to shelter in. This is strong instinctive behavior, especially in terriers, and is not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ behaviour. To prevent this, ensure your dog has adequate shelter to protect him from excessively hot or cold days. The provision of a snug kennel with plenty of warm bedding is ideal, as is the provision of a cool shady place well out of the sun. On very hot days, fill the other side of the child’s clam shell with fresh, clean water to enable water-loving dogs to lie down/play in it. On extreme days, put ice cubes in the water.

■ If climate control is not the reason for digging, it is invariably due to sheer boredom, particularly in breeds with an extremely high instinctive drive to dig (e.g. terriers). However, since digging can also be caused by stress (see separation anxiety notes), punishment of digging behaviours can be very counter-productive, and may even cause the dog to increase the unwanted behaviour. If you feel your dog is digging as a stress release, contact us for professional help on managing his anxiety, which involves an entirely different approach.

■ If you have provided top rate boredom busting measures (described above) and are confident the dog is not bored out of his mind, but is digging for the sheer joy of it, verbal reprimands must ONLY be given if the dog is in the act of digging and NEVER after the event. Physical reprimands are NEVER appropriate. Give the dog a verbal “AAAGGGHH”, call him to you and give him several obedience commands (sit, drop, heel etc) as you move away from his excavation site.
It is important to reward him for the act of performing these commands as it creates a more positive situation and distracts him from the digging process. Under no circumstances should you ever call the dog to you when he is digging and then punish him for the digging – he will only connect the punishment with the fact that he came to you when called, and this is extremely counter-productive if you ever want him to come to you in the dog park (or at any other time).

 
Barking

 
■ You need to establish why the dog is barking, because the reason may be quite genuine. It is reasonable for him to give a few good woofs if a dog walker passes by, or if the next door cat struts across the top of the dividing fence, but if the barking goes on incessantly, long after the ‘intruder’ has departed, he is probably anxious, barking for the sheer joy of it, because he is lonely, or simply bored. Firstly, go back and check your boredom busting measures, and if they are not working or he simply likes the sound of his own voice, you need to take corrective measures quickly, lest the neighbours make a formal complaint to the local Council. [If his barking is in anyway aggressive, intimidating or provocative, or if he is anxious and exhibiting separation related behaviours, contact us for urgent professional advice. This information sheet covers boredom, not aggression or anxiety, which require completely different management plans].

■ No experienced animal behaviourist will ever advocate the keeping of a dog (a ranging pack animal) exclusively in the back yard. Dogs MUST be allowed to be part of the family, their pack, if we want to avoid problem behaviours, such as barking, from developing. Remaining alone in the prison of his yard while the rest of his pack is indoors can be torture for the family dog, and he must be given free access, as much as practicable, between the home and the yard when you are at home. The difference in psychological well-being in dogs that have regular access to their pack via dog door flaps or temporary ‘Pig In Mud’ patio doggie doors (ideal for rental properties) is remarkable.

■ Barking is frequently an attention-seeking behaviour. If the dog stands at the back door barking, he is basically saying: “Let me in! Let me in! LET ME IN!!!” So if we rush outside and reprimand him, we have effectively reinforced his barking behaviour by giving him attention. Although, it wasn’t very nice attention: “SHUT UP, Fido!”, and even though we didn’t let him in, it was still attention, and in your dog’s mind, an unpleasant interaction with his pack leader is better than no interaction at all. Giving attention when it is demanded by the dog will only serve to increase his attention-seeking behaviour and this must be avoided (see notes on Structuring the Relationship with Your Pet).

The barking needs to be ignored and he will eventually give it up, but, if in the meantime the neighbours are becoming annoyed or your baby is going to be woken, you can try various means to distract the dog from whatever he is barking at without actually giving him attention. This could involve making a noise, or going outside and doing something (hosing the parsley patch, hanging a sock on the line, placing rubbish in the bin etc) while being careful not to acknowledge the dog in any way, especially not making eye contact. When the dog has stopped barking for at least 30 seconds, preferably longer, and is curiously following you around, you can then acknowledge him and provide mild interaction to lengthen the distraction. Caution – never go out and give him attention by contact, providing treats or having a game until after the barking behaviour has stopped for a period of time (at least twenty seconds), otherwise you are effectively reinforcing the barking behaviour by rewarding him with your presence, the treat or the game. Also, if you have rushed to the door to let him in as soon as he started barking in the past, lest he woke the baby/neighbours, and you now suddenly stop doing it, he will get worse before he gets better. If you relent, the whole cycle will get worse, so perseverance is critical.

■ In serious cases, where complaints about nuisance barking have already been made, it may be necessary to take more drastic measures and institute ‘startle’ treatment. This must only ever take the form of a harmless object balanced over the door (or other place where the barking occurs) dropping near the dog to surprise him out of the behaviour. It must never involve anything that causes pain or long-lasting psychological harm. Startle treatment is described in greater detail below, under Shredding.

■ It is always a good idea to let your neighbours know that your barking dog is under a management plan with a professional behaviourist for his problem behaviour and warn them that there may be an increase in the barking for a while. It cannot be stressed enough that a little communication between neighbours over your dog’s problem behaviours can mean the difference between an understanding and more tolerant neighbor, or one who initiates council involvement (possibly even a Nuisance/Dangerous Dog Declaration against your dog, which can have very serious and expensive implications).

 

Shredding (e.g. Washing Pulling)

 
■ Please note this information sheet only covers shredding due to boredom, not due to anxiety. If your dog is exhibiting destructive behaviour due to any form of stress, such as separation related anxiety, call us to seek the professional help of an experienced behaviourist as soon as possible (refer to Separation Anxiety notes).

■ Dogs exhibit shredding behaviour, such as pulling washing off the clothes line or destroying the lounge cushions, because it satisfies several very strong instinctive canine predation behaviours, including the chase, catch, kill and consumption (the ripping apart) of prey. Washing pulling is also great fun, especially on windy days when the flapping washing more closely resembles fleeing prey. Some dogs will pull washing down and leave it, while others will tear it to shreds. If dogs are under-exercised, bored and/or lonely, this behaviour can be particularly problematic because the chase of the clothes and the resistance of the tug on the line resembles the irresistible tug-of-war games with litter siblings as a puppy, or with you after work. It also provides a satisfyingly high level of very physical exercise.

■ Shredding, as with chewing, is much more prevalent in puppies and young dogs as they go through their teething stages, and they often outgrow the behaviour. If the habit is allowed to develop, however, it can remain a problem in older dogs. Firstly, PREVENTION through increasing the mental and physical stimulation of your dog is extremely important (refer to boredom busting strategies, above). You may also need to separate the dog from the source of shredding (e.g. fence off the washing line) until he grows out of the behaviour. Once you have addressed the stimulation needs of the dog, CORRECTION through the use of painless startle treatment or through the use of bitter-tasting deterrents can be extremely effective. Trial and error and mixing the ‘startle’ source will tell you what will work for your dog.
 Another deterrent is to place objects onto the ground under the washing line that make the surface wobbly and uneven. Planks with bricks under one end or bricks with wire rabbit netting over the top create an undesirable working surface and the dog will avoid the area.

 
Startle Therapy

■ Startle therapy should not be used in dogs suffering from anxiety, as these dogs may find the shock of the following deterrents frightening and it could exacerbate their anxiety.

‘Startle’ therapy and bitterant deterrents include:
 Hanging a plastic bag or balloon full of water on the line for the dog to target is effective with some dogs. The unexpected splash of water all over the dog’s face when the bag/balloon breaks can be quite a shock, yet is not at all painful. Unfortunately, some dogs can eventually see this as a game, once the startle element wears off, but this is rare as few dogs enjoy getting a big splash into the face. Also, you may need to suspend the balloon/plastic bag inside an old pillow case (open end down) so that it more closely resembles your washing.
 Using an air-filled balloon may startle some dogs more effectively, but caution is advised when loud bangs are involved, so as not to create a noise phobia in the dog.
 Tying a few empty lightweight aluminium cans together and balancing them so that they drop onto or near the dog when he pulls on an old towel can also be very effective.
 “Crib Stop’ spray (available from rural/saddlery suppliers) or a strong solution of mustard, Tobasco, chilli or citronella can be sprayed on an old towel or rag and left by itself on the line. The bad taste is the reprimand, but check first that your dog does not actually enjoy the taste!
These deterrents should be repeated regularly until the required result is achieved.

Attention-seeking behaviour

When a puppy or dog demands attention through a succession of pawing, scratching, whining, jumping up, and barking, we humans often send all the wrong messages. We end up accidentally reinforcing those very behaviours that annoy us. Over the long term, these behaviours can become entrenched and this can be particularly unwelcome when we need peace and quiet.

While I advocate loving your pet to bits, there is one important proviso – it must always be on your own terms. Attention-seeking behaviour (ASB) is a good example of how we should remain in charge, lest unwanted behaviours escalate out of control. The reinforcement of ‘cuteness’ can quickly turn attention-seeking behaviour into really bad habits.

When a pet sits quietly and looks at us, we usually respond with a kind word and a pat. This favourable response to their behaviour reinforces their efforts, so they repeat it. Eventually, with enough repetitions, it becomes conditioned in the pet’s psyche to mean: if-I-sit-quietly-they-give-me-what-I-want.

If, at some point, we do not respond, they will try something different to gain our attention. Mild ASBs begin to escalate: they’ll try sitting in our path, leaning on us, rubbing around our legs, whining, putting their paws or chin on our knee, shoving toys at us, scratching, climbing, jumping, vocalising, and even biting. The indulgence of attention-seeking behaviours can lead to very manipulative pets.

Where do we draw the line? At what stage has the pet overstepped the point of acceptable behaviour?

Although it is embarrassing when Fido jumps all over your visitors seeking attention, it’s not fair to yell at him for this behaviour if he’s been allowed to jump all over you since he was tiny. Consistency in training is essential to avoid confusion.

Some common ASB problems occur on our arrival home – when the pet climbs all over us in an ecstatic, noisy greeting, or when pets mug us for being a little late at feed time. Should we make a fuss of Fido when he greets us with such joyous enthusiasm, jumping up with love and excitement? Should we leap to attention and throw food into a bowl when Fido barks at us to hurry up? NO! This is absolutely the opposite response to such a demand.

If you are being assaulted with excitement, or being commanded to produce food, to play fetch or for after-dinner cuddles, ignore the dog. Calmly walk away or quietly take him to his time-out zone, and only after he has exhibited acceptable behaviour – e.g. sitting quietly on a mat for a few minutes – should we give him what he wants: the invitation to approach for some appropriate interaction. As another example, I am all for a pet having lap cuddles, so long as it is on our terms – we must invite the pet onto our lap, not be leaped upon.

Ignoring a dog is an art! Removing direct eye contact is critical, because this is a strong canine connection. Turn your eyes and head away, or stand up, turn your back, or walk away if necessary. Deprive them of your attention and they will soon understand that seeking – or demanding – attention does not get them what they want.

Yelling “Get DOWN! Stop jumping on me!” or “Shoosh! No barking inside!” is pointless, because it’s still giving Fido attention – not very nice attention, but attention nevertheless! Keep your actions and voice quiet and in control, because calm, firm confidence is essential in any training situation, for best results.

All pets should learn that we humans have our own personal space, which must be respected until we invite others to share it, including our pets.

It is very important, however, to invite your dog into your space as often as possible – on your own terms – for cuddles and games and treats. Apart from being a lovely aspect of having a dog, this wonderful interaction helps them learn the right cues for receiving attention.

Avoid reinforcing attention-seeking behaviours in other peoples’ dogs. You can de-train all their hard work with an inappropriate response to a puppy or dog mugging you for attention. Ask the owner’s permission before responding, but never give attention when their dog is demanding it. When the animal gives up, wait awhile, then reach down and calmly pat it and say hello. Cease the interaction if it over-reacts and demands more.

If you are content with your dog’s behaviour, and if you are comfortable with reinforcing their attention-seeking antics – fantastic! Just be aware of the consequences, and be on the lookout for escalating behaviours. For example: I love cuddling my dog, Drummer while upright, so I have taught him to jump up gently on command. He is never allowed to do this to anyone else, or to me unless I have specifically asked him to.

By avoiding inadvertent reinforcement of unwanted behaviours, and encouraging your dog to have greater respect for you, we can develop a much more loving and rewarding relationship. Be your dog’s loving companion, not their slave or punching bag!

Developing the Positive Reinforcer – our most valuable training tool

Have you heard of the term ‘positive training’ and wondered what it means? Positive training evolved over the last 15 years, through extensive behavioural research. It has completely replaced the old-school ‘yell and yank’ method – where dogs had commands yelled them, and if compliance was a split-second late, the choker chain was given a sharp yank. Thankfully, this cruel and ineffective style of training, which used punishment to achieve submissive and obedient dogs, has been fully discredited and discontinued.

Decades of animal psychology research has moved training styles forward, from negative punishment-based methods, to positive rewards-based training. We now use treats instead of choker chains. Our pets are rewarded for doing the right thing, rather than being yelled at, and yanked around, for doing the wrong thing.

Hands up everyone who’s heard of a ‘positive reinforcer’? Not many? Ok. Hands up, then, those who have heard of a ‘negative reinforcer’? Still no one? Yet, chances are every dog owner uses a negative reinforcer. The most common negative reinforcer is heard when a dog does something undesirable: it is told: “NO!” Other common negative reinforcers are “Arhh!” or “Hey!” Sometimes owners yell the dog’s name in anger: “FIDO!”, so the dog’s identifier also becomes a negative reinforcer, which is not good.

A negative reinforcer is simply a short, sharp, gruff sound we make to stop our pet in its tracks, to prevent Fido from committing an undesirable action, or to protect him from danger. For example: chewing your favourite shoes, stealing the cat’s dinner, licking the baby’s face, jumping up at the bench when food is being prepared, or running out onto the road when traffic is coming… there are countless occasions when we say, or yell: “NO!” to Fido, or snap or growl his name in anger, fear or frustration. This is, effectively, a punishment.

A much more productive way to teach animals, however, is to use a rewards-based system: using a ‘positive reinforcer’ to signal the dog’s desirable behaviour – as soon as it happens – followed by treats to reward the dog. This makes Fido want to repeat the behaviour, in order to win more treats. Everyone is happy – everyone wins, with positive training.

So, if our negative reinforcer is “No!” what would be a good positive reinforcer? The obvious word is “YES!” This happy, positive word is ideal if said in an excited and light-hearted, high-pitched tone. Say “YES!” as if you’re celebrating a good deed, like a verbal ‘high-five,’ as if saying “well done, Fido!” That is exactly why we use a positive reinforcer: we are celebrating the dog getting something right!

So, if the dog heads over towards the cat’s bowl, or the baby’s face, or your priceless shoes, or out the gate, but then stops to reconsider his actions, we pounce on this wonderful opportunity and reward his fantastic behaviour. We say “YES!” the split-second he turns away, to help him pin-point which action is being rewarded, and then we immediately follow up with a reward: such as a treat, game of tug, or special tummy rub.

With positive training, we are rewarding his desirable behaviour, rather than punishing bad behaviour. Animals – and children (and husbands, by the way) – learn much more quickly through reinforcement of desirable behaviour, than through the punishment of undesirable behaviour.

Let’s look at that scenario again from another angle. If we yell “NO!” as Fido heads towards the bowl/baby/shoes/gate, we are actually punishing his intent, rather than his actions, and this is not a good thing. We can either wait to see what he does, or we can intervene. If we allow him to continue with his action, only then should we say ‘no’ – once he is actually performing the undesirable behaviour, but by then he has probably been hit by the car, so this is pointless and he does not learn anything.

What is far better, however, is to intervene and help him make the right decision – not with a punisher, but by simply calling him away, using a very neutral or, if anything, an attractive happy tone which he is more likely to respond to. We are therefore distracting him from his intent to steal/lick/chew/escape and prevent the undesirable behaviour from occurring. This is something I call ‘distractive intervention’. Once he turns away without having committed any crime, we pounce on this positive situation with a “YES!” followed by rewards and really wonderful interaction. Distractive intervention, therefore, is an excellent positive training tool!

Positive training allows for a much more pleasant and productive relationship with your pet: not only will you have a more obedient pet, everyone stays positive and happy! Remember that every minute your pet is awake presents you with a positive training opportunity. Have treats with you at all times and whenever your pet performs any action which pleases you – whether requested or not – immediately pin-point it with the “Yes!” word, then reward lavishly. Positive rewards-based training provides constant, effective training opportunities, to create confident and friendly four-legged family members for life!

REMEMBER: “YES!!” every time your dog does something well, even if (especially if) you haven’t even asked for it. Save “No!!” for dire emergencies only.

MAXIMISING TREATMENT and TRAINING SUCCESS

Identifying the right rewards

When starting training for obedience or a behavior modification program, we must first identify very valuable rewards for the pet. For most dogs this will be delectable food treats. Food treats should be tiny (less than the size of a pea) and readily consumable. Some options include small pieces of deli meat, small cubes of cheese, small strips/cubes of fresh meat, or semi-soft liver jerky cut into tiny pieces. Consideration should be given to any medical dietary restrictions (e.g. low fat cheese). Generally, for most dogs, dry dog food and even dry Shmacko strips are not delicious enough to be a worthy training reward that the dog will really strive to win. The reward MUST be craved by the dog to be effective in the reinforcement of behaviours!

Some dogs do not value food treats at all, which can make training more complicated. If your dog is not food-motivated, you must find an alternative valuable reward, such as a short game of tug or fetch, or, in the affection-craving dog, a soft tummy rub or rump scratch. Praise should always be part of the reinforcement package in addition to food treats, affection, games etc.

The training of toy/game motivated dogs will require slight adaptions to the reward system, which is traditionally designed around the handler instantly providing food morsels in the hand. The use of a conditioned reinforcer, however (which will be explained below), negates this problem. While games need to be exciting enough to be rewarding, stimulation can cause excitable dogs to become distracted, so games need to be as low key and short in duration as possible, while still providing the required level of reinforcement.

Always remember that the greatest reward can be giving the dog his freedom to go off and play, even if only momentarily, and this should be incorporated into all training sessions at every opportunity. In other words, when the dog excels at something, even if it is only a couple of minutes your planned fifteen-minute training session, end the lesson and reward the dog with his freedom, followed by his favourite game, or his dinner if the dog is food motivated.

The Four Key Principles of Successful Training

1) Repetition and progression in small steps

Dogs do not have the powers of cognitive reasoning that we humans possess, so they need lots of repetitious training to learn what it is that we want of them. We must train over and over again at the same thing, progressing in small steps only when the previous level has been achieved at a near perfect success rate (success = nine times out of ten). We must starting training each individual skill in very quiet environments with no distractions (such as the hallway, lounge room or quiet back yard), building up very gradually to complex environments with loads of distractions (such as the off-leash dog park or beach) only when all the other levels have been successfully achieved. Jumping ahead to the latter is a recipe for disaster and the dog is sure to fail. This is the most common mistake dog owners make. The dog will sit for his dinner in the kitchen, so they assume he will sit at the beach when dogs and kids are running everywhere! This is unrealistic, but many owners do not understand the power of distractions in turning an obedient house dog into a confused, distracted beach boy!

2) The Conditioned Reinforcer – “Yes!”

The fastest way to train a dog is to ‘mark’ the desired behaviour the instant it is offered, whether unsolicitored, or in response to a command.

In the Clicker Training method, a click of the clicker becomes the ‘mark’, given the split second the correct action is offered. The mechanical nature of the clicker is excellent because it offers the same sound every time it is pushed. This is important because dog training must be consistent and form a repetitious pattern for the dog to recognise and respond to, in order to win a reward. The need to carry a clicker everywhere we go, however, can be a problem and for that reason, I tend not to use clickers, but prefer to use my voice, which is always readily available, to ‘mark’ a desired behavior.

Instead of a clicker, the ‘mark’ most widely used in international training circles is simply the word “Yes!” It should be said in a happy, congratulatory way, as if giving the dog a verbal high five. To be effective, the ‘Yes!” must sound the same every time, so establish how you are going to say your “Yes!” and stick to it. Don’t let it be prone to your emotions, such as frustration, excitement, boredom, anger or relief etc.

Having earlier established what reward/s each individual dog most wants, we need to train the dog that the “Yes!” means: “That’s correct, and now your reward is coming”. We need to condition the dog that the sound of the word “Yes!” means good things, by immediately following each and every “Yes!” with a treat of whatever they most want – a delicious morsel or a game of tug/fetch. To do this, set the dog up in a quiet place, say the word “Yes!” and immediately hold a treat in front of the dog’s nose for him to take. Wait a few seconds, say “Yes!” and give another treat. Do this over and over again for several minutes, with pauses of varying short lengths, in batches of between four and eight ‘yesses’ in a row. Perform this cycle of conditioning of the “Yes!” at least four times a day for the first week.

As the dog progresses, occasionally say “Yes!” when he close but is not looking at you, and be ready to present the treat to his nose to ensure you immediately follow every “Yes!” with a treat. After a few more days, when you think he’s getting really good, try it when he is even more distracted by something, but be sure to follow up with the treat, even if you have to ‘chase’ his nose! After a few days, your dog should begin to look at you as soon as he hears the “Yes!”. Once you are at this stage, introduce a longer period between saying the word “Yes!” and following up with the treat – extend the gap to three seconds, then five, then seven and up to nine seconds, but no longer than that.

The aim of this conditioning exercise it to have the dog whip his head around to look at you in an excited, expectant manner, waiting for the treat when you utter the word “Yes!” in that particular way, and wait expectantly for between five and ten seconds to receive his treat reward. When you have achieved this, you have succeeded in conditioning the word “Yes!” and making him feel as good when he hears the word “Yes!” and during the anticipation period of waiting to receive the treat, as he does when he actually receives the treat. This means you have turned a word (a sound) into a reinforcer – a conditioned reinforcer! Congratulations! You can now train your dog to do anything that is physically possible, through use of this conditioned reinforcer, even if it takes you up to ten seconds to follow-up with a treat.

3) Timing

Another important training element is that the timing of our ‘mark’ must be extremely accurate. If we are too early or too late with our mark, the dog may associate it with something other than the desired action. For example, having commanded a sit, if we say “Yes!” just as the dog begins to bend its hind legs, but before its bottom actually touches the ground, it could jump back up without sitting at all, and we have marked the wrong action. If we are too late, and say “Yes!” after the dog has put its bottom on the ground and had time to start having a scratch, or, worse, jumps up just as we get around to saying it, or if the dog spies next door’s cat run by just as we belatedly say “Yes!”, the dog associates the mark with something completely wrong, such as chasing a cat. For the dog to understand the reinforcement process, our timing must be absolutely split-second accurate – every time. If you get it right, he will quickly understand that “Yes!” is the best thing he can hear because it always means something great will follow, and he begins to associate it with the action he just performed. When he gets this, and wants to repeat it to win that reward, your training is going to go ahead in leaps and bounds.

 
4) The Release

We have established the process whereby the dog responds to our command by offering us the desired behaviour, and we mark the action with our conditioned reinforcer – the “Yes!” followed by the dog being given his primary reinforcer reward (delicious treat/game etc). Incorporating the release into this process becomes the next important step. When applicable, such as when the dog has been asked to sit, drop, heel, come, stand, or take up any other static position, the dog should be released from that position, using the (internationally-preferred) release word “Free!”. As with your ‘Yes!” word, your expression of “Free!” should be the same every time, preferably uttered in a high pitched, happy tone, because this release becomes a reward in itself and it is a happy occasion. Immediately follow the release with lots of other reinforcement. Always remember that the concept of freedom, whether from a static position or from the entire training session, is very much a reward that can be utilised to great effect, especially in very active dogs. The release, therefore, becomes a primary reinforcer, in conjunction with the dog’s other favourite food treats or game rewards.

Putting It All Together

To summarise this process, let’s use the example of The Recall – commanding your dog to come. This is one of the most common problematic areas of obedience!

When commanding the recall, the sequence should be as follows:

1. If necessary, get the dog’s attention by saying its name, “Fido…”
2. Once he looks at you, in response to his name, run backwards and tap your leg to make him run towards you
3. As he rushes towards you, give the command: “Come!” ONCE only.
4. This can be followed (if necessary, and if there’s time) with further encouragement: “That’s it, good boy, keep it up, this way!” etc as you run backwards, slapping your leg. Be excited and be attractive – make yourself a ‘party’ to run towards! You need to be much more fun and interesting than other temptations.
5. The instant Fido reaches you and you take hold of him/his collar, and mark his recall response with: “Yes!”
6. Have your treat ready, give the release word “Free!”, and let go of his collar, then immediately offer him a delectable treat, followed by praise, affection and a short romp – or whatever else the dog most wants – which is usually his freedom.
7. Repeat the process a number of times with your “Yes” perfectly times to match his arrival, but gradually pause before giving the release, using lighter and lighter hand holds to keep him there, until you don’t have to hold him at all before your say “Free!” and allow him to break from his position. Correspondingly, allow a longer period of playtime, or give a jackpot reward (three consecutive treats).
8. NOTE: Initially, it doesn’t matter whether he sits, drops, stands, or does a back flip when he comes in – only ever expect him to simply come!! Don’t expect the dog to immediately follow every recall with an automatic sit. This is a common error, because initially he should be immediately be marked with the “Yes” and receive lavish praise and treats to reinforce his recall, not a sit. We must not complicate the entire process or confuse him by waiting for a sit, thereby ruining the effect of quickly marking and reinforcing the actual response to the initial “Come!” command! It is a recall exercise, not a sit exercise!
9. Never say “Yes!” until you have hold of him or his collar, because dogs that learn to grab the treat and bounce back away again before being officially released have not completed the recall and should not be reinforced! Never allow a dog to develop this behaviour! Always have hold of his collar or his leash before you let him have the treat.
10. If you repeat with this process over and over when next training the recall, you will have the best recall response in the land! For dogs whose recall is not good (or non-existent) when off leash, start by perfecting it on a leash over a very short distance, then move to a longer and longer leash. Better still, start in the closed-off hallway at home, where there are no distractions, then progress to the back yard. Only when each stage is almost perfect (the recall is prompt and responsive nine times out of ten), should you move onto the next level. If you try to perfect recall in an off leash at the park, don’t be surprised (and certainly not angry or frustrated) when he runs in the opposite direction. It must be perfected in small stages in quiet environments under the absolute control of a leash/long-line first.
11. Always finish on a particularly good response – many short lessons are more effective than one or two long ones, so let your dog know when he hits the jackpot with a fast, accurate recall, by giving him the jackpot of reinforcement – an end-of-lesson release, five treats and a big game of fetch or his dinner!

THOSE LITTLE EXTRAS!

The Target Fist

When an animal is trained to attend to a target, they will follow that target, allowing the handler to easily lure them into certain positions (e.g. sit or drop) and to redirect their attention away from competing attractions. Using the closed fist as the target makes great sense, since it is always with us. It also is a natural place to hold a treat/toy. To train a pet to target the fist, simply put the treat in your hand and close the hand into a fist. Allow the pet to smell the closed fist, then release the treat. After many repetitions, the pet readily focuses on the closed fist in anticipation of a tasty morsel. Then the fist can be manipulated in different directions. Where the closed fist goes, the head follows, and then the body follows. If the target fist is brought from the pet’s nose up and back over the head in a gentle arc, the pet will sit; if the target fist is brought up toward the trainers’ eyes, the pet will make eye contact, etc. As the pet successfully completes these tasks, it is rewarded by release of the treat from the target fist. Once the pet has established great compliance with following the target fist, the rewards can become intermittent from the fist.

 
Giving Commands

Many people yell commands repeatedly at their dogs in order to achieve compliance. In all pets, but especially those with behavioural problems, yelling/loud voices can increase arousal levels and/or aggravate anxiety. Both of these consequences are counter-productive when you are trying to teach a pet to respond and behave in a tranquil manner. Besides which, dogs have excellent hearing, so keep your voice firm but calm when giving a command.

If the pet is not paying attention, before giving the command, gain the pet’s attention by saying their name (once), then the command should be given – ONCE – in a quiet, calm, firm voice, and there should be a pause to allow the pet to respond. Good responses must be immediately marked with your conditioned reinforcer (“YES!”), and rewarded with the primary reinforce treat/game. Non-responses or undesirable behaviour is not rewarded. You may be able to gain compliance by luring the dog into position with the treat in the fist, or with some gentle pressure to guide the dog into the desired position (e.g. sit). If this is not possible, the situation needs to be changed so the pet can be compliant.

It is very important to remember to release the pet from the commanded position, not let it break the position of his own volition or wander off, because ultimately, the pet should learn that he must maintain the commanded position until told otherwise. The word/command “stay” is therefore obsolete in the well-trained dog under modern training psychology!

An unresponsive pet may need constant direction when exposed to a provocative stimulus. For example, if the dog is jumping up at a visitor, you will need to become more interesting than the visitor if you expect to get the dog’s attention and compliance. Similarly with an anxious pet, you will need to become the pet’s rock of assurance when faced with a fearful stimulus, such as the approach of a large dog with an unknown handler.

 
Maintaining focus

The pet should stay engaged with the handler via a constant dialogue, so the handler could say “Sophie, sit. Yes! (treat). Watch me. Yes! (treat), good dog (treat). Watch me. Yes! (treat) Good dog. Yes, Sophie! Watch me. Yes! (treat), good dog”. Success is unlikely if the pet is given a single verbal command such as “sit” or “stay”, and is then expected to hold that commanded position for a prolonged period without the distraction of the dialogue, particularly if fearful or over-excited. In particularly difficult situations, the command, followed by assisted compliance (guided by hand contact or by using a leash and head collar for control) may be required, then the conditioned reinforcer can be given to mark the compliance: “Yes!”, and finally, reinforcement through treats, praise – “Good Dog!” – and release if appropriate or games/affection, should be forthcoming.

Training the calm response to strangers arriving at the door

■ Until the new behavior is mastered, it is important to avoid full-strength stimulus (a stranger coming up to the front door and ringing the bell or knocking loudly), even if it means placing a sign on the door, outlining an alternative plan.
■ Twice daily training exercises lasting no more than 5–10 minutes should be performed.
■ Identify fabulous rewards for the dog, such as delectable tiny food treats.
■ Start the training with no distractions present (nobody at door, house quiet, other pets elsewhere).
■ The dog should be taught to go to a greeting spot (mat, rug, bed) on voice command; the spot should be within sight of the front door but at least a few metres away from it, initially, and gradually reduce the distance to a few feet from the door as training progresses. Only proceed to the actual ‘door work’ when the dog can reliably go to the greeting spot and hold the sit/stay for 10 seconds when there are no distractions, nine times out of ten. See Tranquility Training Exercises handout for additional training tips.
■ Set up daily exercises with one family member handling the dog and the other family member being a “visitor.” The family member playing the “visitor” should have spent time with the dog just prior to doing the training exercises.
■ The dog should be on a leash or there should be some type of barrier across the door that allows full visualization of the “visitor” but no access (screen door/baby gate) to the outdoors.
■ Have the “visitor” approach the open door and, initially, knock very gently rather than ringing the doorbell. The handler should give the command to the dog to go to the greeting place and sit. Mark the sit with your “Yes!” conditioned reinforcer and then deliver a prompt delectable reward to reinforce the good behaviour, to make it more likely to be repeated. Since the stimulus level is low (familiar person, recently seen) the dog should be able to easily perform the desired behavior and be rewarded.
■ If the dog isn’t compliant, give no reward and reduce the intensity of the exercise (increase the distance of the ‘greeting place’ mat from the door, have the “visitor” stand further away from the door, leave out knocking/doorbell ringing) until a level of intensity is reached at which the dog does not react negatively.
■ Repeat each exercise multiple times at each level until the dog is very obedient about going to the greeting location and sitting quietly every time the “visitor” approaches the open door and knocks/rings, at a success rate of 9 times out of 10 (called ‘proofed’). Gradually increase the intensity by bringing the greeting mat closer to the door and the visitor closer to the opening, and proof at each new level before increasing the intensity again,
■ Next, close the door slightly so that it is three-quarters open, and repeat the entire sequence many times until it is proofed.
■ Continue gradually closing the door over multiple sessions until the “visitor” can approach a closed door and knock/ring, and the dog will hold a sit/stay at the greeting place as the visitor enters the home. Have the visitor feed the dog delectable treats for compliance and to help change the dogs emotional state about the visitor.
■ After this has been successfully completed with the family member as the “visitor,” recruit a slightly less familiar person to be the “visitor.” It is important to return to the beginning, with an open door, and repeat the entire process until your dog will hold the sit/stay, even with a non-family member/complete stranger knocking/ringing bell of a closed door, and then entering the house, to feed the dog treats.

AGGRESSION/ANXIETY CASES

In other situations, it may be necessary to just change the emotional state of the dog when they hear the doorbell before any training can begin.

The exercise below may work better for some pets, especially those that bark excessively without severe aggression:

■ Favored food rewards should be identified for the dog. These must be extremely delectable; generally this means human food: tiny cheese cubes, chicken pieces, bacon or devon.
■ The dog is placed somewhere else in the home with one family member, but not restrained.
■ Another family member quietly leaves the house and comes to the unlocked front door. They must also have a large supply of the delectable treat with them. If the dog could see them from windows, the windows must be blocked.
■ They should ring the doorbell and the dog is allowed to run to the door unimpeded.
■ As the outside person hears the dog approach, they open the door, throw the treats inside and quickly close the door.
■ When the dog gets to the door, if the correct food has been chosen, the dog will usually eat the treats and perhaps also bark. We are changing the emotion from arousal to an interest in food. This is not likely to work with dogs that are not food-motivated, but the handler could instead offer the dog a gentle game of tug or a game with a squeaky toy to change the dog’s emotional state to the doorbell ringing.
■ Then the outside family member rings the bell and quickly throws more treats in again.
■ A training session is usually only one to three repetitions, because when the dog realises it is a known person at the door, they may not bark.
■ After several sessions, many dogs will decrease their barking or at least diminish emotional arousal to the doorbell from anxiety or excitement to an expectation of food, so other training techniques can be utilized, as outlined above.

Conditioning the dog to understand “Leave It!”

This is a handy training tool when you need to stop your dog from approaching something it shouldn’t, such as a dangerous item, venomous creature or your best shoes!

■ This technique works best using a head collar and leash

■ To facilitate learning, start with low value items that the dog will willingly walk away from

■ With the dog wearing a head collar and an adult holding the leash, the dog is walked toward an item he may wish to pick up such as a ball or chew toy

■ As the dog reaches for the item, calmly say, “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar. As the dog’s head comes toward you, quickly say: “Yes! Good dog”, and follow it with a reward

■ Repeat several times with low value items

■ As the dog learns the meaning of the phrase, he will begin to turn his head prior to the pull of the leash. Immediately reward that behavior with a triple jackpot treat

■ Progress to more valued items and gradually phase out food rewards while retaining
verbal praise.

■ Once the dog knows the command well, you can try letting him drag the leash and see if he can be called away from an item with a verbal prompt. If the dog does not comply, use the leash to turn his head and reward him

Training ‘Drop It’ and retrieving stolen items from the possession-aggressive dog

Teaching ‘Drop It’

The goal is to teach the dog to give up items with a verbal command. Two weeks of daily short (3- to 5-minute) training sessions should establish this command. Owners of dogs with a history of severe object guarding/possession aggression need to apply additional safety measures and receive qualified training counselling before attempting any training.

1. Start by using an item of low value that the dog has never guarded or stolen.

2. Identify a high value reward item. Rewards need to be hidden (e.g. treat pouch behind body or in a back pocket) so the dog will not be totally focused on the reward.

3. Since dogs are more likely to relinquish an item of which they only have partial control, you should start by engaging the dog in a gentle game of tug with a low value item. The human should stop tugging. With a low value item and no pulling on the item by the owner, the dog is likely to release the item. As the pet opens it mouth to release the item, the owner captures the act by pairing it with the verbal cue “drop it” and offers the pet a fabulous reward. Repeat many times so that the dog begins to pair the verbal cue with the action and subsequent reward.

4. If the pet does not relinquish the item, find a lower value item with which to practice or wait until the dog does relinquish the item (eventually it will let it go). Reward the dog when it releases the item to reinforce the behaviour.

5. Start to use the verbal cue as a prompt to drop the item, still stopping active pulling before making the verbal request. Do this repeatedly.

6. Upon a 90 % success rate, gradually make the request more challenging by allowing the dog to have full control of the item before requesting the drop and/or increasing the value of the item.

7. If the dog doesn’t release the item, don’t repeat the command multiple times or try to steal the items back. Simply withdraw all attention from the dog and don’t give any reward. During the next training opportunity, modify the situation so success is more likely (less valuable item, retain partial control of item, etc.).

8. Repeat the process until the response is reliable, then begin to phase out the food by skipping the food reward on some repetitions.

9. As you increase the value of the item, you may need to reinstate continuous food rewards until the drop command becomes reliable.

10. Once the drop it command is well established, it can be used to retrieve stolen items.

 
Retrieving Stolen Items

This training exercise should only be done by an adult who has control of the dog, NEVER by children. This process should only be used if the item is potentially dangerous to the dog or the item is highly valuable to the family.

1. Use highly valued rewards (i.e. table food such as cubes of cheese or bacon).

2. Show the food to the dog from 5–6 feet away.

3. Give the command “come.”

4. When the dog leaves the item, back up and call the dog again and add, “sit.”

5. Repeat two to three times without giving the dog the food reward until he is at least 15–20 feet from the object, preferably in another room/yard.

6. Give the dog the food reward.

a. If possible, gently take the collar and put the dog into another room with a closed door or outside. Take extreme care, as grasping the collar can evoke aggression in aroused dogs

b. If the dog will not allow you to touch the collar, do not attempt this; rather use
another food reward to lead the dog into another room/yard where you can shut the door/gate.

7. After the dog is contained in another area securely away from the item, go and retrieve the item.

8. This retrieval should NEVER take place right in front of the dog and the item, or an aggressive episode is likely to occur.

Separation Anxiety – how to reduce it

Separation Anxiety is a very common problem in dogs and is the sign of a very loving home! When our treasured dogs love to be with us and enjoy our company and lavish attention so much, it can be very stressful to be left home alone. Here are some tips on how to desensitise your pooch from separation, when you really can’t take them with you!

During treatment for separation-related behaviours, it’s important not to allow your dog to experience anxiety during your training departures. So, apart from the very defined and controlled training departures, your dog should not be left alone if at all possible, because one stressful separation can undo many hours of hard training. Enrolling the pooch in doggie day care or taking your dog to work with you are options for people who work outside the home. If you are unable to avoid anxiety-ridden departures, you should make a clear distinction between ‘safe’ training departures and other departures that are likely to evoke anxiety. The most effective way to do this is to leave the dog in different locations for the training versus non-training departures, and to depart from a different door in the home. A sound cue can also be used to differentiate training from non-training departures (e.g. say ‘back soon’ when closing the door on training departures versus no verbal cue or signals for non-training departures).

■ Most dogs become anxious as you go through preparations for departure. Therefore, you must work on desensitizing your pet to your pre-departure cues. List your pre-departure cues (e.g. early morning shower, putting on shoes, picking up keys and handbag, etc.) that trigger anxiety in your pet, then start to perform these randomly when you do not intend to leave. Never overwhelm your dog to the point of eliciting anxiety; just do a few a day at an intensity level that your dog can handle.

■ Many dogs with separation anxiety are very attached to their owners. Making them more independent is a useful adjunct to the treatment plan. To increase your dog’s independence when you are home, do not allow your dog to shadow you everywhere. For example: when you go to go to the bathroom or kitchen, don’t allow the dog to follow you; instead of sitting right next to you while you are relaxing at home, have the dog sit a few feet away from you initially, then across the room, then in another room, or outside; instead of allowing the dog to sleep on your bed, set him up with a comfy bed on the floor of the bedroom and gradually move it out of the room to another place. This separation MUST be introduced gradually: over time, in very small steps. The key is that you want to progress gradually enough so that you don’t elicit an anxious response from your dog. If you do happen to progress too rapidly and your dog exhibits anxiety, just return to a comfortable level of intensity and progress more gradually. To condition independence, you may need implement crate sessions, use sit/stay commands, tie-downs (a leash attached to a sturdy piece of furniture), or close doors.

■ Crate training is an invaluable separation desensitisation training tool. It’s important to first desensitize your dog to being happy in the crate when you are at home, ensuring the crate has positive associations – the dog must consider the crate as a wonderful, safe, cosy, little den, not a prison. Complete many short sessions per day to get your dog used to being in the crate. For a full explanation, see our Crate/Confinement Training tip sheet.

■ If crate training your dog is not possible for some reason (why not?), train your pet to settle and relax in a safe location. See the Tranquility Training Exercises handout for more details.

■ When you must leave, keep departures and returns low key. Ignore the dog for 5–10 minutes prior to ALL departures and until the dog calms down on your return. Always take your dog out for an opportunity to toilet prior to your departure.

■ Exercise is important for the health of any dog. Try to provide daily exercise for your dog, ideally prior to your departures, even if it means getting out of bed 30 minutes earlier.

■ During training departures only, present the dog with a new signal or verbal cue or leave them in a novel location. This can be the radio or television left on, spraying air freshener, or ringing a bell. Always use the same signal on all planned training departures. As mentioned above, do not give any cues on non-training departures.

■ Give the dog a delicious, long-lasting food item to consume in your absence. Kong chew toys stuffed with food or bog raw meaty bones work best.

Departure Desensitization

■This is the critical part of the behavioral modification program. You need to start with short departures and gradually increase their length. Recording a videotape of your dog during a departure can help you to see the length of departure that is ‘safe’—the amount of time that you can be absent before your dog starts to show signs of anxiety. Most dogs become anxious very shortly after the owner’s departure, with destructive behaviour usually occurring within the first fifteen minutes of the owner’s departure. When you start to actually leave the home, you should start with safe departure times and then gradually increase departure length. An example of a departure schedule is 10 seconds four to five times on day one, then 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 7 minutes, etc. Interspersing the increasing departure periods with an occasional shorter departure keeps the dog guessing and helps to ensure he doesn’t start to anticipate your departure length. An increase in the intensity (duration of the departure) must not occur until 100% success is experienced at the previous level.

The departure schedule needs to be tailored to your dog, which is why videoing his responses to separation can be invaluable. You may find that your dog needs fewer or greater numbers of trials at each departure length, or fewer days at each duration. Usually, after you have successfully completed the first 30 minutes of departure, you can increase the departure lengths by greater increments (45 minutes, 1 hour, 1 hour, 1.5 hours, 40 minutes, 1.5 hours, 2 hours, etc.). Remember that your dog can hear your car and knows if you have truly left. Even during the 4-minute departures, you will have to actually drive away!

Video all departures if possible to ensure the dog is coping with the level of separation intensity you are expecting of him. When your dog has achieved relaxation at a departure duration that is typical of your routine departures, your dog has successfully completed the program and should be left in the training departure location for your routine departures.

■ If at any time your dog exhibits anxiety, or you return to find signs of destruction or
Elimination (toilet ‘accidents’), then you have progressed too quickly. Return to a ‘safe’ departure duration and progress more gradually.

■ Vary the time of day that you practice planned departures and try to fit at least three in every day.

■ Progress through the schedule of planned departures gradually. Do not increase the time away in a regular progression and never increase the time if the dog has engaged in any separation-related behavior while you were gone.

■ Finally: NEVER punish your dog for destructive behavior that has occurred in your absence, no matter how upset you are that the dog has damaged your home. His behavior is a result of severe anxiety, and punishment will make your pet even more anxious. Also, negative consequences are pointless unless the dog is actually caught in the act of a misdemeanor – once more than a few seconds has passed since he shredded your expensive lounge cushion, he does not associate any response of yours to that act. If he shredded the cushion 15 minutes after you left home several hours ago, your anger and frustration will make no sense, and he will simply learn to fear your home-comings. This is why dog owners often say “he looked so guilty the second I walked through the door and saw the state of my house…”. He wasn’t feeling guilt – he was simply reacting in fear to your very sudden change of emotional state and the nonsensical punishment he received after you entered the home.

Crate Training – how to teach your dog to accept confinement

Confinement/crate training is best started as a puppy (when we most need to confine our little rascals!), but dogs of all ages can be conditioned to accept confinement. Having a safe and secure place for your pet to sleep, and to rest when left home alone, or when he needs to be removed from your proximity for any reason (such as when non-dog lovers enter your home), can be reassuring – for both you and your dog!

Confinement is not problematic once a pet learns that it is safe and secure in its own special place, but until the pet is comfortable being confined, he may experience anxiety. It is therefore extremely important to gradually condition your pet to being confined, ensuring he remains relaxed and happy throughout the training process. Simply locking a dog into a cage or back room and flooding it with isolation for an extended period is extremely stressful and unproductive.

• Select a suitable location to confine your pet when he needs to be kept safely out of the way. The very best form of confinement – by far – is a roomy crate with soft bedding and familiar toys which becomes a cosy haven. Cover the crate with a cloth to help engender a den-like atmosphere. The crate can be moved from room to room, outdoors, or even to another location such as the boarding kennels or a holiday carer, giving the dog a familiar den to settle in wherever he goes, forever! He will not foul the small confines of a crate, and he is unable to cause destruction of household items. Alternatively, select a bedroom, the laundry, or kennel run – somewhere safe, free of hazards, and able to be securely closed and locked.

• If the pet has an anxious disposition and is unable to be calm, quiet and relaxed, you must first work on teaching the dog how to settle on command. See our Tranquility Training tip sheet.

• Start by luring your dog into the crate or confinement area with a favourite toy, a tasty treat or the dog’s meal, and sit with the dog while it plays or eats, without closing the door. Stay with the pet in the confinement area and watch closely for any signs of anxiety, which must be avoided at all costs. Start with very short periods, even just a few seconds if the dog is anxious or initially dislikes the confinement. For example, repeatedly toss treats or toys into the crate, and allow the dog to run straight back out again, to reassure him that the crate presents no threats whatsoever.

• A good confinement starting point for most dogs is between 10 and 30 seconds, depending on the disposition of the pet. Gradually build the confinement time up to between 2 and 10 minutes.

• Always provide a distraction, such as a food stuffed toy or a raw bone, and as he grows more confident, reduce your interaction with the pet to a minimum to engender a vague sense of isolation.

• Only close the door to the crate/confinement area once the pet demonstrates he is clearly comfortable and easily distracted by the toys or chews inside, but remain close by, initially. Increase the amount of time the dog stays in the crate with the door closed, once again starting with very short periods and gradually increase the intensity of separation – i.e. the time in the closed crate, and the distance you are from the crate.

• Gradually increase the duration of the crating sessions until your dog is happy and comfortable in the crate for 30 minutes when you are in the vicinity (have a good book handy!).

• The next step is to leave the room, initially just for very short periods – i.e. a few seconds only. It is important to ignore the pet upon return and calmly sit down without making eye contact or speaking to the dog.

• Gradually increase the duration of your room departures by a minute at a time, over as many days as necessary to ensure the dog does not become anxious. Always intersperse short confinement times with longer ones to keep the confinement events random and unpredictable.

• Build up the confinement intensity until you can be elsewhere in the house for more than 30 minutes while your dog rests contentedly in the crate/confinement area. How quickly you progress will depend upon your dog, and how much effort you put into the confinement training.

• The pet should be released only when calm and quiet. If it is released when barking, scratching, or whining, these undesirable behaviours will be reinforced and are more likely to be repeated. Having said that, these anxiety behaviours should never eventuate if this process is performed correctly.

• In the naturally anxious dog, the use of dog appeasing pheromone products, such as DAP collars and infusers, can be very beneficial in reducing stress. Ask your vet for details.

• If the pet elicits anxiety behaviours – panting, whining, barking, scratching, escape attempts, destruction, etc. you have proceeded too far too fast, at an intensity beyond the dog’s capacity. You must take a big step back and start from a much lower intensity of separation. Always remember to progress slowly in many small steps of very low-intensity, gradually-increasing separations. Patience is the key to dog training!

• Should the dog experience a state of extreme panic when confined following these training guidelines, you may have a space- and/or separation-phobic dog with very high anxiety levels. In such severe cases, veterinary intervention – with anti-anxiety drugs – is advised, for the health and wellbeing of the dog.