Tag Archives: Aggression Issues

The Evidence for Positive Reinforcement Training In Dogs

by Pippa Mattinson, author of Happy Puppy Handbook, Total Recall and The Labrador Handbook.

3255835495_1c6b6a5c7b_oOver the last few decades there has been a huge swing towards less punitive methods of dog training. Watching a modern trainer in action is a very different experience from watching old school traditionalists. Gone are the barked commands, the emphasis on ‘respect’ or ‘dominance’ and even intimidation. In many cases the use of punishment has been entirely replaced by the use of food and games.

Is the move to positive dog training a good thing?

But hang on a moment. Aren’t we being swept along in the latest ‘fad’ or ‘craze’. Isn’t this just a passing fashion?  How are we going to control our dogs when we run out of treats? And what if we don’t want to wave food around or to ‘beg’ or ‘plead’ with our dogs to come when we call them?

In fact, let’s lay it on the line. Do these new fangled methods of dog training even work?

Read on at The Happy Puppy Site …

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This Dog’s Aggression Was Thought To Be Incurable, Until They Did This

When people say aggressive dogs should be put to sleep, just show them this. Social behavior in canines is very similar to humans. A dog that’s raised in a caring environment with a family that loves him will show good behavior and will be approachable and friendly. Those dogs that have abusive owners who keep them locked up in cages or very small spaces will usually be aggressive and dangerous. Unfortunately those are the dogs that are usually euthanized when they get in trouble.

Now this case is very special, watch how the people at the The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center of the ASPCA helped a very troubled and anti-social dog transform into one of the most friendly dogs ever:

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The Pack, Part 6

Home At Last

I received an email—Rich and Wendy were interested in adopting Scout. This would be the third Border collie they acquired from Ed and me over the course of 12 years. If anyone could handle her it was Rich and Wendy. They wanted her to come and spend some time with them, their two cats and Border collie, Willow.

That evening I’d have to prepare my husband. Continue reading

The Moyer Menagerie, Part 1

Prayers for Luke

It all started with a private lesson. “I need your help—my puppy won’t stop biting me,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

We scheduled a training session for later that same week.

Continue reading

“Do Whatever it Takes”

Nala, the Diagnosis

On a hot August day, I went back to Nala’s home. Nearly a month had passed since our first meeting. As  Michele, Mike, and their son Bobby and I greeted one another, I noticed Nala pacing back and forth. I tried to get her to engage with me as she did the first time we met. She stopped the pacing and let me caress her gleaming smooth black side. Then, she turned and growled. I pulled away, and she continued pacing back and forth, back and forth.

“How’s she doing?” I asked. I missed the way she’d once gazed into my eyes. She now seemed unreachable.

“Big Dog’s got me real worried,” Mike said, and I smiled to hear him use Nala’s nickname.

“Mike was recently out of town,” Michelle said.  “While he was gone Nala was so agitated and aggressive I could barely go near her. A few times I saw her wobble and collapse. I wanted so much to help her, but if I touch her, she growls and snaps.” Michele crossed her arms across her chest, hugging herself, her brow knit with worry. “I feel so helpless.” We four stood watching Nala endlessly pace, hypnotizing us with her rhythm, all of us sharing in that helplessness. “Our other dogs have been avoiding her as well,” she added. “Want to meet them?”Nala3

“Yes,” I said, eager to break the spell.

The terriers came out first. They were cute, friendly, small, and curious. They were littermates that had never been separated, and you could tell that they were everlastingly bonded. As they rushed me and then romped in the yard, they purposely avoided Nala. She ignored them as well. A moment later, the sheltie mix blasted out the door and after the terriers. Mac was medium-sized, active, affectionate to his family, and slightly wary of me. However, he seemed especially on guard with Nala, tail tucked, ears back, giving her lots of room. He knew something wasn’t right.

Mike clicked his tongue. “That’s the saddest thing right there,” he said. “Big Dog and Mac were always best buddies. See what I mean? This is definitely not normal.”

Bobby chimed in, “I can’t pet her or take her for a walk. I can barely touch her without the fear of being bitten.”

Mike talked about the most recent visit to a veterinarian in Pennsylvania. She had been previously examined by a veterinarian while living in Boston with his son Biff. “She tested positive for Lyme disease so we’re treating her for the Lyme disease and pain.  Anxiety medicine was also prescribed to help her to settle down. The doctor suspects some sort of central nervous system disorder and suggested that we take her to a local neurologist. We’re taking her next week.” He sighed, his eyes following Nala as she paced back and forth and the other dogs gave her room. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“I hate to say this, but what I recommend is for all of you to keep Nala as quiet and comfortable as possible. If she’ll go into her crate and rest comfortably, use it as often as you can. Keep a very thin four-foot leash attached to her collar so if you need to take a hold of her you’ll be at less risk of being bitten. Be sure to call me anytime if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do for you and please keep me posted.”

Nala6“Thanks,” Mike said, giving me a wan smile. “We’ll let you know how Big Dog’s coming along.”

The entire drive home I replayed all of the events from the last couple of months over and over again. I was trying to make sense of Nala’s bizarre behavior. I was mystified. My heart was heavy not only for Nala, but her family as well.

After seeing both a neurologist and an internist, Nala was taken to surgery in late August. The poor dog had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, and an abscess in her armpit that was no doubt causing her discomfort and pain.  A surgical specialist removed the abscess, and she was sent home with a drain coming from her armpit, a bandage, and medication. Hypothyroidism can promote behavioral problems, I thought. Could the answer have been found? She would need time to heal. All we could do is wait, hope and pray.

Over the next month, Mike sent me email updates on Nala’s progress. She had two post-op appointments, and the specialists were pleased with her healing. Her behavior, however, was still as unpredictable as an uncharted river. Most worrisome, she was now consistently turning in circles to the left, so Mike scheduled an appointment to take her back to the neurologist.

On September 11th, a staff member at the animal hospital came into my office and handed me a fax. The report was from a veterinary neurologist; Mike had taken Nala to him that same morning. My eyes scanned the report. I was like a speed reader going from the pertinent history, quickly through the physical examination notes, skimming the diagnostics and finally on page 2, the diagnosis. I took a deep breath: Intracranial advanced brain lesion (thalamus), placing pressure on the cortical plates.

So, that was it. After all was said and done, Nala had a brain tumor. For a moment, I was paralyzed with grief for Nala and her family. I sat in silence, still holding the report. I no longer looked at it, but through it, where I could see big, sweet Nala gaze again into my eyes the powerful and pleading way she did that first time.

Then, I snapped out of it and read on. “The family decided to let her go . . .”

She’s no longer in pain, I thought, the report blurring through my tears. For that I am relieved.

I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the Patrician family. I cannot thank them enough for allowing me to share their story.

Godspeed, Nala.

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

Martin BuberNala5

Nala, Part 1

“I Want Her Back To The Way She Was!”

by Terri Florentino

“I want her back to the way that she was,” Mike said. He gave her firm, strong shoulder an affectionate thump. “She was always so sweet, lovable and happy. I don’t know why she’s acting this way.”Nala2

Nala was beautiful, solid black and built like a Labrador retriever with a splash of Rottweiler. Most people would have found her intimidating. She was a big dog, solid, well muscled, and strong. However, whenever she’d wiggle her little nub of a tail, the lower half of her body swayed back and forth like a talented hula dancer. It was her eyes that I remember the most. They were large, round, and dark but her expression was soft. I never felt threatened. In fact as I sat in a chair, she sat in front of me, gazing into my eyes. I felt her sorrow; something was wrong. I slipped my hands underneath of her strong jowls and pulled her head up to mine, our foreheads touching. I moved my hands up behind her ears and massaged with my fingers, and her head relaxed in my hands. Eventually I gently placed her head in my lap and continued to massage her head and neck. She pressed her head into my lap, her body, for the time being, completely relaxed.

 “She’s my son’s dog. He’s busy during the summer so she comes to live with us for a few months.”

“Who’s us?” I asked.

“Myself, my wife, son, and three other dogs.”

I asked about the other dogs and Nala’s relationship with them.

Nala1“Nala was a gentle giant. She was always so kindhearted with the small dogs.” The terrier mixes are littermates who are getting older, so they didn’t bother much with Nala, “especially since she’s gotten so intolerant and grumbly with them.” He also talked about a three-year-old male sheltie mix. “Mac is outgoing. He’s a great dog, and we’re running partners. He and Nala always got along just fine. In fact they would often have a great time running around and chasing one another. Now whenever Nala gets aggressive Mac jumps in to intervene. I’m concerned those two might get into a fight if this behavior continues.” 

Mike’s son had adopted Nala from the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter in December 2012, when he was home from college on winter break. There was not much information on her, except that she was a stray, listed as a Labrador Retriever. He felt an instant connection to her. She was remarkably gentle and kind. About the time I met her, she was approximately five years old.

Nala now completely relaxed and obviously tired. She lay down on the floor at my feet. I was relieved that she was resting comfortably. “What’s she doing that worries you?”

Mike sighed and folded his hands, staring down at the sleeping dog. “In June of 2013 my son tried to lift her into the bathtub. She snapped and bit his hand. That was so out of character for her.” He shook his head in disbelief. “For a split second, she was a different dog. Of course he wasn’t angry with her.” Mike sat up straighter and ran his hand through his hair. “He figured that she must have been in some sort of pain. That was basically the beginning of the downturn in her personality.” Mike’s brow puckered in worry, but his gaze never left Nala’s sleeping face. “She started growling at us if we disturbed her in any way. She lunged to bite us when we tried to get her off of the furniture. The whole family was bewildered. We hardly knew our sweet Nala anymore.” He paused, looked away for a moment, and blinked. “She used to love to take walks, but now when we try to put the leash on her, she growls. We’re afraid she might really hurt someone. We don’t understand what’s happening with her.”Nala7

Most behavior problems follow a similar archetype. After listening to Mike’s story of Nala, I couldn’t connect the dots. There was no clear pattern. “The first thing I’ll suggest for you to do is rule out that there isn’t something medically wrong with her. I recommend that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian before we start any formal training.”

He nodded. “We’ve done that. It’s coming up soon.”

“Good. In the meantime everybody in the family should keep a leash on Nala at all times. That way, if she should threaten anyone, they can safely get control of her. Otherwise, just let her be as much as possible. Try not to do anything that might aggravate her. Let’s see what the veterinarian has to say before we start any training.”

I left the consult perplexed. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong. As I drove home, I kept remembering the strange and urgent way she gazed into my eyes. It was as if I felt her pain. Thinking about Nala was literally haunting me. Nala

 

 

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 1

 Over My Husband’s “Dead Body”!  

By Katherine Dattoma

It was time. That little itch had grown into something bigger and more persistent. The guilty pleasure I had secretly been indulging in, of sneaking peeks at internet photos of beautiful Border Collies in need of homes, was morphing into a serious search. It was time to add another dog to our household, albeit once again over my husband’s “dead body”!

Puppy GingerOreo, my first rescued Border Collie was enjoying a full agility competition schedule, but I began to discern subtle signs of trouble before he had even reached the age of six. My eye, uneducated in correct canine conformation, but knowledgeable in evaluating the equine, could see that Oreo’s hind end structure was somewhat, well, odd. All the other wonderful Border Collie quirks and attributes possessed in abundance by Oreo had compensated up to this point, and enabled us to enjoy some small successes undreamed of since my first bumbling attempts at agility. However, I knew my dog’s normal, if somewhat funny way of traveling, and something was off. At that time, the cause of his intermittent, subtle hitch in stride remained undiagnosed, though many opinions and treatments were offered. Sadly, I had to admit that Oreo’s agility career would most likely be cut short.

To the uninitiated it may have seemed like an obsession, but to an ever growing dog sport fraternity, agility is a healthy, wonderful passion. My addiction needed to be fed. I needed another agility dog. Because Oreo had also instilled in me a passion for the Border Collie breed, and our whole family, daughter included, had been formed through adoption, there was never any question as to where I would be looking. References were solicited, home photos taken, and adoption applications sent.

Glen Highland Farm’s Sweet Border Collie Rescue in Morris, New York rehomes a huge number of abandoned and abused dogs each year, and Lillie Goodrich seems to have a knack for placement. On a sunny morning in March of 2008 that glittered with excitement and a late winter frosting of snow, I loaded up husband, the kid and dogs for a visit to the farm. Upon arrival, Lillie took special note of my daughter’s bossy terrier mix bitch, Kimmy, and her controlling antics with long suffering Oreo. She immediately dashed my hopes of meeting a particular handsome young male that had gazed soulfully out of my computer screen. Our little Kimmy was destined to be the limiting factor. Instead, the first dog brought out was a one year old classic black and white female, friendly, agile and altogether lovely in every way. Whoa…. she’d make a great family and agility dog was my first thought, my mind immediately entertaining a fantasy of fame and international events…. Then, presented to me was a red and white, four month old bundle of fur, dangling limply from the assistant’s arms, blinking fearfully at the world. This ragdoll of a pup stole my heart.
The trip home did not auger well for my new choice of a future agility prospect. How was I to successfully integrate a petrified, puking pup into my little agility travel team? What happened to one of my basic requirements, dutifully checked off on the application form, “must ride well in car”? Being lax in my criteria could explain something about those agility bloopers with Oreo. My Sweet Ginger Snap was looking less and less likely to fulfill my agility dreams as the full extent of her fears was soon revealed. Ginger was a textbook case demonstrating that missed social opportunities during the first few months could have a lifelong impact on behavior. Ginger’s reactions to ordinary things fed our imaginations in building a picture of what her first four months on the Maryland puppy mill farm may have been like. And was it genetics, or something far worse that caused her skull to appear misshapen and her face crooked? Men, men with hats obscuring their faces, men carrying objects on their shoulders, people suddenly “appearing” all triggered intense fear reactions. Ginger constantly alternated between leaping away from and attempting to appease human feet with incessant licking, a trait that earned her the first of many nicknames, “Miss Lick”. Any object that moved or looked different from when first observed by Ginger provoked a reaction. A pillow falling off the couch could send her flying out of the room, and she would peer out the upstairs window, barking hysterically every time a package was left on our neighbor’s porch across the street. One of our neighbors inadvertently frightened her as a pup, and because of her fear reaction towards him, he referred to her thereafter as “The Wolf”.

Ginger and KimmyI needed an agility training plan very different from the trial and error path taken with bold, confident Oreo. My training methods had always been positive reinforcement based, and I knew any attempt to force a behavior with Ginger would be unsuccessful. Clicker training and shaping were a natural fit, both for my ideals as a trainer and for persuading a fearful pup that my goals were really her choices. Because her startle reflex was so easily triggered, Ginger needed to become less sensitive to noise and movement if I ever hoped to get her on agility equipment. She needed to be able to come towards her source of fear to investigate instead of running away. One of the training games I played involved my other two dogs to help motivate Ginger to join the fun. In my basement training area, I set up a tower of tin cans and metal cooking pots. On a push cue, Oreo and Kimmy would happily tip over the clanking pile for a reward. Barking, laughter, treats and curiosity finally drew Ginger from upstairs to the middle stair landing where I would toss a treat. Using the principles of incremental training, I waited for Ginger to choose to dart closer and closer to the action. It was a moment of triumph when Ginger finally offered a nose touch to the offending pile of noisy objects! These early lessons were something I was able to build upon, and today Ginger will often offer an automatic nose touch to an object that initially frightens her.

Surprisingly, at home and in class, Ginger’s agility training progressed very rapidly. She flew through the foundation exercises and fought for her turn when the clicker came out, signaling a training session. On both the plus and minus side, Ginger never forgot anything. Her education on the agility equipment began to follow a pattern of fits and starts, plateauing while we worked on overcoming a fear, and leaps forward evidenced by a desire to correctly repeat any action or obstacle with which she had grown comfortable. She grew rapidly as well… and grew and grew…. Was this the embodiment of having BIG agility dreams? Meanwhile, those long legs just kept getting longer. In spite of too straight shoulders and hindquarters, Ginger outgrew her awkward stage to become an elegant and effortless jumper, who as described by my daughter, ran like a cheetah when streaking across fields in play.

My redheaded fur rag was also growing into a striking, comical teenage drama queen. To the family, “The Wolf” was more of a red headed “Lucy”. The slightest knock had her exaggerating a limp until something else caught her attention, and she would get the sillies each morning, yipping and talking up a storm as she rolled herself in the bed blankets and pillows. She became a master at slinking off with cardboard boxes to shred in private, and would repeatedly catch and bring through the dog door a firefly to play with until she had to, ah….replace it. She could look majestic while burping loudly in our faces, and took over the job of household security by making the rounds checking all the doors, windows and rooms each night before settling . Best of all, Ginger fit seamlessly into our little dog pack, becoming wicked Kimmy’s partner in crime. I brought her everywhere dogs were allowed…into the bank, pet stores and a local book store. While competing with Oreo, I spent countless hours introducing Ginger to all the sights and sounds of agility trials, and frequently introduced her to many fellow agility competitors in an effort to reduce her general fear of humans.

Ginger In the early summer of 2009, Ginger was age eligible to enter agility events. The perfect opportunity for an agility debut arrived. The trial was local, held at a site she had visited several times before as a spectator. I sent in the entry, though unsure if Ginger was ready to enter the ring and make her public appearance as an agility competitor. She enjoyed playing agility at home with me, was extremely consistent in her execution of the obstacles, even showing some typical border collie abandon, but remained shy and uncertain in public. It was with nervous anticipation, that I waited for the big day to arrive.