Aggression. How did we get here?

Unless I’m working with puppies on basic obedience I am generally called to help my clients find ways to reduce problem behaviors in their dogs that are fear based responses.

It may be barking at the front door when guests arrive, barking/lunging at other dogs on leash, or stopping nipping and biting behavior when interacting with their dog.

At some point in all these situations, the problem behavior wasn’t this bad or didn’t exist. The owners just didn’t pick up on the less common signs of concern/fearfulness that their dog was displaying. When all the subtle cues their dogs tried to offer were either ignored or punished, their dog advanced their behavior up what is called a ladder of aggression.

In the diagram listed below, you can see the commonly ignored signs of fear and stress in the green and yellow arrows.

In many cases, the only reason for a snap or a bite is because we ignored or didn’t allow the dog to get space or remove itself from the situation. This is why leash aggression is so common. The fearful dog who is taken out every day for walks but who is fearful understands the consequence of the leash. It communicated a limit of how far the dog can get from a negative stimulus. Essentially saying you really can’t leave. That is the case if we ignore all the ways your dog was saying they were uncomfortable in the first place. Before the growling, lunging and biting the owners missed the yawning, looking away, tucked tail/ears, raised paws, frontal lip licking and stiffening up.

If we honored our pets earlier requests for distance and assurance the behavior might not have escalated.

Here is an image of some of the signals that your fearful dog might have offered.

I promise that if you pay close attention to your dog trying to either get distance or diffuse a perceived stressful situation by offering communication as pictured here, future aggressive behaviors will be far less likely to appear.

Remember, behavior does not happen without consequences. Aggression is never the first choice. When we ignore/punish (consequence) small communicative behaviors like stress yawning, lip licking, raised paws, hypervigilance, trying to get distance, and even growling, we are asking our pets to try another way, or another rung up the ladder of aggression.

Here is an additional short video that will hopefully help you recognize some common calming/displacement signals from your dog or other dogs you come across.

Be well and wag tail.

Bryndon Golya
All Paws Essentials/OC Canine Coaching

Dog parks. A different standard?

As dog owners, most of us are aware that our furry friends have some basic needs to be happy and manageable at home. We take our dogs on walks and outings for this reason but for many pets, this may not be enough.

Dogs on walks don’t always get the freedom to smell and learn about the natural environment and many pets have a hard time around traffic or other human world distractions.

Many dogs have a hard time on leash and their behavior is such that it may be embarrassing for the owners leading them to walk their dogs less.

Because of some of these concerns, it is no doubt many dog owners turn to dog parks for a way to exercise and stimulate their dogs. This not only gives us a feeling that we are helping our dog get his energy out but it also allows our dogs to be social and meet without the hassle of having your dog behave on a leash.

It sounds like a simple solution to caring for your dog’s needs but I want to suggest this may not really be the best idea for many of the pets I know and work with.

I would look at dog parks are playgrounds as if they were any other playground that children play on and consider if they have the same standards.

When you arrive with your child at a playground do you walk right in and let your kid run up to whomever they want to?

Do you hang back and let a swarm of other children gather around your child and hopefully let your child figure out who is safe to play with?

If disagreement about a toy or a specific space in the playground arises do you let the children “work it out” and be kids.

Are you watching every interaction with your child or are you paying more attention to the other parents? Lately, I have noticed that most owners are consumed with his or her phone.

Would you leave when you feel uncomfortable with the play or other children, even if it is socially awkward removing your child from the group?

While I can’t say every child-parent would be more vigilant about caring for their child over their pet, it sure seems like these considerations go unheeded more than not while pet owners are supervising at the dog park.

There are all sorts of dog personalities at the dog park. Some are cautious, some are over-friendly, some are real bullies, some have no clue what play even is and some are terrified. On top of that, some are older with limitations and some are very young with no manners.

It is a different scene every day with different risks not limited to behavioral concerns. Let’s not forget about the diseases and parasites that are lurking at the dog park.

I know this doesn’t paint a pretty picture of dog parks and some of you will say your dog has a great time. I know many very responsible dog parents that break the mold and are very involved from the beginning of the dog park experience to the end. I just think they are the exception and that most pet owners are likely there to relax and let their dogs do mostly what they want.

So what is the alternative?

That depends. Personally, I prefer to play and socialize with people I know so I generally take my dogs to play with other dogs that they have gotten to know over the years. My dogs have gotten used to their play styles and body language. They also have the opportunity to play more one on one which is generally preferred in the canine world.

If I want free space for my dog to play I visit local people parks or fenced off school grounds that aren’t being used. I understand that in many states the only place to legally be off leash is the dog park but I’ll tell you now that I really don’t adhere to those rules.

I started visiting people parks with my dogs at a young age, working on long 30 feet leashes with tie downs and used food and play to train a good recall and sit around distractions. I took time from lunch when the parks are less crowded to visit and train at these parks.

I know my dogs and from what I can tell, they aren’t social butterflies to all dogs. They warm up to some and they completely ignore others. They have that freedom away from a dog park.

When they say no to an interaction, it is an easier conversation than one at the dog park. Usually, the park is big enough that on the right day, I can have my own little corner to myself to play ball or have my dogs smell around. This is partially just because there are fewer dogs around.

Also, if your dog just smells the perimeter of the dog park and stays near you or lays under a bench, that isn’t a dog park dog. I bet he would happily take you up on the venue change.

On a side note: If you are respectful and courteous, city police or park officials generally are pretty forgiving even if you are honest with them about why you are there. They would likely rather warn you about a leash law than give a ticket especially if you look like your training and are using some kind of leash even if its, a 20-30 foot long line. Now if your dog is causing problems that is a different story.

Wherever you go to play with your pet remember to pay attention and use an ounce of prevention. Scan the area before you walk in, stop play when it’s too rough, institute timeouts, and leave when you aren’t comfortable.

For more perspective on this subject I encourage you to read the following article by the author and dog behavior consultant Nicole Wilde, which some of this blog post was referenced from by clicking here.

Be well and wag tail!

Picky or Finicky eater? Not food Motivated?

On at least a weekly basis I meet dog owners who claim they have a very picky eater or a dog who just isn’t food motivated at meal times or during training.

I want to clarify up front that I don’t believe this to be a natural occurrence.

“Finicky” isn’t who your dog is. Your pet learned that.

As to how it happened is up for discussion and we should look back at our pets eating history to find out where things went south so we can take step to get them eating regularly again.

I know many of you may not think there is a problem with having a picky eater for a pet but I assure you a dog who finishes his meals regularly or takes treats as a reward when offered is generally a healthier, happier and easier dog to manage and train.

Let’s consider how this started.

1 – You leave food down all day. (free loading)

In almost all households where I find a picky eater I find free, devalued dog food still sitting in a dish hours after mealtime.

Leaving food down all day reduced the desire to eat when offered ruining your feeding relationship. Your presence is no longer tied to the delivery of the food since you have removed yourself as the consequence for not finishing. This in essence may devalue you as a resource or reinforcer since you are no longer tied to the enjoyment of mealtime.

As a rule, all organisms (dogs included) only behave order to produce consequences.

When there is no consequence for not eating when offered, desire to eat diminishes.

  • A dog without a natural pattern of eating is also more difficult to assess for illness. Discovering a health problem is much faster with dogs who eat on a schedule as lack of appetite is usually one of the first symptoms of a health concern. You may not notice an eating change for weeks with free fed dogs.

2 – Your dog is overweight.

Yes, even a dog who is 5-10% overweight may be less hungry or inclined to finish meals.

This is obviously not the case for all dogs but carrying extra pounds often undermine appetite and motivation. Often your vet won’t mention their concern regarding your pets’ weight for fear of losing you as a customer. This really happens. The next time you visit ask your vet for their honest opinion if you’re unsure.

3 – You keep upgrading your dogs’ food after refusal(very common)

One day you put your dogs’ food down and for whatever reason they didn’t want it.

Being the loving pet parent you are, your first instinct was to add something more appetizing to the meal. Maybe they ate and maybe you kept adding that cheese or cooked egg to the kibble. We likely haven’t addressed the real reason they didn’t want to eat but we have just said to them the next time you balk or say no to food I will give you a treat. You conditioned them to say no to food and the battle goes on and on until you’re out of ideas of what to top off the food with next.

I suggest being indifferent to your dogs’ refusal of a meal. That is their choice. Give them that option and address the issue the next meal time. If you want to upgrade the food then it won’t teach them that refusal gets rewarded.

4 – The food is poisoned. (not really)

If you have ever used food or treat bribes to get your dogs to go somewhere scary or do something they dislike you may have accidentally conditioned food treats to the scary event. This essentially poisons the idea of food reinforcers in the future.

  • Avoid bribing your pets with food before getting groomed or bathed, getting in the car, going to the vet, or anything your dog perceives as a trigger.
  • If your dog is nervous around stranger and you allow stranger to give a snack first, followed by unwanted interaction, you may be poisoning food.
  • Trainers who use punishment and food rewards together will often make food seem (poisoned) if they inadvertently pair punishment with food.
  • I suggest not using a lure but to use a food reward after facing something scary.

Have your veterinarian give treats after inspecting your dog, not before. Likewise, deliver treats after the nail trim versus before.

There are many adjustments you may consider when attempting to change the feeding dynamic in your household.

The first is to consider is your pet is afraid. If they eat worrying about the presence of competition from other family dogs that can be enough for some dogs to change their eating habits. Consider giving your pet more space in this case.

“Use feeding time to train. Ask for simple sits, downs, hand touches, or shakes to reward them for. Likewise, you may want to invest in a few interactive feeding toys.

Animals given a choice to use their behavior to get food or receive free food will often choose their behavior.“(Kathy Sdao, Applied animal behaviorist)

I once worked with a labrador puppy who one day refused to eat his food for no apparent reason. We started giving him kibble for tricks and he gobbled the whole bowl. The problem wasn’t the food. He wanted to work.

If you or any friends or family have a picky eater please share this info with them.

Thank you for reading,

Be well and wag tail!

Emergency or (bacon recall)

We try our best to keep our dogs on a leash and safely managed. This is to protect them from distractions in the environment and we work on training to get our dogs attention in fun places with lots of stimuli (especially around other dogs).

Unfortunately, management at some point will always fail. Something your dog may have never seen will pop into the picture that will be too enticing to simply call him by name to ask him or her to come back.

Ignoring your request for attention and to come back can happen to the best of us.

Today I am going to offer you a solution to help when this happens.

Why we might struggle to get our dogs attention

#1 You haven’t taken your dogs out enough recently

I take my dogs out frequently but since we have had a series of rainy days my dogs have been mostly inside away from their normal schedule of getting to sniff around the neighborhood. After a few days of being stuck inside, they may be more inclined to rush out the door (door dash) sooner or ignore you more once outside.

#2 The environment is too distracting

Again, I’ll use the rain example. After the rain comes all the smells. I’m sure you’ve noticed how much your dog spends with his nose to the ground when the ground is wet.

This is a rarity in Southern California and our dogs take advantage of the opportunity to get as much sniffing as possible. This same lack of attention can happen when there are too many dogs around, you’re at a new park or with a group friends visiting.

#3 The word “come” has been poisoned

This is actually a pretty common issue to some extent and it happens for different reasons. This happens each time we have called our dogs and followed the request by inserting something they perceive as punishing to some degree. For example, calling your dog followed by putting his leash on and taking him home from the park/dog park. Saying come followed by a nail trim, bath, trip to the vet, putting in a crate or pen, removing from outside immediately after pottying, or when they are smelling outside. Often I see owners call their dogs after misbehaving only to scold or punish them. This is a sure-fire way to ruin the “come” cue.

#4 You keep calling them over and over even if they ignore you

When their name and the word come stops working people often start repeating the cues and raising our voices. This may work for a time but a discerning pet will soon learn they can extend their play or smell time until you have really made yourself clear. That could be after the 10th time you call and only after they feel threatened. This may lead to chase as to avoid leaving the distraction you’re calling them from. At a minimum, they learned to ignore the previous 9 times you called them making their name or the cue “come” irrelevant.

The “Emergency Recall”

Here is an easy and fun solution that you can use to condition a “whiplash-like” response similar to how your dog responds to the doorbell.

It’s called an Emergency Recall and it goes like this:

#1 Choose a new word you will condition.

Make sure it’s an easy word to remember in an emergency.

Avoid using a word your dog commonly hears.

#2 Choose a reward and treat

Choose a highly reinforcing treat that your dog will only get after this word is spoken.

Good examples include bacon, lunch meat, pieces of string cheese, or cooked steak.

#3 Repeat for three weeks

For the next 3 weeks, you are simply to say the new easy to remember, unique word, followed by the giving your dog a piece of super yummy food.

Do this 7-10 times a day! Just say the word followed by food. Do not say your dogs’ name or ask anything of them.

After 2 weeks, start by testing the response. Say the word from another room in the house while your dog is occupied with something else.

Say the word loudly and see if you get a quick response. If not, no problem, more conditioning is needed.

After the 3 weeks, if you have a good response, practice the behavior a few times a week to maintain it. At this point, you can try using other dog treats. Still use the good stuff you started with from time to time.

This should come in handy the next time you lose your dogs’ attention for whatever reason.

IMPORTANT:

Be careful not to overuse this cue. Use it only after you’re normal come-when-called has failed.

Happy training!

“Be well and wag tail”

Hemp, a history, and where we are today

If you haven’t noticed, hemp, hemp oil, and hemp CBD products are literally showing up everywhere. There has been a hemp revolution of sorts you could say.

This influx of hemp products onto the market is big business but it wasn’t always that way.

Since 1970 and the Nixon administration, hemp was part of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which likened it to its relative marijuana. This was the case even though hemp did not possess the same THC content that marijuana does. It was classified as a schedule 1 drug and made illegal.

The separation of hemp from marijuana didn’t start to catalyze until the signing of the 2014 farm bill. This bill sets the stage for growth in the hemp industry by allowing individual states to enact pilot research programs for industrial hemp. Unfortunately, at the federal level, hemp was still illegal which stymied legal interstate hemp commerce.

The DEA continued to make life difficult for farmers of hemp after by enacting the “marijuana extract rule”. This simply stated that any of the more than 70 cannabinoids that have been derived from the plant of the genus Cannabis would continue to be treated as a schedule 1 substance.

This meant again that the now very popular CBD based products manufactured under the 2014 farm bill were once again federally illegal.

Luckily congress continued to support the hemp industry by passing the Omnibus Appropriations act of 2016 and the Consolidated Appropriations act of 2017. This legislation effectively kneecapped the DEA by stating that federal funds could not be used to interfere with the cultivation or sale of hemp in any way.

Unfortunately, while this was very helpful to the blossoming hemp industry, there was still unease and uncertainty among the hemp industry insiders as hemp was technically still not federally accepted.

Fast forward to this last December and the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill which fully legalizes and de-schedules hemp from its cousin marijuana. The cultivation and farming of hemp are completely legal and extracts containing hemp derived cannabinoids like CBD are also legal as long as they still contain less than .3% of the still federally illegal cannabinoid THC. The FDA still has strong oversight of these products and prohibits manufacturers from making unsubstantiated claims to cure, diagnose, mitigate or prevent any diseases or disorders such as curing cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, etc.

This leads us to our current trend of seeking out the newly discovered benefits of supplements containing hemp extracts such as the very popular CBD. CBD is everywhere and many people swear by it for themselves and their pets. You can get it at some grocery stores, fitness and health centers, online and even at your local pet store.

The list of reported benefits is extensive. Here are some of the most common:

Pets:

  • Reduced anxiety (fireworks, separation, social, travel, grooming)
  • Pain relief (post-surgery, sprains, strains, nerve and joint pain)
  • Reduced Inflammation (This is the most commonly reported side effect) reduced skin/coat problems, joint inflammation, inflammation of the liver, kidneys, pancreas etc., IBD/IBS (bowel inflammation), etc.
  • Immune system booster
  • Anti-nausea and adjunct to cancer treatments
  • Neuroprotective and antioxidant effects for aging pets
  • Seizure reduction

Until January first this year and the passage of Assembly Bill 2215, veterinarians were prohibited from discussing hemp CBD or any other supplements for your pets. A.B 2215 now allows veterinarians to discuss your options with supplements like hemp CBD without the fear of repercussions from any regulatory boards or associations. This is a huge win for pets and consumers.

People:

  • Improves skin conditions (used topically)
  • Reduced inflammation (Arthritis and similar complaints)
  • Pain relief
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety including PTSD
  • Reduced Cardiovascular disease and cholesterol
  • Reduced Diabetic symptoms
  • Bone stimulant (for fracture regrowth)
  • Improved brain health (neuroprotective and anti-oxidant benefits)
  • Reduced seizure activity
  • Immune system booster
  • Cancer remediation

With all these reported and studied potential benefits of CBD for both people and pets, there is increased interest by the FDA to create pharmaceutical versions and to further regulate the market. As of last year, there are two approved medicines containing CBD and THC.

These are marketed under the names Epidiolex and Sativex and are approved to treat epileptic seizures and MS respectively.

I hope you found this article informative and interesting. We will touch on this topic very soon more specifically to the pet industry.

Until then,

“Be well and wag tail”

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