Monday, September 15, 2014

OUCH- My Puppy is Biting Me!

The Importance of Attending Puppy Class to Teach Bite Inhibition and Play Skills

In the last several years, I have had the pleasure of attending many seminars hosted by Dr. Ian Dunbar.   In the early 1980s, he invented what we know as ‘Puppy Socialization Class’.  Dr. Dunbar was one of the first to recognize that we should train our puppies before they develop bad habits and much earlier than the old methods of starting to train a dog at 6 months of age.   He also acknowledges that not only should puppies be given proper socialization at an earlier age, but taught to have good ‘bite inhibition’.  Bite inhibition means the puppy or adult dog learns how to have a soft mouth and does not consciously use the full force of his biting ability.  It should be taught before 12 weeks of age.  If a dog does not have good bite inhibition, he could seriously injure or kill another dog or human.  According to Dr. Dunbar, teaching this behavior involves two steps: first, to inhibit the force of the puppy’s bite and second, to lessen the frequency of puppy mouthing.

Nori the Newfie Puppy
Playtime should be an essential part to every puppy’s initial training.  Young dogs learn wonderfully from other dogs about what is and is not appropriate, both for play and using their teeth.   Since all puppies want to do is play, it is a great opportunity to teach them to have a soft mouth, and can be much more effective than teaching them yourself.  However, if your puppy is biting too much or too hard, you must start teaching them at home that it is not appropriate.   Here are some general guidelines to use when working with your puppy at home:
  • Make sure all play stops when your puppy begins mouthing or biting.  Turn your body away and cross your arms for a few seconds, then resume play when your puppy stops mouthing.
  • Use the word “Ouch” if he begins to bite.  When he stops, praise and give him lots of love.
  • Use the command ‘Gentle’ when giving treats, and use your fist to roll the treat out of your hand if your puppy is not using his teeth.
  • Smear a dab of peanut butter on the back of your hand and give your puppy the command “No Bite”. Praise him for licking the peanut butter off, and not using his teeth.
  • Teach your puppy the ‘Off’ command so he gets rewarded for taking his mouth away from your hand.
  • Always have plenty of Kongs or Everlasting Treat Balls to give your puppy to chew on appropriately.  I do not recommend soft squeaker or fabric toys as these can teach your puppy it is acceptable to chew things up.
  • Do not clamp his mouth shut or hit him on the nose as punishment for biting.  This could cause serious consequences later.
  • Do not tease your puppy or try to start playing with your hands.
It is imperative that no biting be allowed in any context.  Some of my clients have said “He is ‘play biting’ so it’s okay”.  I assure you it is not okay!  So-called play biting is actually just an extension of all other biting, and none of it should be tolerated.
Many people think that socializing a puppy at home with their other dog, or the neighbor’s dog is enough, but it is not.  Your puppy needs to learn how to socialize with many other puppies, humans, and friendly adult dogs.  If your puppy is only familiar with how to play with your older dog, he will not learn about other dogs’ language or how to generalize play time to other dogs.  Without proper socialization, your puppy could develop fear reactivity with other dogs that can turn in to aggression. 

When you are looking for a puppy class, be sure to find one that includes a majority of playtime, in addition to bite inhibition, socialization, and desensitization exercises.   Puppy play class should not be confused with obedience class as the goal of these two classes is different. It is highly recommended that you attend both.  Puppy classes should be no bigger than 10 puppies or divided up into smaller play groups, and should ideally have a mixture of small, medium, and large breed puppies.   Ages can range from 8-18 weeks for younger puppies, and teenager classes for older puppies.  All puppies must have at least their first set of shots.   As with any behavior class, it is critical that only positive, gentle methods are used, and your instructor must have background in teaching proper bite inhibition and puppy socialization.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Is puppy Prozac a good option?

About a year ago, I started working with a family who adopted a 2-year old cattle dog.  Their older cattle dog, Miles, passed away (I also worked with him), and when they adopted Radar, he had some behaviors that weren't so good.  They worked diligently with Radar on a behavior treatment plan for several months, and while he made improvements, some of his triggers still set him off.  Radar was fearful and anxious, and he was a cattle dog, so he nipped and tried to 'herd' when he was stressed.  Michelle reached out to me again when they were about to give up.  Although they were familiar with herding dogs (they've adopted several), they just couldnt take a chance of Radar hurting someone.  Radar was at the end of the line.

We had spoken about fluoxetine (generic Prozac) briefly before, but they wanted to try behavioral methods, along with some all-natural anxiety supplements first.  I agreed.  But because Radar was so anxious and afraid, those only went so far to help him learn.  His brain still adrenalized quickly and he went in to 'fight or flight' mode in certain situations almost as quickly as he did the day they adopted him.  When Michelle called, I gently pushed her to try fluoxetine as I have seen it work with so many dogs like Radar.  She agreed and called her veterinarian.  Radar started on fluoxetine the next day.  Here is what Michele wrote to me after about 6 weeks...

"We reached out to Kari for help with our red heeler rescue dog.  Radar was fearful and reacted aggressively when his triggers were set off. He would bite at us and our other dog, Sadie.  Those triggers included loud noises like motorcycles and diesel trucks, accidentally touching him, and getting tangled in leashes.  We were at the point of wanting to give him back to the rescue organization we had gotten him from but decided to take Kari's advice and give anti-anxiety medication a try, along with continuing the behavior modification we were already doing.  Radar did well throughout the process and was very smart, but needed a little extra help in his brain when he was presented with his triggers.

We are so glad we tried the fluoxetine!  Radar is a completely different dog. He is relaxed, sweet and his fear is almost completely gone.  Even though it takes 6 weeks for the full effects of the drug to kick in, we saw an immediate change the first day he starting taking the meds.   He still has some issues with loud motorcycles and trucks but we are working with him to curb those behaviors, and managing him in situations that could be stressful.  Training is easier now as he is a more focused dog and doesn't immediately react.  We are very happy to say Radar is still part of our family!   Michelle and Jamie E."
Radar somewhere in Colorado 
So, what did the fluoxetine do?  It helped increase Radar's serotonin levels so his anxiety decreased.  It helped his brain stay in a calmer place so he could focus.  It took the edge off of his stress level so his triggers didn't make him so scared.  And while it did all those things, he was able to concentrate on learning, so he will be able to wean off the fluoxetine within about 8 months once he learns new behaviors.  Meds don't have to be a lifelong thing, and the best part is that fluoxetine isn't too expensive.  

If you are struggling with anxiety and aggression with your dog, and have tried behavioral intervention, it might be time to try some anti-anxiety medications in conjunction with training... I know medications have a bad stigma to them, but they can really improve your dog's quality of life!   

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stokely: My Latest Doggie 'Makeover'

Yoga Stokes
"It’s hard to put into words just how profound an effect Kari Bastyr of Wag & Train has had on my life and, most importantly, on my dog’s life. Every aspect of our day-to-day interactions has transformed with her guidance. Stokely, a St. Bernard/Akita mix, had a transient existence as a puppy, and when he finally settled down with me at 2 years old, he had never learned how to walk on a leash. I tried to take him on walks, but the experience was always so unpleasant. He would jerk and lunge at everything, and I would nod in embarrassment as people remarked how he was walking me. I was given a prong collar by a family member and told to use it; I obliged and, at first, thought it was working. I could walk Stokely without him dragging me behind quite as much, but he also became so anxious (a diagnosis I can only make now with Kari’s insights) that he would refuse treats while on the leash. I was frustrated with his behavior and struggled with how to train him without using treats. I started walking him less often (way less than he needed), and as the months passed, he began to develop aggression towards other dogs. There were some encounters with other dogs on hiking trails that made me fearful of ever taking him back. I knew we needed help, but I resisted going to a trainer. I made excuses: I don’t have enough money, and I can handle it myself. The day Stokely jumped our 4-foot fence and bit another dog was a slap in the face; I finally realized I was hurting more than helping him. I found Kari through Paws on Broadway and reached out to her. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Kari was amazing from the first moment. Stokely—a big, intimidating boy at 75 pounds—would get very excited around other people, and he expressed his excitement by jumping. Kari didn’t judge him (or me) for any of the “bad” behaviors. She was sweet and patient; her love for animals was clear as she taught me how to interact with Stokely in a more productive way. He was noticeably calmer within minutes of meeting her; I could hardly believe it. After just three sessions, I have completely changed what I feed Stokely, as well as how I feed him. She showed me how to address Stokely’s underlying anxiety, rather than aggravating it. Her training plan focused on giving Stokely a better quality of life, and I couldn’t be happier too. Kari demonstrated different harnesses to walk Stokely that would work for the both of us, and we have found the perfect one. His anxiety around walks has lessened to the point where now he happily takes treats, and I can actually begin training him. Our walks are now enjoyable and a way for us to bond. We have yet to go hiking on a trail, but I feel confident that if I put in the effort to work with Stokely, we will get there eventually.
I know helping Stokely become a well-adjusted dog will be a long process, but thanks to Kari, I feel confident in the small steps we are taking along this path. My relationship with Stokely has shifted in a positive direction, and I am grateful to Kari for her wise insights into animal behavior. I plan to continue working with her, building up to socializing Stokely with other dogs, so that he fully embodies the nickname she gave him: Yoga Stokes! Kari is truly an expert on dealing with dog anxiety and aggression, and I can’t recommend her more highly to anyone facing a similar situation. My only regret is that I waited so long to call her. Thank you, Kari!"
Megan Kelly and Stokely

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lucy, the Anxious Dachshund

I started working with Sydney, and her dog Lucy about 2 1/2 years ago.  Lucy is a dachshund, and had some major fear issues with people and other dogs, as well as separation anxiety like I have never seen. Over the months/years, Lucy has gotten much better with strangers, and made a dog friend with Sydney's mom's dog (although Lucy might deny the word 'friend', but at least she tolerates and plays with her!). However, Lucy's separation anxiety hasn't really gotten better, despite everything we tried, including quiet room training and meds. Lucy would get better, then relapse, then get better, then relapse...  She has always been very attached to Sydney.
Then Sydney and her boyfreind moved to California and Lucy relapsed again, only this time much, much worse.  Sydney couldn't leave the house- EVER.  We tweaked some things, changed up her music, modified her meds, did some more puzzle toy training, and nothing was working.  I got frantic texts from Sydney that Lucy was just going crazy, and Sydney was so worried!
Then, yesterday, I got this email:
"I'm about to cry I'm so happy! The vet increased Lucy's dose from 20 mg clom/day to 20 mg every 12 hrs. We had noticed that just over the last few days she has seemed more calm, so yesterday we tried leaving her for 5 mins three different times and she did not whine AT ALL. Today, we left her for 37 mins. 7 mins in, the music stopped playing for some reason and she whined on and off for 5 mins. She shook off a few times and then there was no whining the rest of the time! When I got home, she greeted me with a very quiet, short whine, shook off, and went back to her Kong.
I think that this is a very, very good sign and a huge deal for us. I am hoping this means she is really learning that we leave and always come back. I'm going to start doing the leave and come back throughout the day thing and see if this is true!
Thank you so much for all of your help the last couple of years. I cannot wait until this little anxious creature can just be a dog! For all of our sakes. You are so amazing, Kari! We love you!
Syd, Stuart, and Lucy"

I am so happy, I am about to cry, too!!!  Lucy is a prime example of 'training takes time'... sometimes YEARS. Behavior change doesn't happen overnight, but it is possible. I am infinitely grateful that Sydney had faith in the process, trusted me, and had patience.  She is a wonderful dog mom, to say the least.  Yay Lucy!!
Lucy somewhere in the California grass

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Potty Training Your Puppy

Those of you who know me, know I love potty training puppies. I always have, and I have no idea why.  I don't really enjoy everything else that comes along with puppyhood, but teaching puppies to potty outside has always been easy and enjoyable for me. I potty trained my Siberian Husky, Skye, in 3 days and Paisley, my lab, took just over a day.  At the time I got Skye, I was working with Dr. RK Anderson in Minnesota and I started training her with his "Potty Outside" schedule.  I was lucky to have him to bounce questions off of, and after 3 days, she was holding it during the night and waiting until I took her to her potty spot during the day.  But not all puppies are like that- most take 2 to 4 weeks, some even  longer. Every puppy is different, just like every child is different.
Skye at 9 weeks
The most popular question I get is "How do I teach my puppy to tell me when she has to go out?", and my answer is always "You don't".  And the reason is because your puppy is going to be an adult one day, and expected to hold his or her bladder and bowels for at least 8-10 hours.  You want to set your puppy up to succeed long term, not just short term for your convenience.  What if your dog has to pee when you're at work and goes to the door and rings the bell?  You won't be there to let him out, so what is he supposed to do?  The flipside to this is what if you are home, and your puppy rings the bell just to go out, get the treat, come back in, and ring the bell to go out and get a treat again?  Puppies are very adept at training humans! The reason, I suppose, that everyone wants to teach their puppies to tell them when to go outside is because it's easier for the human.  Does your 12-year old child say "Mom, I have to use the toilet right now, can you please open the bathroom door and put the toilet seat up for me?"  No, because you trained him to hold it until he has to go, and then he goes in the appropriate spot (hopefully!).  It is so much easier to teach your puppy to hold it (within reasonable time-frames, especially when they are super young), until you take her out and put her on the grass where you want her to learn to go.
And then the other famous question... "I took my puppy out, and stood there for 30 minutes and she just sniffed around... no potty.  But then as soon as I brought her in she peed on the carpet- she was mad at me!" People- puppies and dogs don't get mad!  And they certainly don't do things out of spite (talk about anthropomorphizing!).  My answer is "Well, she just doesn't know that the outside is the ONLY place she's supposed to go yet".
The key to potty training is confinement and contigencies.  Your puppy's freetime must be contigent upon he or she going potty outside.  It's as simple as that, and once you get him or her on a schedule where they can learn that, you'll be much more successful.  So many people get majorly frustrated and discouraged when they can't potty train, and their puppy is still 6 months old going on the rug in the kitchen.  But it doesnt have to be like that!  Please read the Potty Outside schedule above for more tips.
And if you would like additional help, I offer a Puppy Potty Training Board & Train program to help puppy owners with potty training, and behavior training in general. Puppies can be difficult, but they soak up learning and are so motivated- it's so fun watching them figure things out!  It doesn't have to be frustrating, and I can help take the guess-work out of potty training for you.  Read more about the program here, and please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about your puppy.
Marvin... a 12-week old bulldog puppy who came to visit for Puppy Board & Train. Yes, he's wearing pink, but it's all I had  :)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Even Little Dogs Can Learn Too

I first met Layla back in February 2014.  She was a scared 4-lb hot mess, who came in through a no kill shelter in New Mexico.  Her new mom, Penny, was frantic as Layla had bitten her mother (after repeatedly biting Penny) and sent her to the hospital.  She didn't know what the options were and asked if I would meet with them and evaluate Layla.  I normally don't do formal evaluations for biters (I go right to anxiety/aggression treatment), but I knew that Layla's mom was contemplating euthanasia, so I was her last hope.  Layla and I hit it off right away- she is a PIGLET!  And I discovered that she truly wanted to learn, but someone had likely spanked and neglected her.... she was very afraid of hands and quick movements.
After 6 months of focused behavior modification and management, plus reasonable expectations for what she can tolerate and handle, Layla is a completely different dog.  It is so true that little dogs can learn just as quickly and easily as bigger dogs- in fact, I would wager that Layla learned inifinitely faster than my Great Dane, Jasper!  Here is what her mom wrote to me today:

"I fell in love with that face and adopted Layla.  I thought I could handle her biting me, but things changed when she bit my mother without warning.  My mother spent a week in the hospital recovering from an infection from a small bite.   After that happened, I needed to be honest; Layla put me, other people and my two other dogs in danger.  I loved Layla, but realized that I lived in fear of how to move my hands in fear of bites.  Clearly, she suffered from abuse and reacted as if she suffered from post traumatic disorder.
I brought Layla to Kari in February.  Through Kari’s training of both me and Layla, as well as medication for Layla, everything got much better.  Layla began to play my other dogs and became more affectionate and trusting.  When stressed, instead of biting, she began to calm herself on her own and her outbursts significantly decreased.  Since her training, she has not bitten anyone.
Today, she is a much happier dog and I am much happier as well.  She has come a long way and I am grateful."
I am very happy that Penny believed in Layla, and allowed her to blossom to her full potential!  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reinforcement or Punishment?

What to look for in a dog trainer to build your dog’s confidence and enhance your relationship
Kari Bastyr, MS, VSPDT and Louisa Morrissey, CPDT-KA, VSPDT
 (Thank you, Louisa, for your collaboration!)

Because most dogs are adopted through shelters and at an older age, many of them come with behavior issues that other people have reinforced.  While secondhand dogs are wonderful and have a lot of love to give, it can be frustrating to try and untrain the bad behaviors while you try and train the behaviors you want.  Equally important are young puppies learning how to grow up to be well-behaved, stable, happy, and calm.  Teaching commands is important to all dogs, but the main focus, we believe, should be on teaching ‘impulse control’ and ‘manners’ while rewarding your dog for doing it right, instead of focusing on what he is doing wrong.   Your dog can know every command in the book, but if he can’t calm down and focus to do a ‘sit’ in a high-stress or excitable environment, is ‘performing’ out of fear of pain or physical punishment, or doesn’t know how to do the command outside of your house, then ‘obedience’ is a moot point.
The first step in helping your dog listen with distractions and without fear, and more importantly, be motivated to listen to you because you have a loving and trusting relationship, is to find the right ‘positive reinforcement’ trainer.  There is a lot of wonderful information out there on using rewards to train your dog, but there is also a lot of misinformation regarding training in general.  Many dog trainers purport to use only positive reinforcement, but then use shock or prong collars when they believe a dog ‘needs more’.  That is NOT positive reinforcement.  Other trainers aim to use a ‘balanced’ approach to dog training.  What most dog owners don’t know or understand is that ‘balanced dog training’ means the trainer uses all four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment.
·        Positive Reinforcement: Presenting a positive stimulus to increase the likelihood of the behavior
·        Negative Reinforcement: Taking away an aversive stimulus to increase the likelihood of the  behavior
·        Positive Punishment: Presenting an aversive stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior
·        Negative Punishment: Taking away an aversive stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior
Notice that ‘reinforcement’ always increases behavior and ‘punishment’ always decreases behavior.  Also note that Negative Reinforcement does not mean ‘punishment’, nor that bad things happen. The term is often used incorrectly in dog training. 
Therefore, a ‘balanced trainer’ may shock your dog for grabbing something off the counter, but then give him praise once the dog gets off the counter.  A trainer using a ‘balanced approach’ will use a prong collar to leash correct your dog for growling at you, then give him a treat for stopping. This type of training is not only confusing to dogs, but severely undermines their confidence and trust in humans.
A new term called ‘force free’ training is also being widely used. Originally, this term was coined by trainers using only positive reinforcement (giving rewards for the correct behavior) or negative punishment (taking away rewards to decrease unwanted behavior such as walking away when a dog jumps). These trainers are dedicated to never using a method or tool that physically hurts or intimidates a dog, hence the term ‘force free’. Many trainers that use prong or shock collars have realized that most of the dog-owning public really does not like the idea of hurting their companions in the name of training. To cover up the fact that they use painful training methods and to appeal to the public, these shock collar trainers have now stolen the term ‘force free’  to apply to shock collar training as well.  
You will also find poeple who use ‘natural’ or ‘pack’ dog training. This is a very good time to dig deep in your research!  Often these types of trainers are using the outdated and incorrect ‘dominance theory’ to train you and your dog. This theory states that since dogs and wolves are related, and wolves use a rigid heirarchy to control the pack, that dogs do the same.  They propose we need to be ‘alpha’ to our dogs, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The following is the modern information supported by animal behaviorists who have a Masters Degree or Doctorate from a researched-based animal behavior program and/or accredited university. (Beware of the self-proclaimed ‘behaviorists’ and ask for their degree. Many dog trainers say they are ‘behaviorists’ when they barely have a high school education).  
The data that says wolves work in a strict hierarchy came from a study of captive wolves in a zoo done in the 1930s. Recent wolf studies show that wild wolf packs are a functioning, fluid family unit in which each individual is essential to the survival of the entire group and energy wasted on intra-pack violence is detrimental to the survival of all. Next, while wolves and dogs share a common ancestor, dogs have been domesticated by humans for a few 10,000 years. We have selected animals that work with us, read our body language, and understand our emotions.  The modern domesticated dog is not a wolf, plain and simple, and does not need to know us humans are ‘alpha’.
Finally, the dog-human connection is a fascinating inter-species relationship. Dogs know that we are humans as much as they know a cat is a cat and not a dog!  But why would you not want to use a trainer using the dominance theory?  By approaching all of training from the viewpoint of dominance only, one misses some very important causes of a dog’s behavior such as medical problems, lack of training, anxiety, poor diet, fear, learned behavior, genetics, or simply a dog trying to adjust in the first month of adoption to a new environment.  Additionally, the dominance theory type of training instantly creates a confrontational relationship between a person and their dog, as the person is required to establish, and maintain at all times, an alpha status.  Do you really want that relationship with your dog?  Wouldn’t you rather learn to train your dog through reward-based methods, respectfully communicate with them, and have the deeply fulfilling relationship you are dreaming of?
We receive calls from potential clients every day who are doing their due diligence… googling ‘dog trainer’ and calling around to see who has the best deal, who can do the ‘fastest’ work, and who is available.  These are the wrong things to ask when looking for a dog trainer.  First and foremost, ask if he or she uses ONLY positive motivation and reinforcment. Many trainers use pain-inflicting motivation, but say they use positive reinforcement.  They will shock your dog, or jerk your dog off the ground, but not tell you that they do that.  And why would they?  Would you really bring your dog to a board & train program if you knew horrific things would happen while she was there? Ask which type of training tools they use with a dog, and ask specifically if they use choke, prong, or shock collars at any time.  Ask where they received their education.  Ask if they have references, both from clients and from colleagues.
Does the trainer offer a method that ‘guarantees results for all dogs’?  How many of you think that is realistically true?  You’re right, it’s unrealistic!  Each dog is an individual.  Each person is an individual and the relationship forged between them is unique. While we live in a fast food, two-minute, sound-bite culture, the honest truth is that training takes time.  Relationships take time, respect, and effort, whether those relationships are between two people or between a person and their dog. A good trainer will be honest with you about the time and work that will be involved in training your dog.
The best way to find a reward-based trainer in your area is to search professional organizations like The Pet Professional Guild, Victoria Stilwell Positively network, Karen Pryor Clicker Trainer network, or ask your friends and family if they use a dog trainer who believes in pain-free training.   Reward-based training also doesn’t just mean feeding your dog a lot of treats. Food is a great motivator, and a great paycheck (would you work without a paycheck?), but good trainers wean off treats really quickly so you and your dog do not become dependent on them.  Positive motivation is key, rather than making your dog afraid of you so he’ll behave.  But when a trainer says he or she doesn’t believe in treats or rewards, run the other direction!  If your dog has aggression issues, please don’t use aggressive techniques, as that will invariably make your dog worse or ruin him.  Good trainers will focus on the anxiety and insecurity causing the aggression, and not just punish the aggression to make your dog to shut down.  If your dog is shut down, he may not be aggressing, but the punishment will only increase his general anxiety and fear and potentially make him dangerous.
Above all, a good trainer will use techniques and tools that will enhance the bond between you and your dog, rather than destroy it. Training methods and tools that cause intimidation or pain deeply damage the human/canine bond. Training methods that are pain and fear-free, and based on positive reinforcement  will deepen and strengthen your bond.  A good trainer will be there for the long term as the relationship between you and your dog develops, and if you need help over your dog’s entire lifetime.  
Have fun, and don’t forget to reward and postively motivate your dog- he or she will thank you!