Friday, April 10, 2015

Fear and Genetics in Dogs

In Colorado, we are lucky to have several puppy rescues that transport puppies in from other Western states, including New Mexico, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, and Texas.  These puppies face certain euthanasia as rural areas don’t have high rates of adoption. But rural areas do have a high number of un-altered dogs who continue to add to pet over-population.  Most of the dogs from rural areas are herding or livestock-guardian mixes: Cattle Dogs, Australian Shepherds, Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, German Shepherds, etc.  all of which are known for their herding, guarding, shyness, and somewhat reserved/fearful behavior.  I call these puppies ‘reservation dogs,’ and they comprise about 60-70% of the dogs I work with on a daily basis.   The behaviors are genetic, both in the breed characteristics and from the puppy’s parents and grandparents, therefore it is no surprise that these puppies grow up to be shy, fearful, reactive, and scared.  Many of these dogs don’t do well in the city, as the sights and sounds are too much for them to handle.
Here are some of the genetically pre-wired behaviors reservation dogs may have and of course, not all dogs of each breed will have every characteristic. However, this is a short list of potential behaviors to consider when adopting (source- Wikipedia):
Australian Cattle Dog- Herding Dog: energetic and intelligent with an independent streak; reserved with people it does not know and naturally cautious in new situations; attitude to strangers makes it an excellent guard dog when trained for this task; good with older, considerate children, but will herd people by nipping at their heels, particularly younger children who run and squeal; forms a strong attachment to its owners, and can be protective of them and their possessions.
Australian Shepherd- Herding Dog: may show reserved and cautious guarding behaviors; kind, loving, and devoted to those they know; loyal to their owners, and are rewarding dogs if treated well; protective of its property; inclined to bark warnings about neighborhood activity; intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play; a bored, neglected, unexercised Aussie may invent its own games, activities, and jobs; does best with plenty of human companionship; require a minimum of 2–3 hours a day of play, exercise, and attention.
Great Pyrenees- Livestock Guardian: confident, gentle, and affectionate; territorial and protective of its flock or family when necessary; general demeanor is of composure and patience and loyalty; strong willed, independent and reserved; attentive, fearless and loyal to its duties; will patrol its perimeter and may wander away if left off  leash in an unenclosed space; protects its flock by barking, and being nocturnal, tends to bark at night unless trained against such behavior.
Anatolian Shepherd- Livestock Guardian: independent and forceful; responsible for guarding its master's flocks without human assistance or direction; rugged, large and very strong; these traits make it challenging as a pet; intelligent and can learn quickly but might choose not to listen; likes to roam; not recommended for living in small quarters.
Border Collie- Herding Dog: require considerable daily physical exercise and mental stimulation;  very demanding, playful, and energetic; may develop neurotic behaviors in households that are not able to provide for their needs; infamous for chewing holes in walls, destructive biting and chewing on furniture, and digging holes out of boredom; may not be good with young children, cats, or other pets due to their strong herding instinct; can be motion-sensitive and may chase moving vehicles.
Kuvasz- Livestock Guardian: intelligent, aloof and independent; intensely loyal; instinctive need to investigate strangers and protect its owner; not usually interested in meaningless activity, such as tricks; experienced handlers only.
German Shepherd- Herding/Working Dog: highly intelligent, active, and self-assured; willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose;  curious which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions; can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly; not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers.
Belgian Malinois- Herding/Working Dog: active, intelligent, friendly, protective, alert and hard-working; energy levels that are among the highest of all dog breeds; excessively high prey drive; can be destructive or develop neurotic behaviors if not provided enough stimulation and exercise; enjoy being challenged with new tasks; known to be easy to train, due to their high drive for rewards.

As you can see, many of the breed characteristics above include ‘reserved’, ‘cautious’, ‘protective’, ‘high prey drive’, and ‘will nip at heels’.  While these behaviors are normal to the dog, they may be unwanted in a family, or in day-to-day life.  It is imperative that new adoptive pet parents understand these behaviors and set their puppies up to succeed in all situations. I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of these genetically fearful puppies in the past 22 years, and I have adopted 2 reservation puppies from New Mexico myself.  Every adopter, including myself, has very good intentions with socialization, desensitization, and training, and it was different even for me to experience these behaviors, as I have only had Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, and Labradors before.  However, many of these reservation puppies are intrinsically ill-equipped to process a lot of confusing environmental stimuli at once and then those good intentions can be disastrous.     Many of these puppies grow up to growl, snap, and bite because of their breed characteristics. It doesn’t have to be that way if humans understood their ‘genetic’ predisposition better.
There are a few important things to remember if you adopt a fearful puppy or adult dog:
1). Reservation dogs need training that is different than other puppies.  The focus should be on building their confidence and helping them to cope with scary environmental things slowly instead of putting them in situations that will make them more scared.  ‘Flooding’ can be detrimental to their psychological well-being.
2). Behavior is always context specific. Your puppy is going to behave differently in certain environments: friendly at home, and scared at the vet; running around happily in the backyard at home, or hiding under your legs at the pet store.  It is crucial that you take ‘context’ into account when analyzing your dog’s behavior. 
3). Behavior is individual to every single dog. Just because you had a wonderfully behaved German Shepherd when you were growing up, doesn’t mean that the one you adopt today is going to be the same way. Every dog is different even if they are related.  We are different from our siblings, and we have the same parents, too. 
4). Training must be done when your dog is not afraid, adrenalized, or stressed, and your puppy must always feel safe at all times.  If your puppy’s brain is in full-blown fear mode, she cannot learn. She can only shut down, or suppress her stress, which will make her fear and anxiety worse in the future, and may cause more aggression. 
5). Punishing, forcing, leash correcting, yelling at, squirting, throwing things, or shocking your puppy is not going to help her.  It will inevitably make her more afraid, or worse, more aggressive because she feels pain/fear.  Punishment increases stress, it’s as simple as that. She may ‘behave’ after getting shocked, but only because she’s afraid of getting shocked, not because she’s less fearful or stressed. 
6). Growling is not bad!  Please do not punish your puppy for growling, as it is the most appropriate warning a dog could ever give.  If he growls, he is telling you he’s scared, and then its up to you to help get him out of the situation and/or redirect him.  If you punish your puppy for growling, he’ll stop growling i.e. stop warning, and guess what? Then he’ll go straight to snapping and biting as a warning. 
7). Fearful, shy, stressed, and aggressive puppies need professional help in the form of dog-friendly, positive, confidence building behavior modification. Please call a positive dog behavior professional, and please stay away from punishment-based or ‘balanced’ dog trainers, as both use fear, corrections, and intimidation in their training.  
8). Dog behavior is not about being dominant or alpha, and shouldn’t be characterized as such.  If you try to be ‘dominant’ over your dog, you will make him scared of you and more anxious about his environment.  Dominant dogs are calm, stable, friendly, and confident.  Fearful dogs are anxious, shy, shut down, reactive, and can be aggressive.    
Whether you adopt a reservation puppy, or rescue a fearful adult dog, there are many things to consider when training and socializing.  Every dog is different, and his or her individual needs and genetically pre-wired behaviors should play the biggest part in how you teach, desensitize, and work towards building confidence and social skills. If you have any doubt, please hire a professional so you don’t inadvertently make things worse.  If you make one wrong step, or try to work through fear and anxiety on your own, it could have dire consequences for your fur baby.    

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Her name is Heidi because she hides (or used to!)

My boyfriend lost his beloved shepherd mix. “Lulu” in December of 2012.  He half-heartedly looked at other dogs throughout 2013, but Mike always had an opinion about our selections- too similar to Lulu, not similar enough to Lulu, it was a prime number on Tuesday in a leap year, you name it.  One day, I sent Mike a link to this picture and said “I know I said I wouldn’t send any more pictures but here’s ‘Cherry’."
Heidi at the shelter
I don’t even know why I sent him this picture.  Anyone who is remotely fluent in dog language will tell you that this puppy is terrified by her first 10 weeks of earthly experiences.   But boys will be boys and I was greeted with a text of  “Can I borrow your crate?  Do you want to meet a puppy?”   So, we ended up at the shelter 10 minutes before closing and we couldn't find her in the kennel.  The shelter staff assured me that she’s there but in a 3x5 run, where can you hide?  Turns out the answer is under the cot in the back corner.
“Cherry” was renamed “Heidi” by Mike’s niece because she hid under and/or behind any available surface.  Then Mike had to go out of town and he was going to board her in a traditional facility.   Knowing Heidi and how soft she was, I knew that experience would scar her in ways that even the most diligent owner could not help a puppy recover from.  Instead I called Kari and asked if she would help us with a shy puppy. 

To say Kari 'helped' Heidi sounds so trite and hollow.  Kari did an intense 10-day 'stay & train' at her home, which was so much less stressful than a boarding kennel.  Heidi became fast friends with Kari's Lab, Paisley, and having another dog around really helped Heidi learn to play and not be scared of other dogs.  With Kari's patience and guidance, Heidi developed coping skills so that she was confident to handle the world around her.  Kari desensitized her to scary things, helped her feel safe while she was training, and gave her so much love she didn't want to come home.
Paisley and Heidi 
In fact, after the time with Kari, she jumped in a raft and went on a white water rafting trip with Mike.  Heidi spent 10 days with Kari when she was 16 weeks old and it ultmately and profoundly changed the trajectory of her life.  Kari’s not a 'miracle worker' or a 'dog whisperer'.  But she used dog-friendly, positive, confidence building techniques to lay the majority of the foundation for Heidi to become trusting, confident, and happy.  After that, it was up to us to do the work to build that bond and trust with Heidi.  If you do that, the results will blow your mind and your puppy will thank you for the rest of her life!   Katy and Mike 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lola the Great Dane Learns to Love her Sister Again!

"I first went to Kari’s group training classes after I rescued my older Great Dane, Riley, from Big Dogs Huge Paws.  Kari immediately connected with us and her training became simple and second nature for us.  Riley has done wonderfully, and is the perfect dog.

Three years later, we rescued a younger female Dane from BDHP, and named her Lola.  About a year after Lola arrived, we started experiencing aggression and behavioral issues directed towards Riley.  I was at a loss of what to do and began to wonder if both dogs would ever be safe in our house. I decided to commit and dedicate the energy required to make our house safe for both of my girls. 

I reached out to Kari again to provide guidance as I knew we needed professional help. kari suggested in home training over the course of a few months.  She diagnosed the issues and laid out a very prescriptive and detailed plan for us to work on.  She gave us the training and support we need to provide a harmonious and safe environment for both of my girls.
Without this training, I cannot imagine what decisions I would have had to make.  Both Lola and Riley are living together peacefully again, with daily management and direction, but the stress level has diminished greatly.  We are very thankful to Kari for giving us hope, and helping us so we didnt have to re-home one of our babies."  ... Kristin

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gus, the German Shepherd gets a Sister!

About 6 years ago, I worked with a fearful German Shepherd, Gus, and his moms, Heidi and Jill. With their patience and guidance, Gus became a different dog.  He's on the Wag & Train website for his accomplishments, but they just sent me an email with an update.  I LOVE UPDATES!  AND- they got a new puppy and listened to my recommendations for introducing them.  I love it when people listen to me! :)   Heidi has been a wonderful reference for me since then, and I am happy to report, Gus is still doing fabulous. Yay! 

"Hi Kari - I just got a request for a reference from a potential client of yours and thought I should update you on Gus.  He's doing great - and I can't thank you enough for helping us help him!  We moved to Southern California about 18 months ago, and it's been a change for us all.  After all those years of only walking Gus through Englewood under the cover of darkness, he's now been able to enjoy miles and miles of walking trails here in California.  We spent the first year in a suburban neighborhood, with three horrible untrained barking tiny dogs next door to us - and it didn't phase Gus at all.  After the first day we had no issues with him and fence charging, and he pretty much ignored the terrors next door.  We were able to walk him during the day (!) with kids, and dogs everywhere with no issues. He doesn't bark at dogs as we pass their yards, and he also got to spend time at the beach near our home.  He still wasn't really ready to be friends with anyone but Elias, but he's been boarded numerous times and seems quite popular there!
Gus and his baby siter, Isa
About 6 months ago we wanted a bit more "space" so we moved out to Joshua Tree, California, where we have 5 acres of fenced in space, and both Gus and Elias loved it - living the indoor/outdoor life with a huge yard to play in and lots of area to run after balls! Unfortunately, and sadly, Elias had his third bout of cancer, and this time the lymphoma won.  We were devastated and decided that after 18 years together, it was time for Jill and I to have one dog for awhile.  That lasted about a few months, and we realized Gus was terribly bored.  We spent some time deciding how to best introduce a new dog, and what type of dog (puppy, adult, etc..) and finally gave in to Jill's ongoing adoration of Siberian Husky's and found an 8-week old female in a rescue.  
And because of what you taught us we did the introduction right.  The puppy
spent several weeks separated in the kitchen by a gate from Gus.   We
introduced them in small increments over several weeks.  Now the puppy belongs to Gus... and he's discovered how exhausting a baby can be! 
He's the most patient and wonderful dog with her - she crawls all over him, bites him, pulls at his tail, chases him, or follows him everywhere and he just wants more!  Hard to believe when a few short years ago we had a dog we had to muzzle to keep from lunging at any dog in the vet's office, and the dog I thought would go out the front door after a dog on the sidewalk.   He's become even more wonderful - loves people,
tolerates other dogs, and loves life.  He loves hiking in the desert and the mountains, walking in the city, and going camping.  He's still afraid of thunder, but otherwise he's happy, well-balanced, and just a joy to have in our lives.  And I just wanted to take another opportunity to thank you - as I tell everyone who asks about you - what you taught us in three sessions changed the life of our dog, and we couldn't be happier!  So, Gus says thank you as well - and here's a picture of him with his new baby Isa! Hope all is well with you - and thanks for everything!"  Heidi and Jill 

Monday, November 10, 2014

November Succes Story: OAKLEY

"Don’t let the cute face fool you, this boy was a hot mess when we adopted him in May of 2014. We got him from a rescue organization and knew going into it that he was a bit of a problem child, but wanted to him a chance.  When we first got Oakley, he was so awful on a leash, lunging at every dog and barking at half the people we encountered, that we didn’t even want to walk him. He also got very aggressive with people coming in the front door and couldn’t relax around strangers. When he nipped at friends and picked a fight with a dog twice his size at daycare, we were referred to Kari for help. Thank goodness! From the beginning, I appreciated that Kari has a ton of experience working with dogs like Oakley and can recognize and address the root issue – in this case, extreme anxiety. I also loved that she only uses gentle techniques and had many simple and straightforward things we could implement to start working on Oakley’s behavior. Over three months we changed a lot of simple things in Oakley’s day-to-day life like the way we feed him, the way we walk him, teaching him commands, and giving him a natural herbal supplement. This approach worked well with my personal philosophy of trying non-pharmaceutical approaches for (human or animal) behavioral issues before medicating. All of these measures have helped to build Oakley’s confidence and calm him down so he can let his sweet, goofy personality shine.  Now, just 6 months into Oakley-ownership, he relaxes and socializes happily with friends just minutes after they come over and walks like a champ on a leash. When strangers stop you in the park to tell you that your dog makes everyone else look bad, you know you’re on the right track. And now that we're expecting a baby, it's even more important to have a dog who fits in our family.  We fully understand that Oakley will probably always be a bit of an anxious scaredy cat and little crazy with people knocking on the door and coming in.  However, with dedication and Kari’s help, it’s absolutely possible to see amazing, positive changes.  Thank you, Kari!"  Kendra and Oakley 

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!