Thursday, July 30, 2020

Basic Canine Management Pointers

A reader writes
to ask what to do about separation anxiety. 

I don’t claim to be any type of dog trainer and, quite frankly, based on the quality of work done by some of those who are bit *too* eager to claim that moniker, I treat the whole profession with a bit of...  skepticism. 

I’ve also got another problem; Despite 55 years with dogs, I’ve never had a dog with separation anxiety. I'm not sure why, but.... let me offer some general guidance. Perhaps my general *lack* of problems in this area will suggest a course of treatment. 

As a general rule, you want to encourage calmness in your dog, discipline of action, and confidence in outcomes. 

A lot of folks with "dog problems" are folks who are hyping their dogs up way too much, and who think stimulating a dog into prancing excitement is evident that the dog is is "happy". 

Nope.  Getting your dog charged up and excited inside the house does NOT make you a good owner or lead to a happy dog. 

So Job One is to take the energy down

How do you do that?

Start with a leash, a crate, and a simple elevated cot of the kind sold as an "Amazon Basic". 

I recommend getting three or four 10-foot leashes, at least two crates, and at least two cots. These are not just tools for short-term dog training; they are requirements for a sensible life with a well-behaved dog.

As a general rule you need to change your response to the dog and give it far less attention.  

Practice "no look, no talk, and no touch".  

Your dog does not need to be the center of attention or to have every insecurity reinforced. 

Above all, stop fluttering. Every moment does not have to be a peak experience, and every action does not have to be dramatic and announced.  

Be boring.

Do not make a big production about either leaving the house or entering the house; just do it.

No drama, no wind-up, no rushing around to comfort or distract.

No look, not talk, no touch.  *No flutter.*

Leash your dog in the house so that it learns to rest quietly on a cot, bed, or chair.  Your dog needs to know that it is expected to stay rooted and calm in the house while you are in the house. 

Practice crating the dog for short periods of time with a towel over the front and side so that the dog cannot see out. Your dog needs to see the crate as the place where it is expected to relax and sleep while you are in the house and when you are out of the house.  This is your dog's resting couch -- where it will sleep at night, and where it will often go when you have company (and often when you don't!)  

If the dog barks or acts up on leash or in crate, reach over and gently poke it and say "NO" and then walk away.  

Along with over-stimulating their dogs, most owners also send few, if any, "NO" signals. Popping the top of  a crate or poking a dog with a single finger is not going to harm the dog, but when combined with a firm NO, it sends a simple message about what kind of behavior you want to see a little less of.  

I am a big believer in bark collars for problem barkers, especially dogs bred to bark, like terriers and shelties.  

If your dog is extremely neurotic in the beginning, consider muzzling the dog in the crate.  Not only will this prevent the dog from breaking a tooth or chewing on the crate, it also has a rather useful result in that it often seems to take the “gas” out of a dog. Less frenetic energy and acting up is the goal, and a temporary muzzle can often help.
At this point, a lot of folks with problem dogs are wringing their hands.  Oh. My. God.  You mean I have to leash my dog in the house and make him sit or lie down ALL THE TIME?

No, not all the time.  Just for hours at a crack.  

"But my dog is my BEST FRIEND," says the person with a problem dog.  

To which I can only respond with Ed Abbey's observation: "When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a big problem.”   

Yep. Ed Abbey was right -- YOU are your dog's "big problem".  

Stop it.

No talk, no look, no touch, no unearned food rewards, and far less generalized chaos is absolutely necessary if your dog is going to settle down and gain confidence.  

Gain confidence?  How do you do that?

For one, stop sending the dog all kinds of confusing cues and rewards while you are just hanging out in the house. "No talk, no look, no touch,” and no unearned food rewards, is a simple program that stops a lot of the confusing signals you have unintentionally been sending your dog.

Take your dog on structured walks, and begin teaching "down-stays" on the cot.

What's a structured walk?  It's one where the dog is on a short leash and your cell phone is OFF

I recommend walking a dog on 10-foot fixed length leash (not a retractable leash) because a carabiner can be fixed to the leash end and then clipped back on the leash after it passes over your chest and back like a bandolier.  No matter how big your dog is, or what happens, your dog is firmly attached to you and the resulting shortened leash-length is perfect for a structured walk.

When walking your dog, walk with a purpose. Do not drift around or dawdle. The dog needs to know you are focused on moving along.  Your sense of purpose will telegraph down the leash and give the dog confidence.  Do not flutter in your own mind, or that flutter will telegraph down the leash to the dog.  

Practice doing "crazy eights," changing pace, and abruptly changing direction so that the dog is forced to focus on you and your gait.  Do not talk, do not look, and do not touch the dog other than to enforce and quietly reward a sit. Practice structured walks without flutter.  You want no flapping arms, and little or no talk other than an occasional "good girl" and perhaps a pat on the head as a reward for a sit at every stop.

When you get home, crate the dog without drama, or else leash it to a solid object and relax.  Let the dog think about that walk. Again, you want  "No talk, no look, and no touch" after the walk.  Your dog does not need stimulation; he or she needs space and time to understand that a new program is in effect.

You want to teach your dog to do long down-stays on the cot.  Dog trainers calls this "place".

To teach "place," attach your calm dog to a leash and use food and leash pressure to get the dog up and standing on the cot. This can be done either indoors, or out in the yard. Use a single-word command, such as "bench". You can use a clicker to train this behavior, but it is not necessary.

Once the dog is up on the cot, walk around the dog on the cot while holding the leash, rewarding the dog with a small bit of food for staying on the cot, but fading off the food to a simple "good" verbal cue as soon as possible.

When the dog is loading on and off the cot with ease, and staying on the cot as you walk around it, move the dog to "down" on the cot and on command. You may need to hand place the dog in a down position initially, or you can lure the dog in a down position with food and leash pressure. Tell the dog to "stay" with a flat hand signal, and walk around the leashed dog on the cot as before, rewarding with a small bit of food and praise, as seems appropriate, but fading off as quickly as possible to a simple "good" cue for correct behavior.

Only reward calmness.

You are now going to do exactly what you have been doing with the short leash, but at a longer distance, and outside, using a 25-foot retractable leash.

While retractable leashes are not recommended for normal dog walking, they are a terrific replacement for the traditional "long line" used in training.

Train your dog to "bench," down-stay and "come" several times a day, for 10-15 minutes a day, using the cot and long-line retractable leash.

In the house, put the dog on a leash and practice "place" on the cot for longer and longer periods of time with you both of you on opposite sides of the same room, and but also with you out of the room.  

Do the same thing with the crate, with the dog going to "crate" on command, and with the dog crated for longer and longer periods of time (never more than 2 hours) with you in the house.

What's going on?  Simple:

  • You are no longer amping up the dog and giving it constant attention, play, and food. 
  • You are no longer sending confusing signals to the dog because you are practicing "no talk, no look, no touch" most of the time.
  • You are limiting the dog's movements for several hours a day while you are in the house using both the leash and the crate. The dog is learning that you can be across the room, in another room, or even on another floor of the house, and it's fine and you will be back..
  • You are not telegraphing or dramatizing leaving the house or returning to it.  You are not rewarding anxiety or excitement.

The dog is gaining confidence because it is both learning what behaviors are rewarded and which ones are maladaptive.

To recap:
  • Less excitement, lower energy, and no drama. 
  • More structure and more routine
  • Reward only calm, and always reward in a quite and calm manner.

A final note:  I like e-collars to both stop bad behavior and to train good behavior.  They are very useful to send a "no" signal to an asshole in a crate (it’s a tap, not a zap), and for proofing long down-stays of an hour or more.  Get a good e-collar not a cheap piece of crap from ebay; expect to  pay $250 and learn how to use it to send a very low-energy signal.  Used properly, it's the best investment you will ever make in your dog. Both E Collar Technologies and Dogtra make good and competing models, and Larry Krohn has a nice little booklet on how to use an E-CollarYou can certainly train a dog without an e-collar, same as you can put in an 8,000 square foot vegetable garden with a shovel, but if technology can save you time and result in excellent results with less confusion to the dog, why wouldn’t you do that?

If you are the owner of a problem dog and are also "all about food rewards" while recoiling at the idea of an e-collar or a crate, I have one question:  Are you are ready to change your losing game?

The simple truth is that a lot of separation anxiety is due to over-attentive owners rewarding dogs and creating chaos and hype.

Stop it.

Ok, that's my advice.  

But I'm no dog trainer.  

You want advice from a real dog trainer?  I would too. Here you go, but feel free to "use the Google" too.  There are a lot of good dog trainers out there, just stay the hell away from any dog trainer whose primary mission in life seems to be slagging other dog trainers. A successful trainer is too busy for that kind of nonsense.

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