Hot! Hot! Hot! (The Girls)

HOT,HOT,HOT! (THE GIRLS)

Whenever someone asks me about female dogs, I feel like I am jumping down a rabbit’s hole because often the answer is “it depends”.  Picking up from the last installment on intact dogs, let’s review that male dogs are known as “dogs” and female dogs are known as “bitches” and we will use those terms in this blog to indicate which gender we are talking about.  As a side note, I should mention that when I talk about a puppy, I am talking about a dog under the age of about twenty weeks.  I have had clients who talk about their “puppies” who are now 12 years old!

So what exactly is going on with bitches?  Let’s start with how reproduction works in dogs.  Humans, all primates, bats and one shrew all have a menstrual cycle.  All other mammals have an oestrus or estrus cycle; the word is spelled differently depending on where in the world you live.  We are going to spell it “estrus” because that is how we commonly see it here in Canada.  In a menstrual cycle, you can ONLY get pregnant on a few days that happen between your periods.  In an estrous cycle, dogs can ONLY get pregnant for a few days during their heat cycle.  In the simplest of explanations, in humans, be cannot get pregnant during a period, when we are producing menstrual blood, and in dogs, they can only get pregnant when they are expressing blood.  This little fact has been the result of several unplanned litters in families who are new to living with an intact bitch.  Because this is a dog blog, I am not going to go any further into the details around human reproduction than I have right here.

The dog heat cycle can be divided into four sections[1], and dogs can come into heat every 4 to 8 months, with a very few bitches only coming into heat once a year.  The first phase is proestrus.  Proestrus is the part of the heat cycle that starts when the bitch first exhibits a bloody discharge from her vagina, and continues until she is reproductively receptive.  Often male dogs will be very interested in the bitch, but she will not be interested in their attentions, and she may even be aggressive towards them.  The problem that novice owners have is that there is no visible difference between proestrus when the bitch cannot get pregnant and the next phase where she CAN get pregnant.  Add to this that in a bitch’s first heat, she may not actually discharge enough blood for you to notice that she has come into heat.  This is where you have to really know your dog’s body well, because a few other signs can be observed.  The first of these signs is a swollen vulva.

Corgi in early heat
If you have a bitch become familiar with what her vulva looks like when she is not in heat. This young bitch’s vulva is quite swollen, and you can clearly see the bloody discharge that shows that she is in proestrus.

 

So how do you get a good look at your bitch’s vulva?  Quite simply, you make examining her down there a regular part of your health check.  Check regularly from the time she comes home at 8 weeks, and from time to time, dab it with a paper towel.  When she is in heat, you will usually get some clear to red discharge on the paper towel.  At that point, the only responsible thing to do is to keep her on leash and away from the boys.  Proestrus lasts an average of 9 days but can be over in as little as 3 days or last as long as 17 days.

Proestrus is perhaps the most difficult time for dog trainers because their bitch may be super cuddly one moment and then grumpy the next, especially towards male dogs.  Sometimes, bitches in proestrus may be intolerant of other dogs altogether.  And occasionally bitches will experience some cramping.  Throughout this phase, continuing training is important.  Putting a dog up and not training her during proestrus is not going to help her to mind her manners!  Instead, it is important to patiently teach her that even though she may be extra friendly to the people or less than friendly to other dogs, or whatever variation of hormonal changes she may go through, it is important to keep learning and practicing all that she has already mastered.

When you come to class, please dress your girls in panties with a panty liner, but do come to class.  For the gentlemen in the audience, you should know that pantyliners have an adhesive strip on the backside to stick to the panty.  You remove the backing off the pantyliner and stick it to the panty, put the panties on your bitch, and you are good to go.  Change the panty liner at least once a day or when it looks full if she has a heavy discharge.  Dogs don’t usually have as significant a discharge as humans do though so you don’t usually have to change the pantyliners multiple times per day.  When she is outside, or in her crate she doesn’t need to wear her panties, but when she is loose in the house or at class, she does.  Make sure you take her panties off so that she can urinate and defecate.  We suggest crating bitches in heat overnight so that they can groom themselves, but other than wearing panties there is nothing you really need to do to keep your house from getting covered in drips of blood.  It helps to teach your young dogs to wear panties early, when they are quite young.  You can buy dog panties at most pet stores, but many people just use a pair of boy’s underwear and pull the tail through the pocket.  You will need to use her panties through proestrus and estrus.

evie day 7
This is day 7 of a young Labrador Retriever’s heat. Notice that she does not have as much discharge as the corgi did. This bitch may have been wearing a pad, or she may just self groom more often. Compare this image to that below from later in her heat.

Next up is estrus, which is commonly known as standing heat.  Estrus is the phase of the cycle where your bitch can get pregnant and can last between 3 and 21 days, although again, the average is about 9 days.  During this phase, you may notice less discharge, and many bitches appear to have no discharge at all, or it may be clear; just because you don’t see discharge, don’t assume she is no longer in heat.  This is exactly when she is most likely to be fertile if she is bred.  Other signs include losing hair on her belly, and her nipples may get enlarged, but just like in humans, everyone is an individual and each dog’s hormones are going to impact her a little differently than every other bitch.  The biggest tell that you will have that your bitch is in the estrus phase is that she will start to flirt with the boys; turning her back on them and flagging her tail.  She may mark even though she doesn’t normally.  And she will be receptive to male dogs who want to breed her.  When she is super receptive like this, it is essential that you keep her away from any males who could breed her, and continue to train and set good boundaries.  Be aware that a fence is not a good enough boundary between a bitch in heat and an intact male; more than one litter has been conceived through a chain link fence!

evie day21
Here is the vulva from the same Labrador on day 21. It is important to become familiar with what is normal in your bitch so that you can tell what the changes look like.

During estrus we particularly want the girls in class.  We don’t recommend that you do off leash recalls through milling dogs; that is a recipe for either an unplanned litter or a dog fight between two interested males, however, we do want your girls in heat in class.  Use your leash, make sure that the instructor knows that your bitch is in season, put pants on your girl, and come train.  It is best to ask to not be placed right beside an intact male, but other than these simple guidelines, training really isn’t any different when your bitch is in heat and when she is not.  If you are careful and keep track of your bitch, and she is not covered (one of the technical terms for being bred) by an intact male, she should not get pregnant.  If however you suspect she may have been impregnated by an intact male, call your vet right away for advice.  They may advise you to have her spayed to ensure that there are no unwanted puppies.  Keep in mind that you have to actually accompany your bitch outside when she goes to the toilet EVEN if you have a fenced yard.  Many intact bitches have jumped the fence, or had an intact male come over the fence to breed.  If you don’t have a fenced yard, take your girl out to toilet on leash, 100% of the time.  Together proestrus and estrus lasts about 21 days from the first day of discharge, so this is a three week commitment, however, it is worth it if it prevents your dog from getting pregnant.

Following estrus, the bitch will go through diestrus.  This starts the first day that a bitch would refuse a male because she is not longer fertile, and continues for 58 to 63 days if your bitch gets pregnant, and ends when the bitch welps, or 60 to 90 days if she is not pregnant.

Some bitches will go through a pseudopregnancy (the veterinary term for a false pregnancy) even if they have not been bred.  If this happens, your bitch will look and behave like she is pregnant[2].  She may begin lactating, nesting and she can even become aggressive as though she is guarding a litter.  Pseudopregnancy is caused by a hormonal imbalance, however it is a relatively normal situation and will usually clear up without any medical help at all.  If you think your bitch is experiencing a pseudopregnancy, but you are not sure, call your vet!  Once you know, you can usually carry on with her as normal, unless she is really unsettled in which case keeping her home for a week or so should give her body a chance to settle down.  If you are in doubt, call your vet for their medical opinion.

43522882_10102589573342269_1501414468104486912_n
This bitch is in heat and wearing panties.  If you are going to bring your bitch in heat to class, she will need to wear panties with a liner in them.  You can get these at most pet stores and they have a hole in place to accommodate her tail.  You can use these to allow your girl to have access to your house, but you need to take them off for her to clean herself and to go out to toilet.

 

Diestrus is also the time when pyometra is most likely to occur.[3]  Pyometra is an infection of the uterus, and it can be fatal.  If you have an intact bitch, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on her health on a daily basis, and this is yet another instance where being familiar with your bitch’s vulva can stand you in good stead.  If your bitch is lethargic, stressed and panting, or if there is an abnormal discharge of her vulva, or if she is drinking or peeing excessively, call your vet.  In fact when it comes to your dog’s health, any time you notice something out of the ordinary, call your vet!  This is so important that we wrote a blog about it called “Who’re ya gonna call?” and you can read that at https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/06/26/whore-ya-gonna-call/ .  Calling when nothing is wrong is not a big deal, but not calling if your bitch has pyometra could cost her her life.  If you have an intact bitch, it is very worthwhile to have a careful discussion with your vet about what the signs and symptoms of pyometra are so that you can be prepared in case of emergency.

The final phase of a bitch’s cycle is anestrus and this is the period between the end of diestrus and the beginning of proestrus.  During this time, your intact bitch will behave pretty much the same way that a spayed bitch would.  She cannot get pregnant and she should be fairly even keeled in terms of her behaviour.  This is the time when you would normally spay a bitch if you are going to do that.  With the whole production of proestrus, estrus and diestrus and all the things that happen during those times, you might be asking yourself why anyone would want to live with an intact bitch at all, so here you go; I will attempt to answer that question!

To begin with, if you have a bitch who is a spectacular example of her breed, or if she is particularly talented at a sport or some specific work, then you may wish to breed her with a specific goal of producing another dog as good as or better than she is.  This is by far the most common reason to keep a bitch intact.  Be aware though that doing a great job as a breeder is a huge responsibility, and it may cost more than you will make off a litter.  If you are very lucky, you will only lose the cost of two or three pups in your first litter (there are a lot of costs associated with breeding a litter of puppies; consider that a good friend of mine just took a week off work to drive her bitch to the stud every day for a week, and in the end the bitch did not get pregnant; can you afford to lose a week’s wages and pay gas to drive your dog out to a date every day for a week?).  More likely you will be many thousands of dollars in the hole at the end of the day and you may not produce the puppy you were looking for.

More and more research is showing that bitches may benefit from going through one or more heat cycles before they are spayed.  There are indications that bitches who are left intact are less likely to suffer from aggression and anxiety, and they may have fewer orthopedic issues.  Notice though that I am using a lot of “may” and “less likely” and “could” statements.  We don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, so each case should be carefully considered with your veterinarian, taking into account your dog’s close relatives, disease risk in your breed, confidence in your breed, aggression in your breed along with as much current research as you can find.  See the resources section below for links to studies and research.  Be aware too that a blog like this is based on my opinion and experience; it is no substitute for the years your vet spent in school, or the newest research that is out there, so when you are choosing when to spay your bitch, you are going to have to do some digging to decide what is best for your dog.

14036441 - little dogs in the park
This is not what to do with your bitch in heat. The off leash dog park is not the place to bring her, even if she is on leash. If she is in heat, and there is an intact male there, you will almost certainly have a litter to contend with.

I would be greatly remiss if I did not share the cons to having an intact bitch.  We know for certain that every heat cycle that your bitch goes through increases her chances for mammary cancer.  If this is not a huge concern for the close relatives in your bitch’s pedigree, then you may not need to worry about it.  But if your bitch has a close relative who had breast cancer, you may want to spay sooner rather than later.  If you live in a household full of young people who are going to forget to put your dog on a leash to go out when she is in heat, or if you have intact males in the house, you may want to spay before you have to deal with an “oopps litter”.  Each situation has to be considered on its own merit.

Of course, you cannot let your bitch in heat interact with any intact males.  If you regularly walk in an area where she might encounter an intact male, including in your neighbourhood or at the dog park, you are going to have to keep her away from there.  You absolutely cannot run her off leash!  Be aware too that if you run her in wilderness areas off leash, coyotes and wolves absolutely CAN impregnate a domestic dog, so that must not happen.  Don’t assume that you can stop an intact male from breeding your bitch just because you have her on leash; many males will become very aggressive if you try and stop them from breeding, and if the male is not being handled on leash, you really don’t have much of a chance of stopping him.  Finally, if you have an intact male in your home, don’t be surprised if he goes off his food while she is in heat, or begins howling, or even tries to dig through a door to get to her.  It is often easier to board your intact males with a friend while your bitch is in heat.  It is not entirely uncommon for small time breeders to board one another’s boys while the girls are receptive.

The bottom line is that if you have a young bitch and she is in classes with us at Dogs in the Park, you don’t have to stop coming to class just because your young girl has gone into heat.  Small breed bitches can come into heat as early as 20 weeks (but just to be safe, consider that this could happen even earlier!), and giant breed bitches may not come into heat until they are 18 to 24 months of age or older.  You may be thinking “but that is right in the middle of when we recommend that dogs are actively in training” and you would be right.  We know that bitches will come into heat unexpectedly the first time and we don’t want you to stop training just because this normal event has occurred.  Note when the first day of bloody discharge has occurred, and count 21 days past that and you can keep your girl in training classes by being sensible and take care not to let her get pregnant!

 

 

[1] http://www.thedogplace.org/reproduction/estrous-cycle_freshman.asp

 

[2] https://www.thelabradorsite.com/false-pregnancy-in-dogs/

 

[3] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pyometra-in-dogs

s

Hot! Hot! Hot! (The Girls)

KIDS AND DOGS

Originally posted July 2013, updated and edited

When I was about twelve, I wanted to teach the family dog some tricks.  The process of connecting with an animal and imparting information fascinated me as much then as it does now.  We had a dog in our family named Thurber, and she was my constant companion, and I wanted to do more.  My aunt had a titled Golden Retriever, and I was mesmerized by the work they did together.  I asked my aunt how she trained her dog and she suggested that I use a chain collar to tell the dog when not to do something and a piece of food to tell the dog when she had done something right.  That was all the coaching I ever remember getting, but it made a big impact on me.  I taught that dog many tricks; most of them involving jumping over or climbing onto things.

As an obedience instructor today, I have a lot of parents asking him about getting their children involved with dog training.  Indeed, dog training and children can go hand in hand, but it is the unusual and rare child who is as interested in it as I was.  Most kids are looking for some early successes and don’t persevere through the early stages where the dog doesn’t know what is happening and neither does the child.  This can be even more difficult when the child and the dog are in a classroom full of adults and other dogs.  The pressure to succeed can often result in frustration for the parents, the kids and the dog.

Little girl playing with dog at home
This girl and her dog are probably just “fooling around” with some treats and tricks. In order to achieve this kind of relationship, the dog has to have great manners, and understand the training process, as does the child. With some careful set up and planning we can make this happen. Once the dog and the child both have some basics, this is what happens; the kid and the dog start to play with training. That is really how I achieved the magic I had with my dog Thurber when I was a kid.

How can we make this more successful for the kids?  For a while we ran a family class which was a levels class just for families and their kids.  Sadly, not enough families could come out to make this worth carrying on with.  We would go along nicely with four or five families in class for eight or twelve weeks and then it would dwindle and get taken over by families who wanted their dogs to meet and like children but who weren’t bringing children to class.  Certainly there are schools who run classes specifically for children but there aren’t too many of them.

As an animal trainer who also works with horses, I think we can learn something from what we do in the horse world.  It is accepted that it is not a good idea for an untrained, inexperienced young rider to be mounted on an untrained, inexperienced young horse.  Instead, we prize those rare ponies who are well suited to teaching youngsters to be confident around and on horses.  We start the kids in lessons where the pony knows what to do and the kids can learn from a horse who already knows the work.  When the kids are proficient on a well schooled calm and older pony, we give them a more challenging mount or more difficult work on the same horse.  When they master that, we give them a bigger horse, and bigger challenges.  By the time a child is about twelve, he can if he has been taught carefully and properly begin schooling younger horses and by the time a child is about fourteen he can begin to teach young horses to be ridden.

15340398 - very young girl riding on pony
This child is being set up for a successful riding experience by pairing her with a safe pony and supervision (she is on a long line to help her to successfully control the pony).  She is wearing the appropriate safety equipment.  The pony is the right size for her and he is calm and well behaved.  We aren’t asking her to control a large unruly and untrained horse.  Ideally, this is what we would do when we pair a child with a dog in an obedience class!  Image credit: davetroesh / 123RF Stock Photo

This is how I recommend that we help youngsters to work with our family dogs.  When mom or dad starts the training, and teaches the dog the skills and then helps the child to master the skill with the dog who already knows what to do, then the dog and the child can develop skills together.  When the child has mastered the basics, then moving forward to more complex and interesting work makes for a more successful experience for both the dog and the child.

In practice what that means in our classes is coming to class and learning to click and treat effectively.  Then take the skill of clicking and treating home to your kids and help them to master that part.  Even very young children can be successful with you clicking and they treating.  By working WITH your kids where you click and they treat does a lot of things.  It teaches the dog that the click predicts the treat.  It helps with your timing.  It involves the children with you and the dog in an activity.  Later you can change roles and let your kids click while you treat.

When you have mastered clicking to mark the behaviour you want, you can teach your dog to do a lot of different things; sit, down and come when called are really easy and useful behaviours to teach your dog so that your kids can participate in training.  When your dog will sit when you say “sit” and you can click when sit happens, you can integrate into your training.  You can start out by demonstrating the behaviour with your dog to your children.  Once your child understands the activities that you want your dog to do, then you can play a variety of games with the behaviours your dog knows.  Get your child to say “sit” when your dog sits, you click and your child can give the treat.  This teaches your dog to follow directions from your child (very important!) and you mark when both the kid and the dog get the right answer.  When your dog is following the direction from your child, you can start giving your child the clicker and you cue the behaviour for the dog.  This gives you a chance to coach the timing of the click so that your child clicks at the right moment.  When your child has had a chance at the cueing, the clicking and the treating separately, then they can start working on all three at once.  I like getting kids to do five of the same behaviour in a row, before we start working on second and third behaviours.

Once the kids get the hang of the process with behaviours that the dog knows, then I like playing a game of call and response; I tell the kid what behaviours to use, and they ask for the behaviour from the dog and click and treat.  When the dog and child are successful with five or six different behaviours in a row, then the kids are ready to start teaching new behaviours.  The dog should by this time understand ten or twelve behaviours, so the dog understands the process of learning.  It is really important that the kids understand that they are marking the right answer for the dog before they start trying to shape new behaviours with the dog.

I have a dozen or so throw away behaviours that I use to help people to learn to shape.  Throw away behaviours are behaviours that don’t really matter a lot to me; tricks are throw aways, and if the dog doesn’t learn them exactly right it is not a big deal.  Throw away behaviours are not the sorts of behaviours that the dog’s life depends upon, like come when called or lie down and stay.  Lying down with your head on your paws is a great throw away behaviour for kids to play with.  The child cues the dog to lie down, and then instead of clicking we just give the dog a treat; the click ends the behaviour, and we want the dog to stay lying down.  Then your child can wait till your dog drops his head towards his paws, and click at that moment and then treat.  If your child is sitting in front of your dog while he is lying down, then your dog will likely keep lying down.  Help your child to offer the treat low between the dog’s feet to help your dog to continue lying down, and if he gets up, then help your child to recue your dog to lie down and then help your kid to continue to click only when your dog drops his head down to his paws.

Notice here that the parent needs to spend a lot of time training, supporting and coaching in order to make this successful for both the dog and the child.  Training, supporting, and coaching set up your dog and your child to be successful and start to work independently.  You cannot do this for either your dog or your child, but without input they are likely going to flounder especially in a busy classroom.  Once your child has trained a few throw away behaviours or tricks with coaching, then it is time for the parent to step back, and supervise but not do it for the team.  These first steps of training independently need to be successful to keep both your child and your dog engaged.  It is also important to recognize that there is no imperative to work for a whole hour in a class-if your child and your dog are comfortable working for ten minutes and then they need a break, then let them take a break; it is not worthwhile to keep them working when they are no longer interested.

84358253 - little girl training a corgi dog at the park
This is the sort of trick that little girls teach their dogs to do.  The dog has to learn somethings first; lie down and stay for instance.  If we help the dog to learn the behaviour and then teach the kids how to get the dogs to do what they know then the dog and the kids can both have a great experience!

Small successful steps lead to a long lasting bond between your dog and your child, but you also have to put the training in context.  This is true for adults in training classes too; “what is the point?” is always an important question to answer.  If you have been working on sit with your dog and your child, then make sure that you use that behaviour with your dog and your child in the context of their day to day activities.  You could for instance start getting your dog to sit before your child puts the dog’s breakfast down.  Or you could get your dog to sit before your child throws a ball or a Frisbee for your dog.  It is really important to make training relevant to both your dog and your child.

Often when parents ask if we include kids in class, they forget that we are dealing with three learners in class; the adult, the dog and the child.  Few training classes are really geared to meet the needs of a child learner, and dropping a child into an adult class is not fun for the child, the instructor or the dog.  We cannot expect the child to learn in the way that adults do, and when we pair the child up with a dog who doesn’t understand the work either, then the adult, the child and the dog go away frustrated.   It is better to teach your dog the behaviours you want him to learn and then repeat those behaviours in class with your kids.  You can step in if you need, but generally, if the dog knows the behaviour the kid can retrain that easily and successfully.

When parents work with the school and take the dog through the work before they take the child through the work with the dog who already knows what to do, this makes it much easier for everyone.  Communication between you and the instructor about your goals in bringing your dog and your child to class can really go a long way to being successful too.  As an instructor, I want to know about your training goals and be a part of your successes.  From time to time a child appears in my classes with their parents and the parent steps back too early, and the whole experiment falls apart.  Not only is the child turned off one of the most magical activities that I was blessed to experience in my childhood, but the adult and the dog are frustrated too!

And what about the child who takes a class and is successful?  When the child and the dog move through the world together and they come up with an idea together, they can explore that with a common understanding of how to communicate about what they each need.  Then the child gets what I got as a child.  A magic relationship with another being.  That is what I wish every child could get when they come through my classroom.

KIDS AND DOGS

HOT, HOT, HOT! (THE BOYS)

77766871 - studio shot of an adorable weimaraner lying on white background.
Handsome is as handsome does, and if you are going to keep your dogs intact, you have a responsibility to train and contain them so that they cannot breed indiscriminately.

Intact dogs and bitches have become a hot topic around Dogs in the Park lately.  An awful lot of the young ladies seem to have come into season all at once this past summer, and we are getting a whole lot of questions!  A few weeks ago, one of our regulars came into class and I could see that she was most likely in heat.  I pointed this out to the human learner, and she looked disappointed, and said “we are so close to Level 3.  I guess we will have to pass it when we get back.”  “Back from where?” I asked.  The human thought that we would not want her young bitch in class because she was in heat!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As most of our “new to living with an intact dog” students do, this family had a lot of questions, and this has prompted me to write about living with, training and coping with an intact animal.

Let’s start with the boys, because in many ways, the boys are a more straightforward situation.  The correct term for a male dog is a dog, just like the correct term for an intact female dog is bitch.  If you read dog in this blog you know we are talking about a male dog and if you read bitch, we are talking about a female dog.  If a dog is neutered, altered or “fixed”, that means that a veterinarian has surgically removed the testicles.  Even in a late neuter, they don’t remove the scrotum; they just remove the testicles.  If he is intact, that means that the dog still has his testicles. 

A very few male dogs have had vasectomies.  Usually there is a reason for the owner of the dog to choose to have a vasectomy.  I had a dog that we chose to have this done for.  He was a huge military lines German Shepherd dog named Eco, and he had one testicle retained inside his body.  This happens from time to time, but due to the work we wanted him to do, we wanted to make sure that he would be as physically strong as possible, and to develop as normal a skeleton as he could, so we didn’t want to neuter him.  Also, we had read that intact male dogs have a better sense of smell (the jury is out on this fact; we are not sure if this is true or not, but there is enough evidence pointing to this that we decided we wanted to keep the remaining testicle).  Due to the fact that Eco had retained one testicle and we knew that is a strongly heritable trait, we didn’t want him to be bred, so we opted to ask our veterinarian to do a vasectomy.  For us this was a very good choice, but it did mean that although he could not sire puppies, he behaved in every other way as an intact male would.

Intact males are able to breed, and they will be much more interested in the girls when they are in heat than are neutered males, but in general, living with a well trained intact male is no different than living with a well trained neutered male.  Notice that I have qualified this with well trained.  D’fer was my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and he was trained to do work as my service dog.  He was also intact.  As is true with almost all Chessies, he was an intense, passionate guy, with an opinion on nearly everything.  We were well matched in that regard!  I have about 5 foundation behaviours that I feel are essential to success for dogs who live with me.  The first of these is the cued take it.  As I like to say, the dog controls the dog!  You can read more about my thoughts on this at https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/11/12/the-dog-controls-the-dog/ .  Other behaviours include the one hour down stay and automatically sitting at the door.  The cued take it is important for intact dogs because that is what they must do when they meet a reproductively available member of the opposite sex, and that was the behaviour that mattered the most the very first time that D’fer met a female dog in heat. 

I remember that we were at a tracking seminar, and another participant had brought a dog with her that she intended to have bred by a dog she was going to meet on her way home.  This is not an unusual situation in the professional dog world; when we have a promising bitch, we may take her to meet a complimentary dog when she is in heat.  She was behind a gate in the owner’s trailer, and as we walked by, D’fer suddenly stopped as though he had walked into a brick wall.  He could obviously smell that she was in heat, and he was VERY interested!  Because we had done the foundation work necessary to create the level of cued take it that I want, he did not pull or strain towards her; he stepped back and waited politely, until I told him not this time and we moved on.  The owner of the bitch in heat was much relieved, as she really did not need a litter of Basset Hound Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies!

44224869 - basset hound profile. the basset hound is on the grass in the park.
When D’fer, my service dog met a basset hound in heat, he asked very nicely if I would let him meet her. This is an essential skill if you are going to keep your dogs intact.

There is a myth out there that if you have an intact male, he is going to be absolutely uncontrollable when he meets a female dog in heat.  While this may be true in the case of an untrained dog who has been encouraged to misbehave and grab whatever he wants, this is completely untrue for a well trained dog.  I feel that if you have an intact male, you have a responsibility to your dog and to the rest of society to make sure that your boy is well mannered and well trained so that he does not wander or impregnate dogs he should not.  This means investing time in the first 8 to 10 months teaching your dog that grabbing whatever he wants is not acceptable, and that he must come when called regardless of what is going on around him.

Another common myth about intact males is that they are all aggressive, and that they will fight any other male dog that they meet.  This just isn’t true!  Intermale aggression may happen, but it is far from the universal phenomenon that people often assume that it is.  I remember more than once having people explain to me that of course service dogs could not be intact because they would get into fights.  I was always amused when I asked them to look more closely at my dog and have them discover that they had been sitting right beside an intact male!  If you have ever seen a group of beach dogs in the Caribbean, or on a dump in a third world country, then you observed first hand that intact males can and DO co-exist peacefully.  The deal is pretty simple.  In the wild, males are not crowded into situations where they are going to argue a whole lot; and when conflict does arise, aggression is not usually the first choice in resolution.  Aggression is only the best choice for an individual when that individual is fairly sure that he will win.  This means that the male who is weaker, slower or less certain is most likely going to choose to retreat or otherwise acquiesce.  The stronger, faster or more confident dog doesn’t feel the need to assert himself, and thus, he doesn’t pick unnecessary fights.  Fights are really only a good idea when the outcome is uncertain; when both members of the conflict are pretty equally matched.  This is not to say that aggression between males in the wild never happens;  it means that aggression is relatively rare.  So why is it that people think that intermale aggression is so common?

There are likely a number of answers to this.  In the wild, we don’t prevent the little squabbles from happening and those little squabbles help the individuals to understand which dog is stronger and which dog doesn’t have a chance of winning a fight.  Wild dogs have more choices to retreat too.  And in the wild the intact males usually live in groups where the social structure is relatively stable with few individuals moving in or out at once.  Compare this to the situation of your average pet dog!  If he protests to another dog that he doesn’t like being that close, he will likely be chastised by a well meaning person.  This means that the dog never gets to explain to the other dog what he does or does not like.  I am not suggesting that permitting your dogs to squabble incessantly is a good idea, but they do need to be able to communicate their preferences!  Next, our homes are set up to store our books, computers and clothing; they are not set up to allow dogs to retreat from one another easily.  When I did home visits, one of the things I always looked at was if the dogs had a reasonable second way to retreat from conflict.  Rarely did I find this already in existence!  Next we often ask our dogs to accept a huge number of new dogs into their environment; we ask them to get along with every dog at the dog park, and then tolerate guest dogs to the home, not to mention all sorts of new people who have differing ideas about what acceptable behaviour might be.  If you add into the mix the sexual tension of two males who are of similar strength, speed and agility and breeding females, fights will happen.  Nevertheless, many intact dogs can and do learn to live peacefully together.  I just would not suggest taking them out to the dog park and hoping for the best.

54385691 - unfortunate acquaintance of two dogs - the good and the evil
Squabbles can actually decrease the chance of aggression. This doesn’t mean we should encourage dogs to squabble, however, interrupting every single disagreement can actually lead to the less confident, weaker or slower dog to try taking on a dog who would win a fight.

Neutering will not usually resolve aggressive behaviours in dogs, however there are exceptions to this.  If you have two intact males, and they are starting to get scrappy, neutering ONE of them may help.  The key is which one?  This is an it depends sort of question and you should work with a behaviour professional to decide which dog should be neutered.  Neutering both dogs likely won’t solve your problem.  If you have a particularly social and studly adolescent dog, he may be the target of aggression from other dogs who are intolerant of his shenanigans, and some of the time, neutering may resolve this.  The only two behavioural benefits that have been concretely demonstrated have been marking and neutering, and in both cases, the studies did not control for the effect of training.  In my experience of living with a handful of intact males, and having trained several dozen more, I would suggest that training can overcome many of the issues that are often attributed to being intact.

So how do you live successfully with an intact male?  Here are my top six suggestions.

1.        START TRAINING EARLY

I want my intact males in training to learn to toilet on cue (avoiding the marking issue entirely if you make sure they understand how to completely empty their bladders and make all walks contingent on producing urine quickly and completely), to ask politely for every thing they want (cued take its), to come when called (even in the face of heavy distractions) and to lie down and stay for up to an hour at a time when asked.

 

2.       GET SERIOUS ABOUT SOCIALIZATION

We talk about S.E.E.ing your puppy at Dogs in the Park.  This acronym stands for systematic environmental enrichment and what it means is making sure your intact male dog has seen literally hundreds of other people, dogs, animals, floors, vehicles, and experiences, and furthermore that these exposures have all been done sub threshold.  This means having your dog relaxed at all times when exposing him to all these things.  I find that it is easiest to do this with the help of an organized puppy class, however, this is not always possible.  When it isn’t, make sure that you have a plan for how you are going to expose your pup to everything.

 

3.       TEACH YOUR MALE DOG THAT LEARNING AND WORK HAPPENS EVEN IN THE PRESENCE OF A BITCH IN HEAT

This is where group classes that include intact bitches are invaluable.  If you cannot find a class that includes bitches and even bitches in heat, get yourself into the confirmation world; half the dogs at every dog show are female and many of them will be in heat.  Teach your boys that they still have to perform even if there is a particularly attractive girl around.

 

4.       KEEP YOUR DOG WELL EXERCISED

If your male dog is under exercised he is going to have ants in his pants and be unable to exercise his best self control.  Properly exercised means opportunities to run and run hard, on a daily basis for a young dog (use your judgement; pups under six months should not be forced to exercise the way that an adult dog will), as well as opportunities to engage with you in directed aerobic activities.  Fetch is good, however, it can become an activity that will excite your dog and create stress.  Better are activities such as agility, treibball, herding, or tracking.  All these activities teach your dog to engage with you while he is excited.

 

5.       INCORPORATE SELF CONTROL AS A DAILY ROUTINE INSTEAD OF AS A CUED BEHAVIOUR

Too often I see male dogs who think that they can have anything they want if they are just fast enough about taking it.  I want my boys to think that they can have anything they want if only they ask.  I have written about this extensively all through this blog; if the door opens, I want my dogs to go about their day without rushing the doors.  This often surprises guests because they have to invite my dogs to go outside.  My dogs also have to be invited to start dinner, to get on furniture and to get in the car.  Self control is just part of polite manners in our house.  On the other hand, our dogs have a huge toy basket of freebies; things they can take any time they want.

 

6.       BE SENSIBLE ABOUT WHAT YOU ASK OF YOUR MALE DOGS

The last time I shared a hotel room with someone for a dogshow, she had an intact bitch.  Her bitch was not in season, so I was not worried about my intact male.  Nevertheless, he slept in a crate that night.  If she had wanted to share a room and bring her intact male, I would have declined to share a room.  I don’t ask my boys to accept every dog I know in our home, I don’t take my intact males to the dog park and when I have a bitch in heat in class with my intact males, I don’t ask them to work at distance off leash unless I am really certain that both I and the handler of the bitch have perfect control over our dogs.  When I have intact males in my classroom, I am careful about when I ask them to work beside a bitch in heat; I certainly don’t ask them to do this when they are relatively new to training.  Setting my boys up for success is a huge responsibility, and it is what I spend most of my time doing.

 

As a final word about keeping an intact male, if your dog impregnates an intact bitch, keep in mind that you are responsible for half the costs and work of the litter.  If you are going to keep an intact male, it is your job to make sure he is well enough trained and contained to ensure that an unplanned pregnancy is unlikely. 

Coming up next…the girls!  Please be patient; this blog was delayed by an injury to my thumb which meant that all my typing has been of the hunt and peck variety for the past three weeks!  I am still pretty slow on the keyboard, but I am doing my best!

HOT, HOT, HOT! (THE BOYS)

THE SALVADORE DALI CAFE

Originally Published August 2013

Imagine what it might be like to live in a completely behaviourally random world.  You go to the cafe and order a latte, and the cashier asks for your hat and coat.  As a cooperative citizen, you give it to the lady who throws it in the trash, as she calls out “NEXT” and turns her attention to the person behind you in line.  You move down the counter to pick up your latte, and the barrista, comes out from behind the counter and grabs you and begins to waltz you around the Salvador Dali cafe and throws open the door and turfs you out onto the sidewalk.  On the sidewalk, a bear in a business suit offers you a Rolex, cheap from inside his waistcoat and when you say no, he pulls out some flowers and hands them to you and approaches someone else on the street.  Still wanting a latte you go back into the store, only to find that it is now filled with pink balloons and you cannot make your way to the counter.  After much struggling, you catch the eye of the cashier and mention your latte and she says “no latte today, m’dear, only champers and cheese” and hands you a plate of candied almonds.  Nothing you do can change the maelstrom of activity you have found yourself within.  How would you feel?

6003347 - checkerboard time composition
Living in our world as it is depends on understanding things like the rules of the game, that gravity controls what floats and what doesn’t and who people are.  When things stop being predictable, then it becomes very difficult to learn what to do.  Salvador Dali had a talent for showing this concept visually in a playful and interesting way, never the less, few people would want to play checkers on a board where the pieces persist in falling through the board and where time expands and contracts independently of what the players do.   Image credit: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo

When we work with dogs, they are forever looking for the way through the maze; the way to control their environment, the rules of the game.  There are lots of games you can play and learn the rules through experience, and training is one of them.  Yesterday, I worked with a lovely young terrier who is trying to figure out the rules.  When she barks, she wants attention, and as a youngster, it worked well.  She can make her person do all sorts of things by barking.  Not wanting to disturb people, her person will come in to her and pick her up, or give her treats or tell her to be quiet or point a finger at her or tell her to lie down.  Like trying to order a latte in the Salvadore Dali cafe, everything changes at every step of the game.  So how can we make training an experiential fun game for the dog?

Think about games and activities that you have learned through experience.  If someone invites you to play Scrabble and you have never played before, it might run like this.  Your opponent will give you a hint or a clue or a starting point.  Perhaps they will start by giving you a tile tray and some tiles and ask you to make some words in your tile tray without showing the words that you have found.  Then your opponent will put down some tiles and the board and explain how the scoring works.  Then it is your turn and you can take your letters and place them on the board to make a word that intersects the first word.  You do this and your opponent scores your word for you and then it is his turn again.  He makes a word that intersects a word on the board and you work out the scoring together.  Turn by turn you learn the rules of the game, what strategies work and which strategies are ineffective.  This is exactly how dogs learn when we train using operant conditioning.

Coming back to my terrier friend (she really is a friendly dog who is just trying to make sense of her world), what we set up for training was a contingency that allowed her to learn some rules through experience.  The first thing we did was use a tether to limit where she could go; we set up a playing area so to speak.  Then we clicked and treated to remind her that the game was starting and give her some information about the game and how it would work.  Then we used four basic rules; if she was quiet, her person would stand close to her and wait.  If she was barking, her person would take one step back for each bark, until he got to the far end of the room.  After barking started, if she were quiet, her person would come back one step at a time.  If she lay down, her person would click and treat.  At first, she didn’t know the rules so she did a lot of different things to see what would happen.

When she barked, her person would step back.  This frustrated her and so she barked louder.  When her person was about twenty steps back, she stopped barking and he stepped forward.  Then she barked again and he stepped back.  For about five minutes, she learned how her behaviour affected the behaviour of her partner.  Then abruptly, she lay down.  Her partner came in and fed her a treat.  And she barked.  He backed up.  She stopped barking and stood up.  He stepped closer.  She lay down, he gave her a treat.  A very simple, but very predictable game, in which she controlled the behaviour of her partner.

This is how I think the best training works.  The trainer decides on the game for the day.  The trainer decides on what the contingencies are.  Then the trainer allows the dog to work out the contingencies.  The dog gets to decide if he wants to play or not and if the trainer has done his job well he has set up rules that make sense to the dog and the dog wants to play.  In order to do this we have to understand some things about the game and about the dog we are working with.

If I have a dog who LOVES liver, but doesn’t love cheese, then it doesn’t matter what I want the dog to do, cheese is not going to help him to learn the rules of the game.  Likewise if the penalty is something the dog doesn’t care about, then using that as a penalty isn’t going to work.  If in the scenario that I presented above the dog was afraid of the handler and barking made him go away, the dog would learn that barking resulted in something he wanted and he would do more barking.  I see this all the time in training.  The person thinks that their dog should like something, and they offer it as a reward, and the dog when working out the rules figures out that he will get something he doesn’t want to have if he does a particular behaviour.  This isn’t about the dog not wanting to play your game; this is about the dog not wanting what you have to offer.

Sometimes the task we are asking the dog to do is of no interest to him.  If we ask a herding dog to go sit in a boat and retrieve ducks, no amount of liver is going to make that as fun for him as taking him out to herd sheep.  In the best training the activities we do with our dogs are of interest to the dog.  That said, there are always parts of the game that we might not enjoy; I hate setting up the board in Scrabble, but if I don’t do that part, I cannot do the part that I like doing.  Manners are an example of activities that your dog must do in order to get to do things he likes better.  Behaviours like greeting with four on the floor, taking treats gently, and keeping quiet are all behaviours that the dog must learn in order to be able to do things like playing agility, herding sheep or retrieving ducks.  Teaching good manners allows us to do more fun things with our dogs later and also allows us to establish that the dog doesn’t live in a random world where nothing he does affects the world he lives within.

Luring is a tool that I often see in the training game that can be quickly and dangerously misused.  Imagine if in my Salvador Dali coffee shop, the cashier kept holding out that latte that I wanted, but I could only get it by following her around.  I might tolerate a lot of Rolex selling bears and pink balloons to get my lattte, but I probably wouldn’t enjoy the experience a whole lot more.  Luring should be only used with caution and with respect for the dog.  When a novice trainer discovers that he can make the dog sit by holding the lure over the dog’s head, it is a short and dangerous step to using the lure to get the dog to do things he might consider otherwise risky.  Consider the dog who is not confident about getting onto a piece of agility equipment.  The trainer puts the lure on the equipment, and the dog is then in a conundrum; he can get the treat, but he isn’t learning to control his environment any longer.  He is conflicted because he wants the treat, but he has to do something that he considers dangerous to get that treat.  He doesn’t learn to play the game as much as he learns to balance the conflict between what he wants and what he doesn’t want to do.  Luring is even more dangerous when it is used to get the dog to interact with people or dogs he isn’t sure of, because he may at that point become aggressive.  Luring, properly used tells the dog how to position his body, but that is all it should be used for.  If the dog is concerned in any way about what you want him to do, pairing the thing he is concerned about to the thing he wants is a much safer bet than making his interaction the contingency that results in a treat.

26398277 - owner training puppy dog with treat
Luring is a tool that can lead the dog into the Salvador Dali Cafe.  It is best used to help the dog understand how his body ought to be positioned, but if it is abused and used to coerce the dog to do things that are uncomfortable or risky, then the dog loses control over how he interacts with the world and then he can end up in situations that don’t make sense to him or that actually put him at risk.  In general, targeting can achieve the same results, with fewer risks.  Image credit: simsonne100 / 123RF Stock Photo

As soon as worry comes into the game, then it is not fun anymore.  Then it is time to play a different game; a game that will allow the learner to figure out that he is safe and that the world is a good place to interact with.  When the dog is worried the game should simply be “see that scary thing?  It produces treats”  This game is great when it is played with the frightening thing far enough away that the dog can cope with his fear.  Only when fear dissolves can you switch back to a game of “if you interact with the thing you are worried about, you will get a treat”.

When we think about training as a game, we can set up a series of rules and outcomes that the dog can be successful at.  Teaching dogs to be confident is contingent on the dog being repeatedly successful.  If the dog is successful over and over again, the dog starts to think that he can do many more things than he used to be able to do.  Perhaps the worst thing we can do to our dogs is create a random world where they cannot control what they live with.  Overwhelming dogs with repeated conflicts or failures results in a dog who lacks confidence and who doesn’t want to participate in training games.  If your dog feels like he is living in the Salvador Dali coffee shop, don’t be surprised if he stops participating in the training game, or if he becomes tense or fearful or anxious.  Just writing about the Salvador Dali cafe is difficult because none of it makes sense and there is no control over the outcomes.  When there is no control over your world, learning is inefficient and upsetting and pretty soon you have a dog who just doesn’t want to participate any more.

THE SALVADORE DALI CAFE

KNOW BETTER DO BETTER

It is really hard to look back at videos of my training from the 80’s!  I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I just didn’t know.  I was using a lot of aversives, and I wasn’t always fair to my dog.  I didn’t recognize when my dog was upset or distressed and I often set her up to fail.  It really wasn’t particularly nice or fair to my dog.  None the less, from time to time, I go back and watch those videos because at the end of the day, I loved that dog, and I never meant her any harm.  I just didn’t know.

Recently someone posted this video to Facebook, and John came across it in his feed.  The person posting stated that she thought that this was a fun and funny video.  What do you think?

https://www.facebook.com/animalkindstories/videos/1771763479525960/?hc_ref=ARTaGhDlLUr2QZ8npvGoQZwHWrAwUAJynasI41UnbIJV-UGtgj_DZ-dg8F3mhP-K1C8

John watched the video and posted that the dog was obviously either in pain or deeply distressed and that this was not funny.  If you go into the comments, you will see that the back story on this dog is that he was severely arthritic and his owner would take him to swim in Lake Erie in the summer, but in the winter someone volunteered the use of their indoor pool.  Possibly heartwarming, but certainly not funny.  The problem is that most people thought the video was funny. 

What is it about humans that we see funny in animals that are in distress?  I think the problem is simply that we don’t know!  We don’t recognize distress and then when it is pointed out to us, we often feel judged and disrespected.  This is just what happened when John pointed out that this dog was uncomfortable.  He was met with a strong volley of “Well, that is just your opinion” and “you just cannot see the light side of anything!”  There was a mismatch between what his educated eye saw and what his friends were seeing in the video.  They saw something amusing and John saw something deeply disturbing.  Without the backstory, neither side was seeing the whole story, but there is another sad part to the story too.

The other sad pat was simply that John has a lot of education in dog behaviour, and his friends do not.  They felt that John’s understanding of what he was seeing was no more valid than their own.  There is a popular point of view these days that an uneducated opinion is just as valid as one that comes with years of education and experience.  Remember where this blog started; it is hard for me to watch myself training thirty years ago because now that I know better, I can see how badly I did!  It can be really hard to forgive myself for the things I did in the name of training that were outright harmful, but if I am honest with myself, I didn’t know.  Just like these folks just didn’t know. 

So what can we learn from this?  I think the very first thing to learn is that we should always be striving to learn more and change what we know with more information.  Be humble.  It is actually okay to be wrong, because when we know better, we do better.  It is okay for me to say “yes, I probably injured my dog by using a choke chain” and “no I wasn’t always fair in my expectations” not because I am okay with having caused harm to my dog but because I know better now, and not only do I do better, but I help others to do better too.  The advice to forgive yourself is sound because it allows you to move forward and do better, but if you just wallow in the understanding that you have caused harm, you never get to take joy in the process of progressing; you are always stuck in regret.  I know now that joy is a much more productive emotion than regret, especially when it comes to training my dog.

Next, now that you know that many of the videos of dogs that are presented are actually videos of dogs in distress, you can start to speak up and help others to know better too.  At the very least, don’t like those videos and don’t share them.  I think of liking these videos as vicarious abuse.  We may not be actively abusing an animal, but we are contributing to the culture of acceptance of abuse, and it is time that we stop this.  Sharing with an educational intention is good, IF you think you can be effective.  That is why I have included the links that I have in this blog; so that you can see what I am talking about and you can help others to learn about what a distressed dog might look like. 

Here are some links to some videos that I have found that people often think are funny.  The first video is one of a dog attacking his foot.  What do you think might be wrong with this video?  Watch it, and then read below to find out why I don’t think this is funny.

 

There is a lot to be concerned about in this video. The first thing to recognize is that the dog doesn’t have control over the situation.  His hind foot may be twitching or scratching and he does not recognize that as his own foot.  The next thing that deeply concerns me is that there are kids and an adult laughing on the laugh track; this situation is dangerous because the dog is actually biting his own foot and if he were to be interrupted or restrained, I would be very concerned that someone could be injured.  Not only do I see a dog who is anxious and conflicted and exhibiting a very abnormal behaviour, mom and the kids could be at risk.  Just not very funny to me!

How about this one?

The duration of this behaviour alone is concerning!  When dogs spend this much time barking and spinning in circles, it is absolutely not a normal behaviour, and yet, I have seen people suggest this is fun or funny.  This dog likely has a form of Canine Compulsive Disorder and cannot choose to stop engaging in the behaviour.  You can tell he is distressed by the sound of his barking, but also by the rate of his breathing. 

Here is a final video of something that a dog is doing that is unusual and that has attracted some online attention.  Some folks find this sort of thing very interesting, and some just think it is funny.  

 

 

This case is one where the dog is exhibiting a very unusual behaviour and that interferes with its ability to engage in normal social activity and self care such as grooming or eating. You can see the dog lip licking which is a behaviour that comes along with internal conflict. The dog is clearly not behaving normally, and expending a lot of energy doing something that is not good for him. It just isn’t funny. If you want to help dogs, laughing at this sort of thing or encouraging others to laugh just isn’t very kind.

I value education. I feel that my many years of experience and education count for a lot, and I think that gives my observations much more weight than simple opinion. According to Wikipedia, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement that is not conclusive. My observations are founded on the science of ethology or the study of animal behaviour. When I observe a dog slowly blinking and not moving, I know that the dog is either in pain or in distress. My observations are how I make my living. When I have a dog in my classroom that is stuck, and not moving, I know that the dog is in distress and my job is to alleviate that stress. When I see a video like the one of the husky, I can recognize that the dog is in pain. The dog may be in the pool therapeutically, and I can feel good about that once I have the back story, but I can never ever feel good about the distress that I observe the dog experiencing and I know that the dog is experiencing distress because of the education that I have to do my job.

It is important to ask questions.  I saw a thread about a year ago that included a comment from a woman lamenting how some sheep were distressed by the herding dog that was moving.  Quite innocently, because I know little about sheep, I asked how did she know that the sheep were distressed?  I got a complete earful about how this person felt that keeping sheep at all was cruel, and got no information about what she was seeing that made her feel that the sheep were distressed.  On both the questioning side and the answering side of the equation, we need to interact respectfully.  Instead of starting from the point of defensiveness, if you know how to identify when a dog is in distress share that information, humbly and with a great deal of care.  Help the viewers of the behaviours learn to recognize when what they see is an animal in distress. 

If you don’t know what a behaviour means, ask that too!  Many people from all over the world have reached out to me to ask what a particular behaviour means and I am always happy to either explain what they are seeing or to refer them to a resource that will help them to learn more.  If you actually want to know more and do better, you always have to be willing to learn and that means being willing to ask questions and change how you look at things. 

I don’t know a single person who is sharing these videos who is actually cruel or who wants to cause harm to the animals that are distressed in these types of videos but as we learn more, we can begin to make the world a better place for our animal friends.  The best trainers I know have always encouraged my learning by reminding me that when we know more, we can do better.  It is still hard though to watch my own errors from the time when I didn’t know as much.

KNOW BETTER DO BETTER

MICROMANAGEMENT, THE QUEEN AND MY BROTHER IN LAW

Recently a number of Good Dog clients have started my program after having gotten only so far with obedience classes with us or other schools, and there seems to be a trend in why their training is not working for them.  Micromanagement is how we describe what is happening when people tell the dog about every single thing that they are supposed to do.  They often have a spectacular leave it, but only when they tell the dog.  The dog will wait nicely at the door, but bolt on through if you haven’t specified that this is one of the times that the dog must wait.  The dog is more than willing to get off or stay off furniture if he is told, but in the absence of information, he is right up there and on the couch.

Humans are a species that gather information verbally.  We listen to details like “don’t get on the couch” and store that information for later use.  If we are told “don’t get on the couch” every time we go to get on the couch, most of us store that information and don’t do that behaviour.  Dogs are a little different.  Although dogs readily learn “if I get on the couch in the presence of the human I will be told to get off” they don’t seem to generalize that information to “never get on the couch”.  I suspect that this is a reflection of a few things, including how we train them.

The first thing that this reflects is that dogs don’t have language in the same way we do.  Yes, they have communication, where they are able to send units of information to another individual who can receive and interpret them accurately.  Think about the last time you saw two dogs interacting; if one dog wanted to play, how can he convey that information to the other dog?  Dogs have a whole lot of gestural communication including (but not limited to!) play bows, play faces, head tilts, paw lifts and tail wags.  The receiving dog will either accept the invitation, and a play session will start (full of rich gestures that convey all sorts of information between the players) or turn it down and we can tell which choice the recipient made based on the behaviours we see.  None of this information conveys anything like “later on, when you go home, please don’t touch my toys that I left behind the couch”.  Canine communication is immediate.  It happens in the moment and it pertains to the moment.  Even wolf communication involved in hunting runs more along the lines of “let’s go hunting”, “okay”, “I hear caribou over this way”, “I will flank the herd”.  The last guess may in fact be more than they actually convey in their gestures, but it makes for a better story to illustrate the point!

Next we should consider that when we train our dogs we teach them to attend to what happens next.  Sit when I am making you dinner?  Then I put your dinner within your reach to eat.  Jump up on me?  Then you can have a quick trip to your crate.  Harass the other dog while he is trying to rest?  Then you can have a turn out in the yard on your own.  Lie down nicely in front of the cookie cupboard?  Then you can have a cookie.  On and on, both formally and informally we teach our dogs to pay attention to immediate outcomes.  Practically this is the most efficient way to teach dogs what they should and should not do.

Dogs do learn what your habits are of course, but most often those habits come with predictable immediate outcomes.  Dogs learn for instance that every day at 3pm the school bus passes by and the kids arrive home and when the kids arrive home, you almost always get to play ball.  Some dogs will anticipate this sort of activity by bringing the ball to the children as they come in the door.  This most likely evolves when the ball is handy and the kids are available and the dog puts two and two together, not because the dogs are preplanning the equipment needed to make the activity work better.  Over time and with repetition, dogs can develop sophisticated routines that look like preplanning but there is little concrete evidence that dogs are preplanning in the way that we do.

So what does this have to do with the Queen?  Or my brother in law?  Or my students who are struggling with micromanagement?  Simply this.  If you were invited to the UK to visit the Queen, you would have a meeting with a very nice person who would explain what was going to happen, what you were supposed to do and what you were not permitted to do.  When you arrived at the Queen’s “house” (castle, palace or what have you), there would most likely be a nice person to point you in the right direction and prompt your every step.  Stand here.  Turn that way when I signal you that her Majesty is coming.  When you first see Her Majesty do this.  When you are greeted say that.  When she turns away from you, do this.  If she hands you something take it like this.  Don’t touch her.  Don’t initiate conversation.  Answer in this way.  Every little detail is preplanned and organized so that you know exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  And if you goof, then it is most likely that someone will help you out and make a suggestion about what you should do instead.

20131103_112934
Meeting Royalty is a very carefully scripted event and for most of us, we need the help of someone like a protocol officer to guide us through the experience without any glitches. This is not real life for the vast majority of the world however, and it is a stressful and difficult way to interact because it necessitates someone else directing your every move.

This is how many of my clients treat their dogs.  The client behaves like the Queen’s protocol officer!  They walk up to a door and say “sit”.  Dutifully, the dog sits.  They open the door and the dog, not getting another immediate prompt drags them through the door and into the training hall.  There is a dropped treat in front of the dog, and the client says “leave it” so the dog quite politely does, but when there is a treat the person doesn’t notice, the dog snarfs it up before the client even has a chance to do anything!  How often I have been greeted by an otherwise normal human being chanting “be nice, be nice, be nice, be nice” as though saying these two words fast enough and for long enough will ensure that the dog will “be nice”.  Invariably the human effort at being the protocol officer fails and the dog greets me by launching himself at me like a canine cannonball.

I would argue that if you were taking your dog to somewhere truly different and out of the ordinary, you might want to be the protocol officer.  So if you have to take your dog to say a ballet recital, you might possibly want to play protocol officer.  But UNLESS you are asking your dog to do something truly difficult, such as meeting a world leader, your dog needs to be able to just fit in.  This is where visiting my brother-in-law comes in.

79736599 - woman with a weimaraner dog at the leash who plays with a puppy
This is a difficult situation, made more difficult by the fact that the dog who is on leash is pulling and thus being pulled back by the handler. If instead the dog had been taught that when she wanted to play with a friend, she should sit, and offer eye contact and then look at the other dog and look back at the handler, the situation would look much different.

My brother-in-law is a nice guy.  He likes to sit out on his front porch with a cup of coffee and the newspaper on a Sunday morning.  He likes to go cycling.  He is pretty approachable, and will invite you in for a beer if you walk by on a Saturday afternoon while he is puttering in the garage.  He doesn’t own a crown, or a thrown, and he doesn’t care if you turn your back on him when you are in his presence.  He goes to work Monday to Friday, he enjoys his family, he is the master of the bar-b-que.  In short, he is a pretty laid back typical Canadian guy.  And if you visit him, there is no protocol officer to tell you where to stand, what to do or not do, how to dress and what to say.  No one will micromanage your behaviour when you visit my brother-in-law.

This doesn’t mean that there are not expectations for your behaviour while in my brother-in-law’s home.  He would prefer you didn’t break his stuff, and please don’t eat all his food all at once.  Please don’t take his things away when you leave, and please do take off your shoes when you come in the house.  The thing is that his expectations for your behaviour are common enough that you don’t need someone to explain what to do at every step.

Commonly Micromanaged Behaviours and Their Alternatives
Behaviour Common Micromanagement Strategy Alternate Strategy
Dog snatches any edible item within reach Teach the dog to leave things on cue and tell the dog to leave it Teach the dog that he must automatically leave any edible items he finds UNLESS you tell him to take it
Dog jumps on guests Teach the dog to cease jumping up on cue and tell the dog to stop jumping Teach the dog that a guest approaching means that he should sit or lie down
Dog bolts out the door Teach the dog to sit on cue and tell the dog to sit when you see the door opening Teach the dog that an opening door means that he should sit
Dog is more engaged with other dogs or people when he sees them than he is with the handler Teach the dog to make eye contact on cue and ask for eye contact Teach the dog to make eye contact with you and then look at the dog or person he wants to greet and then re engage with you
Dog barks at passersby Teach the dog to “hush” on cue and then tell the dog to “hush” when he is barking Teach the dog that passersby do not need to be barked at
Dog chases the cat in the house Teach the dog a solid leave it on cue and then tell the dog to leave it when he is chasing the cat Teach the dog that chasing the cat is not permitted at all, ever
Dog grabs the toy before you can throw it Teach the dog to leave it on cue and then tell the dog not to touch the toy until you have thrown it Teach the dog that you will throw the toy when he is calm and not touching you, or even when he is sitting and making eye contact

 

The problem I see with many of the dogs who come through my door at the training hall is that the human partner in the team seems to think that day to day interactions need to be handled like a visit to the Queen.  I see people telling their dogs to sit at the door all the time.  And to leave the treats that are within reach.  And not to jump on people as they approach.  The problem with this strategy is that if you aren’t there to micromanage the dog, the dog will do just as he pleases.  If you don’t tell him to sit at the door, he might barge right on through.  And if you don’t tell him to leave the treats on the floor, he will just dart out to take them.  If you don’t prevent him from jumping on guests, then he will greet impolitely and possibly with disastrous consequences!  None of this is what the human wants, but the only solution they have tried is to remind, remind, remind, remind and then remind again.

What if instead of reminding we took what we know about how dogs use information and taught them an expected behaviour.  What if we taught the dog that the door itself was the prompt to sit and wait?  Or if instead of teaching your dog to leave a treat when told, we just taught him to keep his nose out of treats that you haven’t told him belong to him?  What if we taught him that a person reaching out to say hi means that he should sit or lie down?  What if we looked at training as if we were preparing someone from a different country to visit my brother-in-law?

63553113 - cat and dog, abyssinian kitten and golden retriever looks at right.
This sort of interaction doesn’t happen by accident! Likely these two animals were posed for the picture, however they would not be completely relaxed in the image if the dog had been taught that he could chase the cat unless told otherwise. Dogs need immediate relevant consequences to teach them what they should do. If this were my cat and my dog, the dog would learn very quickly that every time he chased the cat, he would have a turn in his crate for a short period of time. This works especially well with young dogs. Copyright: dikaya37 / 123RF Stock Photo

Turning the training paradigm around so that we are no longer teaching the dog to do as he is told, but instead to know what the conventions are is a very easy way to resolve a lot of problems.  To do this, you must spend some time thinking about how to accomplish making the trigger to the behaviour the cue to the alternate behaviour, and some of the time it means providing a consequence such as going to your crate or losing a turn at play to stop the undesired behaviour.  It usually takes a little longer, but in the end, you have an adult dog who knows what to do, when to do it and doesn’t need a protocol officer to micromanage all of his behaviours!

MICROMANAGEMENT, THE QUEEN AND MY BROTHER IN LAW

FOOD

Dogs love food.  Well, mostly dogs love food.  Food is such a contentious issue.  People don’t always like to use food in training, and often even when people do use food, they either don’t use it effectively or they struggle with a dog who doesn’t want to take treats.  In the training hall we often see people making all sorts of food errors, so it is time to write a blog about how to use food.

39036015_s
Most dogs really love food and spend a lot of time thinking about it. When food isn’t working in training, there are often things we can do to help!

The first issue we see is the “switcheroo”.  The switcheroo happens when a dog hits early adolescence and growth slows down.  Most families get a young puppy and are astounded at how many calories that little perpetual motion machine can suck back.  Let’s say that a pup is 3kg when he comes home, and he is eating one scoop of dog food in total each day.  Within 6 weeks that puppy is now 10kg, and eating three scoops of dog food each day!  Skip forward another two months and the puppy is 20kg and eating five scoops a day, and then 8 weeks more and he is 30kg and eating 7 scoops a day.  This brings our pupster to about 7 and a half months of age and all of a sudden Fido stops eating.  In a panic, the average family goes out and spends a pile of money on a different bag of dog food and Fido resumes eating.  A week or so later, Fido goes on strike again, and the family spends more money on a third brand of food.  Fido resumes eating and two weeks later goes on strike.  At about this point, Fido who should be 35kg is a solid 40kg, and has become a picky eater, and the client tells me in class that Fido won’t work for food.

So what is really happening in the “switcheroo”?  Often what is happening is that Fido has stopped growing and doesn’t need 7 scoops of dog food!  When you change dog foods, novelty will get Fido to eat again, but he doesn’t really need all the extra calories, so a week or two later, he self limits his food and you worry that he isn’t eating enough.  You switch again and the novelty entices him to eat for a bit and then he hits another point where the calories are just too much and he stops eating again. 

So what happens to food training when the old “switcheroo” is at play?  Often the dog stops wanting to work for food because he is already getting far too many calories in his bowl.  The first thing that I do is check with the family to make sure that there is nothing going on that would indicate the need for a vet visit.  I do a quick visual inspection of the dog and feel his ribs to see what his body score is.  The easy way to tell what your dog’s body score is would be to first feel your dog’s ribs and then find the part of your hand that is most similar to your dog’s ribs.  Use the pictures below to determine if your dog is overweight.  If your dog is overweight, but everything else is normal; he is drinking and exercising and toileting normally, then the first thing I would do would be to feed a bit less food in his bowl.  Dogs love to eat, but they are also usually really good at self regulating when they get overweight and then they get fussy about the treats they want for training.

Usually with an adolescent dog who has had several different foods because he has become picky, we see his appetite normalize and his willingness to work for regular food return when we remove some of the calories from the bowl.  This is the easiest situation to resolve when it comes to food and training.  Once you figure out how much your dog should be eating, take the total amount for the day and divide it by three.  Feed 1/3 at breakfast, 1/3 at dinner and save 1/3 for training class.  Let’s look at my German Shepherd Eco as an example. 

60664291 - pet food packets arranged on shelves at store
There are so many options when it comes to feeding your dog and it can be tempting to just change foods if your dog is not eating reliably. If your dog is already eating a quality diet, consider trying decreasing the quantity of food that you are putting in the bowl before changing the diet. If your dog is not on a good diet or if they have a medical issue, you should talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet.

When I got Eco at 7 and a half weeks of age he ate a whopping 2/3 cup of kibble each day.  Total.  By the time he was 12 weeks he was eating 1 ½ cups, and at 16 weeks he was eating 2 ½ cups.  His intake steadily increased over the weeks and months until at 7 months he was about 40kg and was eating a total of 12 cups a day divided into four meals, and he was a lean, mean fast moving doggy machine.  I remember thinking at this age that I sure hoped he would slow down soon as I was going to go broke feeding this dog!  Predictably at about 8 months he started to skip a meal.  That meant that all of a sudden, he went from eating 12 cups a day reliably to eating 9.  Whew!  That was cheaper!  I started to feed three meals a day, but instead of feeding three cups per meal, I fed 2 cups per day and kept 3 cups aside for training.  At about ten months of age, Eco started to pretty reliably skip one of his three meals each day, so I took another three cups of food out of his daily ration, which brought us down to a much more reasonable 6 cups per day, and divided that into three, making 2 cups per serving, Eco went to two regular meals and two cups set aside for school.  By the time Eco was four he was normally eating about 4 cups of food a day, and just got a few treats in class.  Mostly in class at four, he would work for play.

The next thing I have seen in class is the dog who will only work for ultra high value treats.  A number of things can be at play there.  The first of them is that when the dog is very stressed or overwhelmed, he cannot eat.  This should not be a surprise; the same happens to people too.  Consider what it might be like to be in a car accident and then have someone offer you a nice dinner.  Most of us would find that situation too stressful to allow us to enjoy eating.  The same thing can happen when the dog is extremely excited, and that is also true for us.  Most of us don’t feel like eating when we are engaged in something like riding a rollercoaster.

64927242_s
Both of these ladies are really excited. One of them is happy about her excitement and the other lady is a little more concerned. Neither of these ladies would probably want to eat a sandwich if I were to offer them one, because when you are really excited, you are not really interested in food!

Other things can contribute to dogs only wanting to take high value treats too.  When your dog comes to class overweight, they are going to be really picky about what they will take as treats.  Similarly, if he comes to class right after eating a large meal, he will be willing to take dessert class treats, but not lower value treats.  One thing that people often try is to completely deprive their dogs before class.  This can backfire too; often dogs who have been deprived enough can be so deeply focused on any food at all that they cannot even think.  It is far better to feed more sensibly, and come to class with a dog who is neither overweight nor completely deprived. 

Dogs definitely have preferences, and there is a lot of value to knowing what your dogs prefers.  I have worked with dogs who do not like liver and making a dog take a treat he doesn’t want works against you as a trainer, even if it is a treat you want your dog to like or if it is a treat you think your dog will like.  I have also worked with dogs who like really unusual things like cooked squash, raw celery or blueberries.  When I have a dog with strong preferences, I often rank the treats.  When I know for instance that a dog likes liver best, and then rollover and then cheese and then bread and finally kibble.  I will sometimes take some time to teach the dog to take lower value treats.  Working in a low distraction environment I will offer the dog his lowest value item.  If he takes the treat, I reward him with the next value treat.  In this case, I will offer kibble.  If the dog takes a piece of kibble, then he gets a piece of bread.  I then offer the dog another piece of kibble.  Most dogs will look longingly at the bread.  Hold out.  If the dog takes the kibble, he gets another treat but THIS time, he gets the next level up; so I would feed him some cheese.  Next I will offer him another piece of kibble.  He will likely look out for another piece of cheese.  Hold out.  When he takes his kibble, he will get the next thing on his list; in this case the rollover.  Then offer more kibble again.  When the dog takes the kibble he gets his top value treat; in this case the liver.  I keep working with the dog offer kibble to get a better reward.  I keep working on this until the dog will willingly take a low value treat regardless of the situation, in the hopes of getting a better treat.

Perhaps the most common error I see in the training hall is reinforcing every single behaviour without any differential between good iterations and not so good iterations.  If you ask your dog to sit and he lies down, and you give him a treat because he did SOMETHING, anything, you are in fact teaching him that trying random behaviours is really valuable, but it doesn’t teach your dog that when you say sit, you mean sit, or when you say down, you mean down.  You can actually use treats very constructively to teach your dog the difference between a really, really valuable behaviour such as a fast, accurate sit, when you ask the first time, and a slow reluctant sloppy sit.  To teach the difference between a fast snappy sit and a slow casual sit, you can simply choose to reward the best sits to reward with the favourite treat, and then reward the sloppy undesired sits with a low value treat.  Dogs can learn really quickly that a good sit gets a good treat, and a poor sit gets a less preferred treat.

 

Dogs also need to learn about self control around food before you start training.  If your dog thinks that if he can see the treat, he can have the treat, then he is going to have a harder time learning to get the treats by doing something to earn them.  I like to start all training by teaching the dog to control himself around food (https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/11/12/the-dog-controls-the-dog/ ).  Once your dog has learned not to snatch treats as soon as he sees them, you can start to use your treats much more effectively.

As with many tools, treats are a good servant but a poor master.  When used well, food is perhaps the best way that you can teach a dog.  When used poorly you can teach your dog all sorts of bad habits. 

FOOD