Behavior Issues

Nurturing emotionally wounded dogs

An issue that crops up from time to time is how to help a ‘shut-down’ dog adjust to their new environment.
These dogs can be shut down for various reasons, but frequently with Jindos, it’s because they’d had little prior socialisation, or have been kept as outdoor-only dogs.
Read on for advice!

Nurturing emotionally wounded dogs

Mental stimulation and enrichment: what is it anyway, and why?

We often talk about ensuring a dog has both sufficient mental and physical stimulation.
Understandably, that can sometimes be a bit confusing.
Here’s an article that goes into more detail about what exactly that can be.

Mental stimulation and enrichment

Behavior modification in dogs

(From the Merck Veterinary Manual)

Check out the link for the full article, with links to additional information.

Below is the main page text for your reference:

Behavior Modification in Dogs
By Gary M. Landsberg, BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECAWBM, Director, Veterinary Affairs and Product Development, CanCog Technologies, and Veterinary Behaviourist, North Toronto Veterinary Behaviour Specialty Clinic

Behavior of Dogs
Introduction to Behavior of Dogs
Diagnosing Behavior Problems in Dogs
Behavior Modification in Dogs
Normal Social Behavior in Dogs
Behavior Problems in Dogs
The techniques used most commonly to modify dog behavior include habituation, extinction, desensitization, counterconditioning, response substitution, and shaping. A behavior modification technique called flooding, described below, is not used very often because it is more likely to make animals worse. While it is claimed that punishment is frequently used with varying degrees of success, few people use punishment correctly. For punishment (such as screaming at the dog) to be successful, it must occur at the beginning of the behavior,be consistently delivered, and be strong enough to stop the unwanted behavior. Most punishments are not given at the right time or are not the appropriate type for the situation. “Dominance” training techniques that encourage owners to assert leadership through physical confrontations are also not recommended. Multiple studies have shown that training based on punishments or confrontations are more likely to lead to fear, avoidance, and increased aggression. Dogs trained with rewards have fewer behavioral problems and are less fearful.

Behavior Modification Techniques
Most of the techniques involved in behavior modification are not hard to learn and can be successfully used as preventive techniques. They do require a regular investment of time and effort, however. The following is a short review of the basic principles involved in these techniques.


Look for trainers who use positive reinforcement for good behavior rather than punishment for unacceptable behavior.
Observe an obedience class without your pet. Are the dogs and people having a good time? Talk with some of the participants after the class. If someone will not let you sit in on a class, do not enroll.
Do not allow trainers to work with your dog unless they tell you beforehand exactly what they plan to do.
Do not be afraid to tell a trainer to stop if she or he does something (or tells you to do something) to your dog that you do not feel comfortable with.
Avoid trainers who offer guarantees. Such trainers are either ignoring or do not understand the complexities of animal behavior.
Avoid trainers who object to using food as a training reward. Food is one of the best ways to motivate a dog.
Avoid trainers who insist on using a choke chain. Head collars are humane alternatives to choke chains and pinch collars.
If you believe your dog has been subjected to cruel treatment by a trainer, get the names and phone numbers of witnesses. Take your dog to your veterinarian immediately for a complete physical examination. Tell them that the results of the examination may be used as evidence in a court case so that your veterinarian will document the procedures with that in mind.
Habituation is a simple form of learning that involves no rewards. It is merely the ending of or decrease in a response to a situation that results from repeated or prolonged exposure to that situation. For example, horses placed in a pasture bordering a road may at first run away when traffic passes, but eventually learn to ignore it. A dog that habituates to one type of sound does not, as a consequence of this habituation, automatically become habituated to other sounds. Habituation is not the same as failing to respond to stimulation as a result of fatigue, sensory adaptation, or injury. The effects of habituation are generally long lasting. However, if an animal is repeatedly exposed to a potentially harmful stimulus (such as a predator) without being harmed, habituation does not generally occur. Because of this, scientists believe that responses to dangerous stimuli may have an inherited resistance to habituation. If the fearful response is too intense, the dog may become more fearful instead of adjusting to the stimulus.

Spontaneous recovery is associated with habituation. If there is a long period of time between when a dog has experienced an event to which it had habituated and re-exposure to the same event, the dog may again react. For example, a puppy barks to get a reaction. The more the owner attempts to quiet it, the more the puppy barks. It will continue this pattern because it is getting the attention it wanted. Even if the attention is “negative,” some puppies will find it rewarding. The best method to discourage the behavior is to ignore it. Eventually the puppy stops barking if the owner consistently ignores it. However, the bad behavior comes back every now and then. This is called spontaneous recovery.

Giving a small food treat is a good way to reward your dog for obeying a command.
Giving a small food treat is a good way to reward your dog for obeying a command. Giving a small food treat is a good way to reward your dog for obeying a command.
Conditioning refers to associations between stimuli and behavior. For example, a hungry dog drools (the behavior) when it sees food (the stimulus). After this, every time that the hungry dog sees the food a bell is rung (a second stimulus). Once the food and bell have been paired several times, the dog will drool even if it just hears the bell. This is called conditioning. The bell generates the same response as the sight of food. After several times, the dog has learned to associate the bell with the food. Conditioning can be positive or negative. For example, the sound of a doorbell can cause fear or excitement in a dog, depending on whether the dog likes or dislikes visitors.

Reinforcement is any event that increases the chances that a certain behavior will be repeated. Reinforcements can be positive or negative. When positive reinforcement (a reward) is used in training, there is a positive relationship between the behavior and its consequences. The more the pet does a behavior, the more it gets positive reinforcement. This makes that behavior increase. A negative reinforcement (which is mistakenly thought of as punishment by many people) is something unpleasant that increases a behavior when it is removed. For example, being held tightly may be unpleasant to a squirming puppy. But the hold is released only when the puppy calms down. After several times, the release from restraint will increase the chance that the puppy will relax faster.

Second-order reinforcers are signals that can be used at a distance to let the dog know that a reward is coming. Commonly used second-order reinforcers are words, such as “good girl,” hand signals, and clickers. By carefully pairing these with a primary reward (such as food or petting), second-order reinforcers can elicit the same response that the reward would. For example, a clicker can be associated with patting on the head as a reward for sitting and staying. By associating the clicker with a reward, you can train the dog to sit and stay from farther away and still reward the behavior by using the clicker. Positive training and clicker training have become very popular. However, it is possible to do an excellent job at positive training without using any second-order reinforcers. Clicker training requires frequent practice and excellent timing. In some situations involving problem behaviors, the incorrect use of a clicker may hinder, rather than help, a behavior modification program.

Extinction is a response that stops when a reward is removed. A classic example of extinction involves a dog that jumps up on people for attention. If people pet the dog, the behavior continues. If they stop petting the dog, the dog will eventually stop jumping up because the reward is no longer there. However, even occasional petting of the dog in response to its jumping will reinforce the pattern. The more valuable the original reward, the longer it has been present, and the more uncertainty there is about whether the reward has been truly removed, the greater the resistance to extinction. Resistance to extinction can also occur even without reinforcement if the reward was good enough and was tightly linked to the behavior.

Because there is often an association between getting the reward and the intensity of the behavior, the intensity or frequency of the behavior you are trying to eliminate usually increases at the beginning of extinction. In other words, a behavior you are trying to extinguish may get worse before it gets better. It is critical that you do not give in. Giving in will only make extinction more difficult. The dog will learn that, although your threshold has increased, the dog can override it by working harder.

Overlearning is the repeated performance of an already learned behavior. It is frequently used in training for specific events, and may also be useful for preventing fearful responses in dogs. Overlearning accomplishes 3 things: it delays forgetting, it increases the resistance to extinction, and it increases the chance that the behavior will become an automatic or “knee-jerk” response in similar situations. This aspect can be extremely useful in teaching a dog to overcome a fear or anxiety.

Shaping is a learning technique that works well for dogs that do not know what response is desired by the trainer. Shaping works through gradual approximations and allows the dog to be rewarded initially for any behavior that resembles the desired behavior. For example, when teaching a puppy to sit, giving the puppy a food treat for squatting will increase the chance that squatting will be repeated. This squatting behavior is then rewarded only when it becomes more exaggerated, and finally, when it becomes a true sit.


Avoidance of a problem behavior is essential until you can seek qualified help, particularly in a case of aggression. With treatment it may be possible to reduce the aggressive behavior, but avoidance is the key in minimizing danger. Avoidance does not mean that the pet has control, or that you are giving in to the dog. Instead, it may help extinguish the aggressive behavior. Every time a dog becomes aggressive, it learns that aggression may help it cope with the situation, thus reinforcing the problem.

Desensitization is a way to gradually teach a dog to tolerate a situation by carefully exposing it to that situation in small steps. If a puppy gets overexcited at the sound of the doorbell, a tape recording of the doorbell could help stop the undesirable behavior. If the tape is played very softly at first and then only gradually increased in volume as long as the puppy remains calm, then the puppy may stop reacting to the doorbell.

Counterconditioning is a method for reducing unwanted behavior by teaching the dog to replace it with another more favorable behavior. In the doorbell example above, the puppy will learn faster if it is first taught to sit, stay, and then relax in exchange for a treat. The puppy must be absolutely quiet and calm, and convey by its eyes, body posture, and facial expressions that it would do anything for its owner. Once this behavior is learned, the desensitization is added by playing the tape recording at a gradually increasing volume. If at any time the puppy starts to get too excited, the tape recording should be lowered in volume until the puppy relaxes. Relaxing is the key and is the first step to changing the behavior. Counterconditioning and desensitization can take a lot of time and effort. The exercises must be frequently repeated so that the unwanted behavior decreases until it is no longer a problem.

Flooding is prolonged exposure to a stimulus until the dog eventually stops reacting. This is the opposite of the approach taken in desensitization. It is far more stressful than any of the other treatment strategies and if not used correctly will make things worse. The most common problem is increased fear. This technique should be used only by a professional and only as a last resort.

Punishment is also known as aversive conditioning. It is any unpleasant event that lowers the chance that a behavior will be repeated. Punishment can be positive or negative. Positive punishment refers to applying something unpleasant to decrease a behavior, whereas negative punishment refers to removing something positive to decrease a behavior. Punishment is not the same as negative reinforcement (see Behavior Modification Techniques). To be most successful, punishment must occur as early as possible (within a few seconds of the start of the behavior), and it must be consistent and appropriate. Critical factors in punishment include timing, consistency, appropriate intensity, and the presence of a reward after the undesirable behavior ends. This is the most frequently ignored part of treatment for people whose pets have behavior problems. Owners often resort to physical punishment as the first choice, but punishment does not need to be physical. Furthermore, punishment is just as hard to use correctly as counterconditioning and desensitization. Punishment is never an “easy out” and has a high chance of failure. It can also lead to other negative consequences, such as increasing the chance of fear or aggression.

The Premack Principle states that more likely behaviors will reinforce less likely behaviors. When misbehaving increases the likelihood that a dog achieves a goal, the more likely the dog is to misbehave. To prevent the misbehavior, the owner can teach the dog an alternative, positive behavior; for example, teaching a dog to sit and stay before allowing it outside may deter bolting.

Response substitution involves the replacement of an undesirable response with a desired one. An example is teaching a dog to lay down instead of jumping up. Owners should begin in a calm environment where success is likely, then progress to places with more distractions as the behavior is learned. Dogs may first need to be desensitized to the stimuli for response substitution to be successful.

Use of Medication to Treat Behavior Problems
Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help treat a behavior problem of your pet. Drug treatment for almost any behavior change is most useful when combined with behavior modification.

In recent years there has been an increase in the use of medication to treat a variety of behavior problems in pets (see Table: Drugs Used to Treat Behavior Problems in Dogs). There are a number of potential disadvantages to the use of medication for treating these problems, however, and you should know that there is no “magic bullet” that will easily and quickly solve the problem. The limitations of medication use include the potential for adverse effects, cost, the need to treat for a considerable length of time before the medication takes effect, limited information on what medication is most effective, and the potential that the problem will reappear once the medication is withdrawn.

Drugs Used to Treat Behavior Problems in Dogs



Tricyclic antidepressants


Anxiety, compulsive disorders

Cheaper than many other drugs, but may be more likely to cause adverse effects


Anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorders

FDA approved for use in separation anxiety in dogs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors


Anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorders

May take 3 to 4 weeks before affecting behavior; also FDA approved for treating separation anxiety in dogs


Anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorders


Anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorders






Thunderstorm phobia, anxiety

Longer acting than other drugs of this class


Anxiety, noise phobia

May cause physical dependence

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors


FDA approved for use in cognitive dysfunction in dogs

Must not be combined with serotonin reuptake inhibitors or tricyclic drugs due to adverse drug interactions

All medications have the potential to cause side effects. Fortunately, most of the modern antianxiety and antidepressant medications used in pets are well tolerated. Gastrointestinal upsets (leading to reduced appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea) are the most common side effects seen. In some pets, decreased activity or lethargy may occur in the first week or so of treatment as the animal adjusts to the medication. (This reaction typically disappears on its own.) More serious side effects, including potentially fatal inflammation of the liver, seizures, or other signs of toxicity have been reported in rare cases. Most of the medications used for behavior problems in pets were designed for use in people. Few have been directly approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals, although such use is not prohibited. This means that there may be limited information available on safety, toxicity, and effectiveness in dogs or other animals.

Because this is a relatively new area of veterinary medicine, demonstration of effectiveness through research has not been done in many cases. Veterinarians often must rely on case reports, their own clinical experience, and presentations at meetings to learn which medications and what dosage to recommend. Individual pets vary in their response to medication, just as people do. As a result, there will always be some element of trial and error in determining whether a particular medication will help solve a behavior problem.

If medication is used without behavior modification or environmental changes (and even when it is used with these techniques in some cases), the unwanted behavior may return once the medication is discontinued. Some problems may require treatment for a year or longer. In most cases medication is used for a period of several months.

Despite these limitations, medication has the potential to be very helpful in a wide range of pet behavior problems, including fear-related problems like separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobias, compulsive behaviors like lick granulomas, and some types of aggression. Drugs and some supplements can help normalize your dog’s emotions and improve your ability to train anxious, overreactive, or fearful dogs. They can also improve a pet’s welfare. Your veterinarian can discuss whether medication might be appropriate for your dog.


(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

Pet dogs are impressively adaptive. Coping with new environments and situations is a product of domestication, and most dogs do extremely well adapting to the pressures of domestic life. There are some dogs, however, that find it hard to adjust, and consequently live in a constant state of stress, making life difficult for them and for their owners. Negative behavior is often punished, even though punishment only serves to increase a dog’s insecurity and ability to succeed in a domestic situation.

Some dogs, like people, are more sensitive to the mental and physical manifestations of stress than others. What might cause sickness in one dog will have no affect on another even when both dogs are exposed to the same stressors. While mild stress can actually be healthy and provide beneficial physical and mental stimulation, research has shown that there is a definite link between high stress and illnesses such as heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders.

Whether or not these diseases are caused by stress is still up for debate, but they are definitely exacerbated by a stressful lifestyle, making understanding and management of these disorders crucial for a longer, healthier life.

How Does Stress Affect My Dog?
Understanding how stress affects our canine companions is made easier by the fact that dogs and humans have very similar physiological responses to stress.

During a stressful episode, both the human and canine body will go through adaptive changes.
In order to survive, energy must immediately be diverted to muscles in preparation for fight or flight. Glucose, fats and proteins pour out of fat cells, the liver and muscles and are diverted to other muscles that need the most energy.
Heart rate and blood pressure is elevated in order to distribute the energy as quickly as possible and breathing becomes more rapid.
Digestion is suppressed, growth and muscle repair is halted, immunity inhibited and senses are sharpened. This happens within a matter of seconds and allows the body to operate at its optimum level to ensure survival.
Good health, however, relies on the body’s ability to return to its ‘normal’ state after the stressful event has passed, but if stress is sustained or continually repeated, the body finds it difficult to achieve this.
Humans tend to have a harder time returning to ‘normal’ because of their ability to dwell on, anticipate or expect a future problem, but dogs that are sensitive to triggers that predict certain outcomes can also find it hard to ‘de-stress.’
Dogs that suffer with separation anxiety, for example, become adept at reading their person’s departure cues sometimes hours before their person leaves.
Dogs can also suffer sustained stress if they are frequently exposed to something or somebody they fear.
If the body continues to work at its optimum level and is unable to return to normal, it is only a matter of time before the immune system is impaired, giving way to adaptive illnesses such as digestive upset, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.
Signs of Stress In Dogs

Stressed dogs are often highly reactive and unable to settle, jumping at the slightest sound or movement.
Visible signs of stress include dilated pupils, sweaty paws, shaking, vocalizing excessively, or salivating. These signals can occur by themselves or together.
Other manifestations of stress come in the form of self calming techniques such as yawning, sneezing, lip licking or intense displacement behavior such as sniffing, licking, excessive grooming, spinning or self mutilation.
The dog may urinate or defecate more frequently and often experiences digestive upset such as diarrhea.
Some dogs may display symptoms that look very like human depression, including the inability to sleep, low energy, lack of appetite and a limited desire for human or dog interaction.
Learned helplessness, where the dog shuts down and ceases to learn, (often misread as a dog becoming calm) is yet another symptom of stress and can occur if a dog is severely punished or suffers abuse.
Aggressive behavior such as growling, snapping or biting is another common symptom of stress that is often misunderstood and mistreated.
What Can You Do to Minimize Stress for Your Dog?

It may help you to make a list of everything your dog finds stressful, and then work through that list tackling each issue slowly and sensitively.
Desensitization, counter conditioning techniques and managing a dog’s exposure to stressors, along with humane teaching methods and confidence building exercises, can really help to minimize stress.
Minimizing potential stressors at home and watching how you manage your own stress is important, as dogs are very good at picking up on a person’s emotional state.
Controlled exercise is also a great way to alleviate stress for both dogs and people as exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, encourage confidence, stabilize mood and reduce reactivity as well as improving the relationship between dog and owner.
Problem solving games and toys can help activate the thinking brain in stressful situations, which in turn deactivates the emotional brain and allows the dog to concentrate on something more positive than the negative emotion
Complementary Therapies
There are many complementary therapies that can be used along with behavioral modification.

Undetectable by humans, appeasing pheromone is a synthetically produced substance that mimics the pheromones of a lactating female and is said to produce a feeling of well-being and reassurance for dogs, thereby reducing anxiety. It is available in spray form, or is contained within a collar that is worn around a dog’s neck. It is also available as a plug-in that allows the substance to diffuse around the home.
Flower essences can also help lessen anxiety along with massage, t-touch or other complimentary therapies such as Reiki or acupuncture.
Dogs that suffer from anxiety will sometimes feel calmer while wearing a tightly wrapped coat, just as a baby immediately calms when it is swaddled.
It is best to try more natural remedies like these to relieve your dog’s stress unless the anxiety is so pronounced that he is unable to focus or learn anything.
In the case of an extremely anxious dog, turn to a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to prescribe medication that will help your dog get to a place where he can calm enough for learning to occur.
Specially-designed bioacoustic music has a significant impact on relieving stress in dogs.

Talking thresholds

By: Bobbie Bhambree
(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

Talking Thresholds

When working with clients, dog trainers often refer to “thresholds”. This is a common term in behavior modification work when addressing anxiety, fear, aggression, and stress levels. It is also relevant in learning situations, such as a dog park, a group class or an agility seminar.

What does it mean?

“Threshold” refers to the distance your dog can notice a trigger and be alert to it, but not upset by it—as in when the dog crosses over from one emotional state to another. Think of the threshold as your dog’s protective bubble. Any person or dog on the outside of that bubble is okay and the dog can behave in ways that indicate he is relatively stress-free. Any person or dog on the inside of that bubble is too close and therefore a concern for your dog. The distance from the trigger to the “protective bubble” could be 10 feet for some dogs and one hundred feet for others. The distance varies based on your dog’s past experiences.

Threshold can also include duration, meaning the amount of time your dog is exposed to the trigger. Perhaps seeing another dog ten feet away isn’t such a big deal. But standing and having a ten-minute conversation with your neighbor and their dog would put that same dog over threshold.

Going over threshold doesn’t necessarily look like a dog barking and lunging. It can also look like:

Over excitement (such as mouthing and jumping). This is a common manifestation of being over threshold for shelter dogs.
Being distracted to the point that you cannot get the dog to connect with you in the ways that have worked in the past. This is a common occurrence for dogs who do agility. Once in the trial ring, the dog might completely lose focus because they are overwhelmed by the environment.
Shutting down or freezing. You often see this at the vet clinic when dogs stay completely still while being restrained for a procedure.
Zoomies (the dog zooms around in a frenetic manner). This is often seen at agility trials where something the dog perceives as stressful occurs, triggering the dog to race around the ring.
Inability to take a treat (especially if that dog is a foodie!). Change the environment to allow the dog relief and he may be comfortable enough to take food again.

Trigger Stacking

Trigger stacking is exactly what it sounds like; stressor after stressor building until the learner’s emotional state collapses like a house of cards. Imagine this series of events: your alarm clock didn’t go off because the power died so you’re now late to work; you stub your toe on the way to the bathroom; you arrive to work fifteen minutes late to a meeting with a new client; after the meeting, your boss gets upset with you because you were late; at lunch, you spill your drink onto your white shirt; as you make the stain worse in the bathroom trying to clean it, you remember that you forgot to bring your jacket with you so you can’t cover up the stain and you now spend the rest of your lunchbreak rushing to a store to buy a new shirt; on the way home you get a flat tire. When you finally arrive home, your spouse mentions a bill that you had promised to pay, which you didn’t and you then explode into shouting. That is trigger stacking. We’ve all had those days where mild stressors build up to an emotional explosion. Sadly, this is life for so many dogs. A walk brings one stressor after another until the dog finally explodes into barking and lunging at the end of the leash.

Here are some things to think about when considering triggers:

Proximity – how close is the trigger? Dogs are often more comfortable the farther away that trigger is.
Frequency – how often does the trigger appear? For example, if the dog is stressed by moving cars, walking on a busy street could likely push the dog over threshold.
The intensity of the trigger. A dog that is thunder phobic will likely be more stressed when the thunder claps are louder.
If the dog is in pain, his threshold will likely be lower.
If a dog is hungry, thirsty, or tired, his threshold will be lower. If a person is hungry or lacking sleep, that person will be less patient and tolerant of potential stressors.
Accumulated stress. My own dog, Marvel, is a perfect example of this. Three years ago, we attended a three-day seminar. By the middle of day three, Marvel was barking at anyone that came near his crate and was snapping at anyone that tried to touch him. The accumulation of stress over the previous two and a half days had pushed him over threshold.
Manage your dog’s stress levels so that he remains under threshold.

Create distance between the dog and the trigger.
Play focus games to help bring the dog back to a thinking state. Example: I will often ask my dogs to perform tricks that have a heavy reinforcement history.
Get out of Dodge! Sometimes just leaving the situation is the thing to do.
The most effective behavior modification programs create an environment in which the dog is exposed to the trigger without over-reacting; this is called “sub-threshold”.

Remember, sometimes, your dog will go over threshold. It’s inevitable. You can’t control every circumstance. If you can keep your dog sub-threshold more often than he is over threshold, you are moving in the right direction!

Talking thresholds

Muzzles: a tool to keep everyone safe

(shared from Victoria Stilwells’ “Positively”)

Muzzles: A Tool to Keep Everyone Safe
By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant
SEE ALSO: Aggressive Dog: Resources for Getting Help, Dog Aggression, Find a Dog Trainer, Scared Dog: How to Approach a Fearful Dog, Muzzle Training: Dog Training Plan
A muzzle can be a helpful tool to keep everyone safe while you’re working to improve a dog’s social skills or trying to manage aggressive tendencies. In particular, a muzzle protects the dog who’s wearing it, since the fallout from a bite can include quarantine, legal action and euthanasia. I have used muzzles to safely help many dogs improve their social skills around people and other animals. With a muzzle on the dog, you can make even a scary situation a positive, successful learning experience.

Any dog can learn to wear a muzzle, and can potentially benefit from it. Every dog has a bite threshold, the point at which he or she is stressed enough to bite. For some dogs, this threshold is reached very easily; for others, it takes extraordinary circumstances. In all cases when reaching the bite threshold is possible, a dog wearing a muzzle is at much lower risk of hurting a human or another animal.

Reasons for dog muzzles

The number one reason that I recommend muzzle use is for dogs who are so fearful that they become aggressive easily. (For more on this subject, see “Dog Aggression.”) Other reasons for teaching a dog to become comfortable wearing a muzzle are:

To safely handle a terrified or injured dog (either a rescued animal or your own) in an emergency
To safely do a medical exam or groom a dog who is likely to bite
To prevent injury to other animals who are allowed to approach a dog who is likely to bite
Regarding the third reason: Many people are oblivious about aggression in dogs. They allow their dogs to run up to dogs on lead, not realizing that it’s not always a safe thing to do. Even dogs with poor greeting skills are sometimes allowed to run up and then snap at the dog on lead.

A muzzle is a wonderful tool to show that you are being responsible — doing everything you can to keep everyone safe. You can then try to educate the people who have their dogs off-lead about the dangers of allowing their dogs to approach dogs they don’t know.

Types of muzzles

There are several types of muzzles:

Plastic basket muzzle: This is the best all-around muzzle for protection, fit and training. It allows the dog to breathe and pant easily and drink water, so it can be worn for extended periods. And a dog wearing a basket muzzle can take treats for rewards during training.
Leather muzzle: These vary in design, so be sure you choose the basket style so your dog can pant, drink and receive treats.
Soft muzzle: This type is lighter than a basket muzzle and easy to put on, but doesn’t allow for as much ventilation for breathing, and there are some reports of dogs being able to bite through the soft sides. (Two types are Tuffie and Softie by ProGuard.)
Grooming (mesh or fabric) muzzle: The dog can’t pant, drink or eat treats with this muzzle on, so it should only be used for very short periods. It’s not safe to use for training.
Metal basket muzzle: I don’t recommend these because they can break at the welded spots, leaving sharp wire ends or edges that can injure the dog or you.
Emergency muzzle: In an emergency, it’s possible to create a muzzle out of gauze.
Getting a proper fit is critical. You want the dog to be comfortable wearing the muzzle, avoiding any chafing or irritation. Manufacturers of good muzzles provide a size chart and guide so that you can measure your dog to determine the fit. When a perfect fit isn’t possible, you can add padding (moleskin, foam bandage, etc.) to protect the dog’s fur and skin. A proper fit, using all the straps provided, will also minimize the risk that the dog will be able to get the muzzle off.

Keep in mind that a muzzle reduces the risk of a dog biting, but does not completely eliminate it because a muzzle can sometimes come off in a scuffle. So, even if your dog is wearing a muzzle, you should be vigilant and keep him away from situations in which he may be likely to bite.

The Muzzle Up Project ( is a great resource for people looking to outfit their dogs with muzzles. The website has comparisons of muzzle types, recommendations for fit and training, success stories and support. Once you’ve decided on the type and size of muzzle that’s best for your dog, you can buy it from an online retailer or you can try your local pet supply store.

Severity of dog bites

When it comes to dog bites, does the size of the dog matter? If a dog is willing to bite, a dog of any size can cause damage! Of course, a four-pound dog is not going to cause the same damage as a much bigger dog, but even a small dog can break the skin on a person.

I hear far too often that the bite was an accident caused by human error, but then I find out that it wasn’t a first bite. If we don’t help dogs who have these “accidents,” we are being careless with their lives. Bites from dogs of any size to people’s faces and bites to babies and small children are rarely excused. The consequences could be severe for a dog who bites a child or a person’s face. See the box below for a scale that’s useful to trainers, animal behavior consultants and vets in judging the severity of a dog bite.

This standard scale was developed by Ian Dunbar to judge the severity of dog bites based on damage inflicted.

Level one: Bark, lunge and no teeth on skin.
Level two: Teeth touched skin, no puncture.
Level three: One to four holes from a single bite; all holes less than half the length of a single canine tooth.
Level four: Single bite, deep puncture (up to 1 1/2 times the depth of a single canine tooth).
Level five: Multiple-bite attack or multiple attack incidents.
Level six: Missing large portions of flesh.
Anyone with sensitive skin — such as babies, young children and elderly people — will have more damage.

Wearing the muzzle

Before you start training a dog with a muzzle, you’ll need to get the dog comfortable with wearing the muzzle. This takes a bit of time and patience, but when done correctly, it can make the dog actually enjoy wearing the muzzle by getting him to associate it with fun and happy things. You want to make wearing the muzzle a game that the dog likes to play. For a step-by-step training plan, click here. To watch an excellent video showing the process, click here.

Training with the muzzle

Dogs who are anxious or fearful around humans or other animals need help to change the emotional associations they have with them. Any dog who is likely to bite during training should wear a muzzle, to keep him and everyone around him safe.

With the dog comfortably wearing the muzzle and focusing on you, teach and/or practice basic cues, giving praise and treats generously. (See “Teaching Your Dog Basic Cues.”) Do whatever else the dog enjoys — playing with toys, petting — so the dog continues to associate wearing the muzzle with positive things. Do this work in your home or someplace with no distractions.

When you’ve mastered basic cues, start taking the muzzled dog out walking on lead in a low-traffic area (few people or other animals, depending on what the dog reacts negatively to). Give lots of great treats through the muzzle and allow the dog to enjoy sniffing, marking, rolling — whatever makes it a great walk for the dog.

Keep the walks brief: Use this short distance daily in different locations. When the dog is able to focus on you without becoming overly excited or fearful, try moving closer to the source of the dog’s fear or anxiety (people, other animals). Each dog will vary as to how quickly he or she can progress. Some dogs can move 10 feet closer at a time; for others, two feet is a big challenge. Be careful to keep the distance between the dog and the people or animals wide enough that the dog doesn’t become overly excited or panicky.

If at any point the dog does become excited or fearful, move farther away from the people or animals and raise the value of your treats. For example, if you normally reward with dog biscuits, give bits of cheese or cooked chicken instead. It’s a good idea to carry a variety of treats at all times, since it may help the dog to stay focused or return to focusing on you instead of reacting negatively to people or other animals being nearby. Also, by varying your treats, you can keep this daily activity interesting for the dog.

Next, build up the traffic by walking in places where more people or other animals are passing by. Recruit people that the dog is comfortable with and have them appear, approach and give treats. Even if the dog isn’t afraid of new people, this is a great way to reinforce that good things happen when he’s out and about wearing his muzzle.

The next step: Practice, practice and more practice! Every day, work at getting closer to the source of the dog’s fear or anxiety — but do it at the dog’s pace. If you try to progress too quickly, he will have a more difficult time focusing and changing his behavior and his emotions. Keep in mind that change will take time — and every dog is an individual. Genetics and life experience, or lack of experience, will be different for each dog.

For dogs who are likely to bite strangers: Strangers can become friends if you work slowly and carefully with the dog. Once the stranger can approach the dog safely, have the stranger start giving treats, then gradually move on to touching and petting the dog, holding the lead and walking with the dog. Don’t remove the muzzle until the dog is clearly looking forward to spending time with this person. If you see any fear in the dog, slow down! Keep the dog muzzled while practicing in many different locations, including your home. Over time, you can build the dog’s circle of friends for life.

For dogs who are likely to bite other animals: I have had lots of success with teaching these dogs to focus on me and walk past other dogs on lead, cats outside, and wildlife such as squirrels and rabbits. To be absolutely safe, always have a muzzle with you for emergencies.

To sum up: A muzzle is a valuable tool for keeping a dog and everyone around him safe, whenever there is any chance that he may bite. Any dog can benefit from being trained to wear a muzzle, but for dogs who are likely to bite, a muzzle is an essential tool for management and training. Remember to keep practicing and rewarding the dog daily. Your goal is a relaxed dog who is comfortable in the world and can enjoy a wide variety of experiences — doing more while staying safe.

Disclaimer: Best Friends Animal Society is not responsible for any injuries to anyone using the techniques described in this article. Any person using the techniques described here does so at his/her own risk.


Step by Step: Training Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

Show your dog the muzzle from a foot away; reward him with food whenever he looks at it. Do this 2-5 times. Gradually move closer to the dog until the muzzle is within touching distance.

Wipe some wet food, peanut butter or soft cheese around the inside edge of the muzzle. As the dog approaches, let him lick the muzzle. When he will comfortably approach the muzzle and touch it, go to step 3.

Place high-value treats in the muzzle and allow the dog to eat the treats from the muzzle. (Putting duct tape on the inside bottom of the muzzle will keep most of the treats in, but allow rewarding on the go.) Let the dog place his nose in the muzzle and eat the treats by choice; do not force the muzzle on to the dog. Gently remove the muzzle before the dog has a chance to remove his nose. (Doing this will ensure that the dog does not develop the habit of taking the food and pulling away from the muzzle.) When the dog will keep his nose in the muzzle for 30 seconds, go to step 4.

Gradually require the dog to keep his nose in the muzzle for longer periods of time. Treats that the dog can easily access through the front of the muzzle (e.g., squeeze cheese, peanut butter and stick treats such as jerky) are helpful for this and the following steps. When the dog will wear the muzzle for 2-3 minutes, go to step 5.

While the dog is comfortably eating treats from the muzzle, begin to fumble with the straps and attempt to touch the straps together. When you can hold the straps together for 10 seconds, go to step 6.

Allow the dog to place his nose in the muzzle, then clip the muzzle on. Make sure the muzzle is snug enough that he can’t pull it off, but not too tight. Give him treats quickly and constantly for the entire time the muzzle is on. Keep the session short: 20 seconds to start. When you can easily place the muzzle on the dog, and clip it, go to step 7.

Put the muzzle on the dog and immediately begin to reward him with treats while he is wearing it. Then take the dog for a brief walk indoors while he’s wearing the muzzle. Keep giving treats frequently (every few steps). It’s helpful to have two people do this at first — one to keep the dog moving and one to reward. Do this a few times and then go to step 8.

Put the muzzle on the dog and immediately begin to reward him with treats while he is wearing it. Take the dog for a short walk — outside this time — while he’s wearing the muzzle and reward at regular intervals. Don’t remove the muzzle until the dog is back in his run. If he starts to paw at the muzzle, keep him moving and reward more often.

Put the muzzle on the dog whenever you take him for a walk. The dog should look forward to being muzzled at this point, because it predicts a walk. Continue to give the dog treats frequently during the walks.

If you plan to have your dog wear the muzzle for grooming or medical appointments, make several visits to the vet’s office or groomer before the actual appointments. During these “trial runs,” put the muzzle on your dog and give him lots of treats. During the actual appointments, do the same. Make sure the dog wears the muzzle for walks, or other enjoyable activities, more often than he wears it for potentially unpleasant reasons (e.g., a vet visit).

Training the hearing impaired dog

Training the Hearing Impaired Dog (from The Whole Dog Journal)

Training a dog who is deaf or hard of hearing is not difficult, it’s just a little different.

By Mardi Richmond

[Updated July 18, 2017]


– Consider adopting a deaf dog if you want a dog who does not bark at environmental noise.

– Teach your deaf dog a “look at me” or “watch me” signal first. This makes it easier to add hand signals to cue other behaviors later.

– Owners of elderly dogs should consider teaching their dogs hand signals; hearing loss is common in very old dogs.

Each year, as many as tens of thousands of dogs are born or become deaf. Unfortunately, given the number of hearing-impaired canines, there is a lot of misinformation promulgated about deaf dogs, even among dog lovers. Well-meaning but misinformed breeders and other “experts” commonly perpetuate myths about deaf dogs – that they are difficult to live with, hard to train, aggressive, and that they are only suitable dogs for a few “special” people. But the people who really know deaf dogs – those who live with and love them – tell a very different story.

“We got our first deaf dog when going to a pet fair ‘just to look’ at the cute dogs,” says Deb Sell, an animal chiropractor in Prunedale, California, and the proud guardian of four dogs. “We already had a 1½- year-old Aussie mix, Hawi (pronounced Ha-Vee; it’s Hawaiian), and really hadn’t planned on getting a second dog.”

But when Dr. Sell and her husband Stacey got to the pet fair that night, they saw one cute little white dog quietly watching everyone and became intrigued by her calm nature. They didn’t adopt Echo right away. Deb and Stacey went home that evening without her, but couldn’t stop thinking about her all week.

“We decided that if she was at the pet fair the following Friday night, we could consider adopting her. As fate would have it, she was there!” Echo soon came to live with the couple. Echo would begin for Dr. Sell what some might consider a “calling” into the world of living with and loving deaf dogs. The Sells now share their home and lives with three deaf dogs – Echo, Nefe, and Cooper – as well as their hearing dog, Hawi.

Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax of Santa Cruz also found their deaf dog, Cleo, somewhat through chance. They were visiting a local shelter, searching for a small dog, when they first met Cleo. Anything but a small dog (she is a Dalmatian), Cleo nonetheless caught their attention when in the midst of kennels full of barking, jumping dogs, she came to the kennel door and sat looking at them.

“It was as if she was saying, ‘OK, I’m ready to go home,’ ” says Mark. Not knowing Cleo was deaf, they went into an exercise yard to meet with her. It was then that one of the volunteers at the shelter mentioned that she might be hard of hearing. Gary experimented by clapping his hands over Cleo’s head. When he got no response to the sound, they realized that she was probably completely deaf.

Suzan and Gary also went away that day without Cleo. “We just weren’t sure about having a dog with a perceived handicap,” says Mark. They were also concerned that a Dalmatian might simply have too much energy for them.

The couple left the shelter with Cleo on their minds and in their hearts. Though they did look further for a small dog, they also did research to find out more about living with a deaf dog and living with a Dalmatian. They decided it just might be something they could do.

“We were still very nervous. We tried to think about all of the advantages – like she wouldn’t bark at the doorbell!” In the end, though, it was Cleo’s personality, not the fact that she could or could not hear, that won them over. “She is just a really sweet dog!” says Mark.

Why are Some Dogs Deaf?

Dogs are deaf for many of the same reasons that some people are deaf. Many deaf dogs are born that way – called congenital deafness – and there is often a genetic component. While the causes of genetically determined deafness in dogs are not completely understood, experts seem to agree that in many cases there is a relationship to a dog’s coat and eye coloring.

“I think that everyone agrees,” says Jack Edwards, Executive Director of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF), “that the genes for merle patterning that affect the color of individual hairs, the spotting patterns (especially the piebald series) that overlay whole sections of coat color and even eye color, all carry a portion of the code that determines whether a dog can hear or not.” But there may be other, less understood, genetic factors involved as well.

Edwards also notes other reasons – not related to color or pigment – that may cause a dog to be born deaf. A malnourished mother dog, birth difficulties, illness during pregnancy, plus the normal occurrence of birth defects can all be factors.

Dogs, just like people, can also lose their hearing later in life. Illness, infection, or injury to the ear can cause deafness. Older dogs may also experience a sudden or gradual loss of hearing. Dogs can be deaf in only one ear (unilateral), in both ears (bilateral), or experience only a partial deafness.

Many people with deaf dogs know their dogs are deaf without having any special medical evaluation. Some people do “sound tests” at home, much the way Gary Lomax did with Cleo at the shelter – whistling, clapping hands, or making other noises to see if the dog responds. These are not foolproof testing methods, as a dog may respond to the vibration of a sound or the movement of the air caused by making the sound, and appear to hear a certain sound when she does not. However, home tests can be helpful indicators and are a way for people to confirm what they may suspect.

For dog guardians who want to know absolutely the extent of hearing loss, there is a procedure called a “brainstem auditory evoked response” (BAER) test that measures hearing loss through measuring brain responses. Electrodes are placed under the skin on the dog’s head and hooked up to a computer that records the brain’s response to sounds. The test does not appear to cause the dog any pain, but some dogs do become agitated because of being restrained and because of wires dangling about their faces. BAER tests are performed at some university veterinary schools, hospitals, and specialty clinics.

“Special Needs” Dogs

Sell, Mark, and Lomax all agree that living with a deaf dog, for the most part, is really not so different than living with a hearing dog – they are, after all, just dogs! Some are friendly, some are shy, some are cautious, and some approach life with gusto. Each dog – hearing or deaf – has his or her own personality characteristics and needs. Deaf dogs do not have “special needs” per se. Sell emphasizes that living with her deaf dogs has “taught me that deafness is such a non-issue when it comes to dogs.”

DDEAF’s Jack Edwards agrees that deaf dogs really don’t have “special needs.” He emphasizes, “Every dog needs food, water, shelter, and routine veterinary care. They need owners to love, exercise, and train them. They need protection from man-made dangers like household chemicals and street traffic and that nasty little boy down the street. Whether they are deaf from birth and unaware that something is missing or deaf from old age where the sounds of life slowly fade away, deaf dogs do not have any needs beyond those of every other companion animal.”

Edwards argues that “special needs” are those that take extra care or work. He cites examples of dogs with medical conditions that require specific diets or medications, dogs with allergies and skin problems that need special shampoo, or even dogs who have behavioral problems that require additional training or behavior modification as having “special needs.”

The exception may be a dog that experiences a sudden deafness later in life. “There are differences when working with dogs who became deaf at different times,” says Edwards. “Congenital and geriatric deafness are really not a lot different. One never heard anything and the other learned to compensate while the surrounding world grew quiet. The biggest challenge working with these dogs is getting the owners past the initial shock and ‘what do I do now’ stage.”

“In the case of sudden-onset deafness, whether from a trauma, a toxic reaction, or a surgery, it is a little more difficult,” Edwards says. “These dogs are used to getting information about their surroundings that is no longer available – and they have grown to depend on that input. They do have a special, albeit temporary, need. You may have to help them adjust the changes they are living through because of suddenly not being able to hear.”

But there are other considerations for a person considering adopting a dog who was born deaf. One in particular, Sell says, is that you have to be much more careful about letting your dog off leash in an unfenced area. In fact, many deaf dog guardians choose not to have their dog off leash at all unless the area is fenced.

Gary Lomax and Suzan Mark agree that the fear of losing Cleo, of her wandering off, is the one thing they consider significant and different about living with a deaf dog. A hearing dog, obviously, can also get lost or run away, but they believe Cleo’s lack of hearing would make it more difficult for them to locate her if she were to become lost. Because of their fear of losing her, they are careful to allow her off leash only in secured areas, such as a fenced dog park.

Deaf Dogs and Aggression

One of the predominant myths about deaf dogs is that they will become aggressive. To this day, some breed and rescue organizations recommend that all deaf dogs be killed as puppies, in part because of the belief that deaf dogs are aggressive.

Aggression is not caused by deafness. Aggression is linked to genetic predisposition and socialization. While there are no studies on the incidents of aggressive behaviors in deaf dogs as compared to hearing dogs, people who live with deaf dogs agree: a dog that has a sound temperament and is wellsocialized is much less likely to be aggressive, whether he can hear or not.

“I don’t believe there is any correlation between deafness and aggression. It’s a question of personalities and handling,” says Jack Edwards, Executive Director of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF). He has come to this conclusion through sharing his home with five deaf Dalmatians, as well as through his experience as a trainer, and his extensive contact with other deaf dog guardians.

Edwards notes that through a deaf dog email list (with more than 1,100 members) the subject of aggression comes up periodically in regard to specific dogs (as it does on most email dog lists that discuss behavioral and training issues), but it is not a regular topic.

In addition, Edwards has helped plan and has attended six Florida Deaf Dog Picnics. These events are held in public off-leash parks and are open to everyone. Edwards says that these events have been attended by all sorts of dogs, from Boston Terriers, Dachshunds, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Catahoulas, to the ever-present Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Boxers, and Dalmatians. “I have yet to see any problems or scuffles started by a deaf dog at one of these events.”

This of course does not mean that deaf dogs do not have aggression issues – they are, after all, dogs. But the incidence of aggression in deaf dogs does not seem to be any higher than among the general dog population. And specific training and behavior modification used to deal with aggression issues works just as well with deaf dogs as with hearing dogs.

Dogs Don’t Speak English

Of course, people who decide to adopt a deaf dog will need to be willing to overcome any reluctance they may have to communicating nonverbally. Dogs, whose primary mode of communication appears to be body language, don’t seem to have a problem with nonverbal communication; they don’t depend on English or any other spoken language to begin with! But some people do fear that they will not be able to adjust to using hand and visual signals rather than words to communicate.

Mark and Lomax said they had expected communication to be a problem, but discovered that it really hasn’t been. Cleo, Mark notes, is very intuitive about body language and picks up on hand signals very quickly.

“A slight flick of the wrist tells her to sit,” she says, “and using your whole arm is like shouting at her.”

People who live and work with deaf dogs do develop a whole series of nonverbal communication signals – including facial expressions, body postures, hand signals, and even high-tech devices such as vibrating collars. Some of the communication signals are intentional. Others happen naturally, for example when the dog learns what it means when people open a certain kitchen cabinet or reach for the leash. Of course, many people continue to talk to their dogs, too. When people speak, we incorporate a whole slew of facial expressions that may actually prove beneficial in communicating in spite of the fact that the dog doesn’t hear the words.

Do you have to learn special hand signals, like American Sign Language (ASL), to communicate with a deaf dog? Not necessarily. For some people, adopting signals from ASL means that they do not have to invent their own. Others use a combination of ASL signals and common obedience hand signals. Still others use whatever hand signals come naturally. One advantage to using certain ASL or “obedience” style hand signals is that other people may also know them and be able to communicate with your dog. For example, if you take your dog to a training class, the instructor is more likely to already know traditional obedience hand signals.

Isn’t Training More Difficult?

Deaf dogs, like hearing dogs, do not train themselves. Just as with any dog, your job will be to devote time and energy to their training and socialization in order to help them become well-adjusted members of the community. The principles of training apply to a deaf dog in the same way they do to a hearing dog. The main difference in the way you train a deaf dog is just in the way you communicate.

“I expected it to be difficult and it wasn’t. ‘Deafies’ (at least the deaf Aussies I have) are so tuned in to your hand signals and body language, they seem to stay more focused on me when I am training them than a hearing dog,” says Sell. “We have been involved in agility training and use only hand signals to do so. Echo buzzes around the course like a pro!”

Just as when training a hearing dog, you must first teach a deaf dog to understand when you want her attention. This is akin to teaching a hearing dog to understand her name. You can choose a signal for her name or teach a signal for “look at me” or “watch me.” In addition, you can teach a physical cue, such as a tap on the shoulder, for attention. Some people choose to use lights or vibrating collars (not shock collars) to get their dog’s attention.

In addition, you will need to teach a deaf dog one or more reward marker signals, and signals that are the equivalent to verbal praise. If this seems like a lot, just remember that we must also teach our hearing dogs what these things mean. No dog automatically knows his name, nor does he know the word “good” is praise.

Special issues around training do come up in regards to calling your dog at a distance – especially if she is not looking at you. Using a laser light (shined in front of a dog who is looking away, not at his eyes!) or a vibrating collar are two good solutions to getting attention at a distance, and thus being able to signal your dog to come.

“At the dog park,” Suzan Mark notes, “it is a little harder to get Cleo’s attention to call her back to us than it is with other dogs. Of course that does depend on who you are comparing her to – lots of dogs at the dog park don’t respond when they are called!”

Getting a Deaf Dog’s Attention

My students with deaf dogs frequently relate that their biggest challenge is getting their dogs’ attention, whether at home or out in the world. I watched one student, early in her training, do some incredible acrobatics to try and keep herself positioned in her dog’s line of sight. She seemed very happy when she realized she could teach her dog to look at her, instead. Here are some tips for getting a deaf dog’s attention (these tips work well with dogs who hear, too.)

• Reward “offered” attention

One of the most important ways to teach dogs to pay attention to you is to reward all “offers” of attention. This will encourage your dog to check in with you regularly, whether you ask for attention or not. At first, just for giving attention, you can offer a reward. In other words, if you are out on a walk and your dog looks up at you, give him a treat!

Once your dog starts to realize that checking in with you regularly earns rewards, you can start asking for additional behaviors before rewarding him. For example, if your dog looks at you expecting a treat, ask for a “sit,” then reward. Do continue to occasionally reward simply “checking in” with treats, play, or petting.

Jack Edwards from DDEAF suggests a game of “hide and seek” for teaching a dog to offer attention. “It starts out as ‘find me and get a reward.’ Then it turns into ‘whenever you see me, you get a signal to do something rewarding.’ Sometimes it’s a signal to go back to playing and sometimes it’s a ‘how fast can you get here’ recall. These games sure teach the dog to pay a lot of attention!”

• Hand signal for his name

Just as you teach a dog to respond to “Max” or “Spot,” you can teach a deaf dog to respond to a signal that means, “I’m talking to you now.” A simple finger point or a wave will each work and are easy to teach, but any signal will do.

To teach that the finger point or wave means “Max,” start by simply pointing or waving at the dog, then offering a reward such as a great treat. Throughout your daily life, use his “name signal” much as you would a verbal name. If you are about to feed your dog, point or wave in her direction, then walk to the kitchen and prepare his dinner. Before walks, point or wave to your dog, then get out the leash.

Soon the dog will respond to the hand signal just as a hearing dog would respond to the sound of his name spoken verbally.

• “Look” or “watch me” hand signal

Many dogs, hearing and deaf, need to be taught that they must pay attention at times. A “watch me” signal is a great way to teach them that they need to focus on you.

Take a treat between your thumb and middle finger. Briefly swipe the treat under your dog’s nose, then bring your hand up to your face and point your index finger to your eyes. As your dog’s eyes follow the treat to your eyes, give your “thumbs up” or other reward marker and give the dog the treat.

As your dog learns the game, begin to do the hand motion without having a treat in your hand. Do continue to give your dog the “thumbs up” and a treat for looking at your face.

Keep playing the game, increasing the length of time your dog “watches” you, before giving the thumbs up and the treat. One to three minutes of sustained eye contact is a good goal for a solid “watch me.”

Once your dog knows the signal from sitting in front of you in the living room, teach it with your dog in different positions. For example, ask him to watch you as he walks beside you as if walking on a leash. Then begin to practice in a variety of environments.

• Tap on the shoulder

In order to avoid the acrobatic antics of trying to make your dog see a hand signal, you can teach a physical cue that means “look” or “watch me” too. I like a tap on the shoulder or rear end as the signal for “Hey, look at me now.”

Start by tapping your dog on the shoulder when he is already looking at you, and offering a treat. Then move to tapping on the shoulder and treating when he is off to your side. Gradually move so that you are behind your dog. Tap him on the shoulder, and when he turns his head, give him a treat.

Once he knows that tapping means looking your way for a treat, you can add the other steps for “watch me.”

Clicker Training for Deaf Dogs?

Of course! Clicker training is simply a style of training that uses a “reward marker” to tell the dog when he “got it right!” With hearing dogs, people most commonly use a “clicker” or a word such as “Yes” as the reward marker. With a deaf dog, you can use the flick of a penlight or a hand signal such as a “thumbs up” for your reward marker.

To teach your dog that the flash of a penlight or a “thumbs up” signal means the dog just got it right, simply pair the signal with a treat. For example, first do a “thumbs up,” and then give your dog a great treat. Repeat 20 to 30 times in a row.

Now you can use your “thumbs up” the same as you would a clicker. For example, to shape a “sit,” wait for your dog to offer a sit or lure him into position just as you would a hearing dog. When he sits, give a “thumbs up” followed by a treat. As with a hearing dog, remember to get the behavior first, then put it on cue. When teaching the dog to sit, make sure your dog will, first, offer the sit reliably. Then give your hand signal for “sit” just before your dog sits. When he sits, immediately give him a “thumbs up” and a treat. He will quickly learn that your hand signal cue means sit, and the thumbs up means he did something right.

In addition to teaching a reward marker, consider teaching a signal such as a hand clap motion that means “good dog” or “keep going.” This can help bridge the communication gap when a dog is trying, but hasn’t quite hit the target for a “thumbs up.” A “reward marker” is a visual signal that alerts the dog that she has done the right thing and can expect a reward.

From here, it’s all up to you. You can teach a deaf dog as many behaviors and tricks as a dog who hears.

Using Technology with Deaf Dogs

High tech devices are not necessary when training a deaf dog; many people do without them just fine. But they do offer another alternative for getting a dog’s attention.

Consider a vibrating collar. (Not a shock collar. Be careful if you get a collar that doubles as both; you could accidentally shock your dog when you mean to vibrate.) The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund has a list of vibration collar manufacturers on its Web site ( By itself, a vibrating collar will not teach a dog anything, but if you pair the vibration with great rewards like chicken or tuna, your dog will learn to look at you when he feels the vibration. This signal can work to get your dog’s attention when he is across the park from you.

You can use a laser light in a similar fashion to get a dog’s attention. Flash the light in front of the dog on the ground or another surface, and then give the dog a treat. (Be sure not to flash the light directly at the dog, as it could damage his eyes.) A laser light can be used in the daytime as well as at night and some lights can focus a spot up to 100 yards away.

Other Attention-Getters

Stomping your foot or banging a door can get your dog’s attention because they create a vibration that the dog may feel. Flicking the light switch or flashing a flashlight will attract their attention visually. Waving your arms in a wide circle over your head and out at your side can get a dog’s attention through his peripheral vision. Each of these will work even better if they are paired with a great reward.

“All Done” Signal

When you spend a whole lot of time teaching a dog to pay attention to you, you can end up with a dog who will never leave you alone. This can be trying for both the dog and the person!

By teaching your dog an “all done” or a release signal, you have a way to tell your dog when he is off duty and no longer needs to give you his undivided attention. This one is easy; simply pair a signal such as a flat hand or a “go away” motion with absolutely no attention from you! Your dog will soon learn that when you signal “all done,” the game is over.

Startling Myths About Dog Deafness

When I began working with my first student with a deaf dog, I did research trying to discover special issues that come up with deaf dogs. One of the “myths” surrounding deaf dogs that I saw repeatedly was that if you startle a deaf dog, they will bite.

“I think you can just take ‘deaf’ out of that sentence,” says Mark. In other words, if you startle any dog, he might bite. Hearing dogs can be startled too, and any dog who is frightened might react defensively. Deaf dogs aren’t necessarily startled more easily, just differently. And not all dogs react to being startled with aggression. Take Cleo, for example. “You can startle her and she reacts. But she thinks good things are going to happen!” Mark says.

The combination of Cleo’s good nature, possibly coupled with startle conditioning exercises shortly after they brought her home, has made startling a non-issue in their life. In fact recently, while playing at a local dog park, two young children ran up behind Cleo and grabbed her in a big hug. Cleo was obviously startled, but seemed to simply enjoy the experience. She greeted the girls, then happily received their pets and hugs.

Jack Edwards agrees. “It is my opinion that all dogs startle to unexpected stimuli – hearing dogs even more so because of the additional surprises. The phrase to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ was not written about deaf dogs but has been passed through generations of people who know better than to startle a dog.”

Edwards does also emphasize, however, that dogs who have suddenly become deaf may be more likely to suffer all the negative side effects of being startled. “These are the dogs where you really do need to take the time to help desensitize them.”

Like hearing dogs, not every deaf dog will be as easygoing as Cleo about being surprised or startled. For example, Deb Sell’s Border Collie mix, Nefe, did have trouble with people suddenly “appearing” in the doorway at her office. (This issue may be more related to her being a Border Collie, than to her having trouble hearing – one of my herding dogs has had a similar problem when she accompanies me to work.) Through counter-conditioning, Nefe has learned that people appearing in a doorway is not such a scary thing after all.

Socializing any dog to lots of people, places, sites, and touches will help him learn not to be as startled by any one factor. In addition, people living with deaf or hearing dogs can consciously condition their dogs so that they actually enjoy being startled. By pairing the dog’s favorite treat with a “startle,” she can learn, like Cleo did, that being startled means good things happen.

Speaking Louder Than Words

I must admit that I wanted to write this article to help dispel myths about deaf dogs, and to help put a wedge into the shameful practice of killing deaf dogs simply because they cannot hear. But I had a second motivation: to share with other caring dog people that living with a dog that has a physical difference isn’t about being altruistic or noble. Rather, it’s about being open to sharing your life with an animal who comes your way – the one who is meant to be your companion whether she can hear or not.

Sell notes, “People shy away from adopting a dog that is ‘defective.’ Those people are really missing out on sharing their life with a very special animal. I truly believe animals come into our lives for a reason. I think mine are here to teach me that a ‘handicap’ is something that you need to look beyond, to see the real inner person (dog). If we had not adopted these three deafies, we would have missed out on one of life’s great gifts . . . an amazing and strong bond between people and their dogs.”

Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax began their journey with Cleo with some apprehension. They were understandably nervous about adopting a deaf dog. But now, after having shared their life with her, when asked if they would do it again, Suzan and Gary say, “For sure! She picked us.”

When asked if she would do it again, Sell just laughs. “Well, I think the fact that we have already adopted three pretty much answers this question!”

Mardi Richmond is a writer, editor and dog trainer who lives in Santa Cruz, California. She is grateful to Jack Edwards of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund, Dr. Deb Sell, and Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax for sharing their experiences for this article.

Dog to dog aggression

(from Victoria Stilell’s “Positively”)

Dog-to-dog aggression is a common occurrence and one that causes extreme stress for dogs and owners. Multi-dog households frequently experience some kind of ‘sibling’ rivalry with short squabbles and disagreements, but these are usually mild and happen infrequently enough to maintain a comfort level that allows for everyone to live safely and peacefully.

If violence between dogs occurs regularly and one or more of the dogs are being hurt, then separation and constant environmental management is one of the most effective ways to deal with the problem. In severe cases, rehoming should be considered. Some dogs do not do well in multi-dog households and are happiest being the only dog in a home. This takes stress off all family members and allows for more harmonious living.

Why are some dogs dog-aggressive?
Dog to dog aggression occurs because a dog is either unsocialized and uncomfortable around other dogs, or has had a traumatic experience which causes her to be afraid of another dog’s presence. Some dogs might be more protective of things they deem valuable for their safety, comfort and survival such as food, locations, toys and other objects, people and territory. This leads to active aggressive display in order to make whatever threatens that safety go away.

Should I punish a dog aggressive dog?
Avoid punishing, bullying or intimidating a dog that is showing aggression.

If a dog on a leash aggresses towards another dog walking by and receives hard punishment in the form of jerking, hitting, kicking or restraining, the dog not only learns to fear the person punishing them but also sees the other dog’s presence as a trigger for that punishment, which will make the dog even more insecure and likely to aggress again the next time another dog walks by.

If the dog aggressive dog is taught that good things happen to her when she sees another dog and is taught a different active behavior from aggressing, she then begins to build up positive feelings to any approaching dog and feels less need to aggress.

How can I reintroduce a dog to other dogs safely?
Once a dog feels more comfortable walking past other dogs, then gentle introductions can be made. This is best done with a very calm dog that is good at giving signals that pacify and demonstrate low threat.

Face-to-face greetings are not recommended immediately, but simply experiencing positive things in the other dog’s presence such as walking or other activities at a comfortable distance can help build a positive association.

Parallel walking, following the calm dog and sniffing the behind before a facial greeting can have real benefits, but this is better done under the supervision of a qualified positive trainer to guide initial interactions.

Can I take my dog aggressive dog to the dog park?
Dog parks are not recommended for dog aggressive dogs or dogs that play too roughly, as smaller spaces with no place to run, can be overwhelming and cause a bad reaction. Just as some people are overwhelmed being in a crowd, so too are dogs and solitary walks or walking with a small group contributes to a much happier dog and safer interactions.

Setting Realistic Expectations
We have high expectations for our dogs and in an ideal world would like them to be comfortable around every dog they meet, but these are expectations that we ourselves find hard to follow. We do not want to greet everyone we meet in the street or have strangers come into our space uninvited, and neither do our dogs.

Keep an eye on body language and allow your dog to pick and choose which dogs he or she wants to socialize with. Some dogs are happier with their own company or the company of one or two other dogs so keeping that dog on a relaxed leash in a public place is key to giving her confidence and keeping her and other dogs around her safe.

Dog – dog aggression

Dog boredom vs anxiety

(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”

Many people return home after a day at work to a household of destruction and mayhem, and their first assumption is that their dog suffers from acute separation anxiety. Sometimes this can be the case, but in many cases, the dog has destroyed the house as a cure for another very common problem in the canine world: acute boredom.

Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety or Is He Just Bored?
There are specific signs that tell an experienced positive dog trainer whether the dog is truly suffering from separation anxiety or is simply trying to cope with feeling really bored and unstimulated. The end result can look similar, but thankfully many cases of supposed separation anxiety are actually easy-to-rectify cases of a bored dog finding ways to fill his day.

The best way to find out whether constant barking or destruction is just boredom or true anxiety is to video your dog when he is alone. This is easily done by putting a camera on a tripod and focusing it on areas where the destruction is worst or by the door that is used most regularly to come and go. If the barking, whining and destruction is very severe particularly within the first 30 minutes of your departure, that is a good indicator that your dog is suffering some distress on separation. If however your dog goes to sleep after you leave and then wakes up and barks or chews, the behavior is more likely to be due to boredom.

Once you have determined the cause of the behavior and established that your dog is just bored, how do you keep him entertained? The world is full of unemployed dogs that engage in very little activity and spend most of their lives on the couch. Even though most domestic dogs do not work for humans as they once did, however, their lives can still be enriched with activities, games, and exercise to prevent boredom, anxiety, and behavioral issues.

10 Tips for Preventing Dog Boredom:

Stimulate your dog’s senses by allowing him to experience different environments each day. Taking your dog around the neighborhood or to the local park can help mix up his everyday routine.
If your dog is home alone for long hours, consider hiring a dog walker or (if appropriate) taking your dog to a reputable doggie daycare facility. Leaving your dog in the yard all day is just as bad as leaving him in your home.
If your dog loves the car, take her for a ride. This is a great way to give a fearful or reactive dog mental stimulation outside the home.
Play games with your dog. Hide-and-seek, fetch, Frisbee, and tug-of-war are all great games.
Find a dog sport that you and your dog can enjoy together. Sports challenge your dog mentally and physically and can help fearful dogs gain confidence. There are sports that satisfy every type of dog, from agility to dock diving.
Minimize destruction by managing your dog’s environment, and provide him with a safe area where he can stay when unsupervised.
If your dog likes to be touched, give him a massage. This is a great way to relax your dog.
Learn about your dog’s breed or mix of breeds and find activities that suit his abilities. Border collies enjoy herding, Bloodhounds love to track, and greyhounds are great at lure coursing. Find what suits you and your dog.
Organize a regular dog walking group or set up canine playdates. Keep your dog social and active by giving him plenty of interaction with others.
Therapy work is great for confident, social dogs. Find a therapy group near you and make a real difference with your dog.

Can my dog be stressed? Part 1

(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

By: Beverley Courtney

Those of us who have a reactive, anxious, or fearful dog, work very hard to make life easier for them (and us!).

We try this idea and that technique, perhaps with distressingly little success. Some days our dog just seems worse!

Here is the first of three excerpts from my next book – Building Confidence in your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog – which points out an area which will be affecting your dog mightily.

While you’re doing your best to improve the situation and you take a look at what may be making things worse, you cannot overlook stress.

Stress causes reactions to be exaggerated
Stress causes us to snap
Stress wears us out

And there are some areas of your dog’s life that are building stress that will really surprise you.

1. Too many walks

“What!” you squawk! “I thought I had to take my dog out for a walk every single day! I thought I was doing the right thing!”

Well, like so much in life, that depends. It depends on how your dog is experiencing these walks.

A happy-go-lucky dog who loves meeting people and other dogs will relish his daily walks. But that’s not the dog you have, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

It may be that your dog gets sick with anxiety at the very thought of a walk. The walk may consist of you getting upset or telling him off while he runs the gauntlet of narrow paths, fence-running dogs, squealing children, dog walkers walking their dog straight towards him, traffic noises, people wanting to pat his head …

This is not an enjoyable walk for an anxious, shy, or reactive dog!

There are two reasons for walking your dog. One is for exercise. The other is for socialisation. Clearly the second reason here is a fail. So cut your losses, exercise your dog with vigorous play in the garden or on solo walks in a relatively dog-free zone – a forest trail, for instance – and save road walks for when your dog is calm and you can avoid most of the hazards.

Energy-burning games

There are great games you can play with your dog to exercise him – without ever having to leave your home. Free running and jumping about till your dog’s sides are heaving, his tongue lolling, and his eyes shining, are what you want for exercise.

If you have outside space you can play with balls or frisbees, reinforcing the connection between you all the while. Tug is a game that uses a load of energy – and you can really go to town on harnessing your dog’s instinctive drives by playing with a flirt-pole.

The joy of these games is that you can use them to build your dog’s impulse control at the same time. He’ll learn never to jump up or snatch the toy from your hand in Tug. And the flirt-pole teaches the collection and restraint needed for a successful bunny-hunt.

And no, it won’t turn your dog into a predatory nightmare. I used the flirt-pole to build Cricket the Whippet’s impulse control around small furry things, with the result that I can call her off rabbits. I have known dogs who were so full-on in their play that their owners had to wear thick gloves to play with them and stay in one piece! Once the dog learns the rules of the game, it becomes rewarding for both parties – and no more need for gloves.

If you have no outside space, you can rely on Tug to tire your dog out – especially as you’re getting him to use his brain in this puzzle too.

French Bulldog pup on skateboardUsing wobble cushions and planks will help to build muscles and balance that your dog didn’t know he had. Walking down the stairs, then walking up again backwards, step by step, is a skill which uses lots of brain and brawn.

Hide and Seek is always a popular, tiring, and satisfying, game, especially if you have children to join in. My boys used to love rolling themselves up in their duvets and waiting to be found – which didn’t take long with all the squealing going on!

Choose a good time for an outing

Once your dog is rested from having to face the daily challenge of a walk, you should see some calmness entering the picture.

Then when you feel ready, you can take him out. The aim of Puppy Socialisation is to expose your pup as much as possible to all the experiences of our world – while the puppy enjoys the experience. The same goes for your older dog. Taking him places where he is scared or uncomfortable is just tormenting him without any good resulting: in fact this could make him more fearful.

So find a quiet time when you can take your dog out for a walk, and be flexible with your plans! You can turn away from anything your dog finds upsetting.

The garbage truck is collecting and making a huge noise? Just turn and go the other way. There’s a school outing of excited children heading towards you? Go! Heavy rain is making the traffic very noisy? Head home.

Resist the temptation to say “I always go this way,” and go right, then left, through the street market, across the railway bridge … Your walk can just be the same 100 yards in front of your house repeated several times!

As long as your dog is viewing this as a positive experience, then you are succeeding.

What is the result we want?

We’re focussing on the outcome here – calm walks with a happy and relaxed dog. If your daily walks are not a step in this direction, then you need to cut them right back.

For a free e-course to help remove the stress from your life, and your dog’s life – and news about the new book! – go to