Behavior Issues :

  • Jump To:
  • 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

    What should you do when your dog growls at someone?

    I admit, that’s a pretty broad question to answer because dogs growl for a lot of different reasons. There are good growls, like when a dog’s having fun playing tug-of-war and there are bad growls like when a dog growls at a young child. Nobody wants their dog to growl at an innocent child and our first instinct is usually to swiftly correct the dog in order to send a message that we don’t like that behavior. I was guilty of doing that with Haley when she was younger because it’s a common human reaction, but when I stopped to think about why Haley was growling and what she was feeling, I realized that she was only trying to communicate her feelings.

    A Dog’s Growl Can Mean:

    • I’m having fun trying to wrestle this rope toy away from you.
    • I’m hurting or don’t feel good and would like to be left alone.
    • I heard something outside, but I’m not sure if it’s anything to be worried about.
    • I’m unsure of the person that I see walking up the driveway.
    • I’m defending my yard or my spot on the couch.
    • I’m worried that you might take my food or toy away from me.
    • I’m scared, stressed or uncomfortable in this situation.

    The last two reasons, fear and possessiveness, are the ones that usually cause that knee-jerk reaction inside of us to issue a correction. If a dog is fearful or aggressive, you’ll often see other body language signals before you hear a growl. For a lot of dogs, a growl is the last warning sign before they could be provoked to bite or attack, especially if they feel cornered and can’t retreat. It’s a vocal warning, a heads up so to speak, so the last thing you want to do is correct a dog for growling and possibly silence their early warning system. If you know when your dog is fearful or uncomfortable before they resort to a bite, you’ve got the best chance to desensitize them through counterconditioning.

    Haley’s Fear of Little Girls

    When Haley was young, she had a fear of small children, especially little girls. I think part of her fear came from an encounter we had with some very pushy and aggressive little girls that approached us in the park during her socialization period. Not long after that incident, she would sometimes emit a low, quiet growl when kids would approach her. It’s not a good feeling to have a dog that growls at kids. I wanted Haley to feel comfortable around children and I wanted to be able to take her anywhere without worrying about how she might react to people. Here’s what I did to help her overcome that fear.

    My first job was to protect her (and of course, the kids) while we began the counterconditioning process. We first visited parks and watched children play at a distance where Haley was comfortable and relaxed and she got plenty of treats and praise for her cooperation. When we would pass children on our walks, I would create more distance to keep her comfortable and again, she got lots of yummy treats and affection. We slowly decreased the distance to the children and increased the level of interaction but only within Haley’s comfort zone and while ensuring the safety of the kids. It didn’t take long before she started associating good things with the sight and sounds of youngsters and eventually she was even relaxed enough to listen and take commands from them, in exchange for yummy treats of course.

    I have to add a disclaimer here. I don’t mean to imply that everything you need to know about fixing an issue with a reactive dog is found in the paragraph above. The concept of counterconditioning is simple to understand in theory, but it’s a slow process that requires you to be able to closely analyze your dog’s behavior and body language. For that reason, it’s best to consult with a professional trainer or canine behaviorist first. I just wanted to give a real example of how Haley’s anxiety issue was treated because she was initially able to communicate her fearfulness to me by growling. Here are some tips if you’re ever in a situation where your dog’s growling at someone.

    What To Do When Your Dog Growls at Someone

    1. Don’t correct your dog.

    Growling is the best way your dog has to communicate with you and others that she’s stressed or uncomfortable. It’s her early warning signal before matters could escalate to a bite.

    2. Maintain control of your dog.

    To ensure everyone’s safety, make sure your dog is fully under your control and leashed.

    3. Stay calm.

    Dogs sometimes react to our own emotions, so it’s important to stay relaxed, move slowly and use a calm tone of voice when your dog is growling or showing signs of stress.

    4. Create distance.

    Diffuse your dog’s reaction by putting distance between her and the person she’s reacting to, even if that means turning around and walking in the opposite direction. If your dog is growling at you, slowly move away and give her more space.

    5. Don’t pressure your dog.

    Don’t pressure or push your dog to accept or approach the person she’s uncomfortable with. Pressuring a dog that’s already stressed will likely escalate her emotions to a level where she could lash out and bite.

    6. Check your attitude.

    If your dog is growling at you or is being possessive of food or toys, don’t make the assumption that she’s being dominant or defiant. Confronting her or reacting back with an aggressive attitude will likely escalate her reaction and diminish trust.

    7. Put together a game plan.

    After analyzing the situation, create a plan to help your dog overcome her issue. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional trainer or canine behaviorist that specializes in using positive reinforcement methods. They can best advice you on the appropriate course of action when dealing with fear or aggression related issues.

    What If Your Dog’s Growling at Someone Outside Your Home?

    It’s normal for dogs to want to protect their territory and alert you to anything unusual outside by growling or barking at the window. Most people like having a dog that will let them know if something looks suspicious. I don’t mind Haley’s growling when this happens, but the barking can get annoying sometimes. I’ve always used the phrase It’s Okay when I want to calm her down, so instead of saying “No!” or “Quiet!” when she alerts me to something, I say “It’s Okay”. This usually works pretty well and her demeanor changes as if she’s thinking “Okay, you can take care of this one if they come busting through the door”.

    Snarling Dog


    Sometimes it’s hard to fight the instinct to correct a dog that’s growling at someone, especially if that someone happens to be us or a small child. But when we understand that our dogs are actually trying to communicate their feelings, we should be thankful they’re giving us a heads up warning and the opportunity to help them overcome the stressful issue they’re dealing with.

    Have you ever been concerned when your dog growled at someone? What did you do?

    What should I do when my dog reacts?

    (From Victoria Stilwell’s ‘Positively’)

    Naughty But Nice: What should I do when my dog REACTS?

    When we come across a situation our dog doesn’t like, whether that be seeing something (e.g. a black wire-haired small dog, a person with a beard, a child, etc.), hearing something or any other experience, there is a huge temptation to encourage interaction with that thing. It’s human nature to feel the need to DO something in that very instant – to FIX the problem.

    WARNING – This is the worst thing to do!! Here are four tips to turn worry into confidence!

    1. Give them a break! Stress levels don’t come down instantly, in fact they can take days to return to their normal levels after an incident! Giving them at least a few days break from both positive and negative arousal/stress events is key to ensuring this does not become a frequent occurrence. My research shows that it can take 72 hours+ before some dogs stop showing a behavioural response after a “reactivity episode”, and this suggests that their buckets may be quite full for some time following that!


    1. Build an optimist!

    The underlying cause of this response is, what I call and for which there is an increasing body of evidence, a pessimistic bias on the way they perceive and process experiences. This means that new or novel and slightly different or ambiguous situations may be presumed to be something negative, something bad!

    New thing = it’s going to eat me!

    Building an optimist involves, long-term, teaching the dog that new things are something good; we need to make them predictors of good stuff, which in most cases is food! Setting aside some of your dog’s daily food allowance and using this to pay into the optimism bank account by following new or different things with food throughout the day is incredibly effective! Equally, shaping games and filling your dog’s lives with fun massively helps this too!


    1. Work with SIMILAR, not the same!

    When it comes to actually tackling the specific situation that concerned you, I urge you to leave that specific situation well alone and work on similar ones instead! Let’s take the example of your dog lunging forward and barking as a car backfires on a walk.

    • First of all, I would give him a break from all things stressful or high arousal for a few days.
    • Next up would be setting into action a plan to build your dog as more of an optimist.
    • Then you could begin building a more positive association with other loud noises, following the sounds of doors closing, dogs barking in the distance or a truck driving past the house with delivery of food from your dog’s daily food allowance.
    • Then you may do the same on a walk,
    • and finally the situation may present itself again where a car backfires. The difference this time is that your dog is now much more prepared to perceive this as something not so terrible and what’s more you have practised all the skills to be able to build this specific situation as something positive for your dog!

    Forcing interaction with the scary thing is possibly the worst thing you could do in that instant but certainly is the most tempting! Following these three simple tips will ensure long-term success in this!

    1. Games, Games, Games!

    The secret to working with these dogs is using a programme that focusses on simple, quickebook games you can play in your living room.These games add in the fun, take off the pressure and teach key skills!

    The focus of these games might be, for example, focus, impulse control, calmness or even games that train behaviours you can use in tricky situations, like “middle”. In this latest downloadable and completely three eBook, five games that, in my opinion, are the fundamentals to any programme of working with dogs that may be reactive, easily overaroused, frustrated or just lacking focus or impulse control:



    Prey drive

    Prey Drive

    Prey drive is one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of the canine personality. Prey drive is NOT the same as aggression. This has been demonstrated scientifically using Electrical Stimulation of the Brain (ESB) studies. The part of the brain that controls predatory behavior is completely separate from the part of the brain that controls aggressive behavior. Predatory behaviors are fun for animals. Aggressive behaviors are not. This was also demonstrated with ESB studies. When given the choice, animals will push the button to stimulate the predatory part of their brain. When given the choice, animals will NOT push the button to stimulate the aggressive part of their brain. That tells us that predatory behaviors are enjoyable while aggressive behaviors are not.

    ESB studies also show that all animals have a predatory part of their brain. In non-predatory animals, like rats, this part of their brain is never triggered (until they did it in a lab with ESB). Dogs are predators as well as scavengers, so that part of their brain does get triggered. A dog who chases and kills prey is doing what normal dogs do. Dogs and cats alike do not always kill for food. Chasing and killing prey are vestigial wolf behaviors. It’s not necessary for the domestic dog’s survival but lingers from their genetic roots, rather like our appendix! However, as anyone who has had a ruptured appendix knows, this vestigial behavior can cause serious problems.

    When we make the decision to bring a predatory animal into our lives, we must accept that prey drive is part of who they are. When prey drive crosses the line from normal dog behavior to serious problem is when the dog is out of control. Dogs who escape their own fences and roam free in the neighborhood killing cats and sometimes even other dogs are a menace to society. Society holds dogs to a different standard than every other predatory animal. It is our responsibility as dog owners to be aware of that and protect our dogs. They could be labeled a dangerous or vicious animal for killing a cat, and it does not matter how irrational that is. For your dog’s safety and for your personal liability (you could be sued, fined, or even jailed), make sure your dog is under control.

    Many people believe that dogs who kill cats will also kill children. This is a false assumption. Normal healthy pet dogs do not kill children and know the difference between a cat and a child. However, several dogs together who have not been fully raised in a domestic home environment can kill large prey such as sheep, goats, and cattle, and even children. Wolves are able to kill prey much larger than themselves because they hunt in packs. When a group of dogs get together, they can emulate this wolf behavior.

    Prey drive can also be a problem when you take your dog for a walk on leash, especially if you have a large dog. Dogs have approximately as much strength as a person 3 times their size. So, if you have an 80 pound dog and you are not a 240+ pound person, you will not be able to control the dog with strength alone. When a high prey drive dog spots a prey animal, something switches in their brain and all they are focused on is that prey. If they decide to take off for the chase, you could have your shoulder wrenched, fall on your face, lose your dog completely as he jerks the leash out of your hand, or all of the above! It is especially important with the high prey drive dog to have voice control of him.

    Does my dog have a high prey drive?

    If your dog has a high prey drive, he will show predatory behaviors even if there is no actual prey around. This includes pouncing on and/or shaking toys and intense focus on things that move erratically, such as a leaf falling from a tree or a plastic bag being blown by the wind. Of course, picking birds off the birdbath is also a pretty good clue! The canine personality profile will tell you your dog’s prey drive score. The score will give you a good idea of how diligent you need to be with your dogs around small animals.

    Managing the high prey drive dog


    It’s important to keep all pet dogs contained when you are not around to supervise them. It’s the law. It keeps your dog safe. It protects you from liability. But, it’s even more crucial with the high prey drive dog. If your dog gets loose and kills a neighbor’s cat or small dog, you could face fines or jail time, lose your homeowner’s insurance, and your dog could be euthanized. The risk becomes greater the more dogs you have. Wolves are able to hunt prey much larger than themselves because they work together in packs. Dogs retain that ability to band together to take down large prey. Children running on a playground can become a target for a pack of dogs. Nodody wants to get that phone call. So, be proactive and take extra steps to keep your dog confined to your own home or yard.

    Physical fencing is the best option. A skirt of chicken wire around the bottom of the fence will help with digging. Sheet metal buried just beneath the soil around the fence is another good option for discouraging diggers. For climbers, try wire fencing in front of your regular fencing. It’s not sturdy enough to handle the weight of an animal trying to climb over. Electric and invisible fences work for some dogs, but others will run straight through it hollering all the way. Even dogs who are normally contained by the invisible fence may get such an adrenaline rush from the thrill of the chase that they will run through it after a squirrel or a cat. If you are having difficulty keeping your dog contained by a fence, consider building a kennel or crating him inside when you’re away from home.

    Voice Control

    Voice control means that your dog obeys your commands even at a distance from you. If you have voice control of your dog, you can stop a chase simply by telling him to leave it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Your dog may be the picture of obedience in your backyard with nothing around to distract him. The real test is if your dog will obey your voice commands with a squirrel skittering nearby. Getting that level of obedience takes some commitment. However, it’s not as much as one might think. Just 15 minutes per day of working with your dog will do wonders. In fact, short training sessions are better than very long ones because attentions can wander after a while. That’s why Geometry class is only an hour long! Who could focus on rectangles any longer than that?

    The typical voice command to tell a dog to not even think about going after what he’s thinking of going after is “leave it”. Leave It means don’t look at it, don’t touch it, don’t go anywhere near it. Work on teaching leave it at home first. When you’re out walking with your dog, be aware of your surroundings and your dog’s reaction to what is happening. The best time to deliver the leave it command is the instant his eyes lock on to a target. If you wait any longer, his brain can switch to hyper-focused mode, and he won’t even hear you. With practice, you will get to know your dog’s body language well enough to see the difference in when he is looking at the squirrel but still “with you” and when he is no longer “with you”. It’s ok if he wants to watch the squirrel, as long as he remains “with you”.


    If you don’t want to forego your daily walks while you’re working on voice control, and who would blame you, there are products available that will help you to physically control your dog while you are working on training him. These tools are not a substitute for training but are helpful for that period while you are training. After all, tools can fail, break, or malfunction. A good relationship is always stronger than a tool.

    Prong Collar Known as “power steering” for dogs, prong collars look like a medieval torture device, but used correctly they are rather benign. Try it on yourself first if you have any doubts. There are dogs who are very touch sensitive who cannot tolerate a prong collar. If you try it on your dog, and he completely shuts down, use one of the other options instead. more on the prong collar… proper fit of the prong collar…

    Snap-around Collar A snap-around collar works much the same as a choke collar with one important distinction. It does not have to slip over the dog’s head. It “snaps around” their neck instead. This allows for proper fitting of the collar which is the same as described for the prong collar in the link above. It is difficult to achieve this fit with a regular choke collar because it has to be large enough to slide over the dog’s head. This is a good option for those dogs who cannot tolerate the prong collar. more on the snap-around collar…

    Head Halter Head halters work similarly to reins on a horse. They fit around the dog’s face to give you more control on walks. These are an excellent option for those who are uncomfortable using prong or snap-around collars. Use what works for your dog. Although many humans believe this option to be the kindest, many dogs disagree. Just as some dogs cannot tolerate the prong, some dogs cannot tolerate wearing something on their face. Try them all on and let your dog decide. more on the head halter… cons of the head halter…

    Harnesses Harnesses can actually encourage pulling. What do you put on a dog when you want him to pull a sled? A harness! However, there are some harnesses on the market designed to discourage pulling, such as the no-pull harness. more on the no-pull harness…

    Appropriate Outlets

    Prey Drive cannot be erradicated in a dog. It can only be managed. One way to do that is to redirect it to appropriate outlets. The energy has to go somewhere, so you might as well control where it goes. You cannot turn your dog into a predator by playing these games. He already is one.

    Fetch! Chocolate Labs are an example of a dog who has been intentionally bred to maintain a high prey drive. What good is a retriever who will not go after the prey? A retriever needs something to retrieve. If you are a hunter and can use your dog to retrieve game, then GREAT! You have the ultimate appropriate outlet – what he was bred to do. If not, then give him something else to retrieve, like the toy duck Gauge is holding in the picture. Tennis balls, frisbees, and Kongs are also fun to retrieve. Combine that with something else Labs love – WATER – and you have an outlet your dog will love! You can even enter your dog in competitive retrieving events such as flyball or water retrieving.

    Tug of War is another great way to direct your dog’s prey drive. It’s unfortunate that this game has gotten such a bad rap from a lot of training myths out there because it is a lot of fun for you and your dog! Playing tug of war will not make your dog aggressive. They learn to play it on their own whether you “teach” them or not, and puppies will play the game together. You don’t have to “win” every time to show you’re dog you are the boss. Dogs understand that tug of war is a game. In play, dominant and submissive mean nothing. A more dominant dog will sometimes let the submissive one win to keep things interesting, whether this is wrestling or tug of war. The only purpose always winning will serve is to make your dog completely lose interest in the game. Would you want to play a game you never win? You still control when the game begins and ends because your dog will usually try to give the toy back to you to keep the game going, unless he’s tired of playing. If you’re done playing, just don’t grab it!

    Toys, like the duck Gauge is holding, are another good release. Dogs can pounce on them and shake them like they would do with actual prey. Some dogs will rip a stuffed toy to shreds. You can buy a toy from a yard sale for a quarter and let them have a blast shredding it. Just be sure to supervise them and throw the pieces away immediately so they don’t swallow any stuffing or even a squeaker! Pull off plastic parts like eyes and noses before giving it to them. Plastic bottles are fun to play with, too. Remove the cap and ring first, and supervise. Your dog can cut his gums on the lip once he’s chewed it down to a point, so be sure to throw it away before it gets too rough. Kong toys and the like are safe to give most dogs unsupervised, but most everything else should be for supervised play time.

    When the Dog Lives with Prey

    Can a high prey drive dog live with prey animals, such as cats, rabbits, and ferrets? If you are dilligent, they can. They should never be left alone together, but there are some ways to make it safe for your other pets. Keep in mind that while it is possible to teach your dog to leave other household pets alone, they will not translate that to include other animals of the same species outside of the household. A dog can live with a colony of cats and never bother them but still go after strange cats.

    Make sure your other pets always have an escape route and some place to hide where your dog cannot reach them. Never let them both out in the yard at the same time. The prey drive is usually triggered by movement. A cat who remains still has a better chance of survival than a cat who runs. Out in the open of the yard, the cat is likely to run and have far too much space to cover to escape.

    In addition to separation and escape routes, work on conditioning your dog to behave appropriately with the other pets. Reward your dog every time he is with the other pets and behaving appropriately. This means he is not stalking, staring, or trying to chase them. Ignoring is good. Give him treats, pets, and praise for peaceful coexistence. Also, work on theleave it command in case you need to tell him to back off the other pets. Always use caution when allowing your dog to interact with your other pets.

    Information on prey drive is based on ESB Studies conducted by Jaak Panskepp as cited in Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. See the book or more information.

    Additional Resources:

    Dogs living with Cats

    When Dogs Kill

    Hunting Breeds and Behaviors



    (NOTE: From Two Dog Farms: We do not advocate the use of prong collars – in our experience, Asian dogs are typically too sensitive around the necks for such ‘tools’)

    Dog tip: scared of stairs?

    Scared of Stairs?
    Do you know a dog who is afraid of steps and stairways?

    Perhaps past experiences led to the dog to associate steps with something unpleasant, frightening and/or hurtful. Perhaps the dog was yelled at for going up or down a stairway, or had fallen down stairs during his formative weeks, or was pushed down steps. Or the dog recalls that steps once led to a place in which he was frightened, yelled at, or physically abused. Or the dog just never encountered steps before.

    Some people respond to such fears by forcing the dog up and down the steps. But this approach often doesn’t provide the dog with an opportunity to overcome his fear. (In addition, a fearful dog may try to nip or bite as a means of expressing “I’m terrified of steps!”

    Instead, many canine behavior specialists recommend to help the dog work through her step-phobia through use of positive reinforcement (including verbal praise, treats and other positive, nonpunishing motivators) and counter-conditioning.

    Before attempting any of the exercises suggested in this Dog Tipsheet, visit your vet to rule out the possibility that the step-shy dog does not have an injury or medical condition that is making it painful to walk up and down steps.

    Preventing the development of fear of steps:

    Take the time to properly socialize your puppy. Make sure that by age 16 weeks, the pup is exposed to the various things, people and situations (such as stairways) he will eventually encounter along the course of life. Do your best to keep all experiences during these impressionable weeks safe, secure and happy.

    If you’ve adopted a more mature dog, remember that socialization continues throughout the dog’s lifetime. Practice the same exercises as for puppy socialization. (See other Robin’s Dog Tipsheets on socialization, accessible via the links listed at the end.)

    Training your dog to climb and descend steps without fear:

    When introducing your pup or dog to steps, work to gradually build her confidence. Start with just approaching the stairway. Reward her for making baby steps – any show of progress, no matter how small. Slowly introduce treats and, of course, verbal reinforcement into the training scenarios. Besides food treats, positive reinforcement tools include playing with your dog and providing a favorite toy for quick romp sessions.

    You can use tasty treats or a favorite toy as a lure, placing one on the “target” step as you work with your dog.

    After the dog shows signs of comfort with approaching the steps, practice going up one step. Then turn and go back down the step. Practice this several times, praising the dog for any sign of progress and any sign of reduced anxiety.

    Note: some trainers suggest advancing on the steps beside the dog. Others suggest staying just behind the dog, since a shy and/or fearful canine will usually find this less intimidating than having someone towering over him.

    Next, ascend and descend two steps. Again, praise and reinforce for any progress. Repeat until the dog is willingly managing the steps. Add a few more steps at a time.

    When you’re ready to climb to the top of a stairway, make sure you have several particularly high-value, appealing treats on hand. You want to give your dog the idea that contrary to being scary, or leading to a scary place, steps lead to good feelings and things…such as tasty treats.

    Take care not to rush the process, or else you will risk a setback.

    Be patient. You might aim to devote 2 or 3 days to working on each “step” (approaching the stairway, touching the first step, climbing the first step, climbing a couple more steps, etc.).

    When the dog is comfortable heading in one direction (such as down the steps), reverse direction…again taking things slowly. Note: many dogs are more scared of going down steps, so their people often start working with them on going up steps.

    When the dog is comfortable going up and down that flight of stairs, practice the same exercise on a different stairway. Remember, dogs do not generalize well on their own.

    Another approach, which can be blended with the previous counter-conditioning strategy: instead of feeding your dog in the kitchen or wherever you usually feed him, put the dog’s food bowl at the top or bottom of the stairway in your home, whichever is closest to the dog’s regular feeding area.

    When the dog exhibits comfort with eating in this new area, move the food bowl to the first step. As soon as the dog seems relaxed and accepting and willing to eat at this step-side spot, move the food bowl to the next step. Keep going, gradually, so that the dog will learn that the steps are not a scary place after all.

    Here’s another technique. While we do not advocate forcing a dog up or down steps, some dogs will respond to a combination of firm physical encouragement and happy talk, which conveys to him that you, the leader, are not at all afraid of the steps and to trust you. Before attempting this exercise, teach your dog to move forward in response to the command “heel” or “let’s go” in a nonthreatening situation, such as when out on walks. For the stairway exercise, place the dog in a harness, so that you are not pulling on his neck. Firmly grasp the harness at the point between the dog’s shoulders. Then, use the command “heel” or “let’s go” and descend the steps with your hand on the harness, firmly navigating the dog down the steps by your side. Move steadily forward, without pauses, so that your dog doesn’t have a chance to contemplate his anxiety.

    As you descend together, praise your dog verbally (GOOD DOG!), then provide a treat at the bottom of the stairs. Work to keep your dog’s eyes focused on you, and not on the steps or the space beyond you. A key goal is to help your dog learn to trust you, and to help him realize that you’re not going to let him get hurt. Repeat several times. If the dog continues exhibiting fear, follow the first technique described above.

    After the dog becomes comfortable going down the steps, reverse direction.

    Even after your dog appears to lose his or her anxiety about steps, make the effort to provide continued opportunities to ascend and descend stairways to reinforce the new association that “stairs are OK and even lead to good things.”

    These exercises can be adapted to entering and exiting cars and other motor vehicles.

    Another smart, novel technique:

    Liz Dietz shares this smart technique that helped her foster dog, Bubba. Having always lived in a single-story house, Bubba didn’t know how to navigate stairs. When Liz first took him to her home, instead of descending her back deck steps to do his business, he jumped off the top step. “When it came time to get back into the house, I couldn’t get him to go up the stairs,” said Liz.

    Liz came up with a great idea. To disguise the steps, she draped a blanket over all of the steps of the staircase. “With a little encouragement, Bubba stepped on the blanket rather gingerly but made his way right up,” recalls Liz. This visual trick worked.

    She needed to use the blanket only three or four times before he was willing to climb the stairs without it. Stepping down the stairs came more gradually, but he learned.

    Liz’s back deck steps presented what some dogs would perceive as an additional challenge: the stairs were built without vertical panels, so you can see through the staircase. “This might have scared or confused Bubba, but with the blanket there, he couldn’t detect any puzzling patterns.”

    Dogs typically have trouble generalizing between different situations, so it’s not surprising that Bubba had trouble transferring his newly acquired step knowledge to the indoor stairs, which did have vertical panels. The indoor staircase was also taller, included a turn at a landing, and led to a narrow hallway, which might seem somewhat intimidating to a dog inexperienced with stairways.

    Bubba’s step story has a nice surprise ending. After leaving his foster caregiver’s house to go to his permanent home, Bubba figured out the indoor staircase. He navigated the stairs all by himself, apparently determined to be with his owner. As Liz says, “Not a bad leap of learning for an eight-year-old dog!”
    Related reading:

    Safer Stairways

    Helping a Dog Overcome Fear

    Socialization for Adult Dogs

    Socialization: What it is, basic principles, socializing young and new dogs

    For more Dog Tips and other information about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does,
    visit our website at:

    Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1074
    Greenbelt, MD 20768

    FOR NONPROFIT USE ONLY. These articles may NOT be reproduced or circulated without author permission.

    Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport

    No (training) plan survives contact with reality

    (by Diana Bird – Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

    Newbie dog owners and people struggling with dog behavior problems – I feel for you! The huge amount of training/ behavior information online is overwhelming and confusing. Tempting promises of quick fixes; careful use of language around every tool – kind/ gentle/ humane… What can you believe? Who can you believe?

    If I was starting my dog training days now, I think I would feel quite lost.

    Perhaps this is why people adopt gurus. I have misgivings about that and have written more here, but I understand that when you find someone whose work makes sense to you, it’s quite a relief.

    One of my concerns with online training information is that it’s often presented as a simple recipe which you can easily follow to make a difference quickly. Most of the time I don’t think that’s true.

    Think about this:
    To stop smoking – don’t put a cigarette in your mouth.
    To lose weight – eat less fatty and sugary food. Eat more fresh fruit, leafy vegetables and lean meat. Exercise regularly.

    You see, it’s quite simple. Yet anyone who’s ever tried to do these things will tell you it’s not EASY!

    Simple dog training recipes are no different. Their simplicity is attractive because we all want to achieve a lot in a short time, but they aren’t easy to implement successfully. Why not? Because of all the important detail which has to be missed out in order to keep the plan simple.

    “No plan survives contact with the audience.”

    You and your dog are not programmable robots. Neither of you are likely to follow a list of instructions perfectly, so you should expect training to go amiss. What’s more, because the instructions are usually incomplete (to keep them simple) you might have no idea that you need to do more. You might think your dog is now fully trained or socialized, or you might realize that he isn’t, but not know what to do next.

    Even if you do follow the instructions with some success, they’re often not very effective anyway. Heck, show me a dog who learns that because you eat first or exit the house first, he should walk nicely on a leash! Perhaps they’re out there, but I’ve never met one.

    I really don’t like the word ‘easy’ as an intended motivator.

    It might work for some people, but I don’t like what I see when people don’t find it easy. They feel demoralized. They give up. They blame their ‘dumb’ or ‘stubborn’ dog or their ‘dumb’ or ‘inadequate’ selves. That’s so sad and so unnecessary.

    Training effectiveness depends on training regularly, consistently, communicating clearly, reflecting and adapting what you do … and that depends on you, your knowledge, your skills, the people you live with, your dog, how everyone feels today etc.

    Even the best instruction list can’t cover every training possibility you will face.

    You just have to:

    1. Train.

    2. Observe the results.

    3. Analyze what happened.

    4. Reflect, make some changes, and try again.

    5. If you are completely lost, don’t just give up. Try to find out what you don’t know. Seek help EARLY.

    (And I know that simple list has a lot of gaps in it! Aaargh!)

    Some dogs just absorb the rules and routines of their home with very little effort from their owner. These dogs are usually quiet, sociable and sensitive to their people. They may not be very well ‘trained’ (don’t do a lot of behaviors on cue), but they are friendly and well behaved and their people enjoy them. Other dogs need a little more input from their people to learn to be ‘well behaved’ or ‘somewhat trained’, but they get there without too much drama.

    Most dogs need lots and lots of input from their people.

    Some marketers encourage businesses to sell tools and ideas because when people have those, they think they have the answers to their problems. Frankly that bothers me.

    Buyers might believe that all they need is a tool or a recipe to build a relationship or solve a complex issue with their dog, but it’s never going to be my sales pitch. Mine is the complete opposite, in the hope I will attract the people I really want to work with.

    I want my people to know that:






    I want people to learn to ENJOY THE PROCESS … Be willing to struggle. Be willing to problem solve. Be patient. Forgive yourself and the dog. If the dog isn’t learning it’s probably because your teaching sucks. That’s okay. You’re a learner too. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your teeth. Take a breath. Chuckle. Then play with your pup. Remind yourself that it’s only a game and you’re both learning the rules.

    I study and practice this stuff yet sometimes my teaching sucks too. Then I relax/ breathe/ chuckle/ play and try again!

    Here’s a little story about that.

    I bought a puppy earlier this year. My older dog was a well trained 9 year old and I knew having a puppy would be hard, but it was even harder than I expected. For a start the older dog isn’t sociable. I was prepared for this to be difficult, but the reality was worse. These two spent the first 3 months separated by baby gates and closed doors. The pup wanted to be friends. The older dog didn’t. Keeping them apart, but able to see each other and interact safely was a simple idea, but it wasn’t easy. My husband and I regularly crashed into and fell over the baby gates, and had to be strategic about which dog was in the front yard, which one was in the back yard and how we would get them there. It was a darned nuisance – BUT IT WORKED! Now the dogs are great together.

    My puppy bit like a piranha, didn’t like to be handled and when confused or frustrated barked or bit some more. (No, I didn’t know this when I bought her – she seemed sweet and her parents were delightful.) She screamed in the car. She didn’t want to eat what I offered her. At times I felt completely lost, missed my quiet single dog days, wondered why I had bought a puppy and what on earth I was going to do next. I was supposed to be a dog trainer and I was struggling! How did pet people survive this??

    An exhausted parent wrestling with a colicky baby loves to hear from other parents about their difficulties. I was equally grateful to hear other experienced trainers share their stories of awful puppy behavior! It gave me hope and made me feel less alone and inadequate!

    The most worrying problem was the biting. However, having had students with persistent biters who eventually improved, I held out hope. ( I also got a real taste of what those poor people had been up against. Not fun )

    I persevered. At times I felt distressed, frustrated and angry, as well as sore and bleeding! I knew it wasn’t only that I had a difficult puppy, I wasn’t doing things clearly enough for her. I began to make my way through the alphabet with different strategies because plan A, B and C weren’t enough.

    I owned the problems and adapted my training – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I lowered my expectations. Instead of trying to work on everything at once (which felt quite overwhelming) I focused on a few things for a while, then a few different things, then a mix of both.

    Why am I admitting this?

    I wanted to share my struggles, so you’d realize that those simple puppy training recipes sell you a start point and no more. It’s okay to find puppy raising difficult.

    I also want to share the positives. Even as a baby, Spring was responsive, and progressed quickly in many ways. This encouraged me, and let me know we were headed in the right direction despite the numerous detours and U-turns. You must NOTICE the positives! They’re very important! Focusing on negatives is easy, but they can cloud our judgement, and become all that we see. Finding positives can be hard, yet achievements are what give us confidence and motivate us to continue.

    This puppy reminded me that to progress quickly, sometimes you have to slow everything down – a lot. If you haven’t heard of the 1% principle, it’s time you did. 1% daily improvement adds up to a whole lot over time. (Read more here.) Occasional big training sessions are not going to be nearly as useful as the many small sessions and interactions you have with your dog each day. Use that time well. Pay attention to how things are going, tweak your training and strive to make tiny improvements. Small things accumulate to make a big difference, not just in dog training, but in life.

    Also remember that If you make a mess of a ‘big’ session, it may have a bigger impact than a messed up micro session. 3 successful brushes with a brush each day are far better than trying to do a full groom and having a major battle. If you try for a 4th brush and the dog doesn’t like it – you just learned that’s too many for now (messed up micro session – no battle.)

    At eleven months old, I thoroughly enjoy my little border collie. Her behavior has been a steep learning curve, which I always knew I would appreciate – and now (thankfully) I do! Raising her has been hard work and the work continues, but it has also been well worth the effort. She’s teaching me a lot, is great to live with and I love her.

    I leave you with these reminders.

    A lot of simple things are not easy (and that’s okay.)

    Training plans and recipes are just starting points, not magic spells.
    No plan survives contact with an audience. Expect to make many adjustments.
    Be ready, willing and able to spend time with, and work hard for your puppies.
    Use the 1% principle to develop and learn from the process.
    (Take advantage of the learning and apply the 1% principle to other parts of your life.)
    Your hard work will be rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable canine companion!
    Good luck and enjoy!

    Confessions of a dog trainer: I have a reactive dog (Part 2)

    (from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

    In part one of this blog series, I talked about my reactive dog, what reactivity is, and why it happens. While attending a behavior seminar last year, I heard a very clever metaphor to explain theimportance of management in a behavior modification program: allowing a dog to practice a behavior that you are trying to change is just like pouring water into a bucket with holes. Management is important because it helps to create an environment in which the dog has little or no opportunity to practice the behavior you want to change. Otherwise it’s like taking three steps forward and two steps back.

    Many of you read my last blog about my dog Charlotte and her behavior of barking and lunging at other dogs when we lived in New York City, a behavior I wanted to change. By allowing Charlotte to practice the behavior of barking and lunging, she was only getting better at barking and lunging. Management in this case means doing my best to avoid or minimize situations where Charlotte was able to practice barking and lunging. I have a human example as well. Many years ago, I had a friend who wanted to quit smoking but was struggling to do so. This was during the time when people could still smoke in bars and restaurants had smoking sections. After a few failed attempts, he realized why he was having such a hard time–he kept hanging out around people who were smoking. For three months, he avoided public areas, including parties, to better support him in quitting smoking.

    I remember many occasions while living in New York City where I had to weave in and out of kids coming out of school, dogs pulling across the sidewalk with retractable leashes stretched out like trip wire, scooters zooming by, and people stopping abruptly to text on their phones. All of this while walking my dogs! A lot to think about! I was reminded of a defensive driving class I took in my early twenties. The instructor lectured us on how to be careful driving and avoid getting into accidents. Isn’t that exactly what I was doing that day when I was walking Charlotte and Tricky around the neighborhood? I was maneuvering my dogs through the sidewalks keeping aware of the environment and avoiding situations that could trigger a reaction out of Charlotte. Defensive Driving on the sidewalks of the city.

    It’s simple but not easy to be skilled at managing a reactive dog. It takes lots of practice to sharpen your own mechanics while teaching the dog various exercises to help the dog stay focused on you. These skills–both human and dog–have to be practiced regularly, away from the things that trigger the dog. My sister is a professional in the stunt industry. Yup! My sister is a stunt woman. So cool! Not only does she fall out of buildings and kick the you-know-what out of men, she also drives a stunt car! One of the reasons she is successful in the stunt industry is because she practices…a lot. Talk about defensive driving!

    I started with a series of games that involved Charlotte moving with me while focusing on me. Foundation handling exercises helped Charlotte move with me like a dance partner. These skills helped me weave Charlotte through foot traffic and re-position her to avoid dogs as best as possible on the streets of New York City. We practiced these games all of the time in the park and on walks, even if there wasn’t another dog present. That way, Charlotte and I were skilled at executing the maneuver when we needed it. Practice makes perfect! Here are two of the Defensive Driving skills I taught Charlotte.

    Emergency U-Turn

    This is a great maneuver to help you get out of dodge, so to speak! If the trigger (another dog, for example), was in front of us, I used this to get Charlotte to turn around and move away from the trigger. It was a game for her and she enjoyed chasing me away from the ‘scary dog’.

    Find a quiet area where there isn’t much going on. You can even start indoors so you can practice without a leash initially. Once you and your dog are fluid with the technique, you can add a leash to the picture.
    Arm yourself with high-value treats—something your dog will go ga-ga over. You want small, bite-sized treats in your hand.
    Keep your treats handy by holding one in your hand and walk with your dog. Let him know you have a treat in your hand. In this case, let’s imagine your dog is on your right side. After taking a few steps forward with your dog, you would turn to your left, while keeping the treat in your left hand. Lure your dog, encouraging him to follow you as you turn. When he catches up with you, tell him “good boy!” and give the treat when your dog is next to you again on your right side.
    You can add a verbal cue once your dog understands the game. You can say something like “This way!” or “Let’s go!” and then turn. After a few steps in the opposite direction of where you and your dog were headed, reward him at your side.
    Practice, practice, practice. You want to do this often, make it fun, and try to do it in different locations with different distractions.
    Face Front

    I used this maneuver if I couldn’t turn around on the sidewalk but needed to create some distance between Charlotte and the other dog, while keeping her focus on me. Charlotte was the kind of dog that did better when she wasn’t watching the other dog approaching. As soon as the other dog passed, we continued on our way.

    Makes sure to have a couple of yummy treats in your hand, at the ready.
    Walk forward several steps, and then say your dog’s name and shuffle back 4-5 steps.
    Lure your dog with treat in your hand so that your dog follows it, coming into your space and sitting in front of you.
    Feed several treats, one after another, while praising.
    In my next couple of blogs, I am going to share more Defensive Driving games with you as well as the other work I did to help Charlotte feel more comfortable around dogs when on walks.