Behavior Issues :

  • Jump To:
  • How to handle a growling dog

    By Karen Fazio | New Jersey Pets

    Recently I was awakened from a deep sleep by someone poking me. I complained and whined. It didn’t work to stop the annoyance. Finally I blurted out “whaaaat?” in an angry tone of voice.

    My poor husband was the one doing the poking and he was trying to wake me up so I wouldn’t be late for my first appointment of the day. Of course, after gaining complete consciousness I felt awful that I spoke and reacted to him in such a fashion. He now calls me the crypt monster.

    That same weekend while a friend was visiting me I attempted to move my Lucy — a Foxhound — on the couch because she looked like she was going to fall off. I pushed and prodded with all good intentions to keep her comfortable as she lay in a semi-sleep state. After trying to push around her 107 lbs of her body she looked at me and began growling, snarling and whining. Her tone of voice sounded as if she were saying “hey, what the heck do you think you’re doing? I’m sleeping. Stop it!”

    I assured her and apologized and told her she was a good girl. My friend looked at me aghast and asked why in the world I didn’t reprimand her for her naughty behavior. My answer was that she was being very polite by growling. This served only to confuse my friend further. I explained that dogs have so few ways to express themselves to us when they are upset. Growling happens to be one of them.

    Growling is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood expressions in dogs. The behavior isn’t evil and it doesn’t always mean a dog is unfriendly. Growling may occur when a dog is in pain, frightened, annoyed, to send a warning, or tell you that pushing and prodding them while they’re trying to sleep is really annoying.

    As humans we have an unlimited amount of ways to express ourselves when agitated. Dogs are fairly limited to barking, whining, snapping, running away, and yes, growling. To put growling into perspective lets examine some of the ways in which humans respond to things that tick them off.

    We yell at people, scream at drivers on the road, flip them the bird, break things, slam doors, stomp our feet, huff and puff, make idle threats. If you begin adding in domestic violence, gang violence, missile launches, genocide and arson, the growl of a dog doesn’t seem all that bad of an expression.

    Despite the vocal and oftentimes violent ways in which we express our feelings we’re quick to point the finger at a growling dog and label it dangerous or a bad dog.

    Now, I’m not giving a free pass to a growling dog. Threatening postures from a dog should never be taken lightly and one should seek professional help if this is a common occurrence.

    Growling is a warning. It is a dog’s way of saying this is making me very uncomfortable. If you continue to do what you’re doing I will have to take action. In dogspeak the behavior is considered to be quite polite. The reason I say this is because a dog can easily cause much damage by biting us. Those that growl are trying to avoid conflict, or at the very least, attempting to prevent a situation from escalating.

    When a dog is growling the best way to handle it is to stop whatever you’re doing that’s causing the dog to feel uncomfortable. Yelling at it, threatening it with punishment, or actually getting physical with it may increase the likelihood that the next time you might get bitten. This is because growling did not work to stop the threat. In the best situations we would like the dog never to growl, but perhaps walk away instead. This certainly can be achieved in training, but in order for any training program to be successful we must understand what the dog is uncomfortable with and begin eliminating those factors that elicit growling.

    My backing down, walking away, or using a soothing tone of voice, we are helping to ease the dog’s tensions. Also begin thinking of how you could do things differently that wouldn’t cause the dog to get so uncomfortable that his has to resort to growling. For example, f you want to move a sleeping dog, perhaps it’s best to call their name so they can come toward you for a treat. For a dog who growls when he’s eating a bone when you approach, perhaps when you approach you should toss them a piece of cheese before you turn and walk away. In the first example we are giving the dog an opportunity to wake up and come toward us instead of prodding it. In the second example the dog will learn over the course of time that when someone approaches him while bone chewing that it will mean he’s about to get something even better.

    If you are the owner of a growling dog it’s always best to seek professional help from a positive based trainer who can show you creative, fun ways to help the dog gain more confidence and coping strategies to overcome those situations where it feels threatened. By helping the dog to cope better and overcome his fears, you will help to create a strong bond of trust that can help prevent future issues, or present issues from escalating.

    Karen Fazio is a professional dog trainer and owner of The Dog Super Nanny professional dog training and pet sitting services. She has over a decade of experience working with fearful and aggressive dogs using positive-based training methods. She can be reached for comment at, or by emailing her at

    Confessions of a dog trainer: I have a reactive dog (Part 1)

    by Bobbie Bhambree (Victoria Stillwell’s “Positively”)

    (Bobbie Bhambree is the Founder & Director of DogCentric Training, LLC, and has been a professional dog trainer for 13 years. Bobbie is a CPDT, member of IAABC, member of APDT and is a licensed trainer with VSPDT.)

    It was a humbling experience, as a dog trainer, when I moved into New York City and had a dog that barked and lunged at other dogs when walking down the street. My dog, Charlotte, is generally a little anxious, and life in the city was quite an adjustment for her. I know I’m really good at my profession, but suddenly I was able to empathize with my city clients and all that it takes to support a dog that is upset or anxious outside. I also did not wear any clothes with my logo on it for the first month I lived in the city, horrified that people would see this dog trainer with a “bad dog.” Who would hire that person?! It was a tough month of acclimation for all of us.

    Unfortunately for many dog owners, reactivity is a common behavior issue. In some cases, the dog is reactive to inanimate objects that move, such as trucks or scooters. Sometimes they react towards people, such as joggers, people holding objects like bags, or people walking with canes. Dogs can also be reactive to kids, loud noises, or a sudden burst of activity. For this article, I am going to focus on dog-dog reactivity, specifically leash-reactivity, for the purpose of explaining how I helped Charlotte. The first step is to understand the behavior of reactivity and what motivates the dog to put on a huge display that is embarrassing and stressful to the person on the other end of the leash.

    What is reactivity?

    I like Dr. Patricia McConnell‘s definition of reactivity:

    “REACTIVITY? What are we talking about here? When I use the term I am talking about what we usually think of as “over reactivity,” or “reactivity” that we see as inappropriate. After all, a loose body greeting is a “reaction” to another dog, right? In this case, I am talking about barking, lunging, snarling, snapping, stiffening etc… in other words, doing things we humans don’t like that makes us nervous that the behavior might be followed by aggression or trouble of some kind. It’s not a great term, but it’s better than “aggression,” since so much of behavior that we consider problematic is not aggressive at all.”

    Why are dogs reactive?

    Dogs can be reactive towards other dogs for many reasons. Some fear or dislike other dogs because they had a bad experience or were under socialized when younger (lacked positive experiences with other dogs). These dogs are barking and lunging to keep other dogs at bay. Some dogs LOVE other dogs so they bark and lunge out of frustration of being restrained by the leash. These dogs are desperate to meet every dog and tend to do well with dogs in off leash situations. Dogs like Charlotte want to control the space around them and the actions of other dogs. The leash prevents her from doing so and therefore she is reactive.

    In all cases, it can be embarrassing and stressful for the human partner as well as the dog. A dog trainer, such as myself, who uses reward-based techniques and has training in behavioral science can help you transform your dog’s behavior. I am a fan of finding such trainers who have CPDT status (Certified Professional Dog Trainers). You can also find excellent trainers using the trainer search on Victoria Stilwell’s website, where trainers have been VSPDT certified. I have both CPDT and VSPDT status and am happy to work with you or to recommend an equally qualified peer.

    In part 2 of this blog, I will give you some management tools I used to help Charlotte from reacting to things that bothered her. 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. I heard a trainer recently say that allowing a dog to practice a behavior that you are trying to change is just like pouring water into a bucket with holes. That metaphor definitely made an impact on me.

    Clarity & Harmony…better way of living with your dog.


    by Beverley Courtney (Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

    Instinctive drives are hard-wired behaviours with which we all come equipped. The most obvious one would be eating. We all have to eat. And trying to suppress that desire will only drive it underground. If someone’s hungry and is prevented from eating, they will steal food. If you try to control something that strongly embedded, you’ll get evasive and deceitful responses.

    So too with many of the behaviours we see in our dogs. Taken to excess, these compulsions would become annoying or even dangerous. But if you can accommodate them – by giving your dog an outlet for his natural inclinations – you’ll have no trouble with them. Don’t fight nature!

    The Four Instinctive Drives People Struggle With

    There are four instinctive drives that people tend to complain about most. Contrary to popular perception, all dogs don’t do all these things. It’s not something you have to resign yourself to when you get a puppy. Many dogs will indulge them just a little, some just during puppyhood, and some not at all. But they can all be modified without taking the dog’s enjoyment and basic needs away from him!

    Here are some ideas to get you started.

    1. DIGGING
    Particularly evident in earth dogs – terriers, ratters – though by no means confined to them. Provide digging opportunities for your digger.

    • Half-bury old bones, plastic bottles and such like in a part of the garden you earmark for digging. Don’t leave your dog outside unattended – telling him off after the event is a waste of time. As soon as he starts digging, run excitedly to your dig-spot and start digging yourself. Encourage him to dig himself to a standstill!

    • Indoors you can play “Dig for the Toy (or Person) Under the Duvet” games. Be sure to protect the person’s face from those ravaging claws. This exciting game usually results in much laughter all round! Let them dig their bed to bits. Instead of one boring piece of padded bed, give them lots of cushions and blankets they can rearrange and tunnel into. They enjoy the release of energy in ferocious digging, so they need to be able to do it. So what if they damage their bed? It’s their bed. And you can get a new one if they shred it.

    • Digging often wanes with age. My Border Collie Rollo used to pounce on the grass and dig as a puppy – clearly he could hear something creeping about in the earth. He lets the underground traffic of mice and beetles carry on unheeded now. I captured the entertaining pouncing action though, and he’ll still rear up and dive when I say “Rabbit!” Cricket the Whippet enjoys digging so much that she is encouraged to dig her bed, and we’ve kept that behaviour of frantic digging going – long past puppyhood!

    2. CHEWING
    If you don’t want her to chew your things, then you need to supply her with plenty of her things that she can chew.

    • Large bones she really has to stand on and fight with are the very, very best and most popular chew toys. Choose raw beef bones – ribs or larger. She’ll soon strip off anything fleshy and happily gnaw the clean bones for months. I have a multi-dog household and there are never any bone-fights.

    • Rawhide chews are not the natural product you may think them to be. They’re heavily processed and may have lots of additives and junk.

    • Food-toys are great to soothe anxious chewers and occupy those jaws safely. You can use anything you have handy to fill them: squeezy cheese, liver pate, peanut butter (additive-free), last night’s left-over pasta and sauce. Freezing them makes them last longer. Kibble works well in containers that have to be rolled or wobbled to give up their bounty.

    • All discarded containers (like cereal boxes, toilet roll middles, plastic bottles, for instance) can become food toys. The dogs are welcome to shred them and rip them apart to reach the goodies inside. Ripping and tearing is enormously satisfying for them.

    • I would not want to give my puppy anything to chew now that I didn’t want her to chew later. Old shoes, old jumpers, best Jimmy Choos, favourite blouse: how can she tell the difference? You can launder and recycle old clothes into plaited dog ropes.

    3. CHASING

    Chasing – you or dog-friends – in a safe area is fine. Hurtling across a road chasing a squirrel is not.

    • Equal chasing – taking turns to chase each other – makes for great excitement. In a good game dogs will adjust their pace to suit their playmate. They take turns at being chaser and chasee. The game can be fast, but not intense.

    • Flat-out, head-down chasing – leg-biting, flank-grabbing, frustrated barking – are not good. You’ll end up at the Vet with a dog needing stitches. Teach your frustrated chaser to hold a toy in his mouth when chasing. Hanging on to the toy gives him something else to focus on and bite down onto. It muffles the woofs too! If he can’t chase nicely, with or without a toy to hold, then he doesn’t get to chase live things – dogs, people, cats, etc. Some herding dogs and sighthounds need to learn how to chase safely, without nipping or grabbing.

    • Chasing crows. As long as the area is safe I’m happy to let mine chase foraging crows off the ground. They’ll never catch them, so the birds are in no danger. This tends to be a puppy thing, as they give up the unequal contest after a number of failures. But it gives the dog an outlet for that very rewarding surge of energy and focus that comes with a good chase.

    • Teach your dog to chase with rules. A flirt pole is ideal for this. He may not grab it from the air or your hand – he has to wait till you release him to pounce on it. You can build up to this level of self-control. To begin with it will be a massive outlet for his chasing desire. It will also wear him out very fast – great for days when there’s too much energy and too little opportunity to get out and use it up. Regular play with the flirt pole gives my whippet an outlet for her very strong rabbit-chasing instincts, making recalls off rabbits a snap.

    • “You can’t catch me!” A chase game round the garden with a toy reward can be great fun and use up a lot of energy (for both of you!). As long as your dog will come right to you when you want to hold her collar, playing Keep Away is fine.

    4. BARKING
    Some breeds or types of dog are very barky. It’s pointless to attempt to suppress this barking. You will lose. Try channelling it instead.

    • Teach your dog to bark on cue. “Woof!” followed by “Quiet!”, repeat till your ears are ringing.

    • Pair “Thank you” with a treat. Then thank your dog for alerting you to the serious danger of the mother pushing her pushchair down the road past your house, or the terrifying prospect of invasion from the postman. Reward her for coming to you when you say Thank you – every time. Quite soon you’ll have a dog who draws breath to bark, thinks again and comes trotting to you for a treat. Be sure to reward her mightily for this excellent decision!

    • As soon as your dog starts barking, toss some hard treats or kibble at a hard surface (door, hard floor, cupboard door). She’ll scurry across to gobble them up, and probably look at you for more. Now you have silence and her attention! And all without shouting, yelling, or barking yourself.

    • On our own in a huge forest or an empty beach is the place where my barkers are encouraged to bark themselves silly.

    If you choose to share your life with a dog, you have to take the rough with the smooth. But I’ve just given you a load of sandpaper to smooth off the rough edges a bit, without suppression, judgment, or bossiness. Use your dog’s instinctive drives as a starting point for new and exciting games you can enjoy together.

    Key takeaway? Enjoy your dog as he is, not the perfect dog you thought you wanted when you got him.

    Much more to learn at And if your dog is chasing or barking aggressively, head to

    Naturally fearful dogs: not all ‘scaredy’ dogs have been mistreated

    by Karen London, PhD

    “She must have been abused,” is a comment I hear with alarming regularity. When a dog cowers and shakes or barks and growls at a person wearing a hat, it’s natural to think that the strong reaction is proof of previous harsh treatment by someone wearing a hat. It’s easy to conclude that a dog who’s scared of children was teased by the neighborhood Dennis the Menace. Similarly, it’s logical to assume that a dog would only react aversely to a broom after having had terrifying experiences with one.

    Without a doubt, far too many dogs suffer abuse, but not all dogs who seem to have been abused have been treated badly. Some are fearful because they were inadequately socialized, or have a genetic tendency to be fearful, or both. As often as not, a history of abuse is not a factor.

    The most common scenario that leads people to conclude that a dog has been abused is the dog who’s fine with women but scared of men. In these cases, while it’s possible that a man abused the dog, the fact that a dog is afraid of men doesn’t prove the theory. Typically, dogs who have fearful tendencies are more scared of men than of women. I’ve met hundreds of dogs who were only scared of men, but exactly two who feared women more. The fact is, dogs who are fearful have a natural propensity to be more afraid of men. Nobody knows for sure why this is, but it’s likely that men’s larger size, broader shoulders, deeper voices and facial hair make them more intimidating.

    Another reason that dogs might be more afraid of men was suggested by a study reported in Current Biology,“Correlated changes in perceptions of the gender and orientation of ambiguous biological motion figures.” When motion was detected only on pointlight displays*, observers perceived an interesting difference between male and female movement. Figures considered masculine in gait seemed to be approaching, while both feminine and gender-neutral gaits were seen as heading away. Fearful dogs are typically most frightened when something scary moves toward them—no wonder they find men more alarming than women.

    Scent may also be a factor. A recent experiment, “Olfactory exposure to males, including men, causes stress and related analgesia in rodents,” reported in Nature Methods, showed that mice and rats react differently to male and female experimenters because of differences in the way that they smell. That means that all studies of these rodents’ behavior may have been influenced by the gender of the people conducting the study. The test animals became highly stressed and exhibited decreased pain responses in the presence of human males; even T-shirts worn by men (but not those worn by women) caused this reaction.

    The rodents were similarly stressed by odors from males of a range of species, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even other rodents. Males release certain pheromones in larger concentrations than females, and these fearinducing chemicals are shared among mammals, which means that dogs could also be affected by them. Scent differences could very likely affect dogs and cause them to be more frightened around men.

    The assumption that fear of men indicates a history of abuse by a man is not the only one that may be erroneous. Many people are sure that dogs who react negatively to people with hats or backpacks proves past abuse by a person sporting those same objects. While again, this is possible, it’s more likely that the dog is simply unfamiliar with the objects themselves and the way that they change people’s appearance. Many react fearfully to a changed silhouette, becoming frightened, for example, by the sight of someone they know and love wearing a hat. Once the person removes the hat, the dog switches to happy greeting behavior.

    Another commonly misunderstood area relates to the fear of children. Many dogs are skittish around children because of their erratic behavior, especially if they were not well socialized to them at an early age. After all, from a dog’s perspective, kids behave in peculiar and unexpected ways. They change direction suddenly, roll on the ground, move at variable speeds, make weird noises and are generally high-energy, bipedal whirling dervishes. Dogs who are naturally fearful may find excitable, loud humans in motion to be unpredictable, which is frightening. (On the flip side, there are fearful dogs who do fine with kids, but are terrified of adults. Usually, such dogs have had positive experiences with children and are used to their erratic behavior.)

    If a dog’s fearfulness toward specific types of people or certain everyday items doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog has been abused, how can you tell if your dog suffered from abuse in the past? The honest answer is that— unless you have the dog’s full backstory— you can never know for certain. However, some clues may help you make an educated guess. Abuse is less likely as an explanation for a dog’s fearfulness if the dog’s reactions fit the pattern associated with dogs who are naturally fearful. The most common pattern is for such dogs to be cautious around strangers, especially men, and to be worse around tall, deep-voiced men with beards, or anyone carrying things—garden implements, brooms or mops, or a clipboard, or wearing sunglasses, a backpack or a hat. Dogs with a generally fearful approach to the world often react most vigorously when unfamiliar people approach, look directly at them, stand up from a sitting position or reach down to pet them.

    If the dog has sustained multiple injuries, such as broken bones or teeth, or has scars on the face and body, abuse is more likely. Of course, those injuries could be a result of accidents, and some forms of abuse leave no scars. Still, a dog with unexplained evidence of physical trauma is more likely to have been a victim of abuse than a dog without it.

    If a dog’s fear is highly specific, it is more likely to be based on trauma, which could have come in the form of abuse. So, if a dog is afraid of freckled, redheaded children with glasses in the age range of 10 to 12 years, but fine with all other kids, it’s more likely that a negative experience with a child of that description caused the fear. On the other hand, if a dog is only okay with children who are older than about 16, my bet would be that the dog lacks experience with a wide range of children and is only comfortable with children who are more adult-like in size and behavior. Similarly, if the dog is okay with men unless they are wearing loafers with a buckle, I would be inclined to suspect abuse. Specificity of fears is more likely to indicate abuse, because dogs who are generally fearful are usually set off by a wider range of triggers.

    Even in the case of a specific fear, we have to be careful about assuming that abuse was the cause. For example, I had a client whose dog was fearful of and aggressive toward only one person. Sounds like that person might have beaten the dog, right? Not in this case. The man the dog was afraid of was the neighbor who had saved the dog’s life during a house fire; the wonderful man went into the house and carried the dog out before the firefighters arrived. Until then, the dog liked this man, but was terrified of him after the fire, presumably because he associated the man with the horrible experience.

    While anyone who loves dogs wants to know if a particular dog has been abused, the same process is used to help a dog overcome fears of any origin. Classical conditioning, desensitization and patience will serve people and dogs equally well. It’s critical not to force a frightened dog into situations that provoke fear, but instead, to protect the dog from scary circumstances. Be gentle and kind and refrain from using punishment. Feel free to comfort any dog who is scared without worrying about the common (but misplaced) warning that this will reinforce the fear. Accept that many fearful dogs never become gregarious, go-with-the-flow types, and love them for who they are rather than who you think they should be.

    Some people seem relieved when I tell them that their dog may not have been abused, while others seem disappointed to give up the “feel good” story of adopting a dog who was mistreated. I empathize with both groups.

    I can understand the relief, and I can also understand how gratifying it feels to give a loving home to a dog who only knew cruelty before. And while I certainly can’t say definitively which dogs with unknown histories have been abused and which haven’t, I agree with other progressive trainers and behaviorists that abused dogs are not as common as one might think.

    Many wonderful clients whose dogs are fearful and reactive have said to me, “People are going to think we’ve abused her, but I swear we’ve never hurt her.” It’s a pleasure when I can reassure them that I do believe them, and for very good reason.

    Why do dogs like to shred tissues?

    by Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C.
    “Canine Corner”

    Certain sensations trigger a genetic desire for dogs to tear and shred

    I recently got a note from a woman who was concerned about the fact that her miniature white Poodle was continually picking used tissues out of her bathroom or bedroom wastebasket and chewing them up. Sometimes this behavior amused her, since, when she had been using the tissues to clean off her makeup, some of the reddish colored pigment would transfer to the dog’s lips making the white dog look as though it had applied a thin line of lipstick to her mouth. However picking up the shredded paper remains was not fun and she worried if there was something wrong with her dog who seem to be obsessed with tissue paper.

    I actually laughed out loud when I read this note since I am currently dealing with a 16-week-old puppy who just recently discovered the roll of toilet paper in our bathroom. He took the dangling end of the roll in his mouth, and liking the feel of it he chomped down and ran out of the room pulling much of the roll of toilet tissue with him. We found the remains scattered through several rooms throughout the house.

    What is going on here is not particularly pathological nor is it unexplainable. Dogs, particularly puppies, explore the world, first with their noses, and then with their mouths. Somewhere encoded in the canine genetic makeup is some kind of memory or preference for certain touch sensations such as the feel of fur or of feathers in their mouths. Such touch sensations seem to give dogs a thrill and can trigger a desire to mouth, tear, and shred things associated with those feelings. You can experience this for yourself if you take a clean facial tissue or a piece of toilet paper and place it in your mouth — it feels like a combination of fur and feathers — those totally irresistible feelings for a dog. Dogs seldom actually swallow much of this tissue paper since, when it gets wet, it turns into some mushy thing which no longer is of much interest.

    While the dog’s predisposition to mouth and chew tissues can be annoying, it is easily solved by using wastebaskets that have lids, and keeping the door to the bathroom closed. However there is something good which can be derived from the knowledge that the desire to shred things that feel like this is encoded in the dog’s DNA. Specifically it gives us a clue as to how to create the perfect dog toy.

    Obviously a dog toy should not be made out of paper tissue since that would not last very long. The cloth that best mimics the feeling that a tissue does in the dog’s mouth is flannel, which might then make the perfect covering for a dog toy. A near approximation of this, in terms of sensory feeling, would be the soft, deep weave found in some cotton socks, particularly those called “sweat socks” or “athletic socks” (which is why chewing on socks is close behind tearing at tissues when dealing with complaints about inappropriate things that dogs do with their mouths).

    Now the trick is that once the dog is attracted to the feel of the flannel or cotton knit in his mouth, to be the perfect dog toy one needs something which will keep the dog working at the toy. This means that the toy should do something, and again, harkening back to the dogs evolutionary heredity as a predator, doing something should involve some kind of action or noise that results as a function of the dog biting at it (much the same way that a small prey animal might respond when caught).

    So here is the perfect (and inexpensive) dog toy. Take a deep cotton knit sweat sock (or a flannel sock if you have one) and then take one of those small plastic bottles that water is sold in. When empty these bottles make a crackling sound when they are crushed. Take the empty bottle and insert it into the sock, then tie off the end (or sew the end if you are feeling ambitious) and toss this new toy to your dog. That’s it! Your dog will be attracted to the sock toy, and once in his mouth, the fact that it now responds with interesting noises when he bites hit it makes this a very desirable thing for him to play with. The dog will work on this toy, intermittently, for many hours, making this a wonderful diversion for him — if you can put up with the crackling noise going on around you while he plays with it. Just remember that for our favorite domesticated predator it is the fact that toys can be bitten and torn that makes them fun (for more about that click here)

    Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome.

    Psychopharmaceutical Options for Canine Thunderstorm Phobia, State Anxiety, and General Anxiety

    When thunderstorm phobia, state anxiety, and/or general anxiety are highly vexing, highly problematic, or particularly severe, a CPT behavior modification program may become further potentiated when implemented in conjunction with appropriately selected psychopharmaceutical medication. Although in less severe cases of canine phobia or anxiety, a properly designed and diligently implemented behavior modification program will result in successful goal outcomes without the inclusion of medication, circumstances occur where behavior modification alone is insufficient and the client pet’s progress plateaus far short of goal. Therefore, without an adjunct to the behavior modification program the phobic or anxious pet may continue destroying property, injure himself/herself, or suffer deleterious acute or chronic physiological effects. Adjuncts to behavior modification may include nutraceuticals, relaxation garments, pheromones, homeopathic remedies, and prescription medication. This article will function on prescription medications that may help to alleviate canine phobias and anxiety when administered in combination with a structured behavior modification program that teaches the dog cognitive coping mechanisms.

    Stimuli that commonly provoke acute or chronic anxiety in predisposed dogs include thunderstorms, separation, the addition of a new pet, status conflict with an existing pet, exposure to unfamiliar dogs, exposure to unfamiliar people, and the noise and commotion associated with construction projects. In such cases, when the dog’s reaction remains severe or chronic after the application of a behavior modification program and the dog can not be removed from the stimulus permanently or the provocative stimulus can not be permanently removed from the dog, prescription psychotropic medication may work synergistically with a CPT behavior modification program. When CPT recommends that a client visit a veterinarian for a medication consultation our objective is to better address severe or refractory cases, so that the client dog can move beyond plateaus and ultimately achieve a superior mental and physical quality of life.

    The information presented below was garnered from academic research, academic publications, and medical drug encyclopedias. Our research found that no single psychopharmaceutical strategy is universally preferred. Nevertheless, certain protocols are more frequently preferred based either on conclusions from veterinary research studies, generally accepted applications in human medicine, or historically accepted applications in veterinary medicine.

    Psychopharmaceutical inclusion in veterinary medicine is a fairly recent phenomenon. Moreover, research studies usually have small sample bases or are anecdotally generated. Thus, both the academic community and the practicing veterinary community have not reached a consensus regarding prescribed methodologies.

    Furthermore, since canine neurochemistry closely resembles human neurochemistry and humans may vary greatly from individual to individual in how they metabolize specific medications, trial and error may be required to match the proper chemical and dosage with the needs of an individual animal. Accordingly, we will list the most frequently recommended medication protocols for thunderstorm phobia first, then list less common alternatives for thunderstorm phobia along with recommended protocols for state and general anxiety.

    Most Widely Recommended for Thunderstorm Phobia:
    For thunderstorm phobia (astraphobia, brontophobia), the most widely accepted prescription protocol is amitriptyline (Elavil) on a daily maintenance basis in combination with either diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax) prn on the day a thunderstorm is forecasted. Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant. Tricyclic antidepressants are used to counter depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and enuresis (urinary incontinence). Amitriptyline potentiates the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine and inhibits the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Side effects include lethargy, sedation, blurred vision, dry eyes, dry mouth, hypotension, constipation, and arrhythmias. The recommended dosage for canines is 1 -4 mg/kg of body weight every 12 hours. 1 kilogram equals 2.2046 pounds. 1 pound equals .454 kilograms. Thus, a 60-pound dog weighs approximately 27 kg and would receive 27 – 108 mg of Elavil twice per day. Since tablets come in 10 mg, 25 mg, and 50 mg varieties, the vet would probably prescribe 25 mg twice per day when beginning therapy. Onset is 2 – 3 weeks.

    Amitryptiline in combination with Xanax is the most widely recommended pharmaceutical therapy for treating canine thunderstorm phobia.
    Valium and Xanax are both from a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are used as anxiolytics, sedatives, hypnotics (sleep aids), anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxants. Valium potentiates the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and produces skeletal muscle relaxation by inhibiting spinal polysynaptic afferent pathways. The recommended dosage for canines is .5 – 2 mg/kg of body weight as needed. Onset is 30 – 60 minutes. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, lethargy, physical dependence, and tolerance. Xanax potentiates GABA by binding to GABA-a receptor sites in a manner that suppresses hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis responses. Xanax may also increase striatal dopamine levels. The recommended dosage is .03 – .1 mg/kg of body weight as needed with a maximum of 4 mg per application. Onset is 1 – 2 hours. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, lethargy, and physical dependence. Valium is an older drug than Xanax and has been used longer in veterinary medicine. Therefore, many vets will recommend Valium due to a lack of familiarity with Xanax. However, researchers have found that Xanax sedates less than Valium, while equivalently or more effectively reducing anxiety. In addition, Xanax lasts longer. In studies determining the effects of both drugs on dogs suffering from thunderstorm phobia, Valium lasted between 2 -4 hours, whereas Xanax lasted up to 10 hours. Consequently, since one cannot accurately predict the exact onset or duration of a thunderstorm while away from home for long periods of time, Xanax provides superior results. Moreover, some articles recommended Xanax as a stand-alone solution for both thunderstorm phobia and general anxiety.

    The second most widely recommended drug for thunderstorm phobia, buspirone (Buspar), is also widely recommended for general anxiety. Buspirone is classified as an anti-anxiety agent and serotonin agonist. Buspar reduces anxiety by binding to serotonin receptors and delivering an agonistic effect and by increasing limbic dopamine synthesis and release. Buspar may also increase norepinephrine metabolism. The recommended veterinary dosage for canines is 1 mg/kg of body weight one time per day. Onset is 1 – 3 weeks. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, headache, insomnia, nervousness, blurred vision, nasal congestion, sore throat, tinnitus, tachycardia, nausea, rashes, myalgia, and incoordination. Despite the longer list of potential complications, Buspar has been successfully used for many years in veterinary medicine when treating cats for litter box issues arising from stress or anxiety. Several veterinary researchers prefer Buspar to benzodiazepines or a tricyclic-benzodiazepine combination therapy. Buspar is more mildly sedating and less physically addictive than Valium or Xanax.

    Alternative Medications for Thunderstorm Phobia and Primary Medications for State and General Anxiety (sorted by category and medication, not by popularity or by application):
    Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a nonprescription OTC antihistamine commonly used to combat allergic symptoms and complications. Diphenydramine also has secondary applications as an anxiolytic, to counter extrapyramidal tremors, to combat nausea, as an antiemetic, as an antitussive, and as a sleep aid. Benadryl bocks the action of histamines at peripheral H-1 receptors and is an anticholinergic/antimuscarinic. The drug also is an intracellular sodium channel blocker and a mild serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Side effects include dry mouth, drowsiness, tachycardia, urinary retention, and constipation. Ataxia may be a concern in high doses. The canine veterinary dosage is 1 – 4 mg/kg of body weight every 8 – 12 hours. Onset is 15 – 30 minutes. If administering diphenhydramine/Benadryl, be careful to provide only pure diphenhydramine to your pet, not Benadryl in combination with other medications, especially acetaminophen, which is highly toxic to dogs.

    Hydroxyzine pamoate (Vistaril, Atarax) is principally used as an antipruritic to combat the effects of allergies and allergy mediated atopic dermatitis. In addition, hydroxyzine has secondary applications as an anxiolytic, preoperative sedative, and antiemetic. Hydroxyzine depresses production of acetylcholine and histamines at the subcortical CNS level and blocks peripheral H-1 receptors. Side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, urinary retention, constipation, and seizures. Hydroxyzine is not a popular choice for treating anxiety as it heavily sedates the animal, which then minimizes the value of associated cognitive behavior modification therapy. However, the drug may be indicated when managing acute anxiety or panic arising from a stimulus that is likely nonrecurring. Onset is 15 – 30 minutes. The canine veterinary dosage is 2 mg/kg of body weight every 6 to 8 hours.

    Alprazolam (Valium)- see above.

    Clorazepate (Tranxene) is used in human medicine to treat anxiety, insomnia, manage alcohol withdrawal, and manage seizures. Tranxene is occasionally used in veterinary medicine to manage thunderstorm phobia and state anxiety, as an anticonvulsant, and to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Clorazepate stimulates GABA receptors, inhibits spinal polysynaptic afferent pathways, and enhances presynaptic inhibition. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, lethargy, incoordination, and physical dependence. Onset is from 1 – 2 hours. The canine veterinary dosages is .5 – 2 mg/kg of body weight as needed. When treating thunderstorm phobia, Tranxene is sometimes used prn in lieu of Valium or Xanax in combination with amitriptyline. It tends to last longer than Valium, but dissipates faster than Xanax. However, due to the potential for physical dependence and associated withdrawal symptoms, Tranxene is better indicated for intermittent short-term use when managing state anxiety provoked by a non-frequent stimulus. Please note that Tranxene may be contraindicated when treating fear aggressive animals, as there is a possibility of paradoxical effects that may exacerbate aggressive tendencies.

    Diazepam (Valium)- see above.

    Beta-adrenergic Blocking Agent:
    Atenolol (Tenormin) is used in human medicine to manage hypertension and angina pectoris and to prevent myocardial infarction. In veterinary medicine, Tenormin is used for cardiac management and rarely to reduce the symptoms of severe phobias or panic. Tenormin blocks the stimulation of beta1 myocardial adrenergic receptors, which in turn decreases blood pressure and heart rate. Unlike Inderal, Tenormin does not usually affect beta2 (lung) receptor sites and has fewer central nervous system side effects. Side effects include fatigue, weakness, bradycardia, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary edema. Onset is from 0 – 60 minutes, depending on whether administration is intravenous or oral. The canine veterinary dosage is .25 – 1 mg/kg of body weight. Tenormin is not an appropriate long-term treatment for phobia or anxiety. However, the drug may have an application when treating the symptoms of acute severe panic, especially rapid heartbeat that arises from extreme sympathetic nervous system arousal.

    Propranolol (Inderal) is used in human medicine to manage hypertension, angina pectoris, and arrhythmias. Off-label uses include managing alcohol withdrawal, aggressive behavior, situational anxiety, and antipsychotic-associated akathisia. In veterinary medicine, Inderal is used to manage hypertension and arrhythmias and occasionally to reduce situational anxiety or panic. Inderal blocks stimulation of beta1 myocardial and beta2 (pulmonary, vascular, and uterine) adrenergic (epinephrine) receptor sites, which in turn decreases heart rate and blood pressure. Side effects include fatigue, weakness, bradycardia, and pulmonary edema. Onset is from 0 – 30 minutes, depending on whether administration is intravenous or oral. The canine veterinary dosage is .3 – 1 mg/kg of body weight. Inderal is not an appropriate long-term treatment for phobia or anxiety. However, the drug may have an application when treating the symptoms of acute severe panic, especially rapid heartbeat that arises from extreme sympathetic nervous system arousal. Due to its inhibition of beta2 receptors, Inderal is contraindicated in cases where a dog has a respiratory illness or condition or is suffering from congestive heart failure.

    Although this article focuses on pharmaceutical solutions, I would be remiss if I failed to mention alternative or adjunct homeopathic solutions that may be safe and effective.

    Research shows that lavender can be helpful in alleviating anxiety.
    Aromatherapy may provide benefit in alleviating the symptoms of an anxious dog. The dog has a proportionately very large olfactory bulb and cortex. Moreover, the olfactory bulb connects directly to the limbic system, which is responsible for impulsive behavior and emotion. Consequently, aromatherapy potentially may have a significant effect in regulating impulsive out of context emotional states. Lavender is an aroma that is reputed to promote sleep and relaxation in humans and animals. Several empirical studies have demonstrated the anxiolytic properties of lavender with humans. Lavender is available as an oil, spray, incense, or potpourri. There are also lavender treats and pure lavender that can be ingested orally. Side effects include skin irritation, photosensitivity, and gynecomastia in prepubescent boys. CPT clients have provided feedback that lavender is effective as an adjunct to behavior modification in about 20 to 25% of cases. Moreover, regardless of whether it works, clients like the smell. Therefore, given the efficacy, the low cost, and the relative safety, unless one has a young male child in the house lavender is likely a worthwhile inclusion to a dog’s anxiety reduction program.

    Dog Appeasing Pheromone (Comfort Zone, DAP, Adaptil) is a synthetic biochemical product that supposedly duplicates the primary pheromone secreted by a lactating female dog and that according to the manufacturer concomitantly reduces anxiety and the symptoms of anxiety in canines. The product is available as a collar, a spray or a wall plug-in. In theory and in research provided by the manufacturer, the pheromone unconsciously relaxes anxious puppies and dogs without physical contraindications or sedation. The manufacturer recommends dog appeasing pheromone in resolving general anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, separation anxiety, marking, chewing, barking, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. CPT anecdotal client feedback concludes that the collar is more likely to provide a tangible result than is the spray or plug-in. Yet, only a minority of clients noticed tangible improvement after implementing DAP. Nevertheless, there are no known side effects. Therefore, DAP is likely worth a try in combination with other therapies.

    Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland that plays a role in facilitating normal circadian rhythms in humans and animals. Melatonin is also a homeopathic remedy that is classified by the FDA as a dietary supplement, not a drug. In humans and dogs, melatonin supplementation may relieve general anxiety and insomnia. The recommended canine dosage is .06 – .3 mg/kg of body weight three times per day. Onset occurs in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. In addition to melatonin supplementation, avoidance of artificial blue (ultraviolet) light may increase natural melatonin production. Side effects of melatonin supplementation are usually nonexistent. However, in high doses and long-term uses in humans melatonin has caused Parkinson’s like extrapyramidal symptoms and it can interfere with an intact female dog’s estrus cycle. Please note that melatonin may be contraindicated if a dog is also taking sedatives, corticosteroids, or MAO inhibitors.

    Nutraceuticals are nutritional products that have claimed pharmaceutical-type benefits. Composure is a product that the manufacturer, VetriScience, claims has calming properties. Several CPT clients have provided feedback that supports the manufacturer’s claims. Composure contains thiamine (vitamin B1), l-theanine, and c3 colostrum, which are constituents that academic research has proven provide anxiolytic benefits. The product is available in bite-sized chews. The manufacturer recommends a dose of between .5 to 3 chews daily, depending upon the size of the dog. There are no stated side effects. However, an excess of vitamin B1 may cause itchy skin or an upset stomach.

    Rescue Remedy (also called Five Flower Remedy) is an extreme dilution of a flower essence combined with brandy and water developed by Edward Bach, an English homeopath. Rescue Remedy consists of an equal amount of Rock Rose, Impatiens, Clematis, Star of Bethlehem, and Cherry Plum essence in combination with brandy and water, although veterinary versions are usually sold alcohol free. The product is available in a liquid or spray. The canine dosage is either 4 drops or 2 sprays applied to the tongue. Empirical research has several times shown that there is no benefit beyond that of a placebo. Nevertheless, many users anecdotally state that they observe benefits.

    Thundershirt is a vest that the manufacturer, Thunderworks, claims relieves canine thunderstorm phobia, state anxiety, and general anxiety. The manufacturer claims that the acupressure and “gentle hugging” that arises from the product’s design and elastic materials releases endorphins and calms animals that wear the garment. The manufacturer states that a survey of 2,000 Thundershirt customers found that 82% of the customers observed “improvement” in their dog. Anecdotal feedback from the CPT client-base returns a much lower figure, with only 20% to 25% of clients observing tangible improvement. Moreover, some clients found a worsening of symptoms, as their dog disliked the tight fit of the Thundershirt material and the clients felt that the material made their dog “uncomfortably hot.” Nevertheless, the product is inexpensive (approximately $40) and has no serious side effects. Therefore, Thundershirt is likely worth a try in combination with other therapies.

    Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI):

    The veterinary version of fluoxetine, Reconcile, comes in flavored chewable tablets.
    Fluoxetine (Prozac, Reconcile) has received FDA approval for use on dogs when treating separation anxiety. Veterinarians commonly prescribe fluoxetine when treating general anxiety, various forms of state anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Moreover, Prozac is the researcher’s drug of choice when treating reactive behavior, especially dominance aggression, fear aggression, or possessive aggression directed toward humans or dogs. For dogs that are reluctant to take pills, fluoxetine comes in a flavored chewable tablet called Reconcile, which can be highly beneficial for owners hesitant to administer pills to a highly frightened or potentially aggressive pet. Fluoxetine selectively inhibits the reuptake of serotonin in the central nervous system. Serotonin (5-HT) is found in the gastrointestinal tract and platelets, is a primary CNS neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep, and is involved in the processes of learning and memory. Thus, by inhibiting reuptake and increasing the amount of synaptic serotonin available to 5-HT receptors, fluoxetine often elevates the mood and increases stress thresholds relevant to phobic or anxious animals. In addition, fluoxetine may help with the cognitive processing of information presented within a structured behavior modification program. The canine veterinary dosage is from 1 – 2 mg/kg of body weight every 24 hours. Onset is from 1 – 4 weeks. Side effects include anorexia, anxiety, drowsiness, headache, insomnia, diarrhea, itching, tremors, and seizures. Fluoxetine may be contraindicated in animals that have a compromised liver.

    Paroxetine (Paxil) has not been researched in canines as extensively as its related drug, Prozac. Eli Lilly invested time and money to complete the rigorous testing required to obtain FDA approval for Prozac’s use with dogs for the purpose of resolving separation anxiety. GlaxoSmithKline has not completed the same tests for Paxil. Nevertheless, veterinarians are allowed to prescribe Paxil as an off-label drug. In human medicine, Paxil is used to treat depression, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Paxil inhibits neuronal reuptake of serotonin in the CNS, which potentiates serotonin activity. Unlike tricyclic antidepressants, there is little or no effect on norepinephrine or dopamine. The canine veterinary dosage is from 1 – 2 mg/kg of body weight every 24 hours. Onset is from 1 – 4 weeks. Side effects include anorexia, lethargy, increased thirst, anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, insomnia, weakness, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, itchy skin, nausea, and tremors. In addition, sudden stoppage may cause withdrawal symptoms.

    Sertraline (Zoloft) is chemically similar to both Prozac and Paxil. However, veterinary behavioral researchers have not studied the effects of Zoloft as extensively as they have Prozac and Pfizer has not attempted FDA approval for veterinary purposes. Yet, veterinarians may prescribe sertraline as an off-label drug. In human medicine, Zoloft is used to manage depression, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Zoloft inhibits neuronal reuptake of serotonin in the CNS, which potentiates serotonin activity. Zoloft is also is a minor dopamine reuptake inhibitor. The canine veterinary dosage is from 2.5 – 5 mg/kg of body weight every 24 hours. Onset is from 2 – 4 weeks. Side effects include anorexia, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, headache, insomnia, diarrhea, dry mouth, nausea, and tremors.

    Tricyclic Antidepressant:
    Amitriptyline (Elavil)- see above

    Clomicalm was the first drug to receive FDA approval for treating canine separation anxiety.
    Clomipramine (Clomicalm), manufactured by Novartis, was the first psychopharmaceutical medication to receive FDA approval for reducing separation anxiety in canines. Off-label veterinary use has included applications for treating depression, general anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behavior, tail chasing, and lick granulomas. Clomipramine has been used in human medicine to alleviate obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, depression, and enuresis. Clomicalm inhibits serotonin reuptake and to a lesser degree norepinephrine reuptake. The drug is also a histamine and acetylcholine antagonist. The recommended veterinary dosage is 1 – 2 mg/kg of body weight every 12 hours. Onset is 1 – 6 weeks. Side effects include lethargy, sedation, weakness, blurred vision, dry eyes, dry mouth, constipation, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and arrhythmias. Clomicalm may be contraindicated in dogs that have a history of seizures or in male breeding dogs.

    Doxepin (Sinequan) is used orally in human medicine to manage depression and anxiety and topically to relieve pruritus (itching) stemming from eczema and other forms of dermatitis. In veterinary medicine, researchers have found doxepin beneficial in managing general anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Due to its histamine blocking and anxiolytic qualities, Doxepin can be very effective in treating allergy-mediated pruritus, licking, and chewing. Doxepin prevents the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine by presynaptic neurons and reduces the effects of acetylcholine and histamines. The recommended canine veterinary dosage is .5 – 1 mg/kg of body weight every 12 hours. Onset occurs in 2 – 3 weeks. Side effects include blood pressure changes, tachycardia, fatigue, sedation, blurred vision, hypotension, constipation, and dry mouth. Doxepin is contraindicated in pets with glaucoma, pets predisposed to urinary retention, or pets with a history of seizures. In addition, there may be drug contraindications with sedatives, antihistamines, norepinephrine, thyroid medications, atropine, and phenytoin. Doxepin may increase the potency of drugs designed to increase blood pressure and H2 histamine antagonist medications that decrease stomach acid.

    Imipramine (Tofranil) is used in human medicine to treat depression, juvenile incontinence, adult incontinence, vascular headaches, cluster headaches, and chronic pain. In canine medicine, imipramine is occasionally used to alleviate anxiety, awake urinary incontinence (especially in female dogs), and nocturnal enuresis. Imipramine is a strong serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and to a lesser degree a dopamine agonist. Imipramine also is an acetylcholine and histamine antagonist. The veterinary dosage is .5 – 1 mg/kg of body weight once to twice per day. Onset occurs in several hours. Side effects include drowsiness, fatigue, blurred vision, dry eyes, tachycardia, hypotension, constipation, and dry mouth.. Imipramine may be contraindicated if a dog is also taking sedatives, tranquilizers, or drugs to reduce stomach acid.

    The above article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the services of a veterinarian. CPT wholeheartedly recommends that readers consult a licensed veterinarian before commencing any medicinal treatment with their dog, regardless of whether the medication is available only by prescription, is available over the counter, or is considered homeopathic.

    © Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., February 2007, Revised March 2014. All rights reserved.

    Choice training – working with a leash reactive dog

    (Victoria Stilwell)

    My Labrador Sadie spies a dog in the distance and as the dog approaches she turns her head to look at me. Her eyes catch mine and I smile at her, telling her what a good girl she is. She turns again to look at the dog as he walks past and then back at me. I praise her courage and the decision she made to remain calm in a situation that previously caused her fear.

    When Sadie first came into my life four years ago, she was what I would call a reactive dog, lunging towards and barking viciously at any dog that walked past or came close to her. In the first five years of her life with another family, she had obviously learned to protect herself by behaving in a threatening manner. In her mind, each time she aggressed, she kept herself safe by making sure no dog came into her space, and by the time she came to live with me, the behavior was so deeply ingrained, it had become a well rehearsed ritual. Fortunately I was able to temper her reaction and teach her a new way to cope and behave in similar situations. The techniques I used meant I could change her behavior without physically punishing or imposing my will upon her in any way. I just gave her choices.

    Choice training is not a new concept, but is one that I have used for many years to guide dogs into making better decisions in all kinds of situations. Because modern day dog training is still polluted by the more traditional punishment based methodology, choice training has been somewhat pushed into the background, but the beauty of this method is that it works, and yes, even with the aggressive or ‘red zone’ dogs.

    It saddens me how dogs are manipulated and pushed around. For example I regularly see owners and trainers teaching their dogs to sit by pressing down on their poor animals’ backsides, or punishing them by poking, kicking or restraining them on their sides or backs in an effort to dominate and gain control. The flawed idea that a dog will only learn to behave through force and fear is sad and misguided, but people are still misled into thinking that these methods are the right way to go. This leads to elevated stress levels that could be avoided if time was taken to understand how dogs’ learn and how they can be taught effectively. Choice training is a beacon of hope in what is still a dominating world.

    Sadie, my chocolate Labrador.

    Choice training involves catching actions and behaviors that you like and marking them with rewards that your dog finds motivating. These actions and behaviors can then be the dog’s ‘default’ behaviors that he or she can use in certain situations. A default behavior gives the dog an alternative and makes him more positively confident in a situation that previously made him insecure. The dog is then gradually exposed to increasingly stressful situations and is watched to see what alternative behavior he offers. If the behavior is something that counters a previously undesirable behavior, the dog is rewarded. If he chooses negative behavior, he is quietly removed from the situation until he is in a place where he can learn again.

    The only way Sadie knew how to deal with a scary situation was to lunge and aggress. Suppressing that behavior with punishment would have probably worked momentarily, but as in most cases, punitive suppression does not change the way a dog feels, but merely puts a bandage on the problem, which is likely to resurface again in a similar situation. Not only that, it is simply wrong to punish a dog for being nervous or insecure and only serves to make the insecurity worse. I changed Sadie’s behavior by showing her that not only was there another way to behave, but it actually made her feel better.

    I began by teaching her a variety of actions she could use, such as sit, walk on and watch me and paired her success with rewards she loved, which ensured that her learning process was a fun and enjoyable one. I then taught her a combination of actions. Whenever she looked at a dog in the distance, I said look and rewarded her for looking but not reacting. I then asked her to watch me and when she turned her head towards me, she got another reward. After many repetitions (and a very kind friend who brought her dog along and worked with us) she was eagerly looking at the strange dog and back at me because the action was now reinforcing for her. I then faded out the food reward I gave her for looking at the dog and used it only at the end of the sequence – when she looked back at me. As the dog came closer we continued with the sequence. At no time did Sadie have her back to the approaching dog. If Sadie reacted negatively at any point, I turned her away and took her to a place where she felt safer and learning could continue again. Because Sadie is highly motivated by food she easily learned the process. We quickly got to the point where she could watch the other dog walk past with no reaction whatsoever.

    I repeated the sequence with a number of different dogs and then when I believed Sadie was ready to make her choice, faded my cues out of the picture. Would she used the series of alternative behaviors I had taught her or revert back to lunging and aggressing? I gave her a loose lead and stood still, as a dog that Sadie had never seen before, approached. Saying and doing nothing I waited for her to make her choice. Each time she looked at the dog and back at me I smiled and quietly praised her, but at no time did I issue a cue or do anything else. When the dog walked by, Sadie watched him and then looked back at me. I could see in her eyes how happy she was and rewarded her for her bravery. She knew she had accomplished something that day, and as we continued over the next several weeks, her confidence increased and her new ‘choice’ behavior became fixed.

    I can’t tell you how wonderful it is for me to see a dog learn, think for themselves and grow in confidence through success. It is what makes my job so rewarding. Of course, I start the process by giving dogs’ alternatives, but at the end of the day they are the ones that make the final choice. The beauty of this training is that it encourages dogs to think for themselves while gaining confidence from the choices they make, without being pushed, punished or physically manipulated in any way. My presence was still important for many months, as it gave Sadie confidence, but she was gradually able to walk with other people and is now even greeting other dogs successfully on and off the leash. Lunging and barking was not only stressful for her, but exhausting. Her ‘choice’ in comparison, requires little energy and the rewards are much more satisfying for her. Sadie will never be a highly social dog because of her past experiences, but she now has a group of canine friends that has made her life infinitely more rewarding.

    Choice teaching is a great method for teaching all kinds of reactive and fearful dogs, but can also be useful when teaching pups and adults simple cues. For example when I teach a dog to ‘sit’ on cue, all I do is find out what motivates the dog, be it a toy or treat, and hold the motivator in front of them. The dog then has to work out how he is going to get the reward out of my hand. He might try a variety of actions such as pawing, licking or nibbling at my hand but the reward is not given until he puts his bottom on the ground. As soon as he does so, he gets the reward and this is repeated again and again until I am ready to put a cue word to the action of sitting.

    For so long dog training has been about force, fear and physical manipulation, which renders the dog into some kind of performing robot and doesn’t allow for the dog to think for himself. It might sound strange to those well versed in the more dominant style of training, but all dogs, regardless of breed and drive, have evolved to have excellent problem solving skills, and therefore have the ability to think for themselves, be guided to listen, take direction and make the right choices.

    Why does my dog hump everything?
    By: Sara McLoudrey

    “HUMP FREE!”
    Flash back to the late 1990s, my husband used to have a service dog named Bailey. One of Bailey’s funniest commands (due to how Bailey was trained I will use the word command) was Hump Free. It meant stop humping whatever you are currently humping. It could have been a person sitting on the ground, a pillow, dog bed, another dog or a large stuffed animal. If he did not stop humping, he would be corrected, either by a leash correction or a shock from his shock collar. He would slowly slink off and hang his head down avoiding everyone. The trainers deemed him dominant and that the behavior could not be tolerated.

    Flash forward to 2015. Understanding humping is evolving research. We are starting to understand that humping as a very hard-wired behavior that can have a variety of “reasons” behind the action.

    Puppy play is where most people first start seeing humping behaviors. It is amazing how fast even the most educated person becomes uncomfortable when their dog is humping or being humped. I have seen everything from yelling, grabbing the dog off, to angrily removing him from play.

    Humping in puppy play is totally normal and natural. No, it does not mean they are trying to have sex with the other puppies or that they are dominant. Nor does it mean your puppy is “gay” when it only humps other male dogs. (Trust me I have heard this more than once!)
    When does humping become a problem in a playgroup? It is a problem when a puppy targets one particular puppy and will not stop. It becomes necessary to intervene if the puppy being humped is trying to communicate to stop and the dog does not, or grabs on harder.
    As an instructor you need to look around and evaluate why this puppy is humping. If I see a lot of humping it is a red flag to me that something else is going on. Most puppies would rather wrestle or run and chase then hump.
    But what about the dog that will hump anything – beds, people, stuffed toys? What we understand more and more now is that humping is a by-product of arousal. Most often that arousal is in the form of stress. Imagine a dog who is stressed. It is a dog who “would never bite in a million years”. Maybe it is that dog who is submissively compliant, the dog you can do anything to, no matter what. It’s that dog that avoids having its nails trimmed but does nothing to show it is bothered other than laying down with its paws tucked in, not letting you have access. Imagine having all that bundled up stress but having no outlet for it? What does a dog do? Some turn to humping to relieve that stress. You can see the stress in their faces and other body language, even while humping. Over the years it has become more and more clear to me how humping is a product of stress.

    Many years ago I had a client, a Jack Russell Terrier, who had a number of obsessive compulsive disorder habits. One of his habits that greatly bothered the owners was his licking of the metal on their sliding glass door. He would lick this non-stop for hours if not interrupted. If interrupted he would grab his bed and hump it on and off until he was exhausted and fell asleep. The owners decided this was a behavior they could live with so when he started licking, they would cue him to “take to another room” which meant go to the guest bedroom for his bed to hump. In their house humping the bed was a better outlet to his stress and OCD behaviors.

    Another client is a beagle who we have been helping deal with inter-pack aggression. The beagle attacked and put puncture wounds into her female housemate. In addition to many changes that were set up in the client’s house we decided to muzzle train the beagle as a safety measure. We wanted the older dog to be safe as we were counter conditioning the dogs to live together peacefully again. The beagle had a history of humping when stressed.

    We started shaping her to wear the muzzle. She was happily working with me putting her muzzle on and being rewarded for wearing it.
    We stopped to take a break in training and she immediately grabbed my leg and started humping. We let her, no interruption, she stopped, exhaled and was ready to work again, by choice.
    We trained a little longer and when we stopped she immediately started humping again. We knew that even though she was working with us in training, she was highly stressed.
    It was not our intent to stress her so the training session ended, much to her relief.
    Recently in my own house my middle dog, Rizzo the American Water Spaniel, has started humping our youngest dog, Bueller, the Burnham Terrier. Most would think this is a “power struggle” in dominance. It is not. Rizzo is the dog in charge of the dog world in our house, in most areas. (Remember these things can be and usually are fluid and are item, location, and/or situation dependent.)

    Rizzo has been in charge since she walked in as a young puppy. It’s just her personality, as it was in her litter, and did not change once she moved in here. So why is she humping Bueller so much? Stress! Our dog world recently has had some changes. Our oldest dog Dara was recently diagnosed with cancer in her head and neck. It has changed how she is interacting with the other dogs. It has raised my stress level. It has changed how much everyone is getting exercised and trained. All things that lead to Rizzo’s stress levels. When Rizzo is stressed Bueller gets humped. Bueller does not need to be Rizzo’s stress relief so we interrupt this and give Rizzo her alternative stress outlet, her sucky ball.

    Some dogs will hump as a result of other types of arousal too. My Toller Dara loves to train. She has been my competition obedience dog for years. Frequently we train with reinforcers other than food, since we can’t take food into the competition ring with us. One of Dara’s favorite non-food reinforcers is her Wubba toy. If I took the Wubba out and set it in the area where we train she would start air-humping – making the humping action but not on anything. She knew that reward for work would be the Wubba, way too exciting for her. She would settle in and work, and then earn her Wubba and the air humping would start again. Wubba, oh Wubba how we love our Wubba! She would never air hump when training for food or even tennis balls. That is how we knew it was about the excitement of the Wubba and not the stress of the training.

    Clients frequently ask me what to do when their dog is humping. First, look at the situation. Why is your dog humping? The whys becomes important, because it will determine how we will work with the behavior.

    There are three important ways to deal with humping.

    1. The first is to recognize if your dog is humping is due to stress, and if so– why? What can you do anything to reduce their stress, therefore reducing their humping? If you can’t reduce the stress how can you manage the situation to help your dog? Is there conflict between two dogs in a playgroup with one of them non-stop humping? If so, it would be time to end the playtime and go home. Being proactive (leaving while it is “just humping”) will most likely stop the behavior from escalating to aggression. Maybe the arrival of a new baby (or any other major life changing event!) in the house has caused the stress? It is never too late to start desensitizing your dog to the baby sights and sounds. Also, start working on a relaxation protocol with the help of a trainer. Doing this before the baby is mobile will help your dog for years to come. Is your dog humping your mother-in-law’s leg? (Oh the horror, on so many levels!) This may be an example of your dog reacting to your stress in the situation. Remember how sensitive our dogs can be to our moods and anxiety. Management might be the best solution for both you and your dog. Putting your dog in its crate or another room with a yummy filled Kong for some “chill-out” time, is probably the easiest solution for everyone involved!

    2. The second is to realize that humping might be a behavior that needs help beyond behavior modification or management. Is humping one of the symptoms of a dog with a general anxiety disorder? If a dog is humping as just one of the many signs of his anxiety you might want to talk to your vet. It might be time to investigate holistic-based supplements or medication for anxiety. As the case with my Jack Russell client with OCD behaviors, medication was the best solution. It greatly reduced the humping. Then when he did hump they taught him to go into a separate room.

    3. Lastly, making a decision to let them hump. I make this decision much more frequently than I used to! The decision making process has to include: are they hurting themselves, antagonizing another dog or in a “human socially unacceptable” situation? If the answer to all of those questions is no, I let my dog hump. Dogs deserve the ability to self-relieve their stress. (Remember it’s not sexual!) Imagine if someone told you that when you had a really rough day you could not have chocolate or wine! It could get ugly. So why would you not let your dog have the same ability?

    Looking back to Bailey, I now realize that his humping was one of the first signs of his stress of being trained as a service dog. The organization did not recognize this, instead they corrected him for the behavior, putting more stress on the situation. Bailey quickly learned that humping was not a way to relieve his stress. He stopped humping. The organization thought they “fixed” the behavior, because the humping had stopped. Shortly after the humping behavior was extinguished Bailey developed a variety of other stress displacement behaviors. The final stress displacement behavior was becoming dog reactive. His dog reactivity was the end to his service dog career. We finally realized it was too much stress for him to be a service dog. He retired and lived a stress-free, hump free life being a house dog with us for many years.

    I am always thankful for Bailey for starting me down the path of peaceful, positive, stress-free training.