Teaching Social Skills to a Pushy Puppy

May 10 2010

Pushy Puppies is the term I use to refer to dogs or puppies who, for whatever reason, approach dogs in a very vigorous and socially inappropriate  way.  These dogs have never injured another dog, but people and other dogs often read the pushy puppies’ actions as threatening and aggressive.  Pushy puppies appear to be unable to read other dog’s social cues and therefore, often end up injured themselves by dogs who have no other option but to go to the most extreme action in order to get the pushy puppy to listen!

Penny, a new Pushy Puppy client, came in barking, whining and lunging at every dog she saw while on leash.  When I evaluated her, she approached my tester dog straight on, jumping up and linking her paws around his neck, then followed him in a very pushy, forceful way.  My tester dog, Bailey T., gave her a lot of signals to calm down and back off, but she didn’t see them.  He tried turning his head to the side, shaking his body and moving away from her, but she just followed forcefully behind.  Bailey T.’s movements were soft and loose while Penny’s entire posture was rigid.  Penny’s stiff body and forceful actions were in direct contrast to her tail’s wide wag evenly parallel with her body.  She gave Bailey T. mixed messages.  Luckily, Bailey T. knows this well as he too used to be a pushy puppy!!!

On her first day of the Pushy Puppy program, Penny displayed extreme hyper arousal.  She acted like a Champagne bottle that busts off it’s cork after being shaken!  Chasing her tail repeatedly and running full force without regard to anyone or anything in her way – the zoomies!

Some dogs chase their tail for fun and others do it out of nervous energy or as an obsessive behavior. She did not do it enough to be considered obsessive, but more as an outlet for her anxiety.

In my Pushy Puppy program, I use very well-adjusted, tolerant dogs as my teaching assistants to encourage the pushy puppy to listen and respond in a socially acceptable way.  I see my role as part facilitator / part instructor.   While I set up the environment so that I am in complete control at all times, I do allow the dogs a lot of freedom to communicate as they see fit providing positive feedback for appropriate responses.  Ultimately, my goal is to create a dog who, from a distance, knows how to assess another dog’s interest and can perform socially acceptable greeting behaviors based on that early assessment.  Just like people, each dog has their own boundaries and comfort levels.  Socially skilled dogs are capable of reading these signals and responding very clearly.  When Penny was able to settle a little, I introduced my first teaching assistant, Bear.  Her calm and very tolerant personality helped Penny recognize that her over-the-top spin, jump behaviors were unnecessary and would not engage her.

Next, Gracie was introduced.  While Bear’s approach is of calm passivity, Gracie’s style is more forceful.  She acts aggressive without harm, which is very helpful to teach socially inept pups to listen clearly and do avoidance maneuvers, showing respect.  Gracie is very clear with her “I like that” and “I don’t like that!” responses!    Pushy puppies learn a lot from Gracie in a very short amount of time.  When Penny accidentally bumps Gracie when she starts to do her frenzied spin/jump, Gracie grumbles at her and moves away!  Notice that I tell Gracie she’s okay.  In the daycare, we discourage grumbling, growling, snarling, or aggressive posturing, because there is really no reason for it.  All the dogs that play at our daycare have been evaluated to determine their compatibility, tolerance and ability to choose evasive maneuvers.   All the dogs understand and trust that we wont allow another dog to annoy or pester them, so they are comfortable choosing to just walk away.

Gracie shows Penny to move in an arc and to sniff and then move away calmly.

Penny learns to move away after sniffing to release pressure and show respect. Gracie is so proud that Penny learned from her earlier lesson! What a good teacher you are Gracie!

Next up is Hombrito.  He is a big dog in a little body!  He helps pushy large dogs know that little dogs need more space and more calm movements when being approached.  Again, I am always aware of the teaching assistants comfort level when asking them to help me.  Hombrito actually enjoys assisting me as do all the dogs I use as TA’s.  And their teaching involvement is done in  short segments with large breaks in between.  I want all my daycare dogs to enjoy their time here, whether they are romping with their buddies or performing important teaching roles!!

Notice how Penny is clearly making conscious decisions about her body movements based on input from Hombrito.  Good listening, Penny!!

Lastly, it’s Rally’s turn.  Rally is also a reformed pushy puppy!  She is still young and reverts back to inappropriate behavior on occasion, but her ability to understand Penny is fun to watch!!  Rally decided Penny needed to learn how to play laying down.  What a smart girl!!  Calm play or playing while laying down is a fundamental skill taught at our daycare to ensure safe yet rewarding play!  Notice how Rally holds still when Penny is bouncing around and then instantly begins to engage her (rewarding her for the correct response!!) when she starts to play laying down!  Absolutely beautiful!!  Dogs use positive reinforcement with one another too!!

Lastly, Penny observes everyone resting quietly.  Yes Penny, you don’t have to be in a frenzy all the time, you can lay down and relax!

Good job Penny!

2 responses so far

The Puppy Saga Continues…

Jan 11 2007

River is now 5 months old and over 50lbs! Her crate is about a quarter the width of the room she sleeps in! She has not had an accident in the house in over two months and we have been slowly increasing the time she is allowed to play inside with us from 20 mins. to an hour now. We are still battling the loose stool war. We have tried 2 different premium dog foods with no huge improvement. We’ve tried adding rice and cottage cheese (bland diet for sensitive stomachs), adding canned pumpkin (one person suggested it for helping firm up her stool, but then a vet told me it was more likely to soften the stool-who knows), and adding pancreatic digestive enzymes. None of these were the golden antidote although they didn’t seem to make anything worse either. I am considering going back to the food the breeder was originally feeding the puppies and her older dogs. It is difficult to find, probably because it was originally designed specifically for mushing sled dogs! She had a very healthy stool when I picked her up from the breeder, so I am hoping to get her back to that state! Her obedience training is going very well. She sits and waits for: her meals, to be let out of her crate, and to be let in from the backyard. Her calm leash walking is going well, and her leave it command is getting a lot of practice! Her greatest challenge is greeting new people. She eventually warms up to everyone, but she is initially unsure of new people. Even with the 100 new people a week strategy implemented for the first two months she was with us, she is still apprehensive at times. She is exceedingly gentle and calm around Kelsey, which is a very good thing since she is very bouncy around Debra and I. She is learning to bounce keeping her paws either in the air or on the ground. We are looking into tracking training as she appears to like to use her nose a lot and we are also investigating cart pulling as this is what her breed was originally bred to do! I’ll keep you posted!

No responses yet

Babies and Puppies for the New Year!

Jan 11 2007


HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

No responses yet

A Puppy’s 12 Days of Christmas

Dec 12 2006

On the first day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
The Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the second day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the third day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Seven scraps of wrapping paper
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Eight tiny reindeer fragments
Seven scraps of wrapping paper
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
My wreath in nine pieces
Eight tiny reindeer fragments
Seven scraps of wrapping paper
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Ten Christmas cards I shoulda mailed
My wreath in nine pieces
Eight tiny reindeer fragments
Seven scraps of wrapping paper
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the Christmas tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
Eleven unwrapped presents
Ten Christmas cards I shoulda mailed
My wreath in nine pieces
Eight tiny reindeer fragments
Seven scraps of wrapping paper
Six yards of soggy ribbon
Five chewed-up stockings
Four broken window candles
Three punctured ornaments
Two leaking bubble lights
And the Santa topper from the
Christmas tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my puppy gave to me
A dozen puppy kisses
And I forgot all about the other eleven days.

Author Unknown

No responses yet

Giving thanks for all those muddy paw prints!

Nov 17 2006

Thanksgiving has always held a special place in my heart…Possibly because my birthday falls on or near it every year! I also like the idea of thinking back to all the things which make me so thankful. While I am eternally grateful for how fortunate I am, I do tend to zoom through life enjoying each new adventure, but at the same time taking many things for granted, so a time of year where I can slow down and ponder my incredibly wonderful life can be very refreshing. Family and friends are always at the top of the list, both 2-legged and 4-legged varieties: The pure joy, daughter, Kelsey brings to my life is beyond words. Our newest addition to the family, little (or not so little anymore!) puppy, River, makes me smile every time I look at her (even when she’s decided that potted plant makes a great chew toy!). Because of these two little gems, I have never been so exhausted and drained in all my life (even compared to finals week in undergraduate college or thesis time in graduate school!), but I am also more content, joyous and completely exuberant! Life is truly wonderful! That being said, I have had several reasons to cry a few tears this year: Our older dog, Jah, passed away from a stroke in July. He was one of the largest influences in my drastic career change from Visual Effects Supervisor to Dog Trainer. He taught me the ultimate cornerstone of the canine-human relationship: trust and respect. If I was willing to put all my energy into trusting and respecting him, he rewarded me with a truly exceptional bond. He was a very dominant personality, yet this incredibly high prey-driven dog would turn on a dime inches from his intended target at the sound of “Jah, here!”. You have to think you did something right for a dog that prey motivated, to choose you over some squealing tasty rodent! Our Kelly’s Training Daycare and Boarding family has had some losses as well: Our dearly beloved Chocolate Lab client, Jake, passed away at the tender age of 3 years old from an unknown disease that several specialists and their personal friend and veterinarian frantically tried to diagnose and treat, but ultimately lost the battle. I’m sure Jake is happily wagging his approval of the new addition, truly scrumptious Chocolate Lab puppy, Duke. This summer while one of our human clients was in the hospital giving birth to her beautiful baby boy, her Jack Russell mix, Buckley, passed away at home from a possible Botulism poisoning. While we shared their overwhelming sadness for the loss of Buckley, we also were happy to celebrate the birth of their first born, Owen. Everyone misses Buckley including his canine sister, Jodie, but Owen provides so much joy in the household that Buckley’s memory brings smiles instead of tears. A fairly new member of our Kelly’s Training family, who decided to adopt two related puppies rather than have them separated, lost one of them, 4 months old Vizsla/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, Nessarose, to an unknown illness. Several surgeries and endless probing were not enough to save this poor little canine soul. Her sister, Elphaba, helps her parents cope with the loss by being a typical, beautifully naughty puppy! We also had some close calls of which we are ever so grateful for the positive outcomes: One of my very dear friends and client of Kelly’s Training was performing overseas with her band this summer, when her 9 year old German Shepherd mix, Otis, wandered out her front door. As her roommate frantically searched for Otis, I and many of her friends, posted flyers for our lost boy. My friend contacted 2 psychics to help with the search. After a week with no leads, she was ready to hire the services of a woman who will search for your lost dog with her bloodhound when a phone call made everyone sigh with relief. Otis had parked himself in a friendly family’s shady front yard 2 miles away, willing to eat and drink the offerings, but unwilling to allow them to get close for several days. Finally they were able to approach him and read his tag! Our cherished Bernese Mountain Dog/Australian Shepherd mix client, Mambo, had a very serious close call when he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease after returning from a trip to Miami. He was very sick for several months, but his vet and specialists have given him a clean bill of health and he is back to the rambunctiously wonderful Mambo we all know and love! So in summary, I am thankful for all my canine and human family and friends who keep my life full of joyous, often muddy, but thoroughly cherished moments! And (before I get a lovely pile of cat barf on my pillow!) I am also thankful for all the felines in my life! Happy Thanksgiving!

No responses yet

Introducing our newest addition!

Nov 06 2006

Our new addition to the family is a female Greater Swiss Mountain Dog named River. We picked her up October 12th on her 8 week old birthday. The breeder’s facility was run out of her home and very clean and all her dogs seemed very friendly and happy. We met River’s mother, father, littermates and a 1 year old male from River’s father. We had always adopted our pets from Rescue organizations or Shelters, so going through a breeder was a new experience for us. Our primary concern was that the breeder be well-established, reputable, professional and be equally invested in her dogs’ physical as well as emotional well-being. We wanted a professional, knowledgable breeder who had her litters in a home environment and had limited breedings (1 or 2/year) so we knew that she could dedicate herself completely to our puppy’s litter. We researched her line and knew one dog well (he came to Kelly’s Training Doggie Daycare until he and his mom moved to NYC!) from her champion sire (River’s grandfather) . We spoke several times with the breeder over the phone and she was very well educated and always willing to talk extensively about the pros and cons of this breed and her specific line. Once we picked River up, we drove for 2 hours from the breeder to Debra’s parents. Debra held River in her lap in the backseat where River proceeded to pee on her! Luckily we were prepared and laid an extra large wee-wee pad at her feet and River went to sleep for the majority of the trip. Once we arrived, we implemented the potty training program. We placed an x-pen in their dining room with a crate inside. She was allowed to play in the backyard with Doc and Amber (see photo) if a human could be watching her. As a bonus, if she pooped, she was allowed to come in to their sunroom and play for 20 mins., then let outside to pee, then to the crate for 1-2 hours of nap time. This routinue was repeated religiously until bedtime. The crate door was closed for naptimes and left open at night where the x-pen kept Doc contained so that she had a warm body to sleep with. Our only accidents occurred when we stretched our 20 mins. indoor playtime or were too slow to wake up in the middle of the night. Once we got back to LA, we visited our vet, who instructed us that River had a bladder infection, so the medication is helping her need to be a little less urgent! She is a pro at puppy push-ups (sit/lie down,sit/lie down,etc.) and is learning the name game and sit -stay in crate with door open until release word is given. Doc absolutely adores her and we often feel like we are cheating when she is having a bout of puppy mania since Doc gets the brunt of her zoomies and alligator chomping! We are constantly swapping out our arms for an appropriate chew toy and implemeting Ouch! for really painful bites! She is amazingly gentle with Kelsey although we are ever vigilant with their interactions. Her socialization program was started the day after we got her. We went outlet shopping and put River in Kelsey’s stroller (and Kelsey was happy to explore using her new found ability to walk!). Debra’s mom was worried that we wouldn’t be able to enter the shops! Instead, nobody wanted us to leave!! Everyone was doing a double-take at the stroller! Ha, ha! And River was very good at staying in the stroller. We still take her in the stroller down to Tujunga Village, but she has almost outgrown it! Our goal is 100 new people every week. So far so good! We’ll keep you posted! …..

No responses yet

Physical and Emotional Well-being in your dog

Sep 29 2006

I appreciate the comments I have been getting from readers. One of the comments I received on the Cesar Millan article has inspired me to write today’s blog.

As our society’s perspective of the dog shifts from worker (herder, hunter, sled puller, for example) to family member, our attention to the emotional and physical needs of the dog must keep pace with those changes. We have an obligation to exercise our dogs both mentally and physically. This is where training can be so useful. To Cesar Millan’s credit, many behavior problems are a result of owner miscommunication and misunderstanding and his show does succeed in highlighting that issue. Unfortunately, many professional dog trainers continue to employ techniques that have proven to cause serious injury to the dog as well as to the bond between dog and human.

Many trainers use a mixture of new positive techniques and old force-based techniques, making it difficult to determine their true philosophy. My personal opinion is that absolutely all positive motivational methods should be thoroughly exhausted by several different trainers and a comprehensive vet examination must rule out any mental or physical cause for the behavior before any mild force-based method should be attempted under the guidance of a professional dog trainer. And under no circumstances should a force-based method be used that could potentially cause severe or irreparable physical or emotional damage.

Training is teaching, helping another to learn by instruction and practice. When we are trying to learn something new, we are most receptive when our teacher provides clear instructions in a calm, stress-free learning environment without fear of abuse if we choose the wrong answer, and huge rewards if we choose the correct answer. I know of very few instances in pet dog training where positive motivational training will fail to provide results. These rare cases can be related to medical conditions which if discovered by a veterinarian can often be treated or managed. Again, you know your dog best. The best indicator is your own gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion, or third or fourth until you feel comfortable.

No responses yet

“The Dog Whisperer” techniques raise controversy

Sep 20 2006

When dog-related issues appear in the media, I will do my best to inform you through this blog. Recently, concerns have been expressed about the techniques used by Cesar Millan on the popular show “The Dog Whisperer”. Here are some articles on the topic; the American Humane article, the SPCA article, the New Yorker article feedback, the Esquire article. There is much debate on the topic of force-free methods vs. the use of adversives in dog training.

This is a good opportunity to discuss how to evaluate a trainer. Look for a dog trainer who employs humane training methods which do not cause physical harm, great pain, or undue distress to the dog. Dog training should be fun for both canine and human participants, so make sure that the professional you choose is approachable and encourages your active participation and questions. Former or current students are a valuable source of information. A competent trainer will encourage you to visit a group class and consult current or former clients about their experiences.

To summarize the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) guide for selecting a trainer, during a training session a skilled and professional trainer will:
1. Explain each lesson.
2. Demonstrate each behavior.
3. Provide clear written handouts on each behavior.
4. Assist students individually with proper implementation of techniques.

Always remember to follow your instincts. If you are uncomfortable with anything your trainer suggests, speak up. A competent trainer will explain the reason for the use of a specific technique and offer alternative options as needed. Remember that your emotions travel through your leash to your dog. So if you are uncomfortable, it is likely your best friend will be uncomfortable as well.

No responses yet