Difficult Dog Challenges

DiffdogI have had the pleasure to work with mainly happy go-lucky dogs with minor problems. Problems like pulling on the leash, jumping up on people, obedience training, whining/barking, counter surfing, puppy behavior, potty training, kennel training, door bolting, etc.

So, when I get a dog who has anxiety, leadership problems, or an adult dog who gets a little mouthy, this is a more serious problem – to me. I’m sure more experienced trainers would have no problems with this. However, since I’m inexperienced and don’t know shit, these problems are challenging for me. I like a good challenge, and in no way is this a bad thing. I’m not overwhelmed, nor do I feel like I don’t how to handle the problem… most of the time.

I don’t feel like I have a pride complex or anything – I can admit when a dog is too much for me or when I handled a situation in the wrong way. I usually know if I can handle the problem within the first initial consultation or phone call. Aggression, hyper-activity [extreme], pushy behavior [again, to the extreme], OCD behavior, or using any sort of eTouch device are all things that I don’t handle yet, though I’m excited to work with these types of issues and equipment in time. I want to be able to handle anything that gets thrown my way.

Recently, I have met a few exceptionally difficult dogs. You remember Ryder? Well, he is improving, especially when he gets to go to socials every weekend. I see improvements, and now, he has come so far that I don’t even see leadership challenges much anymore-at home that is. In public, he feels he can still push you around. He still has lots of learning to do, but the family has come so far, and they really want what is best for him, so they are trying, and it shows. He is honestly not a dog I would consider a ‘huge’ problem anymore. Yes, he still needs a lot of work, but recently… I have seen a lot worse.

DifficultDogAnyway, back to the difficult dogs. I have met a few that I already knew within the first few minutes they are too much for me. So, I recommend another trainer. I have no remorse, jealousy, or feel ashamed when I do this. Basically, if I take on a case that is too much for me, I waste my time, the client’s time and money, and I can possibly do more damage to the dog’s mental state. Especially with aggression cases, I could put myself, the dog, and any person in the vicinity of the dog at risk if something happens.

Instead of feeling like, ‘Oh, poor me, I can’t handle difficult issues. I’m such a failure, and I should be able to do this’. I say to myself, ‘Eventually, I’ll be able to handle issues like this. Right now, I can’t help this dog. But I will be able to after I get my certification and get some experience working with these types of dogs For now, let’s get this dog a trainer who can help him!’  I feel I am strong because of this. And smart. I will make mistakes, and I don’t feel I should be chastised for this. I can learn from my mistakes and become a better trainer. I am not rushing, but I always want to do more. By enrolling in all these classes, I feel I am succeeding.

Babysitting Checkers was a mistake for me – he was too much. He needs a specialized board and train program for his needs, not just a babysitter. He is the most difficult dog I have ever met in my career. Again, compared to other trainers, this may not be saying much. But I’m done comparing myself to other trainers. I will now ‘compare’ to my experiences. So, in my experience, Checkers is the most difficult dog I have come across.

Since I babysat him, I have encountered a few more difficult dogs from clients that I have referred to another trainer in my area. I want to do everything. Big goal, huh? Well, it gives me some projects to do, and to network with other trainers to get some tips and pointers about seminars, workshops, and places to go to learn.  I have recently registered for a course in dealing with difficult dogs. I’m excited, but also a little anxious. I don’t know why… maybe it’s nerves.

growlI have spoken to my local trainer friend, and she says she gets dogs like Checkers on a daily basis. It sounds exhausting. But, if I’m able to handle all his issues later on, I would assume I wouldn’t feel as flustered as I did when Checkers as at my house, and I was trying every tool I had at my disposal. He was only out of my sight for 5 minutes in 4 days while he was out of the kennel, and managed to get himself into trouble. He was tethered to me the whole time or to an object within the house. In those 4 days, I spent about 30-35 hours of active training.  Because I already knew exercise wouldn’t do the trick, we worked in the backyard instead, as he fought the Halti like a bat out of hell and I was not going to reward that behavior by taking him on a walk. He honestly, didn’t get much exercise [physical, I mean], but we did psychological exercises and worked on targeting. He did respond to SATS when we did some targeting, but I lost his focus within about 10 minutes. Well, 10 minutes is better than nothing.

This experience really opened my eyes to what a ‘board and train’ program means, as well as what working with difficult dogs mean. And why trainers can charge so much when working with them. It is a lot of work, and it is hard work. Again, once I get the training, I feel like I could have handled a few things differently. I felt I was never in any danger of getting attacked – she showed no aggression towards me, just over-adrenalized when he was around Napoleon, toys, food, people, a leash… actually, he was just adrenalized the entire time we had him. Which took about 6 hours to get them to be acceptable while they were off the leash together. Not bad, but I can do better. And I’m sure I made many mistakes. But that’s because I’m human, right?

Anyway, I was just thinking about this today, so I thought I would jot it down and open this up to the world to read about. Maybe it will also help other people will struggles they are experiencing in other careers, at school, or even with their own dog.

Anything is possible, and knowledge is power… Ignorance is bliss. I don’t want to live in bliss. I want to educate, and learn, and be great. And I will be. [Take on the world attitude again]

Dog Parks

dogpark

What are dog parks for? Well, for exercise, of course! Some people believe dog parks are good for socialization as well. This is not a good reason to take your dog to a dog park. I understand that your pup may be good with other dogs. What about everyone else’s dogs? What about that one time when your dog wasn’t good with other dogs. Can you pick up on every single cue your dog is giving you when they are in distress, scared, or starting to be aggressive? Is every person who goes to a dog park educated in canine behavior and psychology?

Unfortunately, the ‘average’ dog owner cannot identify these signals, nor have they studied the basics of canine psychology. They also do not take the time to actually become the pack leader, and instead think their dog is just ‘out of control’. So, taking the dog to a dog park will ‘get rid of that excess energy’, right? Wrong. It will make it worse, and this puts the dog, along with any others at the park in a very bad situation.

Also, when dogs are let off leash, and no ‘leader’ is established between the dogs since the human is no longer there, the dogs naturally try to establish rank. This can eventually lead to a fight. This entire situation should never take place, and no dog should be put in a position where they need to fight between themselves to establish rank. You should be the leader, and putting them in this position is forcing them to try to be the leader.

Being a pack leader, the human needs to be assertive in making the decisions, controlling resources, and also protecting their dog(s). When a dog feels threatened by another dog or person, the dog will run behind their ‘leader’ (usually the human)

Germs, Parasites, and Illnesses/Diseases

These are all a risk if you take your dog to a dog park. Can you be certain that all worms, parasites, or nasty diseases like parvo have never been present at this location? Most worms contaminate soil through feces or fleas, so even if a previous owner picked up after their dog, can you guarantee this dog didn’t carry anything that can make your dog sick? Eggs in certain types of parasites can live for years in the soil. What about vaccinations? Can you guarantee every dog your dog has played with was vaccinated for parvo, distemperment, and/or rabies? Here is an article about potential risks of illnesses your dog can get at a dog park.

Unaltered dogs

Obviously, you shouldn’t bring a female in heat to a dog park. Unfortunately, people do. There is the obvious risk of unwanted pregnancy (this only takes a few moments after insertion) and sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, canines can get these as well. Unaltered females also can cause unnecessary attention for males, and end up causing a fight due all the ‘fighting over her’. An unaltered male dog can cause unwanted attention as well. High testosterone levels can make him a target for harassment or aggression from other male dogs. They tend to ‘zone in’ on unaltered males.

Fights

dogfight

The average dog owner has no idea how to break up a dog fight. Thus, resulting in injury. This could be the person breaking it up, or one of the dogs.  Why not check out a free social class in your area? This is free, supervised, and your dog gets to actually learn while in class. I go every Saturday to a social called Pack to Basics. There are 2 facilities in my area who offer this course, and many more around the United States.

Now, if you have already been going, or continue to go (which I don’t recommend), here are some tips.

1-Notice the signs of a tense, uneasy, possibly aggressive dog: Stiffness, tail will be straight up, or straight back (depending on breed), dogs will stand tall with their head up, ears perked or back, possibly lip licking or panting heavily, and hackles raised. These are some very basic things to look out for anytime you are around dogs. You can also look out for this on ‘play dates’ or just when you are observing more than one dog at at time. If you have multiple dogs at home, use these tools to help prevent a fight as well. ‘Out of the blue’ attacks are not out of the blue, and there is always a reason. If you can pick up on the signs before a fight happens, you can learn to prevent fights altogether.

On this same note, notice signs of a fearful dog: Head will be low, tail low or in between its legs, dog seems to be trying to get away or to hide. Fear also presents itself sometimes with lip raising while cowering, snarling/growling while shrinking into the ground, running (usually a dog is chasing) in a manner that says the dog is not comfortable.

2 – If you notice any of these signals, tell the owner to get control of their dog.  If this doesn’t work, or the owner refuses, it is time for you to leave. If there was severe aggression, you may want to file a police report or file a complaint. Make sure to mention you were concerned for your safety as well as your dog’s safety. Obviously, don’t call the police if ‘that dog looked scary’. Severe aggression can be anything from lunging at a person with an intent to bite, a dog biting a person, a dog fight where there were wounds on the underbelly, chest, or neck, and/or the wounds were deeper than 3″ deep. Scratches and bites on the face, legs, feet or ears are minor, and usually mean the dog was ‘warning’ the other dog to back off. Even if a dog bit a human, and the bite was on the hand, arms, legs, or face – this is less serious than if the dog went after the stomach, sides, or neck.

*Obviously: Always report if a dog bites a human, and go to the hospital (or Instacare).

3 – If the situation has escalated and the dog is now ‘bullying’ your dog, you need to take things into your own hands. This is usually where the dogs are ‘getting physical’ and it is not play. (signs include: Ears back, hackles raised, jumping or mounting on each other, etc. This is never acceptable.) Verbally, in a serious deep voice, tell the aggressor to back off or get out of there. If the aggressor stops and walks/runs away, determine if the situation will escalate again. If so, error on the side of safety and leave.

4-ALWAYS carry a SprayShield citronella spray or a walking stick to a dog park to defend yourself or your dog if there is a fight. The walking stick is not meant to beat a dog at all – just to get something in between you and the dog, or to distract the dog while attacking another dog or a person. 

5-Never get in the middle of a fight if you do not have the experience to break it up. Someone will get hurt, and often the dogs are fueled to fight harder if someone is not experienced/strong enough to break it up. Prevent the fight from happening before this happens. Bites that are inflicted on humans when breaking up a fight are usually because the human who got involved lacked experience and tried to break it up the wrong way.

NOTE: Handling an aggressive dog is never something to be taken lightly, and usually if the dog feels it is ok to be aggressive, there are other problems going on as well. Dominance, leadership, and complete lack of respect are some to list here. Hire a professional who specialize in aggressive dogs. Correcting a dog who has aggression is not fun to watch, and not everyone is cut out for it. However, it is necessary to correct the dog with enough meaning that they will think twice if they choose to do it again. There are at least 2 local training facilities in my area who specialize in aggression. I’m sure there are a few in your area. Check out the IACP website to locate a trainer in your area if you have a dog with dominance problems or aggression.

dogpark2

Now, obviously, I just touched on a few different aspects of dog parks, and there are many more. I hope this helps and educates. However, I am all for socialization and think this is one of the most important things you can do to help your dog. Check out the Pack To Basics program to see if there is a training facility near you who teaches this class, or any other supervised social class where you and your dog can go have fun safely! What’s nice about these classes, is that you know you and your dog are completely safe, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. If your dog is ‘questionable’ around people or other dogs, or considered ‘out of control’, talk to the trainer first to have your dog evaluated. Keep in mind if the trainer says your dog is fine to start off leash – trust them. They know what they are doing, and would not jeopardize the class for the other people or dogs in the class. If necessary, your dog will start out on leash or on a muzzle, if aggressive. If you want to know more about dangers of dog parks, check out the below articles. I go to K9 Lifeline and Wasatch Canine Camp’s socials, as a reference, and you can check out their websites for info on their facilities. I have been going for 8 months, and I have seen 3 fights total. All lasted below 10 seconds, and in all cases, no one was hurt. It was all controlled, and safety was the trainer’s first priority. Never once, was I worried that it was too much for the trainers. One fight involved 2 pitbulls and a cocker spaniel.  Another fight included a St. Bernard and a Bernese Mountain Dog. No fight is too much for these trainers, they are the best.

Some day, I will be one of those trainers… some day.

Light reading:

http://leerburg.com/dogparks.htm
https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Documents/disease_risks_dogs.pdf
http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-park-behavior-know-risks-rewards
http://speakingforspot.com/blog/2012/06/24/dog-park-play-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

Ryder, My Project Dog

Rider2Ryder, a 2 year old male merle Great Dane I have been working with for a few months is a PROJECT! He came to my client from a neighbor who didn’t want to take care of him anymore. He was underweight, and completely unsocialized. His problems included jumping on people to say hello, biting the leash while pulling and trying to get away, being rowdy in the house, counter/refrigerator surfing, aggression towards men, and he would ‘play bite’ your face, hands, butt, anything he could reach.

Now, that was a few months ago. Now, he doesn’t jump on people to say hello anymore, no more play biting, and counter surfing has been greatly reduced. We have been working on a leadership program to teach him who is the leader (it isn’t him!), and kennel training. We have also been heavily working on the leash and handling the aggression.

Kennel training was… difficult. 1) Because he’s huge. He didn’t like going in at first, the client would bribe him by putting a bone in the kennel. This is still something we are working on, but now, he will come out of the kennel perfectly. He will lay down until we open the door. He has to be laying down CALMLY before we can let him out. In the beginning, he would try to push you out of the way to get out of the kennel. That was a few months ago. Now, he waits calmly to be called out.

Now, the aggression is still a constant challenge. He lunges at men while barking, and this is not a ‘to say hello’ lunge. He snarls and does a hard stare when there is a strange man across the street or outside.  Now, this goes 2 ways. If the man completely ignores him, he is fine. If he looks at Ryder, he gives a warning hard stare and then a growl. If the man continues to stare, he barks and lunges at him. We have been taking him to a social class to help with this along with one of Ryder’s biggest problems: He’s pushy and dominant.

The rules are coming along, and I see major improvement within the client’s house. The family has learned how to behave around him and all the kids are on board. Even the youngest (around 4, I believe). Obedience is showing improvement, though it is slow.

As for the dominance and pushy behavior, we are teaching him he doesn’t get what he wants by pushing past people or rushing the door. We are making him slow down for ANYTHING he wants by making him sit first, and then wait calmly. Putting the halti on, taking it off, coming inside, going outside, going in the kennel, coming out of the kennel, feeding time, attention, obedience training, etc. We have also stopped him from jumping on the furniture, as this was a problem in the beginning. Still jumps up on the couches when no one is looking, but he has made HUGE progress.

So, overall, we still have a ton of work to do with him, but he made tremendous progress into becoming a loving family pet. I am so impressed with how much the family has been on board, and the progress he has made. Every week (most of the time) I see a change in his behavior.

Successes:
-Counter surfingRider
-Jumping
-Play biting
-Calming down in the house
-Kennel training

Work in progress:
-Loose Leash walking
-Accepting the halti
-Respecting the family
-Aggression towards men
-Pushy/Dominant behavior