Take The Edge Off

Take The Edge Off

Sometimes you adopt a dog that has a pre-existing behavior issue that shows up only in a home environment. For example, your new pup barks at men with beards. If this is the case, then desensitizing your furry friend is an excellent way to eliminate the issue.  Desensitization means exposing a dog to such a low level of stimulus that s/he does not react: this technique can be applied to any number of situations. Take the example of men with beards. The first step is to identify that a bearded man is a trigger that sets your dog barking. Once the trigger is identified, what can be done? For the facial hair phobic dog, this means finding a distance at which the dog sees a bearded man but doesn’t react. That might be 5, 10, 20, or 50 feet away. The actual distance doesn’t matter, because what you want to do is reward your dog’s calm behavior in the presence of a bearded man.  You can enlist the help of a bearded friend or a fake bearded friend. Let your dog see the man and when he does not react, praise and reward him. Have your assistant move closer, and if no response from your dog, repeat praise and reward.   If the dog’s body language changes, such as they step away, hackles rise, head drops or ears go back, then before s/he starts to bark get them to sit as your bearded assistant calmly walk away.   The next session restarts with the bearded assistant at a distance that doesn’t provoke a response.  Keep desensitization sessions short, fun, and rewarding. In this way,...
Fear or Aggression?

Fear or Aggression?

  Let’s take a look how a dog’s past experiences may influence their future behavior.   You have adopted a male dog, and he’s settling in well. In fact, better than you dared hope. Encouraged, you introduce him to the other dogs at the local park. Everything is going well. He behaves perfectly and meets dogs of all shapes and sizes, without issue.   Then it starts to rain. A woman walks past with an umbrella and your dog, bares his teeth, growls and snarls with a real intent to do harm. If you had not had him on his leash, he might have attacked the woman. Then it happens again! He snarls at an elderly man walking with a cane. Your friends say that your new furry friend is “aggressive.”   What the world sees as an aggressive dog, may just be in reality fear. In your dog’s past life, his owner may have abused him repeatedly by beating him with an umbrella. Your dog associates umbrellas with pain causing him to lash out in fear. He extends this fear to any object that looks like an umbrella, including canes, brooms or any long object a person can carry.    A fearful dog has two options: run away or stand and fight. If he decides an attack is his best defense, the outside world deems him aggressive.   Your job as an understanding owner is to unravel this chain of events and retrain him. An intricate puzzle, the best bet is to desensitize him slowly. Exposing him to the fearful stimulus at a sufficiently safe distance where he...