Friday, February 11, 2011

Sit For Greeting

Have a dog that jumps up on everyone he/she meets? Learn how to teach a sit for greeting.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: has my dog been reinforced for jumping up? Do you pat your dog when he/she jumps up? Do other people? Do you push your dog off of you and reprimand? Have you used your knees or legs to kick him/her? Have other people?

What you need to know about reinforcement is that good or bad reinforcement can encourage a behaviour. So it doesn't matter whether I'm petting my dog for jumping up or pushing him/her off of me. My dog is still being reinforced for jumping.  Makes things harder doesn't it?

Alright here's a few steps to get you on the right track and remember practice makes perfect!

Step #1 - teach your dog to sit on voice command or hand signal but without touching your dog. It's crucial that you have this basic obedience command down pat.

Step #2 - begin to practice sit around more and more distractions. Ask for sit and then as soon as that butt hits the floor reward. Practice this at doorways, on walks, in the park, around friends, etc.

Step #3 - when you come home from being out don't make eye contact or speak to your dog until he/she sits (without a command). As soon as your best friend is sitting then shower with praise, toy, pets, food, etc. If he/she jumps go back to ignoring. For those really high energy dogs keep your vocal praise low key so you don't trigger the jumping up again from excitement.

Step #4 - start to add friends/family to training session. Have your dog take a sit position before the person even becomes visible. Reinforce continually to keep your dog sitting (meaning giving a kibble or treat every few seconds). As long as the dog is sitting the person can come closer. If the dog gets up then the person immediately needs to back up and leave.  You then start again. Eventually the person will be standing beside the dog while the dog is sitting. You can then have your friend/family member give the dog a treat for sitting. Practice until this is easy.

Step #5 - slowly fade out the food reward until you can do this without food. Meaning over the course of several training sessions use less and less food. If the dog regresses then go back to the basics.

Step #6 - begin to ask your dog for a sit whenever a person comes into view. Over time your dog will learn that he/she is expected to sit when greeting a human. Once your dog is reliable on leash then move to practicing off leash.

If your dog does jump on someone unexpected have the person become a "tree" and if they need to they can turn around so their back is to the dog. This works great for kids. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Separation Anxiety & Why It's So Hard To Fix

Separation Anxiety is a term used to describe a condition where a dog becomes emotionally distraught when separated from a specific person or persons, or when he/she is left alone (1). This can be mild, moderate or so severe that a dog self injures. I've personally lived with two dogs who had severe separation anxiety and I can't even begin to describe the heart ache that it causes the family and the dog.

Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to behaviour problems. Some simple steps to keep in mind are not making a big deal out of your coming and going from the home. Your dog shouldn't think that this is a big deal but simply a matter of course on a daily basis. Leave your dog something to do like an interactive toy to play with (stuffed Kong, Tricky Treat Ball or Buster Cube). And exercise your dog before a prolonged period of time away.

A great read on preventing separation anxiety is I'll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell. You can order this book from Dogwise Publishing. It has steps for treating separation anxiety as well and can be useful to those of you dealing with the mild form of this issue.

Dogs suffering from moderate to severe anxiety will present with house soiling, uncontrollable barking/howling, destructive behaviour,  drooling, panting, pacing, self injuring, etc. It is important to get advice from a professional about whether your dog has separation anxiety or is merely bored when left alone. This behaviour issue is often misdiagnosed by owners when a dog destroys objects in the house or amuses himself/herself by barking. A video camera or web camera can help show the true story about what goes on when you're away.

If you are experiencing separation anxiety then it's important to contact an Animal Behaviourist (if possible) or a Dog Trainer with experience resolving this issue. You will also need to consult your Veterinarian as dogs suffering from this issue often need medication while behaviour modification is taking place.

A newly released book by Certified Pet Dog Trainer Nicole Wilde called Don't Leave Me! is a great resource for dog owners who are struggling with this issue. It is also available through Dogwise Publishing. This book outlines how to create a custom plan for your dog and put it in action.

Sadly separation anxiety isn't always curable so plans should be made for petsitters, dog daycare and friends/family who can help. It can take months to years to get your dog to a healthy state even with assistance from a professional. Dogs with this issue need to slowly be desensitized to being alone which takes a large commitment from the owner. Don't be disheartened as many dogs do improve with positive reinforcement, love and patience.

Please be aware that adding another dog to the home often does not help with this issue. Sometimes the anxiety can even be passed over to the new dog.

Some great products that can help with separation anxiety include:
- Through A Dog's Ear CD
- Thunder Shirt
- Interactive Toys such as Kong, Tricky Treat Ball & Buster Cube
- Dog Appeasement Pheromone Collar or Spray (Available from your Veterinarian)

1. Wilde, Nicole. Don't Leave Me: Step by Step Help For Your Dog's Separation Anxiety. Phantom Publishing, 2010.