Dr. Brain O'Hare would say, "It’s not about how ‘smart’ dog or a ‘dumb’ dog is" as some dogs are just better at some things than others. But can we make our dog as smart as possible? You know, develop them to their fullest potential. Yes I believe we can and here's how.
Dog intelligence is a dynamic process made up of experiences. In puppyhood, the brain is creating all these amazing neural networks and to make a dog smarter is to nurture the development of denser networks. Think of a tree's roots in the ground. The root ball is like the brain of the dog and during puppyhood, we want the root ball to become as dense as possible, architected to provide the maximum chance for supporting the dog throughout their life and maximizing the dog's potential. (1,2) Ideally, its best to begin young, however, don’t think that your adult dog’s ‘smarts’ are fully developed. Even older dogs can create new connections and new pathways in their brain.
As you consider what you need to do to give your puppy every advantage, you want to know that brains are the only organs shaped by experiences; reorganizing themselves and changing physiology (3). When we consider planning to maximize a dog’s brain development, we want to plan a life full of adventures, exploration and relationships. Consider providing a wide-variety of active learning engagements for puppies through to adulthood. Different environments, interactions with things, relationships with other animals, other dogs, and other people. Also, think through engaging all the senses including scents.
With our own dog Sunshine, we planned her experiences. As a puppy she was exposed to numerous adventures in the country-side, and puzzles that engaged all five senses. We also had the advantage of exposing her to many types of dogs, big and small, furry, long-haired and short-haired, and introverts and extroverts. She's observed highly reactive dogs and assisted with very timid dogs, We guided her to make judgment calls about other dogs. And her potential for reading and responding to various dog types has made her to be what I consider highly versatile in dog-to-dog language (and very helpful in assisting changing the behaviour in dogs)
Also consider exercise before teaching your dog new things. We know in the brains of a human child, exercise before a test improves scores (4). And given that we are finding so many parallels between dogs and human brains, it is no surprise that a puppy, exercised first, allows for greater focus, key when teaching them important skills between puppyhood and adulthood.
1 – Reference is from findings by Ross A. Thompson, PhD, professor of Psychology at the University of California, “Lower circuits in the brain must be built before higher circuits, and advanced skills must be based on basic skills”
2 - Brain Plasticity and Behaviour in the Developing Brain
Bryan Kolb, PhD1 and Robbin Gibb, PhD1
3 - Pat Wolfe, EdD, educational consultant and co-author of Building the Reading Brain says, ""The brain is the only organ in the body that sculpts itself through experience," says Wolfe. She adds that we now know experiences actually change and reorganize a (…) brain structure and physiology"
4 - Åberg MA, Pedersen NL, Torén K, Svartengren M, Bäckstrand B, Johnsson T, Cooper-Kuhn CM, Åberg ND, Nilsson M, Kuhn HG. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2009;106(49):20906–20911.
Every dog has an innate intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to collect knowledge and apply it. Cognition is "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the sense." and cognitive abilities varies in every dog based on their exposure and intelligence. Self-confidence plays an important role in intelligence. Confidence is the basic belief within the dog that it can do what is needed to produce the desired outcome.
Intelligence, Cognition and Confidence are well intertwined. Providing cognitive games not only helps develop intelligence, but supports rehabilitating several behaviour problems
Your dog loves these games because it builds up their own self-awareness, allows them to stretch their mind, and provides a sense of overall well-being.
What happens when a dog is unable to use his intelligence or lacks the confidence to believe he can do something? There are several problems that can be manifested. Some severe, like over-excitement (jumping, barking, destructiveness), and at the least, boredom (apathy, depression).
What are Cognitive Games?
Dogs like puzzles they can solve. Since each dog is unique they will like different types of puzzles and activities. Cognitive games types for Dogs include:
1. Key Skills – Learning and applying a new skill to achieve a goal e.g. Rally Trials (Obedience Obstacle Course) or Treat Kong’s
2. Pathway – Figuring out a physical path to achieve a goal e.g. Agility Training, or a game of Hide-and-Go-Seek
3. Cunning - Using/building skill to achieve a goal by evasion e.g. Toy Chase
4. Sequential Games – Developing body memory to carry out a series of actions to achieve a goal.
5. Nose Games – Using the dog’s ability to smell to achieve a goal e.g. Scent Training, Snuffle Mat, Shell Game
6. Coordination Games – Similar to 'Key Skills' above, Coordination games focus on specific body parts working together to reach a goal e.g. Stacking of Rings
7. Vocabulary Games – Building your dog’s vocabulary beyond cues to include colors, objects, context and even emotions. Games would ask the dog to determine differences.
There are many types of cognitive games and this is not the entire list. What is important is that your dog will be good at some games and not so good at others. We want games that your dog both enjoys and that builds confidence. If your dog is not good at a game, we simply end on a good note and move on.
Practical Workshops for students of the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour (theISCP.com) and members of the Muskoka Dog Social Club are available to learn how to set up cognitive games, create your own and to enrich your dog's life.
Many clients I work with have no rules for their dog. None. Some have too many where the structure is so rigid the dog is depressed and acting out. I suggest at least 5 rules where you’re asking for cooperation from this delightful member of the family. Puppyhood is where to start right with setting rules and enforcing them.
My 12-week year old has a good grasp of the word ‘no’, meaning she knows when I am asking her ‘not’ to do something. That does not mean she always obeys - hah! She is finding her own ways of doing things and unfortunately, the consequences. As a force-free behaviourist my role is to bring ‘Sunshine’ into this world as a good citizen in our community. Also, that Sunshine is independent, able to make good choice for herself and others, and self-reliant.
You may think, “Hold-up. What? Does that sound too much like a Human?” Well it does on purpose. Dogs have the same capabilities emotionally and cognitively as a 2-yr. old child - scientifically proven, and it makes sense to modernise our obedience training and include ways and means to enable sound mental and emotional reasoning in our dogs.
Back to ‘No’.
To reinforce ‘No,’ I first have to be asking her to stop doing something - like Biting. She needs to understand this. This is important. She needs to truly understand and practice self-control. These are very hard things to grasp for a puppy - patience is mandatory. All dogs learn from testing what a request means, meaning, if I say ‘no’ to jumping on the table, I can count on the fact she will need to jump on it several more times and in several more situations before she understands and cooperates.
Once I am positive she understands what I am asking her to stop doing something when I say ‘no’, and she still does it, then she is disciplined. Biting is the same concept. One of my key rules for Sunshine - no painful biting. Once I have provided every opportunity to chew anything but me, make my hands very still, and have said ‘no’ only then does discipline follow. I provide two strike-outs, allowing the dog to rethink if they want to continue. If the dog decides not to continued they are praised because I want to positively reinforce the behaviour I want.
Force-free discipline looks just like a time-out for kids. Proactively you know which room in your house is suitable, especially for a Puppy who chews anything. Ours is our bathroom. I always have a timer on hand. I put my puppy in the bathroom away from the family. To put ‘Sunshine’ into the bathroom, I pick her up, but you can lead a dog in as well. I do not yell, and picking her up is done calmly and lovingly. My ‘Sunshine’ is placed in the bathroom, the door is shut, and I set the timer for 2 mins. Not 1 and not 3, but 2 minutes. One minute is too short, three minutes is too long and ineffective. To a dog, being away from you is tough. Sunshine will whine and even howl a little. In 2 minutes, we open the door, no fuss, no drama. Sunshine comes out. Has she learned? Not necessarily, but I have started to provide good information to help her make good choices in the future when I say ‘no’. For sure she will try again because she is learning. I love when they try again. It means I am on the right track. The dog is figuring out what is acceptable and what is not.
There are nuances to this method, so feel free to message me about your particular puppy and I will help you out.
All the best,
Whether it is your dog who needs protection or your dog who is causing the problems, knowing how to read what is ‘play’ and what is not may make all the difference. Never truer than a dog park environment where dog-strangers meet, and ‘play’ is often misunderstood by new or misguided dog owners.. By reading signals during play means you can turn a potentially lethal situation into a simple intervention.
Take this quiz and see how savvy you are about these situations that can occur between dogs in a dog park:
1. You observe your dog is chasing another dog, and the dog in the lead has its tail between its legs and is running low to the ground. You decide to direct the lead dog to you to protect it (Right or Wrong).
2. A yelp is heard but neither dog stops their activity. You decide not to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
3. Dogs are playing when one steps away from the play and gives a full body shake. The other dog does not notice and starts a playful charge. You decide to intervene to stop the charge (Right or Wrong).
4. One dog is playing with another dog, when suddenly it sits or lies down. The other dog jumps on top of her and begins tugging her fur to get her back into play. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
5. One dog growls and moves away from another dog who is play-bowing. You decide not to intervene and let them work it out (Right or Wrong).
6. You observe your dog looking at you, with its head angled away from a dog trying to engage in play. You decide to encourage your dog to make friends (Right or Wrong).
7. Two dogs have been playing well. Then you notice one dog is actively biting the legs of another dog, full teeth exposed and snarling, and the other dog has it head turned facing the other dog, air-snapping and trying to bite the other dog. Vocalization of growling can be heard loudly. You encourage the play to continue (Right or Wrong).
8. One dog is on its back and another dog is on top. The dog on the bottom is air-snapping (meaning snapping its teeth together but not biting anything) and grabbing onto the top one’s harness, with its back legs flailing in the air. The dog on the top is biting the cheek of the dog on the ground. There is no noise, outside of panting and soft growls. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
9. Two large dogs, who are part of a sibling group, are chasing a small dog they have just met. You decide to remove the small dog and stop their play (Right or Wrong).
10. Two dogs are meeting, and one dog will not allow other dogs to sniff it’s back-end (doggie-polite greeting), has its ears back and a low growl can be heard. You decide to intervene and stop the introduction (Right or Wrong).
There are many more situations like this that must be monitored at the dog park. Staying attentive and being knowledgeable on dog signals at play can save the life of your dog and others. Never let a good conversation, or listening to music, stop your attention to dogs at ‘play.’ Your dog is counting on you to see and understand what is happening and to protect him/her.
Here are the answers: 1. R, 2. W, 3. R, 4. R, 5. W, 6. W, 7. R, 8. W, 9. R, 10. R.
Please let me know how many you got right, and which surprised you. I will respond with the details and why the answers are the way they are.
All the best,
Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to 10 minutes. We spent 10 minutes gawking at a Moose. We spent 1o minutes meeting a dog who had just bitten an employee. We spent 10 minutes sorting and putting on laundry. Yet, 10 more minutes with your Dog can lead to amazing things.
For example, I can spend 10 minutes writing one of the most powerful tips that will fundamentally shift your relationship with your dog. Interested?
First, some background. I was recently asked about how to stop a cute little puppy from running away with family member's pants. Then, I was also asked how to stop a dog from bugging his elderly cat sibling when the sibling was resting. And on another call I was asked how to stop a dog from barking at the neighbors. All of these problems had slightly different solutions, some were short, some were long. But all started from the same place, a neat little trick I call the power of "AND."
In the few minutes it takes to read and absorb this trick, and the a few moments to think about it and practice it - the power of 10 minutes to shift your relationship with your dog will become clear.
Second, it is important to realize that dogs who know they can make you happy are mentally healthier than dogs that are regularly confused, or believe you are very rarely happy with them. So if you don't praise your dog on a steady basis for coming when called, sitting when asked, or simply lying down under your desk quietly when working, they likely don't know they make you happy.
If you need to find things to praise your dog for, think about what you do like. I hear, "I like it when my dog curls up on his bed, when I am reading," or "I like it when my dog comes to me when I call his name." A quiet, calm, "good settle" with a smile on your face, when a dog finds his place under your desk can be the start of letting your dog know you like when he is there. A scratch on the neck every time your dog comes when called, shows your dog he is making your happy.
Third, saying 'No!' to your dog digging up your garden, or jumping on the counters is not a powerful choice to curb your dog's behaviour. It says I am unhappy with you with no instructions on how the dog can make you happy. There is no alternative path given to the dog except to stop what he is doing and let's face it, taking his paws off the table doesn't make you happy. You didn't want him to do it in the first place.
The Trick is found in the power of "AND." Next time a "No!" comes flying out of your mouth as your pants are dragged up the hallway by your playful pup try the power of "AND." Here's how to do it. Any behaviour you want to stop, say "No AND...." ask them to do something that makes you happy. In the pant-pulling puppy case, it would be "No AND look here is a teething rope, please take it away and chew it, that would make me happy." For a dog who is bugging the elderly cat, it is "No AND would you sit. Oh what a good boy, that makes me happy." For a dog barking at a neighbour, it is "No AND can you lie down for me. Wonderful. Thank you that makes me happy," and so on.
The power of AND is a 10 Minute lesson that will deepen the power of your relationship with your dog. A happy dog is a dog who knows that they can make you smile.
We will be having a clinic on the Power of "AND" at the Muskoka Dog Social Club which is only 10-minutes from Hwy. 11 - you could have been here by now. The social club has wide-open, secured park-like settings made for dogs, with lovely outdoor seating, and an indoor activity centre for inclement weather. It's for Dogs and their People and boasts great evenings under the stars, and only 10 minutes from home.
When working with dogs and their owners, we often ask them to have on hand three sets of treats, each with varying levels of enjoyment for the dog. The lowest value treat is likely to be their dinner kibble - yummy, but not highly scented, with a dry crunch. The second, mid-level treat may be diced carrot or apple cubes - lovely, moist, crunchy, low calorie, but not smelly. The third and most highest value is a moist, highly scented treat about the size of a pea. But buying high quality treat can be challenging both in price and finding a moist, pea-sized, smelly treat. So we like to provide this easy under $10 recipe which produces about 80 rewards.
Here's how we recommend investing $9.28:
You need a package of ground meat, around $6.00 and two cans of sardines or anchovies, approximately $1.44 a can. Add in one egg, about $0.40. Mix together and press into a well-oiled cookie pan. Cook the meat tray in a 350 degree oven, until well cooked. We don't burn it, but we dry it out - approximately an hour, but keep an eye on it. Once it is out of the oven, you should be able to move the cooked meat slab onto a cutting board and cut it into pea size pieces. You can freeze, if you make several batches. We have never counted how many we can get but would hazard a guess that we have over 80 pieces, depending on how you choose to cut it.. One other note: we recommend you open the windows - it can really stink up the house, but your dog will love it.
We are often asked, why anchovies/sardines? The reason is simply to make the treats more smelly. Since dog's taste buds are not as advanced as ours, but their noses far more advanced, we rely on their amazing ability to smell, to attract their attention and create deeper pleasure sensations in their brain.
Any questions, we would love to hear them, just send them along to Sparky@executivepetservices.ca.
How Would You Like to Trade Your Old Dog Training Equipment for Great Discounts?
We want to swap great discounts on our most popular services for your choke, prong or shock collars or any other qualifying pet gear.
We are participating in “Project tRade” and customers can earn up to 15% off our most popular behaviour modification services and emotional healing remedies simply by giving us old pet gear* you have laying around. It couldn’t be easier!
What is “Project tRade”?
Project tRade is the Pet Professional Guild's (PPG) international advocacy program that promotes the use of force-free pet training equipment by asking pet guardians to swap choke, prong and shock collars (and any other devices that are designed to change behavior through pain or fear). Because we want all pets and their guardians to experience the huge advantages and long-lasting effectiveness of force-free training and pet care, we will give you great discounts on our most popular, effective, fun and pain-free behaviour training & emotional healing remedies in exchange for your old gear.
How Would You Like to Trade Your Old Dog Training Equipment for Great Discounts?
We want to swap great discounts on our most popular services for your choke, prong or shock collars or any other qualifying pet gear. By participating in “Project tRade” you can earn up to 15% off our most popular behaviour modification services simply by giving us old pet gear* you have laying around. It couldn’t be easier!
What is “Project tRade”?
Project tRade is the Pet Professional Guild's (PPG) international advocacy program that promotes the use of force-free pet training equipment by asking pet guardians to swap choke, prong and shock collars (and any other devices that are designed to change behavior through pain or fear). Because we want all pets and their guardians to experience the huge advantages and long-lasting effectiveness of force-free training and pet care, we will give you great discounts on our most popular, effective, fun and pain-free training and pet care services in exchange for your old gear.
Effective, humane animal training and pet care methods are the foundation of any animal’s healthy socialization and training and help prevent behavior problems. Since a wide variety of equipment and tools are commonly used when training pets, the pet-owning public needs to be aware of the potential problems and dangers some equipment may pose.
Specifically, the use of collars and leads that are intended to apply constriction, pressure, pain or force around a dog’s neck (such as ‘choke chains’ and ‘prong collars’) should be avoided. Distinguished veterinarians and behaviorists worldwide are joining the discussion and calling for the elimination of such devices from the training efforts of both pet owners and professionals.
What Do the Experts Say?
Respected veterinarian and thyroid expert, Dr. Jean Dodds, recommends against choke or prong collars "as they can easily injure the delicate butterfly-shaped thyroid gland that sits just below the larynx and in front of the trachea. These collars can also injure the salivary glands and salivary lymph nodes on the side of the face underneath both ears"
Bestselling author and canine behaviourist, Jean Donaldson, says: "These devices (choke and prong collars), when they work, do so to the degree that they hurt. With the advent of modern methods and tools they are irrelevant."
According to veterinarian and veterinary behaviourist Dr. Soraya V. Juarbe-Diaz: "Using punishment to stop behaviours is not new. Notice I said 'stop' rather than 'teach' -- I can stop any behaviour but I am more interested in teaching my students, animal or human, to choose the behaviour I want them to perform because they can trust me, because I do not hurt them and they are safe with me, and because the outcome is something they enjoy."
The PPG thus encourages all pet owners and pet professionals to embrace modern, scientifically based, training techniques and tools, especially the latest generation of no-pull harnesses which are free of the risks posed by traditional collars and offer far more benefits. So swap your gear and help create a kinder world for you and your dog and pet..
To learn more just visit PetProfessionalGuild.com.
*qualifying pet gear = prong collars, shock collars, pinch collars, choke chains, citronella collars and the like.
Speak to Sparky about the discount codes for each of our packages and Emotional Healing services and products.
To understand Force is to understand why trust is easily broken between a dog and his caregiver. It can undermine a dog's progression into adulthood, undermine cooperation, and lead to abandonment. Even if you have never used force on your dog, others' may have. Well-meaning family members, and even professional caregivers using outdated information, may have used force on your dog. Your job is to protect your dog, and provide gentle guardianship. It requires you to recognize the signs of force, educate those who have used it, and protect your dog at all cost.
The Tell-Tale Signs that Force has Likely Been Used
A dog who has been trained or disciplined with force is recognizable. He cowers with fast movements, at hand gestures, or raised voices, with his ears flat against his head, and his tail curled down. He shows ‘crescent eyes’ (meaning the white shows in a crescent shape under his irises). The dog’s natural curiosity is lower than normal as is his confidence. He avoids people, glancing at where at person is in position to himself, and looks worried, with eyebrows pinched tightly together. When you see these signs in combination, it is likely force has been used.
What is Considered Force?
Force is shouting, pulling, and pushing. At it’s worse, it is hitting, kicking, slapping, straddling a dog, shaking a dog by the scruff of his neck, hitting your dog on his nose with a rolled up newspaper, and/or pinching or kneeing any part of his body. Force is also training collars, including; shock, prong, choke, and citronella collars. Any type of force is to be avoided and for good reasons:
If you currently use force, and would like to explore how to use force-free methods for long-term results and a happier dog, there are several resources regionally and nationally to support you. Check out the following sites:
"When this happens - a dog giving to us unconditionally - and in only a few hours, it is so amazing and beautiful. The trust and bond is formed..."
Today we are hosting a lovely VIP - a Bouvier.
For Martin and I, it is 'our defining moment' and why our care is so uniquely different.
Every dog evaluates every human. In a temporary care situation, it is like they are asking themselves; is this someone who I can trust to care for me when my owner/caregiver is away?
As Professionals, we know trust between a temporary caregiver and a dog needs to be earned. We also know that people mistake a dog's gratitude with trust, dependency with bonding. We don't work on a dog's gratitude where they are showing relief that someone will care for their basic needs. No, we focus instead on a lofty goal: bonding through trust. The challenge is found in not having months or years to create a trust relationship with a dog - we have hours.
We begin today much like we always do. We will quickly read her body-language, and determine her mental state at being left without her owner: upset, stressed, anxious or totally into exploring a new world.
If stressed, she will first be soothed in the zen room with aromatherapy and music, sending signals of calm and asking nothing of her. It will relax her mind and she will make better judgement calls in our favour. We then move onto observing her.
If she is curious, or is now calmer, we observe and catalogue her personality nuances, chatting with one another about what we see, looking for body signal, micro-expressions, and vocalization to indicate her feelings and emotions. We work through her likes and dislikes.
Once we have a fairly good hypothesis of her style and unique personality, we will engage her in new experiences. It is a confidence-building moment, where she stretches her current capabilities. We watch until she shows true happiness that she can do something new. Then, most importantly, we signal to her that her happiness makes us happy. Then the bond is made, trust is seeded and the rest of the day we work to deepen the trust.
At some point in the day, we receive hugs from dogs in our care. They normally walk over on their own, calmly and slowly, just because they are content, and then they lean in. This isn't gratitude. It is not a stressed-out cry for help, seen in a frantic jumping, panting and licking. The dogs are not asking for anything, they are giving. We are receiving a doggie-hug. When this happens, a dog giving to us unconditionally, in only a few hours, it is so amazing and beautiful. The trust and bond is formed, and we can now add to joy with other pleasures, like warm towels, belly rubs and scratches, and all the pleasures we offer to Dogs at the Resort.
As a Canine Behaviourist. I work on many cases with dogs and their families with the sole goal to make their lives work better. Many of these cases are truly fascinating, with each dog having their own unique personalities and quirks, along with their caregivers. I have decided to write about them because their journeys are often inspiring as they illustrate such tremendous commitment of humans to care for their dogs. I want to protect my client's privacy so names and identifying notes will be removed and the stories shaped in a way that demonstrates the challenges and the strategies used to overcome each one. I hope you enjoy these stories and gain insight into dogs' minds and souls.
The beauty and coldness of ginger eyes. For a moment, I hold my breath, as I notice the pupils constrict. His eyes pierce me with distrust and disdain. Then, suddenly, the head swings away. Samson's assessment is completed. I am no threat and smell a little like liver. I swore the air pressure seemed to have shifted as he looked away. This was my first encounter with my client, a stunning male, marmalade malamute, and the complaint was growling, nipping, and aggressive behaviour.
The caregiver was a single business woman who clearly loved Samson. Tall, blonde and well-educated, Kathy hired me to help uncover why Samson was growling so much and if she should be worried for her safety. She wanted to stop the nipping which was bruising her arms and legs.
Samson, after his initial cold greeting of me, took his 90 lb. frame and padded to his blanket, picked up a bone and began gnawing, while Kathy and I sat down to talk.
I learned Samson was adopted at 4-months of age from a questionable breeder. He was never an over-affectionate dog but enjoyed playing and having fun like any young dog does. Samson was now in his teenage years, and still enjoyed play although seemingly on his terms. Adolescence in dogs is a time where great empathy and patience are required. They are often fearful years for a dog whose age ranges from 6 and 18 months, where dogs become aware of themselves, regardless of being neutered or spayed. Hormones may be surging, and complex emotions are intensifying. They wonder who they are and their value within their social circle. It is a delicate and challenging time where the foundation of adulthood are set in place.
Samson, rises and pads over to me as I sit writing on the sofa. He sits down directly in front of me, breathing on my notebook, waiting for attention as scribble Kathy answers to my questions. He 'nokes' my pen (noke meaning a poke with his nose) and the pen slides across the page. He is not to be ignored. I put my notepad aside, taking the opportunity to exchange some communication signals. Samson's tawny eyes are comfortable now, not hard like during my entrance. As I lean forward in my seated position. I am careful to position my face far away from his face, but still allowing him to gaze at me. I squint my eyes and smile. I am saying "Hello" in dog language. I asked him, "May I touch you?" I wait for a response, and then Samson says yes, shifting his large stately head down to my hands resting in my lap, "Yes, you may." I move slowly and rub his neck, my fingers sinking into the most glorious fur you have ever felt. Rich layers of softness, warm and luxurious. I keep my eyes half-lidded (called, soft eyes) and notice the same soft-eyes on Samson's face. Then a growl. and Samson's eyes hardened, seemingly simultaneously. I removed my hand quickly and sat back. Kathy sat up straight, and said, "There! That's what I don't understand!"
I explained the silent transaction that had just occurred between me and Samson, with his final "That's enough!" Samson, in short, had a short tolerance for handling and quite vexingly, wanted affection.
Samson, over several weeks of interaction and study showed his growling was likely signaling frustration and grumpiness. Consider that in his mind, he likely believed he was being very clear in his dog language as to what he liked and didn't like, but it appeared no one was listening. In typical adolescence fashion, he lashed out, escalating his anger to nips. I also believed Samson's trust had been broken. He simply didn't trust Kathy to care for his needs. He likely felt he needed to be hyper-vigilant in training Kathy to notice when he needed to relieve himself, be protected, or when he needed to relax in peace. If Samson could have graded his caregiver, he would have given her a C- which would have broken this kind-hearted, well-intentioned woman's heart. She truly cared deeply for Samson. His signals also seem to suggest a general disappointment in humans. Missing key knowledge on his early formative experiences, I had to assume his frustration, distrust, and subsequent aggression were triggered by an abandonment memory. I also thought it possible the memory resurfaced once I learned of a recent puncture wound Samson received during a play fight with a dog-friend. . He was also very demanding, potentially coming from a sense of entitlement found in many young dogs finding their sense of self. All of these beliefs, interpretations, and choices Samson was acting on, need to be gently guided, with a firm and fair hand.
I committed to helping build a comprehensive plan for Kathy and Samson to build trust between the two of them. Kathy committed to being engaged with the plan; ask questions, provide feedback, and be open to training and receiving help.
A large majority of dogs can be summed up as being all about peace, love, and cooperation. It is their natural state of being. Samson was attached to Kathy, but his love was to be earned and the plan needed to deepen the bond between them. Our strategy needed to address how Samson could shift to become more peaceful and cooperative. We also needed to consider other humans in his social circle that Samson needed to cooperate with (social circle meaning friends and family members).
Kathy needed to be able to communicate clearly and firmly to family members about their interaction with Samson, especially when on a Behaviour Modification Plan. In the past, misguided family members were noted as bullying Samson, physically and mentally into situations he was not comfortable - this had to stop and Kathy had to be the one to do it with Samson watching. Our strategy sought to establish a set structure Samson could always rely on, including a plan to set and enforce ground rules. For Kathy, I needed to step-by-step plan to educate and train her to read Samson's signals and to respond back in a way he understood.
Kathy excelled at the challenge before her. She learned how to read Samson's communication signal, and also to for permission before touching his body. The simple tasks of putting on a harness, cleaning his ears, and checking his teeth were done with respect. It may sound odd to ask for permission, but it helps our human minds to move into the right space of respect for the dog. Also, Kathy was tall in stature and needed to think through and adjust what she was subconsciously signalling to Samson, with her body positioning. Signaling through tone, body language and position, Samson was able to prepare himself to be handled. To understand this, imagine you taking a deep, calming breath before having to engage in conversation with an opinionated relative.
We established a strict daily routine for Kathy and Samson, with a time-based schedule to play and relieve himself. We also increased his feeding schedule, and added in exercises where Samson was handled (not when needed but as a bonding exercise). Bedtime routines shifted to ensure Samson could turn off and fully relax. We introduce several Human-Dog bonding games - instantly a huge success. We also introduced a discipline plan that was kind but firm, with no force. Samson desperately needed ground-rules to be reinforced, without breaking the fragile trust we were building between him and humans. Ground-rules helped him to learn to be a cooperative member of the household. After a few weeks, Samson likely thought he had entered into a dream-life where he was understood and could begin to believe in. The comprehensive nature of the plan worked on many emotional plains to reduce Samson's distrust.
Sitting on the floor, a few delicate threads connect Kathy with Samson. Samson is on his back, with a lolling grin, his mouth soft, his eyes half-closed. Kathy is a little behind his head,, dangling a rope toy over his lips and his front teeth gently grab the fringed threads, connecting them in gentle play. His paws move slowly to tap the rope. Kathy smiles at this lazy efforts,. Samson smiles too, very relaxed, with his stomach exposed - he feels safe. Kathy asks Samson, "Can I rub you?" and Samson grins, "Yes" . Kathy slowly and gently rubs him and then stops, checking Samson's response. There is nothing from Samson. Kathy knows this means it may be giving 'her' pleasure but Samson is only kindly tolerating her. She smiles again knowing that this is Samson's unique personality and that his tolerance of her is a sign of love.
Over three months of diligent care and commitment to the plan, Kathy and Samson are much closer, with a deep bond that is wonderful to see - true affection can be observed. Samson's smiles more having found greater peace in his world and growls less due to grumpiness (I should mention lest it be misunderstood, growling is good, as it clearly warns a person to stop what they are doing). There have been no further nipping or signs of aggression. In addition, Kathy's efforts have paid off and her family has been effusive about the dramatic difference in Samson. Using caregiver guidelines combined with Samson's increased joyful cooperation, the entire family has been enjoying Samson more and were no longer nervous being around him. Kathy's commitment and dedication to her dog Samson is a testament to her long-term loving relationship she now has.
This is only an overview of our Behaviour Modification Strategies and Plans which are extensive and wholistic in nature. We outline in our strategies and plans all aspects of Dogs basic and enriched needs, in addition to practical exercises, games, training and both interim and long-term goals. We train caregivers to execute on the plan, and provide support, encouragement, and refreshers when needed during the execution of our plans. Each plan is highly tailored simply because each dog has a unique personality, complete with distinct beliefs on who they are, who you are, and why they think they should be doing what they are doing. Our plans are updated as new science breakthroughs come to light.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.