Providing Stability and Security
This programme will benefit all dogs but especially those with behaviour problems. For example, dogs that suffer from separation anxiety show obvious signs of distress when separated from you. These individuals are likely to have a higher anxiety level at all times than most dogs.
Providing a secure environment in which the dog learns to look to you for direction and control can help to relieve the underlying tension that is always present and reduce the likelihood of a crisis episode developing.
The aim is for the dog to recognise that you are dependable and to recognise where in the household hierarchy he fits. This reduces or removes sources of confusion or conflict, the dog feels more comfortable and confident that he can rely on you to determine departure and return routines.
There is also a section included for those dogs with attention-seeking behaviours.
The Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has developed a programme to assist in providing the dog with this secure, stable environment. It involves the dog sitting for all of the things that it values.
First you need to train "sit". There is no need to push down on his bottom. Firmly hold a food reward above his nose and move your hand backwards until his hindquarters start to drop. As they go down say "sit" and good boy and when he sits give his reward. You may need to ask your vet for advice on teaching your dog how to sit on command if it has not been trained to do this previously.
It is essential that it is taught in a gentle, positive manner which results in the dog being rewarded when it is obedient. Many people dislike food rewards as they consider them a bribe. However it may be thought of as a "payment" for a good job.
Once the behaviour occurs 95% of the time, then start alternating food rewards and pats. At this stage intermittent reward becomes the strongest reinforcer of good behaviour.
Once your dog can reliably sit on your request he should be encouraged to make eye contact with you when he sits. You can hold a favourite toy or tit-bit near your eye while asking him to "look". The treat should be given as soon as he complies.
Over time the item can be replaced by a hand movement up towards your eyes only and a reward given from your pocket.
If you are concerned that your dog is focusing on the food rather than you, an alternative is to hold a tit-bit in each hand and hold them at shoulder height to your left and right. Initially your dog is likely to look from one to the other- eventually he will look at you and as he does so instantly give the word "look" and reward him with both pieces of food.
The next step is to introduce the "stay" and ask the dog to remain in position until a release command such as "free" is given. Make this learning process fun. Use a happy tone of voice and lots of verbal praise together with the reward of a tit-bit or a game. Sessions should be short and enjoyable. No more than 5 minutes at a time but repeat these sessions a minimum of six times during the day.
If you and your dog are not looking forward to them then progress will not be as good as it should be. If you are continually becoming frustrated with your dog, then it is time to contact your veterinary clinic for some assistance.
Once you have taught your dog to sit and look at you on request you can begin to ask this of him for ALL the things he enjoys in life. You might like to think of it as the dog saying "please".
It does not mean that your dog has to miss out on anything - only that he must earn what he has previously been given for free, by sitting and looking at you. This needs to become part and parcel of your daily interactions.
A few examples are: "please" (sit, look and stay) can I have my dinner, "please" can I have my lead put on for a walk, "please" can I cross the road, "please" can I have a pat, "please" can you open the door, "please" can I get into/out of the car and so forth.
This programme will reach its full potential if you concurrently ignore any attempt on your dog’s part to control YOUR actions. For instance, if your dog comes up and nudges you while you are reading the newspaper (his way of saying "gimme"), it is important not to reach down and pat him until he chooses to move away. Doing so would have allowed the dog to dictate that entire interaction. It is preferable to ignore the dog (even if he whimpers or paws at you).
If he jumps up, make no physical, voice or eye contact with him. Don’t push him away - this is a response. Just turn around and walk away or stand and walk away. Once the dog has moved away you can call him over, ask him to "sit" and "look" (i.e. he says "please") and then pat him provided he complies. In this way, your dog doesn’t miss out; it is just a matter of you deciding when he can be patted.
If your dog does not do as requested, walk away and ignore him.
It is important to watch for potentially "pushy" behaviours by your dog to ensure you are not inadvertently being manipulated.
It is to be expected that there will be some resistance to the change in the household hierarchy and the behaviours may become worse in the short term but will eventually disappear when the dog realises he gets no benefit from them.
Remember in attention-seeking dogs any recognition is reinforcement for the behaviour.
That includes even small gestures like eye contact or negative things like yelling. These will seem like acknowledgment to this dog. We must avoid all signs of acknowledgment unless we initiate it. We need to teach our dog basic manners.
This programme often means quite a big change in the way that you interact with your pet. In the short term you might feel like you are being harsh on your dog by refusing to meet his demands if he does not comply with your directions. However, dogs are like people in that they generally value things more highly if they require some effort to obtain.
The simple act of sitting and looking at you will provide your dog with direction and reward for deferring to you. It helps to provide a clear set of rules for your dog to follow, which can play a major part in relieving anxiety and hence, the undesirable behaviours that often follow this emotional state.
The use of head collars such as Halti (available from BHVG) is another way to reinforce your rank and therefore enable your dog to feel more secure. They also give you more physical control of your dog but are in fact far gentler than neck collars or choke chains. The pressure of the strap over the back of the neck and the nose also translates to the dog a feeling that the owner is higher in rank. When playing the dog of higher rank mouths or puts his paw over the back of the neck and over the top of the muzzle of the dog of lower rank.
It is important that collars are fitted correctly and that they are introduced in a slow and positive way to the dog.
Do not remove the head collar if your dog is showing any irritation such as pawing at the collar. Distract him with a tit-bit or toy and remove it once he is relaxed. Some dogs may resist the psychological effect of having their rank diminished.
Behaviour modification takes time and effort and can be a slow process. Dedicate at least a four week period to start and then assess the situation. If you are having difficulty with any of the programmes please don’t hesitate to contact BHVG.