Should You Correct Growling and Whining?

Have you ever wondered whether you’re doing the right thing when you ignore your dog’s whining? And what about when you yell at her to stop growling?

We’ve found that the right reaction to growling and whining actually depends on the situation. There are no blanket answers for either one, and the best way to approach these behaviors is through building your relationship with your dog and learning to recognize why they’re happening.

Growling

Pet dogs typically growl when they feel threatened, uncomfortable, or even playful. Lots of trainers correct it in every case. Others see it as a warning which is better than a lunge or bite, so they reward and nurture the behavior.

In our experience there are situations where it is appropriate and others where it should not be tolerated. Every pet has her own personality and tendencies; however, it’s normally easy to figure out what’s bugging a dog.

Growling Situation Number One: Growling as an Improvement

Imagine you’re working on a dog with a history of killing or injuring other dogs and exploding at any person or animal who comes close. This is the dog that no one will attempt to train because of personal safety concerns. The dog whose owner has been recommended to euthanize. The type of dog we, unfortunately, see all the time.

If you get to a point in her training where she shows more cut-off cues and avoids situations (even if she’s growling) where she used to lunge, nurture that behavior. Why? Because it’s a step in the right direction. It’s up to you to intervene and control the situation while advocating for the dog before it escalates, and growling is a big upgrade from biting and attacking.

When a dog’s aggression is on the decline, growling can demonstrate progress. You won’t praise it forever, but she needs to be shown that you appreciate the effort and control that it takes to display a different response.

Growling Situation Number Two: When You’re Not Helping

If you’re not advocating for your dog, she will do it herself.

When she is holding a place and another dog comes bouncing along towards her, you should step in and redirect the active animal. However, if you do nothing when she is being good, and not moving despite the pressure coming her way, you shouldn’t correct her for growling at that other dog for getting too close. All you can do is recognize what you did wrong, maybe correct the other dog if he knows he shouldn’t be doing that, and learn from your mistake (this of course is assuming that the dog was approaching at a rate that suggested no regard or consideration for the dog on place that was not interested in play or over the top energy in their space).

A huge part of gaining your dog’s trust is teaching her that you will control any external problems, so she doesn’t have to. In the early stages of training, that means controlling anything and everything that makes her nervous.

Growling Situation Number Three: Unwarranted Growling

Alternatively, if that same dog, while holding a place, growls at another dog calmly walking by, that’s not permissible, and it’s time to correct. You can’t accept unwarranted growling because, if it has the desired effect (in this case the other dog moves away), it will only reinforce the bad behavior and lead to more problems down the road.  At some point the dog growling must learn a level of toleration, especially if the other dog was simply walking by calmly with no real interest in him/her.

Growling Situation Number Four: Possessive Growling

Dogs are not allowed to growl because of possessiveness. Pure and simple. Chances are you can completely avoid this issue by increasing your relevance, but a dog who aggressively growls at you when she has a toy, bone, or food needs to be corrected.  There is a systematic way to do this and it helps tremendously when you spend more time teaching the dog the preferred behavior/choice prior to asking for it in that situation.  We also stress the importance of making sure that the dog is very fluent in any “language/tool” that you correct them with, to avoid sending a confusing message (seek professional help before attempting this on your own to ensure the safety of both you and the dog).

Growling Situation Number Five: Playful Growling

This is where knowing your dog becomes extra important. Some dogs are just vocal and will sometimes offer a playful growl when you get close because they want you to interact with them. The same goes for when they’re wrestling with another canine. Pay attention and recognize the intent behind the vocalization, while making sure to step in if it gets too rowdy or changes from playfulness to aggression.

Whining

Like growling, your reaction to whining depends on why it’s happening. The root cause of whining is anxiety. That anxiety can come from excessive happiness, nervousness, loneliness, or anything else, but your response to it has a huge impact.  Whining often becomes a “go to” behavior because it has paid off in the past in some way.  Ie: giving them some sort of attention when it’s done.

Whining Situation Number One: When It First Happens

When a dog first exhibits anxiety by whining, there has to be a period of ignoring her. Some of the behavior stems from learning that it gets results.  Over time, your response of going back to check on her, letting her out of the crate, giving her food or toys, petting her, etc. while she’s whining just makes it worse and guarantees it will continue.

Even correcting your dog can encourage the behavior because, just like a child who’s acting out, all attention is seen as good attention. The best way to address anxiety is through consistent leadership and rules. You need to get her used to being alone, waiting for play time, and getting rewarded for listening to you rather than influencing you.

Whining Situation Number Two: Whining as an Improvement

Sometimes, you’ll see a dog that goes crazy when you put her in the crate or close the door to go into a separate room. She’ll bark, bite, claw, and do anything possible to persuade you to let her out or not leave. This is behavior that can be corrected. Whether it’s a bark collar, remote collar, verbal corrections, or whatever else, this behavior cannot be allowed to continue.

Once you conquer that problem, you may still hear some whining as the dog tries to calm herself down. This is actually a sign that her anxiety is on the decline and she shouldn’t be corrected. If you continue to use corrections, you risk further upsetting a dog that is trying to settle down but hasn’t yet completely learned how:  you’re interrupting that process, making her more anxious.

Instead, it’s better to let the dog work herself through it as long as she doesn’t start to amp herself back up. You need to use good judgment and determine whether her anxiousness is getting better or worse. Because anxiety comes in waves, you have to see whether you should address it or just ride the wave until it's calm again.

Remember, when we tell you to correct a dog, it can include saying “no” to one behavior and showing her what to do instead (which you have taught her) or just flat out saying, “No, I don’t care what you do, just don’t do that.” Your correction needs to match the intensity of the dog. Too mild and she’ll ignore it. Too harsh, and you may scare her. Focus on her energy level in that situation, and try to match it with a calm but firm correction.

Build Your Relationship.

As mentioned previously, one of the most important routes to determine your approach to different situations is to start with a great relationship with your dog. Despite what many dog lovers assume, this does not consist of unlimited treats and toys. It also doesn’t mean letting her do whatever she wants. It means increasing your relevance, becoming the head partner in the partnership, and taking the time to learn what makes her react in certain ways. Knowing your dog and being able to take over in the right situations is more powerful than any tool or toy. Sometimes taking over can mean interrupting another dog, sometimes it can be a correction to yours.

If you scroll through our Facebook page, you’ll see an almost endless supply of real world situations and how to handle them. Take the guesswork out of your training, and learn what’s best for your dog.

Links to Additional Information:

Real World Obedience

Question: Do you want a dog that you can trust in every situation? One that won’t pull you down the street, chase after cars, or attack other dogs?

Of course you do! And the “secret” is not in finding the right breed. It’s in achieving what we call “real world obedience.” Every dog can attain it, and your life with your pet will become infinitely more enjoyable when you get there.

What is it?

In order to own a dog you can take anywhere and trust at all times you need two things, which we will call (1) dog tricks, and (2) dog obedience.

Dog tricks, in this context, are the fun behaviors you ask of your dog that he wants to do. For example, when you tell your dog to give you a high-five, then give him a treat for the right response, that’s a trick. It’s like asking a child to make herself some ice cream before she’s allowed to play with her friends. There’s no resistance, and everyone is happy. These types of behaviors are taught almost exclusively through positive reinforcement. Not only do they teach your dog something, but he also learns to listen to you.

Dog tricks have their limit. The dog who only knows tricks develops selective hearing. He only listens when it’s convenient and lacks the obedience to always do as asked.

Dog obedience is not the opposite of dog tricks. In fact, it relies on the actions your dog has already learned.  Obedience should be fun for your dog when introduced in the right way. However, obedience means following the owner’s command even when the dog doesn’t want to. It’s like if we take that same little girl who wants to play with her friends but tell her she has to do her chores (like washing the dishes, taking out the trash, etc.) before she’s allowed to leave. This introduces discipline and rules. She still gets to do what she wants, but the task to get there may not be as much fun as before.

Think about youth sports. When kids are younger, the games are not about winning. The children are encouraged to have fun and learn because, if it’s not fun, they won’t want to keep playing. However, as they get older, the differences in skill level become apparent. The games get competitive and, if they want to win, they have to work hard and push themselves, even when it’s not fun. A dog that possesses true real world obedience is like a professional athlete. A tremendous amount of work went into getting him there, but the results speak for themselves.

Why do we need it?

Most people agree that a dog needs to be trained. It’s one of the first things a parent will tell the child begging for a puppy. But why must a dog be trained? Is it for our own amusement? Is it so we can show off to our friends all the cool things he can do? No, it’s for much more practical reasons – to survive and thrive. And the most surefire way to accomplish this goal is through teaching real world obedience.

Training is like studying. It takes deliberate effort and a great deal of time in order to ace a test. Unless the test is exceedingly simple, you can’t expect to even pass without studying. Yet, we see people fail tests with their dogs all the time. They find themselves apologizing for their dog’s behavior when they haven’t even taught him the correct way to behave. A lot of people seem to think we have a contract with dogs: if we pet them, play with them, and feed them, they should automatically do what we want. But that’s not how our relationship with them works. It takes consistent leadership and lots of “studying” in order for your dog to pass the “tests” of everyday life.

The rambunctious dog that goes around stealing food from the counter, the one that runs away as soon as you open the door, the one that chews everything in sight, these are  examples of dogs with permissive owners. They have been allowed to make their own choices with little or no input from the humans around them.

Sometimes, however, there are exceptions. Some dogs are naturally well behaved despite never receiving much guidance. They have very few problems, but this can actually be a negative. When you have such a dog, you’re more inclined to let him do his own thing. Which is fine until the dog makes a bad decision over which you have no influence. You have the illusion that the dog will listen to you under all circumstances, but you have never practiced for or tested your theory.

And think about it – what happens in the real world? Nothing ever goes exactly according to the plan. You need to be flexible and able to depend on others. If your dog is not reliable in everyday situations, he’s not able to share in a large chunk of your life. When you achieve real world obedience with your dog, not only does your relationship with him improve, but you also open him up to a much higher level of freedom.

How should you get started?

Attaining real world obedience with your dog starts now, and the first step is to increase your relevance in the relationship. So many issues are the byproducts of your dog’s mistrust in you or his lack of respect for you. By improving your position in his  mind, you’ll start to see a lot of your dog’s other problems   disappear naturally. If you read the blog linked above, you’ll see how we go about earning it.

We have free resources to help you along the journey on social media and our website. We make sure we teach our clients’ dogs everything they need to know to succeed in their daily lives, and you can see examples of these lessons on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Periscope under the company name.

Remember, dogs do not magically know the right way to behave. It’s up to you to help your dog become savvy in the ways of the world. And if you’re willing to put in the work to get there, you’ll discover that you’ve sculpted a Dream Come True K9.

Additional Links to Help You:

Dog Parks and Day Cares

We’ve all been to a dog park and witnessed it.

One minute the dogs are running around, having the time of their lives. The owners are in a group talking, texting, petting other dogs, not paying much attention to their canines as they run around, play and release a little energy, so they can relax and be content back at home.

Then, as if out of nowhere, there’s an aggressive bark and a fight breaks out. The other dogs run towards the commotion, the fighters are oblivious to their surroundings and it’s as though everyone has lost control at the same time. The owners then intervene and blame gets thrown around.

Whether or not either dog actually causes any damage, a dog fight is stressful for everybody. No one wants to believe that their pet is the cause, but even the most well trained dog can get into a scrap if the wrong circumstances present themselves. Dog parks (and even dog daycares) are like medicines: they have the best intentions but can actually come along with some harsh side effects.

Good Intentions at Dog Parks

The idea of a dog park is great. It provides an off-leash setting for your dog to safely run around, release excess energy, and play with other dogs. You can use it as a training ground, and it’s even beneficial for dog owners wanting to meet one another. For some, this can be the ideal environment.

Dog Daycares

Daycares mostly offer similar advantages as the fenced-in parks, with the added “babysitter” like benefits, prolonged exposure to other dogs and the relief that your pet is not home alone. Finding a good one can make owning a dog much easier.

The Side Effects

In our experience, more dog fights occur in these two places than anywhere else. What is meant to be a good time can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Dog Parks

The problem with dog parks is the lack of coordination and regulation. They’re like a football game where no one can agree on what position they’re playing and there are no referees to enforce a consistent set of rules.

You rarely find truly dog-aggressive canines in these places. It’s the overly-excited, pushy ones with poor social skills that ruin it for the others. You’ll know the kind of dog we’re talking about from your own visits. The trouble usually starts before he even enters the gate. As soon as he can see the park, the dog is dragging his human closer and closer, maybe even barking enthusiastically. The owner makes no effort to calm him down before joining the others; the dog is making all the decisions. Then the owner releases this over-stimulated pup (unintentionally nurturing the very behavior that the owner is likely annoyed with) and chaos ensues.

You’ll also see a dog that is a little nervous but wants to meet other dogs. When this whirlwind of excitement charges and jumps on him, he may tolerate it for a time while displaying stressed out social cues. His owners don’t help him out and the perpetrator continues to nag and nag, ignoring all his distress signals and cut off cues. The victimized dog will instinctively resort to showing his teeth or snapping at the other one in hopes that the other dog gets the message and backs off.  Unfortunately that isn’t always the way that the message is conveyed to the dog or owner, and it sometimes results in a dog altercation. If this happens enough times, the dog eventually learns that the only way out is through confrontation, which is why we often hear that a dog park actually made a client’s dog more aggressive rather than improving his social skills.

When you have a mixture of dogs that want to go all out and dogs that want to chill out, there needs to be a referee laying down rules. In an ideal world, every owner would be on the same page, focusing on their dog the whole time, providing guidance, direction/corrections along with advocating for dogs when needed. However, the dog park is usually a free-for-all where everyone has a different opinion and training method. How can there be harmony when not even the humans can agree on how to go about it?

What if your dog was being humped by another dog? You make a move to get the culprit off, but encounter resistance from someone who says, “Just let the dogs be dogs.” And the hardest being to correct is another human.

THE AVERAGE DOG DAYCARE

We’ve added the qualifier “average” because there are some great dog daycares out there that have done their homework and make every effort to ensure each dog has a positive experience. Unfortunately, they’re more the exception than the rule.

Most dog daycares provide the same atmosphere as the dog park. The difference is that they’re usually smaller and the dog is there all day.  Since dogs of differing personalities and social skills are thrown together in a cramped area most of them don’t cope well with daycare environments. The ideal daycare dog can accept all other dogs and isn’t bothered by anything. But no matter how tolerant your dog may seem, he most likely will not be happy in your typical daycare situation. .

If the staff is not knowledgeable about body language and good manners in dogs, the nervous dogs don’t get the advocacy they need, the ones who want to relax never can, and the canine jerks win. Many daycares are teeming with pushy dogs that never get corrected for bothering other dogs.  Regardless of their social skills, those who don’t want to play, and say “No” when a dog is jumping all over them, are typically deemed not to be daycare material because that’s supposedly just what happens when you put dogs together.

WHERE DO ALL THESE PUSHY, HIGH ENERGY DOGS COME FROM?

As with most behaviors, the fault does not lie solely with the dog. These dogs have simply not learned the right way to interact with their own kind. It starts with owners who wants their pets to mix with others but don’t know the right way to go about it. They excitedly take their dogs up to every dog they see and constantly encourage them to play at the dog park. Despite the best intentions, their pets only interact in one mode and quickly come to believe that every encounter requires high energy play. Whenever they see another dog, their engine revs up to full speed.

When you put a dog like this into a dog park environment, all he knows is high energy running and playing around his own kind until his body is tired. This is actually the ideal time for him to learn how to simply exist around other dogs, but the mind is never given a chance to relax because the owner thinks this is a cue to take him home. This not only creates an animal that bothers other dogs, but also leads to an anxious one, primarily because the dog was never taught how to be around dogs any other way than in high drive mode.  

When you have dogs with this mindset, it becomes impossible to take them to any average real-world situation where they need to be calm, such as family functions or meetings with your friends. If you’re in this situation, it’s not irreversible, and we have all sorts of free content to help you on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Periscope.

HOW CAN YOU ACTUALLY BENEFIT FROM A DOG PARK?

The dog park can be a huge asset and testing ground for your training. While going into it doesn’t help most dogs going through rehabilitation, you can still benefit by working outside of it. The hardest part of training is dealing with distractions, and they come in three forms: distractions of the nose, eyes, or ears. All three of which can be found at the dog park. If your dog can listen to you amid all those diversions, you’re on your way to a great partnership.

Blake rarely takes his dog, Soco, but when he does, it’s to proof his recall. If you spend enough time at the dog park, you’ll inevitably see a fight, and Blake uses this as a chance to call Soco away, put him in a down-stay, and have him maintain it while he goes to help, if necessary. This way he can make sure his dog is safe while also reinforcing his impulse control.

AVOIDING THE PROBLEMS

Make sure your dog has some basic skills before going to the dog park. If you don’t have a reliable recall, you shouldn’t allow your dog off leash because of the dangers it presents. Set your dog up for success by teaching him how to behave calmly around other dogs. If you can see a dog in there that will cause problems for yours, it’s best to leave and come back another time - maybe go for a walk instead. You’re the one who needs to determine whether it’s a positive situation because you lose a lot of control simply by going in.

As we mentioned before, there are some great dog daycares out there. It’s up to you to find the right one for your dog. Make sure they have some sort of vetting process where they evaluate potential clients based on their history. If they have live feeds, watch them! Ask the staff about their experience with dogs and the normal happenings on an average day. Ask clients their opinions. Remember that the most convenient and inexpensive option may not be the best one. Most importantly, look out for your dog because he’s looking up to you.

OUR SOLUTION

If you want to socialize your dog, and you’re wondering whether there is a legitimate alternative to the craziness found at the dog park, the answer is: YES!

Dogs thrive under the right guidance. As mentioned before, they need someone who knows what they’re doing to correct and advocate for them when necessary. It doesn’t matter whether you have a dog who is fearful, aggressive, or happy-go-lucky, he or she can only learn through receiving feedback. Because you can’t rely on everyone agreeing on the right way to tackle this task at a dog park or daycare, we have developed pack socialization classes where both dogs and their owners can feel safe in a controlled environment while also learning the proper ways to interact. They provide a dog park type of environment but include the structure required to help dogs reach their full potential.

These classes work because they utilize the principles necessary to increase owners’ relevance to their dogs. They teach the dogs to rely on and trust their owners when in tricky situations. This is so important. A fearful dog who can depend on his owner to handle any nuisance behavior from others is more likely to come out of his shell and take a risk on relaxing and having fun; and an aggressive dog who has learned from her owner not to escalate her excitement into fights can play without anxiety. Confidence increases from both sides, and the dog-owner bond gets stronger.

These classes are available for any of our clients who have used our services in the past or continue to use them. Search for our structured socialization on any of our social media outlets, and you’ll see that it’s extremely important in any dog’s rehabilitation or training program.

Links to Additional Information:

Original Periscope on dog parks and doggie daycares

Blog on Being Relevant to Your Dog

Sign up for socialization classes!

A sample video from one of our socialization classes

Part 1: The Most Abusive Tool In Dog Training

There’s a big problem in the world of dog training today and it’s not about any specific tools or methods. So many dog owners, critics, other trainers, and even the media attention surrounding our profession are contributing to it. As a result, countless dogs are dismissed as untrainable and end up in shelters or even worse.

So, what’s the issue?

It’s the human’s inability to have an open mind and see the potential benefits of various approaches.

LET US EXPLAIN

A lot of people are sold on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to train a dog. They think that just because they’ve seen one method work, it works for all dogs and there is no need to try other options.

Thinking of everything in terms of black and white can be dangerous. If we aren’t open to different approaches, we can never grow and, as a result, neither can our dogs.

A great example would be someone who says, “Positive reinforcement is the only useful for trick training,” or “A remote collar can only be used to punish the dog.” And yes, those tools can be used for that, but a trainer with an open mind sees they have so many more possibilities*.


We can argue for hours about this tool or that style but in the end, it doesn’t matter. As we see in politics every day, people are so grounded in their beliefs that they refuse to acknowledge  that there’s another way. This same closed-mindedness is harming dog training.

Sometimes, the only exposure we get to a certain topic is what someone else has told us, so it’s easy to accept. But have you done any research or critical thinking to support your belief? How can you make a decision about anything before weighing the pros and cons?

Just because someone has told you something doesn’t work doesn’t make it true. More often than not, it just means it didn’t work for them.

THE SOLUTION

Now and then, a little reflection is needed. We need to ask, “Do I believe this because it’s something that I’ve heard, or have I given it some thought, tried it out, and come to the conclusion myself?”

Trainers who truly want to help their clients will seek to learn about a wide variety of methods at their disposal and pick the ones that are fitting for the situation at the specific moment. If the tool they’ve chosen isn’t proving useful, they don’t give up. They move on to a better one for that particular dog at that point in time. They even realize that sometimes a dog isn’t ready for a certain tool, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be eliminated from the training altogether.

Having an open mind helps you recognize that there are many valid dog training methods, and they don’t have to oppose each other. The extensive variety in the ways we can achieve results is one of the best parts about the job. Each client requires a personalized approach, and there’s an art to finding the best way for a particular dog.

OUR METHOD

Around fifty percent of the cases that come to Dream Come True K9 are ones that other trainers won’t take or can’t treat, but we’ve never met a dog we couldn’t help.

Our success is not built on the tools. We don’t subscribe to a “cookie cutter” method where every dog is treated the exact same way. We work with the dog and the owner to come to a customized strategy, and that requires us to have an open mind not only to what might work but also to what isn’t working.

This post isn’t meant to be in favor of any particular approach. We’re not here to tell you what is or isn’t right for you, but we don’t want you to automatically accept something you hear to be the absolute truth. Whether it comes from another trainer, the news, or even us, it’s important to form your own conclusions.

LINKS:

Part 2: The Way We See The Problem Is The Problem

If you haven’t read part one, you may want to check it out first. It explains our approach to tools and methods, whereas this post aims to provide insights into what can be accomplished with a few of the tools we have selected.

A lot of these tools garner criticism. Some people even want to criminalize them, as has been done in several other countries. But it’s important not to let the improper use by a few ruin the possibilities for the rest of us. As we mentioned in part one, it’s necessary to have an open mind when it comes to dog training because it can make all the difference to the animal.

Remember, we’re not here to tell you which tool or method you should use, only to show you that anything can become useful when utilized productively.

Many trainers like to declare their abilities without the need for anything other than a basic method, which is wonderful. But unless you can transfer those skills to the client, it means nothing. When owners spend time and money for you to train their dog, they want results. They don’t have the patience to wait for your method to work. If you need to get to the 10th floor, and you have the option of the steps or the elevator, you’re probably going to take the elevator. Does that make you a bad person? No, it just means you used the most effective means to get the desired outcome.

“The only question that really matters in considering a tool is, “Can I use that to help the dog?” If the answer is “no” or “not right now,” then you move onto something else. But eliminating a method completely just because you’ve heard negative feedback from others is not constructive.

We ask that you consider the tools we’ve listed below with the least amount of bias possible. Just because we favor certain ones doesn’t mean we’re against the alternatives. These nine are not a comprehensive list, but they should give you an idea of the thought process behind why we use particular ones over others. The most important point is that we don’t let the potential negative effects outweigh the benefits. Making sure you know the right way to use a tool (not the tool itself) can be the difference between success and failure*.

FOOD

Negative Effects - It has the potential to be overused and becomes harmful when applied incorrectly.  You can end up with an obese dog whose life you’ve shortened, and who only listens when he knows he’ll get fed.

Does that mean you should never use it and even go as far as advocating against it? Of course not.

Why We Use It - Keep in mind, we use a ton of food in our training (see our first post about the value of positive reinforcement), but we make sure it’s productive and not hindering the progress we’re achieving in other areas. When used correctly, food helps shape a dog’s behavior and teaches him the right way to behave.

HEAD HALTERS

These are tremendous tools when used appropriately.

Improper Approach – It’s very easy to turn the dog’s face at the wrong time with too much force, injuring her neck and causing more damage than good. For example, if you let the dog lunge at another dog and then quickly pull back, you risk jerking her neck and harming those muscles.

This doesn’t make it ineffective; it only reinforces the need to use it correctly.

Why We Use Them – If a dog is fixated on something, you need to get her attention. Head halters allow you to gently redirect her focus by turning the nose and head away from the trigger. It takes timing and awareness of the amount of pressure needed, but the results can be amazing.

HARNESSES

To be honest, we don’t use harnesses very often. If you don’t teach dogs to walk with you, you’re teaching them to pull. The harness may prevent them (aversive) from pulling but doesn’t teach them how not to pull. You either end up with a dog that only walks nicely while in a harness or one who treats you like a sled and drags you everywhere, even when they’re in the harness.

You can cause permanent damage to the dog’s shoulders by allowing this behavior to continue. Considering this, the tools you’d normally consider aversive (prong collars, remote collars, choke chains) can’t cause the same extent of injury as a harness. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in a beneficial manner.

While other tools have proven more effective to us in teaching, harnesses can still be useful for a well trained dog.

FLAT BUCKLE COLLARS

Negative Possibilities - These may seem like one of the safest options for training a dog, but they can still inflict so much damage that you need a vet.  When you’re coming up to a corner and hear a dog on the other side choking before you even see him, he’s usually wearing a flat buckle collar. When your dog pulls, direct pressure is applied to his throat, throwing his entire weight onto his larynx or trachea, and this can have long term effects.

You Still Need Them – Cities and counties generally require your dog to have a license as well as a rabies tag on them whenever they are out in public. Flat collars are useful for this identification. And, just like the harness, a flat collar is perfect for your dog once you have him trained to walk on a loose leash and listen to you.

SLIP LEAD/CHAIN

Why We Use It - The whole theory behind these is for a dog to feel a little pressure on his neck when he starts to walk away from you so that he comes back. And it works! As long as you take the time to teach the dog what the pressure means, they’re excellent.

Negative Effects - Unfortunately, an untrained dog can still pull and choke himself. Does that mean the tool doesn’t work? Or that more training needs to be done so the dog understands what you’re asking?

Watch this video to gain an understanding of how we utilize pressure. A prong collar is shown, but the same concept applies to slip leads, martingale collars, and “choke” chains.

PRONG COLLARS

Criticism – Along with the remote collar, the prong collar is probably the most criticized tool. There is a widespread belief that it harms the animal, and a dog that behaves with it on is only doing so out of fear from harsh corrections. Some even assert that it can increase aggressive tendencies and cause a trainer to backtrack rather than progress.

Most of this bad rap stems from a lack of awareness of how to properly utilize these collars.

Why We Use Them - The prong collar avoids the problem encountered by the flat collar because it has multiple contact points which all create the same amount of pressure when a dog pulls. The ones we use** have rounded points. They don’t hurt the dog and actually allow you to apply more gentle pressure than with a slip lead. This is arguably the easiest tool for a client to use because it doesn’t require as much skill in communication as some of the others.

REMOTE COLLARS

The Wrong Approach - Can you shock a dog into compliance? Sadly yes. This is the “old school” way of using the collars. They were originally much more powerful, you couldn’t adjust the intensity, and they were used mainly to punish the wrong behavior. They were truly “shock” collars.

Unfortunately, while the tool has changed with the times, the stigma attached to it has not.

Why We Use It – Can you use a remote collar in a way that makes the dog enthusiastic about listening to you? Yes! Watch our videos, and see how we use them. This one with a three month old puppy is a perfect demonstration of how we’re not hurting the dog, but instead setting him up for success. We’re reinforcing what we have already taught him using other tools and methods.

DRESSAGE WHIPS

Perception – You might think a whip will scare a dog, cause him to lash out, or even hurt him. You can definitely use a whip in a negative way. There’s no need to list the many ways you could harm a dog with a tool like this. Even though they’re thin, whips potentially pack a punch if you don’t use them in a beneficial manner.

Our Approach - If you’ve seen our Periscopes showing socialization sessions, you’ll see that we have dressage whips in our hand. Just hearing that we use whips may give you the wrong impression but through watching, you’ll see that the whip is only an extension of our arms. They allow us to advocate for nervous dogs and control the direction of others. We never hit the dogs, and they never learn to be afraid of them. We’re not threatening to harm them, merely redirecting them away from whatever has their attention.

See this video for an example. In this case, the dog needs more space because of his aggressive tendencies and the whip allows us to create that space while still having many other dogs around him.

TREADMILLS

The Negatives – There has been a lot of debate about treadmills. They are seen as the lazy man’s walk. They can be dangerous if you leave dogs unmonitored or don’t keep an eye on how they’re doing. Dogs can overheat (same as any other walk) or get hung up by a leash if the trainers don’t pay attention.

Our Approach – We use the treadmill to introduce structure into the dog’s life. When a dog is constantly moving, he can’t react to  his surroundings the way he can when he’s not focusing on work. The treadmill provides concentrated exercise where it’s easy to show what is expected while also introducing new stimuli which might have previously caused problems. As you’ll see in this Periscope, we try to keep the stress as limited as possible for the dog, and it helps him realize that being calm is the best  approach.

There are many other tools like body language, your voice, other dogs, etc. which can assist your training. Even with all these at our disposal, we realize that there is no perfect tool. However, when you limit the tools or methods you’re willing to try, you essentially tell the dog, “Sorry, but I can’t help you; this is as good as it’s going to get.”

But if you can help more dogs, why wouldn’t you? Just because a tool can be used negatively doesn’t mean you have to use it that way. A knife can be used to harm people, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to use a fork instead to try and cut your steak. If you keep an open mind, the possibilities are endless.

*Disclaimer – It’s easy to use the listed tools incorrectly. If you’re not sure how to use a certain one, a trial and error approach is not fair to your dog. Make sure you consult with a trainer who is familiar and successful with them before you try for yourself.

**We use the Herm Sprenger prong collars at our facility, and they are set up with the same mechanism as a martingale where the part of the collar going around the neck is attached to a triangle at the top which prevents it from being tightened past a certain point.

Additional Useful Links:

The Value of Positive Reinforcement

Chances are that most problems you have with your dog can be linked directly to the lack of structure in his or her life. So many issues are created by not teaching dogs the expectations you have for them, and this indirectly gives them permission to do anything they like. In its most basic form, life is about moving towards rewards and away from negative consequences. We work hard at our job because it rewards us with money, and (most people) avoid regularly skipping work because it leads to being fired. However, until we are aware of the outcomes for each one, these decisions cannot be made.  The same concept applies to dogs. When you clearly teach them which activities are beneficial and result in favorable outcomes and which ones are to be avoided, they can begin making the right choices and function as stable members of society.

If you don’t know much about how we train dogs other than the fact that we use prong collars and remote collars, you may not realize just how much we value positive reinforcement. It’s an amazing way to teach a dog what to do and helps immensely in our process.

WHAT IS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?

Consider a child being given a piece of candy every time she says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the right situations. If this process is repeated enough times, you will end up with the most polite kid in the neighborhood because she’ll have learned that good things happen when she uses her manners.  The girl has learned to repeat her actions through positive reinforcement: adding a reward to encourage a behavior. 

Rewards used for positive reinforcement can range from food and toys to smells, activities or praise. In reality, anything your dog likes is something that can be used as a reward for making the right choices. Examples of ways to reinforce a dog’s behavior can include giving your dog his food after he sits and waits for it, allowing him to smell a tree after he has given you his full attention, giving him verbal praise for coming to you, or many other different situations where the dog learns, “if I do this, good things happen.” 

Problems occur when you don’t realize that you’re reinforcing the wrong activities. When your dog pulls on the leash to meet another dog and, every time he pulls, you follow him and he gets to meet the other dog, you’re reinforcing his desire to pull. If he barks every time he see a squirrel and you start petting him while he’s excited in an attempt to tell him “it’s okay,” you’re increasing the value that the behavior already had. 

So you can see that even when you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’re almost always reinforcing a dog’s behavior in some way. However, when used consciously and correctly, positive reinforcement can be one of your greatest tools.

THE BENEFITS

Most owners who try to train their dogs have experienced some of the benefits of positive reinforcement. Whether you’re training for tricks, obedience, or even dog sports, it’s an easy and efficient way to teach dogs what to do. It creates enthusiasm for the task at hand (drive), develops confidence, builds a relationship with the human, teaches them that their choices matter, and is fun. When you teach a dog that she has the power to determine whether she receives a reward through obeying you, she begins to want to please you. 

HOW WE USE IT

The trainers at Dream Come True K9 believe in teaching a dog what to do way before teaching him whatnot to do. If you were teaching someone how to fly a plane for the first time, it wouldn’t make sense to put them directly into the cockpit and only wait for them to make a mistake before telling them, “don’t do that!” First, you would show them where to start. Once they understood and applied what you were telling them, you would add more complex instructions until they could eventually take the plane from the ground into the air and back down with no mistakes.

As with the pilot, we start small. We get the dog used to working for his food by teaching him that good things come directly from the trainer but not for free. The dog learns he has the ability to control whether he gets fed and it becomes almost like a game to him. We teach him markers (words like “good” and “yes” which tell the dog whether to keep doing what he is doing or to stop what he is doing and come get a reward) where he learns to listen to us, and we start to build a common language where the dog understands what is expected of him. There are no “corrections” in the early stages until we are absolutely sure the dog knows what to do; the only exception being if a dog is acting in a way that endangers the people around him, other dogs, or himself. 

Throughout this entire preliminary process, we use food. We rarely we use treats unless we’re doing an early exercise to call them off their food because there comes a point where, no matter what kind of reward you have, there is a distraction that has more value in the dog’s mind. You could have a perfect filet mignon, and it won’t matter if the dog cares more about chasing squirrels and has no impulse control. However, food is a great place to start the dog’s development, and one of the advantages it has for us is that it’s generally easy for the owner to replicate the exercises.

LIMITATIONS

As with any approach, positive reinforcement has its limitations. Once dogs understands they are in charge of their choices, there needs to be a way to tell them they have made the wrong choice. Positive reinforcement does not offer a solution. As mentioned above, it doesn’t matter what kind of reward you have if your dog values something else more. Telling dogs to look at you or to perform tricks in order to get treats are not solutions when they are so fixated on another dog that they ignore you altogether. There needs to be a way to tell them to stop what they are doing and get their attention back on you. The solution is correction through clear communication, but we’ll save that for another post. 

When you start with positive reinforcement and the dog becomes really good at responding to you, by the time you move on to addressing the original problems, about 80% of dogs will no longer have the issues. The ones that do are much easier to straighten out because they have the foundational skills and understand our communication.

Helpful links for more information:

Being Relevant With Your Dog

Relevance.

It's what we all desire in any relationship, being relevant to each other in everyday life. Who doesn’t want their canine companion looking to them for guidance in regular, real world situations and not just because they have a piece of cheese or steak in their hand? Many of us fail to realize how easy this is to accomplish.

We’re talking about coming when called, no matter what, even if they’re mid-chase, playing, eating etc. We’re talking about looking to you to see how to act in new situations. Is it time to relax and be chill, or is it time to run around and be nutty? Is it time to play rough or gentle?  If it's okay to roam free, is it cool to do so at full speed or calmly?

Being relevant means your dog looking to you to see what time it is.  Asking respectfully for permission or making choices on their own while respectfully following your lead if you choose to disagree.  There is a time and place for everything, and you can be the dog’s clock. You want him to understand that he can’t constantly be crazy or constantly playing, while also reinforcing the idea that you’re there to help him know what time it is and how to behave.

Most people can't fathom that this relationship can be achieved between their dog and themselves; but it's easier than one might think.

Teaching dogs that their choices matter is key. You need to ensure that what they do or don't get depends entirely on their actions.  It usually means controlling access to resources and rewards based on their choices. That's the big one right there!  Stop allowing your dog to regularly do as he pleases when he pleases. Get him to realize that there are rules, and listening to you benefits him. This way he’ll learn that he ultimately controls whether or not he gets rewarded, while also shifting his focus onto you.  This is operant conditioning 101.  Few are aware that operant conditioning actually means “learning by consequences”.  Those consequences might be extremely beneficial or potentially detrimental, very rewarding or even unpleasant.   

When dogs realize that what they do matters, it is, simply put...a game changer!

Becoming Relevant and Gaining Your Dog’s Respect

When you can trust your dog to make good choices on and off leash, while also following any direction you provide, the hard work has paid off. But in order to reach that point, some fundamental lessons need to be in place. Before allowing any amount of freedom, we make sure the dog fully understands the following:

  1. Responding to pressure communication (leash, spatial, remote etc). He learns to move towards and/or away from the pressure to turn it off, and that the tools provide guidance, so he follows them without protest.

  2. How to relax and hold a place (both physically and mentally) without getting up every time something new happens around him.

  3. Understanding the verbal markers, “Yes,” “Good,” and “Nope” and how to respond to them no matter the surroundings.

  4. Basic commands such as sit, down, and recall that are useful in all situations.

  5. How to take parental/coach like direction both when you want to along with when you might want to choose otherwise.

  6. Understanding that their choices matter and affect what they get and don’t get in life.  Another way to look at this is that good and bad consequences are directly related to their behavior and the choices that they make.

All of the above deal with impulse control, but numbers five and six are huge. Five is the ultimate test of all other steps, where you’ve built a desire within him to work for you.  Without number six you can easily fall victim of becoming a handler that gets compliance purely out of force, or a handler that simply gets put on the backburner when you need your dog to listen to you the most.  Will your dog listen to you sometimes or every time? It’s exciting when you see the enthusiasm you’ve created, but there will always be a time when you are less rewarding than something else. That is when you will discover whether the dog respects you more, or whether the other attraction (a bird, other dog, person, etc.) has more relevance.

This process cannot be rushed. Freedom is the final reward. Freedom to chase squirrels, to run through the park playing with other dogs, to actually go places with you. But it can only be achieved once the dog is making good choices on his own. Why leave it up to chance when you can control those decisions?

Think about raising children. The ultimate goal is to mold them into adults who can succeed no matter the circumstances, but they start out as babies who lack decision making skills. As they grow and learn from their parents, teachers, neighbors, relatives, and others, they can have more control over their lives. Dogs are the same. But it’s unlikely they’re getting additional advice from anyone else; their success depends entirely on you. Without your input, they will remain in those early stages.

If you put yourself in a position of respect and relevance, the possibilities for what you can achieve with your dog are endless. So make sure you have the foundation in place and you can build on it throughout their entire lives.

Links to Additional Information:

Dog Behavior Question Tuesday Episode 32/33: Blake Explaining Some of the Initial Steps to Have in Place(2:34)

Nature Corrects

Over time, we have become desensitized to the dangers all around us. When you think about it, the world is a menacing place.  While we are growing up, our parents and community have to teach us how to exist safely within it.

When you bring dogs into your life, they open us up to so many fun experiences and activities that it’s easy to forget how vital we are to their overall development and safety. It’s up to us to make sure they are aware of how dangerous the world can be; otherwise, they’ll have to take their chances and find out the hard way.

What is a Correction?

The definition, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is as follows:

Correct (Verb) - a. To make or set right; b. To alter or adjust so as to bring to some standard or required condition

A correction, then, is the act that makes something right. Basically, we are referring to teaching a dog what NOT to do along with information that often suggests what to do instead. It’s important to help a dog understand what is expected of her and to get her to want to make good choices.  Depending on what the dog has already been taught, a correction could be distributed to simply stop an unwanted behavior/choice with no concern for the alternative choice that the dog makes, or can be distributed with information that not only stops the behavior but navigates the dog towards making the more appropriate choice.

How Nature Corrects

Automobiles, venomous snakes (and other predators), aggressive dogs and even ill-intended people. What do they all have in common? They each represent a huge danger to your dog, which could result in expensive surgery or even death.

Getting hit by a car for running into the street, bitten by snake, attacked by another dog, are natural ways for your dog to learn what not to do. And they’re expensive lessons. On a severity scale of 1- 10 (10 being the most severe), correcting your dog manually would rate far lower than nature’s substitute.

Nature is harsh. That includes the wilderness, where there are real predators, as well as the urban version we have created. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the real jungle or the concrete jungle; you’re responsible for teaching your dog how to navigate through it safely.

If you think about it, we get corrected all the time. Our lights turn off if we don’t pay our bill; we miss appointments if we sleep in; we burn our food if we don’t take it out from the oven in time. There are always consequences, and they help us learn.

As an alternative, one might say what happens if you only reward the good behavior and ignore the bad? Well, what if everything was like that? Imagine a job where you’re only praised for what you do correctly, and no one says anything when you’re wrong. You’d end up assuming you’re always doing a good job. Yes, you might strive for that recognition, but the rest of the time, you’re confidently moving along while making a ton of mistakes. Eventually, you would get fired because you’re costing the company money.

There needs to be repercussions for the wrong behavior. Otherwise, how can we improve? Dogs and people learn based on the reactions to their actions and, with canines, these need to be immediate. It’s a learning theory called operant conditioning which literally translates into “learning by consequences”.

Learning through Operant Conditioning

In our last post, we introduced you to it, and we’ll go a little more in depth here (without trying to lecture). The basic premise is that the consequences of a behavior determine its likelihood of being repeated. The outcomes can either increase the frequency of the behavior (reinforcement) or decrease it (punishment). When we add something to this process, it’s considered positive (+) and, when we take something away, it’s negative (-).

Therefore, we can have four different scenarios: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. If you’re already confused, we understand, but maybe the following examples will help. Try to play along and see if you can guess which quadrant each example represents.

  1. Your boss gives you a bonus because you took the initiative in a big project.

  2. The vehicle that you drive is making a dinging noise because you do not have your seatbelt on, but will turn off once you put your seatbelt on.

  3. You’re in grade school, and your parents don’t let you go to the sleepover with your friends because you failed your last test.

  4. You get pulled over and fined for speeding ( Note that the road that you were driving on had multiple speed limit signs, making you aware of the speed limit prior to the speeding ticket).

Did you guess which one was which? Here are the answers:

  1. Positive reinforcement. Your boss added something in order to increase the chances of you doing it again.

  2. Negative reinforcement. Once the seatbelt is put on, the noise will turn off. This increases the likelihood of the pattern being repeated.

  3. Negative punishment. Your parents removed something (the experience with your friends) so that you would not fail another test.

  4. Positive punishment. The police officer added something in order to decrease the probability of you repeating the activity.

With dogs, the same approach can be used with giving treats, leash pressure, withholding treats and, finally, corrections. When you combine all the quadrants of operant conditioning, you can teach your dog to be an ideal citizen.

Why We Correct Our Dogs

We use corrections (positive punishment) as an essential part of the learning process. Without positive punishment, the only choice we are left with is negative punishment. And that doesn’t really work unless the dog really wants what you are removing and is somewhat aware that their choices affect the world around them.  Only applying negative punishment requires a level of understanding and logic that can be difficult to communicate to the dog. If you take something away from her, like a favorite toy or treat, she needs to understand why you’re doing it. A perfect example is when you withhold treats from a food motivated dog, and she keeps trying different actions until she finally gets a treat for the desired one.

It’s perfect for trick training but doesn’t necessarily teach impulse control. What happens when she’s chasing a tennis ball, and it goes out into the street?  I hope you’re there to correct her before nature does it for you.

Links:

Periscope on nature’s methods of correcting along with the sad story about happens when you don’t do it first

Blake explains the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning

Blake explaining punishment as it relates to operant conditioning

Blake on why your dog needs to listen whether she wants to or not

Blake on aversive techniques and prong collars

 

 

Dog Behavior Question Index