eileenanddogs

Category: Stress Signals

3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

small rat terrier won't lie down and her belly is off the floor
Cricket almost lying down. Note the space under her chest.

When I first started training dogs, things that didn’t work were a mystery to me. Why couldn’t I reward Summer with chasing squirrels like everybody said I could? Why couldn’t I find that slot in the layout of her teeth where the experienced trainers said she should hold the dumbbell? And why, oh why, could I not teach Cricket to lie down on cue? At first, I saw everything through the lens of disobedience: my dogs were wrong when things didn’t work out. As I learned more about training, I realized these things were on me. There was something I was doing wrong. But often, I still couldn’t figure out what it was.

Continue reading “3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue”
Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted

Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted

brown puppy shows a submissive grin

The viral video linked below shows a scared puppy.

  • The puppy huddles at the back of an enclosure.
  • At the beginning of the video, her front legs are braced, pushing her backward.
  • She blinks and squints repeatedly.
  • She looks away and turns her head away several times.
  • Her ears are pulled back.
  • She pulls her mouth back into a “grin” that is associated with appeasement.

All of these behaviors demonstrate stress.

Continue reading “Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted”
Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog

Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog

Black dog with brown ears, shot from the back. Ears express alert dog body language

Here’s a little dog body language study.

My dear Zani shows a lot of emotion, which means she is a good dog to observe. She is pretty easy to read and can teach us a lot.

The short video below consists of two quick clips taken less than two minutes apart. In one clip, Zani is afraid, and in the other, she is having a good time.

Continue reading “Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog”
My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?

My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?

I wrote this article especially for people who are either new to using a clicker or have not dealt extensively with a fearful dog.

If your dog is scared by the noise of the clicker, slow down. Switch to a verbal marker for now. Don’t immediately focus on trying to achieve softer clicks. Here’s why.

A brown and white rat terrier is looking eagerly up at her human
Rat terrier Kaci says, “Train me!”
Continue reading “My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?”
Ist dieser Hund außer Kontrolle vor Freude oder aus Stress – falsche Frage

Ist dieser Hund außer Kontrolle vor Freude oder aus Stress – falsche Frage

Click here for the English version of this post. 

Immer wieder machen Videos von Agility Hunden die Runde im Internet, die die “Zoomies” kriegen, also ohne ihren Hundeführer vom Kurs abkommen und über den ganzen Parkour ihre Runden drehen und hüpfen.

Üblicherweise gibt es dann die Diskussion, ob das aus Übermut/Freude oder aus Stress passiert.

Das sind natürlich gute Fragen. Meine Meinung: ich habe deutlich mehr Hunde gesehen, die das aus Stress machen, viel seltener habe ich Hunde gesehen, die plötzlich aus lauter Freude einen Lauf- und Hüpf-Anfall kriegen.

Ich rede mal ein bisschen darüber, was diese “Zoomies” auslösen kann, aber letztendlich werde ich auf den Punkt kommen, den ich viel wichtiger finde als Spekulationen über die innere Motivation des Hundes. Weil für diesen wichtigen Aspekt ist es egal, ob ein Hund aus Übermut oder Stress unansprechbar losrennt.

Wie Zoomies häufig anfangen

Ich habe noch nie – im Video oder auf dem Platz – gesehen, dass ein Hund seinen Menschen stehen lässt um alleine loszupesen, wenn der Agility-Kurs gut verläuft und Hund und Halter gut in Verbindung stehen. Bestimmt passiert auch das, alles passiert mal im Agility. Aber typischerweise passiert so etwas nach einem Führfehler. Wenn man (noch) nicht gut im Agility ist, kann das aussehen wie ein Fehler des Hundes. Schließlich wissen wir Zuschauer, was das nächste Hindernis sein sollte – und der Hund läuft woanders hin. Aber oft rennt der Hund, der vom Kurs abweicht, genau dahin, wohin der Halter ihn (versehentlich) geschickt hat.

Ich höre noch wie Gerry Brown, mit dem ich mal trainieren durfte, sagt “schau auf deine Füße”. Als ich nach unten sah, schauten meine Füße genau in die Richtung in die mein Hund ganz pflichtbewusst gerannt war – in die falsche Richtung. Und auch meinen eigenen Trainer hab ich im Ohr „Du hast sie da hin geschickt.“ Warum auch immer, es ist für uns Agility-Anfänger schwierig zu verinnerlichen, dass der Hund oft genau das macht, was wir angezeigt haben, wenn er diese Art „Fehler“ macht.

Zoomies passieren also häufig, wenn wir den Hund ab ins Niemandsland schicken. Unsere Körpersprache kann dazu führen, dass der Hund vom Kurs abkommt und dann wie eine Rakete losgeht. Zoomies passieren auch, wenn man zu viel von einem Hund verlangt. Sie können vorkommen, wenn der Hund generell Stress hat, sie können auftreten, wenn wir immer wieder vom Hund verlangen, eine Sequenz oder ein Hindernis zu wiederholen, das am Anfang fehlerhaft ausgeführt wurde oder verweigert. Manchmal ist der Grund auch, dass wir den Übergang von Training zum Wettkampf nicht gut genug trainiert haben. Wenn der Hund nicht gelernt hat, auch mal ohne Belohnung zwischendurch einen Kurs zu laufen, dann leidet er unterwegs schon aus Mangel an positivem Feedback und sucht sich eine anderen Verstärker.

Man braucht Erfahrung, gute Anleitung und gute Beobachtungsgabe um zu erkennen, wenn man einen Fehler gemacht hat. Oft merken wir es mitten im Lauf nicht, besonders bei einem Wettbewerb und denken, der Hund hat einen Fehler gemacht.

Beispiel für Abweichung vom Kurs

Hier ein Beispiel dafür, wie es aussieht, wenn ein Hund dahin läuft, wohin er geschickt wurde, nicht dahin, wohin der Halter vorhatte ihn zu lotsen. In dieser Fotosequenz von einem Training bei uns im Hinterhof sende ich Zani in einen Wust von Slalomstangen im Blumenbeet statt über die zweite Hürde.

Im ersten Foto habe ich den Kurs eingezeichnet, den ich für sie geplant hatte. Agility-Kundige können sehen, dass ich nicht gut positioniert bin, Zani hat nicht genug Platz und sie sitzt schief zur ersten Hürde.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani at the beginning of an agility sequence

Die folgenden Fotos zeigen was passiert ist als ich mich nicht schnell genug und nicht eng genug gedreht habe, um sie über die zweite Hürde zu schicken. Erstaunlicherweise hat sie die erste Kurve gekriegt (obwohl mein Handling nicht gepasst hat). Aber was passiert als nächstes?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani turning in an agility sequence
Sehen Sie, dass sie nun genau dahin läuft, wo meine Gestik sie hinschickt?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani in agility sequence with Zani zooming away
Meine Drehung kommt viel zu spät.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed
Ab ins Blumenbeet!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani ending up in a flower bed

Ich hatte versucht, eine scharfe Rechtswendung anzuzeigen, aber meine Drehung war weder ausreichend schnell noch scharf genug. Außerdem wäre ich ihr im Weg gestanden. Als ehrliches treues Mädchen lief Zani genau dorthin, wo ich sie hingeschickt hatte.

Diese peinlichen Bilder veröffentliche ich, um zu zeigen wie üblich es ist, dass der Hund genau das macht, was wir angewiesen haben – ob wir das in dem Moment realisieren oder nicht! So bald Hunde die grundsätzliche Körpersprache beim Agility gelernt haben sprechen sie diese besser als wir. Hätte es kein Blumenbeet gegeben, hätte ich Zani weit voraus ins Nirwana geschickt. Und wenn das ein Wettbewerb gewesen wäre, je nach unserer Verbindung miteinander und danach, wie gestresst wir beide gewesen wären, hätte ich ziemliche Schwierigkeiten gehabt, sie wieder zu mir zu kriegen.

Was passiert, wenn ein Hund “Zoomies” hat?

Also, zurück zum aktuell kursierenden Zooming-Video. Nach einiger Überlegung habe ich entschieden es hier nicht zu verlinken. Man findet solche Videos sehr leicht auf YouTube.

Im letzten, das ich gesehen habe, scheint ein Führfehler oder Einschätzungsfehler zu einem Verlust der Verbindung zwischen Hund und Besitzer zu führen. (Der Fehler war, vom Hund wiederholt ein Hindernis zu verlangen, das er verweigert hatte) Man sieht, wie die Verbindung zu bröseln beginnt. Dann haut der Hund ab und vollführt diese faszinierenden Sprünge über alle möglichen Hindernisse (nicht Hürden). Die meisten Diskussionen über dieses Video drehen sich darum, ob der Hund aus Stess oder aus purer Freude herumzoomt. Zeitweise sieht es so aus, als würde sie Spaß haben.

Aber ich finde, „Stress oder Freude“ ist nicht die Frage, die wir eigentlich stellen sollten.

Operationalizing Zoomies

Hier gibts nichts zu sehen, bitte gehen sie weiter

Was, wenn wir nicht versuchen, was der Hund gerade fühlt, sondern anschauen, was der Hund tut? Was, wenn wir das Zooming exakt als Ablauf beschreiben? In den Videos, die ich gesehen habe, gibt es eins, das alle Hunde tun, während sie rennen und springen.

Sie meiden ihre Halter.

Die Halter winken, pfeifen oder rufen, versuchen genügend Verbindung zum Hund zu kriegen um weiterlaufen zu können. In einem der letzten Videos habe ich in 56 Sekunden Zooming 10 Versuche mit Rufen oder Winken gezählt. Erfolglos.

Dieser Halter hat mein volles Mitgefühl. Mir ist das auch schon passiert. Aber seinen Hund nicht zurückrufen zu können, der volle Pulle rennt, ist nicht witzig. Es ist auch nicht niedlich. Und es braucht nicht als Video mit netter Hintergrundmusik veröffentlicht zu werden. Es ist eine Frage der Sicherheit.

Im Hintergrundton zum Video hört man wie jemand von der Seite reinruft, die Richter sollen auf den Ausgang aufpassen. Ein hervorragender Vorschlag.

Wenn wir also vom Sofa aus gute Tipps geben und darüber diskutieren ob das jetzt Stress ist oder nicht, verlieren wir vielleicht das Wichtigste aus den Augen. Wir spekulieren über die Motivation des Hundes, und fühlen uns auf vertrautem Boden. Aber eigentlich schauen wir ein Video von einem unangeleinten Hund, der nicht auf einen Rückruf reagiert. Wiederholt. In einer Umgebung, die nicht geschlossen ist.

Und das ist das Problem mit Zoomies und Zoomie-Videos. Sich erfolglos in öffentlicher Umgebung um die Aufmerksamkeit unseres Hundes zu bemühen ist kein Spaß. Die Sicherheit des Hundes, anderer Hunde und sogar von Menschen kann auf dem Spiel stehen.

Many thanks to translator Eva Kahnt!

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Is That Zooming Agility Dog Stressed or Happy? Wrong Question!

Is That Zooming Agility Dog Stressed or Happy? Wrong Question!

Brown, mixed breed dog zooming

Auf Deutsch. (German version of this post.)

There’s a video going around (there always is, right?) of an agility dog getting the “zoomies” and taking off on her own, running and jumping all over the ring without her handler.

As usual, there is plenty of discussion about it. Is the zooming dog stressed out? Or is she expressing fun and joy?

I think these are good questions to ask. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen far more stressed dogs zooming.  I think it’s rarer to see dogs who are suddenly possessed with an urge to run around joyfully by themselves on an agility course.

I’m going to talk just a little bit about what can prompt zooming behavior. But I will focus on an issue that I believe is much bigger than speculating about the dog’s inner state. Because in one important way, it doesn’t matter whether a dog is running from joy or stress.

How Zoomies Often Start

I have never seen, in a video or in person, a dog leave her handler to go running around by herself when the agility run is going well and the dog and handler are connected. I’m sure it happens—everything happens in agility. But the more typical time for it to happen is after a handler error. If you’re not familiar with agility, this can look like the dog is in error. After all, we spectators can usually tell what the next obstacle is supposed to be, and the dog is going somewhere else. But often when the dog “runs off,” she is going exactly where the handler (accidentally) sent her.

I can hear Gerry Brown, whom I was lucky enough to have a private lesson and a seminar spot with, saying, “Look at your feet!” When I looked down, they were pointing in the direction my dog was dutifully running—the “wrong” way. And I can hear my own teacher saying many times: “You sent her there.” For whatever reason, it’s hard for us beginning agility folks to grasp that the dog is often doing exactly what we indicated when they make this kind of “error.”

So zoomies often happen after we send the dog off into no man’s land. Our moves can result in the dog going off-course and then taking off like a rocket. Zoomies can also start when we ask too much of a dog. They can start when the dog is generally stressed out. They can start when we keep asking the dog to repeat an obstacle that was executed incorrectly or avoided the first time. Or sometimes they happen because we have not worked at transitioning to trial situations well enough. If the dog is not used to running without added reinforcement, she may already be suffering from lack of positive feedback and will seek alternative reinforcement.

It takes some experience, good instruction, and good observation skills to see when we made an error. We often don’t realize it in the middle of a run, especially in competition. We think the dog made a mistake.

Off-Course Example

Here’s what it looks like when a dog goes where the handler directs her instead of where the handler intended. In this photo sequence of some backyard practice, I accidentally send Zani into a clump of weave polls in the flowerbed instead of sending her over a second jump. Yes, this was a real practice.

I have marked on the first photo where I intended for her to go. Agility folks can see that I am not positioned well, there’s not enough room, and Zani is not facing the jump.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani at the beginning of an agility sequence

The subsequent photos show what happened when I didn’t turn tightly or soon enough to send her over the second jump. Miraculously, she made the first turn, no thanks to my handling. But what’s going to happen next?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani turning in an agility sequence

Can you see that she now goes exactly where my gestures indicate she should go?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani in agility sequence with Zani zooming away

My turn is way too late!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed

Into the flowerbed!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed

I was trying to cue a hard right turn but didn’t turn quickly enough or sharply enough. Not to mention I would have been in her way. Being an honest and truehearted girl, Zani went exactly where I asked her to!

I offer these embarrassing photos to show how common it is for the dog to be doing exactly what we asked, whether we think so at the time or not. Once they learn the basic language of agility, they speak it better than we do. If there had been no flowerbed, I would have sent Zani off into the wild blue yonder. And if this were in a trial, depending on our connection and both of our stress levels, I could have had a heck of a time getting her back.

What’s Happening If the Dog Gets the Zoomies?

So, back to the latest zooming dog video. After some consideration, I decided not to link to it here. You can easily find several on YouTube that feature what I’m discussing.

In the latest one I’ve seen, a possible handler error of judgment seems to prompt a disconnect between dog and handler. (The error was to repeatedly ask the dog to make another attempt at a failed obstacle.) You can see the connection starting to break. Then the dog takes off, circling the ring and doing these stupendous jumps over non-jump obstacles. Most discussions I have seen about the video are about whether the dog is zooming out of stress or just having a good time. It does appear that at times she is enjoying herself.

But I put it to you that “stressed-out versus having fun” is not the question we should be asking.

Operationalizing Zoomies

Humorous picture of a woman holding an agility tunnel with a small black dog sitting inside it
Nothing to see here, folks, move along

What if we look at what the dog is actually doing rather than trying to assess her demeanor? What if we operationalize the zooming, try to describe it exactly? In the videos I have in mind, there is something most dogs are very obviously doing while also running and jumping.

They are avoiding their handlers.

The handlers beckon and call, trying to get connected enough to resume the run together. In the video I saw recently, the handler either called or beckoned to the dog 10 times during 56 seconds of zooming by my count. Unsuccessfully.

I have all the empathy in the world for that handler. I’ve been there. But not being able to recall your dog who is running around at full speed is not a joke. It’s not cute. It doesn’t need to be published as a video with cute background music.  It’s an issue of safety.

During part of that video, you can hear someone on the sidelines warning the stewards to watch the gate. That’s an excellent idea.

So as we discuss and play armchair quarterback about whether the dog is stressed or not, we are perhaps not perceiving the bigger issue. We are so comfortable speculating about a dog’s motivations. That’s familiar ground. But we are actually watching a video of an off-leash dog not responding to being called. We are seeing a failed recall cue. Repeatedly. In an environment that is not completely enclosed.

And that’s the problem with zoomies and zoomie videos. Trying unsuccessfully to get our dog’s attention in a public environment is no joke. The dog’s safety, that of other dogs, and even of people, are at risk.

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

With Her Tail Between Her Legs

With Her Tail Between Her Legs

Most of us know that a dog’s tail can be a fairly good indicator of mood. We can observe whether the tail carriage is low, medium, or high and whether it is loose or stiff. Whether and in what manner it is wagging. We can often draw some pretty good conclusions from those observations, keeping breed in mind.

A dog wagging her tail loosely at a low angle is possibly friendly. A dog holding her tail upright, wagging it stiffly from side to side is one to watch out for. A dog with her tail hanging straight down or tucked between her legs is usually afraid or unhappy.

dog with tail between legs eating out of a Kong toy
Zani focused on a Kong with her tail tucked

Except when she’s not.

I have a popular YouTube movie called Kongs for Beginners, in which I show how to make very easy Kongs for puppies and inexperienced dogs. All four of my dogs from that time demonstrate. A viewer commented that Zani looked unhappy because her tail was tucked. I hadn’t noticed. I agreed and put a note in the video description about it.

But over the years I’ve changed my mind. I’ve noticed that Zani tucks her tail in certain situations in which I know she is not unhappy. She does it when she is working with a food toy, when she is digging, even when she licks a plate. It seems to happen when she is very focused on a task in front of her.

Take a look.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

I’m letting this be a reminder to me to look at the whole dog and the whole situation and not just one obvious aspect. And don’t forget: breed can make a big difference in tail carriage and other aspects of body language.

Zani’s tail may be tucked in those situations, but the rest of her body is not spelling out “misery.” She is animated and her ears are forward, and in two of the clips, she is eating.

Here’s a photo of Zani with a tucked tail when she was scared and upset for comparison. In this photo, you can see a lot of other stress signs.

How about the rest of you? Anybody else’s dogs tuck their tails when they are probably not upset? The reason I finally published this is that I did find one other person whose dog does the same thing. Thank you to Johnna Pratt, who also has a dog who tucks her tail when working hard on something. We’d love to hear about some others.

dog with tail between legs
Zani working to “bury” a Himalayan chew in the pillow, with her tail firmly tucked

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016

Socializing a Formerly Feral Dog

Socializing a Formerly Feral Dog

tan puppy on a brick walk. She is leaning back and down, and her tail is tucked and her ears are back
Clara the Wild Puppy

When I started this blog, I assumed that I would write a lot about Clara’s training. Clara burst into my life as a 10 week old feral puppy [see note at bottom about feral dogs], and her socialization window was in the process of closing by the time she came to me.

I slipped in that window before it shut and was fully accepted and trusted. But she growled at all other humans, even at that young age. In general, she related to them as a wild animal would, with huge wariness of any movement on their part and no tolerance for their proximity.

I have been working with a wonderful trainer and friend, Lisa, since those early days, playing catch-up on Clara’s socialization.

Contrary to my assumption about the blog, though, I have actually written very little about what we have done, and I have taken almost no videos of that work.

Tan dog with a black muzzle and tail wearing a pink harness. She is lying down and looking up at her handler with a pleased look and relaxed open mouth. Her tail is wagging, clearly even in the still.
Clara on the sidewalk at the mall

Our sessions took all of my awareness to do the job well. Because Clara’s socialization window had closed, we used the technique of desensitization and counterconditioning to address her fears and change her emotional response to humans to a positive one.

This is a tall order with a a dog with a lot of the habits of a wild animal.  Both my trainer and I had to be very vigilant to always keep Clara in the zone where she was happy and comfortable, but getting graduated exposure to humans and our world. This was new to me and difficult. The careful work demanded that we protect her from sudden environmental changes and overly interested humans. It took an immense amount of concentration, and I was often exhausted afterwards. Wielding a camera would have been out of the question.

Not to mention that even with all that effort going into it, video of the actual socialization would generally have been completely undramatic. When things went as they should,  it just looked like a dog hanging out or strolling around, seeing people from various distances, and getting a lot of food. That is what desensitization and counterconditioning look like when the dog is under the threshold of stimulus aversiveness. The dog can perceive the trigger (the potentially scary thing, in this case, a human) but at a distance or a presentation that in some other way is diluted such that it isn’t scary.

If the dog is over the threshold of stimulus aversiveness, she will likely look and act uptight in various ways. And if she approaches her threshold for reactive behavior, her fear will become obvious. Our goal was generally to keep her below both of these thresholds, in a space where she was happy and comfortable.

I do so wish that I had video documentation of how far we’ve come. What with all the videos I have shown with her looking like a normal dog in her interactions with me, I know that you readers out there have a very incomplete picture of Clara.

So I dug up some photos. I have never, ever deliberately set Clara up to react, but I do have this set of video stills from the one time ever she was badly scared in my home. Sorry they are mostly blurry. She was on the move.

There, she looks a little more “wild” in those photos, doesn’t she? I’m rather proud that I don’t have any more accidental footage of her reacting, because those reactions were hair-trigger and very easy to provoke. But one of our goals was to keep them from happening and we did very well. Credit goes to my teacher for that.

The Steps To Get There

Here are some of the many gradual steps it took to get Clara to her current comfort level, both outdoors at the shopping center, and inside one store with some kind help from friends.

Many people reported that my post that delineated a desensitization/counterconditioning plan of graduated exposure to crawdads was very helpful to them in understanding the exposure process in DS/CC. You can look at the following lists as a typical “dog version” of such a list. Humans were Clara’s crawdads (actually quite a bit worse than crawdads are for me)!

Note: These lists are descriptive, not prescriptive. Every dog and situation is going to call for different actions.

List of Graduated Activities Out and About At the Shopping Center

  • We walked around the parking lot on the periphery of the shopping center. Clara got very high value treats (canned salmon dog food in a tube) at the sight of any human.
  • Clara practiced relaxing on a mat in the parking lot.
  • We ventured into the ends and quiet areas of the (outdoor) mall. Clara’s comfortable distance from humans was about 60 feet at the beginning. Farther if they were in groups or included strollers, wheelchairs, children, or people clothed in an out of the ordinary manner. It was a big deal if she had 5 or 6 sightings in an hour.
  • We sat on a bench in a quiet courtyard playing open bar/closed bar (DS/CC).
  • We worked all of these activities very VERY gradually to closer proximity to humans.
  • Simultaneously we started training some operant behaviors when she was well within her comfort zone. Rather than looking at strangers, looking at me, looking at strangers, looking at me, we taught her to take a look, then give me some more extended eye contact. Not forever, but enough duration to prevent the back and forth thing. Later we added a default down. For about a year, this was her go-to behavior when she saw humans. (It’s hardly necessary anymore.)
  • We started hanging out in busier parts of the shopping center, for instance sitting on a bench outside the enclosed area of an outdoor restaurant watching the people (fenced in people!).
  • We practiced passing people on the sidewalk (still doing classical conditioning).
  • We faded the classical conditioning as she chose other activities she enjoyed, such as sniffing after a person had walked by or exploring.

We also worked on an explicit relax behavior for when there was little going on, for which I reinforced her for putting her head down and relaxing in other ways.

List of Graduated Activities at the Gourmet Dog Treat Store

We also spent time during most sessions working on going into a particular store. This work was going on simultaneously to the outdoor work. Clara and I would first wait about 50 feet away while our trainer went to the store to determine whether the “coast was clear.” We were in a place where we could retreat another 50 feet if I saw that the situation might get too intense. Then we embarked on the following steps.

  • Going to the front door of a dog treat store when there were no people nearby (none!) and getting a cupcake that the owner had placed outside the door for her
  • Standing a little ways back from the front door as the owner put the cupcake out
  • Standing at the front door of the store as the owner put the cupcake out
  • Taking the cupcake from the hand of the store owner as she stuck it out the door (Note: being fed by strangers is not a necessary or recommended step for many dogs, and especially not too early in the process.)
  • Coming into the front of the store for the cupcake, then leaving
  • Coming farther into the store. Getting a cupcake and also exploring.
  • Starting to get cupcakes cut up in pieces (for more iterations and more extended contact), from someone in the store.
  • Spending more time in the store; but retreating to a back room before Clara got uncomfortable if customers came in.
  • Classically conditioning being “approached” by employees (soft body language from the humans, no eye contact).
  • Playing with a toy in the store.
  • Matting in the back of the store (rather than retreating to the back room) when some customers came in. We had to make a snap judgment about people as they came in. Safe or not safe?
  • Playing targeting and petting games with the employees as she got her cupcake.
  • Strolling around the store on her own.

Results

So, those were the steps. What does it look like today?

Earlier in 2014 we hit a milestone in our socialization work. In May 2014,  we were able to start walking freely anywhere in the shopping center. We could walk right by people. They could walk straight at us. Clara  associated their approach with good things, but had gone beyond that. It was more like she started taking them for granted in the ways that socialized dogs might. I stopped giving her food every time we saw one.

I think what made me “get it” that the picture had changed for her was that she actually got less centered on me and started really enjoying the environment. One of her biggest pleasures became checking the pee-mail in the shopping center, with or without a dog buddy. I want to emphasize that this was not stress sniffing. It was sniffing with a purpose; she was happily following scent wherever it took her.

I have put together most of the video footage I have of her socialization process up to this point into a movie. As I mentioned above, there is very very little from the early days; what you will see is practically all I have.

Also,  the camera work is poor. It’s not easy to film a dog while holding a leash and having treats at the ready, particularly in the bright sun where you can’t even see what you have in the frame. I’ve edited out most of the parts where I didn’t even have her in the picture. (I finally realized that this was a situation in which shooting vertically made more sense. I was more likely to be able to get most of the dog and some of her environment!)

Hopefully, the footage gives a tiny window into the results (if not the process) of DS/CC. Once more, credit goes to my teacher. I would not have had the skill on my own to go slowly enough, read the situation well enough, or decide what activities to try next.

If the lack of loose leash walking raises questions in your mind, check out my post When Is It OK for Your Dog to Pull on Leash?

Clara at the Mall: The Movie 

Link to the video for email subscribers. 

Limitations

You can see what a good time she is having in the video. What is not as apparent are the limitations on the situation. In the interest of transparency, here are some of them.

  • Her comfort level is partly specific to that particular shopping mall, although we recently started going to new locations and she has done great. It has been amazing to watch the classical conditioning generalize to other situations and locations.
  • She is more comfortable when our trainer is there.
  • She is more comfortable when a dog friend is there.
  • She is very curious about people, but she still may be bothered by some assertive (rude) behavior from humans: walking straight at her, locking eyes, saying “Oh, how sweet.”
  • We are starting to work on exposure to leashed dogs. She is not particularly inclined to dog reactivity, but she has almost zero experience meeting leashed dogs because we previously had to completely avoid the humans on the other end of the leash.

There are always more challenges, but I now have a dog whom I can take places and have her be very comfortable. More so than many non-feral animals, since she has had so much experience with such a variety of people and situations.

Joy

The last  few months have been among the most exciting in my dog training life. To see Clara walking down a crowded sidewalk, tail wagging, following whatever most interests her, is purely joyful. As it also was recently when we were on a walk in the country and solitary man popped up from over a hill ahead, approached, and stopped to talk to us for a few minutes. Clara stayed relaxed as he approached (his sudden appearance and approach would have have been startling to many dogs), watched him and wagged as he talked to us, and finally lay down on the pavement beside me until we were finished talking. Priceless. I hope you can enjoy this with me.

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Eileenanddogs on YouTube

* A reader has suggested that a warning about feral dogs and puppies would be appropriate, and I agree. I have never mentioned this. It is a dangerous undertaking to capture and take in a wild dog. There is a bite risk from adult dogs, and a large risk of transmittable diseases, including rabies, from puppies. The risks are to both humans and other dogs in the household.

I do not recommend that an individual take these risks. I was ignorant, and my dogs and I were very lucky.

You’re Too Close! Dogs and Body Pressure

You’re Too Close! Dogs and Body Pressure

A small black and rust hound is standing several feet from a human (we see only lower half of human), looking up at her
Too close for comfort?

So you are standing at a party, or in your office, or on your front lawn. Someone you know only vaguely walks up to you. He walks up very close, face to face, close enough that you can see up his nose and smell his breath. He starts a conversation. What do you do?

What you desperately want to do is step back! You may or may not do it, depending on the social situation or a host of other reasons. But when someone we don’t know well enters our personal space bubble, it can be very uncomfortable.

Everyone has his or her own bubble. In addition to individual preferences it is also dependent on age, gender, and culture. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that dogs vary in their sense of personal space as well.

How sensitive is your dog to this kind of pressure? How big is his or her space bubble?

What Kind Of Pressure?

I talk about body pressure a fair amount, so I thought it was time to define and demonstrate it for those who may not be familiar with the concept.

There are different kinds of pressure, of course. Humans have non-concrete types of pressure. Pressure from our jobs, from societal expectations. From owing money.

Dogs seem to experience pressure from expectations as well. We can certainly stress them out easily enough when we train with poor technique, even with positive reinforcement. And of course they respond to physical pressure, touching or pushing, either by yielding to it or with an opposition reflex.

But when I talk about “body pressure,” it is pressure from proximity and body language. Not touching, but the nearness (and body language) of another person or dog.

You can check out Zani’s delicate response to pressure from another dog here.

Pressure from Humans

So it’s not only what we do (get close) but how we do it. Standing and staring straight at one’s dog is very different from brushing by them in the hallway, even though you might be closer in the hallway scenario.

Some of the common ways that dogs feel pressure from us include:

  • When we stand facing them straight on
  • When we look at them directly
  • When we stand tall or lean over them, especially for small dogs
  • When we reach out with our hands
  • When we walk into their space

I do have a very pressure sensitive dog: little Zani. And I also have a very non-sensitive dog (Clara).  In the video I show what their differing responses to proximity to my body look like.

Is Sensitivity to Pressure a Problem?

It can be. Most of us tend to misunderstand or disregard dogs’ body language. You can find thousands of videos on YouTube of dogs who are desperately indicating that they would prefer that the humans back off, while the humans actually talk about how happy the dogs are.

Small black and rust colored hound dog is sitting on a woman's lap with her head leaning up against her, eyes closed
Actually, Zani really does like being close sometimes

Zani is extremely pressure sensitive, as a lot of hounds seem to be. She is what people call a “soft dog.” She bounces back pretty well in most cases, though. Considering the problems of most dogs in this world, be they hungry, neglected, or abused, I would say that Zani has a pretty good life with me. However, from her point of view I am severely lacking. I am an insensitive clod. So I do work on exercises to make her more comfortable.

When a dog is uncomfortable with something, there are a couple of ways to address that discomfort. One is by using desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC). In this situation, to do that I would pair being close to me with great stuff, non-contingent on what she was doing. We have done some of that with handling, and also with a fear she had of my elliptical trainer.

If a dog is only mildly uncomfortable with something, one can take an approach where the dog is more active. This is sometimes called operant counter-conditioning, or differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior. The game I show in the video where I am dropping a treat when Zani crosses a line on the floor, coming close to me, is such an activity. She was comfortable with the distance I set when I was turned to the side. I had envisioned slowly turning towards her, then decreasing the distance between the line and me. But as is clear in the video, Zani told me there was a huge difference in body pressure when I started turning towards her.

I could have adjusted the distance and continued with that plan. But instead I decided to do a combination of DS/CC and some operant games that isolate just one part of the body pressure at a time.  I will report back about our progress in the future.

Working on relaxed body handling
Working on relaxed body handling

Who else has a pressure sensitive dog? Have you worked on it at all?

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Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson

Is That “Smiling” Dog Happy?

Is That “Smiling” Dog Happy?

Maybe, but maybe not!

We humans tend to get warm and fuzzy feelings when we see dogs “smile.”

It’s true that some dogs’ mouths open in a cute smile when they are relaxed and happy. But a dog with his mouth open could alternatively be panting from pain, stress, or fear.

Can we tell the difference?

The following pairs of photos show my dogs stressed (left column) and relaxed (right column). The dogs have their mouths open in all the photos.

The usual disclaimers apply. When you run across someone’s still photo with no context, you can’t fairly make assumptions. It might have been taken during the millisecond in which a dog changed his expression. It could be misleading for a dozen other reasons. Videos are better, but we still miss context and may lack knowledge about the particular dog. But in this case I can vouch for the emotional states of my dogs, and I believe they are accurately represented by the photos with recognizable indicators.

Mind the Mouth

What all these photos have in common is a common “tell” regarding the dog’s emotional state. Look at the corners of the dogs’ mouths, also known as the commissures. In all cases, they are drawn back and stretched tight in the “stress” photos. In most of those photos you can also see the muscles bunched up in that area.

The photos have other indicators of the dogs’ emotional states as well. For instance, three of the stress photos have what is called a “spatulate” tongue, also usually connected with stress. The dogs’ eyes are markedly different between the stressed and relaxed photos as well.*

 

 

 

I hope these comparison photos can help some folks figure out their own dogs’ facial expressions, and maybe overcome our wiring–which is very difficult–to assume that an open mouth means a happy dog. Please share this blog post wherever it might be useful. The photos may also be used for educational purposes if credit is given. I’d appreciate it if you would drop me a line through the sidebar contact telling me about the use.

You can see labeled versions of the “Clara stressed” photos (and many more) in my post Dog Facial Expressions: Stress. You also might be interested in my Dog Body Language Posts and Videos page.

Many thanks to Julie Hecht at Dog Spies for giving me the idea for this post. 

*Patricia Tirrell points out that the dogs’ brows are furrowed in most of the “stressed” photos as well.

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Copyright Eileen Anderson 2014

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