Some Tips for Interacting (or NOT!) with Fearful Dogs

Sometimes we intuitively encourage a fearful dog to approach us to show the dog we are friendly.  This is actually the opposite of what one should do with a fearful dog.  The following tips on human body language are especially important when dealing with a fearful dog:

Let the dog come to you. If your dog is frightened, she must be allowed to decide whether or not to approach. Don’t restrain your dog and force her to accept contact from others. Remember the “fight or flight” response; if you take away the opportunity for flight, your dog’s choices are limited.

Turn to the side. Facing a dog directly is more confrontational than keeping your body turned partially or completely to the side; even turning your head to the side will make a frightened dog feel less anxious.

No staring, please ! A direct stare is a threat in the animal kingdom (and on New York City subways!). It is perfectly fine to look at your dog; just soften your expression and don’t “hard stare” directly into her eyes. Do not allow children to put their faces near your dog’s face or to stare into her eyes.

Don’t hover. Leaning over a dog can cause the dog to become afraid and possibly defensive. The one time I was bitten while working in a Los Angeles city animal shelter happened when I went to return an adorable, fluffy white dog to her pen. While placing her on the ground, I inadvertently reached over her equally adorable little pen mate who jumped up and bit me in the face.

Pet appropriately. Approaching dogs by patting them on the head is ill-advised. Envision the interaction from the dog’s point of view; a palm approaching from above can be alarming. Demonstrate with kids to teach them how to pet dogs properly. The child plays the role of the dog; tell the child that you will pet him in two different ways, and he is to tell me which is nicer. First, reach your hand slowly toward the child’s cheek and stroke it, smiling and softly saying, “Good dog!” Next, bring your hand brusquely palm-down over the child’s head repeatedly, while loudly saying, “Good dog, good dog!” Kids almost invariably like the first method better. If dogs could answer for themselves, nine out of ten dogs would vote for the first method as well! It’s not that dogs should never be petted on top of the head, but that head-patting (or petting over the dog’s shoulders, back, or rump) should not be used as an initial approach. It is wiser to make a fist, hold it under the dog’s nose to allow her to sniff, then pet the dog on the chest, moving gradually to the sides of the face and other body parts, assuming the dog is comfortable. Likewise, a hand moving in quickly to grab for a dog’s collar is more potentially fear-inducing than a hand moving slowly to a dog’s chest, scratching it, then moving up to take hold of the collar.

Stoop, don’t swoop. Small dogs in particular are often swooped down upon when people want to pick them up. Fast, direct, overhead movements are much more frightening than slow, indirect ones. To lift a small dog, crouch down, pet the dog for a moment, then gently slip your hands under her belly and chest, and lift.

Watch your smile. While humans interpret a smile as friendly, a dog might not be as fond of seeing your pearly whites. A show of teeth is, after all, a threat in the animal kingdom. Smile at canines with a closed mouth.

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Helping Your Puppy Tolerate Grooming and Handling

Being held, petted, mildly restrained and groomed should be enjoyable, or at least tolerable, experiences for any pet. It is much, much easier to accustom puppies to these activities than to work with adult animals that might have already had bad experiences.
The biggest mistake you can make is turning these interactions into a match of wills and believing that you have to “be dominant” over your dog, or that your cat must submit to you or else! If a pet has a bad experience the first time you bring out the brush, comb or nail clippers, he’ll remember it. This will only make grooming and handling more difficult as time goes on.
Instead, you want to create an expectation that being held and having body parts touched are enjoyable experiences. Start with whatever type of petting, handling, or grooming your pet will currently tolerate without being fearful or aggressive.

For example, let’s say your puppy will allow you to lightly brush or comb him around his neck and shoulders, but won’t let you comb his hind-quarters or back legs. Start by brushing those areas your pet will allow and offer him several irresistible tidbits at the same time. It may be easier for one person to do the grooming and another to be in charge of the tidbits.
Move the brush a tiny bit farther toward your pet’s back legs than he would normally allow while putting several tidbits right under his nose. Rather than trying to feed your pet from your fingers, put the treats in your at palm and let your pet eat them from there. Some pets may do better if you put the treats on the floor. Continue practicing with many brief sessions, each time working your way closer to those areas your pet doesn’t like touched.

Giving pills and Brushing teeth
Add more experiences. Open your pet’s mouth and put a treat in it. Use something you know your pet likes. This will help him become less upset when you need to look in his mouth or give him a pill or other medication. Run your finger over your pet’s teeth. This might be the first step in teaching him to tolerate tooth brushing.

Nail trims
If you’ve ever had pets that panicked when you tried to trim their nails you know how unpleasant, and even dangerous their behavior can be. It’s much better if your puppy or kitten learns at a very young age that having their feet touched and held is not a bad thing. If a pet’s first experience with a nail trim is a bad one, it can result in him hating nail trims for the rest of his life.
To help your pet tolerate nail trims, start with what your pet will allow. You may need to begin by merely picking up your pet’s foot offering a tidbit with the other hand, and releasing his foot. Repeat this simple exercise until your pet is not anxious or struggling and gives signs that he is expecting a tidbit.
Next, hold or gently squeeze the paw while offering the tidbit. The next step might be to get your pet used to the feel of the metal clippers against his nails. Gently tap each nail on a foot with the clippers. Each tap should be followed by a tidbit. You may only be able to work with one foot, or perhaps even one nail per practice session. Keep these work sessions short so your pet doesn’t get tired or frustrated. Tap each nail on all four feet before attempting to clip any nails. After tapping a nail, quickly trim the sharp tip, release the foot, and give your pet a tidbit. Repeat with each nail. This entire process may take 10 or 12 sessions, before you complete a full nail trim.
If your pet has had a bad experience, just the sight of the nail clippers may cause him to become upset. Practice as described above by just leaving the clippers lying around, and also with the clippers = treats approach. If you haven’t cut nails before, ask your veterinarian to show you how so you don’t hurt your pet.

What not to do
Nail trims and other grooming procedures are never emergencies. Avoid having anyone hold your pet down or punish him to allow these procedures to be done. It’s much better to sedate your pet if he requires grooming or nail trims until you have worked through this training process.
Another option is a Calming CapTM, which is a hood for dogs that filters their vision. This seems to calm most dogs and may be quite helpful. Always make treats part of the nail trimming process, and not just rewards for good behavior at the end.

Practice makes perfect
Practice grooming and handling with your pet regularly – at least several times a week. If your pet only sees the brush, comb, or toothbrush every now and then, he won’t become familiar and at ease with these tools and procedures. Many pet owners make the mistake of brushing their pet infrequently, after the fur is matted and tangled, which guarantees the experience will be more difficult and unpleasant than regular, frequent grooming sessions.
If you expect your adult dog will be groomed regularly, take him to the grooming saloon as a puppy or kitten to accustom him to the facility, staff, and procedures. These visits should be brief and pleasant, rather than for a full grooming.
The time you spend practicing body handling and body care procedures will pay off big throughout your pet’s life. Think how easy it will be if you have to pull a thorn out of your dog’s foot, or clean your cat’s ears if your pet has learned to relax and be still. It isn’t fun for you or your pet if handling always becomes a wrestling match. If you work consistently with these exercises, you can avoid this unpleasantness.

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Teaching Your Puppy English Words

Consistency in language is so important in communicating with our pooches. Can you imagine the confusion we would have if each member of our families spoke a different language? When there is no common language, communication is chaotic and confusing! It’s the same for our pooches. If one person says ‘sit’ and another says ‘sit down’ it creates confusion for your pooch. To prevent this, everyone involved with training and all family members need to be consistent in vocabulary used with your pooch.

This is a recommended list. You can use different commands as long as you’re consistent.
I recommend posting this on your refrigerator as a reference.

We will be teaching the following to your pooch as part of our Training program:

WATCH or LOOK or ATTENTION – Pooch makes eye contact with you. The first step in all training. You can’t teach anything to a pooch that is not paying attention to you.

CHECKING IN – Your pooch should always look at you when you say his name, no matter what he’s doing – this does not necessarily mean he has to come to you, but you should be able to get him to ‘disengage’ from what he is doing to look at you when asked.

SIT – Pooch is in a seated position (will also use this to reinforce NO JUMPING!!)

DOWN – Pooch is in a comfortable lying position with front and rear down.

OFF – This is best for getting off furniture or off humans. People tend to use Down but that is confusing.

STAND – Pooch’s legs are standing and dog holds position. Used for grooming, vet, etc

COME – Used to get your pooch immediately coming directly to you. Say pooch’s name first to get attention. Praise as pooch is coming to you and take collar before rewarding.

LOOSE LEASH WALKING – Informal heel, meaning walk on a loose leash on your left side. It’s very important to NOT let your pooch practice and be rewarded for pulling on leash.

STAY – Used to keep pooch in position until you return to them and release them. You must then use a consistent release word (OK). Always return to the pooch to release.

WAIT – Temporary control of a command such as ‘sit’. Used at doorways, before feeding, in the car, to wait for leash to be put on. Use release word to end Wait.

LEAVE IT – Used to tell pooch to back off of something. This can be garbage on the street, another pooch, person or object. Use as pooch is still ‘thinking about’ object.

DROP IT or GIVE – Used when pooch has something in its mouth that you would like for them to release. It is bad canine etiquette to grab something from a pooch’s mouth, so we teach ‘drop it’ to avoid conflict.

LEADERSHIP – You should ask your pooch to ‘sit for everything’ he wants or needs. Sit and wait for meals, sit and wait for walks, sit and wait before getting out of the car. Sit before you initiate play, petting, affection, etc. Your pooch will be much happier and secure knowing he can depend on you to be his benevolent leader.

Remember that these are just words that have no meaning to your pooch until you teach them.
Your tone of voice when giving commands should be confident and happy.
Reward the behavior you want repeated, ignore the behavior you don’t want

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