Monthly Archives: September 2019
I first saw this toy – actually, a set of two – at a trade show. I had no clue what they did, but they didn’t look that interesting, either.
But then a company representative approached and asked if I knew what the toys did. “Nope!” I replied. “Show me!” He depressed a hidden button on one, and it emitted some chiming notes. Then he pressed the button on the other egg and it, too, chimed – and then started making some electronic chirping sounds. “The toys are paired through a Bluetooth connection,” he explained. “One makes an intermittent noise until it is jostled; then it goes silent and the other egg starts making a noise. Once your dog figures out how they work, you can put the eggs up to 30 feet apart from each other and your dog can have fun running from one to the other!”
Okay, now I was intrigued. I know many dogs like to play with toys that make electronic sounds, such as the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball. The concept of a toy consisting of two pieces that take turns interacting with your dog – that’s more than twice the fun! I couldn’t wait for my dogs to try the Ricochet.
THE RICOCHET EXPERIENCE
The toys are meant to be enjoyed by one dog at a time, and in fact, don’t work well when more than one dog is in the game at the same time. The sounds they make “ricochet” from one egg to the other when the noisy one is moved; if more than one dog is playing, the bouncing of the sound from one egg to the other can’t be predicted or chased.
We gave the Ricochet to six different dogs to play with; each was intrigued by the noises the toys made and intuitively nudged the toys with their noses or paws. The bigger dogs all tried to pick up the toys in their mouths and crack them open; play with these toys has to be supervised and sometimes redirected. (My large dogs could definitely bite open the toys if permitted.) But even our six-pound test dog enjoyed pushing the toys around.
Another reason to join your dog in playing with the Ricochet toys: At some point, every dog would fixate on the toy closest to them, disregarding its silence and the increasingly frantic tones of the other toy. That’s when you have to step in, taking away the one they are fixating on and getting them to listen for the chirping of the other toy. “Oh, right!” the dog will seem to say, tearing out of the room to find the other one. Then you can quickly hide the one you took away, so your dog can have fun looking for it when it starts chirping again.
The length of time that our test dogs played with the toys varied by temperament. A 6-year-old female Golden Retriever would have played with the toys until they were dead. My 12-year-old mixed-breed male, Otto, grasped the game very quickly – but lost interest the moment I stopped actively encouraging him to leave the non-chirping toy and look for the one that was making noise. All the other dogs were in between.
The toys each are about four inches long and made with a hard plastic case; the ends are covered with a softer, rubbery substance that keeps the toys from making a horrendous clatter as a dog knocks them about.
The toys can be turned off by pressing a hidden button on each egg. If you don’t turn them off, they will occasionally chirp, finally turning themselves off after 60 minutes without motion.
Each egg requires three AAA batteries. PetSafe says the batteries will last for about a month of daily use. The Ricochet comes with a one-year warranty when purchased new from an authorized seller. PetSafe offers a satisfaction guarantee, returning your purchase price (less shipping cost) if you return the toy within 45 days.
Seizures are not common in dogs – but they aren’t rare, either. The Veterinary Information Network estimates that the prevalence in the dog population is about 1%. While distressing to witness, they are rarely life-threatening. After you’ve gotten past the shock of the event and your dog is coming out of the seizure, your mind will be racing. What caused the seizure in the first place? Does your dog have epilepsy? Is this going to happen again? Turns out, these are not always easy questions to answer.
“Epilepsy” refers to a seizure disorder in which all other possible causes have been eliminated; it is a diagnosis of exclusion. The seizures seem to occur spontaneously, with no underlying structural brain disease or metabolic illness. This means that there is no test that will identify epilepsy. Rather, all other causes must be ruled out before this diagnosis can be made. Doing this can be an extensive and pricey process.
Certain breeds are predisposed to epilepsy, including Beagles, Poodles, Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and Shelties. While the disease may have genetic roots, it can also occur spontaneously in any dog.
First Aid for Seizures
Your dog is having a seizure! What should you do? First, every dog owner should know some basic seizure first aid.
First and foremost, if your dog has a seizure, make sure he is on a low or flat surface from which he cannot fall. Keep your hands away from his mouth, as a seizing dog is not aware and may inadvertently bite. Monitor your dog closely.
If the seizure persists longer than five minutes, get your dog to an emergency veterinary hospital as fast as possible.
As long as the convulsion stops within five minutes, immediate emergency care is not necessary. A follow-up with your dog’s veterinarian is needed, but generally, you can wait for an open
appointment. Always check in with your dog’s veterinarian for recommendations shortly after the episode.
WHAT IS A SEIZURE?
Seizures occur when neurons in the brain rapidly discharge over and over again. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits excitation of neurons, and in a seizure, the GABA receptor system is particularly involved. When seizures occur, normal GABA inhibition is overcome, and the brain cannot “calm down.” The increased electrical activity leads to changes in behavior, which can manifest in many different ways.
The classic seizure type, once called grand mal, is now referred to as tonic-clonic; tonic refers to the stiffening of the dog’s muscles and clonic refers to the dog’s twitching or jerking. Strong muscle contractions occur, the dog is unable to stand, and may lose bowel and bladder control. The dog may also vocalize.
The hallmark of a true seizure is the post-ictal period. Once the muscle contraction ceases and the seizure is over, a dog will take some time (from minutes to hours) to return to normal. In some cases, blindness and disorientation can persist for a day or more. Behavior may be very strange, such as a complete disinterest in food or ravenous eating. Difficulty walking may also occur. Your dog may sleep deeply or be restless.
Other seizure types include focal seizures (also called petit mal), in which only one part of the body is involved (such as the face); the muscles in that area may twitch or contract. In absence spells, during which a dog is conscious but not responding, the eyes may be open, but he may not answer when his name is called or he is touched. These types of seizures may presage tonic-clonic and can go unnoticed, because they are often subtle.
In most cases, these electrical discharges are self-limiting, meaning the seizure will cease on its own. In occasional cases, the seizure does not end, leading to a condition called status epilepticus (see sidebar, page 7).
To reach a diagnosis of epilepsy, a thorough work-up will be necessary. At the initial examination, your veterinarian will gather a history.
Be prepared to answer questions about the duration and severity of any seizures you have witnessed, as well as any precipitating events that you noticed, such as stress, excitement, or sleeping. Toxins or medications in the house are also an important piece of the puzzle. While seizures are distressing to see, getting a video for your veterinarian could help with the diagnosis. Once your dog is in a safe position, try to record the event.
After history-taking, your veterinarian will examine your dog. This nose-to-tail exam will help identify any abnormalities that may point toward a diagnosis. Once completed, the diagnostics start.
Initially, a “minimum database” of diagnostic tests is recommended. This includes a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, and urinalysis. Depending on your dog’s age, a blood pressure measurement and x-rays may also be recommended. These will identify underlying metabolic causes that can lead to seizures, such as extremely high blood sugar (as in diabetic ketoacidosis) or kidney failure related to antifreeze ingestion.
CAUSES OF SEIZURES
The cause of seizures can be broken down loosely into age groups:
Puppies younger than 6 months.
It is uncommon for a dog to develop true epilepsy before six months of age. In dogs this young, other causes are much more likely. These can include everything from parasitic infection with protozoa such as Neospora species, to viruses such as canine distemper virus, to toxin exposure (a common problem in curious puppies).
A thorough work-up for a puppy with seizures will include the minimum database above, as well as recommendations for the following (depending on breed and history):
- Bile acid test. This is done if a liver shunt is suspected. Liver shunts are abnormal blood vessels that interfere with proper metabolism by the liver. When present, they can cause seizures and abnormal behavior, especially after meals. Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, Bichon Frises, and Miniature Poodles are all predisposed.
- Titers for infectious disease. Canine distemper virus (CDV), the fungi Cryptococcus and Coccidioides, and protozoal diseases such as neospora and toxoplasma can all cause seizure activity.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tools for imaging the brain can determine whether structural abnormalities like hydrocephalus (a condition where cerebrospinal fluid builds up in a dog’s skull) or Chiari malformation (structural defects in the base of the skull and cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance)are present.
- Cerebrospinal tap. This can help identify meningitis, as seen with inflammation or infection.Work-ups can be expensive and time intensive, so many owners opt to treat with medications and wait to see how the dog responds. With puppies, though, epilepsy is an unlikely cause, which means another disease may be at work and will likely progress and worsen.In puppies, it is also imperative to rule out exposure to toxins. Puppies are naturally inquisitive, and this often leads to accidental exposure to medications, cleaning products, and even illicit drugs.
Dogs 6 months to 5 years.
At this age, an absence of other clinical symptoms or known toxin exposure makes epilepsy the most common cause. This is especially true in predisposed breeds. As a result, once the minimum database has been completed and obvious causes such as toxins ruled out, many owners opt to treat with anti-seizure medications and see how a patient responds.
Dogs older than 5 or 6 years.
In dogs older than 5 years, the most common cause of acute onset of seizures is generally a brain lesion, particularly brain tumors (masses). These are usually benign meningiomas, which can cause problems due to pressure on adjacent structures.
The recommended diagnostics are similar to other age groups, starting with the minimum database. In this group, though, it’s also important to rule out hypertension (by checking blood pressure) and undetected cancer (by taking chest and abdominal x-rays) as possible causes.
The treatment for seizures is evolving. First-line therapy remains drug management. These medications are referred to as anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Phenobarbital and potassium bromide have long been the drugs of choice, but other medications are now becoming popular. These include Keppra (levetiracetam) and Zonegran (zonisamide).
Phenobarbital has been used in the management of human seizures for many years. It is reliable, effective, and relatively cheap. However, phenobarbital is a controlled medication and should be handled with care. It must always be stored away from children.
Phenobarbital works on the dog’s GABA receptors, helping to inhibit the excitation of neurons.
Phenobarbital does have significant side effects. It can cause ravenous appetite, weight gain, increased drinking and urinating, and induction of liver enzymes. In rare cases, it can cause liver failure. As a result, liver values should be monitored closely (at least every six months) by your veterinarian. If liver enzyme elevations occur, a newer seizure medication may be recommended.
The dosage of phenobarbital must be individualized, so monitoring the dog’s phenobarbital levels is critical. This is usually initiated about two weeks after starting the medication, when it is expected to reach “steady state” levels. (A drug is at a steady state when the intake of the drug is at an equilibrium with its elimination.) At therapeutic levels, it can cause sedation and ataxia. Usually, dogs will acclimate to this over time.
About 85 to 90% of dogs will experience a significant reduction in seizure activity with phenobarbital.
Potassium bromide is also considered a first-line treatment, although this is shifting. Potassium bromide has many of the same side effects of phenobarbital and must also be monitored, as toxicity is possible. It can take up to four months for this medication to reach steady state levels.
Diet is an important part of therapy with potassium bromide. Food with higher levels of sodium can increase the excretion of potassium bromide, leading to lower levels and increased seizure activity. The dog’s diet must be consistent while on this medication.
Levetiracetam is being used more frequently to treat seizures. Initially, it was used in humans, and its use has been extrapolated to dogs. Its mechanism of action is not well understood, but it may affect the release of neurotransmitters. It is minimally metabolized by the liver, so it doesn’t cause the liver enzyme elevations that are seen with phenobarbital. Levetiracetam levels in the blood are therapeutic within about 24 to 36 hours (versus two weeks for phenobarbital).
Levetiracetam also does not cause ravenous appetite and weight gain. It is considered so safe that regular monitoring is not usually necessary. It is important to note that two formulations are available and each must be given in different ways. “Regular” Keppra must be given every eight hours; Keppra-XR, an extended release formulation, can be given every 12 hours but cannot be crushed and placed in food (doing so would thwart the mechanisms that cause the drug to be released continuously over a 12-hour period).
Zonisamide does not act as quickly as Keppra but is faster than phenobarbital (about one week to reach steady state). Like Keppra, zonisamide generally has minimal effects on the liver. It does, however, have some rare side effects such as hepatopathy (liver congestion), dry eye, bladder stones, and hypothyroidism. Regular bloodwork monitoring is generally not necessary, but any changes in a dog’s condition should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.
Unfortunately, medications are often a life-long necessity. Working closely with your veterinarian to taper to the lowest dose possible for management is the best approach.
Products containing CBD (cannabidiol, a phytochemical compound extracted from cannabis plants) are becoming popular with owners as an adjunctive therapy for many illnesses. It is important to know that currently, other than in a handful of states, veterinarians are not allowed to recommend or discuss CBD as a treatment (see “Know Your CBDs,” WDJ August 2019).
Status Epilepticus: The Seizures That Don’t Stop
Bixby is a 6-year-old Boston Terrier that belongs to my technician, Laura. When Bixby was 2, he was presumptively diagnosed with epilepsy. He was the right age, a predisposed breed, and had a normal minimum database. Bixby was started on anti-epilepsy drugs (AED) and did well – until he didn’t. Recently, Bixby went into status epilepticus (SE).
SE is essentially a continuous seizure. It presents a unique scenario that must be treated immediately and aggressively. SE does not terminate on its own and is a true emergency. Prolonged muscle contraction during a seizure leads to increasing body temperature. Heat stroke can result.
If a seizure lasts more than five minutes, emergency care should be sought. Initially, an intravenous (IV) catheter will be placed and a benzodiazepine like diazepam (Valium) or midazolam (Versed) will be given. Usually, one dose is sufficient to break the seizure. In some cases, this does not happen. Up to three doses of these medications can be given before they are considered to have failed.
When it is available, Levetiracetam (Keppra) can be given IV, but the injectable form is not carried by many general practices. It is usually found at emergency and referral practices. Phenobarbital can also be given IV to break seizures, but again, it’s expensive and also rarely found in general practices. If a benzodiazepine doesn’t work, and other IV drugs are not readily available, propofol (a general anesthetic) and gas anesthesia can be used.
If a dog’s body temperature has become dangerously high, treatment for heat stroke must be aggressively instituted. This will include IV fluids, active cooling with fans, water, and possibly ice packs. Multiple organ dysfunction can occur after a heat stroke. This can lead to clotting difficulties, as well as damage to the brain, kidneys, liver, and intestinal tract.
The prognosis for SE is always guarded, and it can take several days for a patient to recover and return to normal. In some cases, residual abnormalities can persist.
When Bixby started seizing and wouldn’t stop, Laura rushed him to the ER, where they struggled to get his seizures under control. Benzodiazepines didn’t do it, so they gave him Keppra. Bixby continued to seize. He spent the night at the emergency clinic, but he wasn’t responding. Laura and Bixby’s veterinarians feared the worst. Had the prolonged seizures damaged his brain?
Fortunately, Bixby’s seizures were finally controlled. After two weeks of hand feeding, he returned to his normal self. Now, he’s the crazy “Boston Terror” we all know and love.
Bixby’s case is an important reminder that sometimes it can take quite a long time for a dog to recover from SE. Heat stroke and damage to the brain can occur, but full recovery is also possible.
A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (“Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional anti-epileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy,” June 1, 2019) evaluated CBD as an additional treatment in patients with intractable seizures.
While the use of CBD was associated with a significant decrease in seizure activity, further investigation is warranted before therapeutic recommendations can be made. As laws change, your veterinarian may be able to discuss this with you. Use caution when choosing to administer CBD products without veterinary supervision, as neither the side effects nor interactions with other, FDA-approved medications are well understood.
In 2015, a study supported the use of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) as a dietary supplement to decrease seizures. The diet studied was ketogenic (high fat, low proteins and carbohydrates). There are a few commercial diets available that address this need and may be helpful in managing seizures.
Nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin E, and s-adenosyl methionine with milk thistle may also have some benefit when used in conjunction with standard Debra Canapp treatment. Much of the knowledge we have in veterinary medicine about these supplements is extrapolated from human medical studies and anecdotal. However, the supplements are unlikely to cause harm. As always, consult with your veterinarian before adding any supplements to current treatments.
Lastly, several studies have demonstrated possible benefit with the use of acupuncture. The exact reason acupuncture may help lower seizure frequency is not understood. The theory is that acupuncture stimulates the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters, therefore “calming” the brain. While it is not typically first-line treatment, in patients with intractable seizures or those with poor response to medications, it is another modality that may offer some relief.
After nine years in emergency medicine, Catherine Ashe, DVM, now works as a relief veterinarian in Asheville, NC, and loves the GP side of medicine.
There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]
One of the driving principles of the Victoria Stilwell Academy (where we teach both dog owners and people who want to become professional dog trainers) is that everyone – myself included – in the dog training field is always learning new ways to do things, novel approaches to age-old problems, and how the latest advances in the field of behavioral science can be more effectively applied to our work in the field as pet dog trainers.
Like all good dog trainers, my training styles and methods have evolved over the years, including over the many years during which we filmed the 100+ episodes of It’s Me or the Dog. Many of my early dog training influences had a decidedly ‘pack theory’-type approach, so some of the earliest episodes were infused with more of that stuff than I am happy with today. And while I was never comfortable with what is now known as ‘traditional’ or compulsion-based training which relied on some level of pain, fear or intimidation, I am very definitely a different dog trainer than I was back in those early days.
More than ten years after they originally aired on TV around the world, new generations of dog lovers are now being introduced to It’s Me or the Dog through the successful launch of the new It’s Me or the Dog YouTube channel. The production company controls that channel – not me, so when they began publishing full episodes of the earliest seasons of the show, it was somewhat jarring to see some of my early work and notice how far the dog training field – including myself – had come since then.
There was a bit of feedback from some who had found their way to me, the Positively brand, and my work in the years since those early episodes were filmed, and they were surprised to see me on screen saying some of the things that I would say quite differently now. There was nothing utterly destructive – no shock collars or massive leash-yanks (I’ve never done that nonsense) – but there were certainly some cringe-worthy moments for a dog trainer like me who so stridently preaches about the power of modern dog training at the direct expense of more outdated, since-disproven tools and methods.
That’s why I’m so excited about the joint venture between me and the production company who runs the YouTube channel where we’re re-releasing those early episodes with a “director’s cut”-style commentary by me during the episodes. I’m essentially narrating some behind-the-scenes info about those early episodes while also getting the chance to set the record straight about which training methods have evolved since then – and why. It’s rare that someone on TV has the opportunity not to rewrite history, but at least to comment upon it and explain how they’d do things differently if given the chance today.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the channel and to explore some of the newly re-released episodes (here’s the first-ever episode with my commentary on it) that feature my fresh takes. It was fun making the episodes, but even more fun seeing them reach a whole new audience, especially with my decade-later take on them featured side by side.
You’ve probably seen them. Maybe you even have one – a dog who happily plays with his canine pals in the dog park, but the instant he’s on leash and sees another dog he turns into a barking, lunging, lunatic hound-from-hell. What on earth is it that turns a canine social butterfly into Cujo, with a human hanging onto the other end of the leash for dear life?
Oh, wait. That’s it. The leash. He’s leash-reactive. But why?
Reactive behavior is defined as an abnormal level of arousal in response to a normal stimulus. In other words, the dog overreacts strongly to something that most dogs can handle calmly, offering behavior described as barking (sometimes screaming), lunging, snapping, and sometimes biting. It can refer to dogs who overreact to visitors at the door, people passing by the car window, trucks, skateboards, and a variety of other stimuli in addition to other dogs. Reactivity often involves aggressive behavior, but not always. The three types of dog-to-dog leash reactivity we commonly see are:
- Offensive Aggression Reactivity. The dog who truly wants to go attack other dogs because he really doesn’t like them and wants to get them.
- Defensive Aggression Reactivity. The fearful dog whose display is meant to keep scary dogs away.
- Frustration Reactivity. The dog who loves to engage with other dogs and is immensely frustrated when not allowed to do so.
It is the third type, frustration reactivity, that we will discuss here.
DOG-TO-DOG LEASH FRUSTRATION REACTIVITY
Frustration reactivity can be the hardest of the three for a dog’s caretakers to understand. It’s easy to grasp that some dogs just don’t like other dogs, or are afraid of them, and the resulting displays make sense.
But when your dog clearly loves other dogs, it seems counterproductive for him to put on a show of behaviors that are usually quite off-putting to humans and other dogs alike. Why is he doing something that is likely to make other dogs want to avoid him, rather than approach? Because he can’t help it!
This behavior is most often seen in dogs who have a history of being able to approach other dogs whenever they want, on-leash or off. It may be the dog who simply has never been on-leash around other dogs – he grew up in an environment where dogs were off-leash and mingling all the time. This might have been a shelter, hoarder, or rescue situation where dogs were communally housed, or a rural community where dogs were allowed to regularly run loose. It might even be a dog imported from a street-dog colony in another country.
Alternatively, it might be a dog whose human routinely encourages him to “Go say hi!” to other dogs when walking on leash, even allowing the dog to drag her up to other dogs for greetings, often to the dismay of the owner of the dog being greeted.
In any case, this reactive dog is frustrated when he is thwarted from his desired goal of greeting the other dog, and his frustration results in an emotional display that can be quite impressive. This is often described as “low tolerance for frustration” or “lack of impulse control,” and the leash-reactive dog may well demonstrate these behaviors (perhaps to a lesser degree) in other frustration-causing situations as well.
Where the solution for a defensively or offensively aggressive-reactive dog is usually to move farther away or out of sight, this often only upsets our frustrated greeter even more, increasing the intensity of his emotional display as he sees the object of his desire disappearing from view. So, what to do?
POSSIBLE TO PREVENT
Prevention is always better than modification; that’s why I have a “no on-leash greeting” policy at my Peaceable Paws training center as well as for my own dogs. To interact with other dogs, we go to a safely enclosed space where my dogs can socialize without the constraints of leashes, where we are not creating expectations of on-leash greetings.
If it’s too late for prevention, you have a variety of training and behavior modification options.
Classical conditioning involves creating associations that result in emotional and physical responses. When Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of the bell, it was because their brains had made an association between the sound of the bell and the arrival of the food. Their behavior wasn’t deliberate and it wasn’t under their control – they simply responded because their brains had come to realize that the sound of the bell reliably predicted the arrival of food.
The aggressive-reactive dog has a negative association with the presence of other dogs, and reacts accordingly – with aggression. The frustrated-reactive dog has a positive association with the presence of other dogs and reacts accordingly, with excitement.
Counter-conditioning changes an already existing association. In most cases, we are working to change a negative association to a positive one. In the case of a frustrated greeter, we are working to change an out-of-control positive association to a less exuberant but still positive association. Our goal is to have a dog who is happy to see other dogs but can still be calm and controlled about his happiness. This is a relatively simple procedure, and I have had a lot of success using it with frustrated greeters.
The easiest way to give most dogs a new association is with very high-value, really yummy treats. I like to use chicken – frozen strips, canned, baked or boiled, since most dogs love chicken and it’s a low-fat, low-calorie food. Here’s how the process works:
1 Determine the distance at which your dog can be in the presence of, alert and aware of another dog, but reasonably calm. This is called the threshold distance.
2 While holding your dog on leash, have a helper present a calm, leashed, neutral dog at your dog’s threshold distance. Or, alternatively, position yourself and your dog so that a leashed dog appear at threshold distance. The instant your dog sees the other dog, start feeding bits of chicken to your dog. Pause, let him look again, feed again. Repeat as long as the other dog is present.
3 Continue pausing and feeding until the other dog is out of sight. (Or, after several seconds, have your helper remove the other dog and stop feeding your dog.)
4 Keep repeating steps 1-3 until the presentation or appearance of a dog at that initial threshold distance consistently causes your dog to look at you with a happy smile and a “Yay! Where’s my chicken?” expression. This is a conditioned emotional response (CER) – your dog’s association with the dog at threshold distance is now about chicken instead of excitement and arousal.
5 Now, increase the intensity of the stimulus (the other dog) by decreasing the distance between the other dog and your dog. In small increments, move your dog closer to the location where the other dog(s) will appear, achieving your dog’s goal CER at each new distance, until your dog is happy to be very near to the other dog. Note: It may take a number of trials over a number of days or longer to achieve this!
6 Then return to your dog’s original threshold distance, and work on increasing the intensity of the other-dog stimulus. You can do this by having your helper encourage her dog to be more active (perhaps by jogging by, or playing fetch or tug), or by increasing the number/frequency of dogs appearing. Gradually decrease distance and attain your goal CERs along the way, until your dog is delighted to have the more active/increased number of dogs in close proximity while remaining calm.
Caution: Because your dog wants to greet the other dog(s), she may become more aroused when the other dog(s) goes farther away or out of sight. If this happens, have your helper keep the neutral dog in view. Alternatively, engage your dog in other activities that she loves (such as targeting, playing tug, or catching a ball) to take her mind off the missing dog when the other dog is out of sight.
(Adapted from Kelly Fahey’s Resource Guarding protocol, adapted from Chirag Patel’s “Drop” protocol)
Note: Be sure to repeat each step eight to 12 (or more) times, until your dog eagerly responds to the cue, before progressing to the next step. Remember, you want the dog to do a 180-degree turn and run away with you.
1 Say “Walk away!” in a cheerful tone and toss several treats on the ground about six to eight feet behind your dog. Turn and run with your dog to the treats to encourage him to move quickly.
2 Place a neutral (not valuable to the dog) object on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk away!” and toss several treats on the ground about six to eight feet from the object, behind your dog. Turn and run away quickly with your dog. Encourage your dog vocally – make it a party! Practice this step with a variety of neutral objects.
3 Place a low-value object (something your dog is mildly interested in) on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk away!” and toss treats as you and your dog run away from the object. Practice this step with a variety of low-value objects.
4 Place a medium-value (to your dog) object on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk away!” and toss treats as you and your dog run away from the object. Practice with a variety of medium-value objects.
5 Place a high-value object (one of your dog’s favorite things) on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk away!” and toss treats as you both run away from the object. Practice with a variety of high-value objects.
6 Start using “Walk away!” occasionally when you are walking your dog on a leash, when he shows interest in something. (Not every time – he still gets to be a dog!) Use your Walk Away cue when he sees a dog in the distance before he starts to get aroused. Eventually you should be able to use it to move him away even if he has started to get excited.
BEHAVIORS THAT CAN MODIFY REACTIVITY
You can also use operant conditioning – teaching deliberate behaviors – to modify reactivity using a procedure known as Reverse CAT (Constructional Aggression Treatment).
The CAT procedure uses negative reinforcement (wherein the dog’s behavior makes an unpleasant thing go away). Say the dog is stressed and unhappy about seeing other dogs. The handler sets up a situation that exposes the subject dog to another dog – and moves the other dog away from the subject dog in response to any increase in the subject’s calm or relaxed behavior. The subject dog learns that behaving in a calm and relaxed manner will keep other dogs away. Once he is calm and relaxed, he no longer feels the need to keep other dogs away, and no longer displays aggressive behavior. (For more about this, see “Build Better Behavior,” WDJ May 2008.)
In contrast, a frustrated canine greeter is reinforced by any opportunity to move closer to another dog. So the Reverse CAT procedure uses positive reinforcement (wherein the dog’s calm behavior makes a good thing happen); when he’s calm, he gets to move closer to the other dog. The procedure also uses negative punishment (wherein the behavior we don’t want – his aroused behavior – moves him farther away from the dog).
Note: Don’t worry about the technical terms; they are confusing to even some very experienced trainers! I’ve included them for the sake of those who want to understand what behavioral constructs are at work here.
Start at your dog’s threshold distance (close enough to the other dog for him to notice, but not so close that he begins any frantic or excited behavior). Start walking toward the other dog. As long as your dog is calm, keep moving forward. As soon as he starts becoming aroused or excited about getting to greet the other dog, turn and walk away to whatever distance it takes until he is calm. As you repeat this multiple times, he will hopefully come to realize that the only way to get close to the other dog is to remain calm.
If your dog remains calm all the way up to the other dog, go on a nice, calm, parallel walk with the other dog. Sometimes (not every time!) at some point in the walk, find a safe, enclosed area where you can drop leashes and let the dogs play with a “Go play!” cue. (You don’t want to drop leashes and play immediately when your dog calmly walks up to the other dog, as this will again reinforce your dog’s belief that he gets to play with every dog he walks up to.)
This is not a simple procedure and is best implemented under the guidance of a behavior professional who is experienced with the protocol. When it works, it can happen amazingly quickly for a frustrated greeter. But for some dogs, the frustration of constantly being walked away is just too great, and they may only become more frustrated. In this case, the other protocols described here would be better.
BEHAVIORS THAT HELP WITH MANAGEMENT
If your dog is a frustrated greeter, you know that management is key to a low-stress existence. Often, management just means keeping your dog far away from other dogs. But there are times when some operant (trained) behaviors can help you through unexpected or unavoidable encounters. Here are two such useful behaviors:
- Find it! This is the easiest behavior you will ever teach your dog. Just drop a high-value treat between your feet and cheerfully say, “Find it!” If necessary, point to show your dog where the treat landed. Repeat many times, until when you say “Find it!” your dog runs to your feet to look for the treat. Your dog will have a very positive classical association with the “Find it!” cue, so it will put his brain in a happy place when he hears it.
Note: Always drop the treat at your feet, so when he hears the cue, he will orient to your feet, taking his attention away from the other dog.
- Walk away! This is an emergency escape cue that you will associate with a fun game: “Do a 180-degree turn and run the other way with me!” This protocol also installs a positive association with the cue, puts your dog’s brain in a happy place, and gives him something fun to do instead of reacting to the other dog.
BEHAVIORS THAT TEACH FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE
These are things you can practice with your dog to help him learn to better tolerate frustration. Teach them in the absence of other dogs so that eventually they will contribute to your dog’s ability to remain calm in the presence of other dogs.
- Wait. This is easiest to teach with a food bowl. Have your dog sit. Hold up your dog’s food bowl, say “Wait,” lower it a few inches, give a click or other marker, raise it back up, and feed a treat from the bowl. Gradually lower a little farther each time until you can set it on the floor without him getting up. You can also use it at doors and any other time you want your dog to pause and wait. (See “Wait and Stay” WDJ May 2018.)
- Leave it. Say “Leave it!” in a cheerful voice and place a durable high-value treat under your shoe. Wait for your dog to stop trying to get it; do not use corrections, and do not repeat the cue! When your dog backs away from the treat, click (or use some other marker), and feed him a different treat.
Continue to use a high rate of reinforcement (click and treat a lot!) as he continues to leave the treat under your alone. Eventually, uncover the treat, with your foot ready to cover it again if your dog dives for it. Do not correct or re-cue! Continue to click and treat until you can eventually leave the treat uncovered without him trying to get it. (See “Leaving for Good,” WDJ June 2018.)
- Sit. Yes, even a simple “Sit” can be an impulse-control exercise. We teach “Sit” as a default behavior – the thing a dog does when he doesn’t know what else to do. It becomes a default behavior because he has been so highly reinforced for it that it is his automatic behavior choice. If, in addition to using a very high rate of reinforcement for offered sits (as well as ones you have cued), you also increase duration of the sit (gradually waiting longer and longer after he sits before you mark and treat), your simple “Sit” becomes a very valuable impulse control behavior.
GET HELP IF STRUGGLING
Even though your dog’s frustrated greeting reactivity comes from a happy place, it’s still not easy to live with and not always easy to modify. If you’re struggling, don’t despair. There are ever-more qualified force-free training professionals out there waiting to help you. Find one!
When you adopt a dog, you adopt a family member. You carefully consider what would make him or her feel happy and loved, then execute the fun pet supply shopping trip. Many don’t consider grooming right off the bat, and that’s okay, for a little while. No matter what breed or mix they are, grooming is a fundamental part of the basic care of your furry family members. Typically, every 6-8 weeks you should be making a visit to your local groomer who pours their heart and soul into their work. You find a groomer you can trust and be completely transparent with about the needs of your dog. You think to yourself, “great, I’ve got this under control!” Well, not entirely. There are a few things that your pooch needs between their spa sessions. After all, when you get your hair done, you do basic daily upkeep for yourself don’t you? Dogs are not much different.
Malcolm the golden retriever is a young active dog who just needed a bit of structure in his life. Victoria Stilwell Academy graduate Deb Norris was there to provide it. We love seeing our graduates change the world for dogs and their people!
Do you live with a Malcolm? Take a look at Malcolm’s story here.
Review of Dog Is Love by scientist Clive Wynne, PhD
Clive Wynne’s new book Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You explores what makes dogs special. The book’s main point that “it isn’t their smarts but their hearts that makes dogs exceptional” and Wynne shares his personal journey from skeptic to proponent of this theory. The tale includes in-depth, entertaining explanations of many research studies (including a number of his own) that support the idea that dogs’ extraordinary capacity for love is what makes them unique unto themselves and in our lives. He asserts that 1) love is the cornerstone of our relationship with dogs and 2) that their great capacity for love has implications for how we act towards them and the great responsibility we have to them. It is both an informative read and a call to action.