AHIMSA Dog Training Manual Chapter 3 Highlights, Part 3
Fear, Aggression & Frustration
If your dog is displaying aggression and/or fearful behavior, that can sometimes be a symptom of pain or other physical illness. A stop at the vet’s is always better than letting something go undiagnosed!
Puppies and adolescent dogs have a “fear period” where they become frightened suddenly, but this shouldn’t happen in an adult dog. The “fear period” for puppies is usually 8-11 weeks, and for adolescent dogs between 6 months to a year old. Make sure you slowly introduce puppies to strange environments so they don’t become overwhelmed, and always make new situations fun and rewarding for them.
Punishing your dog for barking, lunging, or growling at something scary will only add to the stress they’re feeling. Punishing those behaviors only takes away the outlet for your dog’s stress and will lull you into thinking your dog is fine. They are not fine, they have shut down and this is not okay.
Before beginning counter-conditioning (CC) or behavior adjustment training (BAT), make sure your dog has a solid Watch Me, Sit, Come, and U-Turn (quickly turn around and walk away) cue in their arsenal!
Counter-conditioning: The scary or threatening thing always earns the dog a reward. The Scary Thing is anything your dog reacts negatively to: another dog, cars, skateboarders, strollers, etc etc etc.
TIMING IS SUPER IMPORTANT! The second your dog even acknowledges the Scary Thing, they get a reward. You want your dog to learn that Scary Thing = Something Good (the highest value treat you can find, preferably something they’ve never had before). Also, you want to make sure you stay far enough away from the Scary Thing that your dog doesn’t start to react to it. If they do react, move farther away and start over.
DO NOT reward your dog BEFORE they know the Scary Thing is there. This will have the reverse effect you’re looking for. Instead of learning that Scary Thing = Something Good, they will learn that Something Good = Scary Thing, which will actually make them wary of the Something Good and this is not what you want.
Make sure that the Scary Thing stays far enough away for your dog not to overreact. You want your dog to notice it’s there, but that’s it. If your dog starts barking, growling, lunging, staring obsessively, you are too close to the Scary Thing. Only move closer to the Scary Thing once your dog is absolutely not reacting to it at all, and even then only increase the distance slightly and slowly.
Zelda doing “Schäm dich” in different positions.
I currently want her to take up her paw higher and keep it on her nose longer. This is a trick she really likes, but she does it very sloppily most of the time xD
Tonight he was being antsy so I decided to try and teach a “place” command. Within 5 reps he had all 4 feet on the mat, and within 12 or so, he was laying down. This little dude is scary smart.
He also brought me toys and basically invited me to play with him, which my previous dogs had only done rarely. We’ve been working on fetch, meaning that I reward him for bringing toys all the way to me when retrieving, and it’s now one of his favorite things.
It is so so SO rewarding when the time and work you put into a dog pays off, even if it’s just them bringing back a toy. Cooper’s so great and I feel like the only limits to what he can do are my abilities as a trainer and his lack of awareness of where his ass is (both of which we’re working on).
I’ve been learning a LOT about dog training these past few weeks. Sometimes it’s encouraging because I’ll see experts confirming things I’ve suspected all along. Other times it’s embarrassing because I’ll see that something I’ve praised as the end-all comes with any number of flaws (see: head harnesses), or that I’ve been subconsciously making technical errors in an otherwise correct technique.
Some of the time I get overwhelmed because I’ll read something by one expert that resonates with me and that I can agree with, but then I’ll read another expert’s work who has the exact opposite opinion, and their point makes sense too.
But lately I’ve been able to pick up a pattern, and, keeping in mind that I’m still learning, there are a few points that definitely remain consistently accurate.
1) Every dog is different.
There is no “one size fits all” training method for a dog. A head collar will work for one dog and the next will need a harness. Another may learn just fine with a flat collar. One dog may have excellent recall provided you give him chicken jerky and another may decide that nothing tastes as good as freedom feels.
While breed-typical characteristics may make for an excellent guideline in obtaining a dog, outliers are always to be expected. Learn to read your dog’s body language and method of communication, and adapt your methods to your dog’s needs.
2) Don’t demand something you can’t enforce.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone standing at the dog park gate, screaming “Fluffy! COME! I SAID COMEEE!”, I could buy myself a dog ranch.
Get your dog used to basic commands without ever giving a command. Lure them with a treat into a sit or down position, and reward them. If they go into the undesired position, lure them back into the correct position, and reward them. This way, your dog can’t make a “mistake”, and you set him up for success. In the same token, don’t demand a recall in the early stages, if you can’t enforce it or aren’t very sure that they will listen.
On that same token, don’t punish the dog for non-compliance toward a command they may not fully understand yet. A dog may understand that you want him to sit before you put his food on the floor, but won’t understand the same command when you’re out in the yard. Variety of environment while teaching a command will help reaffirm it. Don’t be surprised if your dog sits when you tell him to at home but won’t do it at the vet’s office. Non-verbal cues go a long way in training… the verbal cues can come later.
3) Dogs are (largely) non-verbal animals.
That doesn’t mean that dogs don’t communicate with growls, barks, and boofs. But dogs mostly learn based on your body language. My dad, for example, for a long time, had a strange habit of using his pointer finger to tell the dogs to sit, but would also use that finger and point it at them when he was telling them to drop something. The response was that the dogs would dance around every time he told them to sit, unsure of whether they were to sit down or were to drop something they weren’t even holding. Once he learned to push his open palm toward the ground when he wanted them to sit, they plopped on the floor immediately.
It’s no impressive feat to train your dog using non-verbal cues. They are a crucial element in overcoming the language barrier, and the most useful tool in your toolbox.
4) Do not punish your dog for communicating with you.
Dogs use growls and barks to communicate with you, and punishing them for their communication leads to “attacks out of nowhere”. That does not mean that you let your dog do what it wants, but you learn to understand when they are having an adverse reaction toward something, and teach them that they don’t have to be afraid of it, while paying attention to their signals and determining when it’s been enough for now, and when to continue later.
The bottom line is that, in any training method, regardless of the tool you use, you should set your dog up for success. Methods and techniques may vary, but the end-goal should be the same.
I have a three month old demonic hellbeast who refuses to come when I call him. I have tried everything, except of course, the right thing, because let’s be real here, the “right” thing is just too fucking hard. I want my dog to do what I tell him right now right away.
When I let him off leash he does whatever he wants and pretends he can’t hear me shrieking like a banshee for him to come here. Sometimes he’s been in really dangerous situations, like it was 3 AM and he needed to pee and I just wanted him to go on the lawn real quick and go back to bed but he fucking tore off after a cat down the street and I had to chase him in my Dog Whisperer footie pajamas, and he almost got hit by a car.
Whenever he does finally come, after I’ve been screaming like Tarzan on crack for a half hour or so, I smack him on the nose or grab him by the scruff of the neck to remind him he fucked up. Somehow that has not cured him of his disease.
I just can’t trust him off leash, and I don’t know what to do, since screaming and beatings shockingly aren’t working. Please help.
Footie Pajama Wearing Banshee
Dear Footie Pajama Wearing Banshee,
your dog’s recall sucks because you suck.
I want you to picture yourself having a fun day at the beach with the whole family, and everyone’s having a good time, except uncle Fred over there, who keeps screaming and hollering and cuffing kids on the ears. You’re trying to ignore him because it’s kind of dampening your fun, but then he turns and addresses you and tells you to get your ass over to him, right now. But you’re not gonna go, right? Fuck that shit. Uncle Fred is a fucking ASSHOLE.
If Uncle Fred would just shut up for two minutes and buy the family some ice cream, he’d probably get some actual results.
In the same way, if you would just shut the fuck up for like, twenty whole seconds, and break out the chicken jerky, you might actually get some results.
Your pup is three months old. All he wants to do is run and play and he doesn’t give a flying fuck that it’s three am and you’re in footie pajamas. Okay so what you need to do, and this part is really really important, what you need to do, is two things. Just two things. That’s it.
1) you need to stop. fucking. screaming. at. your. dog.
2) don’t let him off the leash.
See how easy that is? Puppy can’t run away if he has a leash. Puppy can’t run into traffic and get killed if he’s on a leash. Puppy doesn’t turn you into Godzilla on LSD, who runs down the cul-de-sac in pajamas, singing the song of her people.
Recall has to be trained. It has to be earned. It can’t be threatened.
Stop letting your puppy outside without a leash. Buy a shitload of doggie treats. Every time you feel like screaming, I want you to just chuck a handful of doggie treats at your puppy instead. If you want something to scream at, I have a handful of dog whisperer fan fiction stories I can give you.
Teresa Ann Miller’s father, Karl Miller, was an animal trainer who worked on films like Beethoven and Cujo, and who frequently brought animals home with him. “It was such an experience growing up to be surrounded by so many critters,” she says. “We had chickens one day, a little raccoon the next day. We even had a seal in our bathtub one time overnight because my dad was working with the seal the next day.”
Miller herself has worked in Hollywood for 20 years. Most recently, she trained the two dogs who played the lead in the Hungarian film ‘White God.’
(Photo of Hagen, the lead dog in White God by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
A Finnish dog trainer at the Hämeenlinna War Dog School instructs a German Shepherd to attack during a rigorous training session. The Hämeenlinna War Dog School was a canine training facility during the Finnish-Soviet Continuation War where various larger breeds of dogs were trained for a variety of tasks and positions for use in the Finnish Army.
Hämeenlinna, Tavastia Proper, Finland. 17 February 1943.
I just got a herding dog puppy, 8 weeks old, because I wanted a really smart breed. I thought things would be easy, but it’s been a week and she hasn’t learned anything. She pees in the house and cries in her crate and tries to eat my shoes. She is terrible on the leash and she just won’t shut up. I’m at my wits end. This was supposed to be easier. Did I just get a defective dog?
Like, yesterday, I told her to sit, and she just stared at me and then walked away. It’s like she doesn’t understand English or something. I was looking forward to showing off how smart my dog is, but this is just embarrassing. Did the breeder lie to me? Is she maybe mixed with a less intelligent breed? I showed her where the door is FOUR TIMES and she still hasn’t figured out that that’s where she goes to tell me she has to go potty.
Someone said herding dogs train themselves, so I left her out in the yard with an agility course set up but when I came home she still hadn’t figured it out.
Like, I didn’t think I was going to have to waste so much time just to teach her the basics. Shouldn’t she just KNOW? Isn’t that the whole point of a herding dog? I read on the internet that they are smart and eager to please and bond for life, but she is none of those things. I think the internet lied to me.
I just don’t know what else to do. I wasn’t prepared to raise a dumb dog.
Dear High Expectations,
A herding dog will absolutely train itself in any number of impressive feats. They are especially talented in rodent removal, garden architecture, tunnel construction, and tree disposal. They are also fantastic at fertilizer manufacturing and distribution.
If you have a hoarding problem, a herding dog is just right for you. They are quite adept at picking out things they don’t think you need anymore, and rendering them useless for you, to make their disposal easier. They are workaholics; if you leave them alone they will find a way to make themselves useful in any number of ways, usually by redecorating your living room.
As for insignificant little things like “sit”, “lie down”, release”, or “go potty”… that is beneath them. They are far too intelligent for that. You have to make it worth their while, with trickery and bribery. You see, the problem isn’t that your dog isn’t smart… it’s that she is smarter than you.
I want to clear one misconception out of the way right here and now: intelligent does not mean easy.
No dog is born a master anymore than a child. A child can be a musical protegee, but if it never has a piano, how will it learn? You need to provide the resources and tools, but more than that, you have to show them how to use them. Even inherent talent is a craft that must be honed.
An intelligent dog is more likely to grasp something quicker than a breed of more moderate intelligence, but an intelligent dog is also going to need more convincing that it is worth his while. And while herding dogs are very talented at the jobs they give themselves, it takes a lot of work and effort to make them masters at the jobs you want them to have instead.
Spend more time with your pup.
Lower your expectations of your dog and raise your expectations of yourself.
I recently brought home a german shepherd pup. He’s the pick of the litter, according to the breeder. He’s also the dominant male of the litter. She warned me to keep a special eye on him, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m up for the task. Everything he does is an act of dominance, and he’s only 10 weeks old! I don’t know what I’m going to do once he’s older, and bigger!
From the moment I took him home, he wailed in the car like a wild wolf, and I know he was telling me he objected to being put in the backseat of the car and wanted to be up front with me, as an equal, because that is the only logical explanation. There is no other possible reason for him crying like that, but I stood firm! Then when I opened the car door he barged at me and he keeps trying to jump through doors in front of me to try and keep me in my place! Because everyone knows that in the wild, the dominant wolf always enters and leaves the cave first. So it’s literally the exact same thing.
When I leave the house and come home to let him out of his kennel, he jumps all over me to punish me for locking him up. I immediately pushed him down and climbed on top of him like a prehistoric ape, but it doesn’t seem to help.
I’m following the great alfalfa whisperer’s instructions to the last letter, but it’s only getting worse. I eat in front of him and then put his food down and periodically take it away so he learns that everything belongs to me and he is lucky to get what’s left over, but he is exerting his dominance by reacting with increasing aggression.
When I go to sleep at night, I only want to turn on my Cesar Salad and Milano cookie night light and read more about the great alfalfa and cat tail master, but he keeps screaming and howling from the other room, and I’m waiting for the day he breaks down his kennel and goes for my throat!
the sheer stupidity of thinking a 10 week old pup has any concept of what being an alpha dog means, extends beyond my abilities to understand.
This is exactly like a really powerful king holding his infant son, and watching the infant grab at his crown, and deciding he must want to kill him and take over the throne. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how 95% of all fairy tales start.
I say fairy tale, because that’s exactly what this is. But not a Disney fairy tale. A really fucked up Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, where the mermaid dies and the prince marries the witch and people believe that an infant puppy that doesn’t even have object permanence is trying to murder them in their sleep.
Apparently there is only one scenario in which a dog can ever cry. And fear is, apparently, not it. Because the concept of a baby dog crying because things are new and startling and their new owner is grunting barking like a neanderthal, is so much less logical than a baby dog born with the blueprints for world takeover.
I mean, when you put it that way, it makes sense. My god. My dogs are planning on world takeover. I should have seen it the moment one of them grabbed my genetics book. She wasn’t trying to get me to play with her at all! She was trying to read up on how to best develop her own genetics so as to become stronger than me! How foolish I’ve been!
There’s absolutely no way on earth that a puppy could be doing anything at all to cross over the language barrier and try to initiate interaction in the best way it knows how. No, far from it. Every single action that baby makes is a cold and calculated attack on your dominance!
Or is it? Is that really the first thing that jumps to your head when you see a dog cry?
When you become aggressive, what’s usually the trigger? Are you aggressive because you want to connive and steal your coworker’s promotion, or are you aggressive because you’ve been wronged, and your coworker has caused you to fear for your job?
When do people usually respond with aggression? Hmm? When they are AFRAID. Why the everloving fuck do you think your dog is responding with increased amounts of aggression? Because he is AFRAID of you, you fucking bully.
What I’m going to need you to do, is pick that puppy up, and hug him. Just hug him. Reassure him. And every single time that puppy cries, wails, growls, barks, sniffles, or so much as wrinkles his nose, I want you to rain affection down on him. When he takes something he can’t have, give him something he can have instead. Your alfalfa books would be a good start. I hear they make for excellent puppy potty training pads.