Your dog training questions answered!
With a level of quarantine still in place, it is currently difficult to get face-to-face with a dog trainer to help you train unwanted behaviours out of your dog. So here at Tails and Trails Poole, we wanted to stop that. We took to our social media and asked you what questions you would ask a dog trainer if you had the chance. We had a great number of responses, so thank you to all of you who got involved and sent in your questions.
We then put all of your questions to Debby Lucken, the founder and owner of Pocodogs Training Academy. Debby is a Poole-based dog trainer with a wealth of knowledge and experience, showcased in her plethora of qualifications on her website Pocodogs.co.uk. Debby not only provided an understanding as to why a dog is conducting said behaviour, but she also packed so many helpful hints, tips and tricks into her answers of how to stop this undesirable action that we are going to split this interview into two parts! Part two will be posted next week.
Let’s dive into your questions!
My male dog is starting to show signs of aggression towards my son and also guarding objects around the house, including myself. I have spoken to the vets and they have said to speak to a trainer but also think about having him castrated. What are your thoughts and recommendations on how to combat this?
Firstly, I wouldn't recommend castration in this scenario. If your dog is already acting in an aggressive way, removing his testicles (making the dog feel defenceless) may make the behaviour worse. Castration isn't a bad thing and I’m not against it, however I would recommend that you solve this challenge first by working with a trainer and then later down the line, if you wanted to get him castrated, then you could do.
I would start looking at how to calm your dog down – there are a number of ways to do this. From a holistic point of view, food and looking into their diet is a great place to start. Like humans, food can have a positive or negative affect on a dog’s behaviour. Generally speaking (without meeting the dog), I would be inclined to add white meat (turkey or fish), cottage cheese, bananas and chickpeas to his diet. This is because they contain Serotonin, the happy hormone, and that may help towards making the dog happier and calmer. This could mean moving away from kibble and giving the dog a fresh food diet. There are also great homeopathic remedies, such as Bach Flowers, which can support the dog's change.
From a training perspective, the protection of household items and the owner is called Resource Guarding. To help a dog stop Resource Guarding, you have to change the dog’s mentality i.e. teaching the dog that they can relax and trust the people around him, which includes the son in this case, and that he can be in the room without the owner present. I would suggest the owner do some Free Work and I have a couple of Youtube videos on this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fypc3uGiDNA&t=8s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luitRBYIw3Q&t=41s ). This is like a form of meditation for your dog and will help to calm your dog.
It sounds like this dog has a very strong bond with its owner and whilst that is great, it is important that during training sessions, the son gets involved too. I wouldn't recommend the son feed the dog directly straight away. You can’t expect the dog to trust the son immediately just because he has a treat. Instead, when both the son and the dog are in the same room, I would recommend the owner gives the dog a treat. This will help the dog understand that when the son is there, the dog is rewarded, therefore reinforcing that it is a positive experience.
With the owner giving the dog a treat, you are making sure you don't put the dog in the position of refusing something he really likes or putting both the son and dog in a position of danger as the dog may feel threatened and bite because it’s too much for them. The owner should treat the dog first when the son is around, then you can gradually build up to the point where the son can start to throw the treats near to the dog. This again reinforces that when the son is around, the dog gets a treat. From there (and once the dog is ready), you will get to the point where the son can give the dog a treat himself.
I have a great resource called KAD (Kids Around Dogs) on Facebook. It was originally created to help bite prevention in kids, however it can be used by anyone. There are a number of images on there referring to different types of body languages you can see in dogs, how to recognise it and what they are trying to tell you. This will help the owner to know when the dog is already tensing up, becoming distressed and when you should intervene. It will also show the owner how far away the son needs to be in order to begin the training whilst the dog is in a calm state.
My dog is fine on long journeys but on short journeys he barks and whines so loudly that it is distracting. We have tried ignoring him, trying to calm him down and some other measures but nothing seems to work. Please help our eardrums!
It sounds like this dog is communicating their excitement about going out as they are predicting where they are going, that they are going to have fun and have a walk/run around. However, it can become dangerous when you are driving and the noise is so distracting/distressing that you start to lose your focus.
What we want is to trick the dog into believing that they have predicted the future but in actual fact they haven’t and the plan changes. I actually did this with a couple of clients. We left the house, got into the car, got to the car park of our normal walking destination and then drove straight back out again. This confuses the dog and makes them realise they predicted incorrectly.
If you think that actually going into the car park will be too much for the dog and the barking/whining/screaming etc is too overwhelming, then you can drive towards your location but rather than driving into the car park, drive straight past and go home. This will have the same affect but less overwhelming for both you and the dog. It throws the dog off in a gentle way and gets the dog used to not predicting the future because things can happen differently to what they think.
This shouldn't be done just the once: it should be done with perseverance and repeated until the dog starts to stop this behaviour. It would be a good idea to see whether it happens with every location or certain locations. It normally happens on routes that the dog remembers and whilst it isn't always practical, I would recommend taking your dog to as many different places as possible so they don't get used to the same routes.
The same rule applies when you are returning home. You can go your usual route and then when you get to your house, you keep going. Try to remain calm and use soothing tones or words to help calm the dog whilst you drive away.
You may also want to think about whether you have certain items of clothing that you wear for dog walking, whether that be a dog walking coat or dog walking shoes. The dog will associate these items with going for a walk and their excitement will start to build. It would be a good idea to have a few pairs of shoes to have for dog walking, or a few different coats. This will help to stop that association.
Never tell them off because firstly, it isn't fair. Reprimanding them doesn't work, so would be effectively telling them off for no reason. Plus, they are just excited! It’s like Christmas for them and you wouldn't tell someone off for being excited about that.
That’s the end of part one of this fascinating interview. Be sure to read part two next week to get tips on how to stop a puppy biting, how to stop excited humping, and stop your dog pulling on the lead.
A huge thank you to Debby Lucken from Pocodogs Training Academy for her time and expertise. Check out her website pocodogs.co.uk and make sure to add Pocodogs on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube (www.youtube.com/channel/UCCh-dcJfnFn4LKuV4F1Ow-Q). Debby not only offers group training and 1:1 classes but she also offers online virtual classes to help you still train your dog whilst also quarantining.
Stay safe, stay alert everyone!