Listen to Your Dog

Dogs talk!! Can you believe it? They tell me things! I told my mother this the other day, and I think she just about blew her gasket. She looked at me real concerned, yet entertained, tilted her head and said, “Oh yeah…what DO they tell you?” I told her they tell me lots of things. They tell me they are hungry, tired, scared, nervous, and when they want to play!

I want to share some information on “calming signals” coined by the famous Turid Rugaas.

“To be able to communicate, to be actually understood by dogs, that is a wonderful feeling for people and dogs alike. Calming signals are the key and seeing through that opened door has been looking into a childhood dream of talking to the animals.” -Turid Rugaas

We have to realize dogs are not humans, and yes we have to accomodate them like they accomodate us. They don’t understand english and don’t have the ability to speak it. However, we have the ability to LISTEN to our dogs, just like they listen to us when they understand what we are saying.

For example, if you tell your dog to sit, and they have never learned the command, they will look at you like you are nuts. If you taught them other tricks they might try some of them to try to please you (dogs love to please)! This would be like someone telling you to sit in another language and you wouldn’t understand. How would you feel if someone just pushed you down to sit? Not very good I bet. Dogs don’t either. We need to communicate more effectively. One way is to use treats to mark their behavior. If your dog sits…click and reward! Eventually you catch the behavior and click it and add a name then reward. The dog will associate the word with the action. Just like if that person who told you to sit gave some positive praise when you sat down and said the word again. That would probably be annoying, unless we got some sort of “treat” from the person, like we would give to dogs. There are many ways to teach tricks, but we need to be patient and realize they don’t speak english people!

When dogs are reactive, calming signals are very important for the person and the dog. There are different types of training including BAT where people click calming behaviors, but the most important thing is to recognize them. When your dog is nervous, you should know. Especially if your dog is going to explode. If you have a reactive dog, you know what I mean. You don’t want your dog to reach threshold (where they can’t think they just explode—barking lunging, growling, etc).

Some calming signals I see my dog use frequently is licking her lips, tongue flicking, head turning, and laying down. She knows our neighbors dog is SUPER shy…so she lays down when she sees the dog to calm it down and say, “Hey, it’s okay!”

At training over the weekend, a neighbors dog was barking it’s head off and I knew she was nervous. Not only did I notice her tense body and stiff curled tail, I saw her tongue flicking and licking her lips. If my husband gets too close to her face, she turns her face to say, “I’m nervous, I ned to calm down.” Sometimes dogs are telling others it is okay, and sometimes they are telling YOU they need more space or are nervous.

At first I thought this was not true, I never heard of these calming signals. The more I paid attention to my dog, the more I noticed she did communicate to me…and I wasn’t listening. After more practice I noticed she was telling me things, and I could actually communicate too. Yawning and body shaking are also calming signals. Oreo frequently uses body shaking when she gets out of the car at training to calm herself down. As I’m writing my husband dropped something upstairs and there was a loud noise. Oreo just licked her lips to calm herself down.

You can also use calming signals with your dog. For example, a few minutes ago I did a tongue flick (oh how silly we look to humans) and Oreo responded by laying down saying, “It’s okay mom! Be calm, I am!”

Try and it will amaze you!!

*On a side note, Oreo had training on Saturday and did great! She wanted to play with another dog, but when getting closer, she sat a few feet away. The woman with the other dog was feeding her dog treats and Oreo would look at the woman, then at the dog getting the treat. She would repeat this, taking everything in, trying to understand and watch. She did this all herself with no commands or anything! Then she moved up a few feet and sat right next to the dog (1 foot away). The woman fed both dogs with treats and they were both great! Yay! This is a big landmark for Oreo. Not just because she wanted to play at first, or because she was near the dog without reacting, but because she was CALM. She was focused and didn’t mind the dog was there. In the past she would want to play with the dog and wouldn’t be able to control herself. Puppy Oreo would jump all over the dog. Reactive Oreo would be lunging and putting on her tough act. New Oreo is calm!

One Happy Hound

Yay!!! Oreo had a FANTASTIC day at training! We woke up early this morning and Oreo was NOT feeling well. We were outside at 6:30am, and she was eating grass. Everyone in the neighborhood must know what my pajamas look like by now (lol)! She did take treats though, which meant we were okay. I should have figured she wouldn’t be feeling well since she didn’t eat her food last night. She needs to eat in the evening, otherwise the bile builds up and she’s sick in the morning.

Anywhoooo….onto the good news. We went to training and first we did calming curves. I was a little nervous because Oreo was doing this with a new dog. I had her sit next to me, the trainer called out “5 steps.” I proceeded 5 steps and Oreo was looking in my eyes the entire time! I felt like we understood each other and we were working together like a team. I took my five steps, saw the other dog and owner take their five steps, and called out Oreo’s name. She IMMEDIATELY turned and walked happily with me back to where we started as I clicked, praised, and treated her. We got up to 19 steps (about 10 feet away from the other dog), and Oreo did wonderful each time! She didn’t hesitate when turning around. She didn’t get nervous or stare down at the other dog…nothing! We might have even greeted the dog, except that the other dog is new to the class and is highly reactive.

I threw a “party” when we got in the car. This means that I praised her, pet her, and gave her treats while telling her what a good dog she was. This is a great reward when you get the dog back in the car after training. I also put some high value treats in her kong so that she LIKES being in the car and doesn’t get seperation anxiety.

After a break, we did the “vet office” exercise. I would bring Oreo into a door in the barn, call her name, and she needed to turn and respond to me (click, treat). She did wonderful! I do some focusing exercises (tricks such as touch, here, and high five) to get her ready to greet other people and focused on me and working together to conquer her fear. We then continued and greeted a woman sitting who asked her for tricks. Oreo was OVERLY excited, her tail was wagging a million miles a minute…she was SO HAPPY!

Next we greeted a stranger (a woman) she never met. She went right up to her, tail wagging, smiling and performed tricks for treats! Yay! At this point I was on the other side of the barn and another dog would come through the door on the opposite side and follow the pattern I just did. I would stay in the corner and do tricks to have Oreo once again focus on me. She didn’t even care another dog was there! She didn’t hesitate when I called her to come with me either, which is a great improvement. The previous classes I was having difficulty getting her to leave with me. Over the next week the trainer is going to discuss what I would like to do. I could continue with reactive classes and add on a new class (re-socialization) or switch classes altogether. The trainer is trying a new private class to re-socialize dogs who WANT to play. Oreo definitely wants to play with other dogs, but is still a bit unsure and fearful, as am I. When we were working on exercises she was whining and play bowing…she really wants some doggy friends but is unsure! Great job today! We are a happy bunch. Seems like she needs to have regression every once in a while to make a great leap!

Regression Happens…

It’s been a busy week. We are finally getting ready to sell our home (yay!!!). This should be great for Oreo in the long run because reactive dogs in condos make the least progress (yes, I know I’ve said this a million times)! Oreo has been feeling better, no vomiting. I think her sickness was caused by the antibiotics, but I’m happy to say she is done and her stomach has cleared up…no more brown spots or red bumps. However, she still is sucking/biting on fabric which is very unusual for her, so her stomach must still be bothering her a bit. She’s definitely licking her paws and biting them TOO much.

Tomorrow is training. Last week we did VERY easy things, just basically treat & retreat. This allowed each person to approach her, which I had her on leash. She went up to greet the person, and before she reached them the person threw treats behind her to the side. This allowed her to know people are good, and she got that time to calm down while turning around. When she turned to get the treats, the person would “retreat” a few steps, giving an additional “space” reward to her. She did wonderful and loved everyone. She was so happy! Once again everyone at training didn’t see what the big deal was, and she looked “normal” haha. It’s an ongoing joke with everyone because every time I said she had a horrible week, she goes to training and does a great job. Last time this happened she made amazing progress after her regression. Hopefully that happens again…

I actually broke down at the last training crying. Oreo had the worst week she’d had in a long time 2 weeks ago. We went to the vet and that caused extreme stress. The stress rolled over into everything during the week. She snapped when I tried to clean her ears (after a few days she was okay with it again), she was growling when I touched her legs, and actually made contact on my wrist with her teeth when I asked her to get off of the bed. It was like ALL of the problems we had tackled…tackled together had rushed back with one vet visit.

We worked on classic counter-conditioning for her legs & paws. Touching them then clicking and treating…over and over, working it on longer periods with high value treats. We worked on “off” with rewards, and FINALLY she let me clean her ears without even putting up a fuss. She would even lift her head and turn so I could get to her ears. Yesterday, I almost had another meltdown. My husband bent down over her when she snatched a cardboard box and was chewing it. She growled at him and showed her teeth. I have worked on “trade” with her for a long time. I started with something simple and low value to her, like a spoon. I put it in front of her, said, “Trade,” then threw treats to the side of her, preferably so she turned back a little.

Next, I picked up the spoon, then replaced it. This way she got treats and realized I would give it back. I followed this pattern, then tried it with something of higher value, like a toy that was “okay.” I moved along to high value toys, then finally practiced with socks and things she LOVES to have. This way, if I ever need to take something away from her, she will believe I will give it back. Instead of giving it back, I would give her TONS of high value treats. You must practice giving it back, and having a positive outcome so the dog will actually perform in an emergency.

This is also true with asking a dog to come to you. You NEVER call a dog to you if they are coming to something “bad.” For example, when I wanted to go inside and I was just hanging outside in the sun with the dog, I would call her in. She wouldn’t come…I didn’t understand why. Well DUH! She didn’t want to. So, in order to practice come, I could call her, when she would come I would give her praise, but then release her to go back. Sometimes the real life rewards such as being able to go lay in the sun again are better than anything else.

Anyways, I got off on a tangent. She’s had a rough week, and I haven’t been up to snuff with training. I need to continue walking her longer, practicing tricks, and continuing to teach more tricks. I would like to do “bow” and click her when she does it to “catch” the trick. I taught her “leave it” too well, so food luring doesn’t work (booo!) haha good and bad. My husband has agreed to practice “trade” with Oreo so hopefully that will help. She has calmed down this week, and tomorrow is training, so we’ll see how it goes…remember…regression happens…but so does progress.