Training tip from Nancy Fierer, SSD’s founder and director
In October, I wrote about Fear and Keeping Your Dog Safe, and I would like to revisit it because I consider it so important.
Our dogs look to us for support and consistency. At Susquehanna Service Dogs, we do this through clear clicker training techniques and consistent rules and expectations in the home, as well as by providing love, food, and shelter. I know we all do these things (or strive to) and our dogs count on us for it.
But there is more to keeping your dog safe. When you’re out and about in the world with your dog in training or even with your pet—no matter where you go—you encounter many situations that can be stressful, cause fear, or actually be physically harmful for the dog.
For example, we all watch where we’re walking and if we see broken glass or a dangerous surface, we make sure our dog avoids the area. This may mean we don’t enter, we pick up our pup, or we take a detour. If we miss seeing the broken glass, the dog is at risk of getting cut. Will the dog always be cut, need a vet visit, or have permanent damage as a result? You all know the answer. Mostly likely no, but once in a while, yes.
Like with the broken glass on the ground, we need to recognize when to take action to keep our dogs safe and how exactly to do that. There are two things to keep an eye out for:
· Fear of other dogs and animals
· Newly developed fear or an object or situation
I’m only going to cover fear of other dogs and animals here, because I’ve already covered newly developed fears in a previous post, but here are a few extra tips. Consider going to potentially scary places for just a few minutes or looking at it from a distance. A good example is fireworks. Distance and short duration are key here. For example, don’t go downtown Harrisburg on the 4th of July with your pup to sit by the river and watch the fireworks. Prepare for success by looking for possible failure, stressors, and “danger.”
Your dog could show signs of fear around any other dog. These could be dogs in your home, from puppy class, from your neighborhood, or strange dogs. When this happens, do not allow on-leash greetings or unsupervised play, especially in smaller enclosures, and don’t allow dominant behavior, whether it’s your dog or the other dog. Remove your dog immediately and then think about the situation. Sometimes, everyone was just too excited and when all are calm, play can resume. However, if there was any fear on the part of your dog, don’t let the dogs play together again.
Ultimately, when a dog is fearful of a situation, it has two options—fight or flight. If the dog cannot leave (flight), then the only option they’re left with is fight. Do I mean a dog fight? Sometimes that may happen, but more likely, the dog will give a warning that any smart, confident dog will listen to. Your dog may resort to growling, snapping, or a hard stare. Each time your dog successfully deters the other dog, your dog is rewarded for its “aggressive” behavior. If your dog actually barks or snarls significantly, adrenaline is released, and this good feeling is a strong reinforcer that has a huge impact on your dog’s future behavior. It creates a strong reinforcement history and then next time, the dog may choose to use this aggressive, inappropriate behavior sooner. This behavior can easily become generalized and then it becomes a problem.
Don’t try to fix aggressive behavior. Simply avoid it. Keep the dog from practicing the behavior because you don’t want to make it stronger. If you have an SSD dog, this is the perfect time to ask the trainers for help, because you can reverse a little problem before it turns into a big one.
This is all part of keeping your dog safe. Remember, your dog is being fearful when they’re acting aggressively and wants to be safe.