Shaker Can, Dominance and Being the Boss

Frenchies Mac and Mabel fight.

The lady has unfortunately been following outdated and harmful advice. A shaker can was in each room of the house.

This always seems so sad to me. Someone who loves her dogs dearly and is both distressed and frightened by their fighting seeks help, and is given outdated advice.

Every shaker can now gone.

Shaker can used to stop fighting

Mac

Scaring the dog with a shaker can with coins in it or pinning him down is never the answer.

Rattling a shaker can in the dogs’ faces to scare them doesn’t address the problem at all. It may immediately interrupt them, but it does nothing to deal with the cause.

A shaker can will only increase arousal, anger or stress – the cause of the fighting in the first place. We need instead to deal with the problem at source.

The first thing the lady very happily did was to go round her house and remove the cans.

Barking up the wrong tree.

The advice given has caused the lady to ‘bark up the wrong tree’ so to speak. How modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today by the great Ian Dunbar.

Assuming the problem is about dominance, only solvable by trying to force the two dogs into some sort of hierarchy with the human at the top, is a very common way of making things worse. It can mean favouring one dog over the other to give it ‘top dog’ position just because she’s the older and was there first, even if that’s not always her natural place.

I believe the aggression probably started with Mabel being able to bully Mac from a very early age. This has very likely programmed him to be a bully himself – with her. He cracked at about six months old and turned on her.

How can further bullying by the humans by way of shaker can or pinning down not make things worse?

Punishment.

A problem with the dominance method is that we then use punishment.  Shaker cans are ‘positive punishment’. Punishment doesn’t tell the dog what it should do. It causes frustration. Punishment can scare the dog which is bad for our relationship. Punishment causes bewilderment and frustration. It may even cause the dog to shut down. Punishment will always add to stress levels.

Mabel

I could go on and on.

Mac and Mabel fortunately are resilient by nature but without doubt it will have escalated their aggression problems and general arousal levels.

We will deal with this matter at source now – by reducing arousal levels. Let’s now remove all pressure possible. We discussed all the areas they can do this, including on walks.

Very important is to prevent any further rehearsal of behaviour that can lead to a fight. There are immediate triggers – mainly food or quarrelling over an item. On each occasion, however, the dogs were already excited or aroused by either some sort of change or by the presence of other people.

Management.

Management is key. The lady will now gate the kitchen.

She will be able to predict and prevent danger situations. Behind the gate isn’t ‘time-out’ in terms of punishment. It will be to give one dog, now over-aroused, a break with something to do or to chew that can help him, or her, to calm down. It will probably be the younger Mac, the more excitable of the two.

They can’t have chew items when together for fear of fighting. Separated by the gate they will be able to get rid of some of their frustration and arousal on a bone, a chew, some foraging or a toy. Their lives can be given more enrichment.

There have only been a couple of really major fights so far. If the lady uses the gate and splits them a lot sooner there should be no more. She knows the triggers. She knows the things that get them particularly wound up.

A shaker can? No! She will step in sooner to control play. She can call one dog away. She could stand over them or walk between them as a third dog might to split them. If left a bit too long, she can break their eye contact by shoving something between them – a cushion perhaps.

Keeping calm, she then will separate them, putting one each side of the gate with something else to do.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac and Mabel. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Cesar Millan Versus Force-Free

Cesar Millan? No!

Instead – watch videos of Chirag Patel, Victoria Stilwell, Steve Mann, Nando Brown, Zak George – a huge list of modern force-free trainers doing a much better job but without the same publicity machine and sadly not on National Geographic or prime time TV.

Cesar Millan methods not workingThe big question is, do you want an obedient dog that may lick her lips, look away or even cower from you when she is doing something you don’t like, or a confident cheerful dog that happily stops when asked and does something else instead? Who may even, sometimes, dare to be a bit cheeky?

This is a great exaggeration of the situation I found, but when someone says something like they don’t want a dog on the sofa because it will make her dominant I can’t help jumping onto my bandwagon. Not on the sofa? Fine. It can be taught simply and kindly using positive reinforcement. Reason? Plain silly.

I have called to see ten month old Athena a couple of weeks after she came to live with them because she is having separation issues, toileting on the floor when left for a short while and causing damage. This was upsetting for the young couple who are completely committed to giving Athena a good life, whatever it takes. They have a dog walker twice a day and the two dogs aren’t left alone for very long.

As she becomes more confident, as I’m sure when any Cesar Millan methods have been dropped, things will improve.

Very few people I go to use the language of Cesar Millan with the Tch Tch corrections, the Alpha rolls or worry about status. This isn’t because he has fewer followers (his TV programme still glamorises the old-school way dog training was done back in the dark ages when people didn’t know better, using wolf pack theory as an excuse). It’s because I send people here to my website to read some of these stories before booking me. They will know in advance that I use kind, force-free methods only and if that’s not what they want I won’t hear from them again.

Cesar Millan plugs into today’s need for achieving things instantly, but it’s an illusion. Smoke and mirrors. (Incidentally, he invented a special dog collar called an ‘Illusion’ collar that forces up high into the most sensitive area behind the dog’s ears, causing maximum pain if the dog pulls).

Holding an animal down through force, or keeping it down because it dare not get up isn’t teaching an animal to lie down. Correcting a dog that pulls on lead with a little kick, a lead pop with his Illusion collar or a jerk with a prong collar isn’t teaching the dog to walk happily beside you because it wants to. Facing down a dog who is growling isn’t going to make it feel less fearful or less angry.

Cesar Millan is all about (as fast as possible) altering the visible behaviours – the actions. The emotions will get worse.

Modern force-free work is about altering what the dog is feeling inside – the emotions. The emotions drive the behaviours. The behaviours will get better.

I must stress again that the lovely young couple I went to yesterday do none of these things. Not at all. One or two things have prompted this post. Dominance and gentle correction is used like a methodology in the sincere belief that it’s the right thing to do – by the man mostly. The young lady finds it hard.

I have several times seen for myself what can happen with a dog that is controlled by domination when the dominant human isn’t present. I have felt unsafe.

For those interested in how modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today, here it is by the great Ian Dunbar.

I’m sure that they aren’t doing as well with Athena as they otherwise might if the man had never, ever watched Cesar Milan but he is already seeing things from a different perspective which is great.

Baxter

Baxter

The main problem now is that over the two weeks they have had her Athena has taken to playing more and more roughly with their gorgeous, good-natured little Border Terrier Baxter. Immediately they are out in the garden together she stands over him before embarking on what can only be called bullying. The previous day she had grabbed his leg and dragged him about; she grabs him around the neck. Where a couple of weeks ago they played nicely it has deteriorated and Baxter is getting scared. Fortunately it’s only happening in the garden (so far).

They police her with frequent NO and Tch Tch so why is it getting worse?

There is no doubt that adolescent Husky mix Athena respects the man and there is no doubt that the man loves her. He makes the Tch Tch noise he’s learnt from Cesar Millan and she stops what she is doing. Success. She will be a little scared of him at times. When he’s not there Athena may however ignore the lady who admits that at times in the garden the neighbours listening to her must think she is constantly telling the dog off.

The couple had asked me would I like to see what happens in the garden? I said no, definitely not.

I don’t want it to happen ever again.

Much more rehearsal and it will become a habit more difficult to break..

I had food in my pocket (yes – food, Cesar Millan). We stood in the garden and I called Athena to me so she knew that coming to me would be worthwhile next time. Sod’s law, we were out in the garden and Athena was taking little notice of Baxter!

This is what I was preparing to do. As soon as Athena looked like advancing on Baxter, I would have called her gently to me. I would do this repeatedly. I would either reward her with food or maybe a short game of tug if play is what she really wants.

I would have a long line ready just in case. She must never never have the opportunity to do it again. The two dogs should not be in the garden together without supervision for the foreseeable future.

Tch Tch and ‘No’ teaches her nothing at all but just stirs her up further. Athena’s behaviour is doubtless due to stress. She is trying to get used to her new life after all.

If they treat Athena like they would a young child and not as something to be kept at the bottom of the pack, using only encouragement and kindness, they will end up with a confident and outward-looking dog. I can’t imagine anyone saying a child can’t get on a sofa because it might want to take over as ruler of the household.

You just have to watch this video of Steve Mann of IMDT to see that a strong man can be empathetic and force-free with his very well-trained little dog.

Quite simply, it works the best.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Athena and Baxter and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good (Cesar Millan being one such example) as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

External Control, No Self-Control

Monty, a magnificent 20-month-old German Shepherd/Husky/Malamute mixControlled in a dominant, ‘Alpha’ fashion, Monty gets rebellious and angry – and sometimes just a little scared.

He is a magnificent 20-month-old German Shepherd/Husky/Malamute mix. He is a strong dog both physically and mentally.

Doing his best to have his dog under control, the young male owner has been influenced by Cesar Milan, whose extensive TV coverage gives these methods some sort of authenticity. It’s not really suited to the young man’s own personality, but he’s doing what he can to be the ‘dominant Alpha’. Commands are harsh, the shouted word No is frequent and Monty is physically made to submit at times.

The dog isn’t taught what IS required of him and things are getting worse. He now has bitten the father so badly he ended up in hospital simply because the man was doing his best to ‘show who is boss’. In another situation where he ran off with the towel and the mother tried to get it off him, he bit her badly on the leg.

This is the typical and unnecessary fallout of using force and punishment-based methods. This young dog gets all his attention through doing ‘bad’ things.  He gets no reinforcement from being quiet and calm.

The young  owner isn’t happy with his own methods but just didn’t know what else to do. He is taking his responsibilities as a dog owner seriously but has to keep ramping up his own harshness as the dog becomes immune. It totally disempowers weaker members of the family who are unable to do this.

There is just one thing Monty was taught from the start using rewards and that is to go in his crate. It is now the one thing that he does happily and willingly.

Monty isn’t a vicious dog. He is a wilful and frustrated dog that doesn’t have understandable boundaries. Good behaviour, like lying down quietly, not jumping on people, not barking because people are talking and much more, simply isn’t acknowledged.

In my time there we clicked and treated every ‘good’ thing he did. We endured lots of barking in order to reward him when he stopped. When he lay down we rewarded him. When he sighed and relaxed we rewarded him. When he put his feet on the side we waited till they were on the floor and promptly clicked and rewarded him.

We need to turn things on their head – to get the humans thinking completely differently. To start with they will concentrate on’ accentuating the positive’ as the song says and by not inviting confrontation. I want them to drop the word ‘No’. This is going to take time and I hope everyone will be consistent, patient and resist shouting. Monty must be able to work things out for himself.

As our other strategies gradually fall into place, Monty should become a dog with good self-control with absolutely no need to bite anyone again.

Here is a brilliant clip demonstrating the total confusion and frustration that using ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ can cause.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good – as has happened in this case. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

‘Alpha-Rolled’ Cockerpoo for Being Scared

Not a very good photo I’m afraid – black dogs are difficult and I wish you could see his lovely face.Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn't know

Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn’t know – and some that he does. He was a somewhat timid puppy, and when he was about nine months old they moved house. The first indication of problems was when he began to growl at the men working on their new home. As people do, they probably told him ’No’ and ‘’Stop’ and put it down to the upheaval in his life.

The couple used to take Algie to work with them when it looked like he might be alone for more than a couple of hours, and the owner didn’t actually see what happened in the second incident because it was outside the office. Men would be wandering about. This time he actually nipped. Next he bit their gardener, a man he knows, so they called in a trainer.

Following this things have escalated to such an extent that, in addition to biting a couple more men, he now barks and lunges at male callers to the house; his reactive behaviour and barking in general is increasing. The lady is having a baby very soon and Algie needs sorting out.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if his fear had been addressed in a positive way as soon as it manifested itself, if his body language could have been read before he even did his first growl at a man, it would not have got to this stage. Instead, they got a trainer in who taught them to Alpha roll him.

Oh dear.

After twice pinning down her beloved dog for growling, the young lady felt so bad she couldn’t carry on, and they called me. It just felt so wrong. The man is a quite a well-known trainer in the area, and people tend to do what they are told. Thankfully she could tell she was damaging the relationship she had with Algie. She wanted him to feel safe near her, not threatened by her. This reaction as demonstrated on Algie by the trainer will most certainly have added to his fear of men.  The side effects of punishment can be more difficult to deal with than the original behavior it is meant to cure. Now he is reacting to nearly all men rather than growling at just a few. He even growled at me a couple of times which was unusual. It can only go one way unless approached differently.

Zak George has this to say: Immediately abandon any training advice you’ve heard about being the “Alpha” or being “dominant” over your dog. Any dog trainer advising you who uses these terms is likely basing their approach on 20th century myths that originate from flawed studies on captive wolves. These are the buzz words of past superstitions in dog training when less was understood’.

As much as anything, punishment like pinning down fails to teach the dog what to the next time he is in that same situation. It disempowers him even further. It failed to give the little dog confidence in the one person who should be his protector.

What is Algie’s growl saying? It’s saying ‘I’m feeling scared’. If this was a child, would it be appropriate to harshly say NO, or worse still, throw him onto the floor? No. We would be looking into the basis of his fear, find the triggers and work on desensitisation and counter conditioning – big words for getting Algie accustomed to men from a comfortable distance and associating them with good things.

From the start they have done what they thought was the best for Algie, sending him to doggy daycare which he loves and training him conscientiously. Like so many people they have been the victim of bad, outdated advice, but they will bring him around I’m sure – if they take things slowly.