Social Play Behaviors in Puppies and Adult Dogs

Posted on Jan 18, 2015 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Pets, Positive Association, Positive Reinforcement, Puppy, Rescue Dog, Safety, Socialization, Training | 0 comments


soft eye, open mouths and goofy body movements express clear play intentions.

Socializing puppies can be confusing. However, science tells us that puppies who are exposed to many different environments in a positive way, grow up to be social, relaxed adult dogs.  Puppies who grow up in an outside pen, and do not experience indoor environments until 8 or 9 weeks of age, will be more fearful and skittish as they mature in a home. While these puppies can often overcome their fears, it takes time and patience.

IMPORTANT:  Science also tells us that puppies who have numerous repetitions of positive associations with friendly dogs, will be able to cope with that one aggressive attack if it ever occurs.  In other words, she will be able to rebound from this one scary incident and still be social towards other dogs.  However, the pup who has not had many positive associations with other dogs and receives an ear tear or neck puncture at your family reunion, may become fearful and even begin growling when she sees a dog nearby.

Puppies under 5 months benefit from socializing with other young pups to improve canine social skills.  These skills are learned in controlled Puppy Classes which incorporate short play sessions with emotional control breaks throughout.  Overwhelming a puppy in a daycare center, or a large playgroup with several adult dogs or even one rough dog can be detrimental to the pups social development.  


Both dogs have clear intentions! Let’s play!

Social Play Behaviors clearly express the puppy’s intentions, such as the play bow, exaggerated and repetitive movements, soft wiggly bodies, lateral or side to side movements, and relaxed wagging tails with open mouths.  Balanced play is when both dogs take turns being on top, incorporate a pause in the play, then continue playing or lie side by side and mouth each others head and neck or the same toy.  Mouthing with a release before the other pup cries is social mouthing, as is mounting which can be a sign of play intentions.  

Chasing behavior in both puppies and adult play groups should be monitored and interrupted often, as over-excitement can create stress in the dog being chased.  Pack chasing should only be allowed for a minute or two, then should be interrupted to reduce conflict.  There is a term called Predatory drift which occurs when the fleeing dog triggers an overly aroused dog to become an aggressive chaser — often resulting in an attack.  This Predatory drift can also occur when a fearful dog uses a high yelping pitch sound. This sound can trigger some dogs to drift into prey mode and violently attack — often with an intense grab and shake behavior.

photo 3

obvious tucked tail, ears back and weight leaning back.

So, how do you keep your dog using good social skills?  Be present during play sessions to ensure your dog is enjoying the play and not just being pushed around or bullied. If you see obvious signs of stress or fear, then call your pup away and end the play session.  Interrupt the play if you see either dog displaying stress signals such as:  tucked tail, stiff body postures, when one dog is always on top, closed mouth with whale eyes, ears back, lowering of body and head, constantly rolling on his back and pilo erection or constant scratching.  Picking your dogs playmates is as important as picking your children’s playmates. So be a good dog owner and keep your dog using good play skills so he does not become fearful or dog aggressive.


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Dog Training vs Management

Posted on Jan 3, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Child, Clicker, Crate Training, Dog Training, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Association, Positive Reinforcement, Puppy, Rescue Dog, Safety, Socialization, Training | 0 comments

Management, as it relates to dog training  keeps everyone safe.  Management,  does not teach your dog a behavior, in fact it often creates frustration and increases arousal.  Using forms of management are useful when you need to prevent conflict, such as putting your dog in the bedroom when guests come over.  Using effective management tools, often buy’s you some time, as you teach and reward an alternative  behavior.  


I will fade the food lure quickly and simply reward when he offers a sit.

For example:  A leash is a management tool used to prevent a dog from jumping on someone.  In this photo, Gambits leash is a form of management, however I am luring this handsome 5 month old pup into a sit and rewarding him.  With some repetition, a person approaching becomes the cue for Gambit to sit if he wants affection or food wether he has a leash on or not.

Another example:  Grabbing your dogs collar when people enter the doorway is a form of management to prevent him from jumping or running out the door.  However, if you teach him an alternative behavior like a sit/stay then you will no longer have to manage.

One more:  Using a crate to potty train your puppy  is a form of management that keeps the puppy safe and prevents him from practicing the unwanted behavior of peeing on the floor.  Immediately rewarding your puppy with a piece of dried liver after each of the 6 or so times he pees in the grass will certainly be reinforcing, so he will repeat the correct behavior to get the same yummy reward!


3 of these pups are under 1 yr and learning to stay.

 In Summary:  If your dog seems overly aroused, barks often, chases anything that moves, is displaying frustration or poor impulse control behavior, is it possible you are simply frustrating your dog through the over use of managment?  

Consider teaching him what to do in each situation and reward him with anything he loves to reinforce positive behavior.  This will make you a proud parent and keep him from getting frustrated, all while building a better relationship!  


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5 Body Postures: A Dog is Asking For Space

Posted on Nov 26, 2014 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Rescue Dog, Safety, Training | 0 comments

 If humans better understood dogs body language then we would have less dogs resorting to a bite when they feel stressed or threatened.  We see several cues that this scared boy does not want to be touched.  Signals that are asking for distance are often very subtle.

Level 1 distance Cues:
1. Dogs body is leaning away from the approaching hand.
2. Dogs paw is raised in a submissive manner.
3. Head is moving away asking for increased distance.
4. Eyes are avoiding the stranger
5. Mouth is closed, rather than open and relaxed.

Dogs often ask for distance in the only way they know how, but if the scary hand keeps coming, your dog may resort to a level 2 distance cue like a Growl, lip curl or show of teeth with a rigid body.  I HOPE your dog growls rather than bites. Hence, do not punish the growl as it is an effective distance cue.  When the dog is punished for growling, but is still afraid of that hand coming as it predicts pain, he may bite to protect himself.  
Have you heard of someone who was bitten by a dog in the face while they were attempting to pet him or rub his belly?  It is probable the dog used some distance cues before he resorted to a bite. Unfortunately, it is likely the human did not understand the signals and continued forward until the dog felt so threatened he did not have time to use a more moderate level one or level two response.

Dogs that are fearful or have been threatened by a previous human will be on guard and defensive.  Canine behaviors asking for distance are far better than an attack with a bite, so please do not punish them. Rather, simply remove the approaching stimuli. Can you teach a dog a level 1 distance cue like a look away? Absolutely, but it takes time and patience — and it is well worth the effort!

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Fight or Flight Response in Dogs?

Posted on Nov 16, 2014 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Crate Training, Dog Training, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments


It is easier to understand human intentions.

On a recent trip, I found myself in a nice hotel lobby visiting friends.  I decided it was time for “goodbyes” so I headed for the elevator.  When the door opened, there were three rather imposing-looking men standing along the back wall.  I froze for a second!  Do I get in and turn my back to them?  Do I step in and continue to face them? Do I walk away as if I forgot something?

Depending on our past life experiences we may all feel differently about being in this situation.  Many of you might say “Wow, you are overly sensitive” or “I would flee, for sure!”

At only 5’1″ I often feel vulnerable when alone, but knowing I was in a nice hotel, I chose to step into the elevator, turn slightly sideways and push the appropriate button.  As the doors closed I felt an intense hot flash rush over my entire body. Feeling trapped with no flight path, I was over come with fear.  I decided I would fight if needed and looked into the nearest mans face and said “Hi.” He smiled and nodded his head. I looked at the young man in the middle and he nodded before I could speak and looked quickly away at the ground. I looked straight at the third man and his head was resting on the back wall with his eyes closed.  With this information, I did not feel as threatened and was able to relax just a bit, although I was still on guard as the elevator took FOREVER to get to the 10th floor.  I waited until the door began to open and then quickly stepped out of the door in a sideways movement and looked behind me to see if anyone would follow. Thankfully the doors closed and I was free to hustle to my room. The feeling of being safe was oh so good!

Am I clear? says the golden. Good, I don’t want to bite you.

Fight or Flight, also called the acute stress response are terms ethologist’s and behavioral psychologist use to describe the behavior of numerous species — including humans.  If a stimulus is perceived as a threat, a more intense and prolonged discharge of locus ceruleus activates the sympathetic division of the nervous system. For a thorough understanding on how the body reacts, visit:  (Thase & Howland, 1995)

We think of prey animals such as the horse, deer and other animals with wide set eyes to use flight as their way of staying safe.  Predators such as wolves,  cats & dogs will often choose flight if given the opportunity.

However, if a valued resource is worth fighting for, or if a predator is trapped and prevented from flight, then it will likely use a fight response to keep himself safe.

Fight-or-flight responses are as normal in our canine friends as in our human friends.  When you see a dog use a fight response such as a growl with a specific stimulus, consider if the dog has a good reason to do so.  Is the dog trapped?  Is this dog given a chance to use flight?  Could this dog have good reason to not trust a particular stimuli?


Back off, I am in fight mode as there is no flight accessible.

I suggest if you have a dog that is using a fight behavior, consider first the dogs history.  Assess the situations, observe the dogs entire body, seek to understand before you consider how to proceed.  Do not immediately correct or punish, as this dog may have good reason to growl or snap. The dog may simply be afraid.  Help me prevent dogs from being punished for choosing fight when they are left with no other option. Dogs that have been punished for simply being afraid, are much harder to counter-condition later.

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Why Does My Dog Do That?

Posted on Oct 12, 2014 in Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Reaction, Rescue Dog | 0 comments

Do you ever wonder why your dog performs certain behaviors or motor patterns?  I sure have! For example: Why does my dog roll on smelly things?  Why does my dog shake his toy?  Should I be worried if my dog stalks his playmate?  Why does my dog guard his bones?


Hunting, for fun or survival?

Specific behaviors that are unique to our dogs are called Phylogenetic behaviors.  These behaviors, or behavior patterns, have developed over many many generations and truly have evolutionary significance to maximize reproduction and survival.  Stalking and bouncing are examples of phylogenetic behavior, as is an innate fear of loud noises.

When we think of our dogs behaviors we can summarize that all their behaviors come from three simple motivations:
1. Hunting/obtaining food
2. Safety/avoidance seeking
3. Sexual/reproductive behaviors

Behaviors observed in just the hunting motivations:   orient to sound or moving object, stare, freeze, creep, stalk, run, jump, grab, hold, shake, hold down, kill, eat, guard.

Can we change phylogenetic behaviors?  All behaviors can be modified to some degree with patience and a strong counter conditioning process.

Inherently genetic behaviors may be strong in your dog and low in my dog, as each dog has a different  genetic make up.  Such as rolling in feces, a yucky behavior to us humans, but many of our dogs do it!  Why? The science behind this behavior is that our dogs roll in animal feces or on a dead animal so they can mask their scent to better help them sneak up on their prey.  Does your dog need to stalk his prey for survival? Unlikely, but this behavior can be a strong genetic trait.


Resting for the next hunt.

We know some dogs learn to play fetch just by watching another dog play fetch. This is called Social Learning.  Other dogs perform behaviors for the reward, for example my female Scottie will frequent my neighbors back yard and scan for a squirrel to come down the bird feeder. She has been successful on two occasions and enjoyed eating them as well.  Does she need to hunt for survival?  No, but this behavior is both rewarding to her, and a strong genetic trait, therefore she will repeat it.

Many dogs use hunting behavior patterns in play, others will use sexual motor patterns like mounting and neck biting to initiate play.  The point is our dogs do many behavior patterns as a result of their genetic make up. If this behavior is followed by a reward, then this behavior will most likely continue to be practiced.

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