How to Put an End to Counter-Surfing

Editor’s note: The holiday season often brings delicious edibles to the dining room, the kitchen counter, and the coffee table. If your dog tends to help herself to your festive goodies, read on. This classic article from the archives might just help make your holidays a little merrier and brighter this year!

A new trick

Many dog owners complain that their dogs steal food from kitchen counters or even the dinner table. A new term was even coined to describe this behavior: counter-surfing. If you’re tired of losing your dinner to a sneaky pooch every time you turn your back, here’s what you can do about it.

red meat

“Stop” strategies

Counter-surfing is unwanted behavior. In operant conditioning, there are three basic approaches to stopping unwanted behavior:

  1. Punishment through a consequence that diminishes the unwanted behavior
  2. Extinction (allowing the behavior to fade away on its own) through removal of the reinforcer that is maintaining the unwanted behavior
  3. Training an alternative or incompatible behavior

The first approach, punishment, has its disadvantages. It is usually (but not always) unpleasant, and therefore not much fun for dog or owner. Judging an effective level of punishment can be tricky. Too much punishment can be damaging, and too little can be ineffective. Other behaviors may end up being punished unintentionally, sometimes causing the dog to simply learn to avoid an entire situation altogether.

If you punish your dog for counter-surfing, for example, your dog may decide that the kitchen was the source of the problem, and opt to avoid the kitchen altogether—which could cause a host of other issues. But by far the most common problem that occurs when punishing counter-surfing is that the dog only learns not to steal food when the owner is around. As soon as the owner leaves the room, watch out!

This leaves us with the remaining two options: extinction and training an alternative or incompatible behavior. If you are new to clicker training, find an index card, write down the following, and stick it to your fridge:

  • What is reinforcing this unwanted behavior and how do I remove the reinforcer?
  • What would I like my dog to do instead of this unwanted behavior?

Food left unattended on kitchen counters is simply too tempting and too reinforcing for the thieving dog.

Remove temptation

The answer to the first question in this case is easy: FOOD. Recall the adage “opportunity creates the thief.” Food left unattended on kitchen counters is simply too tempting and too reinforcing for the thieving dog. Each time your dog manages to find food on the kitchen counter, counter-surfing has been reinforced. Extinction of counter-surfing requires clean kitchen counters. Use storage containers, high shelves, and cupboards so that food is never left unattended within reach of your dog. Clean up countertop spills and tidbits immediately, as even a crumb can be enough to reinforce some dogs.

If food must be left unattended, put your dog in another room and shut the door. There is no sense in providing opportunities for reinforcement when avoiding it is as simple as closing a door.

Try instead

So what would we like our dogs to do instead of counter-surfing? We could choose a specific behavior, such as lying on a mat in the kitchen, and in severe cases we could train and proof this single behavior to be reliable even when we’re not in the room—and even when there is juicy steak lying all over the counters!We could train and proof this single behavior to be reliable even when we’re not in the room—and even when there is juicy steak lying all over the counters!

If the mat is your dog’s normal bed, then he can be taught “go to mat” fairly quickly by capturing this behavior. Simply wait until your dog lies down on the mat on his own, then click and treat. If you toss the treat a short distance away from the mat, you will set up the next trial. When your dog is reliably going back to the mat to lie down, put it on cue.

(If the mat is new to your dog, then you can shape this specific behavior using the instructions found in the free online Book of Training Levels by Sue Ailsby.)

Increase duration

Once you have the “go to mat” behavior on cue, start adding duration. Rather than clicking as soon as your dog goes to the mat, hold off a second before you click and treat. Gradually increase the time before you click, second by second.

Keep the mat in the kitchen or, if space is tight, just outside the door but still in view. When you have 30 seconds of duration on the mat, try asking your dog to “go to mat” the next time you prepare food in the kitchen. Click and treat (toss the treat to your dog on the mat) every 5 seconds at first, then start to build duration up again.

Why lower the criteria to 5 seconds when you know the dog can stay for 30 seconds on the mat? This is a new training picture, and we’ve introduced distractions (food being prepared), so we have to lower our criteria to a point where the dog can—and will—succeed.

When your dog is staying on the mat while you prepare food for 30 seconds, try leaving the room. Only leave briefly at first, return, and if your dog is still on the mat, click and treat. Again, build duration slowly, at a rate where your dog will succeed.

Eventually, they’ll know better

All that most dogs need to know is that there are plenty of opportunities for reinforcement for a range of behaviors that don’t include stealing from the kitchen counters. When preparing food, make sure you reinforce nice behaviors such as sitting patiently, or lying down on the floor or a mat. Be sure to leave the room briefly, just to return and reinforce these nice behaviors that are offered even when you’re out of the room. At first, be sure to tidy food from the counters so that any counter-surfing is not reinforced.All that most dogs need to know is that there are plenty of opportunities for reinforcement for a range of behaviors that don’t include stealing from the kitchen counters.

By combining extinction with regular reinforcement of alternative behaviors, your dog will learn that the most reliable way to get food is to sit patiently, or lie down out of the way. Attempts at counter-surfing will not be reinforced and will eventually go away. If your dog has been reinforced for counter-surfing many times, or intermittently, then the extinction process will take longer—but it will happen.

Remember the two important questions raised above—what is reinforcing this behavior, and what would I like my dog to do instead? These can be applied to virtually any unwanted behavior: raiding the garbage can, barking at the door, jumping on visitors, even pulling on the leash. You hold the power to solve any one of these problems if you can answer those two simple questions and consistently apply the solutions.


By Aidan Bindoff on 12/01/2008


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Smart breeding – increasing your Australian Labradoodle’s chances to a good life

052513IMG_9231Behavior issues are the primary reason why owners give up their pets. We’re all talking about the latest behavior modification technique, and often blame poor handling or inexperience, but at the core of many behavior problems lies a basic genetic predisposition of the dog to react in certain ways. With less emphasis on physical traits, and more focus on eradicating certain behavioral traits, breeders make a real difference in the welfare of our canine companions in both good and bad ways.

Today’s modern urban lifestyle forces dogs to put up with many stressful situations. The demand to be highly social and friendly has increased and our acceptance for some of their natural drives has diminished. Dogs are required to be more tolerant towards one another as well as towards people. A dog’s genetic predisposition for adaptability, confidence and friendliness, are big advantages. Those traits will increase his chances of staying in his initial family of adoption and living a good life.

A dogs’ behavior is determined by both his genetics and his interactions with the environment. In other words the dog’s genetics will define, or predispose him to reacting in certain ways to different situations. Most trainers are familiar with the basic drives of today’s breeds and some breeds will present behaviors that will be difficult to live with. Breeds such as Border collies  and Australian shepherds are known to be compulsive herders that may present real challenges when brought into a family lifestyle. Beagles may create problems to those with a low tolerance to barking. A Weimaraner’s need for activity will often wear out their owner, and so forth…

While bred for health or confirmation (AKC or ALAA standards), certain breeds have also developed behavioral traits that may compromise their relationship with unsuspecting owners. We mostly expect aggression issues in breeds such as pit bulls or Chows, but they’re also quite common in other breeds such as English Springer Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Toy Poodles, Lhasa Apsos and terriers. Even within the same breed, not all dogs are born equal when it comes to trainability, aggression thresholds, reactivity to environmental stimuli, etc… It only took 5 generations to obtain lines of dogs that are more nervous than typical. Those dogs were timid, less active, less curious and sometimes catatonic when people approached them (Murphree et al. 1974). This study also pointed to the limits of how much we can affect those behaviors through behavioral and pharmaceutical therapy, leaving owners with limited options. Environment will affect our dogs’ behavior but, even if we strive to provide the best of conditions and training, we’re still limited to increasing or decreasing the behaviors that are already part of the dogs’ genetic predisposition. Many will tend to automatically attribute mishandling as the cause of a shy dog’s behavior, when even in the most gentle of hands, genetics coupled with lack of socialization could be the cause.

According to (Houpt (2007), we’re only steps away from finding the genes responsible for canine aggression, but in the meantime, no matter how beautiful dogs can be, if they have shown any signs of aggression, or other problematic behaviors, they should not be bred. With today’s advances on dog’s behavior, training and cognition, we have better tools to deal with some of the common issues, but at the basis of many of them lie genetic influences that could have been avoided through more intentional breeding. Breeders are at the forefront of our dog’s welfare and reproduction practices should focus on developing dogs that have the best chances of making good pets.

There are plenty of responsible breeders who care about their dogs’ health as well as their chances to a great life as a pet. As consumers, we’ll encourage and validate those we choose to give our money to. So, just like we’re ready to buy the cheapest items from stores that promote products from China or poor animal husbandry, as long as we’re ready to pay for poorly selected dogs, we’re encouraging practices that lead to the suffering of our companions. As dog lovers, we have the power to make a real difference in how dogs are bred, for our own benefit, that of the dogs, and maybe even to society with fewer animals ending up at the pound.

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Visitors Welcome

or not so welcome-

Every well regarded book about adopting puppies or picking a breeder tells you that you must visit the breeder and the parents to assess for yourself the quality of your future puppy.

I am here to tell you why this is terrible advice and why it won’t happen if you call or email me with a request to visit.

I have always enjoyed sharing my love for the Australian Labradoodle with prospective clients and onlookers.  I stand proudly while you ohhh and ahhhh over the puppies, I must admit that it will never get old to hear the delightful complements.  Except what you don’t understand is the momma dog is not as thrilled to see you.  She is trying to decide how much danger you pose to her babies.  Like a momma lion protecting her young, she is not at all happy with you in her nest.  She is one of the sweetest dogs you will ever meet when she does not have babies.  When a female becomes a mom their brain switches in to momma lion mode.  You are a stranger, you equal danger to her babies.  The mom starts to become stressed and produces an excess of cortisol (the stress hormone) which poisons her milk.  Puppies nurse off mom and receive high doses of cortisol.  Puppies who are on the receiving end of this cortisol laced milk start to show signs of stress, they become colicky and anxious.  This has a long lasting effect on puppies.. they start to crave the stress hormone and exhibit unwanted behaviors like barking, aggression, anxiety and fear (just to name a few) all the time.  We have just created a crack baby.

Moms need a stable, stress-free environment while their puppies are young.  Visitors knocking on the door, strange voices, unknown fast moving children and their laughter is not well received.  The momma dog now feels very threatened.  Your visit was not good for her or her puppies.

The health and welfare of our mommas and her puppies come before your need to look at our puppies and our adult dogs.  Our visitation policy is clearly stated on our Contact Us page, if you attempt to contact me and ask “is it OK to come over and see our dogs” or “visit our facility” the answer is No.  Below is what happened when someone ignored my instructions during a visit.  Mom became startled, jumped up quickly to see who was in our home causing puppies to scatter, she accidentally stepped on this baby and her toenail caused a laceration that required immediate emergency veterinary treatment.  Other breeders have lost puppies because a mom accidentally landed on them.

Baby Girl in portable incubatorVet Attending to PuppyWoundWound PrepAntibioticWaiting for wound to dryThe Vet inspeciting site a little closer   Making sure the wound is closed up

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Control Your Australian Labradoodle’s Barking

I’m a professional dog trainer so no one is a bigger fan of training your Australian Labradoodle than I am. I think that training Labradoodles is fun! What I’ve noticed though is that most owners who call me aren’t interested in training their Labradoodle to DO something. They want their Labradoodle to STOP doing things. The reason we’re focusing on how to stop unwanted behavior is because unwanted behavior lands dogs in shelters. Unwanted behavior is also when we’re most likely to see ineffective, painful and inhumane methods used to turn off behavior. So we’re going to devote the month of April on how to train your Labradoodle to stop doing the annoying things you don’t want them to do. This month, we’ll be posting weekly about how to stop your Labradoodle from: jumping on people, humping and begging for food. Today’s installment is how to control alert barking.

It’s important to realize that dogs bark for many different reasons. Some of the reasons dogs bark include separation distress, to gain attention, to gather information about their environment or to make scary things, people and other dogs go away. Before you select a method for controlling your Labradoodle’s barking, it’s important to know why they’re barking. If you don’t know why your Labradoodle is barking you can inadvertently make the behavior worse.

The type of barking that owners complain the most about to me is ALERT BARKING. The dog is in the house and hears something and the barking begins. I’ve never met an owner that didn’t want their dog to let them know when someone was approaching. What all owners want is to control this behavior. We want them to bark to alert us but then we want them to stop once we’ve acknowledged that they’ve done their job. While it may seem counter intuitive, I’m recommending that you thank your Labradoodle(s) for barking. In this method, you are NOT rewarding the Labradoodle(s) for barking. You are rewarding them for engaging in a different behavior (stop barking and come to me).

When the dog(s) begin barking:

  1. Say, “Thank you!”
  2. The dog(s) should come to you for the treat (in the beginning of this training you may need to lure them towards you with kissy sounds, slapping your thighs, etc).
  3. When they come to you, say “yes” and give them a treat.

You can strategically place small bowls throughout your home.  Zukes are small and tasty and you can find them in all major pet stores. Owners almost always ask me what to do if the Labradoodle starts scamming the rule structure by “fake” barking and then running to you for a treat. Believe it or not, this is actually incredibly rare. I think the reason this doesn’t happen very often is because there is an emotional basis to alert barking as opposed to just pure naughtiness. If your Labradoodle seems to be barking for attention because you’ve used “thank you” training, then it’s time to take your attention away from your dog or use “timeouts”. If you need help using timeouts, just let us know and we’ll send you our two page handout on using timeouts effectively.

If your Labradoodle’s barking has you at the end of your rope with frustration, try to remember that a part of barking behavior is genetic (the same as you are programmed to scream or laugh). The Belyaev fox study taught us that when we breed for tameness (or domestication), barking comes along for the ride. If you have questions about how to stop your Labradoodle’s barking, feel free to contact me or leave a comment here. We also hope you’ll write comments about your own experiences of controlling your dogs’ barking.

by Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KA

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Doggy Myth Busters

Hang with dog folks long enough and you’re sure to hear some pretty interesting theories about dog behavior. Some are, of course, useful and accurate, but the dog training world is littered with myths, many of which are at least several generations old. Some of them are just silly; some have the potential for causing serious damage to the dog-human relationship; and still others are downright dangerous. It’s time to get past the myths.

It’s critical that puppies be socialized to other people and other dogs, in safe public settings and well-run puppy classes. Far more dogs are euthanized due to behavior problems than illness from infectious disease.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug of Sugar Land, Texas, recently compiled a comprehensive list of dog behavior myths. With her blessing, we’re sharing 10 of our “favorites” from her list, and explaining why these “busted” myths should not be used as the justification for a training or behavior modification technique. I am always exhorting my interns, apprentices, and clients to be critical thinkers. When someone offers you an alleged nugget of canine wisdom, regardless of who the someone is, you’re wise to run it through your own rigorous filters before accepting it as real wisdom or adopting it as the basis for a training technique. These should include:

• A scientific filter. Does it make sense scientifically? If someone assures you that shock collar training is actually positive reinforcement training because the shock is no different than someone tapping you on the shoulder to get you to stop a behavior, does that concur with your understanding of positive reinforcement? (That a dog’s behavior makes a good thing happen, so the behavior increases.) Don’t be fooled by the euphemisms “e-collar” and “tingle,” “tap,” or “stim” for the word “shock.”

• A philosophical filter. Is it congruent with your own philosophies about dog training and relationships? Positive punishment (dog’s behavior makes a bad thing happen; behavior decreases) makes sense from a scientific standpoint. That doesn’t mean you want to – or have to – use it with your dog, and risk the damage it can do to your relationship. Trainers with a positive training philosophy generally try to avoid the use of positive punishment, or any methods that work through the use of fear, pain, aversives, and avoidance.

• An “acid test” filter. It may seem sound scientifically, and it may feel okay philosophically, but does it work? If you’re comfortable trying it out and you don’t like the results, feel free to continue on and explore why it’s not working or simply toss it out. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it has to work for you.

Now, keeping these filters in mind, let’s see how some of the most common and harmful myths about canine behavior create a flawed foundation for training.

Myth #1: “Puppies should not go to puppy classes/the mall/friends’ houses until they have had all their vaccinations at 16 weeks/6 months of age.” (Fails all three tests.)

This one lands squarely at the top of the “dangerous myth” category. It’s generally perceived as credible by new puppy owners because it’s often offered by the pup’s veterinarian.

While it appears scientifically sound on its face (an unvaccinated puppy is at risk for contracting deadly diseases!), puppies who aren’t properly socialized are at a much greater risk for developing behavior problems, including aggression, that are likely to shorten their lives.

The vet is right on one hand; the best way to ensure that your pup isn’t exposed to dog germs is to avoid other dogs. It’s certainly true that you want to prevent your pup’s exposure to unknown and/or possibly unhealthy dogs (and their waste). But it’s also critically important that your pup get lots of exposure to the rest of the world, including healthy puppies in a controlled environment, before the critical socialization period ends at 12 to 16 weeks. If he doesn’t, he’ll be at risk of developing serious, sometimes deadly, behavior problems. (See “Shoot for Early Admission,” Whole Dog Journal September 2007, for more information on early education for puppies.)

In addition, during the period leading up to the age of four to six months, your pup has protection from his mother’s immunities, and should receive “puppy shots” to cover that period of time when his mother’s protection starts to decrease. Not only is it “okay” to take your pup places while exercising reasonable caution, you have an obligation to provide him with extensive socialization in order to maximize his chances of leading a long and happy life.

Myth #2: “Dogs pull on leash, jump up on people, (add your own) because they are dominant.” (Fails scientific and philosophical tests.)

Like the first myth discussed, this one can be dangerous, because those who believe this myth are likely to believe that they need to use forceful methods to assert their status over their “dominant” dogs.

No one disputes that dogs living in a group understand and respond to the concepts and dictates of a social hierarchy. The fact that canine social structures share elements with human social structures is probably one of the reasons that dogs make such wonderful companions for us. However, most experts in animal behavior today believe that canine social hierarchies are much more based on deference than dominance, and that most canine behavior that many misguided humans attribute to dominance . . . isn’t!

A dog’s goal in life is to make good stuff happen. Behaviors often labeled “dominant” because they are perceived as pushy and assertive – like pulling on leash and jumping up – simply persist because the dog has learned that the behaviors are reinforced; they make good stuff happen. Pulling on leash gets her where she wants to go. Jumping up gets attention. Behaviors that are reinforced continue, and even increase – but they have nothing to do with social status.

If you remove all reinforcement for the unwelcome behaviors (pulling makes us stop; jumping up makes attention go away) and reinforce more appropriate behaviors in their place, the dog will change her behavior.

Myth #3: “If you let your dog sleep on the bed/eat first/go through doors first/win at tug-o-war, he will become the alpha.” (Fails all three tests.)

This one is mostly just silly. Some sources even suggest that the entire family must gather in the kitchen and take turns buttering and eating a cracker before the dog can be fed. Seriously!

See Myth #2 for the mythbusting response to this one. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, that’s your lifestyle choice, but you don’t need to defend it with the alpha-garbage argument. I feed my dogs before I eat so I don’t have to feel guilty about them being hungry while I fill my own belly. I teach my dogs to sit and wait for permission to go through the door (“say please!”) because it’s a polite, safe behavior and reinforces deference, but not because I’m terrified that they’ll take over the house. And I like to win tug-o-war a lot because it reinforces polite behavior. You can quit worrying about your dog becoming alpha just because you don’t rule with an iron first.

If you are concerned that your dog is too pushy you can implement a “Say Please” program, where your dog asks politely for all good things by sitting – a nice, polite, deference behavior (see “Be a Benevolent Leader, Whole Dog Journal August, 2003). If you think your dog is potentially aggressive, it’s even more important to avoid conflict; your attempts to physically dominate him are likely to escalate his aggression rather than resolve it. (See “Biscuits, Not Rolls,” July 2006.) If aggression is a real concern, we recommend you consult with a qualified, positive behavior professional who can help you modify your dog’s behavior without the use of force.

Myth #4: “Dogs can’t learn from positive reinforcement. You have to punish them so they know when they are wrong.” (Fails scientific and philosophical tests; fails acid test unless punisher is very skilled.)

This myth has good potential for causing serious harm to the canine-human relationship. Research confirms what positive trainers hold dear: that positive reinforcement training is more effective and has far fewer risks than positive reinforcement training combined with positive punishment.

One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK and the University of Life Sciences in Norway, evaluated whether punishment was a contributor to behavior problems, and examined the effects of reward, punishment, and rule structure (permissiveness/strictness and consistency) on training and behavior problems. Information was collected via questionnaires from 217 dog guardians. Those who used strong and/or frequent punishment had a significantly higher level of training problems and lower obedience in their dogs. A similar study, conducted at Britain’s University of Bristol, also found that dogs trained only with positive reinforcement exhibited fewer problem behaviors.

For most humans, this makes sense. Do you learn better if someone acknowledges (and rewards) you when you do it right, or slaps you upside the head when you do it wrong? Even if you get rewarded for doing it right, if you also get slapped for doing it wrong, your fear of getting slapped will likely impede your learning and make you more reluctant to try things.

Of course, a good positive training program makes use of management to avoid giving the dog opportunities to be reinforced for unwanted behaviors, and will also make judicious use of negative punishment (dog’s behavior makes a good thing go away) to let him know he made an unrewarding behavior choice.

For more information on why training programs that utilize positive reinforcement are most effective, see “We’re Positive,” January 2007.

Myth #5: “If you use treats to train, you will always need them.” (Fails all three tests.)

This just isn’t true. A good positive training program will quickly “fade” the use of food as a constant reinforcer while moving to a schedule of intermittent reinforcement and expanding the repertoire of reinforcers to include things like toys, play, petting, praise, and the opportunity to perform some other highly reinforcing behavior.

Treats can be a very high-value reinforcer and quite useful in training a wide variety of behaviors, so it’s plain silly to turn your back on them. Just be sure to fade food lures quickly in a training program, move to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement when your dog will perform a behavior on cue 8 out of 10 times, and incorporate a variety of reinforcers so you’re never dependent on any one particular reward choice. (For more information about how some people might fail when applying positive training techniques the wrong way, see “Positive Mistakes,” May 2007.)

Myth #6: “A dog who urinates inside/destroys the house/barks when he is left alone does so because he is spiteful.” (Fails the scientific and philosophical tests.)

This myth definitely causes harm to the dog-human relationship. Dogs don’t do things out of spite, and to think so gives owners a negative perspective on their relationship with their canine family member. Dogs do things because they feel good, they work to make good stuff happen (or to make bad stuff go away), or because they are reacting to events that occur in their environment. While our dogs share much the same range of emotions as we humans, they don’t seem to indulge in all the same motives. Spite requires a certain amount of premeditation and cognitive thinking that science doesn’t support as being evident in the canine behavior repertoire.

Dogs beg if they have been rewarded for it, whether itfs with human food or dog food.

There are two rational explanations for the behaviors described in this myth. The first is that the dog isn’t fully housetrained and hasn’t yet learned house manners. In the absence of direct supervision, the dog urinates when he has a full bladder (an empty bladder feels good) and becomes destructive because playing with/chewing sofa cushions, shoes, ripping down curtains, tipping over the garbage, and barking are fun and rewarding activities.

The other explanation is that the dog suffers from some degree of isolation distress. These behaviors are often a manifestation of stress and the dog’s attempt to relieve his anxiety over being left alone. If your dog regularly urinates (or worse) in the house or destroys things when he is left alone, he may be suffering from a moderate degree of isolation distress, or more severe separation anxiety. This condition can worsen without appropriate management. For more information, see “Relieving Anxiety,” August 2001 – and consider a consultation with an animal behavior specialist.

Myth #7: “If you feed a dog human food, he will learn to beg at the table.” (Fails all three tests.)

This is silly! One dog owner’s “begging” is another’s “attention” behavior, eagerly sought-after and highly valued. Behaviors that are reinforced continue and/or increase. If you fed your dog his own dog food from the table, he would learn to beg at the table. It has nothing to do with what type of food he’s being fed! If you don’t want your dog to beg at the table, don’t feed your dog from the table.

Whole Dog Journal readers know full well that human-grade food is better for dogs than much of the junk that’s in many brands of dog food. Whether it’s fed in a form that we recognize as something we might consume, or it’s been transformed into something that more resembles our mental concept of “dog food,” it all still comes from the same basic food ingredients.

Myth #8: “He knows he was bad/did wrong because he looks guilty.” (Fails all three tests.)

This myth is damaging to the relationship, as it leads owners to hold dogs to a moral standard that they aren’t capable of possessing. When a dog looks “guilty,” he is most likely responding to a human’s tense or angry body language with appeasement behaviors. He’s probably thinking something like, “I don’t know why, but my human looks upset. I’d better offer some appeasement behaviors so her anger isn’t directed at me!” Even when the “guilty” expression is a direct and immediate result of your dog’s behavior because your punishment was timely – “Hey! Get out of the garbage!” –your dog’s turned head, lowered body posture, averted eyes – are simply an acknowledgement of your anger and his attempt to reconcile with you.

A trainer friend of mine once did an experiment to convince a client that her dearly held “guilty look” belief was a myth. He had the client hold her dog in the living room while he went into the kitchen and dumped the garbage can on the floor, strewing its contents nicely around the room. Then he had the client bring the dog into the kitchen. Sure enough, the dog “acted guilty” even though he had nothing to do with the garbage on the floor. He just knew from past experience that “garbage on floor” turned his owner into an angry human, and he was already offering appeasement behavior in anticipation of her anger, and to divert her ire from his dog-self. (For more information about canine body language, see “I Submit,” April 2006.)

Finally, most owners who have punished a dog for something that was done in their absence can attest to the fact that the punishment generally does not prevent the dog from repeating the behavior another time. What does work is simple management. Put the garbage somewhere that the dog can’t get to it; under a sink with a safety latch on it, for example. Keep counters clear of anything edible. Leave the dog in a part of the house that is comfortable but not easily destroyed. Hire a dog walker to come by in the middle of your dog’s longest days home alone to let him out, give him some stress-relieving exercise, and leave him with a food-filled chew toy. These actions will result in an intact home – and a dog who is not afraid to greet you when you return.

Myth #9: The prong collar works by mimicking a mother dog’s teeth and her corrections. (Fails the scientific and philosophical tests.)

It’s a little discouraging to think that people actually believe this myth. It would be silly if it weren’t so potentially damaging to the relationship and potentially dangerous as well.

Prong collars work because the prongs pressing into the dog’s neck are uncomfortable at best, painful at worst. Because dogs will work to avoid pain and discomfort, the prong collar does work to stop a dog from pulling on the leash, and can shut down other undesirable behaviors as well, at least temporarily. However, like all training tools and techniques that are based on pain and intimidation, there is a significant risk of unintended consequences.

In the case of the prong collar, the primary risk is that the dog will associate the pain with something in his environment at the time he feels it, and this can lead to aggression toward the mistakenly identified cause. A dog’s unmannerly, “I want to greet you” lunge toward another dog or person can turn into, “I want to eat you,” if he decides that the object of his attention is hurting him.

If you have used or are considering the use of a prong collar to control your dog, please consult with a qualified positive behavior consultant to learn about more effective and less potentially harmful methods.

Myth #10: “Aggressive/hand-shy/fearful dogs must have been abused at some point in their lives.” (Fails the scientific test.)

This is a very widespread myth; I hear it so often it makes my brain hurt. Fortunately, while the behaviors described in this myth are problematic, the myth itself may be the most benign of our top 10.

There are many reasons a dog may be aggressive, hand-shy, or fearful. Lack of proper socialization tops the list, especially for fearfulness. If a pup doesn’t get a wide variety of positive social exposures and experiences during the first 12 to 14 weeks of his life, he’s likely to be neophobic – afraid of new things – for the rest of his life (see Myth #1). This neophobia manifests as fear, and for some dogs, as fear-related aggression.

Widely accepted categories of aggression include:

• Defensive (fear-related) aggression
• Possession aggression (resource-guarding)
• Maternal aggression
• Territorial aggression
• Status-related aggression
• Pain-related aggression
• Protection aggression
• Predatory aggression
• Play aggression
• Idiopathic (we don’t know what causes it) aggression

Note that there’s no category for “abuse-related” aggression. Abuse can be one of several causes of fear-related/defensive aggression, but is much less common than the fear-related aggression that results from undersocialization.

Regardless of the cause of a dog’s fearful or aggressive behavior, a myth-corollary to our Myth #10 is that love alone will be enough to “fix” the problem. While love is a vital ingredient for the most successful dog-human relationships, it takes far more than that to help a fearful dog become confident, or an aggressive one become friendly. For more about rehabilitating a chronically fearful dog, see “Fear Itself,” April 2007.

Pat Miller, CPDT, is Whole Dog Journals’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Hagerstown, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also the author of The Power of Positive Dog Training and Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog.

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Puppy Classes And Canine Parvovirus

Dr. Ian Dunbar | Mon, 03/25/2013
I have just read a paper in the March/April issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association describing a study that concluded, puppies vaccinated at least once prior to starting puppy classes at less than 16 weeks of age were at no more risk of being diagnosed with Canine Parvovirus infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend classes.

The study comprised two parts:
1. A total of 21 veterinary clinics were selected from both low- and high-income zones in four cities with different seasonal patterns (Atlanta GA, Chicago IL, Phoenix AZ and Seattle WA). Data were collected about 1012 puppies, all of which had been vaccinated against parvovirus at least once prior to 16 weeks of age by a veterinarian. It was unknown whether 88 of the pups attended puppy classes or not. Of the 876 puppies that did not attend puppy classes, 14 were diagnosed with CPV infections (all by clinics located in low-income zip codes). Of the 48 puppies that attended puppy classes, none were diagnosed with CPV.

2. A total of 24 puppy trainers from both low- and high-income zones in each of the same four cities were selected from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers directory. 231 puppies were included in the study. All puppies had been vaccinated at least once prior to starting puppy class at less than 16 weeks of age. No puppies attending puppy classes were suspected of having CPV infection.

This study provides a little more factual information to add to the AVSAB and abrionline position statements and the Veterinary Medicine roundtable discussion.

Of course, the most shocking finding of this study — of 1012 puppies participating in the veterinary survey, only 48 attended puppy classes! After 30+ years of promoting puppy classes to puppy owners and pet professionals, we puppy trainers still only reaching 4.7% of the pups out there and that is truly a shocking statistic.

Stepita ME, Bain MJ, Kass, PH. Frequency of CPV InfectiOn in Vaccinated Puppies that Attended Puppy Socialization Classes. J.A.A.H.A. 2013; March/April; 95-99.

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Getting the Most Out of Puppy Kindergarten

You’ve got a new Australian Labradoodle puppy from Noble Vestal Labradoodles and are about to start puppy classes (or are planning ahead for your new Noble Vestal pup – even better!). You know good puppy classes are an integral part of helping you and your dog invest in a long and harmonious future. Congratulations!

Once You’ve selected a class that meets your needs (see “The Trainer Name Game,” WDJ September 2010, on selecting the right class for you and your dog) and you’ve signed up to ensure your place in class – you are all set, right? Wrong!

Puppy classes aren’t magic. Just signing up, paying, and attending aren’t enough. You have to train and practice and build your relationship with your Australian Labradoodle puppy. It will last a lifetime and the effort you put in now will pay off multifold. But keep in mind that the bad habits that you and your puppy develop now will also give you payback many times over! So let’s assume you have really committed yourself to rearing a puppy well, and talk about how to get the most out of your puppy classes.

Paying attention
In today’s economy, most of us want to be sure we get the most bang for our bucks and that’s true for the cost of puppy classes. Carefully select your class in advance. Of course, we want you to find an experienced positive trainer. But you also need to find a class in a location that’s convenient enough and offered at a time of day to ensure that you’ll actually attend. If the class that you want is offered only at 7 pm on a weeknight or 8 am on Saturday morning, and you are usually tired at these times, you may have to look for another option – or plan to have an espresso early enough before class to get you there and keep you alert.

Alertness is critical in any educational setting. If you are too tired to be attentive to what the instructor is saying, or to cheerfully interact with your dog (who, thanks to the many distractions in class, may be at his worst), you won’t get as much out of the class as you could.

Does this sound easy? It’s not! It’s difficult to pay attention to two things at once (your puppy and the instructor) while surrounded by other cute and active puppies and their owners. And if you happen to be seated next to an especially gabby owner, or excitable puppy, it can be even more difficult. If you are talking to someone, you can’t properly hear the instructor or attend to your puppy. If you are watching your puppy play with another pup, you can’t pay attention to the instructor. You paid for the information being provided. Don’t waste these critical puppy-rearing moments (or your money) by failing to focus.

I don’t need to mention that mobile phones should never be present in class, do I?

At the same time that you are listening to the instructor and watching her demonstrations, it’s essential that you are also aware of what your pup is doing. These are golden opportunities for you to reinforce behaviors you like, such as looking calmly at the other pups and people in class, and especially, for “checking in” with you with eye contact. You may also have to distract your puppy and prevent her from practicing behaviors you don’t want, such as barking, whining, pulling on the leash to go visiting, chewing the leash, chewing on the mat, pawing at you, mugging you for treats, or mouthing you.

It’s a treat
Speaking of treats, it’s vitally important that you bring an ample and varied supply to class. You don’t want to run out before the end of class, or to have to scrimp on reinforcement because you are afraid you are going to run out. It’s best if you have at least three or four types of treats in your bait bag; this keeps your puppy guessing what delicious treat might be next, and keeps him from getting tired of (and undermotivated by) any one type of treat.

Ideally, you should include treats of a varying level of interest to your puppy, too: treats he likes, treats he’s crazy about, and some treats he’d stand on his head for! Use the highest-value treats for rewarding the most difficult behaviors you ask your pup to perform, new behaviors, or for “easy” behaviors performed against a backdrop of distractions. You may have to try a lot of different types of treats at home in order to identify treats of these varying levels of “value” to your dog.

The treats you bring to class should also be tiny!  That’s because you’ll be feeding a lot of them in class, and you don’t want him to fill up too soon, so pre-cut those treats into pieces the size of a pea or smaller. It also helps to bring your pup in on an empty or near-empty stomach so if class is scheduled around your pup’s meal time, feed only half the usual meal and bring the balance as healthy, delectable treats for class. Consider using cut-up pieces of boiled lean chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.

You need to deliver those treats to your Australian Labradoodle puppy quickly so you want the treats easily accessible to you. I suggest using a “bait bag” or treat pouch to keep the treats handy; there are lots of great ones on the market. Other good treat holders are fanny packs, carpenter aprons, and loose vest pockets. Ziploc bags are horrid! Just about as hard to use as jeans pockets.

Being a good student
In class, during practice times, PRACTICE! When the instructor comes around to see how you and your puppy are doing, make sure you take the opportunity to demonstrate the behavior you are supposed to be practicing at that moment. Generally, the instructor circulates to every dog/handler team and watches for a repetition or two, gives some feedback, and moves on. If you haven’t been able to get your pup to perform the behavior yet, don’t just say that; show the instructor how you’ve been going about it so she can see what’s wrong and show you a different way to do it. Everyone should get pretty equal time by the end of each class and no one should monopolize the instructor. So play fair!

Usually there are question periods during each class. Help use the class time well by preparing a priority question or two in advance. What are you most stuck on or confused about? Ask the question as concisely as possible. This is not the time for a long story about your pup’s adorable antics at home. Your classmates have also paid for class and it’s their time, too. Use it constructively. If your issue is something unique to your household or situation, ask if you can speak to the trainer about it before or after class or perhaps email or telephone for a brief discussion. Classes are for general topics and issues.

It’s helpful when your entire family participates in training the family dog, and when all of you use the same cues to elicit the various behaviors you learn in class. It follows, then, that it’s also helpful for the most interested family members to attend training class. That can include kids, but make sure you bring only those kids whose attention spans are long enough and behavior is good enough, so that they don’t disrupt the class. Or bring a second adult or responsible teen who can take the kids out of class as needed for breaks.

I can’t stress this enough: Practice, practice, practice every single day!

Practice is rather like preparing the ground before transplanting a plant. It would be a shame to put a lovely purchased plant into soil that hasn’t been prepared in advance; it won’t be as successful as the plant that gets thoughtful fertilizing, watering, and of course is a good match for the soil and sun in the first place.

Between classes, it’s all up to you. Practice teaching your dog the behaviors you’ve learned in class many times a day – every day – in short, positive sessions. Puppies have short attention spans, so practice for a total of at least 15 to 45 minutes a day, in at least three sessions sprinkled throughout the day. Short and more-frequent sessions are better than fewer, longer ones; three 5- to 10-minute sessions provide better training than a single 15- to 30-minute session.

“Capture” and reward behaviors whenever you can. Is your puppy running to greet you? Super! Label it “Rover, come!” and reward her lavishly when she gets to you. Walking down the hallway with the puppy at your side? Label it “heel” (or whatever you’ll call nice, loose leash walking) and reward it! Keep working on your puppy’s name recognition, too, by brightly saying her name and rewarding her interest and attention with a delicious treat, a few moments of the kind of petting she likes best (belly rubs, neck massage, a nice scratching session at the top of her tail), and/or warm praise.

Use your everyday routines to remind you to practice with your puppy. Going to the end of the driveway to get the mail from the box? Bring your puppy on her leash.

That means an opportunity to sit nicely for attaching her leash and for opening the door. It also gives you the opportunity to reward her for reorienting (eye contact to you) after you’ve both stepped through the doorway. Then she gets to practice nice walking with you all the way to the mail box and back (with some cued sits, downs, eye contact, etc. along the way). When you get back to your door, you have another chance to have your puppy sit to await the cue to go through the door. And then she can offer a polite sit on the other side of the door before you let her free in the house again.

Wasn’t that a lovely little training session? Look at all the things it included as well as some nice exposure to a brief trip outdoors where the pup may have seen pedestrians, vehicles, birds, squirrels, airplanes overhead, etc. to give you a chance to reward her for calmly noticing things and turning her attention back to you. Playing with your dog in your fenced yard? Ask for some sits, downs, come, and some eye contact! Your dog’s reward might be a chance to chase a ball or chase you!

Most puppy training classes give the participants written homework to help them focus and remember. Use it. Don’t pull it out the night before class (or the hour before) and try to “cram” – that’s not how you’ll get the habits installed in your puppy. Practice every day in multiple short sessions.

If your puppy class doesn’t include everything you wished it did (and what class ever does?), read up on those other things and work on them yourself.

The class should teach you the principles of positive training with your puppy. Start applying them to behaviors beyond those taught in class! Puppies are like little sponges and learn so easily once we learn how to be clear with them and make it all fun.

Use your class time well and use your home time even more wisely. It’s an investment in your future with your dog. Unlike many of today’s investments, this is one almost guaranteed to bring rich returns for life.

Caryl-Rose Pofcher is a dog trainer based in Amherst, MA. As well as running her own dog training business, My Dog, LLC, she also trains for her local shelter, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and for the Collared Scholar dog training center. See “Resources,” for contact information.Getting the Most Out of Puppy Kindergarten

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