Tag Archive for: kids & dogs

Positive Training in Action: Down / Stay in the Kitchen (VIDEO)

Everybody wishes that their dog would have the impulse control to stay on his bed while the rest of the family is buzzing about the kitchen, getting food prepared for a meal.

We teach Relax on a Mat in our Puppy Kindergarten class. It’s a valuable skill because you can take it anywhere you go! PuppyK teacher Sarah Stoycos says that a friend of hers can even use a paper napkin as a “mat” and her dog will happily down-stay on it.

Here’s a great video of a child helping his puppy learn how to relax in the kitchen:

Video by The Family Companion, a positive training center in NY.

Notice two important things:

1) Nothing happens when the dog gets up. The child simply waits for the dog to offer the correct behavior (down on the mat) and rewards the dog.

Other trainers will tell you that you need to:

  • Say “no!” in a stern voice.
  • Jerk on the leash to correct the dog.
  • Press a remote to shock the dog with an e-collar.
  • Force the dog to return to the mat.

None of these things are necessary. Dogs will do whatever behavior benefits them the most. This pup is smart and you can see her thinking about what to do to get those treats!

2) The child is “proofing” the behavior. Many people forget this very important step to training. When you proof a behavior, you introduce other variables that may distract your dog into making a mistake.

In the video, you see the young trainer:

  • Opening the oven door
  • Opening a drawer
  • Opening the fridge
  • Walking around the kitchen

Each time the dog holds the correct position (down/stay on the mat), she gets a reward. This drives home the lesson that NO MATTER WHAT, down/stay on the mat is where the dog should be when in the kitchen.

Later on, they could increase the temptations:

  • Running around the kitchen
  • Pouring dog kibble in a bowl
  • Dropping food on the floor

Again, if the dog makes a mistake, nothing happens. (Be sure the dog cannot self-reward by grabbing the dropped food, though!)

When the dog returns to the mat, the rewards begin to flow again.

No force. No fear. Just a dog that understands her job and is happy to do it. This is positive training in action!

Human Space Invaders!

The article below is from Diamonds in the Ruff (www.diamondsintheruff.com), a website with terrific articles and tip sheets on all sorts of behavior issues.

hsi1Looming, leaning, reaching, showing teeth and staring – that’s how most humans greet dogs. 
The dog at left is showing his discomfort at this child’s greeting by lowering his head, flattening his ears, licking his lips,squinting his eyes, tucking his tail and lifting a paw. These are appeasement signals, not aggressive signals, but he is clearly saying to the child, “I’m really not enjoying this.”

Too much, too fast, too close. 
If the same child had turned sideways, squatted to the dog’s level and invited the dog into her own space, the dog’s response to the child would have probably been quite different.

Humans show their teeth when they are friendly! We lean forward and make direct eye contact which in dog language is a challenge. We kiss dogs on the face. How strange they must think we are!

hsi2Leaning over and looming is a threatening posture – even if you don’t mean it to be.
It causes the dog some distress which results in displays of calming signalsto diffuse your perceived aggression. Lowered head and ears, lip licking, averted squinting eyes. In dog-to-dog body language, standing over   and putting paws on shoulders is a very assertive, space invasive challenge. A dog might show appeasement or a frightened or defensive dog might respond by freezing, growling, lunging, snapping or biting.

hsi3In general, most dogs don’t like hugs.
They can learn to tolerate them and even welcome them from people they know and trust – and many dogs learn to enjoy it so much they may elicit hugs from their owners. But this doesn’t mean they will welcome the same from all family members and certainly not from total strangers – any more than you would want a stranger in an elevator to crowd you into a corner and get in your face.

Wrapping your arms around a dog’s neck is dangerous, not only because it is usually viewed as an unwelcome and threatening behavior when it comes from a stranger, but because it puts your face right near the dog’s pointy teeth! Another common and dangerous behavior of children: laying on a dog, gives the dog no avenue for escape – she’s trapped by the scary thing.

“My daughter was just trying to hug the dog and it BIT her! It was totally unprovoked!” Perhaps from the child’s point of view, but certainly not the dog’s!

It’s actually a tribute to dogs that they humor us and our erratic children-and that more of them don’t use their teeth to ward away our rude human advances.
Parents should instill a “no hugging any dog” rule for their children. If you make sure the children respect all dogs’ personal space, including their own family pet’s, they will be less likely to be bitten as the dogs they interact with won’t have to correct them.

For some reason we humans have a hard time remembering that even we have rules of intimacy, whom we allow to invade our personal space and when and  how.  We might slap someone for being too friendly.  Why is it so difficult to imagine that our dogs would feel the same?

Most bites to children occur on the face, not because dogs fly off the ground and attack kid faces, but because kid faces are attached to hug monsters.

This is what can happen when a dog’s subtle warnings go unheeded.





This is how a dog prefers to be greeted:  
Turned sideways, body language soft and relaxed, shoulders and head slightly lowered, weight shifted away, not towards, with soft squinty eye contact. Everything is inviting and non-threatening. Once a comfortable and trusting relationship has been built, a dog may love a hug!

hsi5 hsi6









hsi7Soft squinty eye contact, leaning away, scratching his chest, not reaching over his head. Notice the dog is returning the squinty eyes and soft facial expression.

Cheek to Cheek!

A “Tail” of Tolerance: How Much Can Your Dog Handle?

Written by E. Foley

We often speak about what human behaviors a dog “tolerates.” In the photo above, the dog is tolerating being hugged by the young child. How can we tell?

  • Eyes: Wide, can see the whites.
  • Ears: Back.
  • Mouth: Closed.
  • Body:  Stiff, leaning away from child.

We say the dog is “tolerating” being hugged because rather than flight (running away) or fight (biting), the dog is waiting for the hug to be over. He’s grinning and bearing it… without the grinning.

Humans and Tolerance

Humans are no stranger to this type of behavior. You tolerate the people in your life every day.

  • Your nit-picky boss who micromanages you
  • Your children who seem to create chaos wherever they go
  • Your mother-in-law who is always critical
  • Your spouse who has developed some weird quirks over the years

How Much Can You Handle?

The amount of your tolerance is related to the amount of love you have for the person (or in the case of your boss, the value of staying in that person’s good graces).

Here’s an example of tolerance in action!

Photo by Fuschia Foot

Photo by Fuschia Foot

You’re out shopping for some new pants. You grab a few pairs and head to the dressing rooms to try them on. You come out of your booth and walk to the big mirror to check out the fit when a complete stranger says, “Wow, your butt looks terrible in those.

How do you react?

Surprise. (Whoa. I wasn’t expecting feedback.)

Anger. (Who are you to judge my butt? Back off and let me judge myself.)

Confusion. (Why are you talking to me, stranger?)

Sadness. (Even strangers notice how wide my butt is. I need to go back to the gym.)

All of the above?

Now replay the scene, except in place of the complete stranger, insert your closest friend. How does your reaction change?

Because you’ve built a relationship with your friend, you can likely laugh it off. You have probably given your friend similar feedback when they were trying on clothes. And maybe, once you see your butt in the mirror, you can agree: your butt does look terrible in those pants.

If it’s a complete stranger, I’ll bet you were angry or upset, even if you didn’t act on those emotions.

Who is Your Dog’s BFF?

Your dog has a good relationship with you. You made training fun! You feed your dog, take him out, play with him, and give him attention. This has all cemented your best friend forever (BFF) status with your dog. If you have children and they have helped with training, prepared your dog’s dinner, or thrown a ball to play fetch, they are also on your dog’s BFF list.

Because of that status, your dog will tolerate the strange things you do. He might tolerate being hugged and kissed. He might tolerate being pet on the head.  He might tolerate being picked up.

He doesn’t like it, but he tolerates it because he loves you and trusts you.

It is important to remember that your dog may not tolerate those same activities from people who are not on his BFF list. While your toddler may have hugging privileges, your neighbor’s toddler does not. While you can pick up your small dog, a new groomer may be bitten. Watch your dog’s body language and remember that it is in everyone’s best interest to treat all dogs with respect.

…But What If?

Let’s go back to that shopping trip with your best friend. Imagine now that you’re shopping for black pants for a loved one’s funeral, and on top of that, you have a sinus headache. Oh, and the reason you’re shopping for black pants is because you’ve gained weight and no longer fit into the pair in your closet.

When your friend says, “Wow, your butt looks terrible in those pants,” does your reaction change?

Even thought you love your friend, your current state of mind puts you at a disadvantage. You’re not as tolerant because you’ve already used your emotional “spoons” on other things that day. You might snap at your friend. You might burst into tears. You might hold in your feelings at that moment and explode when you’re at home with your spouse. Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty!

My rescue dog, Titania, has significantly fewer spoons (i.e., less tolerance) when she’s not feeling well. Because she is a fearful dog, she already has the potential to bite strangers who approach her. We’ve worked on counter-conditioning since we adopted her and she has made great strides. Strangers can walk by us and she’ll give them an eye, but not react. And if a stranger approaches with a cookie, she’s willing to give them a shot at earning her friendship.

But if she’s not feeling well, that changes.

A sick Titania reverts back to the fear-reactive behaviors from when we first adopted her. She’s hypervigilant and will bark and lunge. Because I know she’s less tolerant when sick, we limit our social activities and play inside or in our back yard rather than going out.

Think About Your Dog

What situations deplete your dog’s “spoons” and thus, his ability to tolerate the strange things that humans do?

How can you adjust your daily routine to accommodate your dog if he’s having a bad day?

What are your dog’s signs of discomfort? Do your family members know how to spot them?

Links We Love for Dog Bite Prevention Week

National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2013, May 19-25

We’ve gathered together some of our favorite links about dog-human interaction for you today!

This week, May 19 – 25, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Dog bites change the lives of the people and dogs involved and many dog bites can be prevented through education.

Any dog can bite, even your family dog.

Bite Prevention Links

The Humane Society’s How To Avoid a Dog Bite is a quick overview of dog body language, what to do if you think a dog might attack, and what to do if you are bitten by a dog.

Doggone Safe’s Dog Bite Prevention Tips are a must-read for parents. They include the three most important things to teach your kids, two important steps for parents of children, and three most important things for parents of dogs. There’s even an interactive quiz at the end!

Trainer Colleen Pelar has been helping families love sharing their homes with dogs since 1991. She’s spoken at several of our free workshops and has an amazing website and book.

The Family Dog focuses on families with kids between 3-10 years old. Their mission is to ensure that every parent knows how to parent their kids around dogs and their dog around kids. Since the majority of bites come from a familiar dog (family or friend’s), the information needs to start at home. Serious lessons are presented through fun and games in the first online video based training program.

Local Educational Opportunity

Doggone Safe Dog Bite Prevention Program for Children

Most bites to children are by the family dog or other dog the child knows, and can be prevented through education. Doggone Safe has developed the Be a Tree™ program for primary school children. Children learn how to read dog body language and act safely around dogs.

This program is unique in its use of several different teaching strategies, including interactive games, its focus on physical activity, and its emphasis on positive messages.

Instead of telling children “don’t do this and don’t do that”, the Be a Tree™ program teaches them to make safe decisions based on the body language and actions of the dog.

Local trainer Hedda Garland, CPDT-KA, PMCT (www.schoolofdogs.com) is a registered Be a Tree™ presenter. For a Be a Tree™ presentation to your church, school, or scouting group, contact Hedda at [email protected] or 202-363-2310.