Warning Signs of a Potentially Aggressive Dog

Attacking Dogs Many times dogs owners are faced with behaviors from their canine friends that are a bit far from what would be expected from “man’s best friend.” Such behavior issues are often ignored or excused with phrases such as “he will grow out of it,” “it’s just a phase,” or “he only does it every now and then.” But sugar coating such issues does not help at all, rather in many cases, unwanted behaviors are more likely than not to escalate and get worse if left untreated.

It is very important to first have a veterinarian rule out any physical conditions, especially if the unwanted behavior appears to be out of the norm and appears suddenly. Sometimes even the most docile dogs can turn aggressive if they are in pain. A common scenario is a very well-tempered dog that suddenly snaps when its head is touched because of a painful ear condition. Another issue that may cause behavior changes is a condition called hypothyroidism. It is certainly worth talking to the vet about the possibility of the dog having this condition. All it takes to rule it out is a thyroid blood panel.Hormones may at times play a role in aggressiveness. Owners of an intact male dog may deal with aggressive behaviors, especially when their dog detects a female in heat nearby. While neutering may help a male dog have a better disposition, it is not really a cure-all for major behavioral problems that are not hormone related.

Signs of Potential Problems That Should Not Be Ignored

  • Growling

    Growling is a warning sign that should not be ignored. While growling should be appreciated because it indicates the dog will issue a warning before biting, a growl should not be underestimated, because it could indicate that the dog has a low level of threshold and requires help.
  • Biting

    Biting is of course the most obvious act of aggression a dog can express. It does not have to break the skin to be considered a significant event. Often owners start seeking help once the dog has bitten someone. However, in many cases, there have been warning signs of increased aggressive behaviors that have been ignored or were too subtle to be noticed by the inexperienced eye.

Situations and Behavior Most Likely to Lead to Aggression

Related to Feeding

  • Dogs that growl when they are eating.
  • Dogs that lift their lip and snarl while eating.
  • Dogs that get tense and tend to stop eating as you approach.
  • Dogs that growl when they are chewing a bone.
  • Dogs that steal food and get aggressive when anyone tries to retrieve it.
  • Dogs that respond aggressively when they are found scavenging the trash.

 Related to Sleeping

  • Dogs that growl if they’re forced off of a bed or couch.
  • Dogs that growl if they’re allowed on the bed and the owner moves too much.
  • Dogs that growl if they are awakened.
  • Dogs that growl if they’re touched while sleeping.

Related to Being Touched

  • Dogs that do not allow children to touch them.
  • Dogs that growl when they’re groomed or when having their nails clipped.
  • Dogs that dislike being touched on the head/shoulder area.
  • Dogs that do not like to be touched from above and being picked up.
  • Dogs that do not allow themselves to be medicated.

Related to Being Disciplined

  • Dogs that react aggressively to being reprimanded.

Related to Being Exposed to the Outdoors

  • Dogs that chase cars, small animals, joggers, bikers, etc.
  • Dogs that lunge towards other dogs or people.
  • Dogs that act aggressively towards strangers.
  • Dogs that growl if the owner touches another person (for example, shaking hands or hugging).

As seen, the signs are all out there. It is very harmful to ignore them altogether in the hopes that they will disappear. Unfortunately, many times, they will come back sooner than later and grow in intensity if they are not nipped in the bud. If your dog displays any of these signs please don’t try to solve them on their own; instead, consult with a veterinary behaviorist (DACVB), a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) or a dog trainer well versed in understanding dog behavior.

Why do Puppies Have Accidents?

Puppy accidents: No matter what your breeder and that promising book you have purchased have told you, they will occur in your home sooner or later. Potty training puppies (as with potty training children) takes patience and time, so unless you won a stuffed puppy at some carnival game, those bladder and bowels will empty no matter how carefully you stick to a puppy potty training program. As with many things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely isn’t true at all, and new puppy owners often team this the hard (and often frustrating) way.

Housebroken Puppies Ready for New Homes?

Yes, it’s true that many breeders implement some preliminary potty training basics when the puppies are in their care, but don’t expect to have all the homework done when your puppy comes home. Puppies have a hard time generalizing what they have learned in the breeder’s home. Just because a puppy was housetrained in the breeder’s place doesn’t necessarily mean hell be able to transfer the skill into a totally new context without help, explains Nicholas Dodman, in the book “First Step.” It would be more realistic if certain breeders would explain that their puppies were introduced to potty training and that the new puppy owners must continue the training from day one, and that yes ,they should expect some accidents along the way!

Potty Train Your Puppy in Under One Week?

Also, misleading is a new trend of books, e-books and videos with promising titles such as “How to Potty Train a Puppy in Under 7 Days.” Sure, this is an elective sales pitch, who wouldn’t dream of a puppy who learned how to potty outside in just under a week? So new puppy owners purchase the book, try to adhere to the program, and then get upset when they notice it isn’t working its magic. We can almost hear them say something along the lines of that? It’s day 8 and the puppy had an accident?” Turns out, titles like these will only lead to frustration.

Use this formula for Success?

Another common misleading statement that can lead to problems is the “puppy’s age in months + one rule.” This is something we hear trainers often repeat “ad nauseam” to their dients. The rule dictates the frequency a puppy should be taken out by calculating the puppy’s age in months and than adding one. So if the puppy was 3 months, you would add 1 and therefore the puppy should be taken out every four hours. This leads to frustrated puppy owners when they discover that their puppies are unable to make it through the whole four hours.

Unfortunately, potty training is not math, and equations as such will not work like magic. For instance, if the puppy had some rough play time, he’ll likely guzzle down a lot of water, and then in an hour or two, the Niagara falls will open, leading to “unexpected messes.” Also, young pups need to be taken out after they wake up from a nap or after playing. Last time we checked, puppy bladders didn’t have a counter, so irs not like the puppy’s bladder is counting down the minutes with the predictability of a kitchen timer.

Aunt Mary’s Training Was Easy as Pie?

Last but not least, be wary of aunt Mary who says her puppy was so smart she was potty trained in under 10 days.›She may not truly recall how long it really took (things from the past often seem far easier than they really were) or she may have missed some piddles. It’s not uncommon to hear some people say “oh, our Betsy was potty trained in what, 2 weeks?” and then the daughter remarks: “But mommy, did you forget atl those accidents we found later when we moved the couch?” It’s quite easy to miss little sprinkles from pint-sized dogs like

Chihuahuas and toy breeds, versus the Lake Michigan-tike puddles of a mastiff or Great Dane!

The Physiology Behind Puppy Accidents

  Aunt Mary knew it all.  

Potty training puppies is not something that will happen overnight. Puppy owners need to be patient, understanding and need to learn effective methods to help their puppies succeed. Better understanding the physiology behind puppy accidents can help new puppy owners understand why it’s so unrealistic to expect puppies to be potty trained in under a week, and why certain mathematical formulas should not be applied to things that are so unpredictable such as a puppy’s bladder and bowels!

to Sphincter Control

In dogs, and in any living being equipped with a bladder, urine is constantly accumulating. At a certain point, when the bladder is full and reaches its threshold, special stretch receptors in the bladder wall activate. This triggers the contraction of muscles of the bladder wall (detrusor muscles) which give the dog the sensation of having to urinate. When dogs acknowledge this sensation they may go to the door and bark to ask their owners to be let out. Control of the muscular sphincter found around the neck of the bladder allows them to hold the urine. Then, once out, they can relax the sphincter and urinate.

In young puppies, when the bladder wall contractions take place, they are unable to control the muscles of their sphincter, so emptying of the bladder occurs at this point. So the moment they realize they need to go, their bladders are already emptying. At what age do puppies attain sufficient muscle tone to allow them to control things a bit more? Stanley Coren, in his book “Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog,” claims that full control isn‘t reached until the puppy is 5 to 6 months old. So let’s do some real math here. If most puppies are 8 weeks when they go to their new homes, how can they already be house trained? And how can they be possibly be house trained in under one week?

The Gastroeolic Reflex

One main reason why the month plus one rule is faulty is because of the way a pup’s gastrocolic reflex works. Right after a meal, a dog’s gastrocolic reflex will increase the motility of the colon. This causes the rectum to fill up which stimulates the smooth muscle of the internal anal sphincter and the striated muscle of the external anal sphincter, explains Katherine A. Houpt in the book “Domestic Animai Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists.”

This means that shortly after eating, most puppies will have a need to defecate, which can set a puppy (whose owner adheres to the month plus one rule) up to fail. You can almost hear frustrated new puppy owners make statements as such: “I just sent my puppy out at 5 p.m., my puppy had the opportunity to defecate, but he didn’t. I then served him dinner when we came back in, and just an hour later, he had an accident on the carpet! Arrgh… Wasn’t he supposed to be able to hold it for 4 hours?” Being aware of the gastrocolic reflex can help new puppy owners attain success because they’ll send their pups out after their pup’s schedule meal times, which is when they’re more likely to defecate. Other times pups should be taken out is after a nap. Soon, puppies will learn to associate going outside with the act of eliminating, a win-win situation for all!

Einstein Says: Did you know? The veterinary term for the excretion of urine is “micturition.”

Barking at Other Triggers

Sure, we know that triggers such as the sound of the doorbell or the presence of critters can send a dog into a barking frenzy, but these aren’t the only possible culprits. Indeed, there are many other triggers that can cause barking behavior. For example. perhaps your dog starts barking when he sees strangers (animal or human) during walks or through the fence in the yard.

In this section we will cover how to deal with these situations.


In a dog’s dreamland, dogs would be free to roam and greet as many other dogs and people as they want, and everybody would be friends. In a real-life scenario, though, things are very different, and dogs are walked on leashes to keep everyone safe and out of trouble. This may lead to barrier frustration in dogs who are eager to go meet every stranger they see, but find themselves restrained by a leash. The result is a big barking explosion, a dog’s version of a toddler’s tantrum, which can make your dog seem aggressive. Yet those who know your dog well know for a fact that he is the friendliest pooch on earth who plays well at the park and is eager to make friends.

Course of Action:

How do you deal with this type of barking? Letting your dog go meet everyone may seem like an easy fix, but not everybody is willing to meet a dog who is barking his head off. And even if the person or other dog doesn’t seem to mind, you’ll be rewarding your dog’s barking behavior by letting him meet and greet anyone he wants to. As a result, it’s likely he’ll be pulling and barking even more next time!

The best way to tackle this problem is to make sure your dog has a chance to vent his energy before going on walks (by letting him play with an interactive toy such as a stuffed KONG, or playing brain games with him at home), and to up his obedience training by using these situations as a chance to practice heeling.

Einstein spots a dog he wants to meet and I ask him to “heel.”

This means every time your dog sees another dog or person he wants to meet, ask him to “heel” (as taught in Heeling & Attention Heeling from the Brain Training for Dogs course), and heavily reward his attentiveness to you. This makes for a more polite dog and a flashy “attention heeling” type of behavior that will make other owners compliment you on how well trained your dog is. Win-win!


If while on a walk your dog barks at strangers (animal or human), it doesn’t always mean he wants to meet them. Some dogs don*t want to have anything to do with strangers and their barking is a distance-increasing signal that says “stay away!” This behavior is often seen in dogs who weren’t socialized enough and dogs with a history of negative experiences with strangers. This type of reactive barking isn’t that uncommon, either. If you find yourself walking your dog more and more at the wee hours of the night to avoid strangers, you may be wondering what to do about it. Here are a few options.

Course of Action:

To better control your dog, invest in a front-attachment harness and use it in place of a collar. This piece of equipment will help you to maintain control of your dog so you feel less vulnerable about being dragged down the street. Then, work on creating positive associations with strangers, starting at a distance from where your dog doesn’t react. When your dog is under threshold, he’ll find it easier to pay attention and respond to you.

So how do you build these positive associations? Every time your dog sees a stranger from a distance, make a smacking sound with your mouth (as described in the Look into My_by             game from the Brain Training for Dogs course), and give him a tasty treat. With time, your dog will get the idea that seeing a stranger equals treats, which should help to reduce the barking episodes.

For safety and proper implementation of behavior modification, consult with a dog trainer or dog behavior consultant.

I give Petra a treat whenever she sees a stranger. Over time she begins to associate strangers with good things threats!) and stops barking.

Resource Guarding

Last but not least, some dogs see their owners as a valuable possession worthy of guarding. Just as if they were guarding a big bag of food, some dogs will bark and lunge at any stranger—animal or huma who dares to come close to tneir valuable owners. This form of jealous” barking can be quite problematic, especially when meeting dogs who are off leash or not kept under good control by their owners.

Dogs who exhibit this type of behavior typically do well around strangers until the owner is around, at which point they suddenly start snarling and growling. Often these dogs won’t care much about strangers on watks until the strangers come too close and invade the dog’s personal


Course of Action:

You can remedy this behavior by teaching the dog to associate strangers with good things. To do this, the dog should be given a treat whenever a stranger approaches. When the stranger goes away, the dog is ignored and no more treats are given. With time, the jealous dog should learn that great things happen when strangers approach, which should reduce the barking, growling, and lunging behavior over time. For serious cases, consult with a dog behavior professional.


Whether a dog is defending his herd of sheep, his owner’s yard, or the home, territorial behavior takes place mostly within a designated area he perceives as being his territory. Therefore, the main factor that distinguishes this type of behavior from others is the fact that it usually happens around the home. It‘s not always a home, though. Some dogs will also defend the car, a crate, or certain areas on walks where the dog spends a lot of time. Generally dogs start barking to protect their turf at the onset of adolescence, which occurs at around six months of age, depending on the breed.

The way dogs defend their territory depends on several factors. Age, breed, genetics, and the level of socialization and training the dog has received are all possible factors.

Some dogs bark mainly to alert their owners to an intrusion. Once the owners acknowledge the bark and check the area, the barking often stops. Many dogs bark when guests arrive dut calm down once those guests enter the home; however, some dogs may still keep an eye open if they don’t trust the guests.

In some cases, a dog left alone in the yard to fend for himself will feel insecure due to a lack of owner guidance. You’ll likely see the dog bark, run along the fence line, growl, and even make himself appear bigger by raising his hackles to scare the intruder away.

What emotions contribute to a territorial dog? A component of fear is often present in territorial behavior. Dogs who are fearful or weren’t socialized much may not like having their safe haven invaded and may feel threatened by outsiders. These are dogs who will nervously pace, bark, and act restless until the intruder is gone in an attempt to protect an area they perceive as being crucial to their safety and survival.

Course of Action:

The best course of action is to reduce territorial barking through management. I like to catl it “magical management” because it can accomplish a lot. In this case it means managing your dog’s environment to prevent a rehearsal of unwanted behavior. There’s a finale to management. Its purpose is to prevent your dog from acting out problem behavio              at least until he has learned better behaviors.

Below you will find a number of methods to “magically manage” territoriality in dogs.

Territoriality: Managing Behavior in Indoor Dogs

Indoor dogs who bark at people or at other dogs passing by the window should first be provided with exercise and more mental stimulation, and then should be prevented from accessing windows unsupervised (at least until they have learned better behaviors). Covering the windows is a good way to prevent a dog from rehearsing unwanted barking behaviors. There are many privacy window covers available that make windows Iook nice while preventing your dog from barking at passing triggers all day. Blinds and curtains often don‘t work, as dogs may still detect movement and can easily move them aside with their muzzles. Despite this, those coverings can be useful tools for behavior modification in difficult dogs (see the Look at That game in the Brain Training for Dogs course).

Dogs who are reactive toward noises do best being kept in a room far from the road, with a blowing fan or switched on radio/TV nearby to drown out any outside noises. When left alone, these dogs should be walked and exercised first, then left with a safe interactive toy, such as a stuffed KONG, to keep them busy.

Territoriality: Managing Behavior in Outdoor Dogs

Erecting privacy fences can be a good investment for overly territorial dogs. The best solutions are brick walls for those owners who can afford them, or wooden privacy fences with no gaps between the pickets.

Some fencing options such as bamboo walls, wooden fences with room between each picket, and (most) chain-link fences with slats do not work well since dogs can still detect movement through them. In fact, these types offences can actually make territorial barking worse in dogs who bark at things which they can detect but not see completely.

Territoriality: Behavior Modification Program

We now go to the meaty part of this section, which aims to change the dog’s behavior. A good start is to teach the dog to be calm, and to reward his calm behavior. For both indoor territoriality and outdoor territoriality, this involves several steps:

Step 1: Work Under Threshold

How many times have you tried stopping your dog from barking or tried using a command, only to have it fall on deaf ears? Most likely that’s because you dog is overly aroused and therefore unable to pay attention. How would you feel if there was a burglar trying to jump your fence and your mom was asking you to fix your messy hair? You would probably tall your mom “Hey, Mom, there are more important things going on!” That’s exactly how your dog may feel.

  Here is an example ofa bad fencing option. The gaps between the pickets allow a dog to detect movement and can thus worsen barking.  

To train around distractions during training sessions, or to change behavior when there’s excessive fear or arousal, you‘ll need to take small steps and work with your dog under threshold. This often entails adding distance. To do this, put your dog on a leash and let him see triggers from a distan      rhaps from the window or from the fence. If the distance is right, he should acknowledge the triggers but not react to them. When your dog is at a distance that’s far enough for him to remain calm, he can become desensitized. Conversely, when he’s too close to the triggers, he can become sensitized. This is why your dog’s distance from a trigger can mean the difference between improving and worsening his behavior.

Einstein and I work on the .Look at That game from the Brain Training for Dogs course. Here, I am holding him on leash at a distance from the window while he looks at triggers. From this distance he does not react, which earns him a reward. Over time I gradually move closer and closer to the window with him.

In desensitization, your dog is exposed to less-intense versions of the triggers that arouse him, which makes them easier to accept. If you’re scared of spiders, you’ll likely do better if your therapist has you looking at one walking across the room than at one crawling on your arm! In sensitization, your dog is exposed to more-intense versions of his triggers, which makes them harder to accept. This should be avoided. If you’re scared of spiders, putting one on your arm will likely increase your fear of them, and you may even want to quit therapy!

Step 2: Use Classical Counterconditionine

Don’t let this tern intimidate you; it just means changing your dog’s emotional response to triggers through pleasant associations. Back to your spider phobia: How would you feel if every time you saw a spider, a $100 bill fell from the sky? Most likely you would want them around you more and more!

My variation on Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at That” game (seen here) is one of my favorite exercises for changing a dog’s emotional response to triggers. In this game, you let your dog see triggers from the window, and every time he sees one, you make a smacking sound and feed him a treat!

  “Look at That’ from the Brain Training for Dogs course helps your dog weave pleasant associations with the sight of triggers.  

Step *: Use Differential Reinforcement

Do you remember when we spoke about how a dog may stop listening to you if he senses a real threaf? Well, now that your dog’s emotions toward outdoor triggers have changed, he should be able to put on his listening ears—and you can start implementing diPerential reinforcement, which is where you reinforce any behavior other than the barking.

To do this, every time your dog sees a trigger, ask him to “sit,” then when he sits, give him a high-value treat. Alternatively, you can ask him to come to you, and then give him the treat when he reaches you, or even tell him to go to a mat and give him the treat when he gets to the mat. Regardless of what you ask him to do, the take-home message for your dog is the same: “Every time the trigger pops up, my owner asks me to do something and I get a treat.”

Consult with a Professional in Severe Cases

Behavior modification comes with risks. If a dog is overly aroused while barking and defending his territory, he could become dangerous. This is why you sometimes see dogs fighting when they see a trigger—they just get so worked up that their adrenaline starts pumping and they redirect this energy on each other, which triggers a scuffle. Humans could also find themselves on the receiving end of redirection. For example, if your dog is overty aroused and you touch him or interfere, this can put you at risk of getting bitten. This is why your best bet is to consult with a professional. A professional will help to keep your dog under threshold so your dog is calmer and you are safer. Professionals indude dog trainers well versed in behavior modification techniques, and specialists such as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) or Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). Avoid professionals who use pain or intimidation; you want your dog to trust you and Iook forward to seeing triggers without stress.

Healing & Attention Healing

Objective: Your dog must learn to stick to (or come to) your side on cue, and learn to remain at your side while making eye contact on cue.

You Will Need:

Treats Leash

Collar (or front-attachment harness)

Do you walk your dog or does your dog walk you? If the latter sounds all too familiar, you may be interested in teaching your dog to heel. The “heel” cue has many uses. It can help you keep your dog under control when you’re walking near distractions (for example, when you’re walking past other dogs at the vet’s office or walking past a squirrel). It can also help you succeed in canine competitions like Rally

Obedience or Canine Musical Freestyle. It can even come in handy during some of our brain games, as it teaches your dog to stick by your side instead of prancing around all over the place.

In order to train your dog to heel, you will need only a collar or harness, a leash, and some tasty treats. A front-attachment harness, also known as a “no-pull* harness, works wonderfully for strong, large dogs. What distinguishes this type of harness from other harnesses is that the leash clips to a front ring, which allows for better control. Some popular makes are the SENSE-ible@ harness, the Freedom harness (by 2 Hounds Designs), and the Walk Your Dog With Loved harness.

Einstein’s Tip: If possible, avoid using retractable leashes, which extend every time your dog pulls. These leashes teach your dog to pull even more!

How to Train Heeling

When you begin training your dog to heel, take him to a large room, or to a long hallway with enough Space to accommodate both you and your dog walking side by side.

Once you’re in the large room or hallway with your dog, attach the leash to his collar or harness and hold some tasty treats, letting them protrude from your fingers so he can see them.

Now, holding the treats by your side at your dog’s nose height, begin walking with your dog, praising and rewarding him continuously when he’s beside your leg. This area beside your leg is known as the “reward zone” and it’s where you want your dog to be when you’re walking.

  I attach the leash and walk with Einstein down a long hallway. When he is beside my leg I continuously give him treats and praise.  

As the name suggests, a dog will need to be in the reward zone in order to get praise and treats!

If your dog moves out of the reward zone and bolts off, stop

walking and hold a treat by your side (in the reward zone) as a lure. Make sure it’s clearly visible between your fingers. If you do it right, your dog should return to your side to get the treat when he sees it. Once he returns to your side, praise him and give him the treat, then resume the walk.

After a while, continue to practice the exercise, but instead of letting the treats protrude from your fingers, keep them hidden in a dosed fist, treat bag, or pocket. This will reduce your dog’s dependence on the sight of food so he walks by your side even when he doesn’t see a treat dangling by your side!

Once your dog gets good at sticking by your side, you can add the verbal cue “heel.”

To do this, say “heel” while your dog is in the reward zone just before you praise, and then reward him so he teams that it means “stick to my side.” After doing this several times, your dog will begin returning to your side for a treat whenever you say “heel.”

While Einstein is at my side I say feel,” then give him a reward.

As your dog gets good at returning to your side when you say “heel,” you can really kick things up a notch by asking him to “heel” indoors without the leash on. Be sure to give him plenty of praise and rewards if he manages to successfully return to your side without the leash on.

You can also practice heeling outdoors in the yard, either on leash or with the leash off if your yard is well fenced and secured. It’s a good idea to use higher-value treats such as plain cooked chicken morsels when training outside, because all the sounds, sights, and smells of the great outdoors will be competing for your dog’s attention.

After enough practice, you will be able to get your dog to heel on real walks and impress all the other owners at the park with your welk behaved dog!

Troubleshooting Problems

One of the biggest challenges encountered by owners of dogs who pull or bolt ahead is keeping their dog under control despite the presence of strong distractions such as other dogs, small animals, or people. If that’s the case, work with your dog under threshold. To do this, you should first start to walk with your dog at a distance from these distractions (but make sure he still notices them) until he learns to remain

calm. As long as he stays in the reward zone, despite spotting these distractions, continue to praise and reward him with tasty treats. With time, you can gradually practice heeling while moving closer and closer to these distractions.

Einstein’s Tip: If your dog has lots of energy and he tends to pull a lot on walks, try exercising him before going on walks. Play a game of fetch or try playing some brain games with him so he gets a chance to blow off some steam.

Increase the Challenge (Attention Heeling)

As your dog gets good at walking by your side, you may want to start asking him to also look up at you as you walk, which is known as “attention heeling.”

Before we start, you will need to teach your dog the Look into gang.

Once your dog masters “Look into My Eyes,” say “heel” to get him to come to your side (just as we learned earlier on this page), and begin walling. After a few steps, if he sticks by your side, make your smacking sound and took down at him while continuing to walk. If he remains at your side and makes eye contact, praise him and give him a treat!

Once your dog becomes comfortable with this exercise, try it indoors without the leash. Once he masters that, try it with the leash on in the yard or on real walks!

If your dog gets really good at this, you can even try doing a few steps of

When you’re finished with the training session, reward him with a treat, a game

of tug, or simply let him go back to sniffing around the yard if that’s his favorite


  Einstein sticks by my side off of his leash. I make my smacking sound from “Look into My Eyes” and he looks up at me, despite the distractions of the great outdoors!  

Attention heeling can come in handy in many situations, such as when you want to direct your dog’s attention away from a trigger.


Counterconditioning does not relate only to dogs; this behavior modification technique is also used in human psychology and with other species. But what exactly is counterconditioning and how can it help your dog? If you are passionate about dog behavior or are looking for a durable, effective and gentle method to turn Cujo into Good Dog Charles, keep reading.

As a dog trainer/behavior consultant, nothing intrigues me more than changing dogs, altering their behavior and changing their emotions from the inside out. 1 tend to see barking lunging/growling as the outward manifestations of an inward turmoil that needs to be addressed. If you have a dog that is reactive towards something, be it another dog, strangers or some other stimuli in his environment, you should not worry about suppressing the outward manifestations, but rather change the underlying emotions. As you work on this, the outward manifestations will fade and extinguish over time.

If, for instance, you are fearful of spiders and seek the aid of a psychologist, he will likely never dream of covering your mouth to make you stop screaming when you see a spider on your

am; rather, he would try to make spiders look less threatening and perhaps help you associate spiders with good things. How would you feel if every time you saw a spider, a $100 dollar bill fell from the sky? Most likely, you would iook forward to encountering more and more spiders! In the same way, counterconditioning can help your dog.

Let’s look deeper into this…

What Does Counterconditioning Mean?

To put it in layman turns, counderconditioning is simply teaching your dog to associate something he hates with good things. So if your dog is manifesting an unwanted behavior, lefs say growling at strangers, you will work on changing this response by associating the stimulus of the strangers with positive things… For example, perhaps every time your dog sees a stranger you give him one of his favorite treats. Sooner or later he will begin to look forward to seeing strangers because he associates them with getting treats!

How Does Counterconditioning Apply to Your Dog?

Now, there is no doubt that dogs learn through associations. Just think about how many things your dog does in response to a certain stimulus because he has learned what comes next. Here are a few examples:

When you get your leash, your dog likely gets excited because he knows he is going on a watk. When you grab the food bowl, your dog may start pacing in anticipation of his meal.

When your dog hears the doorbell, he may start barking because he knows you are having 9uests.

When your dog sees you grab your purse and car keys, he may get anxious knowing you are about to leave. When your dog sees the clicked, he may get happy knowing that a training session is about to begin.

In a similar fashion, your dog may have learned to associate something negative with a particular stimulus. Let’s take a look at some examples:

If your dog is afraid of thunderstoms, he may have learned to associate subtle changes in the static electric field with an upcomin8 storm.

If your dog is worried about guests, he may have learned to associate the doorbell with guests.

If your dog was attacked by another dog, he may have learned to associate their presence with bad things.

If you have roughly grabbed your dog by the collar, your dog may starts associating touchin9 him by the neck area with the unpleasant sensation.

If your dog has slipped on a slippery floor, he may associate slippery surfaces with the mishap.

Many times, you will never know what triggered these negative associations. Some dogs may be extremely sensitive, their fear may be genetically based or the issues may even stem from a health problem, so it can be difficult to determine exactly what culprit has caused them to react in a negative way to something. For instance. not atl dogs that are fearful of men have been abused by men. Many times they just find men scary because of their deeper voices and postures. Not all dogs that are scared of umbrellas have had a bad experience with one, it may simply be they are frightened by their shape and were never exposed to them.

Fear, hiding, barking, and pacing are often self-reinforcing behaviors. Why? Because they are part of survival and linked to the fight or flight response — basically, withdrawing from the trigger (flight) or sending the trigger away (fight). If your dog believes these behaviors have worked to keep himself safe, they will continue. If, for instance, your dog hides under the bed at the first rumble of thunder and nothing bad happens to him, he will repeat the hiding behavior. If your dog lunges at the pizza delivery guy and the guy immediately leaves, your dog will repeat the lunging behavior.

In counterconditioning you will be working on undoing these learned associations and creating new ones, and as your dog unleams these associations and learns the new ones, the outward manifestations will gradually become less intense, and eventually go away. If we dissect the word “counterconditioning,” indeed it means “unleaming” a negative association and substituting it witfi a positive association. I like to compare the process to removing spyware and other harmful data from a computer by installing a more reliable antivirus program that makes your computer function better.

How Do You Counterconditioning Your Dog?

Just as in the example before in which money fell from the sky every time the patient suffering from arachnophobia saw a spider, in the same way Y or dog will get treats (the best equivalent)

for human currency) every time he sees a stranger/hears a rumble of thunder/sees another dog/hears the doorbell etc.

The best way to countercondition a dog is to combine it with desensitization and work with your dog under threshold. Basically, you make the threatening stimulus less intimidating by making it smaller or quieter, or by increasing the distance between the stimulus and the dog. If you are afraid of spiders, you will likely be less scared if you are shown a picture of one rather than the real thing!

When counterconditioning is combined with systematic desensitization, you have a very powerful combination. Yet, using both these behavior modification techniques requires some knowledge, such as recognizing subtle sjgns of.stress, which is why they are best done under the guidance of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist or a dog trainer well-versed in dog behavior.

So how do you countercondition and desensitize a dog? Let’s make an example. If your dog is fearful of thunder, you will likely play a recording of thunder at a low volume while feeding him chicken or hot dogs (preferably low-sodium). When the recording stops, you stop feeding hot dogs. Then you gradually move on to playing the recording slightly louder each time as you continue feeding the hot dogs. It is important to make sure that your dog makes the association that the sound is what brings the hot dogs. To learn more about this, read my article about Open Bar/Closed Bar training.


Once your dog pairs the sound with something good happening, the magic happens: Instead of getting agitated, your dog will start looking at you for a piece of hot dog!

The same methods can be applied to just about anything your dog fears/dislikes/reacts to. For instance, after moving to a new place my dogs started barking at an old, rusty school bus that passed by our house every day at 3:00 PM. Scolding them for barking in this case would not help, since it would not change the emotions caused by the bus.

Actually, scolding would only exacerbate the fear since they would then not only worry about the bus, but also about being scolded on top of that! So since I knew the time the bus came by, I had a pouch with treats ready each day. Once the bus came, I would feed treats, but once the bus was away, I stopped feeding them. I even put this behavior on cue after a while by saying something like “its the old, rusty school bus, yay!”just before the bus arrived, and they would wag their tails in anticipation of the treats! The bus noise now became an anticipated event as we threw a party when it passed; a win-win situation for all!

Eating, partying and playing are incompatible with fear, so they all work well to change a dog’s negative emotional response replacing it with different feelings and different activities.

And Now Some Counterconditioning Mistakes…

Here are some common mistakes that could be holding back your counderconditioning efforts:

Using low-value treats. You would learn to like spiders more if they gave you $100 bills versus pennies!

Using those treats for other reasons. You need to only use those extra tasty treats exclusively for counlerconditioning sessions.

Working with your dog way over threshold. If your dog is too aroused, his cognitive functions shut down and he may even refuse to take treats.

Poisoning the cue. For instance, if I said “it’s the old, rusty bus* too early in the process when my dogs had not yet formed enough positive associations with it, saying those words could easily become a predictor of bad things and actually increase the arousal, aven before they heard the sound of the bus.

Having a dog focus too much on the food. You need to have your dog acknowledge the trigger rather than continuously eating treats and

paying no attention to anything happening around him!

Going too quickly through the process. Changing behavior takes time. Failing to go back a few steps from where you left off in the previous session.

Failing to go back a few steps if the dog suffers a setback. For example, using the example of the thunder recording, if your dog suffers a setback and freaks out, it’s important to turn things down a notch by decreasing the volume slightly and working up from there.

Failure to make sessions random and varied. Some dogs get used to a certain routine. If you knock the door every few seconds, your dog may learn that treats happen within that interval. So to make things work, at random times of the day knock the door and give the treat. Einstein Says: If your dog is aggressive or obey reactive, please consult with a dog behavior professional. By reading this attitude, you accept this disclaimer.


How do you desensitize a dog and how does systematic desensitization work on changing behavior in your canine companion? If you are here, most likely you own a dog that has developed a strong emotional response to certain stimuli in his environment. Anxiety, fear, aggression or excitement, may be the underlying emotions at play, while barking, lunging,

pacing, snarling or shaking are the outward manifestations of such emotions. Whether your dog responds negatively to people at the door, the sight of other dogs, or thunder, the process of desensitization may be effective if you introduce it correctly and know how to reap its benefits.

  If your dog is scared of water don’t food“ him, go gradually.  

So what exactly is desensitization? Desensitization is a form of behavioral therapy used in the field of human psychology, but it is effective in animals as well. Its primary function is to present the frightening stimulus in such a way that it appears less intimidating.

For instance, if you suffer from arachnophobia (fear of spiders), most likely a therapist will have you take a look at pictures of spiders, he will never start out by placing you in a bathtub full of

them! This gradual approach, where the frightening stimulus is presented in a less frightening way, is what desensitization is all about.

The process of desensitizing a dog is therefore implemented while keeping the dog under threshold so he can cognitively function and learn. To team more about threshold levels please read this article. What this means is that your dog is exposed to the smallest version of the frightening stimulus, just enough to detect and create awareness of it, but not so much that he freaks out. Back to the arachnophobia example, if you saw a picture of a spider, most likely your heart would not race and you would be less likely to scream than if you had one crawling on your arm!

Sensitization and Desensitization in Dogs

How and why is a dog likely to react to certain stimuli he or she perceives as frightening/exciting/arousing? Let’s imagine for a moment that your dog is a puppy. The first spring storm comes through and he doesn’t seem to mind the thunder. Then another storm rolls in a week later and a strong rumble of thunder startles him. About 15 minutes later another loud rumble comes and your dog runs to hide under the bed.

Because running under the bed makes your dog feel safe, this behavior will self-reinforce (strengthen and repeat).

He will now continue seeking the bed every time he hears thunder. Because of the continuous rehearsal of this behavior along with nothing bad happening to your dog (after all, when he hides he makes it through the stom with no harm), the behavior puts down roots, and soon you have a pretty reliable behavioral problem: You have a dog scared of thunder… Actually, not only is he scared of thunder, he has learned to start getting frightened at the very first signs of a storm rolling in. Yes, dogs are very good at sensing drops in barometric pressure, vibrations, and subtle changes in the static electric field preceding a storm, according to Alex Liebar. And because dogs live through associations, they soon learn to pair these changes with the upcoming storm.

So what happened? If the dog didn’t care much about the thunder initially, but got scared at a later time due to the stimulus being more intense, most likely the dog became “sensitized” to it. Sensitization is the opposite of desensitization. Let’s think of it another way: You could go your whole life not minding spidem too much if you only ever encountered tiny money spiders on your arms, but one tmumatic experience of a tarantula crawling over your face and perhaps even biting you could leave you traumatized and frightened of spiders for life!

While a dog can become sensitized to a stimulus, it is also true that a dog can become desensitized to it, so the process can be systematically reversed. In other words, a stimulus that becomes more intense, more frightening, more intimidating is more likely to lead to sensitization, whereas, a stimulus that becomes less intense, less frightening and less intimidating is more likely to lead to desensitization.

For this reason, should you decide to desensitize your dog to a stimulus, you must make sure you have a pretty good program with good under the threshold exposure, because sloppy desensitization risks leading to sensitization. Sloppy in this case means sudden exposure to intense stimuli, rather than gradual, subde increments of intensity. When you suddenly expose your dog to too much intensity, it is known as “flooding.°

What if There Is No Way to Work Under Threshold?

In some unusual circumstances, you may notice that you cannot find a a way to work with your dog under threshold, either because your dog’s reactivity levels are too high, or because the environment you are working in allows no distance from the trigger. What should you do in such cases?

In such a case, you have some options:

Walk the dog for an hour prior to the desensitization session. When tired, some dogs are tess likely to be reactive.

Find a calming aid to take the “edge off” so your dog will be less aroused. In some cases, Thundershirt, Storm Defender or an Anxiety Wrap may be helpful.

For severe cases, ask your veterinarian for advice. Your dog may need medication/supplements and a behavior modification program with a behavior professional.

Find the highest value treats and use counterconditioning along with desensitization (highly recommended).

So How Can You Desensitize a Dog?

Curious to see a step-by-step process on how to desensitize a dog? Let’s take a peak. In this example, let’s say your dog is reactive to door knocking. We saw this in the Behavior Training for Dogs .course, but here is a gradual 9tep-by-step guide:

Start knocking on a table far away from the door very lightly, if your dog barks, you need to knock more lightly, almost light enough to not be noticed.

A dog to the Sound Of knocking on the door, as seen on this

If your dog does not react, you can proceed and make the knocking louder. If your dog barks, you need to knock more lightly.

Start knocking in areas closer to the door. At increasingly louder levels as before. As always, if your dog reacts, you are going too fast for his comfort, so start at a lower level of intensity.

Then start knocking the door from inside. Start lightly, and then gradually knock louder.

Once your dog doesn*t mind this, begin to knock from behind the door; start lighdy and then gradually knock louder.

Because all these knocks were not accompanied by a guest entering the home, they are gradually becoming less relevant and more meaningless. In order for desensitization to have an effect in this case, the number of knocks with no guests coming over has to outnumber the number of knocM resulting in guests arriving.

As much as desensitization may appear like an effective way to get a dog to become less reactive, it may not always deliver the promising results you’re hoping for. In the book “Excelerated Learning,” Pamela Reid explains how a dog may appear to be desensitized to repeated doorbell ringing, but then should the door bell ring after a break of 20 minutes, the franctic barking starts all over. This is why I

avoid using desensitization alone and prefer to power it up with counterconditioning. In counterconditioning, every knocking sound results in a treat delivered to your dog. Over time your dog learns that knocking is a signal that good things are coming — treats!

Einstein Says: If your dog is suffering from behavioral problems, please consult with a behavior professional.

Attacking the Mailman

It’s a common cliché: the mailman arrives every morning and Rover starts viciously barking, snarling and bunging at the gate. The cliché is so common that mail men have started attending seminars on how to deal with the issue, and began carrying products to keep dogs away, though the use of these products seem to make the aggression worse. But what triggers this reaction in dogs and why do so many dogs (even the seemingly friendly breeds) seem to hate the mailman?

The anger is often not strictly reserved to the mailman… The Fedex and UPS guys are affected as well, and so are plumbers, gardeners, pizza delivery guys and many other employees who routinely visit your home. What do all these people have in common? And most of all, what can be done to reduce this behavior? Let’s start by taking a look at why dogs don’t like these people to start with.

  The sight of the USPS van is enough to send some dogs into a frenzy.  

Five Reasons Why Dogs Hate the Mailman

Insider story: We live in an era where dogs can be a big liability, and a dog bite can easily cost your home, the life of your dog and your reputation. My two big Rottweilers weighing over 90 pounds are very fond of our mailman and have even licked and greeted my landlord who one day just popped into our property out of nowhere, climbed over the fence and started painting our home! Things could have gone really, really bad if I didn’t train my dogs to accept the mailman and visitors coming to the home. But shhhh.. Don’t tell anyone! While my dogs are two big love babies, their size and black and tan suit is only a deterrent; we have an ADT home security system to take care of the rest!

Issue 1: Trespassing Territory

For starters, from a dog’s perspective, mail men, pizza guys and plumbers are all people trespassing property. Many dogs (especially certain breeds) have a predisposition for passively alert barking or engaging in actively protecting territory. While the dog may appear for the most part angry, there may be a base of fear. This tendency possibly dates back to a dog’s past in the wild when the dog’s ancestors formed packs and perceiv’ed any invaders as a threat to their resources. They had to protect the pack’s resources such as food, sexual mates ana newDom pups from invading animals. Urine marking was one way to mark the area with a sniffable “do not trespass sign”. Trespassers who ignored the scent markings, were alerted to back off through barks, and then if this did not work, a more active form of aggression took place, leading to an attack.

When dogs were domesticated, the dog’s protective nature was further appreciated. These dogs alerted people in villages about dangers such as predator animals or enemies. Nowadays, many dogs are still appreciated for their alarm barks. Yet, a more active role is often frowned upon due to its potential for liability.

Note: Never try to train a dog to become a guardian dog on your own; the issue may backfire fhe day you are hurt in your home and paramedics cannot access your home without facing Cujo. Rather, accept a few alert barks, thank your dog and then take over. Let your dog know that it’s not his responsibility to decide who enters or exits your property, the decision is yours.

Issue 2: Mailmen Keep Coming Back!

The whole barking behavior is highly reinforcing for the dog. If every time Rover barks, the mailman leaves (most do sooner or later) he gets relief. Put yourself in Rover’s shoes: let’s say you don’t like cats around your property, so every time you see one coming, you make a hissing sound. Most fike)y, since the cat leaves, you’ll feel compelled to repeat the hissing sound. But what happens that day you deal with a bolder

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cat that cares less about your hissing sound? Most likely, you’ll try something else, you’ll hiss and stomp your feet loudly as you move in the cat’s direction. Tada! So, now, you’ll hiss and stomp next time.

So don’t expect the initial barking to just stop there! Since the mailman keeps coming back day after day, don*t feel surprised if Rover starts thinking: what part of my barking you don’t understand? I’m telling you to go away. Ok, let me start showing my teeth too and see if it works!

Issue 3: Release oT Addicting Chemicals

You may not be aware of this, but fear or anger in your dog causes the release of several chemicals in the dog*s brain. The whole experience can be highly reinforcing and even physiologically addictive. Fear is known for producing adrenal›n, whereas, anger causes the secretion of adrenalin and another hormone known as noradrenalin, explains James O’ Heare in his book “The Canine Aggression Workbook.” This chemical bath can be quite addicting, which is also a contributing factor to why you see aggressive behaviors repeat over and over.

Issue 4: The Behavior Becomes Habitual

What happens when the dogs get to rehearse this behavior over and over? It becomes a habit. Dogs are habitual creatures and they engage in behaviors that work. If you combine the three issues mentioned above together, you’ll understand why the behavior of barking at the mailman becomes almost reflexive. Your dog doesn’t seem to think twice about it; just the sight or the voice of the mai1 carrier is enough to send him into a frenzy.

Issue 5: The Behavior Generali2es

Dogs can generalize fear and aggression quite easily. Your dog starts barking at the maiiman, then as days go by, your dog starts barking at the sound of the truck honking, and then he’ll bark at the mere sound of the truck approaching your property. Soon you’ll have a dog that not only barks at the mailman, but also barks to all the cues suggestine his arrival. As we discussed before, he may also decide one day to generalize further and bark even at the plumber, the gardener and the firefighters coming to save your cat from the tree. Just as a tiny spark can create a big fire, your dog*s behavior can really get out of hand. So Iet*s take a look at how to tackle this issue.

How to  Train Your Dog to Accept the Mailman

As you can see, postal workers have thelr own very good reasons for being concerned when they come by your house. If Rover turns into Cujo the moment you’ve got mail, these tips may be quite helpful.

Start Early

You can’t start early enough for this type of training. Place a nice cookie into your mail box and tell your mailman to deliver it to your dog every morning. This will create positive associations towards the mailman. This way, your pup will grow to love him and will be eager to see him each day!

Prevent Rehearsai of Behavior

If you missed the boat, and failed to make your mailman the perfect representation of a friendly man, then you have some b’e homework to do. The first step is to prevent a rehearsal of aggressive behavior. As mentioned, aggressive behavior is reinforcing, and on top of that addicting and habitual. The more your dog rehearses the behavior, the more it will grow roots. Stop letting your dog out to send the mailman away. Start keeping him in your home in the farthest room possible when you know it’s time for mail delivery.

Go Gradually and Create Positive Associations

Of course, sec!uding your dog in a room while the mailman arrives does nothing to fix the behavior, but at least it prevents your dog from https://www.braintraining4dogs.œm/members/archive/attacking-the-mailman/             

rehearsing it. This is a big start. Your next step is to then create positive associations so that your dog starts to associate anything about mail men with good things, which is explained below.

In short, you’ll first have to first find a distance from which your dog doesn’t react to the mailman’s truck noises (in dog training terms this is known as “keeping the dog under threshold“). You may have to experiment with this at first to find the best area where your dog hears the noise but doesn’t get overly excited about it. Often this may mean using the farthest room in your house.

Secondly, you*tl have to gradually and systematically work on the issue through gradual exposure (a process Mown as desensitization). This means that you will need to take baby-steps in teaching your dog to accept the presence of the mailman on your property. It’s important to slowly and incrementally introduce the mailman under controlled settings.

Third, you’ll have to change your dog’s emotions about the mailman using what’s known as classical counterconditioning. Don’t let this term intimidate you, all it means is that you create positive associations with the mailman’s arrival.

So every time your dog hears the mailman’s truck arriving you will feed treats, once the mailman drives away you will feed no more treats. With time, the mailman becomes a strong predictor of treats, just like the ice-cream truck’s music announces the arrival of your favorite sundae. Then you would move on and start feeding treats every time your dog sees the mailman from behind the window, and then finally when he sees the mailman arriving from outside (with your dog safely leashed).

Einstein’s Tip: If you catch your dog barking during these training sessions, most likely you are too close to the trigger (be it the sound of the mailman’s truck, or the sight of the mailman) and need to increase the distance.

Once those positive associations with the mailman are made, you can shift into goerant counterconditioning (differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors). This simply means that you can get your dog to perform a behavior when he spots the mailman instead of just giving him treats for seeing him. A “sit” works fine in this scenario. Basically, with time, your dog may learn to sit instead of barking the moment he spots the mailman.

This system works because from being a foe, the mailman, gardener or pizza guy becomes your dog’s best friend. Instead of feeling threatened by somebody entering the premises, your mailman becomes more welcomed, as he/she becomes a predictor of good things.

Patricia McConnell in fler book “The Cautious Canine” suggests having the pizza delivery guy come to your home and deliver a slice of pizza just for your dog. As your dog’s emotions change internally, you’ll also sem the outward manifestations of aggression gradually vanish. This means that with time, your dog will no longer feel the need to bark/growl/lunge.

While in the wild dogs acted territorial to protect resources such as food, now your maifman has become an actual source for resources!

However, make safety your top priority, don’t let your dog loose and risk potentially hurting your mailman. If you have given your dog treats every time he sees the mailman and you want to progress into having your mailman try to give them directly to your dog, it’s better to have your mailman toss a cookie safely through the fence, rather than risk being bit from direct exposure.

Einstein Says: Some dogs that appear to act out of territoriality are actually frustrated greeters. These are dogs who lack self-control and will bark because they are frustrated by the fence. If there was no fence, these dogs would run straight towards the mailman and greet him as a long lost friend. If your dog is a 1Tustrated greeter, work on establishing self-control through the Premack principle. In other words, ask your dog to “sit” before he goes towards the mailman, then once he sits, the mailman can toss him a stuffed Kong or a bone you have left in the mail box for the mailman to deliver.
Disclaimer: Please make safety your top priority. Behavior modification comes with some risks. This article is not to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is aggressive in any way, please consult with a veterinary behaviorist, a certified applied animal behaviorist, or a force-free trainer well-versed in dog behavior modification. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and agree not to hold the author of this liable for any accidents or wrongdoing.

The Fear Periods (8 – 10 Weeks and 6 – 14 Months)

Why is Rover suddenly scared of strangers? This is often a question I get from owners whose dogs are suddenly cowering in fear upon spotting a stranger when they previously couldn’t care less. As I attempt to assess the situation and ask several questions, I place a strong emphasis on the dog’s age. Why is that?

Not many dog owners are aware of the fact that dogs undergo bear periods” dunng their developmental stages. Ouring thèse distinct periods dogs may gradually become more and more fearful of situations they onœ appeared to be accepting of. The fear may be manifested by overly cautious behaviors where the puppy or dog approaches people or items tentatively, or defensive behaviors involving barking/Iungîng/growling.

In some cases, dogs may act bold towards certain stimuli and uncertain with others. However, it is important to note that dogs can become fearful of specific things at any age and no generalizations can be made. Let’s take a look at these fear periods and see how they affect man’s best friend.

First Fear Imprint Period: 8 – 10 Weeks

According to Meghan E. Herron, veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists {DACVB), this first fear period takes place between the ages of 8 and 10 weeks. During this time, the puppy is very sensitive to traumatic experiences, and a single scary event may be enough to traumatize the puppy and have life-long effects on his future behaviors. The fear can be of a person, dog or an object. A fear period is therefore a stage during which the puppy or dog may be more likely to view certain stimuli as threatening.

In nature, during this time, puppies are getting out of the den and starting to explore the world around them. This is when puppies would learn (under the guidance of their mother) which stimuli are threatening and non-threatening for the purpose of survival. At this stage, once puppies are fully mobile and outdoors, a lack of caution may get them killed, explains Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) Patricia McConnell, in her book “For the Love of a Dog.”

Coincidentally, in a domestic setting, this fear period coincides with the time that most puppies are separated from their litter mates and moms and are sent to new homes. Some breeders feel that their puppies are better off being adopted at a later age. This is why some decide to sell puppies at 12 weeks.

During the first fear period it is important to avoid exposing the puppy to traumatic experiences. Shipping the puppy or allowing the puppy to undergo elective surgeries at this time is not recommended. Veterinarian visits and car visits should be made fun and upbeat. Stimuli and experiences puppies may find frightening indude but are not limited to: Vaccines, cotd examination tables, rectal thermometers, grooming sessions and being handled by strangers.

How to Make Things Better:

Use food to make positive associations! For example, if a car beeps its horn startling your puppy, start making a habit of giving him a treat straight away upon hearing the beeping. At some point the car beep will become a predictor of treats, just like an ice-cream truck becomes a predictor of refreshing goodies.

Have volunteers participate in *mock vet examinations” and give the puppy treats throughout.

Practice giving “fake vaccinations” with a pen and feed the puppy treats throughout. Be very careful not to inflict pain. https://www.braintraining4dogs.com/membem/archive/fear-peûods-8-10-weeks-6-14-months/                                                                                                                                                                                                                               1/4

Make car rides fun!

Have a DAP diffuser plugged in at home when you bring your puppy home for the first time. Make crate training fun by providing the puppy with toys and treats inside the arate.

Second Fear Period: 6 to 14 Months

While the 8 to 12 week puppy fear period is in some cases hardly noticed by puppy owners, the second fear period appears to have a much bigger impact. Rover has grown now, and if he is a large breed dog, he may even weigh 100 pounds or more! This fear period is believed to be tied to the dog’s sexual maturity and growth spurts. This means that in large breeds it may develop later compared to a smaller dog. This stage is also known as “teenage flakiness” according Ellen Dodge in her article “Critical Periods in Canine Development,” which was published in Weimaraner Magazine in October 1989.

In the wild, dogs at this age are allowed to go on hunts with the rest of the pack. At this stage, it is important for them to learn to stick with the pack for safety, but they also need to learn about fear since they need fear for survival purposes. The message to the puppy is to run away if something unfamiliar approaches, explain Wendy and Jack Volhard in the book “Dog Training for Dummies.”

Reactivity levels rise during this stage causing the dog to act defensively, protective and more territorial. Owners often report the fear seems to pop out of nowhere. Dogs appear fearful of new stimuli, but can also be triggered by stimuli met before that did not previously cause a reaction. As in the first fear period, it is best to avoid traumatic experiences during this time such as shipping dogs on a plane or anything else overwhelming. Because at this stage the owner may be dealing with a dog barking and lunging and pulling on the leash, this fear period has a bigger impact, causing the owner to worry about the dog’s behavior.

How to Make Things Better:

Continue socializing as much as possible, but avoid exposing the dog to overwhelming situations.

Create positive associations through countercondit‹oning. For example, you may choose to feed your dog treats when he notices the arrival of the mailman.

Build confidence through training (brain games such as those seen in the Brain TrainingJ\ZLQggs course work well). The sport of dog agility can work well too.

Avoid traumatic experiences during this delicate phase.

Is There a Third Fear Period?

Clarence Pfaffenberger, author of “The New Knowledge Of Dog Behavior,” suggests there is a third fear period taking place in early adulthood. During this time, the level of aggression may increase and the dog may appear more protective and territorial. Episodes of “teenage flakiness” may still occur. Some believe there may even be a fourth period as the dog reaches early adulthood, but I couldn’t find reliable literature on that.

General Tips for Dealing with Fear Periods

These tips will come handy to help you deal with your pampered pooch’s fear periods. However, they also work for dogs who are fearful in general. While they are effective, keep in mind that your dog’s tendency for beine fearful may be the work of genetics rather than a temporary problem resulting from a fear stage. Following are some tips to help your puppy or dog get through these frightening fear periods:

Remain as Calm as Possible

You might be able to lie to your boss, but when it comes to dogs, they are masters at reading emotions and body language. If you are overly concerned or just a bit tense about your dog acting fearfully or defensively, rest assured your dog will perceive it. Don’t put tension on the leash, get tense or talk to your dog in worried manner. Stay relaxed and loose at all times.

Pretend it’s No Big Deal

Your dog feeds on your emotions. Just as a mother dog would take her pups out from the den and guide them through threatening and non- threatening situations, show your dog that the stimuli he fears are no big deal. Some find that saying in a casual tone “it’s just a           (fill in the blank), silly boy” helps the dog to understand it’s not a big deal.


If your dog acts fearfully towards certain stimuli, you can try to change your dog’s emotional response by using treats or anything the dog finds rewarding. The moment your dog sees the threatening stimulus, give him treats, the moment the threatening stimulus disappears take the treats away. The same can be done with sounds the dog finds startling, make the sound become a signal that a tasty treat is coming.

What if your dog won’t take treats? Most likely, the stimulus is too scary and the dog is over threshold. To learn more about counterconditioning, see hs article.

Don’t Overwhelm, Desensitize!

When trying to counter-condition your dog, work under threshold at a distance from where he does not react fearfully to the stimuli and is able to take treats. If you overwhelm and flood your dog, you risk sensitizing him, which means you make him more fearful. Don’t force your dog to interact with the feared stimulus; rather, allow him to investigate whatever he fears on his own and remember to praise/reward any initiative your dog takes!

To learn more about desensitization click here.

SocaWze,So Sze,SoiaWze

Fear periods are part of a dog’s developmental stages. The more your dog is exposed to stimuli and learns there is nothing to be scared of, the more confident he will be in the future when he encounters anything intimidating. While the main window of opportunity for the pgppy socialization phase closes at around 14 to 16 weeks, socialization should virtually never end.

Dont Punish the Fear

Last but not least, avoid punishing your dog for reacting fearfully. It appears that the majority of aggressive displays from dogs are due to fear; therefore, by punishing the behavior you will only make the fear worse. Let your dog build confidence by letting him investigate things on his own when he is ready, and praise him for the effort. Use forcmfree behavior modification techniques such as desensitization and counterconditionirtg to help your dog overcome his fears instead.

While behaviorists have studied fear periods for some time, it is important to keep in mind that they may not occur within that exact time frame for each puppy. If your dog is going through a fear period, keep in mind that it is not the end of the world. With guidance, desensitization and counterconditioning, your puppy or dog should get through it with time!

Drop it

How to Train Your Dog to Drop it

To teach your dog to reliably drop items on cue, you will need to use treats that are higher in value than the items you are asking him to drop. If you fail to do so, he may realize it’s not a good deal dropping items if what he gets in exchange isn’t worthy enough. After ali, how would you feel if somebody asked you to trade your gold ring for a plastic one? Most likely you would hold on tight to your gold ring… But what if somebody offered you a diamond ńng in exchange?

In order to train your dog to “drop it,” you will need to ask him to drop items that aren’t

very valuable at first. We’ll start by using a toy he sees around all the time. So grab that toy, play with it, make it interesting, and then give it to him or toss it on the floor in front of him. He will probably pick it up, but if he doesn’t, you can always use the Ake” cue we learned earlier.

The moment your dog has the toy in his mouth, say “drop it” and show him a treat by holding it next to his nose. He will most likely drop the toy so he can get the treat. As soon as he drops the toy, use your verbal marker or click the dicker and give him the treat.

I say drop it and hold the treat in front of Einstein. Men he drops the toy to get the treat, I use my verbal marker and then let him have the treat.

Repeat this simple process a few times in a row until your dog shows signs of understanding the exercise.

At some point, when your dog has the toy in his mouth, say “drop if’ without showing him a treat. The moment he drops the item, use your verbal marker or click the clicked and give him two or three treats in a row. Make sure you keep these treats completely out of sight (behind your back or in your treat bag, for example) until he has dropped the item. Repeat this form of the exercise several times, asking your dog to “drop if’ without showing him a treat. Continue to use your verbal marker/ctick the clicker and give him multiple treats when he successfully drops the item after you ask him to “drop it.”

Einstein drops the Bali he was holding when I tell him to “drop it” In this instance I am using the cue to train The Tidy UD Game found later in the Couse.

Troubleshooting Problems

Some dogs may be reluctant to drop items if they do not see the treat. In such a case, you will need to work on this problem, as you don’t want to be stuck with a dog who only obeys if a treat is in sight, especially if one day he picks up something harmful and you have no treats with you to make him drop it!

To diminish your dog’s reliance on seeing treats, you will need to gradually make them less visible. So while you showed your dog a treat by placing it next to his nose when you first started the training exercise, begin making the treat less visible by holding it farther from his nose and hiding it more and more inside your hand each time. Because a reluctance to drop items is often a trust issue, You want to show your dog that even if he doesn’t see the treat, he wilf still get it. Imagine how uncomfortable you’d feel if you gave your gold ring to someone who

left with it, promising to show up later with a diamond one to exchange. With time, however, you would begin trusting this person if he established a history of being honest.

Caution: Some dogs may be reluctant to drop items they are possessive of. If your dog shows signs of aggression such as stiffening, growling, or showing teeth, please stop training this exercise and consult with a professional.

Increase the Challenge

As your dog gets good at dropping toys on cue, you will need to work your way up to teaching him to drop higher-value items. Remember the golden rule: The reward you give your dog for dropping an item on cue should always be significantly higher in value than the item dropped. So if you used kibble to train your dog to drop a toy, when you start asking him to drop a large bread roll, you would offer him some yummy high-value treats (e.g., pieces of plain cooked chicken breast) in exchange.

Because this could one day be a lifesaving cue, always praise and reward your dog for dropping an item. Then, if that day comes when you really need him to drop something, he will respond reliably by dropping the item so you can collect it as he waits for his treats. Your dog likely won’t get a treat in this case because you were caught unprepared, but you can always remedy this by praising him a whole lot, then later on, when you have access to treats again, you can ask him to drop other items and reward him to create new positive associations.

Take/Leave It

Objective: Your dog must pick up or leave items on cue.

You Will Need:

Clicker or verbal marker Different types of treats Toys

The “leave it” cue can prevent your dog from getting ill and can even be a lifesaver for those vacuum-mouthed dogs who suck up everything in their paths. Although it may be harmless for your dog to eat a morsel of food he found on the kitchen floor, the fact is there are many dangerous things that dogs can swallow if you aren’t careful. Think about the consequences of dropping a pill or a large piece of baker’s chocolate on the floor. What if your dog were to gulp it down? With the “leave it” cue, you can train your dog to avoid eating dangerous items; and the best part is, this training works well even for those Hoovers dogs who have been wolfing down items they find lying around for a good chunk of their lives!

Take/Leave It

The “leave it” cue may also come handy during the preparation phase of brain games when you place food on the floor or inside a container, and the “take” cue is handy when you want to give our dog permission to eat a treat or ask him to pick up a toy or other item. For safety, when you progress to practicing with items instead of treats, use only items that are safe around your dog in case he ignores you when you tell him to “leave it.” Don’t practice with socks if he has a history of swallowing them, and don’t practice with the TV remote if he has a history of chewing it apart!

How to Train Your Dog to Take/Leave It

The “leave it” and ‘lake” cues teach your dog to avoid or to pick up certain items. To train these cues, start with a simple exercise.

Keep one high-value treat in a closed fist hidden behind your back, and place a lower- value treat in your other hand (in the middle of your open palm) and present it to your dog. Keep your hand open so your dog can see the treat. Most likely he will move forward, hoping to eat the treat.

When he tries to grab the treat, quickly close your hand and say “leave it.” Your dog may start nudging, licking, or nibbling on your hand. Ignore all of this and keep your hand clamped shut. Wften he finally stops trying, use your verbal marker or click the clicker, then present to him the closed hand you had hidden behind your back and open it, telling him to “take” the treat. Repeat this exercise several times.

Einstein stops trying to get the forbidden treat. I now rlick the clickar/use my verbal marker, then present and open the hand from behind my back, say “take,” and let him have the treat that was inside.

Through trial and error your dog should learn that being pushy and trying to get the treat yields no results, while staying calm and ignoring the treat yields the reward. In time, he will learn that “leave it” means “don’t try to get the treat,” and that when you say “take° you are asking him to take something.

As your dog begins to understand this exercise, it’s time to increase the difficulty. Many dogs believe that when an item is on the floor or falls to the floor it’s automatically theirs. In this exercise we will introduce a new rule.

Keep two or three high-value treats in a hand hidden behind your back, then place a lower-value treat on the floor. When your dog goes to get the treat on the floor, say “leave it” and cover it with your foot. He may paw or nudge your foot with his nose, but ignore this. The moment he gives up, ctick the clicker/use your verbal marker and open the hand from behind your back to him, say “take,” and let him eat the treats that were inside. The reason you give your dog the treats in your hand instead of the treat under your foot is because in a real-life scenario he might not be allowed to eat the item you asked him to leave especially if it’s something harmful.

With enough training, your dog should begin waiting for permission before taking items you drop on the floor.

Einstein stops trying to get the treat under my foot. I now click the clicker/use my verbal marker, then present and open the hand from behind my back and say “take,” allowing him to eat the high-value treats that were inside.

You can also practice “leave it” with toys. To do this, place a toy on the floor in front of your dog, then when he goes to get it, tell him to “leave it.” If he successfully leaves it, click the clicked or use your verbal marker and reward him with treats that you‘ve kept hidden behind your back or in your treat bag/pocket.

During other training sessions, you could work on the ’take” cue using toys. Simply place some toys on the floor around the room, then point at them and tell your dog to “take.” We will be using this skill throughout the course in a number of brain games and training exercises.

Remember to avoid getting your dog to leave and take toys during the same training session, as this could cause confusion.

If your dog seems uninterested when you begin using toys, you can hide them behind your back and then present them to him first, or move the toys around to increase his interest in them before putting them on the floor.

Troubleshooting Problems

In these exercises you need to be very quick at closing your fist or stepping on the treaVtoy before your dog gets to it. Keep those reflexes sharp, because dogs are fast! Imagine the item he needs to leave is something harmful to your dog. Pretend you are protecting him from harm and need to intervene swiftly. When he leaves the item, use your verbal marker or click the clicker and reward him lavishly with high- value treats you’ve kept hidden behind your back or in your treat bag/pocket.

For the exercise to work well, remember to always reward your dog with treats that are higher in value than whatever it is you are preventing him from getting. If the rewards are smso, he may not be interested in them and will be more interested in the item you are not letting him have! This can affect learning and put a dent in progress.

If your dog iS hesitant to “take” items, there are a couple of things you could try. First, try moving around the item you want him to pick up to increase his interest in it before you place it on the floor, then point at it and say ’lake.” Alternatively, you can try shaping the behavior. To shape the behavior, click the clicker or use your verbal marker to reward your dog for looking at the item, then for sniffing it, then for mouthing it, and finally for picking it up. Do not reward retrogression unless your dog seems confused.For example, if your dog mouths the item, stop clicking/verbally marking and rewarding him for simply looking at the item. Once he starts picking up the item more and more to earn treats, you can put the behavior on cue by saying “take” just as he goes to pick it up, followed by a click of the dicker/verbal marker and a treat the moment he completes the action. With enough repetitions, your dog should learn that “take” means he needs to pick something up.

As a reminder, it‘s always best to go gradually. Start practicing “leave it” with more desirable items only after your dog has proven his ability to reliably leave items that are less desirable.

Increase the Challenge

You can get quite creative in adding challenges when training your aog to “leave it.” After your dog begins reliably leaving items on the floor upon hearing your leave it” cue, try dropping a treat from the table and saying “leave it,” placing your lunch on a chair and saying “leave it,” or even telling him to “leave it” on walks when he wants to sniff something on the ground.

You can increase the distance at which the cue is effective by chucking a piece of hibble and telling your dog to “leave it” from across the room. The best part is that ‘leave it” can also work if you want to stop your dog from chasing a cat or squirrel, or if you want to tell him to not pick up the TV remote. Just be sure to use praise and high-value treats to reward him for leaving these particularly tempting items or animals on cue. If you’re really up for a challenge, you can try practicing this exercise with safe items your dog has an interest in. For example, if your dog loves to steal and play with socks but has never shown interest in swallowing them, you could drop a sock on the floor and tell him to “leave it” when he goes to sniff it or pick it up. If he successfully leaves it, dick the clicker or use your verbal marker and reward him with some treats.