Six Reasons Why Your Dog Is Not Food Motivated

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The other night, I met a lot of new faces at a dog event. I knew I would be making introductions so I brought my a baggie of my homemade dog treats, the ones I use in training that my clients and our Sam typically get a response of quick attention. But, at that outdoor event where there were dozens of dogs and probably several hundred people, some pets took my gift readily; others ignored the treats and focused on the environment instead.

Six reasons why your dog is not motivated by foodIt got me thinking about food and dogs. It seems I either hear a lot about dogs who live to eat and will do anything for a piece of – well, anything; or I hear about dogs who are not motivated by food.

Hmm. Let’s really give thought to that second scenario. How could it be that a healthy dog is not motivated by food? After all, food is a necessity to survive. In fact, scientifically speaking, the category of ‘food’ is considered a primary reinforcer (A primary reinforcer, sometimes called an unconditioned reinforcer, is a stimulus that does not require pairing to function as a reinforcer and most likely has obtained this function through the evolution and its role in species’ survival. Skinner, B.F. (1974). About Behaviorism)

So, what then could cause a dog to turn its nose at food?  There are a number of reasons. I have some of them below.

  1. There is something medically wrong.

Possibly it could be a sign of an underlying medical issue, including that your dog has a sensitivity to something in what you are feeding it. If your dog normally eats what you are giving it, and suddenly refuses it in the same situation, it is time to consult your veterinarian.

  1. Your dog is scared or over aroused.

In the case of this dog event, in addition to those dogs turning their heads away from my treats, some were hypervigilant, excessively panting, or showing other body language that told me they were anxious, alert, and stressed.  A medically healthy dog’s willingness and interest in food tells us a lot about its emotional state. That turning away from treats (and other body language) is a symptom that the dog is not feeling safe or that the dog is in an extreme state of ‘eustress’, which is stress caused by positive excitement that still manifests as arousal. An example of this is the dog that is pulling at the end of its leash to get to pool of water, completely ignoring its handler. By putting their dog in an environment where their dog is reacting this way, the handler is doing a great job of teaching his/her dog the value of competing reinforcers from the environment (in other words, ignoring the handler on the other end of the leash).

  1. There are too many competing reinforcers.

This really speaks to my point above. If there is a strong, established history with competing reinforcers from the environment, which are more valuable to the dog than paying attention to you, it will be very difficult if not impossible for the skill of focusing on you to compete against what is happening in the environment. The foundational time you spend with lots and lots of positive practice teaching your dog how you want it to behave in different situations is extremely important (if you want to have a dog that has self control in a place with a great deal of distractions).

  1. History has taught your dog that food is a trap.

It is very, very important to remember that animals learn by consequences of their behaviors. If, in the past you have used food to lure your dog into doing something aversive (such as to come, when coming will result in something negative occurring; to get close to people it is afraid of; or to go into a crate where it will be locked up for the day); experience will have taught your dog that the presence of food comes before something negative. (Please read my article on classical conditioning.) Always keep in mind that it is what occurs AFTER something, that affects the emotional response of what occurs BEFORE (in classical conditioning); and also, through operant learning, animals learn whether or not a behavior is worth repeating or not. If a behavior serves to get the animal something of value (from the animal’s perspective), then that behavior will be repeated and even strengthened.

  1. You have taught your dog to ‘show me the money’.

It is so easy to inadvertently teach animals behaviors without realizing it. We can actually ‘teach’ stubbornness. How? Well, if you give your dog a piece of kibble and it refuses; and then you give it something better. You have just reinforced your dog’s decision to refuse kibble with the ‘something better.’

  1. You have been free feeding your dog.

Putting food in your dog’s bowl and leaving it there all day is a great way to devalue that food. You can read more about my thoughts on free feeding in this post.

There you have it. My top six reasons why your dog may NOT be motivated from food, and what you can do about it.

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A Lesson For Kids About Dogs

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What a terrific group of dog Super Heroes! It was so much fun teaching them about being a positive teacher and friend to their dog…with Zurie and Hannah’s help. Thank you so much to Cincinnati Sports Club for having us…and being proactive in wanting to teach kids and parents these important lessons. AND thank you to the parents, for taking time away from your Saturday to be there!

My unique My Dog’s Super Hero is a beginner dog training class for Cincinnati area kids to learn about how they can be an awesome dog friend, teacher and playmate. With demonstration dogs, I teach them (and their parents) how to interact appropriately with their dog, how dogs communicate, and how to be a positive and responsible teacher to their friend.

If you would like to learn more about having me teach my class for your organization or group, please get in touch!

Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, taught her kids class called My Dog's Super Hero at the Cincinnati Sports Club

 

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Dog Body Language

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When we share our homes with animals who speak a completely different language than we do, misunderstandings can happen so easily and with misunderstandings stress, anxiety and even aggression can easily erupt. I spoke with residents yesterday of a local retirement community where many people share their apartments with furry companions and much of that discussion ended up focusing on how dogs share their feelings. It is so important that I wanted to share it here also. Below is a description of some dog language.

understanding dog body languageHappy

Relaxed body muscles are a sign of a content dog. On its face, the corners of its mouth may be open or turned upwards slightly and it may be panting; its ears will be held neutrally; and its eyes will be normal shaped. While dogs perceive looking directly into each other’s eyes, they have often learned that looking at humans is a good thing (because we teach them positive outcomes occur when they do) so a happy dog may look at your with relaxed muscles. As for its body posture, a content dog will have overall loose muscles and be balancing on four legs. (Note that if it is happy AND in a playful mood, it will not be balancing on all four legs, but rather may have exaggerated movements WITH loose muscles.) Its tail may sway gently from side to side, curl loosely, or be held neutrally.

Excited

An excited dog will be alert and focused. Its eyes will be directed toward the stimulus it has detected. Its body will be natural in size but its weight may be centered over its rear or front legs as it readiness itself for movement. Its ears will be up, tail will more than likely be held high (with or without a wag), and mouth will often be open – even barking.

Aroused

An aroused dog is intensely focused on something and ready for action. Signs to look for include:  ears forward or flattened, a closed or tense mouth, body weight on all four legs, a tail held high or a low, a very deliberate tail wag, tense eyes directed at what it detected, and raised hair on its back. Arousal can indicate alertness, excitement, fear or aggression; and body language will differ depending.

Fearful

A fearful dog will try to look small, and may hunch over or cower close to the ground. Its tail will be held low or will be tucked between its back legs; and it might have its weight on its back legs to be ready for a quick escape or on its side legs to recoil; or it could either be moving quickly back and forth in hyper vigilance or moving slowly.  Its muscles will be tense. It could either look away from the aversive stimulus or look at what is scaring it. On the face, its ears will probably be flattened; its eyes may be smaller than usual or may show the whites of its eyes; its mouth will probably be closed and its lips may even be pulled back slightly. It may also flick its tongue or do an exaggerated yawn. The dog may also exhibit displacement behaviors – behaviors that are normal except at a time of conflict – such as yawning, licking of lips, sudden scratching or sniffing of ground, wet dog shake.

A fearful dog could escalate too to a growl, bark or worse if there is no escape. A fearful dog is more likely to try to get distance when possible, but if that is not possible, may snarl, growl, snap or bite. Sometimes that dog will wait until the animal or person is moving away, before quickly darting out to nip them from behind.

Imminent Bite

If the dog freezes and becomes stiff, stands with its front legs splayed and its head low (or could be held high) and focused on you, shows its teeth and growls – stop interaction immediately, look away and give the dog a chance to leave. Do not approach the dog, talk to him or make eye contact. If you are trying to get something the dog has, it is best to let it go. Among other warning signs of aggression:  raised hackles (fur along its spine), possible wrinkles around its mouth, tail tucked and stiff or held high and stiff, mouth corner pulled back, its body weight could be over his front or rear legs depending on the situation; and it will usually growl, snarl or bark.

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Do Puppies Grow Out Of Problems?

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Puppies chew. They play. They run. They get into things we do not want them to. They vocalize. They grab things on impulse. They also may show signs of backing away from unfamiliar things in their environment of signs of pulling toward other things.

Oh so cute they are! We love them for their adorableness but get so frustrated with their bad habits. But, won’t they grow out of those habits?

Do puppies grow out of problem behaviors? Yes and no. Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik answers.Well, not always.  

While it is true that biologically there are certain behaviors puppies are prone to do like destructive chewing for both teething relief and an outlet for young energy, what is important to realize is that every waking moment puppies – just like all animals – are learning from experience. They are learning constantly associations between behaviors and consequences. Quite simply, those behaviors that are serving to get something of value (from the perspective of the learner) are going to be ones that are repeated. AND if those behaviors get the animal something it values only sporadically, then you will see an even stronger, longer lasting, virulent behavior.

What does this mean for you as a puppy owner (or any pet owner)?

Well, take for example that unwanted chewing of shoes. While a puppy’s natural clock gives it a great need for chewing and destroying, the more times he gets positive reinforcement for that behavior, the more he is likely to repeat it. And often humans add to the value of that destructive chewing and destroying by giving the puppy attention or a game of chase when it has something in its mouth.

While puppies do go through developmental fear periods, if a puppy startles, moves back from or growls at something in its environment; or exhibits elevated heart rate, barking or digging when its human leaves the room, it is a mistake to think that behavior will just magically go away as the dog matures. In fact, those behaviors may more than likely strengthen and even generalize to other fear responses later. If, for example, a man in a white coat gives a puppy a painful injection then later other people in white coats may also cause elevated heart rates, etc. Remember that learning also teaches negative associations between behaviors and consequences/neutral and conditioned stimulus. This is why it is so important to teach young puppies early on that their world is a good place by exposing them carefully and positively to a wide range of environments, people, objects, sounds, and other stimulus (doing this by providing positive outcomes for your puppy and ensuring by watching its body language that it is feeling good in that moment).

Management is a critically important step in puppy training to help young minds grow in ways you want them to. By working to prevent those unwanted behaviors from being practiced (and building a reinforcement history for them) while also focusing on giving your puppy opportunities to practice wanted behaviors with positive consequences, you will be helping your pet and you to have many happy years together.

As a puppy owner, you have an important role in helping your puppy get its needs met in appropriate ways while building value for behaviors and habits you want to see more of…for the rest of your relationship together.

Impact of Good Moments

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Parents, please remember. Past experience is how animals learn. Every interaction between your child and your dog teaches your dog whether or not to feel good about being near your child. Dogs may tolerate bear hugs but they do not enjoy them. This dog’s open mouth, relaxed body muscles, and posture (close to the child and not leaning away) shows us he is feeling good about this moment. To strengthen your child’s relationship with your dog, look to create lots of GOOD moments between your dog and your child.

a dog bite prevention tip for parents

A Game To Teach Self Control

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The Red Light, Green Light game uses play and exercise to build skills of self-control in your dog. It is a ton of fun for both you and your four legged friend.

 A pre-requisite for this game is to first work on teaching your dog controlled behaviors such as sit or down. This is a great way for building more value for those behaviors.

Playing this game with your dog is a fun way to train self control and other behaviorsBegin by moving around until your dog begins to move also. Before your dog becomes overly aroused, stop your movement. If you have been practicing that controlled behavior on cue, then you can give your dog the cue as soon as you stop. You become very still and be a tree. As soon as he does the controlled behavior, then give him his release cue (such as ‘release’ or ‘let’s play’), and encourage him to move as you move.

 

As you are having success, you can increase the difficulty by doing more active behavior to get your dog in a more active state and then ask for the controlled behavior by giving your cue.

 

You can also work on duration of your controlled behavior before giving your release cue. (Remember that when you are working on building duration, you are adding very short amounts of time – seconds – before giving your release cue.)

 

Additionally, you can also work in exercises to teach your dog to go into a calmer state. When you stop movement, either sit or stand and ask for your dog to lay down (or you can simply wait for your dog to lay down). Then go through a shaping process of calmly reaching down and giving your dog a treat as you notice his body muscles begin to relax.

 

You can include several people with this game too, just make sure that when you stop and give your dog the cue for his behavior, that EVERYONE stops moving at once and BEGINS moving at once.

Make sure you give your dog clarity when it is time to end the game. I tell Sam ‘all done’ when we are finished training or playing. After this game, you may want to sit for a few minutes immediately afterward to make it even more clear for your dog. Once you have given your dog the end game cue, then it is absolutely important that you ignore any and all attempts by your dog to keep the game going. If you give in, then you will be teaching your dog that bumping or jumping on you, or other attention soliciting behavior works to get play to resume.

 

This is a fun game to involve children too; however, always play this with adults present. To help kids have more success, adults should first play this with their dog to teach their dog the game rules – and children should not be encouraged to be wild and crazy around their dog, as their dog’s arousal may escalate quickly. Teaching children how to be still, like a tree, when their dog is a great safety measure for both kids and dog.

 

Proofing and Fluency In Dog Training

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It happens so often. People will tell me their dog knows behaviors such as sit, down, and stay but when I ask them to show me, either their dog does not immediately do the behavior or does not do the behavior at all. Or many times a dog will do the behavior that is proofing and fluency in dog trainingcued in one setting but not another.

When it comes to having dog training success (for you and your pet), it is important to understand the concepts of proofing and fluency – used interchangeably sometimes. What they all refer to is how well your pet REALLY knows and understands the behavior in a variety of circumstances and difficulty.

These are some great criteria to think about in terms of proofing and fluency:

PRECISION:  Is your dog doing the behavior just as you want the behavior to look? What should that behavior look like?

SPEED: How quickly does your pet do the behavior?

DURATION: Will your dog remain in position or continue doing the behavior until released to do something else?

LATENCY: Latency is the time between when you give the cue and when your student offers the behavior. Does your dog sit immediately when you ask?

DISTRACTION: Can your pet do the behavior when there are distractions present, of varying levels?

DISTANCE: Can your pet do the behavior when you cue it from 3 feet away? How about across the room or at the other end of the yard?

Different behaviors will have different criteria of relevant importance. In teaching stay for example, the most relevant of these criteria are duration, distance and distraction.

Teaching These Criteria

Firstly, remember, when it comes to teaching behavior, knowing what it is specifically that you are looking for (what should the behavior ‘look like’) is important because if you do not know, you will provide unclear guidance to your learner. For this article, I won’t delve a lot into teaching cues; however, please click here to read more. That is an important step in teaching fluency.

A few more tips on proofing behavior in dog training

  1. Work on one fluency criteria at a time. Initially, you have to ‘get’ the behavior to happen in order to reinforce it (and reinforce it heavily to build value), and give it a cue. So that comes first. (I’m talking about active behaviors vs a stay.) In teaching a stay, the three most important criteria are duration, distraction and distance. As you are working on teaching one criteria (and increasing its difficulty), lower the criteria you are looking for in the other areas. For example, once I have given a cue to the behavior ‘sit’ with specific specifications of what ‘sit’ looks like; while I am teaching latency (sitting immediately when asked), I’ll lower the criteria temporarily of what the behavior of ‘sit’ looks like. When working on a ‘stay’, if I have built up to a minute of duration indoors, I will dramatically lower the duration of the stay when I move to another environment. I will also lower the duration when I introduce distractions.
  2. When introducing distractions, begin with a low level distraction in the same environment with a high rate of reinforcement. As you move to new environments, in the beginning, keep the stimulus (like a group of people or person walking another dog) far enough away that your dog can continue to focus on you. You may want to increase the value of the reinforcer you are using also. (Please click here to read about your pet’s Awesome List.) Only increase the proximity between you and the stimulus when your dog is giving you feedback that he can still do the behavior and show interest in the reinforcer. Always start where you know your dog can succeed; and if he cannot, then take that as your feedback that you need to get further away (and/or lower your criteria and/or have higher value reinforcers).
  3. Once you work through these steps on several behaviors, you’ll find that all subsequently taught behaviors tend to generalize more rapidly.

Remember, learning will come much more quickly when the teacher gives a lesson plan filled with fun!

Dog On Leash Greetings: Good or Bad?

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I was at a park the other day when I saw a mother and her two children walking their goldendoodle puppy, a 40 to 50 pound teddy bear who very clearly found interest in everything going on around them. I knew that by seeing his alertness in looking around, his tail held high or wagging, and his sniffing everything in site. The only thing holding him back was a couple of young humans pulling back on the other end of a leash.

A man with another small dog happened to walk by and the puppy’s strength won out against the will of the children as they moved forward, a very taught long piece of nylon fabric keeping them together. As the puppy got closer, the small dog began looking away, lip licking, then taking a step away with taught body muscles and a tail tucked between his back legs. I could tell this was not going to be a very pleasant greeting, at least for the small dog. Still, the goldendoodle persisted in moving his humans forward.

When I mentioned to the mother that the small dog wanted space, she told me her puppy was just being friendly and wanted to say hello. I pointed out the body language on the other dog and this time more strongly suggested they move away before the two dogs made contact. They did. And they each went on their way. I am not sure if what I said to them will have an impact on their future outings, but I hope it will.

I thought I would write about this in hope that it may at least help others in understanding how to help their dogs have pleasant on leash experiences.

The fact is that when unfamiliar dogs are on leash – or dDoes your dog pull on leash to greet another dog? Or is your dog reactive to dogs on leash? A discussion about on leash greetings, and dog training solutions.ogs who are familiar but who have very different greeting skills and behaviors – things have the potential to go downhill very quickly.

Dog greetings on leash – what can happen:

Think about how dogs typically greet each other in a calm situation when they are off leash. A positive greeting is one in which the dogs would approach each other with loose body muscles, moving to each other’s side with head down slightly as they sniff the rear end of the other dog.

But when a dog walks toward the other with a taught leash around his neck holding him back while his tail is held high, his arousal is heightening as he gets closer. Both dogs may be restricted by taught leashes, and as they move to each other their muscles tighten more.  (The leash restriction also does not allow them to get distance from each other.) They may either greet face on fixated on each other, which is a sign of impending danger and tension. Or they may lean or look away with lip licks, ears down, tense mouths, or other body language indicating discomfort and stress.  One or both could also become overly excited jumping on the other, which is very rude behavior among dogs, and if the other is indicating stress signals that are ignored that could mean trouble. What all of these greetings have in common is the fact that close proximity in that moment could easily erupt into a negative confrontation such as barking, lunging, snarling, or worse in a split second. Human may react by jerking on leashes, yelling, forcing their dog into a sit or down position or worse. If an eruption does not occur, dogs still may be showing body language of stress that may go missed by their humans. And dogs will ultimately learn from their experience that negative consequences occur when on leash around other dogs (and/or even humans). Or another consequence could be that the dog (s) is getting reinforced for inappropriate behavior, and we know that reinforced behavior continues and even strengthens.

Training and helping your dog with dog greetings and socialization:

The safest solution is to avoid on-leash greetings among unfamiliar dogs because even if you have done everything right in terms of teaching your dog behaviors and knowing how your dog communicates, you can not predict what the other dog will do. Especially if you see the other dog pulling on a leash to get closer, you know that is a dog who is not focused on paying attention to his handler while his arousal is heightening.

Some foundational skills to teach your dog as incompatible behaviors to pulling on leashes toward any stimulus are attention, walking by your side, emergency u-turn, recall, leave it, or sitting (although be careful to ask your dog to sit in a situation that is scary and uncomfortable).

Learn dog body language to recognize when your dog is relaxed, excited, nervous, or stressed; and when to give your dog distance from whatever it is that is causing that reaction.

Have ‘safe’ off leash play sessions with dogs you know will play well with your dog, who can play together with breaks.

Practice walking on leash parallel to another dog while your dog can have loose body muscles, and walk near you.

Around your dog’s ‘friends’, practice ‘safe’ leash greetings and work in proximity to each other on leash, with those foundational skills. Teach your dogs to approach each other with a loose leash, to sit at your side when you are close to each other, and walk away after just a second or two.

And never forget to put play into every day!

Should Pet Birds Be Allowed On Shoulders?

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I’d like to address a question that is often asked by those who have birds.

Should birds be allowed on shoulders?

Should pet birds be allowed on shoulders? Well, let’s first ask – is there really such a thing as height dominance?

Steve Martin, renowned trainer and president of Orlando-based Natural Encounters, wrote about it in a paper actually. “To
put it bluntly,” he said, “height dominance does not exist in parrots.”

Talking to those in the know – ornithologists, field biologists, and wild bird behaviorists – there is no such thing as an alpha parrot. Aggression between wild parrots is brief, and a parrot that loses in one confrontation may very well win in the next.

A frustrated bird owner may question that. “Well, of course my bird gets dominant when he’s up high. He bites me every time I try to pick him up from somewhere high,” that person may say.

My response to that? Let’s do a little behavior analysis and look at a scenario that bird owners frequently use as an example of their pet showing ‘dominance’. Butch – a macaw – is on top of his cage playing with a toy when his owner, Suzy, needs to put him into his cage. She reaches for him and when he steps up, ‘without any warning’ (as is often described) he nails her.

Let’s look at some potential things that could be coming into play here.

• Birds are more comfortable stepping up. However since Butch is up high, unless Suzy gets on a chair, more than likely he is needing to step down to her and may even catch his long tail on the cage. Not very fun for Butch.

• Butch was perfectly happy playing with his toys. His past experience of stepping up for Suzy when he’s playing with his toys is that the consequence of his stepping up means he goes into his cage more often than not. And being inside that cage is just not as fun as being on top of it. (He’s at least taken away from doing something that he was enjoying doing.)

• Before Butch actually bit Suzy, he tried to show her he didn’t want to step up by pinning his eyes or other body language but she ignored or didn’t pay attention to it. Therefore biting her is the only behavior he can do to get the message across that he really does not want to step up at this time.

So, now, is this really a case of height dominance or is the bird simply behaving to escape something negative from the bird’s point of view?

Now back to the original question. Is it okay to wear your bird on your shoulder?

Well, there are a number of factors to take into consideration with regard to that decision. None of them have to do with height dominance.

• What is your relationship with your bird? Does your bird reliably ‘step up’ onto your hand?

• One problem with having your bird on your shoulder is that you can’t see his body language. Therefore you can’t effectively allow your bird to communicate a fear or aggressive response, thus you may be setting both of you up for a possible bite.

• Another consideration is that, while it’s fun companionship to wear shoulder birds it’s healthy to offer a variety of enriching activities for your pet that encourage independent play, foraging, and more. Encouraging your bird to stay perched in one place for long periods of time limits the time he could be learning and playing in different ways.

I do want to just mention that if it is a goal of yours to wear your parrot on your shoulder, a good first goal would be to teach a reliable ‘step up’ behavior.

Tips for Acclimating New Dogs

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It is not uncommon for people to bring home a second dog, and often do not know how to help facilitate a positive introduction. This video does an excellent of of demonstrating how to do that in a neutral place. It also talks about acclimating a newly adopted pet upon your first arrival home.

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