Stopping Puppies From Nipping At Ankles

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The other day I was overhearing a woman giving advice to another woman on her puppy’s naughty and very irritating behavior of biting at her ankles and pants when she walks. The advice was to yell at the puppy (take pants out of the puppy’s mouth) and tell the puppy to sit when it happens.

tips for stopping your puppy from nipping at your ankles by Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KAHmm, here is the thing. Usually when I hear people talk about ‘trying’ to solve that behavior problem in that way, they keep having to yell at their puppy because the puppy does not stop doing the behavior.

Why? Well, remember, animals are always using behavior as a tool to get a consequence of value to them. If a behavior is reoccurring, then that behavior is working for the animal. In this case, the potential list of valued consequences for the puppy or dog could be among other things attention, mental and physical stimulation, or sensory stimulation (having pants in his mouth).

Generally speaking, although each dog is an individual, herding dogs are more genetically wired to do this but any dog or puppy can. Among the many dogs in which I have seen the nipping at ankles and pants behavior were a puppy vizsla, german shepherd, labradoodle, great dane, and just this past weekend, a puppy King Charles.

In each situation, I was able to stop the unwanted behavior by focusing on teaching the puppy more acceptable behavior choices instead.

Why isn’t punishment enough to stop behavior?

Before I write about what I did to modify behavior, I wanted to address why scolding a puppy for this (or any unacceptable behavior) is not your best solution. For one, if you have tried that in the past and your puppy is continuing the behavior (meaning, later on will go back to doing the unwanted behavior) then the yelling, attention and perhaps moving of your body may actually be of value to your puppy instead of an aversive. Or it could be that in the scheme of things, the nipping at your ankle is SO valuable to your puppy that it trumps any negative association with your yelling at him.  Another possibility from my example above is that, if you have taught ‘sit’ as a behavior that gets your dog lots of positive reinforcement, then asking your dog to sit immediately after your yelling and removing his mouth from your pants, can become a reinforcer for nipping at your ankles.

On the other hand, if your yelling at him does work to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of your puppy’s unwanted behavior, then I’d have to ask, at what cost? It most certainly does not teach your pet what he should do instead. Just a few of the potential negative ramifications of using an aversive teaching strategy are that it can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression and escape/avoidance behaviors. Punishment requires escalating the intensity in order to maintain that suppression, and ultimately the teacher then becomes associated with those aversives.

Puppies, dogs, even birds and other animals did not join our lives inherently knowing what behaviors are and are not acceptable to their human companions. Those are things we need to teach them with fairness.

Solving nipping at ankles

Okay, so let’s look at how to solve the problem in the most positive way.

Firstly, with every behavior it is important to look for two things – what is happening in the environment to set the ankle/pant nipping behavior into motion in the first place and what is the immediate consequence of that behavior that is maintaining or even strengthening it. Then, think about what you can do to prevent practice of that behavior (and getting reinforcement for it) while also building value or teaching a different, more acceptable behavior with lots of positive reinforcement.

With each puppy it can be different. If your puppy is likely to go for your pants or shoes during play, make sure that you have acceptable toys in hand to direct your puppy to playing with them instead of focusing on human legs. I like to engage in constructive play with puppies meaning I am teaching behaviors and self control through play….for example, when they sit, then the toy moves. If you can’t be actively engaged with your puppy (but always you are actively supervising), then another alternative is an interactive toy that keeps his attention like a food puzzle toy. And if active supervision is not an option at that time, then the best place for your puppy is a confinement area like a crate or x-pen so as to prevent your puppy from engaging in unwanted behaviors.

If your puppy tends to grab your pant leg as you walk, think about what you want to do and focus on that, but before your puppy grabs your ankle (because with each practice of grabbing your ankle, your puppy is gaining a reinforcement opportunity for the unwanted behavior). I will slow down as much as needed for that particular puppy and will even begin with marking (with a verbal ‘yes’ or click) and reinforcing the puppy for standing at my side while I am stationary, and continue to mark and reinforce being at my side with his head up as I move. I’ll only gradually move quicker as the puppy tells me through his ability to continue to walk at my side with his head up, that he is learning the behavior I want to see. If at any time the puppy goes to bite my ankle, I become a tree so as to avoid giving any reinforcement for the unwanted behavior; and then, I adjust my plan to go slower so as to help the puppy succeed.

My challenge to you is this: Instead of thinking in terms of what your pet is doing that is bad from your perspective, think about what that behavior is getting him and what you can teach him to do instead. And, as always, have fun!

 

 

Dog Muzzle Training

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At some point in your dog’s life, there may be a time where a muzzle may be a good idea like in emergencies, in grooming situations, if your dog has bitten a person or dog before for examples. The time to teach a good feeling about wearing the muzzle is not when you need it, but now. I came across this video and think it is really well done for explaining how to do it.

No Wild And Crazy Around Dogs

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Parents, please do your part to help your child and your dog’s relationship to succeed. Teach your children that the place to be wild and crazy is away from your dog (and unknown dogs). If your dog (or a loose or leashed unknown dog) becomes overly aroused, movement will keep that arousal curve moving forward. Kids should be taught how to stand still and be a tree with their hands under their armpits to lower the dog’s arousal.

dog bite prevention tip for parents from Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC

Dog Telephone Etiquette

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The other day, someone was complaining to me of how her dog really gets her mad when she is on the telephone. It seems that as soon as she picks up the receiver, he begins to bark and pace at her feet, which makes it very difficult to focus on her conversation.

“What do you do when Hank does that,” I asked.

“I immediately tell him no but he does not listen. Sometimes I will push him away or I will get him a toy to divert him,” was her answer.

Whenever a problem like this arises, it is always important to remind yourself that behavior always occurs for a reason. And if it is repeated, then it is being reinforced by something in the environment.
dog telephone etiquette, stopping dog attention seeking behaviors I have been taught to look at behavior through the lens of Applied Behavior Analysis, a systematic approach to solving behavior problems that involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value? What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.

In this woman’s circumstance, the antecedent is her picking up the telephone receiver; the behavior is her dog barking and pacing; and the consequence to her dog is her attention and/or being given a favorite toy.

When you look at it this way, can you see how that barking and pacing behavior is getting reinforced? And how her picking up the phone has actually become a learned cue (we call that a discriminative stimulus) to bark and pace in order to receive that reinforcement?

Here is how I’d write that out:

A:           Mary picks up the telephone receiver
B:           Hank barks and paces at her feet
C:           Mary gives Hank attention and a favorite toy

Prediction:  When Mary picks up the phone receiver, Hank will bark and pace more often to get Mary to give him attention and a favorite toy.

Once you see that, developing a strategic plan to modify Hank’s behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way becomes clearer.

There are so many possibilities. Antecedent change is probably going to be the most effective here because, let’s face it, once Mary is on the telephone it is going to be difficult for her prevent Hank from building upon his reinforcement of that behavior.

A few suggestions for antecedent change strategies include: Mary could give her dog a favorite toy whenever she picks up the telephone AND BEFORE Hank begins the problematic behavior; or she could teach Hank a reliable sit or down and stay with a huge reinforcement history and then ask Hank to do one of those behaviors after picking up the phone AND BEFORE he begins the barking and pacing.

She should also have a plan in place in the instance that she cannot prevent the unwanted behaviors from occurring, so as to at least minimize the amount of reinforcement Hank receives. With a portable telephone, she can stand up and turn her back to him for example after the behaviors begin.

These are just a few ideas for solving this. When you look at behavior in the context of its environment, it gives you a very different perspective on your pet and your pet’s behavior; and it allows you to develop solutions that not only help your pet to succeed but strengthen your relationship as well.

 

Can I be of further help to you and your dog? Please contact me!

Who Is Training Whom?

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My dad loves to share stories of Sam’s brilliance…and keen sense of hearing. The two buddies often travel together to the store. My dad says he can’t leave without Sam because Sam knows right away when dad is getting ready to leave and comes running to go with him, waggling his tail and holding a toy.

Who is training whom?Hmm. I thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at this. Remember, living beings learn by the consequences of a behavior and it is those consequences that predict the future rate of the behavior. For any behavior to continue and even strengthen, something in the environment is reinforcing it.

Let’s put our Applied Behavior Analysis hats on for a minute and do a functional assessment of the environment from each perspective. A functional assessment involves looking at the specific measurable
behavior within the context of its environment including the Antecedent (setting event for the behavior), the Behavior, and the Consequence of the behavior. In doing an assessment, always begin by writing down the Behavior we are analyzing, then fill in the A and C.

1. Focusing on my dad

A:         My dad announces he is going to the store

B:         Sam exhibits ‘wanna go’ behaviors (immediately perks up, runs to grab one of his toys     and then comes back to my dad with his whole body waggling

C:        Dad gets Sam’s leash and takes him to the car (there actually could be a second ABC here if I tightened this up)

Prediction:  When my dad announces that he is going to the store, Sam will exhibit his ‘wanna go’ behaviors more frequently to produce the outcome of getting to go to the car.

2.  Focusing on Sam

A:         Sam is laying on floor in the kitchen

B:         Dad announces his excursion

C:        Sam exhibits his ‘wanna go’ behaviors

Prediction: When Sam is laying on the kitchen floor, my dad will announce his excursion more to get Sam to exhibit his ‘wanna go’ behaviors

It looks to me like both Sam and my dad are doing a fabulous job of reinforcing the behavior of the other. They are great teachers. I taught them well.

 

Can I be of help to you and your pet? Please contact me

Tips For Holiday

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Another holiday is upon us, and that may mean much added stress, activity and company. Complaints of dog over arousal, jumping on people, getting into things it shouldn’t, and even biting or growling at kids happen a lot at this time of year. Instead of blaming your dog, think through how you can help your dog to succeed through the next few days.

tips for reducing your dog's stress during the holidaysHere are just a few tips for keeping your dog safe and reducing your dog’s stress during the holidays.

With this being just a few days from Christmas and Hannukah, the reality is, if you have not already spent time teaching your dog behaviors you want to see in different situations, you more than likely won’t be able to teach those behaviors with such fluency by the time guests arrive.

However, now is the time to really do an assessment of your dog’s reaction to different stimulus. Management and other solutions will be very different for a dog that has great fear reaction to people, sounds, and strange sights than for a dog who jumps on people to get attention.  If your dog growls, lunges at, or retreats from strangers, the holiday party is not a good time to be desensitizing your dog to people. A better choice is to keep your dog in a safe, quiet place away from company…or even sending it to a friend’s or a kennel away from it all.

If your dog is one that will jump on guests when they arrive, consider having it behind a gate, in a bedroom out of site or in a crate in another room until they settle in and your dog is in a calmer state. Be prepared to reinforce your dog for doing the desired behavior.

With adults often come children, and, as your pet’s guardian, it is your responsibility to ensure a safe environment for everyone. Any dog will have a breaking point when it comes to interactions with people who do things to make the dog uncomfortable. Additionally, children can run around which encourages your dog to chase them, potentially leading to over arousal. Children should ALWAYS be PRO-ACTIVELY supervised around pets, and should be redirected if they are doing anything that a dog does not like. Some dog body language to look for in an unhappy dog is: a tail held low or tucked between the legs; ears held sideways for an erect eared dog or flattened back with rapid panting; tense eyes that likely show the whites around the sides; tense body muscles; looking or moving or leaning away; a center of gravity over the rear legs or to one side. Dogs may also roll onto their belly in submission. If dogs freeze, become stiff, stand with their front legs splayed and head low, showing teeth or growling, interaction with them needs to stop immediately.

Ensure that your dog has a quiet safe where it can go if it wants to be alone, and instruct and enforce to all of your guests that they are not to enter the space around that quiet place.

At least during the most hectic times such as opening presents, serving food, guests coming and going, consider having your dog in its quiet place with a chew toy such as a stuffed Kong.

Make sure that your dog is wearing its collar and name tags in case it runs out the door. Of course, also managing its opportunity to be that close to the door is also very important.

If your dog is likely to grab some of that tasty holiday food, and you haven’t already trained alternative behaviors, management is your best solution. Tell your guests to keep food and drinks away from reach. You may also want to use barriers such as gates to prevent your dog from having access.

Can I be of help to you and your pet with your dog training needs? Please contact me.

Careful With Your Dog’s Paws This Winter

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With an icy winter day here predicted in Cincinnati, I have a winter weather safety tip for your dog. In snowy weather, please remember salt and chemicals are unhealthy for your pet and should be wiped off as soon as he/she comes inside. Also, be aware of ice balls that can form between the pads and toes if your dog has a lot of fur on his/her feet which can add to the problem of retaining chemicals.

winter safety tip for dogs by certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA

 

 

Can I be of help to you and your dog? Please click here and reach out!

Choosing Words For Training

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I was asked the other day this question: “Does it matter if we refer to our pet by its species or its sex? Are “Good Dog!” and “Good Boy!” equal in esteeming and reinforcing good behavior?”

In dog training, does it matter what words you use to reinforce behavior? Certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik explainsI thought I’d write an answer to that, as it may be a question others have as well.

I am assuming that person was using those words both to let her dog know she liked her dog’s behavior and also to add value to her dog’s behavior so that she would see more of it.

Let’s first look at the function in training of using words to acknowledge a behavior. We call this using a marker. A clicker or other sound (or even another non-verbal signal) can be used as well. Moment marking training is very effective because it involves giving the learner very precise information that what occurred *immediately* preceding the mark is exactly what the trainer is looking for. If you are shaping behavior (reinforcing small steps or approximations toward a final behavior), you may mark those tiny steps with a click or word kind of like you’d play the child’s hot and cold game. You may also click in teaching simple behaviors like when a dog sits or you may mark a behavior for other criteria such as duration. That precision matters because within just several seconds time, you could be inadvertently reinforcing a different behavior if your timing is off. You can say ‘Yes!’ or click much quicker than you can deliver a piece of food.

Good markers then are distinct and short sounds that provide the learner with very specific feedback that *at that moment* the behavior was awesome. Having said that, then using two or more words that take longer to say may not be as effective because by the time a trainer gets through ‘gooood boy’, the dog may be on to doing another behavior. Another point is that, I have seen handlers who repeat ‘good dog’ over and over again. In terms of training, that is not specific enough information for the learner.

To use markers effectively, they should be used ‘as’ the behavior is occurring. No other stimulus should be present until AFTER the click or verbal word (so no reaching for your food until after you click).

Now, as for whether words matter, I’ll say the same thing I told my clients who taught their dog to come with a cue of ‘Buckeye’. Whether we are talking about a cue occurring before the behavior or a marker occurring after the behavior, the word itself does not matter. It is all in how you teach it.

You can build value for words by pairing them with things or activities your pet values. Remember that it is the stimulus that occurs AFTER something that affects the emotional response of what occurs before. A click in and of itself does not have meaning; however, if you click and then give your dog a treat with many repetitions, over time, your dog will acquire the same type of reflexive response to the click as he with the treat.

So, in answer to that question, if I am training a specific behavior, I would not use either ‘good dog’ or ‘good boy’ but rather I would use either a clicker or a single syllable word like ‘yes’ and I would spend time teaching my student the value of the marker I am using.

 

 

 

 

 

Prevent Dog Bites

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Parents, please remember, you have an important role to play in helping your children and your dog succeed…including preventing dog bites.

children and dogs: dog bite prevention. Do you know what this dog's body language is saying?

 

Please click here to ready my post: Supervising dogs and kids is not enough.

To learn more about dog body language, please click here:  dog body language

Please watch this video below of how two girls practiced teaching their puppy recall.

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A Reminder About Teaching

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I love this quote. It is so relevant to dog training (and any pet) too. Instead of blaming our pets when they are not learning what we want them to do, we need to ask ourselves as their teacher, ‘What can I do to make my lesson more clear?’ I wrote about this awhile back.

on dog training: If your dog is not getting what you are trying to teach, teach it differently.

 

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