NEWS BLOG

Is It Better To Participate In Training With My Dog, Or Do A Board and Train Program With My Dog?

When many people are looking for an obedience training program, they always ask us, “Is it better to participate in the training with my dog, or do your 2-week board and train intensive obedience training program?”.

I always tell people, when it comes to which dog training program is right, there is no correct answer; however, we can tell you which one would be the most beneficial based off of your lifestyle.

When doing our dog training lessons in Central Florida the sessions are set-up as one lesson per week for 4-weeks (for basic) and one lesson per week for 8-weeks for basic and advanced. With our lessons, we require a commitment from the owners of practicing at least 30-40 minutes per day (minimum) with their dogs in the week in-between sessions. If based off of your lifestyle, this is a very feasible and realistic training goal, than you would reap great benefits out of our lessons. Then, it’s on you to take your dog out, practice with distractions, etc.

If you are a busy person, always on the move, and you know that you cannot realistically practice every day, then I would recommend doing our 2-week board and train program in Central Florida. With our 2-week board and train program, we train your dog for about 3-4 hours per day, 7 days per week, for 14 days. As you will see in our numerous we practice and work your dog with every distraction possible (cars, trucks, people, dogs, noises, etc).

Many people have a huge misconception that when doing a training program where you drop-off your dog, that the dog is only being conditioned to the trainer and will not listen to them when they pick the dog up, this is simply untrue. If you are on our Facebook page, we post screenshots of emails on a daily basis that owners send to us of how amazed they still are with their dog, etc. When a board and train program is properly done with your dog, the trainer should have numerous people doing the training, that way your dog learns that he/she has to listen to everyone, and not “just” focused on a single trainer/person.

Then, when you pick the dogs up, we do a 2 hour turnover with you, explaining in-depth how to control the dog, how to properly correct and praise the dog, and how to maintain the same level of obedience and precision. Then, we have YOU do all the commands outside, off-leash, with distractions numerous times so we both feel comfortable that you know what to do and how to do it.

So, there is not really a right or wrong answer as to which is better, dropping your dog off for training or doing lessons with your dog. It’s really more about what program is best suited for your lifestyle.

If you are a busy person and you know that you don’t have time to invest in training your dog on a daily basis, I would definitely recommend a board and train program. If you know that you have the time on a daily basis, then I would recommend doing our training lessons.

Hopefully this will help you decide which dog training program is better for your dog, doing dog training lessons or doing a 2-week board and train program with your dog.

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My Dog Is Aggressive Towards Other Dogs

Dog aggression is something that we literally deal with on a daily basis at our Central Florida location. If you go to our YouTube channel, you can see countless dog aggression before and after videos.

Just like with our blog on people aggression, we do not base your dog’s severity based off of the number of incidents, but we based it off of the severity of the incidents.

If your dog has been in “a lot of dog fights” or “attacked a lot of other dogs” (as we hear on a daily basis), we always ask about the SEVERITY. Severity of the “attack” is all that really matters, in our opinion.

If your dog has been in “a lot of fights” or “attacked a lot of dogs,” I would ask:
-Did at least two of the dogs have to go to the vet due to damage?
-Did the vet bills of 1 or more dogs total over $1000.00 in damage done by your dog?

If your answer is “no” to both, I would generally say that you do not have a “dog aggressive” dog. Your dog may be a dick, but I wouldn’t say that he or she is necessarily aggressive. What people do not realize is that is VERY easy for your dog to do damage (punctures) to another person or a dog; therefore, if they are “getting into fights,” but they are NOT doing damage, this is generally by the CHOICE of your dog. They could have easily done damage if that was their intention. So, your dog is showing great restraint and bite inhibition.

Also, it may not necessarily have been YOUR dog’s fault. Maybe another dog challenged him, postured up on him (etc) and you just didn’t notice this, and your dog reacted.

So, I would say that your dog is generally safe with other dogs, he just may not get a long with all dogs he meets. Here’s a big secret that many people do not realize, “YOUR DOG MAY NOT LOVE OR GET ALONG WITH EVERY DOG THEY MEET!”

Let me say that again, “Your dog will probably not like every dog it meets.” Shocking, right? Why is that true? You socialized them a lot when they were young, you do on-going socialization with them, etc. Let me put it to you differently, were you raised well, did you have a lot of friends growing up aka were you well socialized growing up? If you answered, “Yes,” then should it be safe to assume that YOU like every single person you meet? Ah hah! There you have it! It’s really that simple.

So, to get back to the main point, your dog’s dog aggression. From a training perspective, if your dog has not: 1) put two dogs in the vet or 2) given vet bills over $1000.00, we would say that your dog is definitely workable and can be taught to be better behaved and proper interaction.

If your dog HAS met two of these standards, I would generally say that your dog would not be safe around other dogs, regardless of training. We can still give you CONTROL over your dog with other dogs in their presence. Meaning, we can generally take your highly reactive dog who is going out of his way to attack another, and give you a dog that will stay in a heel, sit, down, place (etc) while another dog walks by without reacting. With that said, I still wouldn’t ever TRUST them with another dog, you just have control over them with other dogs around.

So, this is a good measuring tool to see if your dog’s dog aggression is fixable or just manageable.

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Dog Aggressive Dog Training

Literally every day owners contact us and ask, “Can your dog training program fix our dog aggressive dog?”

I always respond with the same answer, “It’s impossible to guarantee that our training will make your dog love other dogs. What we can guarantee you is that you full CONTROL of your dogs when other dogs are present.

I always give the analogy to people that aggression in dogs is a psychological issue, just like issues with certain people. No psychiatrist in the world will tell you that he can take a serial killer, pedophile, etc and guarantee he can fix their issue. So, the analogy I like to use is, “If you cannot guarantee it with a highly intelligent adult human being, there is no way you can guarantee it with a domesticated animal.”

With that said, I like to give a 70/30 rule dog aggression. The equation I generally find is that 30% of the dog aggressive dogs you can completely fix and rehabilitate and 70% of the dogs you can make much more manageable and controllable. Meaning, 70% of the dogs we train who used to see another dog and bark, lunge, and growl, will NOW walk by that same dog without any reaction. Also, he/she will listen and perform flawless obedience with other dogs being present. Below, is a good example of this. See this 1.5 year old Golden Retriever “Guinness” who could not be around other dogs or would react violently like you see 1:40 portion of the video, then, you will see the same two dogs at the 2:00 minute mark of the video:

To point out my 70/30 rule, those Golden Retrievers still could not be left alone in a kennel together overnight; however, this is just after 14 days of training and you can clearly see the difference in their behaviors.

So, this is an example of what 70% of the dog-on-dog aggression cases will look like at our dog training. They still won’t love each other and sleep on the same bed together; however, they are clearly much better and more manageable than they were prior.

To clarify, of the 70% of cases like this, some of them “could” shift over to the 30% with more time, patience, training, and consistency.

The key to getting your dog over his/her dog aggression is confidence building drills, obedience, pack leadership, and getting him/her around other positive dogs (muzzled if needed). You will never get a dog over their dog aggression by keeping them isolated from other dogs, generally this will only make the problem worse.

We can teach you the importance of socialization and confidence building drills such as object desensitization and noise desensitization you can start doing with your dog.

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My Dog Bit Someone Unexpectedly

With over 60 locations around the country, we deal with a wide variety of people and dogs on a daily basis. We are known for our high-level of obedience training; however, one common issue we also deal with is aggression in dogs (towards people and other dogs).

When dealing with aggression, the owners are almost always in a frenzy, stressed, and find themselves and their dogs hiding away from people and society. One thing that we commonly hear in aggression cases (mainly with people) is, “There was no warning sign, he just jumped up and bit the guy.”

What they are saying is, “There were a lot of warning signs, but none “I” noticed.” Once we really start breaking down the incident (how, what, where), then we can generally easily formulate a “why.”

Say for instance, a scenario that we may hear is, “I had a friend come over, out of nowhere, he jumped up and bit him.”

*Note, I say “him” because my experience shows me that generally dog bites tend to happen more on men than women*

I almost never find a dog bite to be “that” cut and dry. All dogs have what we refer to as a “bite threshold;” meaning, under what circumstances does it take for me to react with a bite. If you think about it, many people have this same “fight or argue threshold.” You do, I do, and every one of your friends and family have this. Think about this for a minute to help you better understand what I mean.

Do you have a friend who gets upset far quicker than you? Do you have a friend or family member that the smallest thing can set them off and they are ready to fight or punch someone? Do you have a friend or family member who can take A LOT of abuse (physical or mental) and they still keep their composure and remain calm?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you now see that EVERYONE has a different amount of “pressure” before they react in a certain situation, some it takes very little and some it takes an enormous amount. Also, you see that people react DIFFERENTLY once this threshold is met. Welcome to your “threshold.”

Now that you understand the point I am trying to make (if you did not initially), dogs have this same threshold for reacting and HOW they react, just like with people.

Generally, when we actually break down the event, the dog’s background or temperament, and the sequence of events that led up the bite, we can see what actually occurred.

Again, to jump back to the initial call or email that, “I had a friend come over, out of nowhere, he jumped up a bit my friend.”

After discussing their dog with them, we are able to see what “actually happened.” So, here is an example conversation below:

“Well, Rex can sometimes be shy/sketchy around new people. He also has growled at us on rare occasion if we push him off the couch or try to take his ball. He has also growled at the vet when they clip his toenails or mess with his paws. However, Rex has never bit anyone! I cannot believe he would do this!”

Then, I begin to break down the series of events that took place which led up to the friend being bit.

“Rex was laying on the couch, had his ball between his paws, and was just laying their playing with this ball and Mark (stranger) walked in, sat down on couch beside of Rex, and started petting him. Then, he went to move Rex’s paw so he could throw the ball for him and that’s when Rex just bit him out of nowhere.”

Do you all see what just happened? It was a bunch of minor events that normally gets a reaction out of Rex; however, all of these events came together in one scenario in order to create “the perfect storm.”

He didn’t like when the stranger came in (gave him anxiety), then he sat down next to him on the couch (which owner acknowledged he can be territorial), then he moved his feet WHILE Rex had a ball (again, both things the owner knew Rex doesn’t like).

Again, this is a very generic scenario; however, this is generally what dog bites break down to. For the severity of the reaction and the bite, I would recommend reading my blog on “How Fixable Is My Dogs People Aggression?”

So, it is YOUR responsibility as a responsible pet owner to find out what (if any) your dogs triggers are, get them addressed, and ensure that they never come together to create “the perfect storm.”

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How To Fix My People Aggressive Dog

On a daily basis, people contact us and ask if it’s possible to fix their people aggressive dog.

When working with dogs that are people aggressive, I believe the first step is understanding what the aggression is based off of before you can properly create a training program to begin to rehabilitate the dog. People aggressive is a general and “overused” phrase in my opinion. Most of the people we work with who describe their dogs as people aggressive, we quickly discover that the dogs aren’t people aggressive at all. Most of the time the dogs are “fear aggressive.”

The way I look at it, if your dog will go out of his way to bite someone, he’s people aggressive. If he/she will generally ignore people and stay away from them, and only react when that person overwhelms them, they are probably fear aggressive (again, this is a generalization).

Recently, we just finished working with a Leonberger who his owner described as a “people aggressive dog,” after working with him and evaluating, we learned that he wasn’t people aggressive, at all. He just liked, “his space.” Once he was comfortable with you, he would come up to you on his own, and loved being pet! However, if someone “forced themselves” on him, then he would respond with the only way that he knew to tell you to leave him alone, using his teeth. So, after using our 5-part approach and telling the owner to not let people force themselves on him, and instead, let him go to them (when he was ready); they have been problem-free since their last lesson over a month ago.

The root of people/fear aggression can stem from many things such as: lack of confidence, lack of socialization, mistreatment, bad breeding (which can be read the blog on How To Pick A Dog), and poor pack leadership. Additionally, you can have a combination of these many factors, as well.

When working with people aggressive/fear aggressive dogs in Central Florida, I always preach that we do a 5-part approach to this: Obedience, Confidence Building, Positive Association with People, Pack Leadership, and Proper Correction for the Negative Behavior. I have found that this is a fundamental approach that is imperative to start working a dog towards rehabilitation, and all 5 components are necessary to be successful.

With people aggressive or fearful dogs, we do a drill I call “positive association with people.” What we do is find something that your dog is highly motivated or driven for (often we use hot dogs) and have every person your dog meets give him/her this highly valued reward. After this goes on for a week or so, what is your dog learning? “Every time I meet a new person, they give me something awesome!” Imagine if you weren’t a people person, but every person you met gave your $50.00, they would rapidly grow on you, correct? Same with the dogs, they slowly learn to associate people with something positive. If need be, you can do this drill with your dog still muzzled (dependent on the severity of his/her issue).

The WORST thing you can do (and the thing that many people do) is keep them separated from people, this will only progress the problem. You are not fixing anything, you are just avoiding the problem. It’s like a person who is afraid of high places, their solution cannot be, “Stay away from high places.” You have to constantly put them in those environments and make their experience with it positive, fun, and motivating!

On a weekly basis someone will call and say, “I watched all of your amazing dog training videos on YouTube; however, all I really care about is fixing the aggression in my dog.” I always tell people, it doesn’t work like that. My famous quote is, “You cannot fix any issue in a dog that doesn’t listen to you and that you have no control over.” Once we gain obedience/control over the dog, which is a NATURAL confidence builder/pack leadership booster, we can start addressing the specific issues with the aggression. I find myself saying on a daily basis, “I have never seen a highly aggressive dog that was amazingly obedient, and I have never seen an amazingly obedient dog that was highly aggressive.” So, that has to mean what? They kind of go hand-in-hand, right?

Just like I speak about in my blog post about dog-on-dog aggression, you cannot “guarantee” that you can fix do aggression or fear aggression; however, sometimes you can completely rehabilitate the dog and you can almost always make the dog more manageable.

So, if your dog is displaying some of these issues, start with some professional Obedience Training, Confidence Building Drills, Pack Leadership, and Positive Association with People.

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My Dog Is Aggressive Towards People: Trainers Dealing with Aggression

We deal with dogs who are aggressive towards people on a regular basis.

One thing that everyone asks is, “Can you fix my people aggressive dog?” That’s a very tricky question to answer until we really start working with your dog.

First, you must understand WHY your dog has aggression towards people: abused at a young age, lack of socialization at a young age, or bad breeding (genetic predisposition)?

I would say about 90% of the cases is lack of proper socialization at a young age; unfortunately, this is sad because this is the EASIEST and most preventable thing to do with your dog (that is 100% free and cost-free). We will discuss proper socialization and desensitizing your dog to “trigger points” in a different blog.

We (as in Off Leash K9 Training) do have a classification system that tells us the likelihood of being able to completely fix (or address) your dog’s people’s aggression.

We base this system NOT on the number of incidents your dog has had, but the “severity” of the incidents. This is the grading scale assuming that your dog has no medical issue.

Level 1 Aggression:
-Growls and barks at people, but has never actually put teeth on a person.

Level 2 Aggression:
-Growls, barks (not necessary), and has put teeth on someone but has never actually punctured a person’s skin

Level 3 Aggression:
-Growls, barks (not necessary), and has left 1-3 shallow puncture marks on someone. *Shallow punctures meaning not deeper than half the length of the dog’s K9 teeth*

Level 4 Aggression:
-Growls, barks (not necessary) and has left 1-4 deep puncture wounds in a single bite. *Deep punctures meaning deeper than half the length of the dog’s K9 teeth*

Level 5 Aggression:
-Growls, barks (not necessary) and has left multiple Level 4-type wounds on a person.

Level 6 Aggression:
-Has severely wounded a person (long hospital stay due to the dog bite) and/or even killing a person.

Dealing with Level 1 and 2 Aggression: This is the easiest type of aggression. We work with this on a daily basis. We are almost always able to completely fix this, give your dog amazing obedience, higher confidence, and stop their reactivity to people. What this tells us is that your dog may be reactive towards people; he/she has learned GREAT bite inhibition (which we will talk about in another blog).

Dealing with Level 3 Aggression: This is still very workable from a training and “fixability” perspective. We have a lot of steps that we will go over with you in order to get this issue fixed and bring the level down until it’s a level zero. This means that your dog has SOME bite inhibition.

Dealing with Level 4 Aggression: This is where it starts to get a little tricky. This is where we will ask about the specific situation and story behind the bites. Generally, with a level 4 aggression biter, it is workable with the family and people living with the dog (assuming the dog did this with someone in the family). Generally, would not recommend this dog interacting with anyone outside of the people working directly with the dog on a daily basis. This is a dog who has A LITTLE bite inhibition.

Dealing with Level 5 Aggression: Okay, at this point, you have a dog that we would classify as a dangerous dog. Your dog has NO bite inhibition whatsoever, and we would say that they are not be trusted around people.

Dealing with Level 6 Aggression: Your dog is a VERY dangerous dog and training would not help whatsoever. Your dog could never be trusted around anyone and would recommend this dog being put down for public safety.

So, if you have a dog in the level 1-3 zone, this is definitely workable, trainable, and more than likely completely fixable.

We would say that level 4 can generally be managed and controlled and a good possibility of fixing this behavior.

If you have a level 5 biter, we would never trust this dog around people; however, we can give you control over the dog. Depending on your specific situations with a level 5, depends on what course of action should be taken with this dog.

If you have a level 6 biter, training would not even be a viable option for your situation.

Hopefully this blog on dealing with your people aggressive dog will help you in having realistic expectations from training. Also, it will help you realize exactly how severe your issue really is from a professional training standpoint.

If you are at a level 1, 2, 3, or 4, I would HIGHLY recommend getting training as soon as possible, as it is very possible (with time) for your dog to move up the aggression scale.

I would also recommend reading our other blog on dealing with people aggression.

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How to fix my dogs toy aggression

Toy Aggression is a behavioral issue we deal with a lot in Central Florida.

First, we will start with prevention, to ensure you never have this problem with your dog.

Anytime we do our puppy training classes, I always tell the owners to get their puppies used to them taking away their toys, giving them back, etc. So, as your puppy is playing with a new toy, bone, Kong, etc, I will just walk over to them, take it away from them, praise them, and then give it back. This gets your puppy at a young age conditioned and used to you taking things from them, I talk about this in my Pack Leadership blog, as well. Essentially what you are doing is desensitizing them to people taking stuff from them while they are small and manageable, that way they think nothing of it when they are older and larger.

Also, what I’m a huge advocate of that most people do not do is I always recommend keeping all toys put up. Meaning, if you come over to my house, you will not see one dog toy on the floor. I only get out a toy (tug or a ball) when I’m working with my dog and he is doing well on obedience, then I use the toy as a reward. This does two things: 1) It helps build his drive for the object and 2) It teaches him that all of the toys are MINE and he only gets them when I give him access to them. I talk about building drive in your dog in my blog “Should I Play Tug With My Dog?”

Dogs who are toy aggressive see these toys as THEIRS and “you” are trying to take away THEIR toy. This is a very bad state-of-mind for your dog to be in. That shows that they do not respect you as the owner of these objects nor do they respect you as the pack leader.

Lastly, get your dog some obedience training so they have a solid “out” command or “leave it” command and you have control over your dog’s movement. Now, you can eliminate the issue by telling them to “out,” calling them away from it, and picking the toy up.

So, in summary: start desensitization work with your dog to get them used to you taking things away, find an obedience trainer to gain solid control over your dog, teach the dog that the toys are YOURS and not theirs by limiting their access to them, and start incorporating all of the pack leadership things discussed in the blog above.

My Dog Has Toy Aggression, Now What?

Your first course of action would be to find a qualified dog trainer in your area. As I tell people on a daily basis, “You cannot fix any issue in a dog that doesn’t listen.” To me, obedience and control over your dog is paramount for fixing almost any behavioral issue in your dog. As I’ve said before in another blog, “I have never seen an amazingly obedient dog with major behavioral issues and I have never seen a dog with major behavioral issues that was amazing in obedience.” Generally, all of these things go hand-in-hand. Obedience is a natural confidence builder for a dog, as well as a natural pack leadership bolsterer for you.

Now that you have control over your dog and you are working on the pack leadership issues that you have, now we can concentrate on correcting the behavior.

Here’s where it gets controversial, in my opinion, most dogs with aggression issues have to have a correction for the behavior! We work with 65 dogs per week, many of which went to some “positive reinforcement, clicker and treat, give him hot dogs until he’s full and falls over” trainer. Once they paid money, wasted a few weeks of time, and received no results, THEN they called us.

I think that dogs, much like humans, have to have a balanced approach of training. There has to be positive and praise when a desired behavior is achieved, and there has to be a correction for an unwanted behavior such as your dog trying to bite you or someone else. You cannot raise highly intelligent kids solely based off of positive reinforcement and ice cream, so why people think you can dogs is beyond me. As I say, the most confident and obedient dogs in the world are military, police, and ring (Mondio, ScH, French Ring) dogs, right? Not ONE of them solely use positive reinforcement. End of debate.

So, while working with your toy aggressive or toy possessive dog, there has to be a correction for the unwanted behavior and positive reinforcement for the desired behavior. This will help teach your dog what is acceptable and unacceptable. Find a qualified trainer to work with your dog on these issues, do not try to fix this on your own.

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How To Get My Dog Over Being Afraid of Loud Noises?

One big fear many dogs have are fear of noises (loud trucks, fireworks, thunder, etc). When we do puppy consultations, we always tell people, “Immediately start exposing him/her to as many noises as possible.” Turn on the vacuum, blender, hair dryer, and any other noisy devices you have around the house. I have seen far too many dogs that run and hide at the sound of a loud noise, especially vacuum cleaners and thunder. This can be completely prevented if you expose them to these noises at a young age. Expose your dog to as many noises as possible by the time he is five months old, and while exposing him, make it a positive experience through verbal/physical praise, treats, etc. Keep in mind, it’s NEVER too late to start doing these drills with your dog.

Many people asks, “What to do if you expose your dog to a noise (e.g., a vacuum) and he runs and hides from it?” Very simple—bring him back and make him deal with it. One of the many terms we use for this process is “flooding.” This means you find a noise your dog is afraid of and flood him with that noise repeatedly, every day. Again, flood him with this experience in a positive way, by giving praise, treats, etc. Fear of noises or things is a completely unrealistic fear that dogs have, just like humans. So, by making him sit next to the vacuum cleaner while it’s turned on, he realizes, “I’m not being hurt, I don’t feel any pain, and I am getting praised for this.” After a short while, that unrealistic fear will go away and the dog will soon realize that it is not a big deal and will soon pay no attention to it. They main key is, make them face it and do not let them run and hide, repeat until he/she no longer shows a reaction towards the noise.

If your puppy hears a lot of noise such as thunder, fireworks, or a car door slam outside and he runs to me for comfort? Never comfort your dog when he is afraid of something. This only reinforces the fear. Comfort is simply another kind of praise. Think about that for a second. When you comfort a dog, how is it different from praising him? You are petting them and talking cute to them in both instances. So when you break it down, you are praising your dog for being afraid of something. Now, any time it has a reason to be afraid, it will run to you in order to reap the praise that goes along with the action. So, never comfort your dog for being afraid. If he hears a loud noise and comes running to you, do not acknowledge him, do not look at him, touch him, pet him, or talk to him. Again, if he sees it does not get a response from you and you do not make a big deal out of it, he will not make a big deal out of it, either.

Start desensitizing your dogs to noises as soon as possible, and within a very short amount of time, you will notice a much more confident dog!

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How Can I Train My Aggressive Dog?

Our aggressive dog training courses work on the principle that there is no dog in the world that prefers to be aggressive. An aggressive dog will be just as unhappy as its owners about the situation. Aggression is caused by the dog’s environment putting it under some kind of stress. This is why our courses focus on the dog owner as much as the dog. It is essential for owners to understand that dogs are animals with well developed social needs which differ in many respects from human social structures. Smart owners will recognize this and work to understand the dog’s natural needs and instincts. Attending one of our sessions will quickly show you how simple it is to make an aggressive dog into a relaxed and happy member of your family.

We specialize in training for aggressive dogs. Our experienced trainers will observe and analyze your dog’s behavior and show you exactly why it is exhibiting this behavior. When it is explained to you, you will quickly get insight into the way a dog reacts to it’s environment. There is no mystery, although you might just now be at your wit’s end trying to figure out what is causing the aggression.

Learn how aggression is a natural reaction when your dog is under stress

Your dog is probably not aggressive all the time, though red zone dogs may exhibit extremes of bad behavior. Red zone or not, we understand that aggressive behavior is not related to the dog’s breed. Tiny Chihuahuas can be as bad as pit bulls, although of course some breeds are naturally stronger and can do more damage. The fact is that any dog will be aggressive if it thinks the situation demands it. Our dog training sessions explain clearly the main causes of bad behavior as well as why your particular animal is straying from the right path.

The chief amongst the causes of aggression are fear, the natural instinct to step into the role of pack leader if the owner is not fulfilling this role and frustration. For example, often times leash aggression occurs when the dog does not view you as pack leader, i.e. not in control of both it and other dogs in the area. When it is happy to accept you as leader its behavior towards other dogs will mirror your own. The same applies to bad behavior towards humans. Our training sessions for aggressive dogs are your first steps towards a happy and well behaved animal which will be a pleasure to own.

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How Do I Be The Pack Leader?

Many people hear everyone constantly say, “You need to be the pack leader.” However, many of you ask, “How do I be the pack leader for my dog?”

What does it mean that dogs are pack animals? This means they always roam and stick together in a pack. Lions are the same way; you will very rarely see a lone lion because they travel in packs. Anytime you have a pack, there has to be a leader in charge of the pack. Think about a pack of dogs like a small business in America. There is no successful business that does not have someone in charge of it. There has to be someone in charge in order to make the decisions, ensure the employees are taken care of and have everything they need, reprimand an employee when he or she does something that goes against the policy of the company, and ensure the overall success of the business. The pack leader, or “alpha-male,” of a dog pack essentially has those same responsibilities.

It is imperative that you become the pack leader in your household with the addition of the new member of your pack (i.e., your puppy). It is important that you teach your new puppy that you are the pack leader. You must teach him that you are the one who is in charge of the pack; you make the decisions; you have the best of everything; you decide when to play with him; and out of your entire family, you must demonstrate to him that he is the lowest member of the “pack.”

Many people wonder why this is important. This is another very important process to ensure that you have a happy, confident, and well-trained dog. Dogs are much happier and stable when they know their place in a pack, and there is no question about who is the dominant individual in the house. As some of you may have already experienced by having dogs, people often say, “My dog listens to my husband really well and does not listen to me at all.” Or “My dog will listen to my husband and me, but he will not listen to the kids.” Again, this is because your dog knows whom the pack leader is, and listens to him or her. Generally, the person the dog listens to the best is the one who has displayed the best pack leader characteristics and he knows that person is in charge. We are going to discuss many things you can do in order to show your dog you are the pack leader.

One of the most basic things that I always stress to people during their puppy consultations is: Do not let your dog get on the furniture. This is something a lot of people do not like to hear. However, this can and often does lead to major problems in the future. One of the problems with letting your dog get on the furniture is you are bringing them to your level. Essentially, you are teaching them they are on the same level as you and your family. Remember, dogs should be treated as the lowest members of the pack, not as equals. Having them sleep on the floor and on their dog beds is just one more thing to reinforce to them that they are lower members of the pack. Hence, they get the lowest and worst spots to sleep and lie.

Another problem that can be caused with letting them get on the furniture is territorial aggression. I have talked to many clients who tell me that if they try to get their dog off of the couch, he will growl and snap at them—again, because now the dog sees this as an invasion of his space. I have talked with numerous people who tell me that when they try to get into bed with their significant other, their dog will growl at them. Again, by bringing them to your level, you can create numerous problems with the order of your pack. You are demonstrating to your dog that he is equal to you; this can lead to many problems.

You should be the first one to do everything. What exactly does that mean, you ask? You should be the first one to eat, then you feed the dog. You should be the first one greeted when a family member arrives home, or if you arrive home first, the family members should be greeted and then the dog. Again, you are reinforcing to him that every member of the family is higher on the pack structure than he is. You should be the first one out the door and the first one up or down the stairs. Simply put your dog in the sit position and then allow him to come after you have gone, or hold him back so he cannot pass you. While walking on the leash, your pup should walk beside you, not in front. Again, leaders walk in the front of the pack. Just keep in mind when you start to work with your dog that you and your family should be the first ones to do everything. The dog always comes last.

In military and law enforcement, generally, dogs do not have any toys that belong to them. This is done for two reasons, one of which I discussed earlier: Your dog will never be motivated for something to which he has constant access. The second reason we do this is to show the dog that he owns nothing; all toys are ours, and he plays with them when we allow him to. He gets them for doing something good, the toy becomes the treat. Many dogs become toy-aggressive because they have learned that the toys are theirs and you are trying to take their toy. Again, you are the leader, so you control everything in the house. Just like my father was our pack leader, so he controlled the remote control, and he only let us have access to it when he wanted to. Just one more small thing of the many that reaffirmed he was indeed the leader of our household. Get in the habit of touching and playing with your dog while he is eating, or has a bone or a toy. This is done to desensitize them to any possession issues that could arise in the future. Again, they learn that you give the food, toy, bone, or ball, and that you can take it away; it is yours and you are just letting them temporarily have it.

Another important thing about which I get asked about is when dogs try to force their owners to play with them or pet them. For example, you are sitting on the couch and your dog comes over and drops his ball in your lap or lifts up your hand to make you pet him. Those are both examples of your dog trying to make you interact. As hard as it may be, never give in to this forced interaction. Once you give in, your dog will always try to force you to interact. If our dogs do this, we simply pay no attention to them. They learn that their efforts did not pay off and they will no longer try to engage. If you feel you must give your dog a toy, and he keeps dropping it in your lap or next to you, simply put away the toy. This shows them that by trying to force you to play, they lost their toy. Again, they will stop doing this because they will equate this action with getting their toy taken. We teach the dogs that we decide when it’s time to play, not them.

Never feed your dogs from the table. This is a common mistake. If you do this, you will have a dog that begs, drools, and stalks you and your family at the table. By handing them food from the table, you are teaching your dog that the table is a great source for amazing food. Imagine if every time you hung around the table, your father offered up $100. How much would you be waiting at the table? Your dog has the same mindset as you. If you feel compelled to give your dog table food, wait until everyone from the family has finished and gotten up from the table. Then you can place some of the leftovers in your dog’s bowl. By doing so, you are teaching that food never comes from the table and it will only come from his bowl.

Make your dog listen. I always tell our clients when doing our training in Central Florida, “Never give your dog a command that you are not going to reinforce.” That is one of the most important things when it comes to advanced training. If you give a dog a command that you know he knows, you must follow through with it and make him do it, with no exceptions. If you tell him to sit, down, or come, you must ensure he does it, even if you have to physically make him do it. Your dog must learn that once you issue a command, there is no way out of it. Just like with kids, if you let them get away with not doing something you told them to do once, they will try to get out of it the next 10 times. I always tell my clients, “You will never hear me tell a dog something that he doesn’t end up doing. Once I say a command, it’s not if he will do it, but whether they do it on their own. Otherwise I will make him do it.” To me, this is an essential principal in training and being the pack leader. If my father told me to clean my room, it was getting done and there was no way out of it and I knew that, so I rarely even tried to get out of it. Apply those same principles to training your dog—if you cannot back it up, don’t give the command.

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Should I Play Tug With My Dog?

In order to make your pup highly motivated for a ball, tug, or toy, it is essential that he does not have full access to it. Meaning, he should have only very limited access to that specific toy. If he has access to the ball or tug all throughout the day, he will never be highly motivated for it. Again, a toy to dogs is like money is to you: If you had unlimited access to money, you wouldn’t be very motivated to go to work because there is no incentive. The same principles apply with your puppy, if he has constant access to a toy; there is no incentive for him to “work” for it. A dog will never be too motivated for something he always has, just like people. The ball or tug becomes a new treat; they get it only limitedly and on special occasions. If you fed your dog hot dogs every day, three meals per day, for one year, they would no longer be considered a treat to him—it is now food. So think about the ball or tug the same way—limited accessibility and when they do something deserving, play tug with your dog.

Generally, we will give dogs the toy or play tug with them only when they are doing something good. When we are training with them, we will do some obedience training, then “mark” the behavior (more on this in the training section) and immediately reward with a quick game of a tug or by throwing the ball for them to chase. As soon as we play tug for a minute or two, we will immediately take the tug back and repeat the training. If we are using the ball, they have it long enough to go get it and bring it back, that’s about it. If the pup gets the ball and lies down with it, we immediately take it away. Remember, these are not used as chew toys.

One thing to keep in mind is you do not want to over-train with the tug or the ball. Meaning, you do not want to keep playing with the dog until he loses interest in the tug/ball. Stop playing when the dog still wants to keep going. That is what builds up the drive for it. So, when your pup is still in the prime of wanting to play, we will tease them with the ball or tug and once they get all excited over it, we will simply turn and put it away to end the session. This really helps build their drive. That way, when you go to pull the tug/ball out the next time, they immediately want it and want to play. By repeating this sequence over a period of weeks, you should really see your dog’s drive building up for these devices.

Let me correct some misinformation about playing tug with your dog. The first myth is that playing tug with your dog can lead to aggression. That is completely false; actually, the opposite is true. Playing tug has never led to aggression in any dog I have ever seen or worked with. Again, playing tug builds confidence. As I stated in the beginning of this chapter, confident dogs are not the ones biting.

Second myth: You should always win if you play tug in order to show that you are the alpha-male, the dominant member of the pack. Also completely false. Beating your puppy in tug is not something that will teach your dog that you are the leader. What it will do is give your puppy low confidence. Think about it—imagine if you and I were to play a game of pool at my house every day after work and I always beat you. How confident would you be in playing pool? Imagine if my friends came over and they always beat you, too. Where would you be on the confidence scale of 1 to 10? That is where your puppy’s confidence would be, as well. Now, think of the same scenario but reverse the roles. Now imagine that you always beat me, every one of my friends, and all of my family members. How high would you be on the confidence scale then? In your mind, you are unbeatable. Losing isn’t even an option, right? Welcome to the world of how police, military, and personal protection dogs think. Your pup should always win in the game of tug!

When you start playing tug with your puppy, make it fun, engaging, and exciting. You should get into it as much as he does, if not more. While playing tug with your pup, pet him, lightly tapping him on his sides, head, and chest as he tugs. If you scare him off, encourage him back on, repeat the same process, but just don’t do it as much or as hard. This gets your puppy in the habit of being touched while he is tugging and he will become immune to the contact. This is good for when he gets older and possibly works a bite sleeve. Even if that is not your intention for your dog, it is still good to do this drill in order to build confidence while playing tug. This is just one of the many ways we use to build confidence.

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Treating Separation Anxiety Through Training

Here in Central Florida, we’re seeing an increase in the cases of separation anxiety that our clients are reaching out to us about. Many of the cases are in rescue dogs, and we applaud owners for trying to resolve these issues and helping their rescued pups go on to lead happier lives!

There are varying degrees of separation anxiety:

Low Grade: What we call low grade separation anxiety is behaviors such as nervousness, pacing, barking or whining when left alone, in or out of a crate/kennel.

Medium Grade: Medium grade separation anxiety involves destructive behaviors – chewing inappropriate things when left alone, attempting to break out of crate/kennel, barking/whining, making themselves sick (vomiting or diarrhea).

High Grade: Dogs typically injure themselves or destroy crates in their attempt to get out of them with high grade separation anxiety. They can’t be left out of the crate/kennel because of their destructiveness, but are hard to contain in a crate/kennel.

While we can’t specifically treat separation anxiety, we can (and do) focus our training on the most common sources of it – 1) lack of exercise and mental stimulation, 2) lack of structure and discipline, and 3) lack of confidence.

Exercise and mental stimulation alone can stop many of the destructive behaviors owners tell us they are seeing. Providing a job for your dog (listening to you) is sometimes all they need – just to have a job, and do it well (receive praise for it). If you don’t give them a job, they may decide that it is their “job” to shred the sofa, or their “job” to get out of their crate after you leave the house, by whatever means necessary.

For Low Grade separation anxiety cases, exercise and mental stimulation may be all that is necessary to resolve many of their behaviors, especially if daily practice takes place before they are left alone. The practice take the edge off of a dog’s energy, and the training in general can help calm them over the course of a few weeks.

Our training also naturally creates an environment of structure and discipline, which dogs strive on. We’re not talking about harsh discipline, we’re talking about a clear set of instructions that you and your dog live by. You define the rules/instructions, your dog complies with them, and you’re both much happier and less stressed for it!

Lack of confidence and the inability to remain calm in stressful situations is the majority of the reasons dogs develop separation anxiety. Each of our commands work in harmony to increase a dog’s confidence. Starting in the very first lesson, with “sit” and “stay sitting in the face of distractions”, dogs learn that calm is rewarded, doing what we ask is rewarded, and it’s actually pretty easy to please us. It’s hard for your confidence to NOT go up when you’re being told you’re doing awesome all the time (and you actually are doing awesome all the time!).

For Medium Grade separation anxiety, the 4 weeks of training, practice, and reinforcement, involved in our Basic Obedience Package typically results in a generally calmer dog. We can’t specifically treat the separation anxiety, but by removing some of the excess energy, outlining and rewarding the desired behaviors, and building confidence, we can see a marked improvement in many of the common sources of the anxiety.

High Grade cases typically require a longer period of reinforcement, and more focus on the specific problem areas the dog is having. If it is a confidence issue primarily, we can provide advice on building confidence in key areas. If it is a specific trigger (thunder for example), we can provide advice on helping desensitize them to the triggers, using obedience to help them stay calm and gradually increasing their exposure to the trigger. We also have recommendations for crates that provide a safe environment for the vast majority of High Grade cases – where they don’t have the ability to break out, so they can’t hurt themselves during the recovery process.