I love clicker training. I love the way the dog (or other animal) is a willing participant in the learning process. I love how fast the learning process can be and how much fun can be had.
Unfortunately, some people dismiss clicker training because they think we are just a bunch of hippies that try to ignore bad behaviour and just passively wait for the dog to offer good behavior before we reward. Whilst I am sure that some trainers attempt to use this ineffective approach, a good trainer (regardless of what tools they prefer to use), will adopt a proactive approach to solving unwanted behaviour (so-called bad behaviour).
So how do we clicker trainers and other positive trainers deal with unwanted behaviour? Well management is high on our agenda and ignoring behaviour should be fairly low down: depending of course, on what the unwanted behaviour is. If my dog ignores a sit cue, I’m probably going to be fairly chilled about it all and not stress. If it ignores a recall cue, I may get a bit worried if the dog is clearing off to chase rabbits, other dogs or just going over to bug other people and dogs…..that one would mean that I’d have to go and put some work in on proofing my recall around distractions and making sure that I pay the dog a decent wage for ignoring those distractions and heading back to me. Management would involve a long line clipped onto a harness.
So what if my dog is jumping up people. Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait until the dog decides it is going to do something else? Absolutely not! everytime the dog jumps up someone, it is getting rewarded, so the behaviour is going to increase and not go away by being ignored. What I need to do, is reward the dog for doing something else; something that it can’t do at the same time as jumping up. Sit is an excellent one to pick (as you can’t jump up whilst you are sat) as is keeping four paws on the floor. So again we’d manage the situation by keeping the dog on a lead and then rewarding the dog for either sitting or keeping its feet on the floor when people are about, and then as people approach and then when people come over and say hello to the dog.
What about a dog showing aggression? Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait for the dog to do something else? No! This needs addressing. Again management will come in to protect whatever the dog’s target is; so lead, muzzle (once the dog has been trained to accept one) and then work is needed on treating the emotional component of the aggression (if it is fear based), on treating the pain (if the aggression is medically related) and then desensitising the dog to its triggers. How to deal with this, would need several blog posts, but do look out for our TRUST programme. Also see our blog post on Muzzle types to ensure that you choose the correct type.
What about barking? Am I going to ignore that? Generally, no I won’t, although it does depend on where and when it occurs. I probably won’t try to stop my dogs barking when they first go on the beach for a run, but I will stop them barking in the house, when someone comes to the door and barking at me to get me to throw a toy. barking does tend to be a rewarding thing to do (makes the dog feel good inside), so ignoring it isn’t really going to make it go away. We need to be proactive and teach the dogs what quiet means.
Dogs can’t bark and sniff (bit like we can’t talk and sniff…try it!), so if your dog starts barking, pop a tasty treat on their nose, they will sniff (and go quiet), then say quiet, count to 5 and then reward. You have just rewarded your dog for 5 seconds of being quiet. You can build on this and gradually increase the duration of the quiet behaviour.
For dogs that bark when people come to the door, then I really like Kikopup’s approach of using a positive interrupter to interrupt the barking so that you can then reward the quiet behaviour. Works even if you have multiple dogs.
For dogs that are getting over excited and barking because they want to play with that toy now! I’d be wanting to work on their self-control (impulse control). I play a series of games to help to teach the dog to stay calm and focused, no matter how exciting the game or the environment. These games now form part of my successful EPIC self control and focus course
We’ll have a look at other so-called problem behaviours in another post in the future. Have a think about the behaviours that your dog does that are maybe not appropriate and see if you can think of a proactive approach to teaching your dog to do something else instead.
If you’d like to know more about why dogs bark and the other ways in which dogs communicate, then join us on our online Canine Communication course
Please do not use this cloth/tight fitting of muzzle on your dog for anything other than a routine vet check. If you have a dog that you think might bite, then please use a basket muzzle (and insist on a basket muzzle even if the pet shop recommends one of these restrictive cloth muzzles). Basket muzzles shown below;
The cloth type muzzles will cause your dog to overheat rapidly because they are unable to pant effectively – dogs can only lose heat by panting (they don’t sweat) so if they can’t get their mouths open and their tongues out, they are in danger of overheating.
They also cannot drink effectively. On a warm day, they can get very distressed on a hot day (above 20C), they can rapidly become so hot that they can collapse and die! Please do not use the cloth muzzle when walking your dog on a warm day and definitely NOT on a hot day; you run the risk of killing your dog!
The basket type muzzles (images above) are much better as the dog can pant effectively, can drink effectively and can be given treat rewards easily so that you can reward your dog for good behaviour.
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We’ve had a couple of warm days recently and hopefully, there are more to come. Our canine companions enjoy the sunshine as well, but we do have to take care.
Dogs are not very good at maintaining their own temperature in warm weather. Try not to let them sunbathe for too long as they will overheat; let them sunbathe for a short while and then move them to a shaded area.
Avoid walking your dogs in the hottest part of the day (lunchtime) as even on a 30 min on lead walk in full sun can cause a dog to overheat and get sunstroke. Allowing them to play fetch or runabout like loonies for 30 mins or more in full sun, can also cause heat stroke.
You are best to walk early morning and late evening when the temperature has dropped. Always take water with you so that your dog can have a drink. Also be aware that the temperature at your dog’s height may well be different to that for you…long grass will trap the heat low down and make the dog warm as it will prevent that cool breeze reaching them, although you may think that it is cool. Pavements can get very warm in the sun, resulting in your dog’s feet getting warm, which impacts his ability to cool himself down (dogs can sweat through their feet).
If your dog is panting heavily and the end of the tongue has taken on a spoon shape, then your dog is too hot and is starting to suffer from heat stroke – get the dog into the shade, use tepid water to cool the belly and groin area. Phone your vet and get there ASAP.
Dogs can over heat whilst on a walk round the streets on lead, whilst running in the fields/park, playing ball and so on. They can even overheat whilst you are driving along in your car with all the windows open as the sun shines through the glass straight onto your dog. Use sun blinds to shield your dog from direct sun and make sure that they have plenty of water and are actually drinking. Frequently stop and check your dog on long trips.
Do not leave your dog in the car in this weather, the glass causes the car to heat up like a greenhouse in a very short time and dogs can die in less than 30 minutes. If it is too warm for you to sit in the car with your windows shut and your airblower/air con turned off, then it is definitely too hot for your dog! even with the windows partially open and bowl of water in the car, it will soon heat up too much for the dog to be able to cool itself down. Special modifications are needed to keep dogs cool in vehicles in this weather.
Heat stroke is a very real killer; if you suspect your dog has got heatstroke, then pour cool (not cold as it can cause shock which in itself is fatal) water onto your dog’s belly/groin area, offer frequent cool water drinks and contact your vet immediately.
If you have a dog with a short muzzle (French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, etc.), then you will need to be even more careful that they do not overheat. Due to their short muzzles, they cannot pant efficiently which means that they cannot lose heat. Be very careful to only walk them in the coolest part of the day and to keep the walks short to prevent overheating. There is nothing wrong with skipping a walk if it is too warm, your dog won’t die from missing a walk, but may well die if you take them for their usual walk on a really warm day. Your dog will enjoy some food searching games or playing with a snuffle mat or a tasty frozen stuffed Kong (check out our Frozen Kong Recipe page on Facebook)
A kiddies paddling pool is likely to be appreciated by your dogs in this weather, but please don’t force them into it if they don’t want to get it.
Tug is a fabulous game to play with your dog but sadly many dogs never get to enjoy this game with their handlers. Why is this?
- Playing tug makes dogs aggressive
Playing tug does not intrinsically make dogs aggressive, it actually makes them more careful with their teeth IF you play using the following rules:
Play stops if canine teeth touch human skin or clothing
Play stops when you want it to.
Teaching a dog to be careful with its teeth is very important in this day and age. Playing tug without rules can result in a dog that thinks that the tug game also includes playing tug with people’s clothing and or grabbing hands to play tug. Using the rules above menas that tug games are controlled and safe.
- Letting my dog win the tug game will make my dog dominant
Play between dogs is very much a game of give and take and our games with our dogs should also be interactive. Watch what happens when you let your dog win the tug toy; does the dog suddenly try to take over the World or does it bring the toy back and thrust it at you in an attempt to get you to play again. Generally dogs will bring the toy back to you and try to engage you in play, which isn’t the behaviour of an animal trying to be dominant (if you still think that dogs are here to be dominant of people there is plenty o information on the Internet which disproves this thinking).
- Playing tug will make my dog ‘hard mouthed’
This is a common belief of gundog trainers. In actual fact, playing tug is a great way of a dog releasing tension (they hold tension in their jaws) and again by teaching them to play tug with rules ensure that the dog learns to be careful with its teeth. I’ve actually found that playing tug is great for keeping a soft mouth in my gundogs but obviously we have specific toys for tug and different ones for retrieving. The dog then learns contextually i.e. I can bite and tug hard on this toy but need to be gentle with this retrieve item.
- Play tug will make my dog want to kill small furries
I’m not quite sure where this idea comes from, unless it is some people think that by playing tug with a hunting breed such as a terrier will make the dog want to go off and hunt and kill small furries. Yes dog will shake the tug toy when they’ve won it, but this does not mean that they are going to develop into rabbit and rat killers. In fact, it is more likely to provide an outlet for those instincts. Playing tug is a great reward for a dog that has just recalled away from a prey animal such as a rabbit, hare or deer.
Tug is a fabulous interactive game that helps to build the relationship between dogs and their humans. Tug means that you are playing with your dog, not just throwing a ball for then to retrieve and amuse themselves. Tug is a great reward for your dog, great for teaching self-control (Impulse control) and is terrific fun! A good energetic game of tug is a great workout for both dog and handler and should leave you both feeling tired. Enjoy
To learn more about how to build Self-control/Impulse control in your tug play sign up for our online course.
It is great when your dog is happy to be in the company of people and dogs from outside of the family and it means that you can go on walks with friends with no worries. This, to me, is a well socialised dog, but what does that really mean? Well it means different things to different people and there seems to be a real misunderstanding developing.
Everyone knows that we need to socialise our dogs (and yes you can socialise an adult dog just as you can a puppy). It’s great that the message is getting out there. However, socialisation is the process of getting the dog used to (habituated to) everything that it is likely to see during its life; so vehicles, people, children, other animals, household objects and noises, aeroplanes, etc. This process should mean that the dog develops a neutral or slightly positive association to these everyday things and will prevent them developing negative (scary) associations which could lead to problems later on.
However, it appears that socialising your dog/puppy has also developed to have another meaning; that of allowing your dog/puppy run over and play with everyone else’s dog, much to the annoyance of those dogs’ owners. This isn’t socialising, this is allowing your puppy/dog to run amok and potentially learn to bully other dogs. There is a school of thought that a puppy needs to be told off by another dog so that it ‘teaches him a lesson’ but that lesson could be very harsh and end up with the puppy becoming fear aggressive or the dog that they are harassing (and yes, it is harassment in many cases) could be scared and become fear aggressive to protect itself from rude dogs and your dog is likely going to learn how to be the play ground bully and that is no fun for anyone.
Yes, dogs do need to become familiar with other dogs, but in order to achieve this, it is not necessary for them to play with every dog they see, they just need to see other dogs. It is much more important that they learn to respond to cues around other dogs i.e. that they come back when they are called, that they can walk nicely passed other dogs without screaming and barking and leaping about. In fact, letting them play with every dog they see, is much more likely to result in a dog that pulls and screams/barks to get to them and is likely to result in a dog that completely ignores the owner and won’t come back when called (or be caught) until the dog has had enough. That’s no fun at all, and who really wants a dog which wants nothing to do with you? Mind, I suppose for some, it means that they can just stand there and watch their dog play/annoy/frighten dogs for a couple of hours and then they take a tired dog home….easy way to exercise your dog without putting in any effort yourself, I guess.
That doesn’t mean that you can go for walks with your friends and their dogs; that is what having a sociable dog is all about and it can be great fun. If you feel your dog would benefit from having more doggy pals, then why not take them along to a doggy day creche so that they can play with other well socialised dogs that are happy to be around other dogs? Of course, you need to ensure that it is a well run creche where the dogs are well matched for their play styles, where bullying is not tolerated and that the dogs do get some downtime during the day (s roughly one hour play time and then one hour rest time).
The the type of socialising that makes me cringe is when the owner of an aggressive dog rings up wanting to bring their dog to classes to socialise it. No, no no! This is not socialising, this is flooding! Remember that socialising should be a neutral or positive experience. Putting an aggressive dog into a room full of other dogs that it is scared off is not going to make it like other dogs. If you don’t like spiders and I put you in a room full of spiders for an hour, will you like them more? No, you’ll probably be even more frightened of spiders (and also not trust me either for playing such a dirty trick on you). Aggressive dogs will find group classes very stressful, which may make them more reactive or they maybe be so scared that they actually shut down and just stop doing anything. sadly, some owners (and some dog trainers), think the dog is then ‘fixed’ because it is no longer reacting….The dog isn’t fixed, its just been scared into not reacting…bit like you back in that room full of spiders, you don’t know which one to scream and run away from because as soon as you move away from one, there is another near you…so you just become immobile…not cured, just terrified.
Aggressive dogs that are well on with their rehabilitation training can be introduced to dogs in a controlled fashion, where there is one dog introduced at a time and at a distance that the dogs can cope with and then that positive association to other dogs can be built, allowing the dog to become sociable.
Let’s get the foundations right, habituate your puppy/dog to the presence of other dogs, work on them being able to respond to your cues around other dogs and people and allow them controlled access to other dogs rather then just letting them have a free for all. There should then be a whole host of sociable dogs out there that can be allowed to play (provided the other owner agrees and if the other dog is happy) rather than the scores of out of control dogs that totally ignore their owners and do their own thing.
Self-control or Impulse control is my ‘thing’, I spend a lot of time teaching people games to play with their dog to improve their dog’s self control and because I end up with the problem dogs, I’ve usually got several dogs that are ‘work in progress’ with regards to self-control and other issues. With the established pack, I usually have a pretty good idea when they are going to get a bit OTT and have issues with their impulse control, but just sometimes, they catch me out.
Take Mr T, always a bit wild on the beach and gets very ‘shouty’, so we do some work there before they are all allowed to hooli about. He can get a bit OTT at flyball (as expected really as it is a high adrenaline sport) and recently, he has become a bit reluctant to release his tuggy, so back to working on that and getting a bit more self-control. However, at a recent gundog training workshop, the wild child really was released. We got to do some retrieves using a dummy launcher; and that was the most exciting thing ever; he couldn’t sit, couldn’t stay quiet, all he wanted was that retrieve. It was all so much more exciting than flyball which did surprise me a bit.
So why did it all go wrong? The quacking noise that the dummy launcher made and the excitement generated by the gunshot and the dummies flying high in the sky was all a bit much for his current stage of training. I should have taken him further away and reinforced calmness and then gradually brought him closer and closer, rewarding calmness before letting him have that explosive retrieve. But I didn’t, he got several retrieves.
I did learn that despite his excitement levels, he could mark the dummy and do a cracking retrieve to hand without mouthing or trying to play tug with the dummy (something that we had struggled with previously, as he would either drop the dummy short or try to play tug with it), he could also memorise where a dummy had fallen and go out and retrieve it cleanly even if the previous dog had missed it. So despite his high arousal levels, he was still capable of having a soft mouth and of thinking and remembering work that we had previously done in a calmer environment. As soon as we had finished playing with the dummy launcher, he did calm down very quickly.
So, although we had a bit of a blip, and I have more work to do, I’m confident that the games we are playing at various arousal levels is starting to be generalised to other situations. I will admit that Mr T has taken a back seat since Mint arrived and this episode has reminded me that I do need to keep playing that games with him to maintain and develop his impulse control.
Self-control/impulse control can be taught to a dog. Some breeds are genetically wired to be impulsive (spaniels spring to mind as well as working line Malinois and terriers) and other breeds are genetically wired to be less impulsive (many retrievers, many hound breeds, some of the large heavy breeds). The impulsive breeds can be taught to control their impulses and this is best taught allowing the dog freedom of choice rather than trying to impose it. So a dog choosing to sit before it is allowed to carry out an action is always going to learn to control its impulses better than one that is told to wait or stay before being allowed to carry out that desired behavior. Both methods will bring about results, but the dog that is allowed to make choices will learn much better and generalise better than the one that has self-control imposed on it by the handler. And yes, you can train impulsive dogs to settle calmly at home whilst you are working; they don’ need to be bouncing off the walls all the time.
We also need to teach behaviors when the dog is in various states or arousal as behaviours taught when the dog is calm will be forgotten when the dog is aroused (much as happens with us).
To learn more about self-control/impulse-control check out our EPIC courses and also our on-line self-control course, both of which are full of exercises to teach your dogs self-control/impulse control.
Back to training the ‘wild child’ that is Mr T 🙂
I live with a large number of dogs of various breeds (some of them are shown above) and yes, they do all live in the house with me. Having a large number of the dogs in the house could end up being chaotic and, over the years, I’ve found various techniques and strategies that work for me. Some of them may work for you.
Reward the good stuff
Reinforce the behaviour that you want and manage/interrupt the stuff that you don’t want. For example, as I work from home, the dogs have to learn to settle quietly when I’m working. They all have their own preferred place to settle and they are intermittently rewarded for settling by either a treat or a good dog or a gentle stroke. If they are being restless, then they can be cued to go and lay down. New dogs sometimes struggle with this and may end up popped in a crate for a short time or tethered to me so that it is easier for me to encourage them to settle and to reward it. They don’t actually need a food reward for settling now, it is automatic behaviour that is cued by me sitting down at the computer.
A great way of ensuring that you reward the good stuff, is to have a tub containing around 50 treats per dog and to reward every instance of behaviour that you like. OK, you may not reward one dog 50 times and another dog might get more than 50 rewards, but it does help to ensure that you don’t take your dogs’ good behaviour for granted.
Meal times can be a trigger for fights in many multidog households, but not in mine. We have a routine at meal times. Each dog has its own place where it will be fed and we have an order in which the food bowls go down. This order never changes and this predictability can help reduce anxiety/arousal at meal times. Each dog is required to sit before I will start feeding and to begin with, this is cued for new dogs, but the established dogs know the routine and will automatically sit. The dogs have to remain sat until the food bowl in on the floor (great exercise for impulse control, for more ideas have a look at my online Self-control course).
New dogs are often fed first and may be popped into a crate until I know whether they are food aggressive or not. Ash is fed in a crate at home as he can be a pain for trying to nick the other dogs’ grub. The crate door is no longer locked and he stays in there until he is released .
One rule in the household that is strictly adhered to is that dogs are not allowed to push another dog away from their food (i.e. Dog A cannot push Dog B away from their bowl and then eat Dog B’s food). Each dog eats only from its own food bowl and only when a dog walks away from their own bowl can another dog go and lick it clean, eat the leftovers (not that there are ever many leftovers). This helps to stop squabbles starting and gives the slower eaters the confidence that they won’t get driven away from their food and reduces food guarding. I supervise all mealtimes and I will tell a dog to move away or to go and lie down, if it is trying to push another dog off their food.
I have a set routine of which groups get to be put in the van first. This is determined to by who goes in which door of the van. Those that go in the side door go to the van together. Those that go in via the backdoor go out in two lots..
Each dog is loaded into the van crates in a set order and they always go in the same crate, again this predictability reduces anxiety and helps prevent that mad dash when all of them are trying to leap into the same crate at the same time (another flash point for fights). New dogs may be popped in before established dogs, it just depends on their personality and character.
Each dog comes out of the van crates in a set order, and this may be different to the order that they went in. Each dog is taught not to come out fo teh crate until tehy are called. Those that are in teh middle of the van, wait on the van floor whilst their leads are attached and then jump out to stand and wait whilst the others are popped on their leads.
The dogs are walked in groups (usually no more than 5 at once) and those groups are determined by who gets on with who. Mint cannot be run with Ash at the moment or with Beau as she will bully both of them. Mr T can cope with her obnoxious behaviour as can Wish. Leon, Teal, Ash, Beau and Mallik can be walked as one group.
It is important that you have a group recall cue as well as an individual one (mine tends to be ‘Girls’ ‘Boys’ ‘Here guys’) as it takes so much time to call out individual dogs’ names when they suddenly take off after something.
I play recall games to reinforce this group recall cue; I call them and whoever gets back the fastest gets the best reward and the others get a lesser reward. Now you would think this would slow the tardy ones down even more, but in fact, it makes them more eager to get back first so that they can have the best reward. Recalls are always rewarded. This reward may not be food, it may be a game with a toy, it might be being sent back to whatever I have called them away from, it may be a few words of praise, it may be a cuddle, but I always, always, always reward recalls. I also practise recalling each individual dog back, so that they are learning to come away from the pack.
I’m lucky that the places where I walk are generally quiet and we meet few people and other dogs, but when we do, all mine go on lead at quite a distance form the oncoming person and dog and we continue to walk on lead until we get a bit closer. This stops them trying to charge off to say hello (it can be very intimidating to have several dogs charging towards you). Once the other person gets closer, I will move to the side of the path (or just off the path) and ask my guys to sit whilst the person passes. My dogs are rewarded for sitting quietly. Once they are passed, we will continue our walk but I generally walk a little way before the leads come off again.
They are not allowed to rush up to people as it is just plan bad manners. The other dog/person may be intimidated by having several dogs coming towards them. The other dog or person might be frightened of other dogs and get upset which is not what I want. It might also get me in bother, as my dogs rushing over to another person means that tehy are out of control.
Several dogs all charging through a doorway at once is amother potential flash-point and can trigger a fight (which can be nasty when you have several dogs). We tend to have an order for going through a door and dogs will be called through by name. As I know Mint can be a bully (this behaviour is being worked on), she tends to go out last. If they go to rush out when they’ve not been called, then the door is just closed (not slammed in the faces just gently closed enough to stop them going out). They are taught a wait cue before they are asked to wait at the door.
Treat and chews
As with food bowls, my guys are not allowed to push another dog away from a chew that they have been given, and I will step in to stop this. Once a chew has been left, then another dog can take it. Teaching a good leave it cue really helps, as you can ask a dog to leave another dog alone. There are several dogs here, that were food/chew guarders when they first arrived and would growl and snap if another dog came near them when they were eating. Judicious use of crates, not allowing other dogs near them when they had chews/food has helped them to relax, and now they no longer guard their chews/food.
I also teach my guys to wait their turn when I’m handing treats out. This saves me being mugged and stops them snatching and taking my fingers as well. They are taught that the treat comes to them when their name is called. New dogs will generally get their treats first, until they have learned teh rules of the game.
There are always multiple toys lying about in my house and in the back garden. If the dogs want a toy, they can have one. Ocassionally a dog will pick up a toy and another one decides that they want the same one. A leave it cue works well as does directing the second dog to another toy. We usually have multiples of the same of similar toys about, so they can all have the same type if they wish. There’s not much point asking them to give up tryimg to get a favourite toy if you are only going to give them a toy that they don’t like.
Some dogs are toy gatherers; Bug is one as it Tank. It does seem to be a spaniel trait. It doens’t bother me if they want to collect several toys up and put them in their sleeping place. I do move them out again when they aren’t in their bed, otherwise they would end up with no room to sleep!
Sharing your household with multiple dogs is very enjoyable, but once you get above two, then a few ‘rules’ do come in useful. The few rules we have makes things easier on a day to day basis, but I’m pretty relaxed about most things.
This gives you a taste of what it is like to live with multiple dogs (and I live with more than 10 dogs) and the things that have made life easier for me. These ideas and others will be presented at our new Making Multiple Dogs Manageable workshops that will be launched soon.
As promised, I’m back to continue our look at crossbreeds and their behavioural traits.
The flying dog depicted at the top of the page is Ziva, an approximately 5 year old Malinois cross. She is a rescue; so of course, we’re not 100% sure what she is, but she certainly shows a lot of behavioural traits of a working type Malinois: very high drive, very athletic, very little impulse control (boy have we worked hard on that), almost endless energy, strong guarding instinct, huge ball drive with a touch of possessiveness (all toys are her’s especially if someone else wants it) and she is so strong when tugging. She is also very very persistent when trying to get a toy that she wants.
We did have her DNA tested to see what breeds were in her make-up. It came back that she was a Boxer cross GSD. Really? I think not. Why do I think this? Well Boxers are clowns, are very playful, very athletic and do tend to have a lot of energy when they are younger, and can lack impulse control, but Ziva is much more extreme than any Boxer I have met which is why I don’t think she has Boxer in her genes.
GSDs can have a strong guarding instinct (they really do like their family to be together), can be a bit suspicious, bark a far bit. Yes, the working types can be high drive, can have plenty of ball drive and can lack impulse control, but generally, they are pretty level headed dogs. They can be athletic for their size, but do tend to be trotters rather than runners when it comes to day to day activities. Ziva is a runner and rarely trots. Again her behavioural traits are so much more extreme than GSDs I have owned or met, although, some of the really high drive ones are similar.
She is also quite small (smaller than either a GSD or a Boxer) and doesn’t really have the body shape of either. Colouring is a bit GSD like. So all in all, looking at just her behavioural traits and having lived with her for 4 years, she is more like a Malinois than a GSD or a Boxer.
Below is a sequence of photos showing Ziva trying to get the tennis ball that I placed on a fence post that is around 5ft 6inches high. It took her about 30 minutes to get the ball down (which indicates how persistent she is, as well as how athletic and how fit she is)
The point that I am trying to make is not to just look at the cute appearance of a puppy (after all, all puppies are cute), but to research the breeds that go into making that particular crossbreed.
Let’s have a look at the main behavioural traits of some popular breeds;
Shih Tzus were bred to alert Tibetan monks to the presence of visitors; so yes, they are going to bark a fair bit.
German Shepherds are a guarding breed, so yes, they will bark at that leaf falling four streets away and may be a bit wary of people and dogs (they also, like so many guarding breeds, need socialising with people and dogs until they are at least 2 years old; but that’s a topic for another blog).
Shetland sheepdogs were bred to herd, so don’t be surprised if they try to herd the children up *or chase bikes, joggers etc.) They may be small, but they do tend to bark a lot, so be warned.
Siberian Huskies were bred to live in groups, be able to fend for themselves and to run/trot over great distances. Don;t be surprised if they prefer being outside to inside, or that they like to dig themselves a sleeping hollow (this might be in your garden or your sofa), they like canine company, are fully capable of looking after themselves (very independent), have a high prey drive (so likely to go chasing rabbits, deer etc.) and will run and run.
Border collies are very intelligent dogs that love a job of work to do and if not given something to do, they will invent their own way of occupying themselves. They need to be able to use their brains as well as needing physical exercise. People think that they need to walk a collie for hours to tired it out. All that does is give you a very fit collie. They need brain games to really wear them out (scent games, puzzles etc.) and are well suited to a wide range of dogs sports. However, they do tend to herd, many will want to chase joggers, cyclists and even cars due to this herding instinct, and they can be a bit obsessive and some will show OCD tendencies. These traits will come out in Collie crosses.
Staffordshire bull terriers are fabulous dogs in the right hands. They adore people and especially children. They can be very excitable and can lack impulse control. They are very strong for their size, and although they won’t usually start a fight with another dog, if another dog starts a fight with them, they will finish the fight. They are bred to be very tenacious and should never be aggressive (if bred and reared correctly). Huge stamina. They can be very vocal (the staffie witter as well as the staffie scream). They do like their home comforts (so expect a staffie to want to be on your lap) and dislike getting wet (often not wanting to go out if it is raining) and dislike being cold. There are some cracking staffie crosses out there that make super pets and are fab for dog sports.
Jack Russell Terriers were originally bred to be ratters and some are still used for that purpose today. They are likely to get very excited when they hear squeaking noises (whether it is from a toy or a child) as that what their prey would sound like. Very tenacious, are likely to dig, are highly likely to destroy and de-stuff any toys (particularly squeaky ones) and may well go off rabbiting when on a walk. If you want one to live with small furry animals (rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.), then do not get one off a farm or that is working bred as they are likely to do what they are bred to do. They can be yappers, can lack impulse control and can be nippers. They are bright little dogs and do love to learn tricks, do puzzles etc. I love them to bits and have three here that are just fabulous.
Cavaliers were bred to be companion dogs and are generally fab pets. However, they do need to use their brains and love being taught tricks and playing nosework games. they also excel at agility.
Bichon Frise. Another breed that is popular in ‘designer’ cross breeds. Lovely dogs and behind that white fluffy coat is a very intelligent dog that needs to use its brain. These are not just a couch potato or a pretty dog; they do need to do something. Very trainable.
I could go on for pages, but lets just do a few generalizations.
Retrievers (Labradors, Goldies, Flatcoats etc.) are generally good natured breeds that like to greet you with a ‘pheasant’ in their mouths. So expect them to pick things up and carry them (and teach them to give it up when asked) but this does tend to make them a little possessive over some toys/items, so be aware of this.They are likely to love water and getting muddy.
Spaniels (Cockers, Springers etc.) are again generally good natured, were bred to hunt so are likely to cover large distances and may range at quite a distance from you are may chase birds, bunnies etc. They may also liable to resource guard. They can be a bit obsessive, so you may see some OCD traits in some individuals. Again, they are likely to love water and mud!
Guarding breeds (GSDs, Rottweilers, Dobermanns, Mastiffs, etc.) are likely to bark, may be suspicious of people they don’t know, may like to keep their family together and may get stressed if they aren’t and do need a lot of socialising.
Northern breeds (huskies, Malemutes etc) are likely to be independent dogs that can cover huge distances. They are likely to be diggers and can be escape artists (minmum 6ft fence required) and can howl (s tolerant neighbours are needed). They generally have a high prey drive.
Scenthounds (Beagles, Bassets, PBGV etc.) are likely to go off following their nose and will be deaf to your calls. Generally sociable dogs. Recall will need a lot of work.
Sighthounds (Greyhounds, Whippets, Lurchers, Salukis etc.) These tend to be sprinters. They are likely to chase anything that crosses their line of sight (so need to be taught a chase recall). They can be escapologists. They do need to run, but generally a short blast is all they will do before gong back to a leisurely walk. They can be couch potatoes, are likely to feel the cold and may dislike going out when it is raining or cold. I’ll just caution about the ‘scream of death’ that sounds like they are being killed and is usually given when they have been injured slightly.
I hope this has given you a bit of an insight as to why your crossbreed acts the way it does. If you are considering buying a crossbreed, please research the breeds that are making up that cross and ask yourself whether you can live with those traits. Assume that you will get the worst of both breeds; can you live with a dog showing those traits. If yes, go a head and buy that dogs (assuming that both parents have been health tested, are friendly and that the mother is present with the puppies). If no; then walk away and consider another cross or a pure breed. Don’t ever assume that you will only get the ‘good’ traits of both breeds in a cross; you may be lucky, you may not be. Don’t just by a crossbred pup because it looks cute. Do your research, don’t just rely on what the breeder tells you.
Although this article is about behavioural traits, please also check out the grooming requirements/problems with your favoured crossbreed. Ask your local groomer what problems they see, how often a dog should be brushed and/or clipped. Breeders will often say that a dog doesn’t need a lot of grooming when in actual fact they do. Cockerpoos need grooming on a daily basis and not just brushing the top coat, but brushing right down to the skin, otherwise they will mat (meaning your dog gets clipped off really short when they go to the groomers) and this will cause discomfort which may show itself as a dog growling when touched or being wary of people.
Also check with your vet as to what breed specific diseases are common in the breeds that make up the cross you are interested in and what common ailments they see is breeds such as cockerpoos, labradoodle, Cavachons, Pomskis etc.
There have been numerous blogs and articles looking at the dog’s frustration during training and giving tips for how to deal with it, but something that occurs just as frequently is frustration in the human half of the equation and how do we deal with that?
We get frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as we want them or they don’t happen the way we expect them to; we’re human after all. Even the best trainers will get frustrated, although some of them won’t admit it. If you are an instructor; you’ve probably got frustrated because one of your client’s just isn’t getting it and yet the dog does it perfectly when you handle the dog.
So why does this happen? First off we’re human; it’s part of our emotional repertoire. Some people are more impulsive than others; that is, they lack self-control (maybe something we should be teaching children so that they develop this skill), maybe they aren’t very patient and want instant results, maybe they haven’t thought out a logical training plan and have no idea what to do when things start to go wrong or maybe the behaviour that the dog is carrying out is so annoying and irritating, that they are struggling to find a way of coping with it rationally. Another one that is really frustrating is when you are trying to teach something and your dog can’t focus and your instructor is telling you to get his attention, but isn’t telling you how….this one is so frustrating when you are a handler.
So what do we do about these human traits? Stop what you are doing, take a deep breathe, walk away from your dog and have a break. That is your first step. Continuing to train when you are frustrated is going to end in disaster. You could end putting the dog off the behaviour that you want him to carry out (because your frustration is acting like an aversive to the dog and it won’t be earning as many rewards – a double whammy if you like; the behaviour that you find irritating is likely to increase (or escalate) as your increased attention to that behaviour could be reinforcing it or if it is a stress-related behaviour or an attention seeking behaviour, these will both increase as the dog becomes stressed and tries to appease you.
We may also over use a NMR (No Reward Marker) when we get frustrated which will have an aversive effect on the dog and they will start to shut down, which is likely to frustrate us even more if we aren’t careful, resulting in a vicious cycle.
I cannot emphasise enough that you need to stop and take a break. Go and do something other than train your dog. When you have calmed down and can think, then you can plan what you are going to do differently.
There are several options for you to consider:
- Consider breaking the behaviour down into smaller steps. That way it is easier for the dog (who will get reinforced more and will progress faster) and you will get reinforced more because the dog is doing what you want him to do.
- Video a training session so that you can see what you need to improve on and then find someone to teach you those skills
- Take a break from trying to teach that behaviour for a while. This break may be a couple of days or several weeks. You’d be amazed at how often the dog processes the information from your last session and how often you’ll see the dog progress faster when you resume training after a break. A bit of latent learning can be a very powerful thing.
- If it is an irritating behaviour, change your perspective; instead of thinking ‘How can I stop the dog doing that?’ considering what you would like your dog to do instead.
- If it is one of your clients that you are trying to coach through an exercise, consider changing how you are trying to teach it. Are you focussing too much on what they are doing wrong? If so, look for what they are doing correctly and reinforce them for that. So excellent timing, well done, great treat placement, well done. Consider getting them to mirror your action as you walk them through it step by step. If they confuse their left and right, look for some way of helping them out..do they wear a watch or a bracelet on their left arm or a ring on a finger..something that is different to their right arm. Demonstrating with their dog only shows that you can get their dog to do it but it doesn’t make the owner feel any better about themselves.
- Minimize or avoid the use of NRM.
- If your instructor isn’t able to give you the tools to get your dogs attention, then take a break and consider your options. Is the environment too much for your dog at its current level in focus and engagement training? Does the instructor lack the knowledge to help you work through this problem? Does the instructor lack experience of your breed of dog? May be a change of instructor is called for just whilst you learn how to build the focus and engagement that you need. May be a total change of instructor is needed.
I’m sure you can think of other situations where you may get frustrated.
A couple of real-life examples for you:
1. A recent rescue dog has no idea to play and the handler is trying to teach the dog to retrieve (only a play retrieve not a formal one) and the dog is struggling to grasp that they have to pick the item up off the floor, but will hold it if the handler holds it. The handler has tried different objects and is no further one. After a week or so of making very little progress, the handler takes a break and moves on to doing other things. After the break, the handler gets an article out and all of a sudden, progress is more rapid and the dog now has the basics of a play retrieve. Breaking the cycle of handler frustration and giving the dog a break, enabled the tension of the situation to dissipate and for the dog to be able to learn. The handler being more relaxed enable them to be better with their timing and to be more enthusiastic with their praise.
2. A rather stressy working bred, high drive rescue has the habit of leaping up and nipping at times of high excitement. Really not very pleasant for the handler (the nips hurt) and very hard not to react by pushing the dog off and shouting at it. A very frustrating situation for the handler. So, as the dog is quite food orientated, the handler dropped food on the floor whenever they got the dog out the their vehicle to distract the dog from leaping and nipping and also used the food drop technique frequently as they walked the dog, to reinforce the paws on the floor. A hand touch was also trained and the dog encouraged to leap up to touch the hand (so that the dog had an activity that they enjoyed doing and it was another reward that could be used). Food was also tossed on walks to give the dog something to chase and to build that into a game that is played with the handler. As time progressed, the dog could then be rewarded from the hand for walking nicely and not jumping/nipping. This one is still work in progress but the nipping is now becoming a memory rather than a frequent occurrence and the handler is starting to enjoy the dog and is building a relationship with it.
Enjoy your dogs, enjoy your training and don’t be frightened to take a break, it will do you and your dog and your relationship, the World of good.