Teaching our Canine Friends the Art of Self Control

  • By Kathy McRoberts
  • 16 Jun, 2011

Original article by Virginia Simpson, Unleashed Canine Obedience

We all need it! We get frustrated with others when they don’t exhibit enough of it. We also get really frustrated with our dogs if they don’t exhibit enough of it. But just like us, our pups have to be taught self-control. None of us come out of the womb with it unfortunately. It must be practiced routinely in order to be there for us when it is most needed!

I was doing a go-home session the other day with a young woman, her husband and their two young sons. One of the fun things we get to do at Unleashed is teach dogs how to move with their owners while off-leash, and at the initial go-home session with the owners, we have the dogs drag a 30 foot long line for safety until the owners are able to get the timing down with the commands and equipment. On this particular day, everything was going well, except that one of the boys could not help stepping on this bright blue long line that was dragging along after his dog. The first time, his mother kindly asked him to please be careful, “yes ma'am” he politely replied. But then it became apparent that he was intentionally stepping on the line. Her voice became a little more strained after the 3rd time and she had to actually pick him up at one point because he literally could not seem to stop himself from stepping on that line. You could tell that a part of him really wanted to listen to his mom, but there was another part of his brain spinning around that would just not allow him to let the long line pass by untouched. (The dog didn’t mind a bit by the way. Every time he got brought up short, he would turn and give us a look like, “it happens”.)

So, luckily your pup has a shorter learning curve than human children for the most part and even better news, you won’t have to pay for them to go to college! I think it is important to remember however that dogs have genetically preprogrammed drives and they do not tend to have the same morals and values that we do about things. For example, a dog will not lose a lot of sleep over the fact that they pooed in the middle of the kitchen floor. They just won’t; ever. They will, however, become concerned when they see that you are upset over the poo on the kitchen floor. So, we teach our pups to have enough self-control to only eliminate outside of our homes just because if makes us happy. They could really care less to be quite honest. Another time we would like to see our dogs utilize self-control is when our guests come to our homes for a visit. Having a dog jump on you as you are entering someone’s home can be a most unpleasant and unwelcoming experience for even the most avid animal lover.

Another extreme example for the need of self-control in our pups might be when your neighbor’s cat comes out and lays in their driveway; we need our dog to exhibit enough self-control that they will refrain from turning the cat into a chew toy. Again, the dog would lose no sleep on the moral implications of killing the neighbor’s cat if he is lucky enough to sink his teeth into it. That is what he was born to do! Hunt, kill and eat small annoying creatures!

All the commands we would teach our dog; come, sit, stay; all lend themselves to the art of self-control. Obedience commands can also help you gain leadership of your pup as you are controlling a major resource of your dog’s which is space. His space, your space, all space should be controlled by you in a way that your dog understands that you own everything, including him. How you do that without being all confrontational, is to utilize basic obedience cues to gain control of any given situation.

One of my favorite exercises in self-control is the place command. You can teach your dog to stay on a place mat for however long you ask them to and you will give your dog a chance to learn to calm their mind, even when chaos abounds around them. You will teach them how to focus on you and follow you, their fearless leader. I like to practice the place command with my dogs whenever I am watching television. I just have the mats, cots or blankets in front of the TV and whenever I am watching a show, I just have some of the dogs sit on the mats. You could potentially leave them on the place mat however long your show is on really. They are going to lie around anyway, so why not take that opportunity to control where that is happening. On top of which, you can validate watching some very poor television choices all in the name of dog training!

The Place command allows you to “crate” your dog without walls. This command does a number of things for your dog including help to establish a relationship between you built on trust and reliable leadership. By “placing” your dog, you are presenting a very clear message that you in fact are in charge and in control of your dog’s space, the space in the room and the space of anyone or anything else in the room. This is a big leadership move in the eyes of your dog. In addition to getting your leadership on, you are also helping your dog gain self-control. None of us come out of the womb with self-control. It is a learned behavior. So, when asked to sit on the place mat, your dog will either explode or they will learn how to settle themselves down under even the most exciting of times. (Most of them learn how to settle themselves!)

The “Place” can be a dog bed, a small rug, a towel, etc. It will be easier if the mat is large enough for you dog to stretch out on a bit. You can use different mats in different locations in the house. Your dog should learn that “Place” means go to the mat that I guide you to and stay there until I tell you to get off. Your dog is allowed to move around on the place mat and chew on a bone or toy, but they must remain on the mat at all times until you release them.

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” - Charles C. Noble. The more you practice, the quicker it becomes a part of who your pup is.

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Virginia L. Simpson, CDT
Unleashed Canine Obedience, LLC
4955 Creek Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45242

Cincinnati Dog Knowledge Center

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Many people are afraid of pet insurance because of the issues associated with human health care, but the systems are very different. In the human managed health care system insurance companies make agreements with networks and the insured person has little to no say. Because of the way human managed care works, insurance companies have a lot of control over which doctors humans can use, what services they can receive, and how much they have to pay. Conversely, in the pet insurance market, pet owners have more control because pet insurance is an individual contract between the pet owner and insurance company. Pet insurance companies can’t tell pet owners what network of veterinarians to use and decisions about the care of a pet remain entirely between the veterinarian and pet owner. All the pet insurance companies do is pay out their portion of care as detailed in the policy or contract.
By West Chester Pet Resort & Spa 20 Jun, 2017
Now that summer is just around the corner, family vacations are about to be in full swing. While traveling with your pet certainly has its benefits, there are things that you need to know before jet-setting with Fluffy in tow.

First and foremost, having your pet as your co-pilot completely alleviates the worry of who is going to care for them while you're away. This question is always an anxiety for pet owners. The option of traveling with them is especially beneficial if your pet has behavioral issues such as separation anxiety.

Crating your pet while driving to your destination is never a bad option. They're confined and safe, and you as the driver are less distracted. Just be sure to remove collars and leashes to prevent a strangling incident and keep the air flow on them.

If your pet has never been crated, you can find a great video here  by "Dog Guru" Cesar Milan on tome tips and tricks to crate training.

While the car is in motion, feeding your dog is one big "Don't!" If you are on an extended road trip and your pet needs a meal, the next time you stop, feed a small snack- preferably high in protein. And remember to never leave your furry friend in the car, especially during these warm months!

Now, traveling with your pet in an airplane is a much more complicated process as you will more than likely want to book a direct flight. Communicating with the airline prior to travel dates is absolutely imperative. Many airlines have strict regulations for canine and feline travel and their regulations may vary based on the airline and the destination.

However you decide to travel, always remember that if you are taking a not-so-pet-friendly vacation, we would love your pet to stay with us while you are away.  West Chester Pet Resort offers a variety of services to make your pets stay a fun- filled adventure. Call to book your pet’s adventure today!

-West Chester Pet Resort & Spa
By Kathy McRoberts 03 Dec, 2014

Original article by Marybeth Bittel, Tails Magazine

When I was a young music student growing up in Chicago’s western suburbs, my family adopted an Airedale puppy we named Beethoven. I picked Beethoven out at the shelter because all the other puppies rushed forward to greet me, while he hid shyly in the corner. Most trainers agree that’s not necessarily the ideal benchmark for selecting a furry friend, but we got lucky. Beethoven matured into an outgoing, even-tempered, fun, and affectionate family member who sternly guarded our front yard one minute, and romped through our sprinkler the next.

But then came the Fourth of July. Fireworks went off at random intervals around the clock. We discovered that when it came to loud noises and ear-popping explosions, Beethoven was absolutely terrified.

At first we wondered how this could have happened. After all, we’d never left our beloved boy outside while pyrotechnics peppered the sky. He hadn’t been exposed to extreme noises as a puppy. In all likelihood, Beethoven’s fireworks aversion, like so many pet fears and phobias, was just one of those things that took hold when his sensitive hearing encountered a sudden trigger he could neither see nor anticipate.

So we did what numerous pet parents do when their cherished companion is struggling: we cuddled him, coddled him, and cooed comforting words of reassurance. We also sat, feeling helpless, watching him cower and hide as the problem held steady each year. In fact, through all the years of Beethoven’s life, he never overcame this disabling sense of distress, no matter how soothing or supportive we attempted to make his surrounding environment.

When my husband and I began working with abused rescue dogs, we noticed that most arrived with an array of deep-rooted anxieties acquired over time. One Bichon was terrified of rotary fans. A Shih Tzu mix became a jittery mess during thunderstorms. A sweet and docile Foxhound routinely hid from houseplants. These fears ran the gamut, but they had one thing in common: They were exceedingly real to the dog, and they had a great impacts on the entire family.

We began working with local animal behaviorists, and that’s when we learned an invaluable truth:  The way we, as caregivers, react to our pet’s anxieties can actually perpetuate the patterns.

Why would this be? As Abe Mashal, owner of Marine Corps Dog Training in St. Charles, explains, “Dogs form extremely solid bonds with their humans. That means most canines are highly attuned to any type of interaction with their human ‘pack’ members.” So when something a dog is doing  earns our attention—whether that attention takes the form of praise, pampering, or peevish irritation— the behavior is often unintentionally reinforced.

“Reinforcement,” a common term in the world of animal behavioral training, is really just another word for strengthening. In reality, a reinforcer can be anything that strengthens a behavior.

So for those of you thinking, “I never reinforce my dog’s non-stop barking! I scold her on the spot,” see if these examples sound familiar:

  • You hear your Husky howling, and immediately storm in to reprimand her. How is this reinforcement? To many dogs, having a beloved human present (even a beloved yet annoyed human) is better than feeling lonesome. Your dog begins to think her howling is prompting you to chime in.
  • Your Lab whines pitifully as you begin to leave the house, so you return to take him with you. Over time, your dog starts believing that his whining causes you to come back for him (Pavlov’s theory, anyone?).
  • Your Westie mix cowers and growls behind the sofa whenever company arrives, so you pick him up and coo “Ohhhh, you’re fine, what a gooooood boy….” Soon, your dog begins to equate hiding and trembling with oodles of TLC.

“Every interaction with your dog has the potential to teach and reinforce, merely because you’re paying attention,” explains Sara Swan, owner of Narnia Pet Behavior & Training in Plainfield. How can you tell if this is happening? Simply observe over time. Dogs continue to engage in behaviors that provide some sort of payoff. If you’re dealing with a fear or anxiety response that’s ongoing—such as Beethoven’s abhorrence of fireworks—some kind of inducement is likely contributing to the pattern. In Beethoven’s case, his reactions earned him almost round-the-clock nurturing.

Fortunately, we as dog parents can leverage these same dynamics when it comes to re-programming undesirable behaviors. Let’s say your 80-pound “lap dog” excitedly jumps on you whenever you come home from work. When you withhold the coveted attention—immediately going back out the door, or turning your back on him—many pups gradually begin to seek out a different behavior.

The same thing can work with a fear response. If your pet is terrified of your Swiffer mop, for example, try propping it against the family room couch and just leaving it there. Then, simply act like it’s no big deal and go about your daily routine, even if your pup exhibits an unsettled reaction. Very gradually, over time, as your furry friend begins to approach the mop with quiet but tentative curiosity, reward that calm behavior with brief praise or a small treat. Keep it up, and eventually your dog can learn that “mop = calm = good.”

Helping your dog manage his stress is one of the keys to having a happy and healthy pet. If your animal companion has specific challenges beyond what you’re comfortable handling, always reach out to a certified animal behaviorist who can help you develop targeted interventional techniques that will work on your pet’s unique needs. It will not only help with unwanted behaviors, but strengthen your bond, as well.

Safe, Drug Free Ways To Soothe Your Pet’s Stress

The Thundershirt. The ThunderShirt leverages the age-old principle of swaddling an infant to promote calming reassurance. Simply fasten this snug, stretchy shirt around your pet’s ribcage. During anxious episodes of panting or hyperventilation, it provides ongoing sensory feedback that suppresses this common panic response. ( Thundershirt.com )

Music or ASMR. As a musician, I can attest firsthand that deep, resonant tones often work wonders on a nervous pup. You can also try leveraging something called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), which is promoted by many hypnotists and human sleep therapists. ASMR is a subjective, perceptual phenomenon characterized by a distinct calming or scalp- tingling sensation in response to quiet, seemingly mundane sound triggers. Certain pets appear especially receptive, and may even be lulled to sleep. To gauge effectiveness, try playing low, calming music or ASMR audio with your dog in the room. Use a meditation CD, or visit YouTube to access ASMR recordings by reputable “ASMRtists” such as The Waterwhispers.

Calming Sprays. Help create a relaxing environment for your pet by using a calming spray on their bedding or by plugging in a calming spray diffuser. Many cats and dogs experience reduced anxiety and stress after being exposed to these non- sedating sprays, which use soothing scents such as lemongrass, cinnamon, and lavender to encourage relaxation.

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