Socialization Problems: Vampire Dogs & Hulking Out!

I'm sure many people are familiar with this scenario:

Two dogs are playing and both seem to be having a good time. As they continue to bounce around together, you start to notice things speeding up, getting more intense and rowdy - maybe they've started chasing each other or maybe they've started getting more physical with paws on each other's backs, mouthiness, or body slams. Then,very rapidly, there is an altercation between the dogs who were playing/interacting! Whether it's just a bunch of noise, or a full on dog fight, things that we once playful and fun quickly turned into conflict.

This kind of scenario plays out a lot - especially at dog parks, daycares, and even when introducing two dogs to each other for the first time. Even dogs who usually play well with others can get caught up in this moment of "hulking out!" Almost all of the clients we see who have dogs that are leash reactive or snapping at/getting nasty with dogs at one point played just fine! However, their social skills diminished because they got into a situation that escalated beyond their comfort zone.

Just like any relationship, dogs have limits of what is OK and what is not - and often folks don't realize that when unfamiliar dogs are brought together, none of these dogs have a relationship where they've established limits and playstyle with the other dogs. Many of these "socially akward" dogs actually do want to interact with others, but time and again are getting overwhelmed quickly and set up to be reactive to the scenario.

Why does this fine line between play and fight happen? In general the envelope starts to be pushed as intensity, excitement, and arousal increase. Bouncy play bows, and "give and take" are a softer form of play - chasing and lots of body contact is more hear pumping AND puts a lot more pressure on dogs. In general, dogs who have a history of snapping or getting into scuffles generally don't feel comfortable with too much pressure put on them - particularly by a dog they don't trust or have a relationship of limits/understanding play style and mannerisms.

Whenever we have a dog in for training that has a history of getting into fights or scuffles in social settings, our number one job is to advocate for that dog! That means, as we try to re-introduce social cues and interactions to their skill set, we make sure the other dogs they are around are polite, courteous, under control, and not putting a lot of pressure too soon on the particular dog. A huge part of helping the troubled dog is making sure they feel safe with us and know that someone else is controlling the yard (so they don't have to)!

After multiple calm and controlled social sessions, I'm not surprised to see the scuffle-pup start to sniff, engage, and relax around the dogs - not playing, not wrestling, just moving with, sniffing around, and existing with other canines. Shortly after that happens we may even see that awkward dog start to offer some play bows and get a little spunky - and that's fantastic! However, when that is happening it is SUPER important that I make sure things don't get too playful too fast!

This is what I call the "vampire dog" who is having a good time and enjoying themselves (finally!) but quickly gets in over their head as their heart rate raises and they realize they don't really "know the dog" they are playing with. It's really common to get excited our socially challenged dog is trying to play, but then see things turn into a scuffle quickly when the dog gets just a little carried away in soon uncomfortable. Like a vampire who is trying to love and be passionate with their partner, but the heat of the moment becomes to much and the fangs come out!

So, our goal is to take it slow, help dogs build relationships with appropriate and polite partners, and begin to work on their social skills. In controlled and appropriate social groups, these kinds of pups can excel, thrive, and finally get to act like a dog again! That said, these dogs are never great candidates for the dog park or doggy daycares where there is no one controlling the dogs and advocating for pups who are feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable.

Just like people, your dog may not like every dog, but they can definitely start to rebuild their social skills in the right environment with advocacy and appropriate dog-friends!

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    Puppies need more than other puppies for socialization

    Watching puppies be puppies can really bring us a lot of joy - they are clumsy, frisky, and when they're playful look so cute zipping around the yard! As much fun as it is to watch two puppies play, it's also very important to remember that unchecked puppy play is usually really rowdy and really rough! Why wouldn't it be? Most pups love rough and tumble play, which is often very energy exhausting and physically demanding, and for a puppy owner the idea of PLAYTIME = TIRED PUPPY = GOOD PUPPY is very tempting to partake in as frequently as possible!

    It's also important to realize that puppy play often goes a bit too far, very frequently. At some point during their wrestling and chasing, one puppy is going to overwhelm the other - whether it's barrel rolling the other or all the growls and barks escalating to an snappy puppy tussel of angry faces. All of a sudden we have one puppy overwhelmed, and another puppy jacked up on energy and intensity...not a good combo for confidence and relationship buidling. Without realizing it, puppies get overwhelmed in rough play (that was "ok" at first but then everyone got carried away) and start to loose confidence around other dogs, feel like they need to self preserve, and can even become defensive. Just like that, a puppy's social development can become compromised and very soon we have a pup who is seemingly "snarky" to others due to being overwhelmed/bullied so frequently and becom an adolescent that is defensive/reactive to other dogs. Why can't we all just play nice? 🤔

    The best way to keep this pattern of events from happening is to help puppies learn how to settle down from play and look for the signs that things are getting too rowdy. I always have one puppy on a long line (the more fiesty one!) so that I can easily guide, remove, or recall them away if they are becoming too intense. I never want to just let the dogs "work it out" - that's like asking two toddlers or little kids to resolve a fight/struggle they are having. They are still developing their social skills, but don't have enough experience to resolve conflict fairly or smoothly yet.

    What does that intensity look like where a puppy is getting pushed too far? Play should always have some give and take - you chase me, I chase you; you clobber me, I clobber you. You should feel like there is a pretty fair amount of "equal" play between pups. If one puppy is constantly the bottom, getting trampled, and visibly displaying submission/concerned body language (tail down, crouched body, trying to get away, snapping/showing teeth) they are not having that much fun anymore and are experiencing overwhelm. If the barsting by the other dog continues, the partnering dog will become more defensive and feel less advocated/looked out for by their person. This happens very frequently at dog parks and daycare settings...and puppies quickly become reactive - not from a dog fight or being attacked (although that will certainly do it, too) but from being bullied and left without anyone looking out for them.

    So, while puppy play is fun, it's almost more beneficial for your puppy to interact with older, stable, and less playful dogs more often than rough and tumble play. Time with appropriate elders will allow your puppy to learn more mature socialization that doesn't involve tackling a dog on sight, and constant badgering to play. Your puppy can learn how to sniff, be sniffed, take a correction for being to forward, move with a pack of dogs with wrestling, and spend time in a social setting that isn't always fast paced. There is a place and time for puppy tumble play, BUT if that is all your puppy ever experiences, that is how they will try to interact with every dog (young or old, big or small) and will often be greated with a firm correction or dislike by the other dog because of it. There is a lot of value in an older dog disciplining a youngster, but they shouldn't be the only being responsible for molding your puppy's social skills - as owners we need to also be proactively looking for signs that our puppy is "too much" for others or has "had enough." Never just let the dogs work it out, or your bound to have friction between dogs very soon - older dogs who constantly have to correct young dogs that don't back off end up having to escalate. Many fights happen between rude adolescent dogs and older dogs who have been pressured too much.

    It's a lot of work of work to raise a well rounded puppy, but if you work hard on having positive and meaningful social experiences with appropriate dogs and with other puppies, you can help your pup be the best they can!

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    Introducing a new dog to your home & How to Avoid Problems

    When a dog arrives at your home for the first time, you have a unique opportunity to guide them on where they are staying, how they should act, and show them that you are advocating for them in this new environment. Depending on how you do things, you can build a great foundation OR can have a disastrous outcome! It is important to build relationship and trust through consistency and training (not just hugs and kisses) because these dogs have lived a life of uncertainty for a while and need to be shown how to live appropriately in a home. Not to mention, if you have current animals/other family members it is important to take precaution and set rules for both your current pets/humans as well as the new dog on how they will live together. Being casual about a new dog in your home can lead to behavioral issues, fights, anxiety, and aggression down the road.

    Most behavioral issues develop during the couple of months in a new home, because owners/fosters are not sharing the right information with their new dog, teaching boundaries, and showing the household that you have control of the chaos :) After a dog decompresses from shelter life and gets "comfortable," without proper guidance will begin to display behaviors you may not like.

    Allow your new dog to decompress and work on building a working relationship through training and boundary setting (not just cuddling, sitting on the couch, and feeding treats!), so they can learn how to be successful members of your family--and ultimately someone else's family if they are a foster dog! Always, always stay safe and reach out to a trainer if you are concerned about any behavioral issues, like aggression.

    Check out this video where I disucss what to do and what to look our for! You can watch on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/KMOH9libFiw

    Foster Dog Friday

    Preventing Problems Between Puppies & Older Dogs

    There are many reasons why families who have older dogs want to add a puppy or young dog to their lives! There is a lot of value in the older dogs "teaching the puppy" the routine of your house and often a new addition can add a little "spark" back into your elder pup - getting them more active and playful/curious!

    With all the exciting things that come with adding a new pup to your pack, there are also some very important elements of introduction that keep your older dog and puppy safe. Being involved, knowing what to look for, and advocating for each animal (not just dogs, but other pets like cats, horses, birds, etc) during the interactions between your puppy and others can prevent conflict later down the road. 

    As a dog trainer, a very common story is one of a family with two dogs who are fighting. These dogs are often fighting between each other (even though their may be other dogs in the home) and - here's the kicker - used to play all the time. 😣

    So what happened? Why would dogs who got along for so long start to fight? Why would dogs who've known each other since one was little have such conflict?

    The reality is, that as fun and playful as puppies are, they can be very rude, persistent, and annoying to other dogs who are not puppies (and even some dogs who are)! Puppies tend to not know how to respect boundaries very well and have playtime constantly on their mind...which is perfectly normal! However, how we as the owner handle, what we allow them to do, what we teach them, and the maturing temperament of our puppy can set up these inter-canine relationships to succeed or fail.

    Many people make the mistake of letting the dogs "work it out" and expect their older dog to lay down the rules for the pupper. The problem with that philosophy is that many puppies don't take the hint the first time...or the 10th! Unless your elder dog is simply the most socially sound, bomb proof, fair but firm, puppy raiser for life kind of dog, carrying the burden of being the one disciplining and correcting is hard and can become emotionally draining/frustrating. There is a TON of value in older dogs correcting puppies (and the pups need it!) but your older dog should not feel like they are constantly policing and entertaining the puppy...and that's what often ends up happening, unfortunately.

    When an older dog is constantly being egged on to play, chewed on, climbed on, barked at, having their space invaded, having their food/resources compromised, and over and over issuing corrections (that are increasingly getting firmer) but NOT seeing the puppy back off (some pups when really worked up think the other dog is playing 🙄) your older dog will become more and more frustrated and before you know it you have one of two things: a shut down and uncomfortable older dog OR the beginning of a long run of dog fights.

    It's an unfortunate reality, but the "let them work it out method" is just really unfair to your older dog. Eventually the older dog over corrects or actually bites the puppy, and then gets labled as aggressive or the problem - when really, they wanted to avoid this trouble so long, but were not advocated for by the humans around them. Even in dynamics where they have a playful relationship, most older dogs tire our and arn't always game for play, but puppies are - those moments where pup keeps going and older guy has to correct constantly can often build tension and frustration. Dogs develop grudges towards each other after a while, and when the puppy begins to start into adolescence (around 8mos +) the fights start to become more frequent and intense because pup is now pushing boundaries, more comfortable in the relationship, and trying to establish a stronger role in the pack as he matures. Basically, they get tired of cranky old man giving them crap when they want to do something, so they lay it right back into him...and before you know it you have doggie grudges causing explosive fights with even the slightest look, any excitement in the house, resources around, or too close into each other's space.

    Dog trainers see this A LOT, unfortunately - not just with puppy and adult dog dynamics, but any pack dynamics where dogs are putting too much pressure on each other and a human is missing the signs.

    So, what can we do to prevent this stuff from happening?

    - Don't share resources: allow your dogs to eat, take treats, chew bones in peace. No dog should be pressuring the other and going into their bowl and taking their things. I suggest feeding inside of their kennels so everyone has privacy.

    - Crate train your puppy: Teach your puppy how to settle down and rest comfortably in their kennel. Your older dog will need a break from feeling like a baby sitter, and just like an over-tired human baby, your young pup needs nap/down times. Your puppy should have it's OWN crate, not sharing it with your other dog(s).

    - Never leave your puppy unsupervised with another pet. Keep a long line/lead on your puppy when around other animals so you can easily remove them/pull them away if they are overwhelming others. Develop a great recall and then you can get rid of the long line :)

    - TRAIN YOUR PUPPY! Puppies will become obsessed with the other dogs in the house because the love to PLAY - make sure you are becoming a valuable role in their life by spending time alone with your puppy. Be careful of creating a dependency on the other dog by having them together all the time. Training everyday together, walking just the two of you, etc helps build your bond. It also allows you to start teaching things like good manners and the Place Command (which will allow you to start to teach your pup to practice impusle control and stay calm, in their spot, for a duration of time...again, giving your dog a break).

    - Puppy Playtime: Find a local trainer, friends with other well balancrd young dogs, or a good doggie daycare that will give your puppy an opportunity to be rough and rowdy once a week! This saves your older dogs (your cats, you, and your kids!) from being that outlet for them :)

    - Read your older dog: How do they feel about the puppy? Can you seem them getting annoyed, tense, trying to get away? Advocate for them and remove the puppy (most likely) very frequently. This will show your older dog you are aware of their feelings AND you can start to show puppy boundaries through cause and effect (obnoxious pup = no play. Tense old dog = move away).

    The more your older dog sees you taking the reigns and making the puppy listen, become more predictable, and respectful, the more gracious they will be that you are their leader. Both puppy and older dog will find trust, predictability, and respect for you because you are helping them be a calm, respectful, and peaceful existing pack :) ❤

    **Puppy in this context can be talking about dogs anywhere from 8 weeks old to 2 years old! It's referring to those with that wonder and playfulness we love, that also drives everyone crazy at times! 😆**

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    One dog at a time!

    One of the more challenging things for a person trying to train their dog is trying to train more than one at a time. It's really important that each dog learn individually first, in low distraction, with lots of proofing (challenging them to have success and mistakes) before you add another dog to the mix.

    Make your job easier (and your dog's learning more successful) and build a solid foundation individualy (over days or weeks) and then start to integrate the group together, as your dog handles more distractions.

    Juggling one untrained dog is hard enough - put the other pups in their crates while you train :)

    Owning Littermates is really hard

    Dog Training Cat Tip of the Day: Bonded relationships between dogs is special, and with littermates or puppies who are close in age growing up together we often see that closeness. It's important to keep in mind that these guys need individual time, too - families often make the mistake of sharing crates, food bowls, and constant sharing of space. The downside to the inseparable bond relationship between dogs is that they tend to be dependent on each other, instead of the relationship with their owners. In addition, these dogs will struggle emotionally in the future if they ever have to be seperated. For instance if one has to leave the house for a vet visit and the other must stay home, or if something unforseen or tragic happens to one of them these bonded pups can really struggle.

    Often littermates, if unchecked, can also develop rivarly and even aggressive behavior towards each other. Growing up, these duos often play frequently, and owners struggle to keep the play to appropriate times and at an appropriate level of arousal - over time the constant rough housing and growing intensity can turn into scuffles and/or fights. As well, they eventually start to work out their positioning in the pack, and with the limited believable owner influence due to the fact the dogs bonded more with each other than the owner, it can be hard to represent that leadership role to influence calm and keep things peaceful.

    To help prevent troubled waters with littermates, make sure to work on separation, not constantly sharing attention, space, food, toys, and crates, as well as create individual relationships with each dog by doing things without the other. When there is a healthy balance of these things, the relationship between bonded pairs can be so amazing...as you are and important part of their relationship! That said, if you are looking at puppies and considering getting littermates - remember raising one puppy is a ton of work, so raising two AND focusing a ton on the delicate relationship dynamic to prevent problems is even more work! Ask any dog trainer, and they would highly recommend not having litter mates, and staggering puppy ownership by quite a few months (or a year) so you can build a strong relationship with each! - Cenicero, #dogtrainingcat

    littermates take the lead

    Anxiety: The biggest factor to behavior issues, the most reinforced behavior

    If you have a dog with separation anxiety, a serious set of nervous behaviors, or tense/anxiety related aggression or frustration you've probably realized your dog is anxious. You've seen the destruction when you leave home, their explosive emotional behaviors, stressed/panicked reactions, and restless mannerisms.

    What you may not realize is how deeply your day to day interaction with your dog is feeding that state of mind. If you follow my page, you are likely familar with the concept of leadership - and are trying to apply it - but your dog may not be perceiving your efforts in a way that changes behavior.

    The best advice I can give anyone who is struggling with an dog who has anxiety is to go back to basics - make everyday a predictable routine, with lots of set boundaries, rules, guidance, and very little affection. This does not mean you won't pay attention to your dog - on the contrary, you will be very involved in every move he makes for a while, including structured walks, duration place command, designated playtime, designsted crate time when you are not home/overnight/randomly during the day, designated feeding times, and clear expectations of behavior (making sure your dog is not barking, growling, whining, jumping up, pacing the house, etc) through non-negotioable rules.

    Anxiety develops in the uncertainty of life, the unpredictably, and the addiction to their owners/attention/dependency on constant closeness. A dog who is anxious is often given a lot of affection/accommodation by their family to make up for the dog's struggles, but in the end that constant softness (while much enjoyed by you and your dog) feeds their dependency. I know the concept of loving through leadership seems far fetched, but it is the best medicine for any troubled dog - without it, you may be unintentionally nurturing a super dependent, anxious, and unstable state of mind for your pup. 

    Lack of leadership also leads to many other behavioral issues like an entitled, pushy, and demanding dog that almost always with a dash of anxiety to boot. Play a little hard to get, set clear boundaries, show your dog they can make it through uncomfortable things through with the help of structure and predictability, and you can try to stay out of an unhealthy relationship :)

    P.S. There are definitely some dogs who can handle all the spoiling and freedom in the world without any behavioral issues or problems! However, most of the dogs we are asked to help, and most families who are struggling with their dog, are experiencing complications due to being a dog who is not super solid, and very vulnerable to the fallout of dependency and anxiety. When you mix a dog like that with a super accomidating and over affectionate environment, you can end up with a messy situation quickly!

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    Kids & Dogs: Preventing Dog Bites

    FOSTER DOG FRIDAY EPISODE #9 | Kids & Dogs: Preventing Dog Bites

    The idea behind this video series is to help people who are struggling with their dog find answers, and to help rescues by giving foster families the tools to help create well behaved dogs for their forever homes!

    My goal is that with the right information more dogs can stay in their homes, rescue groups can have more successful adoptions (and less returns back to the program), and foster homes can have a game plan to create well behaved, adoptable dogs!

    Episode #9 talks about an important topic - Preventing dog bites and the relationships between dogs and kids. I believe if we can educate more people on dog body language and appropriate interactions, as well make sure we place energy and temperament compatible dogs in homes with kids, we can have a win-win for everyone!

    Dog bites can be easily prevented when you know what you are looking for - my hope is that we can start to change the way we interact, and teach children to interact with dogs, so that all members of the family stay happy and safe! Most dog bites are from a family pet, so it's important to realize the importance of respecting a dog for being a dog AND teaching out kids how to properly interact with them! Countless children are injured by dogs, and often dog's are put to sleep for things that may have been preventable if an adult knew about proper interaction between species.

    In the news recently, there was a very heartbreaking story of a child bitten by the family dog, 10 days after being adopted, when the toddler went to take a toy from the dog's mouth. Accidents like this can be so easily prevented with better education and understating on how to properly introduce a dog into a home, especially one with children. Understanding and respecting the limitation of a dog in regards to compatibility with a family with kids must always be taken into consideration when adding a pup to your pack.

    Most dog bites to kids actually happen infront of an adult, so it's not a lack of supervision - I believe it is a lack of understanding what appropriate interactions are with animals AND respecting the fact that these are cute, fluffy, predators in our homes!

    If we become PROACTIVE instead of REACTIVE, we can see trouble before it starts and keep dogs and kids safe :)

    Stay tuned for the next episode! Happy Foster Dog Friday!