Chat Time Interview With Karen Deeds, CDBC Of Canine Connection

Chat Time Interview With Karen Deeds, CDBC Of Canine Connection

Karen with Cassidy (Golden Retriever) and Rock (Labrador Retriever)

Karen with Cassidy (Golden Retriever) and Rock (Labrador Retriever); image via Karen Deeds,

Who Is Karen Deeds?

I do Facebook interviews with animal trainers, behaviourists and other professionals. I met up with Karen Deeds CDBC to chat about how she approaches aggression in dogs.

Karen Deeds became a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, in October of 2013 and has taught at seminars and conferences in Texas, as well as other parts of the U.S. She is sought after for her expertise in training and behavior modification. In 2010, Karen received the Association of Pet Dog Trainers award for “Community Educator of the Year.” In 2013 she received the Dog Scouts of America “Good Scout Award,” recognizing her for her service to Dog Scouts.

You can find her –

Website –

Facebook –

My Interview With Karen About Dog Aggression

Lisa White: Thank you so much for joining us, Karen.

Karen with Cassidy competing early this year. Image from Karen Deeds

Karen with Cassidy competing early this year. Image via Karen Deeds,

Karen Deeds: Thank you for the invite!

LW: How did you get into training and behavior?

KD: It was in the early 90s when I was working with my dog on an out of sight down stay when I went behind the building and was met with an assailant. My dog came to my rescue after hearing me scream.

The next time he saw a person that was similar to the person who had assaulted me, he was aggressive. That was before I really knew what I was doing, but I brought the guy (who was a bather at the groom shop where I had taken him to be groomed), some hotdogs, and I started tossing my dog, Shoney, some hotdogs every time the kid came outside and he saw him.

Simple classical conditioning! I had taken Psych classes in junior college so I was familiar with some things!

I then started asking Shoney to perform various obedience tasks like Sit and Down in the presence of the trigger. Luckily I had a lot of good things going on with my dog in that he was a very stable boy and this was a single traumatic incident.

That is when I first realized there was a difference between training and behavior! At that time, most trainers were teaching more traditional methods that they used in competition even though that is not really what most pet dog owners needed.

LW:  Indeed. So what methods do you use?

KD: I use positive reinforcement and utilize a variety of different protocols. I love to get a dog thinking so I love to free shape. It builds confidence by giving the dog the ability to make choices. I will use some luring, targeting, and of course shaping for basic skills with pet dog owners.

LW: Word is that you are well known for dealing with aggression.  Can you tell us more about that?

KD: Yes, I do deal with a lot of aggression and reactivity. I guess it all started with Shoney. There was just such a need around here and I started to attend seminars, read books, and do ANYTHING I could to get more educated.

I also work with a lot of rescue organizations to help them assess dogs and that has led me to be pretty black and white about some of these cases.

LW: What do you mean by “black and white about some cases?”

KD: I think it is extremely important to understand the limitations of each case. I use a 15 point variable system to help determine what option is best for a client and the dog as well as how those variables influence the outcome.

It isn’t always about the dog – the owners and their environment play vital roles in the decision and my recommendations.

LW: What is that 15 point variable system?

KD: I’ll briefly outline them:

  1. Severity – I typically use the Ian Dunbar scale because it is simple for the owners to understand. The higher the number the worse the prognosis. There is also the location of the bite that I consider.
  2. Predictability – if the trigger is easy to predict it does make things easier to set up for behavior modification. Unpredictability is difficult, but a lot of times that unpredictability is only in the eye of the owner!
  3. Controllability – Being able to contain the dog for management purposes is vital as well. You can’t ALWAYS be working the program so the dog needs to be able to be contained safely. Whether it be in a crate, on a tether, in a muzzle, behind a baby gate or whatever.
  4. Previous training is a HUGE factor and it has become even more of a variable now that I see more dogs that have previously been trained with electronic collars or traditional ‘dominance’ methods. It diminishes trust and can often create a dog that can’t think for itself or has had the communication skills punished out of them.
  5. Trainability – A dog that is easy to motivate is easier to train. The lack of motivation can equal lack of desire to change behavior. Food is usually fastest, but play can be as strong or stronger for some dogs.
  6. Socialness – There are simply some dogs that do not have a desire to be social; either with strangers or other dogs. Unfortunately so many pet owner think their dog ‘needs’ to be social and all they really want is to be that little hermit dog that sleeps all day safely in the living room!

    Canine Connection for the Real World Canine

    Canine Connection for the Real World Canine

  7. Children – This starts to get into the ‘people’ and environment factors which are, IMO, some of the most important. If there are children in the environment and they are a trigger then there needs to be huge consideration for what option is appropriate. There are only four options: Management (which usually fails at some point); Management and training and b-mod; Rehome; or Euthanize.
  8. Size of dog must be considered not only because a dog over 40 pounds can be harder to manage and contain, but perception from the public is also different. Not many people care if they get nipped by a Maltese (no offense to Maltese people!) but if it is a bigger dog then they do!
  9. Breed of dog – unfortunately it can matter! Because I do a lot of aggression people think I see Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans, but my highest case loads are herding dogs, dogs under 25 pounds, and sporting breeds. Sometimes they appear to come in waves!
  10. Finances play a part too. An owner needs to be able to afford the medical work ups, the management systems, the training tools, and the help from a qualified trainer or behavior consultant or behaviorist. There is also the real possibility of litigation as well as medical costs if damage is done to a victim.
  11. Time – It is a valuable commodity and many people simply don’t have enough time to put into managing the dog let alone modifying its behavior and training them.
  12. Commitment – This can often be a lifelong commitment. There isn’t a quick fix and they must be prepared to go the distance.
  13. Compliance – Sometimes I know many of us in the field feel like marriage counselors! It is vital that everyone be on the same page in the household so that no one is undermining their success. Much like a kid that learns to go to mom when dad says no, it is confusing for the dog and creates unpredictability.
  14. Cognitive Dissonance – this has been something I really didn’t think would be an issue, but I have had several cases lately that one partner simply didn’t want to believe that their dog was afraid and not dominant! If they don’t buy into the science, I can’t help them!
  15. Duration – If the problem has been going on for a long time then the likelihood of changing it is diminished. The Matching Law is in play at that point.  And some variables will outweigh the others. I have worked with clients with children in the home with a dog with a level 4 bite that I would never have worked with in a different home.

I find that the ‘people factors’ are the most vital. That is why I have had good luck with dog/dog issues doing board & trains. I can lay the foundation and then follow up with the clients.

LW: So if the owner doesn’t comply with your recommendations, then failure is the result.

KD: To a certain extent. It does depend on the severity at that point. In most cases enough improvement can be made that the owner can manage.

LW: At what point would/should one give up on an aggressive dog?

KD: I usually recommend that clients set a specific time before they reassess. 30-45-90 days, if at that point they simply can’t continue with the program, or there isn’t sufficient change, or there is another incident them we may have to come to another conclusion and different option.

LW: I find a lot of people/trainers seem to judge owners for their inability not to commit time to working with their aggressive dog. What are your feelings on this?

KD: I am not in their shoes. I will never judge them (at least not in front of them!), but seriously, I HAVE been there myself. I remember having to euthanize a dog I was fostering way back in the 80s because she had almost killed another one of my dogs and had then turned on my 3 year old son. I have been in the vet office holding many hands when they said goodbye to their family pet. I also have emails and get phone calls thanking me for allowing them to make such a decision that has freed up their lives and reduced stress in the household.

LW: It is a very stressful situation; you are on pins and needles all the time.

KD: Yes it is stressful for EVERYONE. Especially inter-housemate aggression or households with children.

LW: Unfortunately, time is up and we have to end this interview.  Thank you so very much, Karen, for taking the time to chat with us.

KD: A very special thank you for considering me worthy of an interview!

Thank You
We’d like to extend a big thank you to Karen for letting us share this interview on The Modern Dog Trainer blog.

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10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors You Can Teach With Targeting

One of the first behaviors we recommend teaching every client a nose target. There are many behaviors you can teach with a nose target, and even more you can teach with general targeting. We also believe it is a good behavior to teach in the beginning because it can help clients sharpen their clicker mechanics. Clients are able to physically feel the behavior they are supposed to click. Here are 10 good behaviors you can train with basic targeting.

1. Loose Leash Walking

Once the dog is able to nose target your hand well, it can be a big help for teaching loose leash walking. Instead of luring the dog with food, you can place your hand exactly where you want the dog to be (lined up with your leg), and click/treat them when they target your hand. If the dog is very target savvy, they can follow your hand for multiple steps before you click/treat. You can eventually fade out the hand target and have a very nice loose leash behavior. This can also help with heeling.

2. Mat Work

Mat work is very popular. It can provide a dog their own space whether in the house or in a foreign location. It can also be a helpful tool when trying to teach impulse control or relaxation methods. Instead of using just a nose target, mat work is a whole body targeting technique. You are teaching the dog that when they see their mat, they are to place their entire body on top of the mat. You can decide if you want only a down, or if you will accept a sit or stand on the mat. This can be applied to their cage, or a certain spot in the house when doing a certain activity. For example, when I’m cooking in the kitchen, you are to stay on the kitchen rug out of my way.

3. Platform Work

Platforms are very useful for many different dog sports or training techniques. You can use a platform as a ‘home base’ if you are working with multiple dogs. You are training the dog to target their whole body to a platform and to stay until you call them off. Another form of platform work is to teach the dog to target their two front paws on a platform and to pivot. This helps the dog learn hind end awareness which is very helpful for many dog sports including obedience, rally, agility, and freestyle.

4. Close The Door

A fun behavior to teach with targeting is closing the door. Using a nose target, you can train the dog to close the door through small approximations. If the dog can nose target a sticky note, have the dog target the sticky note on an open door and click for any movement of the door when they target the note. Once the dog knows what you are asking for and can close the door, you can begin to get rid of the sticky note by making it smaller and smaller until you no longer need the sticky note. People love seeing this behavior and will love to show off this skill to their friends. You can also work this with dresser drawers.

5. Recall/Come

Many people do not think of a recall as a targeting behavior, but it definitely can be. If you ask for the target cue from further and further, you are essentially asking the dog to recall from further and further away. You can eventually switch to a recall cue if you want to use something else, or you can just continue using your target cue.

6. Basic Obedience Cues

Your basic obedience cues such as sit, down, and stand can be taught with targeting instead of luring. Once the dog has the hang of a nose target, instead of using a piece of food to lure their nose up for a sit, you can just have the dog target your hand up into a sit. The same can happen for a down or a stand behavior. Some people prefer targeting over luring for these behaviors before you do not have to fade out the treat lure. It can be easier to fade out your hand movement or simply create a hand signal for the behavior.

7. Leg Weave

You can teach the dog to weave between your legs very easily with a nose target. Have the dog sit and stay and make a triangular space with your legs large enough for the dog to go underneath. Ask for a nose target on the opposite side of your legs and click as the dog targets your hand and moves between your legs. Once they catch on, you can ask for multiples weaves before rewarding. A very impressive, but easily taught behavior.

8. Saying “Hi!”

If the dog is an excited greeter, you can use a hand target for greeting in order to keep the dog from getting over excited. Having the dog on leash when guests come over gives the dog time to calm down before greeting the guests. Once they have calmed down a bit, the guest can ask for a hand target and then the dog can reorient to you for reinforcement.

9. Medical Behaviors

Targeting can be used to help a dog become comfortable with handling or procedures at the vet’s office. Targeting behaviors are used with large animals in aquariums and zoos to help veterinarians get samples or perform procedures on them. A prolonged target behavior can make it easier to give vaccines, take samples of blood, or get a physical exam. If the dog is doing a job, they will be more focused on the job than on what is occurring. A highly reinforced behavior like targeting can also help to calm the dog during a stressful situation. These targeting behaviors can even be done muzzled if you need that extra protection for veterinarians and staff.

10. Take A Bow

This cute finisher can easily be taught with a nose target. It is very similar to a down, but your precise clicker mechanics will come into play here. As the dog is going down to target your hand between their legs, you click as the behavior is happening, but before they drop their rear into a down. Too many bad clicks in down position will confuse the dog and will get you a down instead of a bow. Once the dog is getting pretty good, you can begin to fade the hand target and you will end up with a nice finishing behavior for all your future demonstrations.

Targeting is a very fun behavior for dogs and quickly becomes very highly reinforcing for them. These are ten behaviors you can teach with targeting, but the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to behaviors you can teach with targeting. What behaviors do you teach your clients with targeting? Do you prefer fun tricks or behavior modification with targeting?

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