Fear And Anxiety In Dogs Causes Damage
Nobody enjoys seeing frightened or anxious dogs. It wrenches at the heart-strings as we internalize how we feel when anxious. But this study makes it even worse. It speculates that fear and anxiety can actually shorten dogs’ lives.
In this article, “The Unexpected Dog Killer,” pulled from Scientific American, the author points out that even though modern-day dogs have relatively comfortable lives, they do still face many stressors – repeated separations as owners go to work, variable schedules, frequent mixing with strange dogs and people, and then of course fireworks (which prompted the article’s writing). In some dogs, these stressors cause fear and anxiety, either generalized or specific.
This study was formulated by questioning owners whose dogs had died within the last five years. There were 99 questions for each owner, and 721 people participated.
The study came to two conclusions:
- “Being afraid of unfamiliar people (often called stranger-directed fear) predicted decreased lifespan. Dogs with extreme stranger-directed fear died six months earlier than dogs without.”
- “Non-social fears (like showing fearful behavior towards “noise, unfamiliar objects, traffic, storms, wind, new situations”) did not predict lifespan, but non-social fear and separation anxiety did predict both severity and presence of skin problems in adult dogs.”
Studies in rats and other species have also shown that chronic stress affects health and lifespan. One study showed that rats who were constantly fearful died sooner than their more relaxed brethren.
How This Applies To Training
So, as modern dog trainers, what does this mean for us? First, it means it is crucial that we become fluent in canine body language so we can help owners see when their dogs are exhibiting fear and anxiety. Next, it requires us to remain up to date with compassionate methods to help dogs learn to overcome/work through these fears. Lastly, it means we need to help our clients maintain an open mind regarding pharmaceutical or supplemental intervention to help dogs deal with their fear and anxiety while counterconditioning and desensitization are occurring. This can be aided by having a good working relationship with a veterinarian in your area.
How do you help your clients identify fear and anxiety in their dogs?
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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.
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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