Good book on dog behavior?

robertz6November 21, 2012

Can anyone recommend a good book on understanding and correcting dog behavior? I walk the neighbor's 90 pound hound, probably a Polish Hound mix. He is three or four years old, very strong. His household has two adults and two kids under nine. He has a decent back yard, and large house.

He seems secure in his territory. He will not leave the back yard, even when the fence falls down. He loves to go on walks with me, but is very insecure. His family seldom walks him. Barks at strangers and strange dogs. Lunges at them, but licks people if they stick around. Last year a little Westie trotted out and the hound hid in back of me.

The hound is too timid to go into the pet store. I suggested a starter dog training course, but the owners said no. I doubt that the trainer would accept him into the regular classes, but rather suggest individual training. I do wonder if the dog might be happier out on a farm somewhere, but doubt the family would give him up.

So back to the book idea.

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There are so many different theories finding a book that has applicable advice may be harder than working with some basic ideas to start.

First. Ignore any unwanted skittish/fearful behavior. Completely. Don't talk to the dog, don't look at the dog---nothing. Just halt whatever is happening until it resumes normal activity. Once the normal behavior resumes, praise the dog briefly.

What that accomplishes is to separate the types of behavior in to acceptable and unacceptable. Not good/bad, desired/unacceptable. The dog will soon adapt to the behavior that gets rewarded.

This is difficult to do for many people. The tendency to comfort the dog is great, but doing so actually tells the dog this is a good thing because they get attention.

The barking/lunging may be a fear based reaction. Develop a leash correction---Use a sharp but gentle tug, just enough to redirect the dog's attention back to you and a HEH sound(means STOP). Working to establish that routine before the walk helps. Walk on leash in the back yard and get the dog used to the command to stop.

Might be silly, but I do not use human words---very often dogs get used to certain words and they pay attention to those words even in normal conversation.

A real problem is people---they want to help or are clueless about a problem. I simply tell people the dog is in training and I need them to allow that to happen.

Once the dogs confidence level is raised, working on other things, like going into the pet store, can be addressed.

Working with fearful, timid dogs is very difficult. Altering their fear/timidity takes a long time. And very often, it seems no progress is being made. Progress is sometimes measured in the lessening amount of time unwanted behavior happens.

It helps when all people dealing with the dog do the same things. That is often not a good probability in situations like the one you are experiencing.

Sounds like you really want to help this dog. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 3:48PM
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Leash corrections and other forms of positive punishment (adding an aversive stimulus) make no sense. Particularly when it comes to insecurity, anxiety and fear. Yanking on the dog's neck does nothing to counter insecurity, anxiety or fear. This dog is reacting in a negative way towards strangers (dogs, humans) because he has a negative association towards them for whatever reason. Yanking on his neck is going to add yet another negative association to strangers and compound the problem unless you're willing to yank so hard that it hurts so much that the dog shuts down and offers no behavior at all. This is called learned helplessness. Google Seligman's shutter box experiment if you want.

It can also be attributed due to leash reactivity. I frequently see this with dogs who are walked on prong collar and choke collars. Prongs dig into the skin. It hurts and causes discomfort. This is how it works. It hurts and causes the dog to work to make it stop. This is how it suppresses behavior and non-compliance. Choke collars do exactly what they say. They choke the dog. They cut off blood supply by constricting the air way and pressing against the sensitive close to the surface of the skin in the neck area. Front attach harnesses until his leash skills and behavior improves work better and don't cause any fall out from punishment.

People will argue with me on this to justify the use of choke and prong collars but this is how they work. They cause undue discomfort and pain. If they merely tickled, then they wouldn't work, now would they? If you touched the burner and it hurt, you would stop. If you touched the burner and it didn't hurt, why would you stop?

Grisha Stewart's BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) sounds PERFECT for this dog. I'd give it a try. Start at their Yahoo group. They can also recommend books.

You can also try LAT. It's counter conditioning. It stands for Look At That. It's a game. You teach the dog to look at something neutral and then mark and reward. Once they catch onto the concept of looking at what you point to, you move onto pointing to what causes them to react. Then you mark and reward for calm behavior. This changes the association of the subject in the dog's opinion. They associate what they were once uncomfortable with with the reward of getting a treat. Or a toy, or a ear scratch, or whatever else they truly find rewarding. Here's a video showing how.

Dogs are associative learners. That's why counter conditioning works so well to build new, positive associations. That's also why using corrections is so counter productive. They associate the corrections with whatever they're looking at or experiencing.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 11:41AM
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They cut off blood supply by constricting the air way and pressing against the sensitive nerves close to the surface of the skin in the neck area.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 11:44AM
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Wow, why don't we just start discussing politics or religion here. Perhaps we could have more civil interchanges...

Handymac has provided some very good advice. In fact, EXCELLENT! I read it over several times and didn't see any reference to torturing the OP's dog by misusing choke or prong collars, cutting off air supply, or wounding any dog's neck.

Dogs are not people and they are not children. They are dogs. Some people may prefer to waste their time by reasoning with a dog to convince it to behave correctly, while some of us will cut to the chase and simply train our dogs. A dog who knows what is expected of him, and trusts his handler to provide consistent positive and negative reinforcement, is a happy and confident dog.

A collar is merely a means of communicating with our dog. When walking, the handler should be the focus of the dog's attention. There are a variety of progressive exercises that one can do to maintain that focus, therefore limiting distractions and reactivity. Trust develops when the dog learns that his handler will keep him safe from the bogeymen that inhabit the world outside his own yard.

Just my opinion, but I think the dog in the OP needs lots and lots of leash time At least an hour a day, maybe two. Dogs just don't get enough exercise and stimulation when confined in a yard and left on their own.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 10:23PM
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Dogs are not as stupid as people on here tend to think. Nor is anyone mistaking dogs for humans. Why is it every time someone advocates for violence free training, someone always pipes up about people mistaking dogs for humans? Is that really your depth of understanding of the canine mind? That they can only understand given leash corrections? I'd hate to be any dog in your care.

I've given the OP my advice. I'm not here to argue with self-proclaimed experts who, in reality, have no idea what they're talking about. Behavior is a science. It's time it's given credit and approached as such. You can have a dog who complies because you're a good teacher and use valid science based methods or because they're acting out of avoidance of your violent overtures. It's your choice what you want to be. Good teacher or tyrannical dictator. Unfortunately, it's not the dog's choice who they end up with.

Giving leash corrections to a fearful dog expressing their fear makes absolutely no sense. A collar is not a means of communication. A collar is to hold identification. If you think that yanking a dog around by their neck, choking them and driving spikes into their skin is acceptable, then something is very wrong. Those are some quite violent ambitions indicative of a violent personality.

I'm through here. I hope the OP goes with sound advice, not the advice of ego-maniacs who think that their dogs actually view them as "alphas".

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 2:49AM
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I feel obligated to set the record straight.

Nowhere did I even mention any kind of corrective collar equipment. In fact, all of my advice is for non violent methods. I do not believe in punitive training simply because basic non violent corrective methods produce much longer lasting behavior modification because those methods develop trust and affection between the dog and human instead of obedience due to fear.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 10:46AM
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MsMinn, where do you get off proclaiming that anyone who disagrees with you violently abuses their pets? If you think it is impossible to apply a leash correction without causing pain or injury to a dog's neck, then your skill set is seriously lacking.

I watched the video on Grisha Stewart's BAT site, and was totally appalled that anyone who purports to be a professional dog trainer would allow her dog to wander about at will at the end of its leash on a public sidewalk. Not only does she fail to provide any leadership and guidance to a dog with known issues, she exhibits a total disregard for anyone else who would potentially wish to use the same pathway. There are much more effective and safer ways to deal with dogs with fear problems.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 5:02PM
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I recommend watching a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer to learn proper leash correction and how to fix any problem. Its made an enormous difference in my dog-none of his methods involve pain or harshness. Kudos for you for giving a neighbor dog walks and attention!!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 9:16PM
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Trying to learn dog training without hands on classes or trainer is like learning to play piano with just a book and no piano. Learning from Milan is like watching a Nascar race and then applying it to your driving skills.

Dog training is not taught through TV or words. You can learn training philosophy that way, but not training.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 7:50AM
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Thanks to all for the advice.

I don't think HandyMac was necessarily the target of MsMinn's views on dog collars. A thread on what is the best harness started out with paragraphs on opinions, then went into page long opinions on training vs collars/harnesses. I suggested we continue with short opinions of collars and harnesses, and leave the long philosophical discussions to another thread.

Lisa, I don't have cable, if the Dog Whisperer is a cable show. I watched 'Dogs in the City' several times, but understand its off the air.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 2:45PM
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You're right. He wasn't the target of the discussion about collars. I was strictly discussing the collars alone.

In fact, today I was working with a dog with serious leash reactive issues thanks to the prong collar his ex-owner used to put him on. Today, I walked him on a harness alone with no pressure on his neck via any collar at all and the different was stark. I see this ALL the time. You'd be surprised the difference a simple harness can make on walks. Front attach if it's a strong dog learning leash manners.

Then we had to work on counter conditioning him to his triggers. We focused on curing the cause for the problem behaviors and the symptoms clear up when the reason for them is fixed. Yanking on the dog's neck isn't going to cure the cause, only suppress. Suppression is dangerous. You're silencing communication.

I was at the vet the other day and there were two labs from different owners on prongs. Both were over stimulated and didn't feel the pain from the prongs digging in. Therefore, the prong collars didn't work because the pain wasn't great enough to get the dogs to work to make it stop. They could seriously have injured themselves. Prongs have been known to puncture the skin, even when those caps are put on. The prongs go through them and then skin too.

Choke collars constrict the airway and compress the fragile nerves and blood vessels at the base of the skull. This cuts off blood and oxygen to the brain. Some dogs have a high tolerance for this and will cause serious injuries to themselves or pull until they pass out. The choke collar, when placed or hiked up to under the ears can break the hyoid bone. This is a very fragile bone prone that's prone to becoming infected when broken. Breakage of this bone is said to be extremely painful. This is actually how they determine when a corpse has been strangled during autopsies. They look for the broken hyoid bone.

This isn't a philosophical debate. It's fact. Up to date, peer reviewed behavior journals and studies don't lie. And these materials, lectures, seminars, text books, and other scientific resources are what I go on. Not television shows or outdated information. It's applied behavior analysis. It's a science.

If you're going to use these collars, you might as well know what they do.

You asked for advice about the dog's reactivity. I was just offering what I thought would help.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 5:44PM
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I am totally in agreement about prong/severe collars. There is zero need for them. Not much different from severe bits for horses---there is little need for severe bits when a horse is properly trained.

My advice for getting a dogs attention via collar is equivalent to a tap on the shoulder with a pinky finger. In fact, an observer should not be able to see the correction. The Hey! along with the correction is so very soon, the leash correction is not even necessary.

Working with severely scared/timid dogs is often better done with a harness than a collar anyway. It just depends on the individual dog, since a harness can often encourage a dog to pull.

Either way, it takes much more than just a leash or collar to properly control/train a dog. And there is more than one way to skin a grape.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 8:45PM
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I have to disagree-I learned much more from watching The Dog Whisperer (National Geographic channel-although our library had dvds of several seasons) than dog training classes. He explains what triggers a dog and how to prevent the situation from escalating. If something doesn't work, he tries something else. The Gentle Leader works best for my dog-its the head harness with the strap over the nose. He wore it to the vets the other day and the vet said 'I don't know why more people don't use them-they are great!'.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 11:56PM
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Teaching loose leash walking is very important to counteract any oppositional force reflex from harnesses or collars. Plus no tension on the leash makes for a heck of a nicer walk.

In addition to LAT and BAT, it's also very important to teach a cue for eye contact. I use "Look!". Others use "Watch me!", or whatever. On walks, rewarding auto check ins (when the dog makes direct eye contact with you or comes up to you without being prompted) and manual check ins (when you prompt it via your cue word) is very important and helpful. It makes sure that the dog is keeping you in mind and is ready to take direction.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:06PM
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Good points, especially about the loose leash.

I do the eye contact thing a little different, but it is an important part of being in control.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 12:34PM
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I'll answer my own question, since no books seem to have been mentioned.

The local library was selling off half their books, I guess for the new digital era. So I bought all the dog books for fifty cents each. My overall favorite for learning about dog behavior is:
'DogSpeak' by Bash Dibra

The books on dog breeds were helpful too. Saw a vocal and not too friendly dog in the pet store. The owner claimed she didn't know what it is. Looked like a Karolian Bear Laika, in retrospect. Notice how folks always give the less dangerous breed and skip the more dangerous breed of their mix when you ask?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 5:35PM
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There are two books I really like and would recommend... I am not even sure of the authors since they are not super recent books, but they are still *good* books.

One of these I read when I was 12 yrs old (I'll be 50 this year) - its called "So you are going to get a puppy"

It's an old book. But I learned a lot from reading it. It's "old school" but still great advice.

Another is more recent but a great read and called "How to Speak Dog".

I recommend both highly - old and new - with some sound advice.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 1:36AM
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Robert, I learned a lot reading "Dog Language" by Roger Abrantes. The pencil drawings illustrate the different postures and expressions that the text discusses. I recommend this book for anyone who does not already know how to read all of the signs our dogs give us and their brethren dogs. You will learn a lot about dog behavior reading this book.

Here is a link that might be useful: One link to Dog Language

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 8:10PM
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Any book that gets the information about canine 'language' correct will be helpful.

Dogs have three basic modes of communication. Body action, sound, and smell. When working with a dog, when the person understands the first two, the person has a much better understanding on what dogs do when they do what they do.

And knowing body language is paramount to stopping unwanted actions before they start----which is a much preferable way to train/retrain/rehabilitate a dog. That is basically the same as defensive driving---make sure you do not get into a bad situation with a car.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 1:39AM
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I might also recommend "Be the Dog" by Steve Duno. Copyright about 2005 I think.

Text with hardly and drawings.

The best value was the $8 I spend on used DVDs of first season of the Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. He's kinda like Jerry Baker -- mixed views.

Reading the Wiki entry, Humane Society wanted Nat Geo to take the program off after the first year. But five years later they gave Millan an award.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 4:47PM
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spedigrees z4VT

Cesar, the dog abuser, is the last person any caring dog owner would want to take training advice from. He was essentially shut down for not being in compliance with Kennel Club requirements for humane training during a recent trip to England. Due to negative public opinion in this country, he has tried to change his television persona, but he's the same old, same old.

There is a book called the "Fearful Dog" that might be helpful in learning how to give your neighbor's dog confidence to walk on a leash in unfamiliar terrain.
I haven't read it yet, but it is recommended by trainers I respect.

Leash or other corrections will worsen this unsocialized and timid dog's fears. I'd recommend pockets full of treats on each walk, and lavishing him with goodies when you get into a situation that makes him anxious (if he will take a treat from you at that time). You want to make meeting strange dogs and people a positive experience. If he wants to hide behind you, let him. Do not try to force him to interact those he fears, or you will compound his fears.

One thing that might work well is to get a friend with a quiet gentle dog to walk with you when you take your neighbor's dog out for a walk. It would give him confidence to have a buddy along, and get him used to humans as well.

It is unfortunate that your neighbor is unwilling to take his dog to a beginner training course, but there isn't much that you can do about this. Does your neighbor ever walk his own dog?

Another possibility would be to take the dog to an isolated area to walk, with less chance of meeting other dogs or humans, in a wooded area perhaps. This may not be possible for you, but it would allow this dog, as well as yourself, to have a more pleasant, stress-free experience.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 9:22AM
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Very nice to hear some sound advice on here. Debbie Jacobs (creator of fearfuldogs website) is an industry standard on fearful dogs. Anything on her website is valid, productive advice. You can also talk to her on Facebook.

The dogs CER needs to be changed for the better. A fearful reactive dog has a negative emotional response, this needs to be counter conditioned into a positive conditioned emotional response. Coercion is just not going to do anything besides compound negativity towards the antecedent stimuli.

I no longer recommend BAT. There are just kinder, less stressful ways to deal with fear reactivity than negative reinforcement, no matter how mild it may be.

A book recommendation is Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog by Patricia McConnell.

Or anything else on the Fearful dogs website besides BAT (IMO).

Coercion for this dog's reactivity would be like spanking a child when they cry out of fear of the dark. It just simply doesn't make any sense unless your goal is to create learned helplessness or at the least, response depression.

On the topic of Cesar Millan, please Google "Beyond Cesar Millan Weebly" to see what the foremost experts in the field of ethology and animal behaviorism have to say on the subject. These are people with vast amounts of BOTH experience and reputable education. They are not reality show personalities looking for ratings.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 12:31PM
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On the subject of good dog training books--anything by Patricia McConnell is excellent.

For a reactive dog (like the one described)--Scaredy Dog (Allie Brown?) I have also heard a lot of good about Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt

For anyone interested in dog training theory and how it has evolved I highly recommend Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor--a really fun and interesting read, not just about dogs.

The book that really sealed the deal for me on positive reinforcement, vs. "old school" techniques, was Dog Sense by John Bradshaw.

This post was edited by sarabera on Wed, Oct 30, 13 at 0:21

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:18AM
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Leslie McDervitt is great. I recommend the puppy unleashed version. It's pretty much the updated version of the other Control Unleashed book. But the Control Unleashed books are really for developing impulse control rather than modifying a reactive dog's emotional response (DS/CC).

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 6:40AM
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There are so many recommendations for good books here. I'd like to read every one!

I recently acquired an adult Westie. We had some problems with peeing on people and also with walking near an elementary school when children are playing outside. We took a 10-week training course, and things are much better because now we have a working relationship. When we walk near the school, if he freezes up, I just give a gentle tug forward on the leash and say, "No, Oski" in a soft but firm voice, and he comes forward. I take and give treats on the walk, but not immediately after the "freeze up." He's still nervous around the school, but he's brave and walks along OK. As for the peeing, that has been resolved (so far) as I've caught him sneaking around people's ankles a couple times and scolded him. I track him closely when around people, but so far so good. Also caught him peeing in a pet store and scolded him for that. He acted ashamed (yay). We're making progress. Basically he's a nice little dog, and I enjoy him very much.

As for Cesar Milan, I have no opinion about his methods, but I think he has increased people's awareness that problem behavior can be "fixed," improving the relationships and lives of both dogs and owners.

If I've said anything to annoy anyone, please don't bash me!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:10AM
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As the OP, I have enjoyed both the info on books, and the arguments over philosophy. I can't say either side is 'right', if we define them as 'nature vs nuture'. Do we have to say one side is 'right' and the other is 'wrong'? I look at so many disagreements, and it often seems like the answer is somewhere in the middle.

I learned a lot from watching the first season DVD's of DW. But I have some questions or comments, also. Why not a mention of dog collars and leashes, some must be better than others. What about treats as a reward, did not see any mentioned. CM mentions high collaring, but neglects to say use a stop with a control collar. If no stop on a sliding collar, it slides down and does not work as well.

If someone says their method is better (and I think Dr. Yin does), why not a contest by a third party? Let a number of dogs selected by the third party be trained by each side. Maybe CM will do best if a time limit is 15 minutes, and Dr. Yin will do best if the time limit is two hours. Who knows? Maybe you do, but not myself at this point.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 5:07PM
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I don't understand, how is it nature vs. nurture?

Dr. Yin has done contrasts to examples shown on the DW. You can see them on her website. Her way works fast as well and lasts in the long run. CM has clients sign a clause of silence but there have been some brave enough to break it and risk lawsuit. They've revealed that dogs have reverted to their old ways once their behavior stops being suppressed. If you Google, you can find information on this.

There is an accepted ethological definition for "social dominance" and also "pack". Not what you'd find in an English language dictionary but what you'd find in ethology texts. It's hard to say that someone is right when they consistently misapply these concepts. It's also difficult to consider someone right when they claim that counter conditioning doesn't exist when it very much does.

By the way, Paul Owens is the original Dog Whisperer. I recommend his books as well.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 6:31PM
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