Chrissi Schranz, Chelsey Protulipac, and Tania Lanfer join me to talk about dealing with problem behaviors like resource guarding, jumping, counter surfing, and unwanted chasing!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
For this episode, I've got several awesome guests on to talk about handling bad behavior. Here with me are Chrissi Schranz, Chelsey Protulipac, and Tania Lanfer.
Hi ladies! To start us out, can you each just state your name, so folks can get a sense of whose voice is whose and tell us a little about you? Chrissi, do you want to start?
Chrissi Schranz: Hi, I'm Chrissi. I'm based in Antigua Guatemala. I run a local pet dog school and I also teach for FDSA, and I currently have three dogs of my own. That is two Malinois, and my latest addition is a Border Collie. We do lots of hiking, we learn tricks, we sometimes play with bite sleeves, and we train obedience for fun. And I can't wait to learn more about herding with Mick, the Border Collie.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Tania?
Tania Lanfer: Hi, I'm Tania. I'm based in Oakland, California, and I am a long-term FDSA student as well. I'm involved in dog sports. I did agility, nosework, and some other sports as well, and also I'm a private dog trainer, so I have my own business, that's Cannon Dog Training, and I do a lot with pet behavior stuff.
Melissa Breau: All right. Chelsey?
Chelsey Protulipac: Hi everyone. I'm Chelsey. I live in Northern Ontario, in Canada. I've been an FDSA student for many years now, and I live with eight dogs in my house, of various breeds, and a chameleon. I have competed in several dog sports, including french ring, obedience, rally, agility, nosework, and gundog retriever training, and I've been involved with teaching pet dog classes in the past.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. I wanted to talk today about handling unwanted behaviors. You know, dealing with "bad dogs" — not that such a thing actually exists. But teaching dogs NOT to do things is often super-hard for positive reinforcement trainers, so I wanted to dig into that. When looking at unwanted behavior, regardless of what the specific behavior is, people often think the answer is to do more impulse control work and train for higher and higher levels of distraction. Is it that simple? Chrissi, let's start with you again.
Chrissi Schranz: I wish it was that simple. Sometimes it is, but it really depends on the individual case. Especially with my pet dog clients, unwanted behavior is often based in lack of exercise and mental stimulation. Where I live in particular, here in Guatemala, people often get large working-breed dogs, like, German Shepherds are very popular, because they want to feel safe. So they basically want a pet dog who looks a little scary, just to be sure that the burglar will rob the neighbor's house rather than their house. But then they also want that dog to be a great family dog and to be good with their small children.
So I often end up recommending a combination of management, just to keep the unwanted behavior from happening, and more exercise and stimulation. That's things like allowing the dog to sniff more on a walk, feeding out of Kongs, learning to play with the dog, and doing a little bit of that every day. So there is lots of little puzzle pieces to that.
Especially where I am, the other source of unwanted behavior that I'm seeing a lot comes up in former street dogs. I have clients who have adopted a dog off the street. They kept seeing a dog around their neighborhood and it seemed like a sweet dog, so they caught it and they kept it. The challenge with this is that these dogs have grown up with a lot of freedom, and they've never been confined to a room or confined by a leash, and they have no idea how to be a pet dog.
So when they're being turned into a pet dog, they often react to confinement by showing separation anxiety or excessive barking, destructive behaviors, and on leashed walks there's often all kinds of flavors of leash aggression that comes up. In that case it's also not an impulse control issue, I would say. It's just a dog who got put into a situation that was overwhelming.
What I tend to do here is I try to help the owners see how hard these seemingly simple pet dog skills actually are. And then we start very easy. For example, we practice walking on a leash in the most boring environment, rather than going right into the city center. Once we're in a place where the leash aggression doesn't show up, we can reward and practice the kind of behavior we actually want the dog to display on a leash, and then gradually we'll go to more exciting places.
Melissa Breau: Tania, do you want to weigh in?
Tania Lanfer: Yeah, totally. When we talk about unwanted behaviors, we're usually referring to the point of view of the human. That's what also Chrissi is saying, like, "We took this dog and we want the dog to be a pet dog."
So a person or a family deciding that X, Y, and Z behaviors don't work for them, that's usually where we see a lot of those unwanted behaviors, when you're not talking about more problematic kinds of aggression or fearfulness, etc. It tips the balance, so it means people and dogs are no longer living in harmony, so sometimes, some things need to change. Maybe now the dog is chewing the walls of the house. That's not going to work for the family. But maybe the dog also has a list of unwanted behaviors on their humans. "My humans leave me alone eight hours a day. That's on my complaint list."
When I hear about how to address unwanted behaviors, I usually hear people talking about four different focus points, and Chrissi talked about the fourth one that I usually think of. One is more training, as you suggested, so impulse control, like you said, distraction proofing that behavior, or the famous 6:17 reinforcement of a compatible behavior that serves a similar function.
The point, too, that Chrissi also said is management. That goes along with training, so preventing a behavior from happening in the first place, therefore you're also preventing its training, if it is a behavior that gets to be self-reinforced. So eliminating the maintenance of that problem behavior with management.
The third focus point that I usually hear people talking about too is behavior suppression. A lot of people will talk about punishment, and of course there are many question marks that can be raised about that. A behavior doesn't occur in a vacuum, as we know. It has a list of antecedents, motivation, operation, then what fills that gap, if you're just suppressing. That's something that we have to think about.
The number four is what Chrissi said a lot — the needs of the dog, and also Sarah Stremming, with the whole picture, talks a lot about that. So sometimes, not always, the answer to a problem of a problem behavior might lie on the emotional, physical, chemical, or the social need of a dog's being met. So yeah, that's not a simple topic.
Melissa Breau: Right. So it's not just about training.
Tania Lanfer: Right.
Melissa Breau: Chelsey?
Chelsey Protulipac: First, I want to reiterate that dogs aren't ever inherently bad dogs. They aren't out to get us and they're not vindictive, and even if they are, it's not helpful to think of them that way, even if they frustrate us. Fundamentally, dogs do what works for them to fulfill some need that they have that's not being fulfilled, and though it's not always easy for us to decode, it's usually not very complex on their end.
Of course you want to teach dogs how to make good decisions whenever possible, but when we talk about impulse control, I think it's really important to remember that an impulse behavior is not a deliberate action or even a conscious decision. It's an unconscious response to some sort of stimulus, like some condition in the environment or some state that they're feeling.
When we work through impulse control in the sense of distraction training exercises, we're teaching very specific things, and when we do that in different contexts, we help generalize responses to distractions, and distractions can become the cues to the behaviors that we want. That's how we would use impulse control training to help manage unwanted behaviors by working through these distractions and these scenarios.
But as we give them more opportunities to practice this, they develop this repertoire of more desirable behaviors. They develop a history of behaving the way that is desirable to us, even if it is provoking big feelings for them. I'm a huge advocate of proactive training and of doing this deliberately, but I don't think it's realistic to capture every possible situation that will incite an impulsive response with a training plan.
So I think what ends up being important is our ability to cope with our dog's range of behaviors, and that goes back to what Chrissi and Tania were saying, is it's about management and it's also about doing the training to develop our relevance and our importance in the dog's world, so that we stay on their radar when we do need to get their attention to a situation. And if we build this history of being relevant to the dog and being important to them, then they listen to us more.
Melissa Breau: It sounds like everybody's in agreement that it's really about more than just impulse control work and this idea of management is super-important.
When you think about the other things that come up a lot when we're talking about unwanted behaviors, at least in the positive reinforcement world, it seems like the word "arousal" is becoming this huge buzzword. People are like, "He's over-aroused," "You have to manage his arousal better," "You have to manage his frustration better."
Maybe you guys could talk a little bit about how you differentiate impulse control and arousal levels, and pull those things apart a little bit, or even just how you talk about them, either with clients or with other dog trainers, and how much of a role do you feel that arousal plays in unwanted behaviors, or at least the ones that you tend to see in dogs. Tania, do you want to start us off this time?
Tania Lanfer: Oh boy, the words "arousal" and "impulse control." There's so much talk about it nowadays, and of course with good reason. We see dogs doing stuff and we try to figure out what is happening.
The word "arousal" does come up a lot when you're talking about unwanted behaviors, probably more so for behaviors that look like exuberant, big, loud, frenetic, not precise. So when we imagine an animal that is over-aroused, that usually means, in my circle, a dog that lost control somehow. Therefore, one needs to train impulse control to kind of tame the beast, so to speak. That's usually what people think. So those two words come together in most conversations I hear, arousal and impulse control, but usually I tend to think more that if those things are coming up, there is an issue of anxiety, so that's what I have to address.
Arousal, usually we talk about optimal arousal level, and when we talk about those, it's more in the dog sport world, at least that's when I hear most. For example, the agility dog, his start line is clear-headed and oh boy, he wants it. Now, the over-aroused dog is that dog that has no longer the mental capacity and the time to perform that behavior with its optimum latency, the accuracy, maybe the speed, accuracy, and precision. And the under-aroused dog does not want, at least that's how I see it. And so we talk about regulating one's arousal, we tend to think the dog is over-aroused.
I think about three things: the environment controlling the arousal, so is that dog too close to a trigger, does that dog need more acclimation. Another one is the inner state that we have no access to, but we can assume some things based on the outside behavior, so the connections that the dog has to that space, for example.
So you see, I don't know, as we're chatting in the Facebook group some time ago about not playing fetch inside the living room. So that connection of playing an arousing game inside a space that usually we expect something non-arousing definitely creates different connections, so the inner state of that animal is a little different when in that space. Also genetics, I think, can we regulate that dog so have a play in how fast an animal goes into and out of that stage. So all that in relationship to arousal.
But now we talk about impulse control, I think about social etiquette, so a little bit of the opposite mindset. So when we're trying to "tame" something we don't like, we tend to blame the dog a lot. Even the word "tame" sounds so bad. We're trying to make it small, trying to reduce, trying to make it graspable. So something that is not acceptable socially. The dog jumps on people, for example. Work on "impulse control." We are trying to minimize that. We work on distraction proofing. Is the dog too close to the person? Is the person making eye contact? Is that person squeaking, "Hi, puppy"?
The main idea that I see around me when talking about impulse control is that we need to tame an animal that wants something too much. But we can create frustration with that. When you talk about that kind of state, we have to be very, very careful. Imagine an artist that wants to create but can't. Her hands are tied. That's going to create some frustration. So one of the complications of doing that, of trying to "tame" something. I'd rather think about channel the inner awesomeness into something that can be allowed to both.
So I want to make sure that I can create something socially acceptable, definitely not something that will create problems to society or the individual or the family, but always with a way of giving the dog access to what he needs. The way I go about teaching impulse control, or whatever that is, is actually to basically build a huge reinforcement history on behaviors that are very easy to do, they're fluent, if we're going to sit, stand, eye contact, mat, whatever, you name it, and that option was previously and heavily reinforced, but also recently reinforced, so it is very clear in the dog's repertoire. And you make so much of that that we do eliminate unwanted behavior because the other options are so more interesting, they're so much more relevant.
So we don't need to tame the beast. We don't need to think on those terms. We can think about channeling inner awesomeness. That's what I am all for. That is why my logo for my business is a dog being shot out of a cannon, because I don't want to reduce you. I want to understand your awesomeness and I want to have appropriate outlets for that.
Melissa Breau: It sounds like what you're saying is you want to take that arousal or that big emotion, whatever it is, and channel it into something that is more socially acceptable, which is typically what people consider impulse control to be. Is that an accurate understanding?
Tania Lanfer: Absolutely, yeah. And it is a very hot topic right now, because people are talking about how do we go about doing that. Are we doing negative punishment? Are we doing it's a choice like games? Are we doing it in a way that doesn't cause frustration? Are we doing a distraction as a cue for a known behavior, as I'm suggesting? There are lots of ways of going about it, and that would depend on the individual in front of you. If the family can't do something, or it really ties down to what that family needs and what that dog specifically needs, we can mix and match possible versions of how to achieve that.
Melissa Breau: Chrissi, do you have anything to add?
Chrissi Schranz: First of all, I really like that metaphor of channeling the inner awesomeness of the dog. I'll have to remember that and use that when I talk about this.
Tania already made some really good points, so maybe I'll focus on how I talk about it when I'm trying to explain to a client what's going on with their dog. In my case, with my clients, the dogs who have arousal issues are usually more aroused than the client would like them to be, and that then leads to a lack of impulse control and results maybe in unwanted behaviors. When I want to explain the relationship between arousal and impulse control, I talk about things like hormone levels, so I point out that the higher the adrenalin levels get, the harder it is for the dog to stay in a thinking state of mind. Dogs and people alike, we need to stay in our thinking state of mind in order to be able to control our impulses. If your dog is very excited, for whatever reason, it can be positive or can be negative reasons, it gets really hard for him to listen to you or to remain calm and quiet.
I also use human analogies for this, like when you're on a roller coaster, you probably couldn't solve a simple math problem. At the time, you like being on that roller coaster, but you're so excited that your brain just doesn't work the way it would normally work. And something similar happens when you're scared. You're nervous, your heart starts pounding, you see monsters in every shadow, you're highly aroused, but in a bad way in this case.
If that's how you felt as you are walking down a dark alleyway, and I asked you to remember the pin code of your bank card, you might not be able to remember it, even though you've put that code into the ATM machine hundreds of times. That's how I try to help people see the relationship between the dog's state of mind and their ability to actually do what you want or to just remain calm and quiet in certain situations.
Melissa Breau: I like that. I know the analogy — I'm not sure where I picked this up, because it's not my concept; I want to say maybe from Deb Jones, but I can't guarantee that it was originally hers — the idea of you answer the door and there's a cop standing there and they tell you there's been an accident, you're not going to be able to remember the relevant details of the rest of your life. You're just not going to be able to do a complex math problem, you're not going to be able to answer detailed questions about what somebody was wearing or anything because you're panicking in your head. On the other side, if somebody rings your doorbell and says, "Hey, you just won the lottery," you're going to get so amped up in a totally different direction but same result, you probably can't think. Chelsey, do you have anything you want to add to that?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. Building on what you're saying, I like looking at arousal as information. We're getting a lot better at this in the sport world, at being able to read our dogs and their ability to be able to undertake a task that we're asking them, and noticing the subtle tells that they have the behavioral expression of what's going on in their heads.
The ability for us to see this, and for us to be able to help our clients see this, really helps create more success. It helps us decide whether this is a situation where we're going to let a dog make a decision here or when it's clearly not a situation where the dog is going to be able to make a decision, and we need to step in and get them out of the environment or change something in the environment to help them be successful.
Melissa Breau: Kind of control the decision for them.
Chelsey Protulipac: Yeah, but it becomes the cue for the handler, it becomes a cue for the trainer, to make that decision for themselves for what direction is the session going to go right now, what does the dog need.
Melissa Breau: I think that's important to think about, that it's not a one-way street, that it's not just us looking and saying, "This is unwanted behavior," so now I need to change something about the dog, but maybe we need to look at it, take it as feedback, and say, "OK, maybe I need to change something about my setup or my actions."
Chelsey Protulipac: Or our expectations.
Melissa Breau: Right. So I really like that. I think whenever positive reinforcement trainers start talking about eliminating behaviors, we get into the realm of "incompatible behaviors" pretty quickly. I know it came up earlier in the conversation, so I wanted to drill into that a little bit, circle back to that. Is teaching an incompatible behavior often the answer? I originally was going to say always, but it sounds like we've already talked about some really smart other solutions. Can you guys run through what some of the other options are that are out there for unwanted behaviors, while still sticking in that positive reinforcement methodology or mindset? Tania, do you want to start us off again?
Tania Lanfer: Let me just give you a quick example. The dog jumps on people that enter the house. An incompatible behavior from jumping is lying down. The dog cannot sit or lie down at the same time as jumping, so that's the excludent, right? That's what we understand as incompatible. Jumping is not socially acceptable. We ask the dog to lie down instead.
In fact, that is a very common way of decreasing jumping, but you asked about teaching an incompatible behavior is always the answer. I don't think it's always the answer. I think it's a good way, but you need to think about what is the function of that behavior what was the function in the first place. If the dog wanted to greet the person and lick the person's face, can you convince the dog to get a cookie instead? Maybe. That depends on the dog. Is a cookie fulfilling for the dog? For a lot of dogs, probably not, unless the dog cares more about the food than being social. If you consider the dogs, most of them are somehow socially deprived.
For myself, I remember doing tons of mat work with my very sociable Golden Retriever so she would not jump. When all the stars aligned and all knobs of the controllable parameters were correct, she would stay on her mat while eating an emu femur bone, but you could see high levels of frustration in her, so sometimes I had to be careful about that, about just doing an incompatible behavior. So fast-forward a few years, even now at this age, age did not diminish her desire to greet people. I had two babies, lots of nanny care and visitors, so without too much effort, now she no longer jumps on people. We have tons of visitors in the house now. In fact, she looks somehow normal dog. So I open the door, she greets the person coming, gets a toy in her mouth, moves her body a lot, so circle, circle, circle the person. Would I recommend ditching mat work? No. But I have my eyes wide open to the needs of my dog, so meeting people is important, as we suggested, so just thinking a replacement behavior is not a solution. You have to think about the whole picture.
And also we asked about other options. I think definitely making different associations, so when talking about behavior problems, I think a lot about classical conditioning as well. I use a ton of desensitization and classical conditioning to work on behavior problems, so those are the things I usually tack on.
Melissa Breau: I like that you mentioned what is the function of behavior, what is the dog getting out of it, because I think that's super-important to think through if you're creating a plan and deciding, "Should I teach incompatible behavior, should I go with a different option." Chrissi, do you want to pick it up from there?
Chrissi Schranz: I really like Tania's example, so let me add a different example to that to show another component that can often be important to add to alternative or incompatible behaviors.
While I do try to teach alternative behaviors, or incompatible behaviors, management is also something I integrate a lot. For example, right now I'm working with a client whose dog will redirect her aggression towards the client. It's a leash aggression case, but the dog gets triggered by motorcycles and bikes, but she's being walked on a leash, so she can't get to the bike, but all the feelings she's feeling, they have to go somewhere, so she's like a pressure cooker, and she ends up attacking the owner instead.
That owner lives in an apartment and she doesn't have a yard, she doesn't have access to her car at all times, so she needs to walk that dog in public in her neighborhood. There's just no way around it. And rehoming is not an option for her. She loves that dog. So on one hand we are working on looking at bikes and back at the owner instead of lunging and biting. That would be the incompatible behavior component. But at the same time I'm also putting management and safety strategies in place. So outside of training sessions, the dog is being walked in a muzzle at all times, and I've taught the owner how to safely restrain her if she unexpectedly runs into a motorcycle or a bike. She has learned how to secure the dog in a way that will make it impossible for the dog to get loose and also impossible for her to get bitten.
So incompatible behaviors are usually an element of working with unwanted behaviors for me, but they're rarely the only element, because in real life a lot of the time we can't avoid the triggers at all times, so we need a way to deal with them while the dog is still learning that unwanted behavior.
Melissa Breau: I like that. So far, we've talked a little bit about training alternative behavior, classical conditioning, desensitization, and just looking again at our management options. Chelsey, do you have anything to add to that?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. I think we tend to emphasize the incompatible piece because it's usually the element of "do" in the instruction. "This is what you're going to do," and that's what we often get attracted to and hung up on. But like Tania and Chrissi were saying, you always have to consider the bigger picture and that super-important arousal piece, and that needs to be part of the equation and our decisions and what we're going to have as expectations, and also assessing what the dog actually needs from us.
So it's as simple as, if being still is very hard for this dog in this moment, having a solution that involves the dog moving around is actually going to be a lot more successful than fighting them to be still. Sometimes just changing a set of conditions can make a big difference as well.
Going back to the on-leash greeting example, approaching from the side can have a pretty positive effect versus approaching head-on, and something as simple as that can do a lot to impact the behavior without asking for stillness and a sit and a lot of control.
Melissa Breau: I think you mentioned in there if being still is hard, having an option that allows the dog to move is super-important. I think that's probably something a lot of people don't think about, especially in the pet dog world, the idea that how does the dog naturally channel this behavior, and can we pick something that's incompatible but still allows them to do the thing that feels right for them in the moment. I really like that. I think that's an important thing to think about that's probably often overlooked. So thanks for that.
Let's say you've got a client with a dog — the client themselves isn't the problem — but a client with a dog that's consistently exhibiting an unwanted behavior. You explain your typical "go to" solution, and let's say the client is a good client, they listen well, they really give your plan their best try, but the problem isn't getting better. They've been working on it for a while, you feel pretty confident they're actually doing the things you told them to do. Or maybe it's even one of your own dogs. They're doing something super-obnoxious and you put a training plan in place. How do you decide how long to try one option before deciding that method won't work for that dog, or won't work for that dog and handler combo, and that it's time to consider some other training options? Chelsey, do you want to start this time?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. This feeds back to what we were saying before. If the go-to solution is not really compatible with the dog in front of you, then I'm pretty quick to drop it. I think these are the kinds of things you can see pretty quickly, because we should always be looking at the cause and effect of our training decisions, and if something is working, we should be seeing an increase towards the behaviors that we want, and if what we're seeing is the opposite, if you're seeing the degradation of a sit-stay during a greeting, and the dog keeps getting up and getting up, or even more subtly, is slower to sit when you cue them, that might not be the right or the most sustainable solution to that.
It's also important to consider if the dog has mixed feelings abut what we're asking and what we're recommending to be done. Those are the kind of things we want to pick up on early before we send people on their way with a training plan. You need to be looking for these more subtle signs of frustration and stress, and I think often those are there pretty quickly, and that can help mold our direction for that client.
When it comes to actual management, I really expect things to be effective pretty quickly. We should have management solutions to improve the situation that are going to work off the bat. I think that's our job when we're working with other — to empower them to be able to stop the behaviors in front of them that are making them unhappy. When I see this kind of thing, again, you need to be thinking abut the big picture and what's the big picture for the person and the dog. What do we functionally need from the dog in this situation? How is what we're asking affecting the dog? Are we being fair about bringing them into this environment? Is what we're asking the client to do realistic for them to sustain?
Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that management should happen pretty quickly, and the thing that jumped into my head is, right, if you don't want them jumping on your guests at the door, and your management solution is have them in a crate before you open the door, well, guess what, that should happen pretty much a hundred percent of the time immediately after that. It should fix the problem. So yes, I think that's a good point to keep in mind, that there probably are some quick management fixes, even if the training is going to take a little bit, and then we should see constant progress from there. Chrissi, do you want to pick up from there?
Chrissi Schranz: I agree that management should work right off the bat and a hundred percent of the time, if implemented correctly. Training, on the other hand, of course that takes a little longer. I usually tell my clients that if they spend a few minutes on whatever homework I gave them every day, they should see an improvement within the first week.
For the most part, I do weekly private lesson packages, so I tell them that there should be a visible change in between two sessions, and if there isn't, we'll change something in the next session and reassess.
I think being effective matters, and while we probably won't resolve a serious behavior problem in just a week's time, if the strategy is working, we should see the first changes soon. And the owner needs to know that as well, because that will help them stay motivated and actually follow through on their homework.
Melissa Breau: I like that, both the point about being effective matters, because I'm sure everybody on this call knows that that's a huge component of the PPP program from Denise's perspective: really making sure that positive trainers are considering what's effective, and not just what maybe is the most interesting solution from their own perspective. And also that you thought about the client mindset of keeping them motivated by seeing change from week to week, and hopefully by the next week you're able to look at their progress and say, "Oh, look at how far you've come," keeping them in the game, which is obviously important as a people trainer. Tania, do you have anything you want to add?
Tania Lanfer: What Chelsey and Chrissi said is pretty awesome. I love what they said. I just want to point out one last thing, which is I deal a lot with behavior cases like aggression or extreme fearfulness, etc., so I just want to mention that if there is no progress, and you believe that the training plan is robust, and you adjust your training plan to that family and to that dog so all those things are met and they're still not getting there, I think we also need to consider referring them to a vet behaviorist and consider if medication support is a thing for that dog. I just wanted to mention that option, because sometimes, if the behavior problem we're talking about is a little more serious, then we also need to expand our solutions and think a little outside the box too.
Melissa Breau: I love that. We've had Jennifer Summerfield on before, and she said that often, people consider medicine a last resort, and that's really the wrong way to look at it. Often, if you get medicine onboard sooner, you can make more progress more quickly, and then everybody's happier sooner. I'm really glad that you brought that up.
Tania Lanfer: And we need to change things fast. If it's not working and you immediately notice that, change it. Change it fast, because behavior change should be fast, if it's not a serious thing.
Melissa Breau: I think, at least in the pet world, behavior problems are often most common when a client gets a higher-energy dog than they bargained for. Maybe it wasn't exactly the right fit. We mentioned the idea of enrichment and other lifestyle changes earlier, things that maybe aren't necessarily directly related to the problem behavior itself. I want to talk a little bit more about how those things factor in. Chelsey, I know you have a class specifically on dealing with high-energy dog clients, so can you start us off?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. This is such a common source of frustration among that subset of the dog-owning public, and I think, as dog trainers, we see a higher proportion of these dogs than the entire dog population because they need the most help. I have a lot of empathy for people who are frustrated and who are showing up on a trainer's door looking for better ways of dealing with their dog.
I think the first thing to note here is there's going to be some amount of compromise in expectations on both sides. The people are going to need to step up to provide outlets for the dog, and the dog is also going to have to learn to adapt to maybe a bit of a quieter life than he was born to live.
So addressing their issues is going to be tackled by addressing the top priority needs for the dog and the person. Does the dog clearly need to move more? Then you need to make opportunities for that dog to move. If the dog is frustrated and getting into things in the house, then you need to design activities that fulfill and soothe their need to find and to hunt.
And we need to balance physical activity with mental activity, because if we use exercise alone, we're going to end up with a very fit dog who still has a lot of needs unfulfilled.
Melissa Breau: We're going to build a marathon runner.
Chelsey Protulipac: Oh yeah. People do that. They get in the habit of exhausting their dog in some way, and the amount of time they exercise their dog just to be tired gets longer and longer. So I recommend that any physical exercise has a deliberate, planned, mental exercise component.
So that Saturday morning trail run, ten to fifteen minutes in the parking lot before and after, sniffing around on leash, where they're not just in pure cardio mode, where they can explore a little bit. It doesn't have to be a long time, but it's something.
Or if you're playing with a flirt pole or fetch in the back yard, add a little bit of a training game in. You're out there playing with the dog anyway; have them use their brain a little bit. If the dog's running around in the back yard with the kids, add a little treasure hunt where the kids hide a food-stuffed toy or make a kibble trail in the grass where the dog has to use their mind and their nose and their brain, just to enrich the exercise that you're doing anyway with them.
On the other side, if the human needs quiet time at night, then we need to help them create a routine a set of habits in the home that satisfy this need on the human side. For example, you gate the dog in the TV room with a food-stuffed toy, with a stuffed Kong while the human reads a book. This can solve a situation where otherwise the dog is pacing around and getting into the garbage after dinner.
But the reality is that both sides need to adapt to each other to be successful.
Melissa Breau: I love the "kids make a kibble trail" idea. I haven't heard that one before, and that seems so brilliant. If you have a family with kids, what better way to get the kids interacting with the dog in a positive way and satisfying everybody's needs at the same time. That's so cool. Chrissi, do you want to pick it up there?
Chrissi Schranz: I also see a lot of that. As Chelsey said, I think as dog trainers we see lots of frustrated clients who ended up with a higher-energy dog than they thought they were getting.
Personally, I really like Sarah Stremming's way of breaking the needs of a dog down into four components. She calls those the Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness, which is exercise, enrichment, nutrition, and communication. That's a great way of framing it and talking about it in that way to make the needs of a high-energy dog more easily relatable to pet clients.
I also like Chelsey's point about the need to compromise on both sides. So maybe that dog would love to be a sports dog, but he won't be a sports dog. Still, there are ways to give them a little more exercise, a little more mental stimulation. And maybe the owner was looking for a couch potato dog and didn't end up with a couch potato dog, but there are ways for that dog to learn to relax at night while the owner is watching TV.
One of the most important parts here, when working with clients who are struggling with a very high-energy dog, is to help the client understand and empathize with what their dog actually needs and how his maybe unmet needs are related to unwanted behaviors. Because when the owner understands and can actually relate to what's going on inside of the dog, and how the dog may be feeling in this situation, they are much more willing to try and find ways to meet those needs.
Once we are at that point, there's usually lots of things we can do and come up with, from feeding out of food toys rather than out of a bowl, to hiring a dog-walker, or just taking the dog with you on your weekly jog, lots of little things. Once the owner is able to understand and sympathize with their dog, they are much more willing to make these small changes that can end up making a big difference in both their life qualities.
Melissa Breau: I know we've had Sarah on the podcast before, specifically to talk about the Four Steps of Behavior Wellness, so I will try to figure out which episode that was. I think it was Episode 2. I think it was super, super early on in the podcast. So I will try and link to that. I'll double-check if that's that episode and I will link to that in the show notes, if anybody wants to go back and hear more from Sarah on that specific topic. Tania, do you want to talk to this for a minute?
Tania Lanfer: Yeah, that's one of the things I refer my clients to a lot, the Four Steps of Behavior Wellness. Sarah Stremming is quoted a lot in my private classes, so everybody should go back and listen to that, if you haven't yet.
I was that owner. I did exactly that and I got way more than I first 41:22 for. I was supposed to get a mellow Golden Retriever. That's not what I got. So I was that owner, so I empathize a lot with what they go through. At the same time, I think if everybody's miserable — I mean everybody's miserable — if the dog is frustrated, if the family doesn't like the dog, I'm not afraid of having difficult conversations with them about rehoming, possibly, if everybody's suffering.
That's not most of the cases. A lot of people are kind of suffering, but they're also willing to adapt and compromise, or change their careers, like I did. I was a musician. I was not a dog trainer. I was in my Ph.D. So now, here I am. But not everybody wants to change their careers because of a high-energy dog.
I read somewhere — I cannot quote now from whom; I forgot — but it's an example I teach to my clients: Just imagine you're a very active, high-energy dog locked in a room without anything. Imagine yourself, take yourself, there's no phone, no computer, no book, no anything but maybe a mattress, and that's it. And a cup of water. How many days can you sustain like that? That brings a lot of empathy, and I think that example makes them understand very clearly what the dog actually needs, and referring to Sarah Stremming is a great idea, I think.
Melissa Breau: I like the focus there on empathy, the idea that we need to figure out how to get our clients to understand things from their dog's perspective. I think, when it comes to behavior problems, it can't possibly be overemphasized.
I mentioned that each of you have at least one class in the PPP program focused on unwanted behaviors. So I want to talk about each of those for a minute. Tania, I know you've got "Countering Counter Surfing" in September and "My Ball, My Food, My Space! Handling Resource Guarding!" in October. Can you share a little bit about each of those?
Tania Lanfer: Yeah, absolutely. Both are topics that I absolutely love. I like to help families to live successfully with their dogs, and both courses address problem behaviors like that. Counter surfing is a very popular topic. Who likes to eat while being watched or while being drooled at. No one wants it. So this course definitely addresses the topic of how to create clarity about how to access food without frustration for the dog.
Dog wants food, dog gets food, but on my own terms, and I think getting clarity helps the dog understand exactly what is being reinforced, so we don't see frustration. I talk a lot about cue transfers as well. I talk about environment as being a cue for the dog to settle. Instead food or you chopping onions would bethe cue, so the dog will go automatically to her mat and lie down and wait. I don't expect that the dog will be calm, but at least they are waiting.
Those are things that I think are super-important, and so we can have a successful life as a family, and a safe life as well. If you have kids, and dogs who go for the kids' hands, that's not a safe thing, so we want to curb those behaviors.
The other class is the resource guarding class. It's also a topic that is very dear to me. I have a mild case of resource guarding in my house. Mild. Whose Golden isn't, right? They like having things in their mouths all the time. So the resource guarding class addresses mild cases of various kinds of resource guarding. It may be related to food, to toys, to spaces, maybe dog-dog issues.
We talk about how to coach clients, how to set up this space, so with management we solve a few of the issues. It's a super-fun class, I think. People usually think of resource guarding as something boring to train. I have fun with it because we have to think and plan the spaces a lot and I think that's a cool thing to do, personally. Of course I'm going to share some training plans as well, specifically about how to hopefully change some emotions about it, but also how to use behaviors to reinforce better choices. So that's what I usually cover.
Melissa Breau: Chrissi, you've got your "Cars, Cats, and Kangaroos … Don't Chase That!" class that's also in October. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Chrissi Schranz: Sure. This is going to be a fun class to teach. We're going into several kinds of unwanted chasing behaviors and into different approaches for resolving them. Do you simply manage the dog in the face of the distraction, do you teach them to stay calm despite exciting things going on nearby, or do you teach a solid recall off the thing that they'd like to chase. We'll look into things like chasing joggers, chasing motorcycles, chasing animals, and I'll present several possible paths to working with these challenges.
In particular, we'll talk about how to find a realistic solution for pet dog clients. So it's really not on what you would do if this were your dog; it's about what your client is likely to follow through on. Most people are not looking for the most elegant training solution. That elegant solution is often quite time-consuming. Most people just want to walk their dog and be sure that the dog won't kill the neighbor's cats.
I'm going to emphasize finding a pragmatic and workable solution for the team in front of you, so that will be a big part of the class as well.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. And last but definitely not least, Chelsey, you've got a class on behavior intervention techniques in November. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. This is a topic that arose from a trend that we noticed in the positive reinforcement training community, where sometimes people feel paralyzed about what to do in the actual moment when things are going really wrong, especially when it comes to stopping their dog or preventing some unwanted behavior or interaction from happening or continuing.
Of course, management prevention and training specific skills are at the top of our priority list in solving these overall problems. But right in the moment, when things are going south, and especially if the safety and wellbeing and happiness of the dog or the handler of another dog or person in the environment is at risk, how do we actually intervene without damaging trust.
There's a mechanical teaching component to this to be able to safely physically handle a dog in the kindest and least invasive way, but I think more importantly we need to understand how to help our clients understand how to make a decision about when to provide choice and when we should step up and decide on behalf of the dog. And being able to do so, how do we make it clear that we aren't muddying our communication with our dogs and eroding confidence. How can we be mindful of the emotional consequences of these interventions and what ways can we rebuild trust?
Melissa Breau: I love that, because it's something you see constantly right? When do we manage and when do we train? I think Amy Cook calls it therapy, so when can we do therapy versus when should we just manage the situation and just get out of Dodge. I think that's crazy-important, and I do think that's something people don't necessarily understand very well.
I feel like we covered a ton of ground here, but I wanted to ask each of you: If you could leave listeners with one big takeaway or tip for working on problem behaviors, what would you want folks to remember, if they get one nugget? Chrissi, do you want to start us off?
Chrissi Schranz: The most important thing to take away for me, or that I want people to remember, is don't equate your dog with his problem behavior. Your dog and behavior are not the same thing, so it's OK to love your dog, and at the same time it's OK to be frustrated with his behavior or angry at his behavior. In most cases, the unwanted behavior isn't an intrinsic part of the dog, and that's great news. Behavior is flexible and can be modified. So you can work on changing your dog's behavior, and at the same time, you can keep loving him for who he is.
Melissa Breau: Chelsey, do you want to go next?
Chelsey Protulipac: Mine's very similar. It's about looking at whatever problem you're dealing with as behavior, and trying to look at it as objectively as possible. It is not the dog. It is behavior. It is the action.
And then to understand the behavior in the context of the ABCs. Even though that's not the only model for what's happening, it's a very useful one to look at the context of the behavior — everything from the environment to the emotional backdrop of that moment. And then what's occurring on the other side is the consequence of that behavior, and I think when we think in terms of cause and effect, you open up many different possible solutions.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned ABCs. You're talking about antecedent, behavior, consequence. That's that the abbreviations stand for. Tania, do you have a takeaway for folks?
Tania Lanfer: Yes. Don't just trust the behaviors, see directly, as people were saying. Chelsey and Chrissi mentioned those things already, so I think those are the main points. To me, I think the focus on antecedents is very, very important, like all the possible things that we can consider antecedents, or motivation operations, as people say. That's a huge part, I think, so I focus a lot on those, and of course training, but when you focus on A, you see a lot of cool things.
Melissa Breau: Before we go, I was looking at the schedule, and it turns out that each of you have at least one class on the schedule BEFORE your "unwanted behavior" classes that we spent most of this conversation talking about. So I wanted to give each of you a quick minute or so to talk about whatever PPP class you've got coming up next. And if you know off-hand when it runs, it would be good to mention that so that folks listening know when to go sign up. Chelsey, do you want to start us off?
Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. This month I have "Managing Multi-Dog Households," that I think is available now, if you want to grab it. I'm really happy with how it turned out. I talk about a lot of different considerations, the logistics, and I go over some crucial skills that make living with a bunch of dogs easier on everyone.
And I think in September I have the high-energy dogs workshop. I called it "Bouncing Off The Walls." In that workshop, we look at both management aspects and training aspects, because training a dog who is moving and thinking a million miles a minute is a really unique training challenge.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Tania?
Tania Lanfer: I have two workshops coming up very soon: the "Before Baby! Setting the Stage for a New Baby in the Family," that's coming on August 11, and I have the "After Baby!" That comes on August 10. I absolutely love those courses. I finished the Power Points this week, and I'm in love with my Power Points. I think we'll all love it.
A lot of ideas are things that we don't necessarily think from the perspective of a new mom or family. Now that I have been there with two babies, I have a lot to share with you, and a lot of things are not necessarily common sense, or they're not necessarily very common knowledge yet.
Melissa Breau: Chrissi?
Chrissi Schranz: My first PPP class, "Come: Relationship Strengthening Recall Games," I think is still open for registration, and actually I just published a second lecture with my feedback on everyone's videos and questions this morning, right before we started recording this podcast. I really, really love teaching this workshop, and recording my feedback lecture was even more fun than doing the first part. I got a lot of great questions and some awesome video submissions. So I think by the time this podcast airs, if you wanted to, you'd still be able to grab the recalls workshop.
Also, my "Calling All Dogs" class may also be open for registration when this podcast airs. It's running at FDSA in August. And then, in September, I'm teaching "Walk with Me!" That's a class on leash skills for pet dogs. It's going to go into different ways of working on leash skills, from training and food-based approaches to equipment-based approaches and movement-based approaches. So we'll talk about the first thing, the desired position next to the handler, which is the way that positive reinforcement trainers have traditionally trained loose-leash walking. We'll look into using front-clip harnesses, long leashes, or head halters to prevent pulling, and we'll also take a look at Denise Fenzi's popular circle method.
Melissa Breau: For folks that are listening, anything that was in July will be open for registration through the end of the month. So registration is always open, even if the workshop has already happened, till the end of that month. If you register after the live piece of the workshop has happened, you lose the opportunity to ask questions or submit video homework, but you still do get access to all of that, so you get to see the questions that everybody else asked and the videos that they submitted. You get to see that feedback.
The July ones that Chrissi mentioned, and Chelsey's, will be available for registration through the end of the month, and then the ones for August open on the 22nd of the previous month, so July 22nd we'll see registration open for all of the August workshops, and then it continues that way, so the 22nd of August you'll be able to register for the September workshops, etc. Awesome. Thank you so much for joining me, ladies! This has been a lot of fun.
Chrissi Schranz: Thank you. This was really fun.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Julie Flannery to talk about fronts, heeling, positions, and more.
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Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!