Posts Tagged ‘dog aggression’

Pet store puppies: The stress of the mother passes to down to the child

March 29, 2015 9 comments

puppy mills 1The more you dig into puppy mills, the more you learn about the physical and physiological repercussions it has on the mother dog (and that doesn’t even take info consideration the genetic issues) and her puppies.

Last fall, when Dr. Frank McMillan spoke at an event (hosted by Animal Folks MN), he shared some data on the behavioral issues that show up in puppy mill puppies sold in pet stores. The results were quite startling:

  • Out of 14 behavioral variables measured across puppies from responsible breeders and those sold in pet stores, the pet store puppies were found to have fared worse in 12.
  • As they grew up, pet store puppies showed more aggression towards their owners.
  • Pet store puppies also displayed more aggression towards other dogs.
  • Puppies who are purchased in a pet store are more likely to escape and run away.
  • Pet store puppies tend to be under-socialized because they are taken away from their mothers too early and are likely to experience trouble as they grow up.

You can read more about Dr. McMillan’s study via Penn State here: Penn Vet study finds pet store puppies come with increased risk

Puppy mill breeding dogs have their own set of behavioral issues – almost all due to a lack of socialization and fear and ongoing abuse, but now we can show that the puppies they bear have problems too. Why is this the case?

New evidence suggests that mother dogs experiencing extreme levels of stress can pass that stress on to their puppies, and that stress can impact their lives long after they have been weaned and adopted into loving family homes.

The body is designed to protect the puppies from normal amounts of stress:

“Normally, an enzyme inactivates cortisol at the placenta, protecting the fetuses from the level of cortisol that the mother is experiencing. But when the cortisol level is extremely high, some passes through the placenta to the developing puppies. They receive the extra cortisol as information: The world is scary. We should be prepared. “

You can read more on this in the Whole Dog Journal from their November 2014 issue, titled “How a Mother’s Stress Can Influence Unborn Puppies: A highly stressed mother dog may influence her unborn puppies and affect their adult behavior.”

That pet store puppies are more likely to carry this stress message in their systems should not be all that surprising. After all, past evidence has shown that the stress of the mother passes down to the baby, both in humans and rats.

Puppies born in mills experience the stress of the mother in utero and after they are born. When you add in the fact that they are then pulled away from their mothers at a very young age, shipped across country in trucks with other sick little puppies, manhandled and placed in a pet store window, where they are on display and handled over and over again until they are adopted, it’s a wonder any of them survive, much less make it into a home as a normal dog. That they fare poorly on 12 of 14 behavioral variables should not be surprising either. It makes one wonder why anyone would want a dog from a pet store at all.  


Daisy in the early days.

Daisy’s last litter of puppies were kept by the organization that saved her life. They were going to be trained to be service dogs. I wonder how many of them failed to make the cut?  I hope not many, but the more and more I learn about puppy mills and their impacts on the dogs and their offspring, the more I believe that they were doomed from the start.

Now how sad is that?




What is a dog threshold and why does it matter?

September 22, 2013 14 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingDespite what we often may think, dogs can be pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t.

I’ve written plenty about their behaviors and what they mean, but one of the things I am still learning about is dog thresholds. According to Mardi Richmond at the Whole Dog Journal, a threshold is “when your dog crosses from one emotional state to another.” They might be happy one second and concerned or stressed the next. Often the stress or anxiety comes from an outside trigger, like seeing another dog or a person or even seeing a new object in their environment.

Although I had plenty of experience with dogs crossing thresholds at the animal shelter, I don’t even think I knew what the term meant back then. I just knew that some dogs would go from being relaxed and happy to lunging and barking whenever they saw another dog.

What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that the term can also be applied to dogs who go from relaxed and happy to shutting down or freezing in fear. They might be totally different emotional states, but the same thing is happening. They are crossing a threshold.

In the early days, Daisy had a low threshold for nearly everything in her environment – the car, the house, wood floors, people, noises, sudden movements, and me. Any of one of these could put her into a fearful state, but put two or more of these together and you could guarantee she would pretty much shut down, going into a nearly helpless state. Have you ever seen a dog get a vacant, empty look in their eyes? That was Daisy in the early days.

These days, Daisy has a much higher threshold on a whole lot of things in her environment, but I also know that a combination of any of her triggers could still cause her to shut down again. It’s something I always keep in mind whenever I am trying to decide whether to bring her along with me to an event or to leave her behind at home, where she will be safe. Most of the time I leave her at home, unless I know I can control the environment for her. I do the same with Cupcake as well. She has a much lower threshold for new people and activities than Daisy, but unlike Daisy who just shuts down, Cupcake’s first reaction is to flee. I just won’t put her at risk of getting lost again. She is happier at home anyways.

Understanding dog thresholds has taught me how to keep my dogs safe, but for other people it may be how to keep them calm. Knowing what they are and how they work can go a long way towards improving your relationship with your dog. I know it has with mine.

I don’t know if you’re interested, but I found a great video that explains a little more on thresholds and something called “trigger stacking.” It is really worth watching if you want to understand your dogs better.

Also check out the article from Whole Dog Journal that I mentioned above – “Across a Threshold.” It’s a really good read .

What is this dog telling us? Do you see his behavioral cues?

June 24, 2013 70 comments

Last year a friend shared a great video featuring a dog and a vet tech. I’ve been searching for it for a while because I though it would be a great one to share with you. It is a great example of how a dog can be speaking to us, but we may not be listening (or in this case, seeing) what they are telling us.

I also thought it might be a great way to test your knowledge on dog behavioral cues.
I confess that watching it again a year and a half later showed me just how out of practice I have become. I missed a quite a few the first time around. Take a look and tell me what you see. (Note: No one is hurt in this video).

Not sure? I’ve posted a list below. Feel free to read the list and then watch the video or watch the video, check the list and watch the video again. It’s amazing what we miss isn’t it?

Just out of curiosity, did anyone cringe like I did as you neared the end of the video? Do you know why? I think I know what made me cringe, but I’m wondering if anyone else caught it. (PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS RESPECTFUL. THANKS!)

Behavioral Signals seen in this video

Shake off

Eye blinking

Lip licking (hard to see)

Barking and increasing distance by backing up


Looking away several times

Stiff body posture

Stillness or freezing suddenly

Mouth closed tightly (a relaxed dog would have a slack jaw)

Hard stares (this is the one that got me at the end)

At no time does this dog look relaxed. To someone who doesn’t know what to look for, it may look like he is going back for attention, but everything else about his body posture and signals says differently.

So what is this dog telling us?

Based on what I see, I think he is nervous and uncomfortable, with both the petting and the close proximity of the vet tech. He cannot distance himself easily due to the small confines of the room. All his signals tell us he wants her to back off, but when that doesn’t work, he lets her know in a more pronounced way.

Dog Body Language – Do you recognize some of these behaviors in your own dog?

March 24, 2013 25 comments

IMG_8800On Saturday, I happened to see an announcement for a Dog Body Language Seminar being offered by Twin Cities Obedience Training Club (TCOTC) in April. As an admitted dog geek, I am sure you can imagine how excited I was to hear about it. I love learning how dogs think and communicate. Understanding dog body language can be very helpful, not only as a dog owner, but for anyone who interacts with dogs on a regular basis.

I was even more excited when I realized that an old friend, Kate Anders, would be teaching the class. Kate used to be a trainer at the Minnesota Valley Humane Society (MVHS) and now runs her own dog training business, Pretty Good Dog. She was also Jasper’s trainer when he was a puppy.

It’s because of trainers like Kate that I have learned so much about dogs and dog behavior. She, Colleen and Inga (all MVHS dog trainers) made it their mission to help us volunteers better understand the dogs we were working with. They offered special training sessions for the more difficult dogs and recruited a few of us more experienced volunteers to work with them. They also offered training seminars where we could learn more about dog behavior.

One of my favorite seminars to attend was the dog body language seminar. I probably attended it three to four times during my time at MVHS. It didn’t matter how many times I had seen it before, I always learned or saw something new I could take away with me. I can’t wait to attend this seminar again.

I wish you all could come with me but since I know most of you can’t, I thought I would share two videos with you that (hopefully) will give you a small sample of what I expect to see during the seminar in April. These are much shorter than a two-hour seminar, but I think you will find them really interesting. Plus, you can watch them at your own convenience and as many times as you want!

I would love to hear your thoughts on them. Did you learn something new? Have you seen your dog(s) display similar behaviors? What behavior do you see your dog display most often in his/her interactions with other dogs?

My thanks to the Zoom Room for creating videos like these for everyone to watch.

Dog Body Language

Dog Play Gestures

Dog Attacks – What to know

May 3, 2012 6 comments

Last night our local station, Fox 9 News, aired a great piece on dog attacks. I highly recommend watching it.

There were so many things I liked about this piece, it:

– Recognized that dog attacks happen with all dog breeds (they even mentioned the small breeds)

– Included an animal behaviorist from the U of M

– Discussed the dangers of letting leashed dogs greet one another (as a professional dog walker, I never let my client’s dogs greet other leashed dogs for this very reason).

– Spoke with veterinarians and a professional Twin Cities dog walker about the dangers of dog attacks

– Included information on why dogs who get out of fenced yards may be more dangerous

– Concluded with tips on what to do in case of an attack and linked to two videos on Dr. Sophia Yins’ website on dog aggression

Kudos to this news organization for doing a well-rounded discussion on the issue! I have rarely seen a news organization do a piece on dogs that was as well-informed and educational as this one was last night.

One of the things I most worry about are dog attacks. I have been in the middle of one between a client’s two dogs and it was one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced (by the way, pouring a bucket of water on them is what finally worked to break them up). I have also been charged by dogs who have escaped from yards before (in both cases, yelling “GO HOME!” is what worked). Even at the dog park, I am constantly watching other dog’s behavior to see what signs they are giving off.

One of the areas I avoid at my dog park, is the front area. Why? Because that is where (I know this will sound condescending) the uneducated and unknowledgeable dog owners hang out. It’s where I find the most frustrated and over-hyped dogs too. The owners who stand around while the dogs play are not helping their dogs. They are not exercising them either. They are are waiting for trouble to happen – they just don’t know it.

I keep my dogs moving when we are at the dog park. We don’t stand around. When I see trouble coming our way, I change directions or leave.

I know dog attacks will happen. They just will. But I don’t have to be a willing participant nor a sitting duck.

I hope people will watch this piece and learn from it. It was one worth sharing.

Jasper hates rude dogs. Does your dog too?

April 17, 2012 12 comments

Jasper playing with his friend, Clover

Yesterday, I posted a great link to a piece written by Suzanne Clothier titled “He Just Wants To Say “Hi!” It’s rather lengthy, but I highly recommend all dog owners and dog lovers read it.

In the piece, Suzanne shares an email (see below) from a concerned dog owner who is confused by her dog’s “aggressive” behavior towards “young, hyper dogs.” If ever there was a description of Jasper, this was it. Cream and Jasper are hewn from the same cloth when it comes to young, hyper dogs. They don’t like them. Most especially when the young, hyper dogs who get in their face don’t recognize (or ignore) the behavioral cues being displayed to them as a warning.

Jasper’s most easily recognized behavioral signals are: a stiffening of his body, his tail curling up and pointing towards his head and the curl of his lip. If a rude dog chooses to ignore those signals, then Jasper will put them in their place. And, he has done so on several occasions.

As his owner, it is my responsibility to intervene before Jasper has to say or do anything. I try to call Jasper to me when I see trouble coming. I have also caught many a hyper puppy before they could get to him and also warned them (and their owner) off before they can get to Jasper. I try to be the one who keeps Jasper from having to express himself with these rude dogs, but on occasion, one does get past me. And, then I have ask the owner to call their dog back to avoid any issues. Unfortunately, not all of them have great recall.

The one thing I haven’t done very well is explain Jasper’s behavior in a way that makes sense to the average dog owner, who does not understand dog body language and behavioral cues and does not see their dog’s behavior as being “rude.” So, I often end up placing the blame on Jasper, not because he is necessarily doing something wrong, but because it’s easier to explain “He just doesn’t like young puppies.” or “He doesn’t like dogs jumping on him.” or “He doesn’t like other male dogs (which isn’t true).” than to explain that my dog doesn’t like your “rude” dog.

I know I am doing Jasper a disservice by explaining his behavior in such a way as to make people seem him as an aggressive dog, but how else do you explain rude dog behavior in such a way that it makes sense to the average dog owner? I welcome any ideas you may have.

In the meantime I will continue to intervene, dodge and defer to avoid moments like Suzanne mentioned in her piece.

Dear Suzanne:
You don’t know me, but L. is a friend of mine, and she suggested I write to you regarding the strange behavior of my dog. I have a female (spayed) golden retriever, 3 years old, named Cream. Cream comes from good lines (champion show), and is “almost” your typical golden: sweet, goofy, lovable, loves ALL people. Recently, Cream became a certified therapy dog through the Delta Society.

Yet Cream has one problem: she hates young, hyper dogs. If a dog starts jumping all over Cream, Cream gets aggressive – starts to growl, shows some teeth, and if the dog doesn’t take the hint after a few seconds, Cream will “attack” the dog. Every time this has happened, it’s happened very quickly, and I get Cream off the dog immediately (and “correct” her – laying her down, holding her muzzle, shaking her a bit, saying “NO!” very sternly, etc.). Cream doesn’t even like young dogs to lick her – she snaps at them if they do.

Now, Cream only displays this aggressive behavior with young, hyper dogs. Cream has regular dog pals that she plays with almost daily – they wrestle, play bite, and run around together. Some of the dogs she plays with are older, some are the same age, some are even younger, the youngest now being about 9 months old. She plays with both sexes, but she does seem to prefer males. (Cream was spayed at 10 months.)

Cream is in good health. She’s on a raw foods diet, had titer testing this year instead of vaccinations, had a full blood panel and thyroid check and both were fine, has been CERFed and her eyes are fine. She does have some mild hip dysplasia, but it doesn’t bother her, and she shows no symptoms. She’s been very well socialized since she’s been a pup, and I bring her everywhere I can (shopping malls, parks, sometimes to campus).

Cream’s been through lots of obedience classes, beginning when she was a pup at 4 months old in puppy kindergarten. For the past several months she’s been going through a basic obedience class with young dogs – I’ve been trying to recondition her behavior towards young dogs. I’ve been food rewarding her when she shows no aggressive behavior to a pup.

It’s been going okay, but two weeks ago, a young mastiff puppy got away from her owner, and came charging at Cream. She crashed into Cream (and it was just because she was over excited – she wasn’t being aggressive) and Cream came up growling and snarling. Then last weekend, a black lab pup did the same thing, and Cream had the same reaction. Throughout the class, Cream won’t even look at the puppies – has her back turned toward them the entire time.

I’ve got the dog trainers of the class stumped, as they don’t really know what to do. Cream’s normally such a sweet dog, good with commands, great with people. Cream’s also wonderful with children, and has an endless supply of patience with kids – they can pull on her ears, hug her tightly, pull on her tail – and Cream loves it. Cream’s fine with dogs who are calm, even friendly towards them, with her tail wagging, and she might even try to get them to play.

Cream has had some bad experiences with dogs. A pit bull jumped out of a car when we were on a walk, and attacked Cream (Cream was about 7 months old). She’s had dogs run out of houses and attack her, and dogs who were supposedly tied up, get loose and attack her.

So, do you have any suggestions or theories for us? Well, I’d really appreciate any thoughts you have on our situation.
Lee Anne

Dog training gone bad. What would you say?

February 21, 2012 25 comments

Looking back on my early experiences with training dogs, I feel grateful that Caesar Milan wasn’t a household name yet. Even though positive reinforcement wasn’t a widely used term then, I know now that this is exactly what I was using with my dogs, Teaco and Alicia, back then. I taught them all sorts of tricks using positive reinforcement: jump on the bench, jump off, down, sit, come, heel, etc.

It’s the same method I use when training my dogs today. Why? Because I know it works. It’s worked all my life with all of my dogs. Why would I choose a method that to me seems cruel?

This past weekend I happened to be speaking with someone about our dogs and some of the work we are doing to manage our dog’s barking at other dogs along the fence line. During the conversation, she mentioned that she had pinned her female dog down to let her know that she was misbehaving. Ugh! I inwardly (and I am sure outwardly) cringed when she said this. My face had to have relayed my reaction to this news, if not, then my stunned silence must have done so. I wanted to say something to her about using this type of “training” method. I wanted to tell her how wrong this approach iss and the repercussions of using it. I wanted to share with her the scientific data that shows this type of training approach only leads to more aggression in a dog, not less. Submission? A man-made concept to feel oh so powerful over a often smaller and weaker being.

Yes, I wanted to say all of that. Instead, I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to sound like I was lecturing, but I wanted to educate. Instead, I remained silent and then murmured something innocuous and walked away. To say I was disappointed in myself was an understatement. I could have used this moment to educate instead I shut down because I didn’t know quite how to approach the topic without sounding like I was lecturing.

So, I am asking you for help. How would you have handled this issue? How would you have turned the discussion into one that would educate and not lecture? How can I broach the topic with her again? I welcome all your thoughts and ideas.

Investigative Report Into A Doggy Daycare Shows Why You Need To Do Your Research

November 18, 2010 60 comments

Tonight, KMSP Fox 9 News aired a piece (please DO watch the video) about a local doggy daycare facility that, to be honest, left me absolutely speechless. The dogs were treated in a manner that was utterly appalling.

To the common layperson, using a prong collar to train, pulling a dog by it’s ears enough to cause pain, twisting a dog’s penis to teach them to stop peeing are not only outmoded forms of training, they are cruel, and they have been proven to lead to behavior issues in dogs later on.

There are a lot of people out there who work with dogs. Not all of them have your dog’s best interest at heart. Some of them do not even have a lot experience working with pets, or may treat your pet in a way that you wouldn’t want them to be treated. I wrote a blog post a while back about the need for owners to be their dog’s advocate. I cannot stress this enough. Whether it be a dog trainer, a doggy daycare or a pet sitter, you need to do your research. You need to know what methods they use to train your dog, discipline your dog, work with your dog, etc.

Understanding the latest in dog behavioral science is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps this information shared just this past week by Dr. Sophia Yin (a veterinarian with a Masters in Animal Science) will help dog owners to understand that knowing who is doing what to your dog is so important. Because the latest information shows that aggressive training techniques lead to an aggressive response from a dog. I learned about this information 2 years ago and shared it on my blog, but it is worth sharing again:

The highest frequency of aggression occurred in response to aversive (or punishing) interventions, even when the intervention was indirect:

• Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression)
• Growling at the dog (41%)
• Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
• “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
• “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
• Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
• Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
• Spraying the dog with water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
• Yelling “no” (15%)
• Forced exposure (forcibly exposing the dog to a stimulus – such as tile floors, noise or people – that frightens the dog) (12%)

In contrast, non-aversive methods resulted in much lower frequency of aggressive responses:

Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression)
• Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
• Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
• Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

(Data from a study by, Herron, Frances S. Shofer and Ilana R. Reisner, veterinarians with the Department of Clinical Studies at University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine)

This is why it is so important to know who is caring for your pet. Not knowing, could put you, your dog or your child in danger. You need to do your own research. After all, it is your best buddy you are talking about here right?

Dogs: Listen With Your Eyes

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

DSC00089A dog trainer friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I felt it was worthy of sharing with other dog owners.

A lot of people don’t realize how much a dog communicates with its body. A raised foot, licking and looking away can all be appeasement signals to another dog (i.e., I mean no harm to you, I am no threat to you, etc.). While pricked ears, a rigid tail or a stiff wagging tail, placing head over the shoulder of another dog, can all be signs that a dog may not be so friendly or socially inclined.

As a dog owner, it pays to educate yourself on dog behavior and body signals. Here is a great video (slowed way down) that demonstrates examples of the behaviors I mentioned above. It is worth watching, especially if you want to understand dogs (even your dog) a little bit more. I also recommend watching some of the videos Petsmart has put together on dog behavior. I blogged about it just a few weeks ago.

Dogs and You: Who’s in Charge? The Trainer or You?

June 16, 2009 4 comments

CB106189Just this evening I was tweeted a blog post on the benefits of clicker training. It wasn’t the part about the benefits of clicker training that disturbed me. It was the personal story that prefaced it.

For the sake of anonymity, I am going to refrain from mentioning the blog (no links this time folks), but I will say that I am not making an overall judgement of the owner, rather pointing out the enormous responsibilty we have as dog owners to protect them at all times – from those who would do them harm whether they be a person on the street or a person who specializes in animal care or training.
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