Misleading Assessments Part Two:
Training Plans For Unwanted Behaviors
By Kama Brown
Part One of this article outlined strategies for comprehensive assessments for new dogs coming into daycare or boarding. Part Two will outline training plans for accommodating unwanted behaviors.
Deciding which behaviors can be accommodated by staff ahead of time is important. Equally important is deciding which behaviors will be accommodated for free and which behaviors will be charged as part of a behavior modification and training plan, and which behaviors will be managed through extra time and space as part of managing the dog’s behavior while visiting.
It’s critical that staff and clients are all aware of the specific behaviors that fall under each category. Creating a safe environment for dogs and humans is mandatory for building and keeping an excellent reputation as a premier destination for dogs. No matter how thoroughly evaluations are followed, some dogs are just going to offer surprising behaviors during their stay. Training staff to see the slight indications of fear, over-arousal, over-reactivity, resource guarding, stress and aggression can maintain a high level of awareness and safety.
Fear often leads to aggressive behavior so it’s the most important thing to keep an eye out for. Indications of fear behaviors include looking away, freezing, slight cowering, excessive yawning, whining, pacing or lip licking, eyes so wide you can see the whites of them, backing away, darting from kennel to yard, little to no appetite, pressing their bodies to the sides of a wall and/or scratching the kennel or entrance/exit door.
Over arousal is a term dog trainers use to describe dogs who are in a heightened state of stress or excitement. Oftentimes, the dog starts out appropriate during play but escalates to a play style that other dogs find offensive. Dogs experiencing over arousal in a group setting can quickly set off other dogs into similar behavior patterns, creating a group of out of control canines who are more likely to be snarky than play nicely. Dogs experiencing over arousal in their kennels can bark for hours or injure themselves by rubbing their noses raw or chewing on their paws.
Group play with dogs should always be limited to pairs when biting and roughhousing is allowed. When dogs play with just one other dog in a rough play style, it’s easy to spot an offense or tipping point in the play. Three dogs playing in a rough manner is almost always likely to turn into one dog trying to switch back and forth between two others, easily overwhelming them. Three dogs playing this way also creates a scene that more dogs are likely to gravitate towards.
Preventing over arousal in group play is simply making sure all the dogs are taking breaks from rough play every minute for at least a few seconds. After about 10 minutes of rough play, I ask the dogs to take a break by getting in the middle of them, petting them a bit and walking around so they can sniff and disengage for a little bit. It’s important to give dogs a chance to physically and mentally take breaks during play. Allowing only two to play at once is also a great environment for training other dogs to calmly watch other dogs play without creating a group pileup.
When two dogs are playing and another joins in, walking the opposite direction in the play yard will usually be enough to gain the rest of the group’s attention. Another great trick is to bend down and pretend to look at something on the ground. Curiosity is a fantastic tool in gathering dogs to a certain spot. Anticipating a toy or treat is also very reinforcing; giving each dog a small bit of meat or cheese when they exit the yard and return to their kennels makes life easier on staff and fun for the dogs.
Dogs who resource guard their food, toys, kennel or bowls should be given their food on the floor, and staff members should approach throughout the day to drop hot dog pieces or cheese into the kennel. Dogs should be given a Kong with popcorn or something of low value in their kennel while the staff members practice calling them to the front of the kennel for pieces of cheese or meat. The goal should be a dog who happily leaves his bed, bowl or toys to engage with the human holding the treats.
Dogs who bark excessively at other dogs or during play should be kept on a long line, right outside the daycare yard, or in an x–pen in the daycare yard with a handler. The handler should practice calling the dog away and asking for play and engagement while the other dogs play. Teaching a dog to put that energy into a rope toy or game of fetch with a human is ideal. Practicing stationary positions such as down, sit or stay can also work, though less so. Movement is inherently reinforcing for most dogs and should be used whenever possible to allow the dog to learn an alternative behavior and encourage engagement with the owner or handler.
Refusal To Be Caught
Dogs who won’t come in from the yard once let off leash will need to be kept on a long line or lead and trained to come when called. These dogs will need practice having their collars grabbed and returning to the kennel, only to be given treats and let back out to play on the long line. Once the dog realizes that coming inside is not always the end of playtime, the behavior usually goes away. The behavior can also be managed by allowing the dog only to play in a smaller space, or avoiding daycare all together if they are visiting sporadically.
Some behaviors are easy to accommodate and take only a simple fix. Every kennel must decide, but I don’t charge extra if a dog needs to be brought inside after just 10 minutes of daycare, instead of being able to play the entire time. Accommodating some dogs by feeding them on the floor (so they can’t guard a food bowl) or putting their food into a toy to keep them busy is easy. Blocking vision with a neighbor dog or letting them out first or last doesn’t take much time. Beyond those few things though, every reasonable effort is made to try and change or manage the dog’s behavior, and that is an additional expense.
Whenever dogs are in our care, it’s important to remember that training is always happening. How a dog is treated, the environment they are put in, and the behaviors they are allowed to practice is going to train them whether it is intentional or not. Proudly explaining the benefits of a kennel or daycare that is conscious of this is something all owners visiting should be exposed to. However, some behaviors are going to require additional time and attention and those behaviors should be charged for.
If a dog is going to attend regularly, a training plan can take place. If the dog is only going to visit spontaneously, and the assessment finds a behavior that needs accommodating, a behavior management charge should be high enough to cover extra staff time, but the owner should understand that the behavior will be managed and not changed.
Management and behavior modification go hand in hand and it’s important for staff members and owners to understand their differences. Modifying behavior always requires managing the environment to avoid the behavior getting worse, while simultaneously training an alternate behavior or desensitizing the dog to something. Solely managing a dog’s behavior is not attempting to make the behavior better, but it is going to keep the dog safe and prevent any unwanted disruptions that would make it impossible for the dog to visit and stay.
While owners may not want to pay a fee to manage a behavior that is not being trained, it can be critical to the dog’s well-being. Explaining to owners the benefits of giving their dog extra time and attention can be one way to make pricing easier. If a dog is an excessive barker and there is limited space to give them a quiet area, owners will generally understand an upcharge for specific accommodations.
When working with the owner, be as specific as possible and explain the benefits to making the extra arrangements (an expense) worth it. So often, unwanted behaviors can exacerbate while owners are out of town. Educating owners on the staff’s ability to prevent stress, fear, aggression, over-arousal and mental exhaustion is key.
Behaviors that can be modified and managed should be determined by a certified dog trainer who can take the training space, staff member experience, routine, and dog’s temperament into consideration. Staff training is a great way to increase the availability of offering training services and keeping dogs and humans safe. Great dog trainers can be found through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) , The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), The Karen Pryor Academy (KPA), and The Academy for Dog Trainers.