Pick of the Litter Dog Training
Seattle/Tacoma Area, WA
Jennifer Schneider,
Phone: (206) 779-3552
Unleash your Dog's Potential

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Behavior Problems and Solutions

Calming Signals
Dogs have strong instincts for conflict solving, communication and cooperation.  Dogs communicate, in one form, by way of calming signals.  Calming signals are certain behaviors that dogs use to calm themselves and others when they feel stressed or uneasy.  They could be used to state a friendly intention, ease conflict, or avoid threats.  They are a signal of non-violent intent, or at the very least, a way of signaling that an altercation would like to be avoided.  

Here are a few of the most common Calming Signals that you might see in your dog:

                Turn Away                       Sit                         Down
            Head Turn Away                Yawning                    Sniffing
            Lip Licking                       Shake Body               Scratch Self
            Moving in an Arc                Stretch                    Moving Slowly

Aggression in Dogs
A common means of modifying aggressive behavior in dogs is to condition our dogs to associate the feared item with pleasant things.  The easiest way to do this is by simply teaching our dogs that the scary things (people, dogs, noises, etc.) predict that good things (treats) will happen.  We can also teach dogs to perform what is called an "incompatible behavior" in those situations. In other words, the dog learns to do a certain "incompatible" behavior whenever he sees the scary thing.  

Although I have used the above process  to combat dog to dog aggression for many years, one of the problems that I have encountered is "how do we find the right incompatible behavior".  If we use the wrong behavior, the dog will have difficulty performing that behavior around the scary thing.  If we happen on the right incompatible behavior, then we're set, but its really just a game of chance.  Until now, that is...

Using Calming Signals to Treat Dog to Dog Aggression

Step 1: Identify Calming Signals
The best calming signals to use with this program are Turn Aways, Sit, Down, Sniffing and Moving in an Arc.  You may see other signals, but these are the easiest to train into an elicited behavior, plus they are the most frequent and easiest to spot.  

Step 2:  Reward Calming Signals

  1. stop at the instant your dog spots another dog
  2. wait and be patient (this may take some time in the beginning)
  3. Click and Treat your dog for any offered calming signal 
  4. continue to click and treat each offered calming signal as the other dog remains in sight
  5. stop clicking and treating just as the other dog goes out of sight
  6. with practice, your dog will start offering calming signals as soon as they see a dog

Step 3: Identify Most Frequent Calming Signal (MFCS)

Practice step 1 until you notice that your dog is offering one particular calming signal more than the others. This behavior should occur more than 50% of the time and be more frequent than the other behaviors.

Step 4: Reward Most Frequent Calming Signal (MFCS) Only

Start only rewarding the consistent behavior you found from step 2 in the presence of other dogs. Stop rewarding all other calming signals. Continue until your dog is consistently offering this particular calming signal, even at a close proximity to other dogs.

Step 5: Put MFCS on Cue

Put the MFCS on cue. Practice this in the house, when not around other dogs. For Turn Aways, teach your dog to respond to his name on cue. For Sit or Down, establish a consistent response to the cue. For Sniffing, teach your dog to touch the ground on cue.  For Moving in an Arc, teach your dog to move in closer to you when they see another dog.

Step 6: Take the Behavior on the Road

  1. stop at the instant your dog spots another dog
  2. ask for the MFCS behavior on cue
  3. click and treat
  4. continue to reward the behavior as the other dog remains in sight
  5. stop rewarding the behavior when the other dog is out of sight
  6. practice until your dog will consistently respond to the cue, even in close proximity to other dogs

This program was developed by Jennifer Schneider, owner of Pick of the Litter Dog Training.  It is advised that behavior problems such as aggression be dealt with in cooperation with a 
pet dog trainer (CPDT) or behaviorist.  

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Copyright 2008, Jennifer Schneider. All rights reserved.