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Our Next Free Workshops

Workshops are from 1:30 - 3:30pm at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 6030 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda. Only demo and service dogs are allowed. 

THIS Sat, May 18:   Learn to Speak Dog! - a vital skills for all dog parents
Sometimes, it can be hard for families to really read their dogs. We tend to be very verbal with our communication, but dogs are much more visual. They discuss their emotions through body postures and facial expressions. Not only will you learn to better understand your pup, we'll also discuss some real life situations that might make your dogs uncomfortable and what you can do to help them cope. Speaker: Jessey Scheip, KPA CTP, trainer for veterinary behavior therapist Dr. Amy Pike at Animal Behavior Wellness Center
THIS Sun, May 19:   Advice for Adopters - guidance for adopters, potential adopters & fosters
Learn how to make life with your adopted dog easier and more fun! Come hear a trainer discuss dog training and behavior, helpful pet products, and the many common issues that adopters face. There is also time to discuss your individual concerns. Presenter: Susan Sanderson PMCT

Treat & Retreat - Befriending the Shy Dog

by Carol A. Byrnes - Diamonds in the Ruff

"Just give him food so he'll like you."
It sounds good in theory, but it often backfires.  Why?

It happens every day. The fearful dog is staying as far away from the stranger as the environment or his leash will allow, sometimes growling or even barking.  Everything about the puppy's body language says, "stay away!"  So the person, in an attempt to make friends, offers a treat.  The pup stretches forward, rear legs extended behind him.  He snatches the treat and rushes back to his safe place.

One would think that soon strangers would be associated with good things and the pup would look forward to visitors and all would be well, wouldn't you?  Sometimes it works.  But this scenario often makes things worse.  It could even increase aggressive behavior.  What?  That can't be!

Let's look at what really happens when fearful dogs are baited in with food.

In the above scenario, the pup is not interested in a social interaction with the stranger.  He is conflicted, wanting to stay safe but magnetized by the food in the stranger's hand.  He is drawn into the danger zone.  His heart is racing, adrenalin is pumping and it is all he can do to muster the courage to grab the offering.  The instant he has the food he rushes back to safety.  Relief is the biggest reinforcer - he got away.  He survived.  Each time he is baited in, he is way over threshold.  He is practicing terror and relief, not relaxation and friendliness.

How does baiting the dog in for treats sometimes evolve into aggression?

The food is good, but the stranger is still scary.  Approaching the stranger is still scary.  But the dog can get the food and survive.   If other strangers repeatedly offer food, the dog will be more and more likely to rush in too close to all strangers in hopes that they have food, too.  The dog still feels defensive, but approaches with more confidence that he can get the food and get away.   Now he's stuck in a pattern of getting too close.  He looks friendly but he's still afraid.  People mistake proximity for "I'd like to be petted" and reach for him.  He panics and snaps.  People withdraw, shocked.  He learns that threatening to bite works.  He adds aggression to his toolbox.  When threats (air snaps) don't work, he will bite.

Note: Often when owners hear their dogs growl or see bared teeth, they respond by punishing the scary reaction to make it stop.  This is the worst thing you can do, as now the dog is afraid to communicate and is stuck.  He appears "fine" and bites "without warning." 

Classical conditioning is pairing an emotion with a stimuli until the appearance of the stimuli results in the emotion.

It would seem, then, that pairing food with strangers would work - and it does, IF we are aware of which emotion we are actually pairing. 

We must be careful to always be sure the dog feels safe without conflict or fear.

This is what we want to see:

  • A relaxed dog's face is soft, his jaw and ears are relaxed.  His tail is relaxed and his weight is evenly distributed on all four feet.

  • When the association is made, he should look happy and expectant when you say his name, eager as you approach, relaxed and confident,  in anticipation of the goodie that follows.

  • His tail may wag softly as you appear, hopeful that you are going to toss another treat.  He should trust that you aren't going to come into his comfort zone.  He should feel safe at all times.  He should have the option to say, "no thank you" and he should be praised for retreating if he starts to worry.

This is what we don't want to see:

  • Arousal - weight forward, face and body muscles tense and gaze focused on the target.  Low blink rate. Tail high.

  • Fear - weight shifted back, poised for escape.  He may be looking for an escape route.  His ears are back or shifting and his tail low.

  • Every time you shift position, stand up, leave and come back, it all starts over again. You are still scary.

If his ears flip back, if he looks for an escape route, if he retreats or vocalizes, stop and revise your plan!

Treat - and then RETREAT.

Say the dog's name and toss the dog a treat. 
      Dog learns strangers make good things happen.  
And then, while the dog eats the treat, MOVE AWAY. 
      You are not only giving him a treat, you are also rewarding him with distance.

  • Approach on a gentle curve, passing casually by the dog, not walking directly toward him.

  • Be aware of his comfort zone - don't go closer than he feels safe

  • Don't make eye contact.  Look from the corner of your eye, blink and keep your eyes soft and squinty.

  • Say his name softly and toss food well into his comfort zone.  The goal is not to bait him closer but allow him to collect it inside his safe zone.

  • Don't hang around; leave as soon as he collects the food.  Glide in, glide out.

  • He may start to follow you.  If you notice he is getting closer than he should, toss the treat behind him to increase distance.

Signal your intent.  No surprises!
Any time you need to move and it might alarm the dog, let him know.   Say his name, "I'm getting up now" - "I'm coming in the room" then toss treats away from your path of travel so he moves away from where you are going.  We want him to feel safe and not get stuck.

Signs that you should stop or increase distance:

  • Dog is pacing or appears anxious (panting, lip licking, yawning, approaching and retreating.

  • Dog vocalizes (whining, growling, barking or noisy yawns)

If the dog is bothered by feet moving, slow down or stop and remain sideways to the dog, not facing him. 

Stay further away and move in a more gentle arc or you may stand still, remain sideways to the dog.  Toss the food and as the dog reaches to eat it, take one step away.  When he raises his head, say his name and toss another treat.  You may toss the food behind him to help him turn away while you leave.

Signs that your dog is over threshold (you missed the above signals and are in too deep):

  • Dog is strongly focused - toward the trigger, or away in attempt to flee.

  • Vocalizations - growl, bark, whine

  • Stress panting

  • Quickening of gait, body tension, neck erect, chest out, tail stiff like a flag pole or scorpion tail.

  • Lowering of body, crouched or slinking posture.

  • Darting eyes, clamped or tucked tail.

  • Bristling of fur or whiskers.

  • You move away and he chases you, barking.

Slow is fast when it comes to helping a dog feel safe.   Don't rush!  

Never corner or trap a dog. The dog should have the option of initiating contact or not.  He should always have an escape route and the choice to increase distance should always be honored.

As the dog becomes comfortable and approaches in a wagging, hopeful way, rather than a fearful, cautious manner, you can sit on the floor and allow him to sniff you.  Lean back or away, not toward him.  Sit with your shoulder to the dog, not facing him.  Keep social pressure off - ignore him, don't engage him.

Remember, just because he is curious enough and comfortable enough to investigate your shoes, this doesn't mean he wants you to pet him.  Give him all                                                                             the time he needs to build trust. 

When he is begging you to engage him, scratch him briefly under the chin and see what he does next.  Does he leave (that was too much) or does he ask for more?  Follow his lead.

 © CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -
ditr_training @ hotmail.com - http://www.diamondsintheruff.com       

*** Don't forget to also watch Juliana Willem's workshop, "Helping Your Fearful Dog Navigate the World" at 

Another Free Video: On The Go-
 & tricks for bringing your dog out and about around distractions

 We are happy to announce another workshop available on video due to our Maddie's Fund® grant: "On the Go - tips & tricks for bringing your dog out and about around distractions", presented by Dog Latin trainer, Juliana Willems, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA. Go to https://yourdogsfriend.org/videos/ to see all of our Maddie's Fund videos. Share them with everyone you know. There's a lot of great information, and it's FREE! #ThanksToMaddie 

Free Summer Workshops
Workshops are from 1:30 - 3:30pm at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 6030 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda. Only demo and service dogs are allowed. 

Advice for Adopters - guidance for adopters, potential adopters, and fosters
June 23, July 14, Aug 18

June 15: Conflict! When Your Dog Isn't Your Neighbor's Best Friend

June 22: "What are YOU doing here?" - helping your dog cope with visitors

July 13:  Dog Training Essentials: loose-leash walking and coming when called

July 27:  Surviving the Teenage Years - hot to turn your crazy adolescent into a superstar

Aug 17:  That's a ... CHICKEN!

You can see all of our workshops and register at http://yourdogsfriend.org/free-workshops/

Thanks again to everyone who supported our National Pet Week matching grant challenges last week. We were able to meet our goal all seven days! Thanks also to the wonderful trainers, who presented training tip videos for last week, and, of course, to our sponsors:

Behavior United
Molly Carter, Realtor
Dog Latin Dog Training
Georgetown Piano Bar
Harlow School for Dogs
Holistic Veterinary Healing
Loyal Companion

Muddy Branch Veterinary Center

and our supporter:

Caring Hands Animal Hospital

You can still see our short training tip videos on our you tube channel!

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