Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Dog Behaviour – How to Get Your Dog to Let Go of Something (ball, bone, sock, etc.)

So the first concept you need to understand is…

You need to practice mindfulness.

If you enter a situation with an attitude that embodies ire, tension and/or forcefulness most humans are not going to want to comply with what you want, unless of course you threaten them with a weapon – the same is so for a dog. 

If you go in to the situation expecting to have an argument – particularly with a dog, you will in most cases get that argument.
Dogs are more perceptive communicators than most people. A dog does know what you are thinking, what you are feeling – usually before you are aware of your thought. …I prove this every time I work with a client and their dog. Are you skeptical? Well many of my clients are at first, but very quickly after the initial shock of realization, they understand just how perceptive their dog really is.  

The angrier, more frustrated, more irritated you are - as you advance toward the dog the greater likelihood that the dog will move to evade you. Look at it in a way that is relative to yourself - if someone advances towards you in such a manner are you likely to stick around or leave? If you do stick around you are going to prepare yourself for a fight. So either way the situation is not supportive of a respectful outcome.

The more physical force you use to pull the item out of the dog’s mouth the more the dog is likely to:
  • Clamp his/her bite tighter around the object;
  • Attempt to put more of the object in his/her mouth;
  • Put greater force into trying to tug the object away from you.

A perfect example – today while on an off-leash walk (with my Boxer Robbie and my GSD x Husky Sarah), Sarah found a small, sharp avian bone, with some flesh and blood still on it. Likely just dropped by a hawk or owl in mid-flight. Now I did not particularly want Sarah to have that bone as it was broken and sharp – it could cause some injury to her innards if she swallowed It. Most people would:
  • Panic;  
  • Move in to the area (that the dog is occupying) with great agitation;
  • Yell in an agitated (emotional) fashion and otherwise become ‘reactive’. 

Sarah is the type of dog that very few humans could control – she spent part of her first year of life as a stray and then spent three months in a pound (shelter). No one adopted her because she was ‘hyper’, ‘dominating’. This young lady ended up on the ‘kill’ list. Anyway after ending up pulled by the rescue I was fostering for, she made her way through several foster homes and one adoptive family…each time being returned for her unruly behaviour…before I took her in.  Sarah can be the Denis-the-Menace of dogs, her nick name could easily be ‘Wile-E-Coyote’ . This was a dog that would never in a million years surrender anything to anybody. Mind you, I think you have to give her credit…her wiliness allowed her to survive on the streets as a stray youngster. 

Well, when I saw Sarah about to pick up that bone, all I had to do was:
  • Get her attention (I was about 10 feet away from her) so I vocalized ‘uh’ in a calm, solid tone, at which point she looked at me;
  • I held her gaze and indicated to her to ‘leave it’;
  • I then calmly walked up, with a smile in my heart and spirit and picked the bone up;
  • That was it - end-of;
  • Sarah willingly accepted the situation and happily bounced on.
  • If instead I had walked up to her with the thought in my head 'you are a bad dog, you are not going to let that go, etc. I would have created the opposite reaction.

I have earned the right to take over a situation (such as the one described above) with Sarah and my other dogs because I have earned their respect. How? By practicing mindfulness. Last week in almost the same spot on the trail, Robbie my Boxer found a fresh, wild turkey wing-bone, with wing and feathers attached…part of a coyote or wolf’s meal – the meal having been disturbed by something or someone! Robbie is another one of my dog’s who had a difficult past. When I first met Robbie he would have attacked a person who tried to take anything from him. And when I say attack I really mean attack. 

Robbie was aggressive-reactive (or if you prefer ‘red-zone’) on a scale of 1 to 10, he was a 15.  

As I approached Robbie and his wild turkey 'prize'  I did not feel or project anger, dominance etc. when he picked up the fresh wild turkey wing/bone. I simply walked up to him with my calm, grounded  presence and quietly but firmly put my hand around the part of the bone which was sticking out of his mouth (with foot long feathers attached) and proceeded to do as follows…

If your dog has an edge of the item sticking out of his/her mouth:

  • Engage mindfulness.
  • Gently but firmly place your hand on the part of the item that is sticking out (depending on the situation you can also use your foot instead of your hand);
  • Don't pull on the item as by doing so you will have just provided the impetuous for an argument in the form of a tug-of-war…remember if you ask for an argument you will get an argument;
  • Instead simply take-ownership of that portion of the item by keeping a firm - (but not tense-tight) hold on it;
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth in a consciously relaxed and deliberate manner. Don’t allow your mouth to compress into a closed, hard line – if you do you are tense;
  • Still yourself physically and be calm in mind - be patient and breathe again;
  • Now slowly, quietly, calmly, move your hand to take over a little more of the object – your hand should end-up where the object meets your dog’s mouth;
  • Now, no pulling - just calm, firm hold;
  • If your dog starts to pull, just retain your hold and still yourself – do not pull back;
  • Hold your ground quietly without a word…
  • Most humans, unless they are trained to be, have very little patience - where as dogs have a lot of patience. If you do this exercise with:
    • Self-disciplined patience and calm:
    • While holding your ground for however many seconds it takes while keeping a calm-non-argumentative hold (with both mind and hand);
    • While deliberately, consciously breathing;
  • Your dog will surrender the object to you.
  • This is simply a test of wills - if you can't exceed your dog’s patience you will lose.
  • And keep-in-mind, while 30 or 60 seconds may feel like forever to you (because we are impatient as a species) it is, in-fact merely seconds.
  • Again - it is a situation where one of you must back down (your dog or yourself). This is a psychological situation as much if not more than a physical situation.
  • When used properly, psychological control with calm, slight physical pressure is so much more powerful than physical force – it is also a more safe approach for all involved – which is why it is a method used by dogs themselves. 

If your dog tries to engage in an argument by tugging - keep your hold and still yourself - to gain his respect you have to show him - what you really want - if you move like he is, if you tug and pull he will not respect you as you are then not directing but instead engaging in his argument. 
What do you really want? For your dog to
  • Stop – well you must stop first…stop tugging, stop moving about;
  • Let go – he won’t let go if you start tugging, he will tug just as you are doing.
Leading by example, leading without hypocrisy demands that you must be that thing first that you want the other being to be.

The point is to let him know in the most quiet but directive of ways (as noted above) that this is the way it is going to be.

This is how a well balanced dog will take over an object from another dog. The method of choice used by such dogs is not intrusive physical force which would result in injury and death. Instead, dogs prefer to use more subtle physically restrained, psychologically powerful means. The Alpha 'thing' is a false concept. In truth dogs prefer leadership – which is not the same as the ‘Alpha’ concept as most people understand the term.

By establishing and adhering to mindfulness, self-restraint, self discipline, in body and mind; by maintaining a quite, non-vocal, calm patience coupled with a firm but non-tense hold - you become a respectful, directive presence. 

This is dog language employs as a well balanced dog would choose to communicate in a non-aggressive manner to another dog in order to claim space or an on object without a fight.

This is a very respectful and psychologically powerful method that requires no physical force, but instead a grounded, self-restrained  presence.

When doing this exercise:

  • Make sure you are completely emotionally neutral;
  • To firm-up the direction you must make sure that your physical presence is completely aligned with your mental focus. 

As an example -  the thought in your mind would go something like this:
  • 'OK, give it up Robbie - inevitably one of us has to surrender and it will not be me';

The attitude with which you say this to yourself must be without ire, without arrogance or frustration - just deliberately grounded, calm.

The method as described above when used to reclaim an object from your dog,  respects the natural way of a dog.

If you take a dog:
  • That has learned to back people off by using dominating and aggro-reactive tactics;
  • And put that dog in a situation where the human handling/directing the dog, employs force-based tactics:
  • You  have nothing new to teach the dog;
  • You will not engender the dog’s respect; 
  • You may try to dominate the dog using force but that will only further destabilize the dog.
If instead you offer treats in exchange for the object, the dog will:

  • Always expect to get a treat for doing something that he should not be doing;
  • Learn that an ‘altered state of normal’ is normal;
  • Never learn to behave respectfully;
  • Never learns to adopt a threshold;
  • Never learns to ask permission to take things;
  • And, what do you do if you are somewhere, you do not have treats, your dog grabs something and if you don’t successfully retrieve that object from your dog he could ingest it and become ill or otherwise injured?
Both of these approaches (force or treats) exemplify:
  • A lack self-control on the human's part;
  • A lack of understanding of the intelligence of a dog and a dog's natural skill to communicate.

In contrast - the method which I have described above to take over the situation is a well adjusted dog's way to handle the situation.

It is a…

  • Non-aggressive;
  • Non-argumentative, and;
  • Instructional for the dog.
  • This method gains the respect of your dog;
  • It requires calm, deliberate, firm, directive, persistent, determined patience on the humans part. 
    • These are the same qualities a well balanced dog has. 
    • If you want to gain a dog's respect you must adopt and employ the same qualities and techniques.
If you want to earn your dog's respect there is little to no room for human arrogance, frustration or anger.

You should avoid the creation of bad habits which can develop when the wrong approach is used. For example you can have a treat is long as you give this up - use that method on a child and you end up with a manipulative, bad spoiled, ill-adjusted, and overweight kid - it is the same for a dog). 

This is what I teach my clients. This is why I can take an object away from a dog without an adverse reaction from the dog – including dogs who bite people!

Having noted all of this above, some people will still say - offer your dog something else instead - my answer to that is NO. That is a negotiation - and the dog will learn to use it to manipulate, just as a person would. This type of strategy does not teach your dog that is should not take what he does not have your permission to take. And in the process you do learn how to stop the behaviour. Offering something in exchange is an avoidance and works around the issue - in which case it will never actually resolve the issue – you will in the future, continue to have to deal with the issue.

You don't want to negotiate you want to direct, teach and ensure your dog’s safety. 

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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

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Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats