Animal Behavior and Training

Animal Behavior and Training

Behavior and Training

Resources

View our free library of information to assist pets and their people. For further assistance, please email our behavior department. 

So far our certified trainers have compiled the following guidance:

With so many training options available, it can be hard to figure out which is the best method for you and your pet. The animal training industry remains unregulated, leading to a variety of opinions about what methods are the “right” methods.  In alignment with our mission to “eliminate pain, fear, and suffering in all animals,” the Humane Society of Utah chooses to use evidence-based force free training.   

 We are committed to a behavior program based on positive reinforcement. When training or handling animals, we advocate the use of humane training techniques utilizing evidence-based learning theories. We know that committing to positive reinforcement helps us build trusting relationships with animals while effectively meeting our training goals. 

Scientific evidence in support of positive reinforcement-based training has been overwhelming. Studies show that positive reinforcement leads to improved welfare of companion animals, has a positive influence on the human-animal bond, and is effective in achieving training goals.   

We pride ourselves on remaining up-to-date and using the latest information that the scientific community has to offer regarding companion animal training and animal welfare. Our behavior staff are all certified dog trainers and regularly participate in continuing education to ensure that they are familiar with the latest understanding and best practices pertaining to animal behavior. We feel it is our responsibility to provide the most effective training options for our community. 

Why Don’t We Use Correction-Based Training Methods?  

  • The use of aversive-based methods and equipment, including e-collars, prong collars, choke chains, and other tools can result in fallout including:  
    • Aggression (directed towards the handler or others)
    • Escape/avoidance behavior  
    • Learned Helplessness (apathy)  
    • Generalization of fear to other elements in the environment (including the handler)  
  • We want to grow the human-animal bond by increasing understanding between humans and their pets, establishing clear communication, and putting the welfare of both human and animal first. 
  • The science of behavior across species is well-established and has been studied for decades through fields such as applied behavior analysis and animal welfare science. This field overwhelmingly proves that positive reinforcement is the most humane and effective method to teach and to modify behavior.
  • Using punishment becomes habitual and easily escalates. This is not the relationship we want to promote for pet guardians in our community.

Sources

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Punishment

Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. Vieira de Castro et al. December 2020

University of Pennsylvania. “If You’re Aggressive, Your Dog Will Be Too, Says Veterinary Study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2009.

Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement China et al. July 2020

Electronic Training Collars Present Welfare Risk to Pet Dogs. Cooper Et Al September 2014

IAABC Statement on LIMA“What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Effectiveness is not Enough” Dr .Susan Friedman

Some dogs are professional escape artists. This behavior can be a huge risk to their safety. Escape behaviors can start due to a variety of reasons but are often a result of opportunity and boredom. If you have a dog that has already learned to escape yards or door dash please follow the tips below! 

What To Do 

  • Supervise in the yard at all times. Do not allow your dog unsupervised access to the yard. Do not assume your yard and fence are escape-proof. Accompany your dog outside and remain outside with him the entire time. Some dogs only need a few minutes to escape. 
  • Manage your dog’s access to doorways. If your dog darts through doors make sure he is on a leash when people will be entering or exiting the house. You can also block his access to doors with baby gates or keeping the dog behind a closed door. 
  • Make sure everyone in the household is on the same page. Everyone should know how to prevent the dog from dashing out the door and to not leave the dog unsupervised in the yard.
  • Make sure your dog has a collar and tags with your updated information and that the microchip is registered to you. 
  • Train some safety behaviors like waiting to go through doorways and a strong recall. Contact the behavior@utahhumane.org for guidance.

What To Avoid

  • Do not leave unsupervised outside or give access to the yard through a dog door.
  • Do not rely on an invisible fence or electric fence to keep your dog contained. 

Resource guarding is a term used to describe a dog concerned about others (people or animals) taking away items he values such as food, treats, toys, or even a favorite spot. This can look like a dog standing frozen over his item of choice, running away with his treasure, growling, or even snapping and biting. This behavior can be managed and a training plan set in place so that everyone in the household can interact safely in a stress-free way.

What To Do

  • Monitor your dog’s body language so you can gauge his comfort level when he has things of value.  
  • Keep high-value resources picked up unless you are training. 
  •  When feeding your dog or giving him special food items, crate him, or separate him from the rest of the family to prevent any accidents. We want you to avoid any confrontations while the dog decompresses and you begin to gain his trust.
  • Be aware that your dog may try to guard other things that you are not expecting, such as a bed, crate, a particular person or random household item.
  • Begin training a positive leave it and drop it cue. Please contact the behavior department for steps on how to do this. You can make trading your dog for treats and new items into a fun game! 

The management portion described above will be crucial to the training process. We can help you create a training plan to reduce your dog’s anxiety around resources.  If at any point your dog snaps or bites, please contact us immediately for help.

What to Avoid

  • Do not grab items from your dog or disturb him while he’s eating. This will only further convince him that you are out to take away all his favorite things. If the dog has an item that he shouldn’t, offer him a trade of something much better. Toss a piece of cheese, hot dog or lunch meat to him
  • Do not yell or punish your dog for running away with an item, growling, or any other guarding behavior. This will only make the behavior worse. Instead, trade your dog for something he finds even better than what he has in his mouth and then work on your “Drop It” cue.

Some dogs growl, bark, or lunge when they see other dogs while on a leash. Dogs may do this because they are fearful of the other dog, or they may be overly excited by other dogs and frustrated that they cannot approach. This behavior can be modified and is often best done with the support of a certified positive reinforcement trainer.

What To Do

  • Prevent the behavior – Walk your dog in quiet areas where you are unlikely to see other dogs. Be proactive and put distance between you and any dogs that you see approaching. You want to prevent your dog from practicing this behavior while on a leash. 
  • Supervise your dog outside so that he does not practice barking at the fence. Be ready to redirect his attention with treats or toys.
  • Monitor your dog’s body language – If your dog begins to show discomfort (tense body, ears alert, a hard stare, etc.), you are too close to the other dog and should move further away. 
  • Be prepared – with extra tasty high-value treats to reward calm behavior. When your dog can see another dog in the distance, give treats and lots of praise. Be sure to maintain a distance where your dog feels comfortable. If your dog is not taking treats he normally loves, then he is too close to the other dog. 
  • Use appropriate equipment – Fit him with an appropriately-fitted harness and collar. There are many safe and humane harness and collar options. The most important thing to consider when choosing walking equipment is to make sure that your dog is comfortable and that he is not able to slip out of his harness. 
  • Consult with a professional – Contact a certified positive reinforcement trainer. An experienced trainer can help you start the process of more relaxed leash walking. Adopters are encouraged to contact the behavior@utahhumane.org for tips or to set up a consultation appointment after adoption. 

What to Avoid

  • Do not punish your dog- Yelling or giving corrections with tools like a prong or e-collar will only convince your dog to temporarily suppress his behavior. He will still feel afraid or frustrated by other dogs. The aggression will reappear later and may even be worse. Your dog may also begin to associate the punishment with other things that happen to be in the environment and develop new behavior issues.
  • Do not leave your dog unattended outside or at windows to bark at dogs passing by. The more he has the chance to practice this behavior, the stronger it will be.

Introducing a new dog into your household is exciting! It’s also a very stressful transition for your new family member and a big change for resident pets. A slow introduction can help you avoid conflict. Follow the steps below to set your animals up for success.

What To Do

  • Allow Your New Dog to Decompress: As your new dog settles in, create a safe comfortable place in your home where he can eat, drink, and relax. Do not let your other pets bother him while he is in this area.
  • Introduce on Neutral Ground: Take both dogs for a leashed walk away from your home or yard. Allow the dogs to approach at their own pace and move the dogs away from each other if either seems uncomfortable or tense. You may need to take more than one walk for the dogs to get comfortable.
  • Bringing the Dogs Back Home: As long as the animals are calm with the above, try a supervised leashed meeting in the yard and then inside the house. Do not allow the dogs to crowd each in doorways or other close spaces. Pick up any toys, food bowls, and dog beds during the initial introduction. 
  • Giving Appropriate Breaks: Make sure to give the dogs time apart from each other. The resident dog and the new dog should each have a comfy place with a bed, crate and water dish to decompress and relax 

Monitor body language: Dogs communicate a variety of ways including stiffening, growling and snapping. If your dog growls or snaps, this is normal communication expressing some momentary anxiety or discomfort. Respect these signals and give the dogs space from each other. Ensure that each pet has an escape route and slow down the introduction. If you are unable to complete an introduction without growling or snapping, please contact behavior@utahhumane.org

Dogs can be fearful for a variety of reasons including a lack of socialization, scary experiences in their past, and/or genetics. Whatever the reason for their fear, there are steps you can take to ensure that you recognize when they are afraid and then to help them feel safe and secure.

Your dog can have different ways to tell you that they are feeling uncomfortable or afraid. The signs may be subtle, but it is important for you to recognize your dog’s body language as soon as possible and intervene.  

Recognize Fearful Body language 

  • Eyes wide and round
  • Lick lips 
  • Duck away or retreat
  • Drooling
  • Tucked Tail 
  • Roll onto their back
  • Pacing and Panting
  • Freezing
  • Baring teeth
  • Growling
  • Lunging and Barking
  • Snapping and Biting

What To Do

  • Identify what things trigger a fearful response from your dog.  Limit their exposure to these triggers until you create a plan to slowly desensitize them. 
  • When you notice your dog is showing fearful body language quickly and calmly remove them from the situation. Do not allow anyone to chase or corner your dog.  
  • Keep a collar and tags on your dog. Ensure that they don’t have access to dash out the door or escape from your yard. Escape proof any fences and use doors, baby gates  or a leash to prevent door dashing.
  • Create a “safe spot” for your dog in a quiet area of your home. Establish a predictable routine and allow them to gain confidence in you and their surroundings.
  • Find tasty treats that your dog LOVES (small pieces of chicken or hot dog often work) Begin treating them for calm and relaxed behavior. Start this process far away from the scary things and slowly move closer as they gain more confidence. Our behavior team can go over this process with you in more detail if you schedule a post adoption training consult.

What To Avoid

  • Do not force your dog to “face his fears”. This is often referred to as “flooding”. This outdated technique is more likely to increase the fear.  
  • Do Not use punishment or corrections (leash corrections, prong collar, e-collar, etc). This will only increase the fear and anxiety. Your dog may begin to fear you as well. Using punishment has  been linked with creating increased behavioral problems and even aggression. We would not recommend any trainer that suggests using these methods.

When to Seek Help

Many dogs and their people benefit from consulting with a certified positive trainer. A professional that has experience working with fearful dogs can create a customized plan for you. If your dog is showing any aggression please seek the help of a professional.

Jumping is a natural dog behavior. They may be trying to say hi or just too excited to contain themselves. This is especially common in young, energetic dogs that may not have had much training. This behavior can be very frustrating and even sometimes painful to live with. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to help your new family member learn better ways to greet people. 

What To Do

  • Prevent the behavior. Use baby gates or a leash to contain your dog in situations where you know he is likely to jump. 
  • Think about what you would like your dog to do instead of jumping. 4 feet on the floor? Run to grab a toy? Wait on his bed when guests come in the door? Set up training sessions to practice those behaviors.
  • Reward the behavior that you want and make it easy for your dog to succeed. Be prepared with treats and ask him to sit before he jumps. Have a toy ready to throw for him when you walk in the door. Give him lots of calm attention and praise when his feet are on the ground instead of you.  
  • When he does jump, do not respond. Turn, or walk away and then immediately find a different behavior to ask him to do instead.
  • Practice! Jumping is fun and your dog has been able to get attention by jumping up. You must make it more rewarding to remain on the ground instead. 
  • Consistency is the key to success. Make sure everyone in the household is on board with the training plan and is prepared to reward polite behavior. Be patient and persistent; often the dog has been successful in getting attention by jumping up for quite some time, and it may take him a while to learn that this method no longer works.

What to Avoid

  • Do not use punishment. Scolding, pushing, or kneeing the dog when he jumps tend to make the jumping worse. Remember that your dog is using this behavior to get attention and even negative attention is enough to reward the jumping.
  • Do not allow roughhousing. You want to encourage your dog to respect other people’s space. Instead redirect their energy to playing with toys, puzzles, or going for a run.

Dogs explore the world with their mouths. Chewing is a natural behavior that can be exacerbated due to teething or boredom. Dogs can also learn that it is fun to grab people with their mouths in excitement or play. This is especially common in young, energetic dogs that may not have had much training. This behavior can be very frustrating and even sometimes painful to live with. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to help your new family member direct their urge to use their mouth to appropriate items. 

What To Do

  • Prevent the behavior.  
    • Pick up items that your dog is likely to chew and have a safe area to confine him when he cannot be supervised. 
    • Use baby gates or a leash to contain your dog in situations where you know he is likely to mouth.
  • Provide appropriate items to chew. Try a variety of chews with different textures to see what your dog likes best. 
  • Reward the behavior that you want and make it easy for your dog to succeed. Be prepared with treats and ask him to sit before he mouths. Have a toy ready to offer him to redirect chewing on inappropriate items. Give him lots of calm attention and praise when his mouth isn’t on you. 
  • When he does mouth, do not respond. Turn, or walk away for 10 seconds and then immediately find a different behavior to ask him to do instead.
  • When necessary, settle your dog in his own area or crate with a kong or another item he likes to keep him occupied while you accomplish other tasks
  • Consistency is the key to success. All “chewable” items must be picked up. Make sure everyone in the household is on board with the training plan and is prepared to reward polite behavior. Be patient and persistent; often the dog has been successful in getting attention by mouthing for quite some time, and it may take him a while to learn that this method no longer works.

What To Avoid

  • Do not use punishment. Scolding, grabbing the muzzle, pushing the dog to the ground, etc. will only encourage the mouthing or chewing. Remember that your dog is using this behavior to meet a need. Provide your dog with appropriate things to chew and encourage appropriate ways to interact with people.
  • Do not allow roughhousing. You want to encourage your dog to respect other people’s space. Instead redirect their energy to playing with toys, puzzles, or going for a run.

Some dogs experience anxiety when left alone. When the behavior is due to an adjustment to his new home or boredom, providing mental stimulation and exercise will often resolve the issues. In the case of true separation anxiety, this is a panic disorder that will require support. 

If most, or all, of the following statements are true, he may have separation anxiety

  • The behavior occurs exclusively when he’s left alone.  
  • The behavior always occurs when he’s left alone, whether for a short or long period of time.  
  • He is very well behaved when you are present. 
  •  Destruction of the house is often centered around doorways and windows. 
  • He has injured himself trying to escape his crate or the house.
  • His anxious behavior begins as you get ready to leave and he tries to leave the house with you.  
  • He dislikes spending time by himself whether it’s in another room or outdoors.

*If your dog is anxious or destructive due to boredom, you may just need to provide more enrichment and exercise. Contact behavior@utahhumane.org for fun and useful enrichment ideas.

What To Do

  • Minimize your dog’s time home alone. Separation anxiety is a panic response and your dog can’t help her reaction. You might consider having a friend or relative watch her when you are out of the house or dropping her off at daycare
  • Talk to your vet. There are safe and effective medications that can reduce anxiety while you are working through this behavior
  • Consult with a professional. An accredited positive reinforcement trainer can create a step-by-step plan to help you reduce your dog’s anxiety. It takes time and lots of little small steps to help your dog feel comfortable alone.

What to Avoid  

  • Punishment is not an effective way to treat separation anxiety. Scolding, spanking, or time outs will not resolve your dog’s anxiety.  In fact, if you punish your dog after you return home it may actually increase his separation anxiety.    
  • Rely solely on crating: without an effective behavior plan this often makes the anxiety worse. Your dog may urinate, defecate, howl in the crate, or even injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate.
  • Basic training is always a good idea, but it won’t directly help an anxiety problem. Separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training. It’s a panic response. 

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