Should you share your food with your dog? What will happen? Will it create a dog that begs? Will the begging turn into jumping on the table or some other behavior? Let’s take a look.
When a dog does a behavior and the consequence of that behavior is the addition of something he enjoys, he will do the behavior again. This is known as positive reinforcement. If you’re sitting at the table and your dog crawls up on your lap and you start to feed him, you should expect for him to crawl up on your lap the next time you sit there. If he whines or barks at you and you give him food for it, you’re going to get more whining and barking. The real problem that the majority of people deal with in regards to giving their dog “people food” is that they give it at the wrong time.
Here is how to use it
We need to make sure that our dog is doing an appropriate behavior prior to receiving the piece of food. I’m a big fan of teaching a dog to lie down and stay. If he does it properly, he will earn small pieces of food. If he messes up, he gets nothing. The more he is rewarded in a certain position and on a certain spot, the more he will go to that spot and get into that position. This is called the matching law.
For most dogs, “people food” is extremely high value. This means we can leverage it and get a lot of behavior for a small amount of it. It’s very easy to teach a dog to hold a down/stay for the duration of your meal all for one piece of your food. If you enjoy sharing your meal, then you can reward multiple times throughout your meal.
When you first start working on this you’ll have to reward quite frequently to beat him from getting up. As you practice more and more, you can add in longer durations in between rewards. During the “down time” he will patiently wait on his spot.
Reactivity or Aggression
When dealing with reactivity or aggression issues we are always using “people food.” One of my go-to foods is the cheese that comes in a can. We also use a lot of meats and other cheeses.
If we’re dealing with aggression then we are focusing on changing how the dog feels by showing him that the scary thing predicts a lot of awesome stuff. The more awesome the stuff is the easier it is to change the association.
A dog that is “reactive” needs something very high value to compete with whatever it is in the environment that is motivating the reactivity. If we try to bring “low value” treats into the picture we won’t get any of the behaviors we’re asking for.
Don’t overuse it
If you have a dog that is fearful or reactive then you want to save the “people food” for those moments. If he is always getting the highest value foods on a daily basis, the value decreases and it’s unlikely they will work for behavior modification.
Not every food is safe
And remember, not every food that we consume is safe for dogs. Make sure you do your research so you're not unintentionally giving your dog something that could be harmful.
Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
I once knew a dog who could balance herself on her front paws. She not only stood like that, she could walk that way. Like an acrobat doing a handstand, she took tiny little steps on her front paws – while she peed.
Was it normal dog behavior? For her it was. The thing is - anything a dog does, by definition, is dog behavior. Some behavior is more typical than others: barking, biting, running, and jumping up, for example. The other stuff like the inverted pee prance, admittedly, may not be as common.
Let’s just say for now most of all the other stuff dogs do is, generally speaking, pretty normal for dogs. Normal for dogs, though, doesn’t often mean normal for us (consider the stuff they sniff… and eat). And there’s usually trouble when normal-for-dogs runs into conflict with what we are willing to tolerate in our homes or with our family and friends.
Let’s think about biting for a moment. It’s a normal behavior for dogs. But, normal doesn’t mean it’s okay any time anywhere. Bite a stuffed toy, shake it, and rip it up. That’s fine. Bite another dog (lightly) during play. That is also no problem. Bite my friend because he’s tall and wears a ball cap and that freaks you out and you want him to leave? Normal? Um, okay. But, not acceptable. Not at all.
We humans are really good at “either or.” Biting is either bad or good. Jumping up is good or bad. But I really like to teach people a more flexible way to think about normal dog behavior (and yeah, most of it is normal). Instead of “either or,” let’s consider “yes and.” Yes biting is normal and I’d prefer it be directed towards stuffed animals and Kongs and the tug rope – not my friend – not any human really. Yes running is normal and I’d prefer you run towards me and not away. Yes, peeing and pooping are normal and we should get in the habit of doing that outside please Ms. Doggie (strike whatever pose you like).
Here’s the cool thing. We can guide our dog’s normal behavior and have a happier life together as a result. And, the trick isn’t really a trick at all. Dogs choose what they’re going to do in any given moment day-in-and-day-out. Choices that make good things happen for them become more typical. Some dogs get petted when they jump up and it becomes a routine (jumping is normal and the petting makes it more typical for that individual dog). Other dogs sit to greet people and also get showered with attention and warm physical contact (sitting is also normal for dogs and very typical for many).
Biting is normal – and it hurts. Some dogs bite to get attention or start play. It’s normal and no good. Other dogs bite to make scary things stop or to ward off people or other animals who seem dangerous (but might not really be). That is also not okay in most cases. But here’s the deal. We can influence those behavior choices too. For the dog play biting to get us riled up, we can teach her that doesn’t work. At the same time we can teach her games with rules that do work to start and stop play (teaching a dog to play tug is one of my favorites).
We can also help angry and frightened dogs calm down. The key word there is help. Yeah, she’s giving my friend a hard time – but she’s also having a hard time with him and his hat. Let’s help. Let’s teach the dog self-control while we also safely show her that people in our home mean no harm. It’s doable. And, we never have to label our dog as abnormal in the process. She’s normal and we can still help her do better – feel better.
So far there is little evidence of dogs, as we know them, in the archeological record that doesn’t include evidence of humans. We are a beautiful, if not unlikely, example of co-evolution. We go together, came up together. We influence each other and have for centuries. Dogs seek things that make life-for-dogs better: food, comfort, shelter, and safety. Humans, for better or worse, control all of those things for dogs. In the best of setups we trade what we control lovingly and intelligently for all that is good and typical in dogs: companionship, affection, athletic prowess and play, – transcendent moments of wonder. We are giving and taking – taking and giving – dogs and humans. The lines tend to blur.
This cross-species communication, this guiding of choices – training – teaching – learning – it’s the makings of our life with dogs. It’s the stuff of fabled memories – a playful dog bounding towards us, so happy when we come home, grinning with a toy in her mouth – an evening together at the park - and, yes, the little one balancing on tiny front paws so careful and delicate. Aren’t these the storied moments? And, aren’t they so beautiful because they are so delightfully normal?
Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in behavior related to fearfulness in dogs including aggressive behavior.
At some point in time the idea of sticking your hand out to be sniffed when greeting an unfamiliar dog was decided to be the right idea. This is the wrong idea and is a great way to receive a bite to the hand. Let’s take a look at why and what to do instead. Let’s start off by talking about the three typical dog personalities.
Three typical dog personalities :
A dog that is happy to greet anyone is usually pretty easy to spot. As they see people they start to get loose and wiggly. There may even be some jumps mixed in. These are the behaviors that you want to look for if you really want to greet a dog. This dog would enjoy the interaction with you.
A nervous dog could be standing there quietly and may look “calm and good.” A nervous dog may also do the opposite and bark, lunge or growl when a strange person appears. Sometimes the nervousness to the naked eye could be hard to spot. That is why you want to look for the signs of the “happy dog” mentioned above. This dog would not enjoy interacting with you. If an interaction is forced then a bite could occur.
A dog that is frustrated would be doing a lot of barking and lunging when they see a strange person. The frustration is probably coming from a place of happiness. From an overall training standpoint you wouldn’t want to greet this dog because it could reinforce all of the lunging and barking. (If it is indeed coming from a social standpoint.) The dog would then learn that if it does those behaviors, it gains access to the thing it wants. It’s then going to lead to more and more of those behaviors.
Now that the three typical personalities have been listed you probably have a pretty good idea of which dogs would enjoy meeting you and which wouldn't. The ones that wouldn’t enjoy meeting you aren’t bad dogs, they’re just dogs. It’s extremely common for dogs to be weary of strangers.
Here’s what to do when greeting a happy dog
Since you now know what to look for when attempting to greet a strange dog we can now move onto how to do it.
The first thing you want to do is double check with the owner that his dog would enjoy meeting you. Once that is determined you’ll want to have them approach you. When the dog finally gets to you he is probably going to be excited which could lead to a bit of jumping and maybe even some licking. Scratch him under the chin or right above the tail. (I like to pet dogs where they can’t scratch themselves. This seems to be a big hit.) Keep an eye on his body language to see if anything changes. If his body language changes after you do something, avoid doing that thing again. (e.g. touching his leg makes him pull it away, getting close to his face makes him turn away.)
Notice that at no point did I mention sticking your hand out to be sniffed? That’s because it isn’t needed. Going through the three personality types, you’re only going to be greeting the ones that are obviously happy. Those happy dogs aren’t really concerned with how you smell.
Every day a child gets bitten by a dog. Most of the bites aren't going to end up in the news because the damage isn't that severe, but they're still happening. Being bitten is no fun; I'll be the first to tell you. And no kid should have to learn the hard way. Let's take a deeper look into why kids are often the victims of dog bites.
Kids aren't as predictable as adults
The average kid is running, screaming, falling, throwing stuff, trying to approach the dog etc. These behaviors can make a dog uneasy. This is especially true if these behaviors are all happening at once. Trigger stacking is when multiple things that stress a dog happen at the same time. The result of too many triggers being stacked on is typically a bite.
Warning signs go unnoticed
When something stresses a dog the response from the dog is a change in body language. Most frequently you will see him start to pant, look away, lick his lips, yawn, stare, furrow his brow, freeze, growl, show his teeth and then bite. Not every dog is going to do all of those behaviors. This is just a list of behaviors that often occur when a dog is stressed. From the videos I see posted online it is easy to tell that a lot of people don’t recognize these behaviors as precursors to a bite.
Children are allowed to do inappropriate behaviors to their own dogs
Children are often allowed and even encouraged to climb on the family dog. The mentality behind this is that the dog should be fine with it. This is the main reason why children get bitten. This isn’t the child’s fault. We need to coach and teach our children how to interact appropriately with a dog.
Another similar way that children get bitten is by their friends’ dogs. Those dogs don’t know your child. And if you’ve taught your child that climbing on your dog is okay, they’re most likely going to try climbing on strange dogs too. Strange dogs are a lot less likely to tolerate the behavior from a strange child and often times a bite occurs.
Children approach dogs
This goes hand in hand with the previous section. Children should never be allowed to approach dogs. It should always be the other way around. If a dog is in a position to be approached, he probably doesn’t want to be messed with. He is either relaxing, eating, drinking, working on a bone or sleeping. If you don’t enjoy being touched or climbed on when you’re doing something, your dog probably doesn’t either. You can communicate this though with your voice. A dog can only communicate this with body language and some little vocalizations. As we discussed above, those often go unnoticed or are downplayed and then a bite occurs.
The overall theme here is that children are innocent. It’s our job to teach and coach them on how to interact with animals. We obviously don’t want our children to get hurt by an animal so we need to ensure that we’re not unintentionally putting them in a position for it to happen.
By: Sierra Hampl
As you celebrate this holiday season don’t forget about that special something for Fido!
And Fido, there’s a special list for you. Don’t forget to shop for that special human in your life!