Friday, April 26, 2013

What happens when you hire a professional dog trainer. - Hilton Head Island

Today we answer the question, what does a dog trainer do when they come to your house?

“The facts ma’am.” drones Sargent Friday, seated at his desk. Pen in hand, form unfilled, Dragnet’s hero cop listened week after week to his current complainant delivering anecdotes about her neighbors, her husband, and the garbage trucks that come too early in the morning.

As a dog trainer I also hear a lot of stories which appear to go nowhere. These stories are actually filled with critical clues. A private dog training consultation begins with many questions, and a lot of careful listening. Owners always provide bits of information necessary to solve the mystery of their dog’s behavior.

Today’s case began with a call from a woman who needs a dog trainer on Hilton Head Island. She has a two year old neutered male havanese named Beau who urinates in her home. He also growls at her husband and adolescent sons, but has never bitten. We set up an appointment and I appear, like Sargent Friday, with blank form and pen, ready to discover the facts. By the way, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The Facts:

We begin with simple information. Age, sex, has the dog seen a veterinarian recently and been found in good health? How did the owner, let’s call her Karen obtain the dog? Who lives in the home? Who is the primary caregiver(s)? What exercise does he get?

In the Past:

Beau was originally owned by Karen’s widowed mother, Helen. He was bought from a pet shop at about three months old. The shop had trained Beau, to eliminate on newspapers with moderate success. Helen has some mobility issues and Beau, although he spent a lot of time playing in her small Savannah garden, rarely left the property.

Helen had a housekeeper who came four hours a day, five days a week. Frequent visitors to the home were her daughter Karen and several older, female friends.

When Beau arrived the household did not seek a professional dog trainer in Savannah, however the housekeeper wisely blocked Beau’s access to rooms out of her sight while his house training was supervised. She encouraged Helen to keep Beau in a kitchen pen when he was not being watched and to send him outside before she let him run free in the house. This program was followed haphazardly and it took Beau several months before house training could be considered ‘reliable’. Beau was kept in his kitchen pen every night. Eventually newspapers for elimination were provided only during these overnight hours. When Beau needed to go out during the day he would stand at the back door and whine.

Beau barked and growled when strangers came to the door. Once the person was let in Beau would stop barking. He ‘seems to like women more’. Reportedly Beau would remain in the room with female visitors but would not approach them unless they offered him treats. If a male came to visit, Beau would stay in a doorway and run off if the man moved in his direction.
Beau was a somewhat “spoiled” small dog. He had nearly constant company during the day and did not appear to mind nights in the kitchen. His house training was reliable enough to be considered successful. Karen’s mother and the housekeeper doted on Beau, acquiescing to his barked demands for table scraps, play and petting. Beau was allowed on all furniture. He seemed to be well exercised enough in the garden to avoid destructive behavior inside. If Helen had sought professional dog training in Savannah some of Beau’s behaviors would have been better managed, and his socialization would have been conducted in a more organized manner.

A few additional questions revealed that Beau would bark and growl when the mail was delivered to the front porch. He would also bark and growl at either the windows or from behind the garden fence if there was “too much commotion” in the form of noisy people or dogs in the street. He continued vocalizing until the commotion stopped. Beau was described as “a good little watchdog”.

Beau exhibited anxiety during thunder storms, shaking, whining, and hiding under furniture. He howled if there was a thunderstorm late at night and he was alone in the kitchen.

Several months ago Karen’s mom moved from her home due to issues with stairs. Her new one-level living situation does not provide her with a place to potty and exercise Beau and Karen has agreed to take her mother’s pet.


Beau has been living with Karen, her husband, and her 13 and 16 year old boys for a little over three months. During this time Karen reports his house training has taken giant strides backwards and he is displaying ‘dominance’ behaviors by growling at her husband and sons. Karen works part time, mostly from home, and Beau is rarely left alone for more than two to three hours at a time.

Karen’s husband, Patrick, had been brought up with ‘outside’ dogs and has strong feelings about dogs on furniture and begging at the table. Beau has been banished to the laundry room during meals. Patrick also became impatient with newspapers on the kitchen floor. At his request, the potty-newspapers were also moved into the laundry room which is just off of the kitchen. Beau is gated in the kitchen at night with access to the laundry room. He has stopped using the papers, his night time accidents are becoming more frequent.

Beau is not allowed on furniture in his new home. Karen says Patrick yells at him when he catches him on the furniture, and Beau has taken to running out of rooms when Patrick enters. Twice when Patrick entered the den to find Beau on the sofa, Beau has “looked Patrick in the eye and urinated on the cushions.” Karen said she and Patrick both feel that this is Beau’s way of expressing his anger at not being allowed on furniture. Karen feels sympathetic towards Beau’s distress over his life-style change; Patrick feels the dog is attempting to take an ‘alpha’ position in the family. Beau avoids Patrick as much as possible and growls if Patrick reaches towards his collar. Once his collar is held he allows himself to be picked up or leashed without growling, but he does tremble.

While we were talking, Beau hopped up on a chair several times to look out of the window. Karen did not acknowledge this behavior.

Finally, Karen’s two sons are in charge of walking Beau on leash when they come home from school. Beau hides under the dining room table when they pick up the leash and come to get him. He has growled when they grab his collar, dragging him out from under the table. Once he is leashed he is happy to go with them, though he is ‘nervous’ outside when he sees, moving vehicles, dogs, bicycles, or hears loud noises.

A little additional questioning reveals that the only way Patrick can catch Beau by his collar is to corner him in a room or under a piece of furniture.

My Theory:

Beau is not in any way ‘dominant’ or ‘alpha’. In fact the poor fellow appears to be frightened and confused by his new, relatively boisterous, partly male, house hold. An inconsistent application of rules has Beau in a state of uncertainty about which behaviors will result in being grabbed or yelled at by a human.

Beau’s reaction to thunder, yelling, and in his former home ‘commotion’, indicates there may be some noise sensitivity. To test this I ask Karen to leash Beau.

Beau shrinks backward as Karen’s hand reaches over his head. I ask her to hold a treat in the left hand and take hold of Beau’s collar from underneath. Beau seems more comfortable with the hand coming from below his head and readily eats the treat while her other hand gently takes his collar.

With Karen’s permission I turn on the dryer in the laundry room and ask her to lead Beau by the leash into that area. Beau stops about six feet from the laundry room door. I ask Karen to drop a treat on the floor about a foot closer to the laundry room while she cheerfully says, “Find it!” Repeating this action several times brings Beau somewhat closer to the running dryer. Three feet from the laundry room entry he stops, unwilling to take the treat just beyond his reach.

I turn off the dryer and we try to lure Beau closer. He takes several treats but will not cross the thresh hold into the laundry room.

At this point I can see Beau has a fairly strong aversion to the laundry. The aversion is stronger when the dryer is running, but present even when it is not. We have three choices. We can use counter conditioning to teach Beau that the laundry room is a wonderful place, we can move the newspapers to another, less aversive location, or we can do away with the newspapers all together by putting Beau in an appropriately sized crate at night.

I explain the basics of crate training to Karen. She promises never to let Beau out when he whines or barks, and to always give him a special treat for entering the crate voluntarily. We also decide the crate should be kept in the kitchen in sight of, but away from the table. Beau will be given his supper in his crate when the family has supper. The food will be packed into a KONG so Beau has to work at getting his food.

I coach Karen on how to teach Beau to GO TO BED, targeting Beau’s dog bed. When the crate comes Karen will use the same technique, only teach Beau to GO TO CRATE. Beau should be left in his crate when everyone goes to bed. He will be taken out first thing in the morning, on leash, to be sure he has eliminated before he is let loose in the house. The laundry room, with its strong negative association, should not be used to confine Beau.

GO TO BED and GO TO CRATE will also give Beau something more appropriate to do when he is on the furniture, begging for treats or otherwise behaving in a way that is not appreciated. After all, you can’t just tell a dog what not to do; you have to give him an alternate, acceptable behavior.

The next thing we tackle is reaching for Beau’s collar. From what I have learned, every time Beau has growled someone has him cornered and is reaching over his head for his collar. Once they have his collar they can drag him by his neck out of his secure corner. We need to stop the dragging and make Beau welcome people reaching for his collar.

Karen and I sit on the floor with bits of chicken taking turns calling Beau and, when he arrives, gently holding his collar from underneath while praising and treating. Karen promises that everyone in the family will do this exercise, very gradually moving the hand from under Beau’s chin, to the side of his head, finally getting Beau used to having a hand come over his head for a collar grab.

Karen comes to understand that collar grabbing is not the best way to deal with maneuvering Beau. We decide Beau should drag a leather leash from a chest harness when he is indoors. This should only be done when Beau can be supervised. If Beau jumps on the furniture, begs at the table or transgresses in any other way he can be given a brief time out by stepping on the leash for approximately one minute. The leash, used gently, will also give a better way to remove Beau from corners and under furniture. We discuss Beau’s sheltered first year, and plan strategies to help Karen and her sons ease Beau into a world filled with vehicles, animals and people.

Finally we come to the ‘dominance’ issue. Karen listens while I explain that fear is a more common cause of aggression in dogs than any desire to dominate. Poor Beau, caught on the sofa and being yelled at is not expressing defiance, he is demonstrating total submission in a way that would be completely understandable to a fellow canine but has been grossly misinterpreted by Beau’s human family. Beau, growling and cowering under the table, is also not aggressive; he is afraid and begging to be left alone.

As diplomatically as possible I ask Karen to request her boys and husband be more gentle with Beau; refraining from yelling, grabbing, and dragging. If Beau must be moved simply pick up the leash he is already wearing. A happy voice combined with gentle use of the leash will be less threatening than a collar grab.

I ask Karen to take over discipline for Beau until he trusts the male members of the household entirely. We also discuss the need for consistency. It is not fair to let Beau on the furniture when Karen is home alone and then correct him when Patrick is present. Karen needs to provide firm, fair, consistent guidance for Beau so he understands the rules.

I promise Karen a written report and make sure she has my contact information for follow-up questions.

It has been a long morning. Karen and I both did a lot of talking, a lot of listening, we did some training, and made changes in Beau’s environment.

Hopefully things will improve rapidly for Beau and his human family. I will call in a few days to check up on Karen's dog training success.

Case Closed!

Claudia Black-Kalinsky, CPDT-Ka
Phone: 912-677-2861
Savannah, Georgia Dog Trainer
Bluffton and Hilton Head, South Carolina Dog Trainer