Grain-Free Diet Guidance

Recent information has given rise to concerns about feeding grain free diets. There is increasing evidence linking these diets to a form of heart disease in dogs. The FDA, Tufts University, UC Davis, CVCA and others continue research regarding these concerns. For now, here are links to related information, as well as a statement from our local cardiology group.

From the Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates (CVCA) Website; Guidance for Pet Owners:

“At this point in time, we are not certain of the exact causal relationship between grain-free and/or high legume diets in atypical dog breeds with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Taurine deficiency of these pet foods does not appear to be the primary issue in these DCM patients as we have found normal taurine levels in many of these pets with DCM. However, in some breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel and Golden Retriever, we have found low plasma taurine levels.”

At this time, if there is not a clinical reason (i.e. food allergies or gastrointestinal upset) for use of a limited ingredient, unique protein source (kangaroo, alligator, bison, etc.) diet, we would suggest using alternative diets. Consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist should be considered. Another possible consideration is to use two/three pet foods from different manufacturers including a diet that is not full of legumes (lentils, chickpeas, peas) and has some grain in the product. As we continue to investigate the link between the increased incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy in atypical canine breeds with grain-free diets, we hope to ultimately determine the definitive issue but, for now, we currently do not have that answer.”

CVCA link for info on this grain free diets and heart disease concern in dogs.

Additional References from the FDA, Washington Post and NY Times:

FDA June 12, 2018 : FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease

Washington Post:  Grain-free, exotic dog food linked to heart disease

New York Times, July 24, 2018:  Popular Grain-Free Dog Foods May Be Linked to Heart Disease


KAH Position Statement on Shock Collars

Dear Dog Owner,

Recently, we at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital have seen an increasing number of well-intentioned dog owners seek the help of trainers who use electric stimulation or “shock” collars to train their pets.  While the response is often quick, we as veterinarians see many dogs that in the long run are adversely affected by this method.  It is our position that there are better training methods available that can not only solve the problems at hand, but are also less likely to cause more problems down the road.

It is the position of Kingsbrook Animal Hospital (KAH) that effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for an animal’s healthy socialization and training and help prevent behavior problems. The general pet-owning public should be educated by organizations and associations to ensure pet animals live in nurturing and stable environments to better prevent behavior problems. In this effort, it is the position KAH that the use of electronic stimulation, or “shock” or “e-collars,” to train and/or modify the behavior of pet animals is not necessary for effective behavior modification or training and damaging to the animal. For the purposes of this statement, electronic stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar, remote trainers.

Numerous countries have banned electronic stimulation devices, and KAH’s official position is that electronic stimulation can play no part of effective and ethical animal training. Studies and the experience of the doctors at KAH show that training and behavior problems are consistently and effectively solved without the use of electronic stimulation devices. Evidence indicates that rather than speeding the learning process, electronic stimulation devices slow the training process, add stress to the animal, and can result in both short-term and long-term psychological damage to animals.

Some common problems resulting from the use of electronic stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:

  • Infliction of Stress and Pain

Even at the lowest setting, electronic stimulation devices present an unknown stimulus to pets which, when not paired with a positive stimulus, at best is neutral and at worst is frightening/painful to the animal. Pets learning to exhibit a behavior in order to escape or avoid fear or pain are, by definition, subjected to an aversive stimulus. Studies indicated that dogs trained with shock displayed stress signals as they approached the training area and frequently work slowly and deliberately. In many instances, electronic stimulation causes physiological pain and psychological stress to the animal, often exhibited by vocalization, urination, defecation, fleeing and complete shut-down. In extreme cases, electronic stimulation devices may burn animal tissue.

  • Generalization

For behaviors to become reliable in random environments, they must be practiced in random environments (called “generalization”). When using an electronic stimulation device to train, this means the animal must be repeatedly subjected to electronic stimulation for the behavior to become reliable. To maintain the behavior, the pet will need to be subjected to the electronic stimulation on a periodic but random basis. Often, the behaviors never become reliable when the electronic stimulation device is not present because, as part of the cue system, it is missing when the animal is not subjected to it. Therefore, in addition to being an aversive stimulus, electronic stimulation collars are ineffective if not worn frequently or even constantly.

  • Escalation

If results are not immediately realized, many users of electronic stimulation devices will increase the level of stimulation, which often results in the animal attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus and even total shut down where it will refuse to perform. This creates a counter-productive paradigm in which little learning can occur. Additionally, some animals     are “stoic” and may fail to show a pain response despite increased levels of electronic stimulation. Other animals may become habituated to the pain and endure it, causing trainers to increase the level and frequency of electronic stimulation. The pain and stress caused in such situations has a significant effect on an animal’s physiology, increasing cortisol levels and heart rate.

  • Global Suppression, or “Shut-Down”

An animal repeatedly subjected to electronic stimulation for several different behaviors may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behavior. This is frequently mistaken for a “trained” animal, as the animal remains subdued and offers few or no behaviors. In reality, they are afraid to move. In extreme cases, animals may refuse to perform any behavior, called “learned helplessness” and isolate themselves to avoid incurring electronic stimulation. This is counter-productive to training new behaviors.

  • Suppressed Aggression

The use of aversive stimuli is counter-indicated in animals with aggression because they suppress aggression and it may resurface at any time, without warning, generally in a more severe display (Hiby et al., 2004). Using electronic stimulation to reduce behaviors such as barking, lunging and growling may suppress behaviors that warn of a more serious imminent behavior such as biting. Without ritualized aggression behaviors, people and other animals will have no warning before the animal subjected to punishment feels forced to bite. It is KAH’s position that desensitization and counter-conditioning is the only ethical and effective paradigm in which to treat aggression in pet animals.

  • Redirected Aggression

Animals subjected to repeated electronic stimulation may be respondently conditioned to associate the fear/pain of electronic stimulation with certain contextual cues in their environment. As an example, many dogs trained to honor the boundaries of an electronic boundary (also referred to an “underground” or “invisible” fence) will approach a stranger on the other side of the boundary and encounter the painful/frightening stimulus. Repeated instances of this will generalize to the dog fleeing or acting aggressively toward strangers on the other side of the fence in order to avoid the painful/frightening stimulus. Similarly, animals subjected to repeated electronic stimulation may act aggressively toward the nearest human or animal near them in attempt to escape/avoid pain/fear caused by electronic stimulation.

  • Unintended Consequences

Electronic stimulation devices have not been studied in terms of health. There is currently insufficient data to determine whether prolonged use of electronic stimulation devices may pose a long-term health risk. However, there is clear data that electronic stimulation can cause burn injuries.


It is the position of the KAH that all training should be conducted in a manner in which to encourage animals to enjoy training and become more confident and well-adjusted pets.

We encourage the use of positive operant and respondent training methods, both personally and professionally.

Recommended Reading:


Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, February 2006 Shock or Awe

Pat Miller, Simply Shocking in Whole Dog Journal 2/03

Scientific Articles

Polsky R. “Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?” Click here for the article.

Hiby, E.F.; Rooney, N.J.; Bradshaw, J.W.S. “Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare.” Click here for an abstract of the article.

Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S and Jones-Baade R. “Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations.” Click here for the article

Beerda, B. 1998 Behavioral, saliva cortisol, and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Click here for the article abstract

N.H. Azrin, H.B: Rubin, R.R: Hutchinson Biting Attack by Rats In Response To Aversive Shock. Click here for the article

Emily Blackwell, Rachel Casey The use of shock collars and their impact on the welfare of dogs: Click here for the article

Matthijs B.H. Schilder, Joanne A.M. van der Borg Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects Click here for the article

Kristy Englert, The use of Electric Shock Collars vs. Other Training Methods: Efficacy, Stress, and Welfare Concerns Click here for the article

David Ryan, Negative impacts of training dogs using an electric shock collar Click here for the article.


Thanks to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior for the above content.

Dog Behavior Problems – Stealing and Stay Away

Why does my dog “steal” things?

Most puppies and many adolescent dogs love to explore and chew, so it should be no surprise when they steal household objects. When you try to get these items back from your dog, a chase ensues because the game is fun, because the dog enjoys the attention and because the dog is reluctant to give up its new-found “treasure.” Dogs may raid garbage, steal food off tables and countertops, and enter cupboards or refrigerators, where they help themselves to snacks. Despite owner attempts at punishment, these behaviors continue.

Why do these behaviors continue?

When dealing with an unwanted behavior, look for the motivation. Food items are appealing on their own. Some puppies steal objects when they are unsupervised, because they have not been directed to an acceptable activity. Puppies may continue to steal because the game of chase is so much fun. Each of these motivations has a different treatment.

If left to their own devices, most puppies will get into what we would refer to as “trouble.” Therefore, you should first focus on ensuring that your dog has a sufficiently enriched and predictable daily routine that meets its needs for social interactions, exercise, play and exploration. Puppies should be supervised at all times, since they could be engaging in behaviors that you consider undesirable whenever they are out of sight. When you cannot watch your dog, ensure that it is confined to an area where it cannot gain access to any objects or any areas that you consider “out of bounds.” Depending on what your dog might steal and where you do not want your dog to go, your options are to consider crate or confinement training or to arrange the environment so that the puppy cannot get to items. For example, close doors, or use barrier gates, child proofing devices or even motion sensor devices to prevent access to restricted areas and to properly monitor your home. It might also be helpful to booby trap objects with taste aversives or motion detector alarms, to teach the puppy to “stay away.” At the same time, place highly appealing non booby trapped items nearby so that the pet learns the safe and acceptable alternatives for chewing and play.

“Your options are to consider crate or confinement training or to arrange the environment so that the puppy cannot get to items.”

If your puppy steals in your presence, the best means of control and prevention is to leave a long leash attached, preferably to a head halter. Then as the puppy begins to approach objects that it might chew or areas that you consider as “out of bounds,” a quick pull on the leash coupled with a “leave it” command and praise for compliance will teach it to stay away.

How do I train “leave it”?

Often the command “leave it” is used to teach dogs not to pick up items. It is easiest to teach “leave it” using a head collar and leash. Start with the dog wearing a head collar and an adult holding the leash. The dog is then walked toward an item he may wish to pick up, such as a paper bag or plastic food container. Choose training objects that are not of value to you and that will not prove particularly enjoyable to the dog and are not likely to injure the dog if you cannot take them away. As the dog reaches for the item, calmly say, “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar; quickly offer a food reward and “good dog” as the head comes toward you. Repeat several times with low-value items. As the dog learns the meaning of the phrase he will begin to turn his head, perhaps even without a pull of the leash. Immediately reward that behavior. Progress to more valued items and gradually phase out food rewards while retaining verbal praise. At the same time, throwing small treats on the floor, having your dog stay by your side and then using a “take it” command, can help to teach the dog that you will be responsible for what the dog takes and leaves. Other techniques, which may not give as consistent results, would be to use a leash and the word “leave it,” following by a shake can, an audible or ultrasonic device or a remote activated spray collar to deter the undesirable behavior and then to teach your dog to settle and play with an appropriate chew toy. Teaching drop and give commands are also important to prevent and control possessive behaviors.

“Teaching ‘drop’ and ‘give’ commands are also important to prevent and control possessive behavior.”

Another technique is to place a bitter spray on objects and as the puppy approaches give the “leave it” command. If the puppy does not immediately stop, then the puppy will learn that the object is distasteful and unpleasant if it accidentally gets close enough to put its mouth on the object. When there are items that the puppy is allowed to pick up, use the command “take it.” This “take it” command can even be extended to the food bowl or when giving treats or toys to your dog. Before offering the toy, treat or food, first have the puppy sit, and then give the “take it” command when its time for the reward. The goal is not only that the puppy learns the “leave it” command, but also that the pup learns only to pick up objects when it has permission to do so.

If your puppy is stealing things because the game is so much fun, then don’t play! Avoid the chasing game wherever possible. If the puppy is wearing a long leash, then use a “come” command and pull on the leash. Have the puppy sit, use the drop or give command and when the puppy drops the object, say “good dog.” For some puppies, if you ignore them when they steal things and try to engage them in something else instead, they may “give up” the object voluntarily. A puppy that is used to being chased may begin to approach you with the stolen object in an attempt to solicit chase. Should this occur, try crouching down and in a happy voice, with open arms, call your puppy to you. When the puppy looks toward you, say “good puppy; come show me!” Keep up the praise as the puppy approaches. With a treat, entice the puppy to come, show the treat and when the puppy drops the stolen object, say “good dog.” Make it come closer, sit, and then give the reward. Of course, once the dog has learned the “give” command (below), use this command instead.

Most importantly, never reach for your puppy in anger after it has taken something. Remember, the behavior you want to change is the stealing, not the cowering under the table. When you threaten your pet in that way, you risk fear and aggression. In addition, you are reducing, not improving the chance that your puppy will give up the item voluntarily. In fact, threats and punishment are likely to make your puppy increasingly more possessive.

How can I get stolen objects away from my dog?

You need to teach your dog a command that tells him not to touch an item, such as “leave it,” as well as commands to give up the object if it is stolen.

Remember that training a successful drop command may prevent damage and possessive aggression but in no way does it stop stealing behavior.

If your dog has stolen something that cannot be ignored and will not drop on command, then you may soon have a problem with possessive aggression (if it is not already a problem). If a leash and head halter have been left attached, it may be possible to gently remove the object while restraining the mouth. However, the head halter does not aid in opening the mouth and therefore does not give any assurances that items can be safely or effectively removed.

How can I stop my dog from stealing in my absence?

This requires either preventing access to problem areas or using “booby traps”. Booby traps, if sufficiently aversive, can be an effective way to keep a pet away from an area or an object. Examples of these devices are Snappy Trainers®, extremely bitter or hot tasting sprays, motion detector alarms, motion detectors that sprays air (SsscatTM) or electronic avoidance devices which activate a collar that sprays the dog with air when it approaches. Over time, the pet may learn to avoid the area or the sight of the punishment device.

“Booby traps can be an effective way to keep a pet away from an area or an object.”

For dogs that are stealing food or raiding the garbage, prevention is necessary as no amount of punishment will be sufficient to deter a dog that has access to a highly motivating food item. Consider two trash containers in your kitchen; a small one in a cupboard or on a counter that is out of reach, in which food items are placed, and a large one for nonedible trash that can be left out in the room. This might totally deter food stealing since garbage is no longer accessible.

Remember that training a successful drop command may prevent damage and possessive aggression but in no way does it stop stealing behavior.

If your dog has stolen something that cannot be ignored and will not drop on command, then you may soon have a problem with possessive aggression (if it is not already a problem). If a leash and head halter have been left attached, it may be possible to gently remove the object while restraining the mouth. However, the head halter does not aid in opening the mouth and therefore does not give any assurances that items can be safely or effectively removed.

How can I stop my dog from stealing in my absence?

This requires either preventing access to problem areas or using “booby traps”. Booby traps, if sufficiently aversive, can be an effective way to keep a pet away from an area or an object. Examples of these devices are Snappy Trainers®, extremely bitter or hot tasting sprays, motion detector alarms, motion detectors that sprays air (SsscatTM) or electronic avoidance devices which activate a collar that sprays the dog with air when it approaches. Over time, the pet may learn to avoid the area or the sight of the punishment device.

For dogs that are stealing food or raiding the garbage, prevention is necessary as no amount of punishment will be sufficient to deter a dog that has access to a highly motivating food item. Consider two trash containers in your kitchen; a small one in a cupboard or on a counter that is out of reach, in which food items are placed, and a large one for non-edible trash that can be left out in the room. This might totally deter food stealing since garbage is no longer accessible.

How can I keep my dog from going into rooms or onto furniture?

Although this is another owner absent behavior, some pets can be taught to stay off furniture and to stay out of certain rooms, by consistently preventing the behavior while you are at home by controlling your dog with a leash (and preferably a head halter), by using aversive devices such as shake cans, audible or ultrasonic devices or a remote spray collar to deter the behavior while you are supervising, or to use booby traps such as an avoidance unit with a spray collar, or a motion detector with an audible alarm or air sprayer (SsscatTM). By pairing these devices with a marker such as a gate, ribbon, handkerchief, or piece of tin foil placed across the doorway or on the furniture, you can help the pet to learn what and where to avoid. When you are out, you must ensure that your pet cannot gain access to the area until it learns to stay away. Be consistent. Never encourage your dog to go on the furniture or enter the rooms, and at the same time be certain that there is nothing on the furniture or in the rooms that is particularly appealing (which may encourage your dog to return).

“The best approach is to focus on providing rooms and areas where the pet prefers to sleep, relax, and explore.”

Of course, in addition to preventing or deterring access to these areas, the best approach is to focus on providing rooms and areas where the pet prefers to sleep, relax and explore. By providing resting areas and rooms where the pet has comfortable bedding and where it receives a variety of new and novel toys for play and chewing, your dog should become increasingly motivated to play and sleep in the rooms that you prefer, and likely lose any desire to enter into these other areas.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior Problems – Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Synopsis

Separation anxiety occurs when dogs become distressed when separated from their owners and cannot relax while being home alone. Many dogs with separation anxiety follow the owner from room to room in the home and rarely spend time alone outdoors. Dogs with separation anxiety often begin to become anxious and show distress as the owners prepare to leave. Dogs with separation anxiety will start showing signs when the owner prepares to leave the house, will continue when left alone, and show exaggerated welcoming behaviors when the owner returns.

“There are several likely reasons that separation anxiety develops.”

There are several likely reasons that separation anxiety develops. In some cases, the problem develops as the dog matures and becomes increasingly attached to its owners. In other cases, there have been changes in the household that are distressing to the dog, or the dog has experienced something that caused anxiety when it was home alone. The primary problems reported are vocalization, damage to property, inappropriate elimination or other signs of anxiety such as salivation.

What are the most important pre-departure training tips?

1. Ignore any attention seeking behaviors and use rewards only when your dog is calm and relaxed such as in a down/stay; slowly shape the behavior by increasing the time the dog must remain calm before giving attention.

2. By the use of favored reinforcers including food toys, chew toys, and treats, you can gradually teach your dog to stay in place for longer intervals before giving affection and attention. Begin teaching this behavior by moving a very short distance away and then returning to the dog while it remains in place, giving a reward for the correct behavior.

3. Your goals are to work toward a daily routine with scheduled times for enrichment with social interactions, play and training (predictable attention), followed by times where the pet gets no attention (predictable inattention) and either plays with its own toys or rests and relaxes. Try and develop an inattention schedule that coincides with your departure times.

4. Try to establish a particular location where the pet spends its alone time, either napping or playing with its own toys. This might also serve as the dog’s sleeping location. Train your pet to stay in this location during its inattention times while you are at home. If practical a crate can minimize damage to the house and prevent house soiling, but some pets become more anxious when confined. A favorite toy, an item of clothing with the owner’s scent, aromatherapy, pheromone therapy, or even a TV or CD left on may help to relax the pet.

What are the main departure training tips?

1. Identify and isolate all cues that make your dog anxious as you prepare to leave (e.g., getting keys, putting your coat). Either find a way to avoid these cues, or to habituate your dog to these cues by exposing your dog to the cues multiple times without leaving. By giving favored treats or a tummy rub each time you present these cues, your dog may even learn that they are associated with something positive (a technique called counter-conditioning). When practicing habituation, the dog must be calm between presentations of the departure cues. If the dog is not calm, its anxiety might actually increase rather than decrease when presented with the cues.

2. Before any actual departures make sure your pet has had an enrichment session and has settled down in its rest area for a time of inattention. Provide numerous favored food-filled toys or chews and any additional cues (from pre-departure #4) to help your pet settle. Depart only when your dog is settled and distracted. Leave calmly and quietly, ignoring the dog as you depart.

3. Begin with short departures and return fairly quickly, before the dog has a chance to get anxious. Gradually increase the length of departures.

4. It is important to continue with departure training only when the dog is calm, settled and quiet when left alone. If the dog experiences anxiety during your absence it is not learning how to be left home alone and the separation distress may increase.

5. If you suspect that your dog is becoming more anxious, stop all training departures and contact your veterinarian for advice.

What things should I do when I return home?

1. When you arrive home, ignore your dog until it is settled and then provide an attention and play session. Do not reprimand your dog for any undesirable behaviors that might have occurred while you were gone, since this does not help to make your dog any less anxious or to cease the undesirable behaviors.

2. Try quietly entering from a different door (if possible), and reward your dog if it is calm or sleeping.

Are there any other strategies that can be helpful for a busy family?

Teaching your dog how to calmly be left home alone takes time so additional arrangements may need to be made during treatment. Daily boarding (doggy daycare), pet sitters or taking the dog to a neighbors home all may help prevent the destruction, elimination, vocalization and distress that your pet experiences until they have learned the new tasks.

What about medications such as prescription drugs or pheromones?

Depending on the severity of the anxiety, most dogs will benefit from the short-term use of drugs and/or pheromones until the problem can be controlled. Clomipramine (Clomicalm®, Novartis Animal Health), Fluoxetine (Reconcile®, Elanco) or (AdaptilTM), used for a minimum of two months have been found to be effective. Some dogs may also need faster acting anti-anxiety drugs or additional arrangements (e.g., doggy day care) in the short term, until the drugs and training begin to make an impact.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior Problems – House Soiling

Why is my dog soiling the house?

There are numerous reasons that a dog might soil the house with urine and/or stools. Determining the specific reason is essential for developing a treatment program. Dogs that soil the home continuously or intermittently from the time they were first obtained may not have been properly house trained.

“Dogs that are exhibiting an increase in anxiety may begin to eliminate in the home.”

Dogs that have been previously house trained may begin to soil the home for medical reasons or for behavioral reasons. Assuming medical causes can be ruled out (see below), some of the more common behavioral causes are a change in owner schedule, a change in housing or any change in the pet’s home that might lead to anxiety. For example, if you leave the dog alone for longer than the dog is accustomed, or significantly change the daily schedule or routine, your dog may begin to house-soil. Dogs that are exhibiting an increase in anxiety may begin to eliminate in the home, due primarily to a loss of control when anxious and not due to spite. Dogs that exhibit separation anxiety may soil the home and require an intensive retraining program.

Why is my dog house soiling?

The first question is whether your dog has ever been fully housetrained. If the answer is no, then you should begin by reviewing House Training and having your pet checked out to make sure that there are no medical problems. If your pet was previously house trained, and is now house soiling, then the problem could be medical, behavioral or both. With a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and a good history, it should be possible to determine whether the problem is medical or whether some change or stressors in the household may have caused the problem. Your description of the signs and problem can also help to determine whether your pet is marking (urinating on upright surfaces), incontinent (leaking urine or stool), or losing control when fearful or excited. Dogs that are exhibiting an increase in anxiety may begin to eliminate in the home.

What does it mean if my dog is urinating on upright objects?

Marking is urination on upright objects. It is most likely to occur on or near the odors, especially the urine, left by other dogs. When a dog is marking, the volume of urine is usually small. The problem is much more common in intact males, but some neutered males and spayed females will mark. Dogs may mark territory for a number of reasons including male hormonal influences, other dogs entering the property, moving to a new household or getting new furniture, or as a response to increased stress or anxiety.

Why does my dog urinate when he meets new people or I come home?

Two specific types of house soiling, submissive and excitement urination, differ from most other forms of house soiling in that the dog has little control over their elimination. Submissive urination occurs when a person approaches, reaches out, stands over or attempts to physically punish the dog. The dog not only urinates but also may show other signs of submission such as ears back, retraction of lips, avoidance of eye contact, and cowering. Although this problem can be seen in dogs of any age, submissive urination is most commonly seen in puppies and young female dogs. Owner intervention in the form of verbal reprimands or punishment only serve to aggravate the problem by making the dog act more submissive, which leads to further urination.

“Submissive and excitement urination differ in that the dog has little control over their elimination.”

Excitement urination is similar to submissive urination except the stimuli that lead to elimination are those that lead to excitement, particularly greeting and giving affection to the dog. These dogs may also be overly submissive, but not necessarily. In most cases, both excitement and fear or submission are present in dogs that exhibit this behavior. When there are competing emotions (e.g., a desire to approach and withdraw) this is known as conflict behavior.

What medical problems could cause my dog to house soil?

There are numerous medical problems that could cause or contribute to house soiling, and these become increasingly more common as the dog ages. In fact, if you have an adult dog that begins to urinate in the home, or a puppy with a refractory house soiling problem, then a medical evaluation is indicated. This is of particular concern when there is an increase in drinking, an increase in frequency of elimination, an increase in volume of elimination, or a decrease in urine or stool control or incontinence. Any other concurrent medical signs and any medications that your pet may be taking may also be important to consider. Therefore the history that you provide is critical in reaching an accurate diagnosis.

For dogs that are urinating in the home, monitor how much your pet drinks, how often your pet urinates and where your pet is soiling. Any change in your dog’s normal routine should be reported. Dogs that drink more will have to urinate more often and may have poorer control. Diabetes, kidney disease, and Cushing’s disease (overproduction of steroids) are some of the problems that will need to be ruled out. Dogs that urinate more frequently or have discomfort when urinating might have a bladder infection or bladder stones. A puddle of urine where your dog has been napping or sleeping may indicate incontinence, while urine leaking when the dog is excited or frightened might indicate conflict induced urination. Dogs with brain diseases including cognitive dysfunction may eliminate with no particular pattern, as they may be unable to remember their house training rules. Eliminating on upright surfaces might be indicative of marking behavior.

For dogs that are passing stools in the home, monitor your dog’s eating and elimination habits to determine if stool frequency has changed (less often, more often, less regular); whether stool consistency has changed (hard, soft, diarrhea, mucus or blood in the stool), whether your dog appears to have less control (sudden urge to eliminate), whether the stool passing appears to be painful, whether stool volume has changed (constipation versus large amounts) or lacks awareness of its elimination (fecal incontinence, with stool dropping out while walking or lying down).

If we determine that it’s not a medical problem, what might be the cause?

Once medical problems have been ruled out, it will first be necessary to determine if your dog is incontinent, marking, or losing control when excited or frightened. Each of these problems is discussed in separate handouts. Next it will be necessary to determine whether your dog was ever completely house trained. If not, review the basic house training guide and carefully follow each of the recommendations. If your dog was previously trained prior to soiling, the cause of the problem and the best methods to manage the soiling will need to be determined by evaluating the history. Things to consider include whether there were changes in the pet’s household or schedule at the time the problem started and whether or not the pet exhibits anxiety when left alone or locked in its confinement area. Details about the home, schedule and house training techniques to date (and the dog’s response) will be required.

How can house soiling be treated?

Training techniques for house soiling dogs are virtually identical to those needed to house train a new puppy. However, even if house-soiling dogs are retrained to eliminate outdoors, indoor sites may continue to be used, since the odor, substrate, and learned habit may continue to attract the dog back to the location. In addition, dogs that eliminate indoors are in essence, performing a self-rewarding behavior, since they relieve themselves and do not perceive that the area they have used is inappropriate. Dogs that eliminate indoors are in essence performing a self-rewarding behavior because they relieve themselves and do not perceive that the area they have used is inappropriate.

The key to effective house training is constant supervision. Prevent access to any sites where the dog might eliminate indoors except when you are directly supervising. Mildly correct the pet if it is caught eliminating in an inappropriate location. Accompany the dog to its appropriate elimination areas at times when elimination is necessary. Reinforce the acceptable behavior with lavish praise or food rewards when the dog eliminates in the designated area. If a word cue is used prior to each elimination-reward sequence, the dog may soon learn to eliminate on command. If you have trouble keeping the dog in sight, leave a remote indoor leash attached to the dog. This leash can also be used to deter any elimination or pre-elimination behaviors (such as sniffing, circling or squatting) in the act and to direct the dog to the appropriate area without delay. Whenever you are not available to supervise, the dog should be housed in either a confinement area where it does not eliminate (such as a bedroom, crate, or pen), or in an area where elimination is allowed (such as a dog run, papered pen or room, or outdoors). If the confinement area also serves as the dog’s bed and play area the dog is likely to keep the area clean. If the dog is anxious about being separated from the owner (separation anxiety) or confined it is likely to soil the area and become even more distressed.

“Dogs that eliminate indoors are in essence performing a self-rewarding behavior because they relieve themselves and do not perceive that the area they have used is inappropriate.”

Another key component in treating house soiling in dogs is establishing a daily routine that includes exercise, sleeping times, play times, and opportunities to eliminate on a schedule that meets your dog’s needs. You should try and identify those times when your dog needs to eliminate so that you can schedule walks and prevent house soiling.

Your dog must never be allowed access to indoor sites where it has previously eliminated unless you are there to supervise. Access to these areas can be denied by closing doors, putting up barricades or booby trapping the areas. Odors that might attract the pet back to the area can be reduced or removed with commercial odor counteractants. Be certain to use a sufficient amount of the odor eliminator to reach all areas where the urine has had time to soak in. The appeal of the substrate can be reduced by changing the surface covering (a plastic runner with nubs up, taking up the carpet, or electronic mats).

“Your dog must never be allowed access to indoor sites where it has previously eliminated unless you are there to supervise.”

Feeding schedules can be regulated to improve owner control over the elimination of stool. After a dog eats, it will usually need to eliminate in 15 to 30 minutes. Dogs that eat free-choice often need to relieve themselves at a variety of times throughout the day. Dogs that eat one or two scheduled meals each day often void in a more predictable manner therefore in house soiling problems free choice feeding is not recommended. Feeding a low-residue diet may also be of benefit because the dog often has less urgency to defecate and produces fewer stools.

“Dogs that eat one or two scheduled meals each day often void in a more predictable manner.”

The dog that eliminates in its crate poses special problems. In these cases, crates and cages may not be the ideal training aid. Since the purpose of the crate is to provide a safe, comfortable area for the dog to “curl up and relax”, it is not appropriate for dogs that are anxious about entering or staying in their cage. While this can be overcome with training techniques, it may be better to confine these dogs to a room where the dog would normally play or eat, or to an area or room where the dog naps and sleeps. Your dog must never be allowed access to indoor sites where it has previously eliminated unless you are there to supervise.

If the dog has reduced control due to its physical health, scheduling changes may need to be made. Some owners may be able to arrange their schedules so that more frequent trips to the elimination area can be provided. Alternatively, a dog walker or doggy day care may need to be considered. If the owner cannot accommodate the dog’s decreased control, installing a doggy door or providing a papered area may be necessary.

When age-related cognitive decline is suspected, a drug trial with selegiline or feeding a diet enriched with antioxidants and designed to help with cognitive impairment may be useful in conjunction with retraining techniques.

How can I determine whether the soiling is due to separation anxiety?

To try and differentiate house soiling from separation anxiety, it may be necessary for the owner to keep records of when and where the elimination occurs. If the elimination takes place when the owner is gone, or the dog is prevented from being near the owner, separation anxiety should be considered. Dogs with separation anxiety generally do not feel comfortable if separated from their owners and may begin to pace, circle, bark, whine, or display other signs of anxiety as the owner prepares to leave. Distress vocalization, salivating and destructive behavior are more common signs of separation anxiety and one or more are usually seen along with the house soiling. Dogs with separation anxiety may urinate or defecate shortly after the owner departs, even if they have just recently eliminated outdoors. A videotape of the departure can help to determine if the house soiling behavior appears to be anxiety related.

If the house soiling dog exhibits separation anxiety, treatment should be directed not only at reestablishing proper elimination habits (see above), but also at the underlying separation anxiety. Drug therapy may be useful in those cases where anxiety is a contributing factor. It should be noted that punishment at homecoming is not only useless for correcting a problem that has occurred during the owner’s absence, but also serves to add to the pet’s anxiety during future departures and homecomings.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior and Training – Traveling – Air and Car Travel

An increasing number of pet owners are taking their dogs with them when they travel by car or airplane rather than leaving them behind. On a day to day basis, there may be some places where your dog may accompany you, whether you are visiting friends, going to work, or taking the dog to the groomer, veterinarian or doggy day care. On the other hand, it is not always practical to take your dog with you; at these times, you may have to take your pet to a boarding kennel.

Why is confinement training necessary before travel?

If you are about to introduce your dog to an unfamiliar form of travel it is likely to cause some degree of fear or anxiety. By training your dog to be relaxed and comfortable when confined, whether it is in a crate or by means of a seat belt or harness in a car, you can reduce its fear and anxiety. In addition, it will be safer for both you and your dog if the dog has already learned how to be calm and settled in the confinement area.

“If you are about to introduce your dog to an unfamiliar form of travel, it is likely to cause some degree of fear or anxiety.”

Some dogs travel well in the car but others do not. They may salivate, become restless, whine, howl, bark, pace, seek your attention or physical contact (which can be dangerous if you are the driver) and may even vomit, urinate or pass stools. Similarly, plane travel can be extremely stressful for some dogs. You may be able to predict this in advance if you know your dog’s temperament and how it reacts to car travel or being placed in a crate. Even if you expect your dog to handle a plane ride with minimum distress, you cannot be certain how the unfamiliar location, unfamiliar handlers, separation from the owners, pressure and temperature changes, unfamiliar noises, and the presence of other animals may affect your pet. However, what you can predict and control is how your dog reacts to its travel crate.

How can I prepare my dog for travel in an airplane?

Travel requirements for pets vary between airlines and destinations. It is important to check with your airline well in advance, and if you will be traveling internationally, to also check what the importation rules are for your destination country. In most cases dogs must travel in the cargo compartment of the airplane (except for some small dogs in carriers and services dogs that can travel with their owners).

“Travel requirements for pets vary between airlines and destinations.”

In most cases it will be necessary for your dog to travel in an airline approved carrier; therefore, your first step is to teach your dog to relax in a small, confined area, ideally in the appropriate-sized crate. You might also desensitize your dog to sounds by using recordings of airplanes. If your pet appears to be anxious, proceed slowly, and gradually increase the noise volume and the time in the carrier. You may need to start with the crate door open, spending time near your dog while it remains in the crate, giving favored toys and treats in the crate or by placing a piece of your clothing in the crate along with the dog’s bedding.

How can I train my dog to travel safely in my car?

A dog traveling in a car should always be restrained in some way to increase safety and a leash always used when removing the dog from the car to avoid escape or injury. There are several ways that you can travel quietly and safely with your dog, including using a carrier or crate, a harness or seat belt, or a head halter. Any of these devices will help to ensure the safety and security of both the pet and the driver. However, while these devices can help you to calm the pet during car travel, they may initially increase anxiety if do not take the time to train your pet to accept the restraint. Choose the device that you feel will be most appropriate for both restraining and calming your dog. If you plan to use a seat belt or harness, begin in a quiet home environment without distractions and slowly condition your dog to wear the restraint, using favorite rewards. Once your dog is conditioned to the crate or restraint device, you can proceed to training and rewarding your dog while wearing the seat belt or resting in its crate in the car.

What should I do if my dog is unsettled, anxious, or vocalizes in the car?

The first step is to determine what will be the most practical way for the dog to travel in the car. Traveling in a crate or attached to a seat belt provides the greatest safety for the dog and the passengers, but the pet will first need to be conditioned to rest in its crate or wear the seat belt harness in the home.

In fact, by desensitization and counter-conditioning the dog to the seat belt or crate before proceeding to the car, these devices may help to improve success and reduce anxiety in the car. Some dogs may feel less anxious if they are not restrained in a crate or with a seat belt; this is only acceptable if you can ensure that there is no risk to the dog or the passengers when you drive. Some owners choose to use a dividing grid to block their dog’s access to the front of the vehicle. Another option is to have a second passenger restrain and train the dog with a leash and a head halter.

The next step is to use a desensitization and counter-conditioning protocol to train your dog to gradually accept and enjoy being in the car, before even turning on the engine or beginning to move. Begin this phase of training by teaching the dog to enter the car for favored treats, toys, affection or play, with the engine off. For most dogs this training can begin in the garage or driveway. However if your dog might be less anxious about entering the car in a different location (e.g., at a friend’s home or at the park) you can begin training in these areas. If you will be using a crate or seat belt for confinement or restraint, then, with the car stationary and the engine off, proceed to place the dog in the crate or seat belt while giving favored treats, toys or affection. Once the pet will settle and calm with the engine off, the desensitization and counterconditioning program can proceed to the next step, which is turning on the engine while offering the favored rewards.

“By desensitization and counter-conditioning the dog to the seat belt or crate before proceeding to the car, these devices may help to improve success and reduce anxiety in the car.”

In some cases, a leash and head halter might be a more practical means to get the dog to settle and calm in the car, with or without the use of a crate or seat belt. Or, you may choose to begin desensitization and counter-conditioning with the head halter, seat belt or crate in the home, while playing a recording of a car engine. When you can train your dog to relax and take rewards in the car with the engine running, gradually increase the time the dog remains relaxed in the car before giving the rewards. Your next steps are engaging the car into gear, briefly moving back or forth in the driveway and slowly increasing the length of the drive. With some dogs you may be able to proceed to short drives much quicker if you utilize a head halter and consistently and repeatedly take your dog to one of its favored destinations such as the park or to visit a family member. When you begin, avoid trips that are too long or result in an outcome that is unpleasant to your dog (such as a groomer or veterinary visit).

Make sure you do not reinforce attention seeking or anxious behaviors by giving attention; only reinforce your dog when it is relaxed and settled. This requires ignoring your dog until it settles, using commands that achieve settled behaviors, or using a leash and head halter to more quickly settle the dog. Settled behaviors should then earn the most desired reward (treats, toys, or your attention).

What can I do if I do not have time to train my dog?

It is always better to train your dog prior to any travel; however, in most cases this is not practical. A new puppy is usually brought home in a car, and requires further travel when you make trips to the veterinarian or puppy classes. Fortunately most puppies will quickly adapt to these situations if the outcome of the trip is enjoyable and if you ignore attention seeking or anxious behavior, while reinforcing calm or relaxed behavior. This is most easily accomplished if you have your puppy wear a head halter or confine it to a carrier or crate.

What else can I use to make my dog less stressed while traveling?

You can reduce stress associated with new situations by using a familiar crate and bedding and favorite toys. Also you can try using Dog Appeasing Pheromone (AdaptilTM) spray in the kennel or placing a AdaptilTM collar on your dog. This pheromone may help reduce your dog’s anxiety and fear. One study found that aromatherapy might also aid in calming the pet. Other natural alternatives have also been suggested, but unless there is data to support their efficacy, anecdotal recommendations should not be considered reliable.

Can I use sedatives or other medication for my dog for car and air travel?

This is certainly an option if your dog cannot relax during travel and may injure or harm itself. However, you should talk to your veterinarian first to assess your dog’s health and consider a medication trial at home or in the veterinary hospital before actually traveling.

“Trial dosing to determine the correct drug dose and its duration of effect is best accomplished before the actual date of the trip.”

The correct dose and duration of effects of sedatives vary greatly between individuals and some dogs actually become more agitated or anxious with these drugs. Therefore, trial dosing to determine the correct drug dose and its duration of effect is best accomplished before the actual date of the trip. For some dogs, drugs such as antidepressants may be helpful over the long term, but antidepressants need to be given for several weeks to achieve optimum effect. This treatment is most practical if you are planning a long trip or an extended vacation with your pet. Sedatives are another option for some pets, since they can reduce nausea and may help your pet to sleep through the trip. However, these drugs do not reduce anxiety and can reduce blood pressure and the ability to regulate body temperature. While they might be useful and effective for car rides in healthy pets, they are generally not indicated for most pets for airline travel.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior and Training – Training Products – To Choke or Not to Choke

What is a good way to train my dog?

The goal of training is to teach the pet a response that is desirable and to associate a command word with that behavior. To be successful, you must first be able to get the pet to exhibit the desired behavior reliably before adding the command. To achieve this, the owner can use a lure such as a food or toy (lure-reward training) or a target training to encourage or lead the dog to the correct response. Alternately, training devices such as a head halter and leash can be used to prompt the dog into the response. The dog should then be rewarded. Although primary reinforcers such as food or a favored toy should be used initially to immediately mark the desired response, over time secondary reinforcers (e.g., lesser treats, praise) should replace these. Over time the training can then progress to gradually more complex or more accurate responses (shaping). Two of the most effective ways of immediately marking the desired response is the release associated with head halter training (negative reinforcement) or the use of a clicker as a positive reinforcer.

What about punishing the incorrect behavior?

Unfortunately, punishment is still being used inappropriately as a training method. When properly used, punishment is intended to reduce or decrease behaviors rather than training or encouraging what is desirable. Therefore punishment cannot be used in training since it does not teach or encourage the pet to exhibit what is desirable. In other words, it does not teach the pet what “to do”. Punishment can also cause fear, anxiety, increased aggression and discomfort or harm to the pet. Some dogs may even retaliate or defend themselves by attacking the person who is administering the punishment. Therefore, it is not a logical, scientifically sound, or acceptable method of training and may in fact be counterproductive.

“Punishment cannot be used in training because it does not teach or encourage the pet to exhibit what is desirable.”

What is perhaps confusing is that many dogs appear to have been successfully trained with punishment. However, many of these dogs have been trained to cease undesirable behavior but have not been trained to exhibit behaviors that are desirable. Dogs that have been trained with punishment may be fearful of misbehaving in the trainer’s presence or with a particular training device (e.g., a prong collar) of punishment. Thus the behaviors may only be suppressed with a particular person (i.e., one man dog) or with a particular training device (e.g., prong collar) but the dog has not been improved nor perhaps has the underlying motivation to perform the behavior been changed. Some dogs that appear to have been trained with punishment have actually been trained with negative reinforcement where the discomfort is applied until the desired behavior is achieved and then immediately released when the correct response is displayed. This is a difficult concept to teach and requires “impeccable” timing. In addition, aversive devices are uncomfortable and have the potential for abuse and undue pain. On the other hand, dogs trained with rewards and shaping should respond to the commands of any family member as long as the commands are consistent and positive.

What types of training devices are available?

There are a wide variety of leash, halter, and harness systems that can be used for walking and training. In fact, a control device attached to the head, neck or body is essential when leash control is mandatory (i.e., in communities with “leash laws”), as well as for those dogs that do not yet stay with the owners or come (recall) consistently on command. Choke, pinch and prong collars have been designed to control and train in a manner that makes it increasingly uncomfortable if the dog does not obey. As the dog pulls forward, or the owner pulls backward on the leash, the collar tightens around the neck and may put pressure against the trachea. Therefore, the more the pet pulls, the greater the discomfort and the greater the chance of tracheal damage. In addition, recent studies have shown that these products may lead to an increase in intraocular pressure (pressure within the eyes), which would be dangerous to dogs that might be prone to glaucoma. With a leash and neck restraint, the dog can use its neck muscles and forelegs to propel itself forward. Choke collar training may be useful as a means of negative reinforcement.

“Choke, pinch, and prong collars are primarily used to correct or punish undesirable behavior.”

This can be accomplished by giving the appropriate command and pulling on the choke collar until the pet exhibits the desired response, and immediately releasing as soon as the dog complies (obeys). In other words release from discomfort indicates to the dog that the desired response is now being exhibited. Unfortunately, since many owners are unskilled, untrained or unsuccessful in the use of negative reinforcement, the choke, pinch, and prong collars are primarily used to correct or punish undesirable behavior. Jerks, pops and increasing tension on these collars increase fear or anxiety which may make the pet increasingly more anxious even if they cause sufficient discomfort to stop the behavior. With repeated exposure and training, the dog’s fear and anxiety may actually increase each time it is exposed to the stimulus (because previous exposures have been uncomfortable or aversive). Conversely, some dogs may become so accustomed (desensitized) to the effects of the choke or pinch device that it becomes ineffective. Although many trainers still train with devices that are intended to pull, jerk, choke, punish or “correct,” the most effective and humane means of training is through motivation, positive reinforcement, and shaping.

Body harnesses or head halter restraint are two alternatives to neck collars. Some body harnesses merely serve as restraint devices while others such as the Gentle Leader®, Easy WalkTM, or the HaltiTM Sensation or Sensible body harnesses have all been designed to stop pulling since the leash attaches at the center of the dogs chest and can be used to pull the dog in the direction you want him or her to go. Previously, products such as the LupiTM and Sporn harnesses were used to stop pulling. They attached above the dog’s back and encircled the front legs, but these caused discomfort or pulled the forelegs backward to stop pulling and are therefore more uncomfortable and less effective at calming and controlling the dog. Products that control the head can also be used to stop pulling and change the dog’s direction as well as to close the mouth and train the dog to focus on the owners.

Are there different types of head halters?

Broadly speaking there are two types of head halters. By far the most common are ones that act like a horse’s head collar with the lead attached under the chin. These work on the principle that wherever the head goes the body will follow. Also available are head halters where the leash attaches behind the head such as the Canny CollarTM or the New Trix Easy WayTM. Although these may work well to control pulling, they may not providesufficient mouth and muzzle control for improving undesirable behavior. The Gentle Leader® has both a neck and nose strap adjustment, so that it can be used either to control the dog when the owner is holding the leash, or with a leash or “drag” line left attached and dangling, for immediate “remote” control. Therefore it might also be referred to as a head collar. Similarly the Snoot LoopTM might be fitted to remain on the dog with a leash attached, since it has side adjustments to allow for a snugger muzzle fit. The HaltiTM is a head halter that is an effective leash control device, but might be pulled off if the dog is not properly supervised since it does not have an adjustable nose strap.

How might I use a head collar/head halter for control?

One of the most effective means of gaining control, and ensuring that the pet responds quickly to each command is to use a leash and head halter such as the Gentle Leader® for training. With the Gentle Leader®, the owner gains control through pressure exerted behind the neck and around the muzzle. The head halter acts as a tool to help achieve the desired response without punishment and to communicate the owner’s intentions. With a gentle pull in the right direction the pet can be prompted to exhibit the desired response,which can then be immediately reinforced. Although animals as large as horses are commonly managed with devices that control the head and muzzle, since “where the nose goes the body follows”, most dog owners continue to try and control dogs with neck restraint (often with limited success).

“In one study, puppies that wore head halters were less likely to be relinquished as adults for undesirable behavior.”

With a head halter the owner can gain eye contact and reorient the dog to perform the desirable response with a minimum of physical effort (“power steering”). With the head halter properly fitted and the leash slack, the dog is not restricted from panting, eating, drinking, chewing, barking, jumping up, biting, lunging forward, or stealing from the table or the garbage. On the other hand, with a leash attached, the head halter can be used to prevent or immediately curtail problems such as food stealing, garbage raiding, jumping up, house soiling, barking, and chewing. Outdoor problems such as digging or stool eating can be prevented or interrupted by leaving a head halter attached to a longer outdoor line. The head halter and remote leash can also be used to prompt the dog to respond to a command (e.g., “come,” “sit,” “watch” or “focus,” “quiet” for barking). A release indicates to the dog that it is performing the desired behavior. Although head halters may be used as a training aid for all dogs, they are particularly useful for dogs that are not immediately responsive to commands, and for most behavior problems including fears, phobias and aggression. They are also particularly useful in dogs of any age, including puppies that are excitable, unruly or difficult to train, and those that exhibit undesirable oral behaviors including chewing and play biting. In one study, puppies that wore head halters were less likely to be relinquished as adults for undesirable behavior.

How does the head halter work?

Pets tend to oppose or pull against pressure. Dogs that walk or lunge ahead of their owners are therefore more likely to pull even harder if the owner pulls back on the leash. Therefore when the owner pulls upward and forward the dog is likely to move backward into a sit. In addition, the mouth will be closed, and the dog’s attention can be refocused on the owner and away from the target of its distraction (or misbehavior). A continuous pull rather than a tug or jerk should be used until the desired behavior is achieved. The second hand can also be used to gently guide the head into position. Immediately releasing tension then indicates to the dog that it is now responding acceptably. Dogs can also be directed away from the stimulus toward which they might be fearful or aggressive with a pull on the head halter. This not only turns the dog’s head toward the owners but also closes the mouth if enough tension is applied.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior and Training – Training Dogs – Head Halter Training

Why should I halter train my dog?

Head halters are commonly used as an alternative to neck control collars and have many advantages. Firstly, they make control easier, requiring less physical effort, so you don’t end up battling with your pet or trying to save your shoulders from being pulled out of their sockets when going for a walk like you do when using a flat neck collar.

“Where the nose goes, the body follows.”

The head halter has a strap that encircles the muzzle, and where the nose goes the body follows (“power steering for dogs”). Secondly, dogs pulling on neck collars can injure themselves as the collar presses into the trachea and neck. In addition, ocular pressure (pressure within the eyes) may increase with pressure against a neck collar, which may prove a risk to dogs with glaucoma. Dogs that pull may also be at greater risk of becoming aggressive to strangers or dogs that they meet on walks if they are punished or choked each time they meet a new person or animal. Thirdly, some head halters give you control over the dog’s mouth, which may help control barking, turn the head away from the stimulus and reduce the risk of dog biting. However, if you know your pet has an aggression problem, a muzzle may be more suitable as it will prevent biting without having to rely on owner control.

How do head halters work?

The head halter is an excellent aid for control and training. However, it is primarily a tool to help you achieve success. Some time and effort will be needed for your dog to adapt to wearing a head halter, and for you to ensure that it is fitted and used correctly. Although it may be possible to use the head halter successfully with the aid of the support materials that accompany the head halter (along with this handout), additional guidance from a trainer who is familiar with head halter use may help to ensure success.

Briefly, head halters work by applying pressure behind the neck and around the muzzle so that the pet can be prompted to display the desired response. As soon as the desired response is achieved, the release of tension (negative reinforcement) and the presentation of a reward (positive reinforcement) can be used to increase the chance of the pet repeating the behavior as it learns the target behavior that achieves reinforcement. As soon as the pet responds reliably, verbal cues/ commands can be added. Because pets tend to pull against pressure, a strategic but gentle pull in just the right direction may be all that is needed to get your pet moving in the opposite direction.

How do I use a head halter to aid in the training of desirable behaviors such as a sit, relaxed walk, quiet, turn around, back up, and down?

With a few inches of slack on the leash the dog can be taught to walk on a loose leash by gently pulling the head back and releasing when the dog is walking by your side, or by pulling forward which should cause the dog to back up. Pulling gently to the side will reorient the dog’s head away from the stimulus and toward the owner (turn away, focus). Pulling more firmly will close the mouth to stop barking or biting, while a pull upward and forward (with the aid of the second hand cupped under the chin if necessary) should ensure a sit. Slight modification to the head position can then be used to teach the dog to maintain eye contact (focus/watch). Should the pet start to rise, a gentle pull upward and forward should help to maintain the sit, provided the release is properly timed to occur as soon as the sit is achieved.

“A gentle continuous pull rather than a jerk should be used to achieve the desired behavior.”

Interestingly many dogs will move into a protracted and settled down when they realize that they are unable to rise from the sit. A gentle continuous pull rather than a jerk should be used to achieve the desired behavior. Once success is achieved, training should proceed to varied environments and slightly more complex tasks (e.g., teaching the dog to sit during greeting rather than jumping up).

How do I use head halters to help manage undesirable behaviors?

The head halter can also serve as a tool to interrupt undesirable behavior and achieve the desirable response during training. For example, the head halter and leash can be used to prompt the dog to be quiet when barking, or to “stop” puppy mouthing. Similarly a pull on the leash can be used to immediately curtail pulling, barking, chewing, stealing, stool eating and some forms of aggression. With a long leash left attached, the head halter can also be used to interrupt behaviors from afar such as garbage raiding, house soiling or digging.

Aren’t halters irritating to dogs?

Halters themselves are not cruel, but like any collar they can cause irritation if a little time is not spent fitting the halter properly and training your animal to accept wearing it. If the guidelines below are followed, your pet should actually enjoy wearing the halter. The most common errors are to immediately think your dog will accept the new sensation on its face, and allowing it to get the halter off. Critical issues are to ensure proper fitting, to apply the head halter in association with something positive, to prevent the dog from removing the halter until it is settled, and to use the halter properly so that keeping the dog in the loose leash/released position rather than pulling on the head halter should be the focus of training.

How do I get my dog to feel comfortable wearing a head halter?

1. Show your dog the halter, let him sniff to investigate it, and hold a treat through the open noseband so he voluntarily puts his nose through the A gentle continuous pull rather than a jerk should be used to achieve the desired behavior ring. Repeat this procedure several times with the strap resting on the dog’s nose for increasingly longer times before the treat is given. This starts to build a positive association with the muzzle loop. Some dogs may need to first associate the sight of the head halter and touching the head halter (target training) before applying over the nose.

2. With the Gentle Leader® head halter, the neck strap can be fitted separately from the nose band. Before proceeding to attaching the full halter, adjust the neck strap as with most other neck collars, but be sure to ensure a snug fit (see fitting below).

3. Gradually expect more from your pet when you introduce the halter. Put the halter on and reward your dog with it on and again when you take it off. Slowly increase the time you leave it on and practice feeding treats with the halter on, but only when he is not pawing or rubbing at the collar. You may be able to keep your dog distracted by playing a game, giving treats or going for a short walk with the leash attached to the neck collar. Alternately you can leave the leash attached and use a gentle pull if your dog tries to paw at or pull off the head halter.

4. Next you can apply the head halter and lead, and leave the leash trailing. You should aim to work towards keeping your dog haltered for about 5 to 10 minutes. Try to keep your dog distracted and playing and give rewards when he is not focusing on the head halter.

5. When you first begin to use the lead to control your dog, make sure your dog’s attention is focused on you. You should be animated and talk to him continuously, with lots of verbal praise. This also serves as a distraction from the halter, which reduces the chances of him pawing at it. You can use a lure or target and many small tasty rewards to keep your dog focused and on task. Training can begin indoors, in your yard or on a short walk. Make sure you frequently change directions by applying gentle tension to the lead while keeping up the praise and treats. Alternatively you might play a game such as turning circles, in which your pet is encouraged to gently turn in one direction then the other. In this way your dog learns that you have control of the head with light pressure and verbal commands.

6. Never remove the halter when your pet is trying to remove it. He can be encouraged to leave it alone by a slight tug on a lead. When he relaxes, the halter can be removed. Consider whether you are expecting too much too soon. The important rule is to work at a rate that your pet can accept and cope with. This may mean that the whole program may take a few days rather than a few minutes.

7. In some cases, a faster acclimating technique may be preferred. First adjust and fit the neck strap and then take it off. Next, using treats or a favored toy as a lure, distraction and reward, slip the nose strap over the nose and continue to distract the dog with the treats or toy while attaching the neck strap. Then, using a leash, favored food treats and plenty of praise, it may be possible to play with your dog or take him for a short walk while he gets accustomed to the head halter. By making the walk fun, keeping the pet distracted and using food rewards to mark the desirable response, many pets will adapt to the head halter by the end of the first training session.

How do I fit and use the head halter?

The keys to head halter success are to ensure proper fitting, to understand how to apply and release pressure in training, and to understand the proper use of rewards. Here is a brief overview for fitting and use of the Gentle Leader®.

“The keys to head halter success are to ensureproper fitting, to understand how to apply and release pressure in training, and to understand the proper use of rewards.”

Ensure proper fit: The head halter should fit high against the back of the skull and snug enough that it will not slip around the neck when the leash is pulled. By ensuring a snug fit of the neck strap, the nose band can be adjusted so that there is little or no constriction. When first applying the head halter, it can be helpful to first ensure that the neck strap is properly adjusted, and then remove the neck collar. Next, offer food treats through the nose loop and when the dog extends its nose through the loop. Give the treats to reward and distract the dog while attaching the neck strap.

Get the desired response: By constantly maintaining a few inches of slack on the leash, only a short gentle pull should be needed to get the desired response. A pull up and forward can achieve eye contact (for target training, control, and safety), close the mouth, and get the dog to heel, sit or focus. As soon as the desired response can be consistently achieved, a cue word (command) can then be added.

Motivate: An encouraging calm voice, targeting, and appealing eye contact should be used to help motivate the pet to respond. Positive reinforcement is then given when the dog responds appropriately.

Use command training: If the owner gives a command and the dog does not immediately respond, the head halter is pulled immediately and gently (but firm enough to succeed) to achieve the desired response (sit, heel, quiet). The owner then releases tension as soon as the desired response is achieved. If the desired response is maintained, a reward is given immediately (e.g., food, clicker, toy, praise, stroking) to mark the correct response so that future success is ultimately driven by rewards. In practice, the behavior should not be given a name or command until you can reliably achieve the desired behavior.

Pull – release – reward: By pulling on the head halter, the desired behavior can be quickly achieved and the pressure released when the response has been achieved. As the owner releases (by letting out a small amount of slack), the dog may then continue to exhibit the desired response (for which a reward should be given) or may begin to resume the undesirable response (e.g., tries to stand, lunge ahead, bark), in which case the pull (tension) should be reapplied. In some cases it may take numerous repetitions of the pull and release to get the desired response but the total time to achieve success might not be much more than a few seconds. By releasing only a small amount of slack, it will require only a slight pull to regain control.

How do I use the head halter to treat behavior problems?

Once the head halter is fitted properly and can be used successfully to achieve a relaxed sit and heel in the absence of any distractions, the owner can proceed to more complex tasks and more difficult environments.

“The owner can proceed to more complex tasks and more difficult environments.”

To achieve a relaxed sit and focus, the dog can be taught to sit and stay for gradually longer periods of time before the reward is given. The leash should be relaxed with a few inches of slack, but if the dog begins to rise or break focus a gentle pull up and forward should be used to maintain the sit. For most problems, training should then proceed to greater degrees of relaxation, by watching the dog’s body postures and breathing, and reinforcing only when sufficiently relaxed. The owner can then begin to move away from the dog (still maintaining only an inch or two of slack) to train the dog to stay and not to follow or lunge forward.

To teach a relaxed down, the dog is reinforced for lying in place with a short amount of slack on the leash, and reinforced for gradually longer down times. If the dog begins to rise during the session the leash is used to maintain the down position. Rewards are given and the dog released to rise at the end of each session. As with sit/focus, the goal is to reinforce gradually longer and increasingly more relaxed sessions of downtime. Relaxation can be observed by monitoring breathing and body postures (e.g., lying over onto one hip). Another useful command is to teach the dog to go to its mat or bed and stay in place until released. Again progressively longer and more relaxed behavior should be reinforced before release.

Once the dog will settle and relax in a sit, down, or on its bed, these commands can be used as part of a program to improve undesirable behavior. Since the goal of retraining is to teach the dog the desired response, rather than to punish undesirable behavior, the commands and head halter can be used to help achieve success. For example the dog can be trained to sit and focus or to lie down calmly when visitors come to the front door and be reinforced for proper greeting behavior.

Similarly, if the dog is trained with a head halter and rewards to walk with a slack leash by the owner’s side (heel), then the heel exercise (or sit and focus) and the head halter can be used to keep the dog calm and under control in environments where it might lunge or jump up during a walk.

When the person or animal approaching cannot be effectively controlled, or if there is a limit to how close your dog can approach another dog or person, the goal is to end each exposure with a calm and positive outcome. Teaching the dog to back up can usually be accomplished quite quickly with head halter training by pulling forward on the leash and taking a step or two backward. Lures and targets can be used to more quickly achieve the desired outcome, as long as the pet is immediately rewarded with a release (and a positive reinforcer if available) as soon as it backs up a few steps. Make a game of the back up exercise so that the pet can eventually move back 20 paces or more on command. Similarly if the pet is beginning to pull ahead and it needs to be removed from the situation, a command such as “let’s go” can be extremely effective at both preventing confrontation and diffusing anxiety. While walking on a loose leash, teach your dog to turn and follow you by saying a command such as “let’s go” or turn around and begin to walk in the other direction. A lure or target may quickly achieve these goals in a positive way, but a gentle pull on the head halter (and a release and positive reinforcer as the dog begins to follow) can ensure that the head is turned in the direction of the owner and reward and away from the stimulus. These two commands help to ensure that a positive outcome can be achieved with each exposure by using the “back up” or “let’s go” just before the pet gets anxious or at the very least to calmly remove the pet from a potentially problematic situation should problems begin to arise.

For specific applications and problems, see our other handouts. For more details on fitting and use of the Gentle Leader®, see

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Dog Behavior and Training – Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training

Why should I teach my dog to settle?

Many behavior problems have a component of fear, anxiety or excessive arousal so that retraining cannot begin until a calm, relaxed state can be achieved on cue. Training should focus on both the behavioral response (sit, down, walk, stay on your mat) as well as the emotional state (calm, relaxed). In fact, until you can get your pet to focus and relax on cue in the absence of the stimuli that evoke anxiety or arousal, it is not practical to attempt to get your pet to relax in the presence of these stimuli.

“A good place to start is with a new set of cues that help both the pet and you to understand what behavior is desired.”

Once the dog has learned to settle on cue, it should be possible to begin exposure to gradually more intense stimuli (see Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning). The settle command could be used to achieve a focused response when the dog is overly excited or anxious such as when greeting family members, strangers or other animals. It can also be used when dogs become anxious as the owners prepare to depart or become overly excited when company arrives or when preparing for a walk.

How does settle training work?

Training your dog to respond to a verbal cue or command, or when it sees a visual cue, might be described as cueresponse-reward or command-response-reward training. Generally the sequence is: to find a means of ensuring that the pet will immediately and consistently exhibit the desired behavior; to reinforce the behavior; and then to add a cue prior to the behavior. Some of the behaviors that can be useful to place on command, especially for pets with behavior problems, are sit, down, heel, and go to your mat.

A good place to start is with a new set of cues that help both the pet and you to understand what behavior is desired. Rather than “sit,” you might use a “watch,” “steady,” “focus,” or “chill” command. Similarly, instead of “down,” a “relax,” “settle,” or “SOFT” command might be considered (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises). “Follow” or “heel” (see Teaching Loose Leash Walks, Backing Up, and Turning Away) should be used for a calm, loose leash walk, and “go to your mat” should mean go settle down in your bed.

How do I get started?

Before you start training your dog, you must make sure your dog is sufficiently exercised and has an enriched daily routine (see Enrichment, Predictability, and Scheduling). Your dog must have a daily routine that includes walk/play times, feeding, time playing alone, and sleeping times. Furthermore, your dog should know what behaviors earn him a reward (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards). Training a dog to settle and focus should begin in an environment where your dog is calm and there are minimal or no distractions. Although the sequence for training is to (a) give the command, (b) get the desired response (using one of the techniques described below), and (c) give clear and immediate reinforcement, training cannot begin until you have a means by which the target behavior can be reliably and consistently achieved.

There are a variety of different methods by which the initial response can be achieved. In most cases food, a toy, or a visual target (which has been associated with favored food treats) can be used to lure the pet into the desired response. Alternately, a physical device such as a leash and head halter can be used to physically prompt the dog to display the target behavior, along with immediate relaxation of tension as soon as the desired response is exhibited (see Training Products – Head Halter Training). Another option is reinforce the desired behavior when it is exhibited spontaneously and then to add a cue word just prior to the response (this technique is often used when training a pet to eliminate on cue). A SOFT relaxation exercise (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises and TTouch®) can also be used to achieve a relaxed response. Food, affection, a favored toy, or a clicker (see Clicker and Target Training) can all serve as rewards if they are consistently given immediately following the behavior. These rewards should be withheld except for training (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards). Over time, the behavior can be gradually shaped for greater relaxation or longer duration.

How do I achieve a relaxed state?

Once the desired response is achieved, the goal of settle and relax training is to shape gradually more settled and relaxed responses. This can be accomplished by saving favored rewards exclusively for training and immediately reinforcing the pet for the desired response. With each subsequent training session, responses of gradually longer duration and of gradually increasing relaxation should be reinforced. You will need to focus on your dog’s facial expressions, body postures and breathing in order to determine the pet’s level of relaxation (e.g., sitting with one leg tucked under the body, relaxed facial muscles, breathing regularly and slowly), before giving rewards and proceeding to gradually more successful outcomes. Clicker training can be particularly effective for marking and reinforcing gradually more desirable increments of behavior. A leash and head halter can be used to ensure success before release and reward. In order to achieve and maintain a calm response, the person doing the training must remain calm, relaxed and soft-spoken, and environment must be free of distractions. Remember, while you might be teaching the pet to sit/stay or down/stay, what you really want to emphasize is a relaxed emotional state.

How do I teach my dog “look,” “watch me,” or “focus”?

  • Show your dog a favored toy or treat and then hide it behind your back. Have your back against the wall or be in a corner so the dog can’t get behind you. An alternative method is to hide the treat in your closed hand in front of your chest in a line between your dog’s eyes and your eyes. On the first attempt it would be acceptable to show the puppy the toy or treat.
  • Say “look” or “focus” and as soon as your dog stops its attempt to get the treat and makes eye contact, use your reward or clicker and give the treat. Repeat to improve consistency and immediacy. It may be necessary to guide the dog by using your hand and bringing it up to your eyes. As the dog follows your hand, give the key word and reward eye contact.
  • For some owners it might be more practical and desirable to reward the behavior only when the dog is in the sitting position.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you require eye contact to last and then start adding distractions in the background, like people playing, a fridge door opening, etc. Your dog only gets rewarded after maintaining (e.g., not breaking) eye contact with you. Once the dog is consistent in giving the correct response even when there are distractions, go to other places (outside) and add mild distractions, such as another dog nearby or children playing. After each successful session gradually increase the distractions and work in busier environments.
  • The goal is for your dog to maintain eye contact on cue with the key phrase for several minutes, regardless of the amount of distraction and background activity.
  • Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).

How do I teach my dog to “settle” in a down position?

  • Another exercise would be train the dog to lie down in a relaxed position, on its belly with both hind legs on the same side. In some cases it may be useful to have the pet put their head on the ground as well. This could be accomplished using food lure training (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards), leash and head halter (see Training Products – Head Halter Training), or a physical exercise (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises).
  • Gradually progress to longer down stays in a variety of environments, and then gradually increase the background noise and distractions. Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).
  • It may also be useful to teach “settle” in a sit position for training while on walks.

How do I teach a settle location (e.g., “go to your bed”)?

“The head halter is an extremely effective tool for quickly and reliably achieving the initial behavior and for progressing rapidly.”

  • Training the dog to settle indoors can sometimes be more easily accomplished by using a settle down area. The dog can be taught to “go to your mat or bed” or “go to your kennel” where it learns to stay calmly for favored rewards.
  • Food lure training or target training can be used to achieve the initial response.
  • Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).
  • At first, you may need to leave a leash attached so that your dog can be physically prompted (taken) to the bed or mat, to ensure success and to demonstrate to the pet what behavior will result in a reward. Again, giving rewards at other times will delay learning (learn to earn).
  • If the dog is also taught to sleep in this area and favored toys are kept in the area (and if a favored treat or social interaction is given when the pet voluntarily uses the area), it may soon learn to go to this area to relax on its own.

What other devices or techniques can be used to help me get my dog to relax on cue?

“The person doing the training must remain calm.”

1. The head halter is an extremely effective tool for quickly and reliably achieving the initial behavior and for progressing rapidly to responses of longer duration and greater levels of relaxation. A pull on the leash and head halter, with or without the use of a cupped hand underneath the pets chin can pull the dog into a sit with eye contact for release and positive reinforcement. While releasing the head halter (negative reinforcement) immediately reinforces the behavior, the treat (positive reinforcement) will follow later (with gradually increasing the delay) is used for shaping the behavior. With further training the eye contact can be maintained for progressively longer intervals before reinforcing. Similarly the leash and head halter can be used to achieve a settled down response, with hind legs over to one side. A settled down of increasingly longer duration and greater relaxation can then be shaped with rewards. With the leash and head halter, the down position can be maintained until the desired outcome is achieved either by keeping a foot on the leash or by pulling gently upward as the pet begins to rise. The use of the head halter does not preclude the concurrent use of lure reward and clicker training techniques to ensure a desirable outcome. Before using a head halter make sure your dog is well trained to accept and work with it (see Training Products – Head Halter Training, Training Products – Head Halter Training – Synopsis, and Behavior Management Products).

2. Physical exercises: Techniques that use physical contact can help to increase the enjoyment and decrease any fear associated with handling and restraint. In addition, they provide a means for achieving a relaxed state, which might then be used if the dog begins to get excited or aroused. While the physical contact and attention may provide sufficient reinforcement for some dogs, food treats can also be paired with handling to mark and reward the desirable response. TTouch® (see TTouch®) and SOFT exercises (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises) are two physical/interactive exercises that are designed to help pets relax. While these are specific techniques, any physical handling that is associated with a positive outcome can be a valuable training exercise. In addition, by withholding affection when the pet solicits it, it increases its motivational value and usefulness as a reward. See our individual handouts that detail these exercises. Physical exercises are intended to be used only with friendly, non-aggressive dogs. If you think your dog might become aggressive, do not begin without first discussing this with your behavior consultant. If your dog growls or attempts to bite, becomes fearful, or struggles excessively during these exercises, immediately discontinue them and seek the advice of a behaviorist or trainer.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.