Dog Aggression in Rescue Dogs

A Common Problem

One of the most common issues that crop up when rescue dogs enter a new home is dog aggression. This is a problem that is not only frustrating, but can be potentially very dangerous. The intent behind the aggression that a rescue dog might display can vary greatly. Some dogs will bite just to get other dogs out of their space because they do not want to co-exist. Other dogs have the intent to do serious harm, and will not stop at just a bite.

When dog owner’s see dog aggression in rescue dogs, a common assumption is that the dog was a victim of a previous traumatic experience. One of the most popular stories with rescue dogs is that a dog who is fearful or aggressive toward other dogs was a former bait dog. This is a story that has been very popularized in the media, but it doesn’t have much truth in these situations. Bait dogs very rarely survive being a bait dog, and if they do, they have extensive injuries.

One type of experience that can cause aggressive behavior toward other dogs is being attacked by a loose dog. This problem is all to common all around the country, and most people who walk their dog regularly have had some kind of experience with loose dogs running up to them. This situation can absolutely cause a dog to develop insecurities when they see a dog out in public.

Lack of socialization also explains many cases of dog aggression in rescue dogs. It is normal for a dog to react poorly to things that they have not been exposed to when they were in their crucial early socialization period. Dogs that end up in rescue may have missed this window for a variety of reasons. Hoarding and puppy mill situations typically mean that the dog has never left the same place it was born in. Other dogs may end up abandoned or neglected a young age, or they could simply have been with someone who did not commit the time to give the dog what it needed as a puppy.

dog socialization
Socialization is key in showing your dog proper dog communication skills.

Experience vs Genetics

However, there are plenty of dogs who have had less than optimal socialization who still do fine when they see a strange dog. The same can be said for dogs who are generally good natured and get charged by a loose dog. When these triggers cause significant aggression issues, it generally means that there is also a genetic component. Most working breeds have a genetic tendency towards same sex aggression toward other dogs. Terrier and livestock guardian breeds are often naturally inclined to have a zero tolerance policy for strange dogs all-together.

It is important to recognize which things are experience related, and which are due to genetics. We can never make a dog forget what has happened to it, but we can provide lots of good experiences and show the dog how to work out of their issues. Genetics are a different story. Dogs with genetic dog aggression can be managed, but they are who they are.

How Misunderstanding Dog Aggression in Rescue Dogs Can Hurt

Many rescue dogs end up in the wrong home or in bad situations because the reason behind their issues is misunderstood. Well-meaning people may take a dog who is genetically dog aggressive and try to socialize it by taking it to the dog park. This is not only dangerous for the other dogs in the park, but it is unfair to the dog. That dog does not want doggie playmates, and trying to have them make friends is against their nature.

The idea that a dog has had bad past experiences can also lead to trouble. Unfortunately, there are bad things that will happen to some dogs over the course of their life. This can lead you to want to shelter your dog and to make excuses for their behavior. This also does a disservice to your dog, and prevents them from moving forward. Instead, you should acknowledge your dog’s past while working with a professional to build a plan to get your dog through their issues.

The Benefits of Private Dog Training Lessons

Private lessons are one of the most common ways that dog owners can work with a professional trainer. These dog training lessons might occur at a training facility, in your own home, or in a local park. During these sessions, you will work one-on-one with a trainer and your dog, and learn how to teach your dog new things and how to manage their behavior. Most dog trainers offer lessons ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half in length, and generally you will do multiple lessons spread out over a period of time.

Some people are leery of the idea of private lessons because they do require more work from the owner than a program like a board and train. However, there are other aspects of private lesson programs that you may not consider. There are some huge benefits to this type of training, including an increased understanding of your dog and the ability to work with your dog more in your own home environment.

1. Being Involved From Start to Finish

When you participate in a private lesson program, you are right in the mix with your dog from day 1 of training. Your trainer will show you how to start teaching new commands, how to utilize training tools, how to motivate your dog, and how to manage your environment. You will then get to practice these things with your dog every week.

golden retriever puppy

Because you are working with your dog on a daily basis, you will get to establish consistency early. Your dog will get lots of repetitions with you, which is crucial for building habits and eliminating bad behaviors. You will also be able to understand each step in the process, and will have a better understanding of each behavior because you know how it was built.

2. One-on-One Feedback

Traditional dog training lessons are typically thought of as a group class setting. While group classes have their place, they spread the trainer’s attention between several dogs and their owners. When you are doing a private lesson program, you get all of your trainer’s time and attention during the lesson. This means that you get to devote more time to your specific issues.

For example, a group class might have one person struggling with leash pulling, another struggling with jumping on guests, and another who tears up shoes. If you are also dealing with these issues with your dog, you would really benefit from being in that class. However, if your biggest issue with your dog is chasing cars, you only get a few minutes of discussion so that everyone gets addressed.

By enrolling in private dog training lessons, you can have entire lessons focused on car chasing, and eliminate the problem with much more customized work with your trainer. This goes the same way for any major training issue, and is a huge benefit of private lessons.

3. Gradually Adding Distractions

When your dog participates in a group class or board and train, they have to deal with distractions right off the bay. In a group class, you are in a room with 4-6 other dogs and their owners, which can be too much for some dogs when they are just getting started. In board and trains, your dog may need a day or two to adapt to the new environment before they can totally focus.

belgian shepherds

When you do private lessons, it is just you, your dog, and the trainer. This means that you can add distractions whenever your dog is ready, and you can progress at the rate that is best for them. Some dogs can handle distractions very early, others may take a few sessions before they are able to handle it.

4. Setting Your Own Timeline

Group classes are generally 4-6 weeks long, which is a timeline that works great for some dogs, but may not be the right fit for others. You may only be dealing with very minor house training issues or something similar which only take 2-3 lessons to resolve. On the flip side, you may have a dog with more severe behavioral issues that simply won’t be resolved with a 6 week group class. Both of these categories of dogs can be a better fit for private lessons than they are for group classes.

Private Lessons with Kentucky Dog Training LLC

We offer several different programs for private dog training lessons, and they are based on the age and issues that your dog is struggling with.

Puppy Lessons

puppy training lessons

We offer one program for puppies under 6 months of age. You can start this program when your puppy is as young as 8 weeks, and we will cover everything from basic obedience to house training, and anything else you are wanting to know about your puppy.

This program consists of two lessons, and you have the option of customizing the program with additional lessons and day training sessions.

Adult Dogs

We offer programs for adult dogs that range from four lessons all the way to programs that include 10+ lessons.

Out Manners Matter program consists of four lessons, and covers basic manners and the essential obedience commands. This is a great program for dogs who are generally well behaved, but who have a few issues here and there to work on.

The Essentials program consists of six lessons, and covers more advanced obedience commands, and a higher degree of behavior modification. Dog with minor behavioral problems like leash reactivity are a good fit for this program.

The Dream Dog program is for those who need to go above and beyond with ten or more lessons. This is a great program for dogs who have severe behavioral issues, including human aggression, dog aggression, separation anxiety, and other major problems. This is also a great option for those who want complete off leash control, those with service dogs or therapy dogs, and people who want to teach more specific skills that are not covered in the other programs. While some of these lessons might be at our Louisville facility, most will be done in your home or at the park.

If you are interested in our private lesson programs, please contact us and tell us a little bit about your dog.*

Board and Trains in the Media

You may have seen news stories recently about dogs who have gone through board and trains or another type of in-kennel training program. Unfortunately, the situations being shown in these stories are very concerning for dog owners. There have been cases of dogs in board and train programs who get lost, develop medical issues, or were subjected to overly harsh training methods.

Good dog trainers are just as disturbed by these stories as the average pet owner, if not more so. We got into this business because we love dogs, and we want to help dog owners and help them live more harmonious lives with their dogs. We hate to see anything bad happen to a dog, especially when they were entrusted to someone who should have had their best intentions in mind.

Now what you do not see in the news is the thousands and thousands of dogs who thrive in board and trains, and who live much happier lives for having been to training. There are situations where board and trains are by far the best option for a given family and their situation, and unfortunately some dogs are not getting the right help because these horrible situations have made people understandably concerned about their dog living with a trainer.

On the bright side, there are some key things to look for when selecting a trainer that should help you to see if your trainer is legitimate or not. There are also some huge red flags that should send you right out the door.

Things to Look For

  • Clean, well lit, safe facilities. Everybody has their preference in kennel design, but a few things should be part of the design no matter where you go. Everything should be clean and sanitary, and the kennels or crates should be large enough for the dogs to be comfortable. Do not immediately be suspicious if the dogs do not have bedding, as some dogs may have potentially dangerous habits such as shredding and ingesting bedding.
  • The area where the dogs are staying should be kept at a temperature that is safe and comfortable for the dogs. If the dogs are out in the yard, especially in hot summer months, water should always be available. When in their kennels/crates, the dogs should also have water as well. An exception to this would be dogs who are on a schedule due to potty training, which the trainer should be able to easily explain to you.
  • Dog food should be stored somewhere air tight and away from moisture and extreme temperatures.
  • The trainer should be comfortable with you touring and seeing the facility. Most trainers will be appointment only, especially smaller scale operations, because they want to ensure that they are not in the middle of a lesson with a client when you show up to take a tour. Be respectful, especially if the trainer is doing their business out of their home.
  • The dogs should seem calm and relaxed, within reason. Remember that this is a training facility you are visiting, so the dogs may be dealing with any number of behavioral issues. Overall, the dogs should seem happy, clean, and in good condition.
  • Your trainer should be very clear with you about communication and updates. For example, I give clients picture updates every 2-3 days, and videos every 10-12 days. The reason that I do not give pictures every day is that I do not always have my phone on my during sessions, and want to make sure that I am devoting my full attention to the dog. The videos are spaced out like that so that you can really see the progress as time goes on. If a trainer takes your dog home and does not send you updates or won’t return your calls, that calls for a visit.
  • A reasonable visitation policy should be in place. I would never tell anybody that they could not come and visit their dog, but I do have suggestions for the client to make things as easy as possible on the dog. I do ask that clients who want to visit wait until the first week of training is done, so that I can have time to create a bond with the dog. I also suggest that the client come at times that do not conflict with the training schedule, so that I can ensure that the dog still gets what they need out of that day’s training.
  • Your trainer should be able to provide you with photos and videos of dogs who have previously graduated. Look at their reviews and see what people are saying about the results that they have.
  • Your trainer should be very upfront with you about what training methods, tools, etc they are planning on using with your dog. There is nothing inherently wrong with a trainer using most training tools, but there is an inherent problem when it is either being done incorrectly or is being done without your knowledge.

Happy, healthy dogs that have been loved and trained by us.

Red Flags with Board and Trains

  • The trainer will not allow you to visit their facility and see where the dog will be staying.
  • The facilities are a mess, smell bad, or are unhygienic. The dogs are exposed to extreme temperatures for long spans of time, and/or do not have access to fresh water when outside.
  • The trainer will not tell you how they are going to train your dog, or how long your dog needs training for.
  • Your trainer keeps extending the time they have your dog without any reasonable explanation.
  • Your trainer does not return calls, seems to avoid communication, or refuses to send pictures or video of the dog.
  • There is no video or reviews to show what the trainer is capable of.
  • The dogs seem stressed, worried, or in poor health.
  • Your trainer does not disclose medical concerns. Stuff happens sometimes and a dog may stub a toe or scrape a paw pad, but when it happens your trainer should let you know right away and should ensure that the dog’s health comes first.

If you follow the guidelines listed here, you will be able to find a quality trainer and facility that do board and trains the right way.

But He’s Just Being Protective of Me…

I frequently talk to people who are dealing with aggression and reactivity issues with their dog. These behaviors have a bunch of different causes, but most owners think that it stems from the same thing. They all think that their dog is behaving this way because they are being protective. This could not be further from the truth.

Your Dog is Not Rin Tin Tin

Dogs are not capable of determining whether or not you need them to be protective. Even a trained protection dog is operating off of a trained cue, which is either a certain behavior from the “bad guy” or a verbal command from their handler. In fact, a protection dog who will make up their own mind about who to bite is a massive liability.

protection dog being protective
He is not being protective at all, he is hanging onto his favorite tug toy that just so happens to be attached to somebody.

Now take into account the typical reactive German Shepherd. It isn’t just suspicious people in dark alleys that they bark at. It’s the neighbor kid running around with a balloon. It’s the doodle puppy on a flexi leash. It’s somebody bringing their groceries in from the car. None of those things are of any threat to you, and your dog is behaving that way due to other factors.

Understanding that this type of behavior is not your dog protecting you is key to resolving their issues. Let’s examine the reasons why your dog might be reactive in the yard or on the leash.

1. Frustration

Barrier frustration is an unfortunate side effect of how many pet dogs are handled on a daily basis. Having a tight leash all the time when walking around the neighborhood is very frustrating. Being behind a fence all day with dogs walking back and forth outside is very frustrating. A textbook sign of reactivity being frustration based is a dog who is social in a loose, free setting, and then acts crazy when they are on a leash.

This behavior starts with excitement toward people and/or dogs. The dog gets very excited seeing something walk by, and they are held back from it and the person/dog leaves. This happens over and over again, and that excitement starts to turn to frustration, and the dog’s behavior gets worse and worse.

2. Fear

Fear issues can also cause displays of aggression when on leash, or when somebody comes to the house. This is often the result of small body language signs being ignored for a period of time. For example, you might have a friend come over to meet your new 8 week old puppy. When the friend comes in, your puppy walks away and tries to get some space from this strange new person. This friend, meaning well, goes over and picks the puppy up to pet it. Your puppy just had it’s first lesson that trying to avoid confrontation does not work.

More and more of these situations happen, and your dog decides to try something different. They bark, or they growl, or they snap. And it instantly works extremely well, and gives the dog what they have been looking for. They now know of an extremely effective way to protect their personal space, and it works much better than just trying to move away from the issue.

puppies playing together
Correct social interactions and respecting your dog’s body language can prevent many issues.

3. Resource Guarding and Being Territorial

This is an issue that does very much resemble “protective” behavior from your dog, but the reality is more concerning. A common situation where this happens is when the dog is hanging out with the owner, and somebody goes to hug the owner. The dog then responds aggressively, and everyone assumes that the dog is doing it because they thought the hug was something nefarious. In actuality, the dog is viewing the owner as a resource, and is preventing anybody else from interacting with their resource.

Your dog should not be viewing you as theirs. This is not healthy behavior, is not your dog being truly protective, and it indicates that there is a huge issue with the relationship between the two of you. This is coming from the same place as a dog who growls when you go near his food bowl, it is just showing up in a different context.

belgian malinois tug toy
Resource guarding can happen with any resource. A toy, a bone, and even a human.

Dogs can also resource guard their space, including their home or yard. A key indicator that this is the root cause of a problem behavior is a dog who is fine meeting people in neutral places, but reacts much worse when a new person enters their yard or walks through the door. Your dog is not paying the mortgage, and they should not be in control over who is allowed to enter your house and who isn’t.

4. Predatory Behavior

Predatory aggression is different from the causes listed above, because this is true aggression with the intent to cause serious harm. The fear aggressive dog and the normal leash reactive dog don’t really want to hurt you, they just want to control aspects of the environment. The resource guarding dog has no issue with you as long as you leave their stuff alone. Predatory aggression is another beast altogether.

An example of predatory behavior that humans have selected for is a terrier who has great determination to hunt and kill vermin. That terrier is genetically programmed to do this job, and they are very good at it. However, a dog who is a great hunting terrier is probably not going to be great with small animals in the home. They cannot differentiate between a rat in a barn and a parakeet in your living room.

dog and cat sleeping
Boomer’s complete lack of predatory aggression means that he can co-exist beautifully with small animals.

This behavior is usually triggered by movement and/or noise. Children are a common target of this behavior because they are small, move erratically, and make high pitched noises. For a predatory animal, they have all the signs of being a prey item. This is very dangerous, and is a massive red flag for dog trainers when evaluating a new case. Small dogs, cats, and people on wheels (bikes, skateboards, etc) are other common targets of this type of aggression.

5. Control Freaks

This group of dogs also has ingrained genetic behavior that can appear as if the dog is protecting you. Herding dogs are bred to do some combination of chasing, controlling, nipping, stalking, and being pushy. If a herding dog with strong instincts in that area is not given an outlet for that behavior, it can show up in the wrong way.

I had a client one time who had a cattle dog who would try to bite joggers who ran past the yard. In his case, it was not a matter of predatory behavior or being territorial, but rather him practicing the same sequence of chase and bite that he would do on a cow. He was not getting nearly enough mental and physical stimulation in his life, and he did not have enough structure from his family.

cattle dog biting
Chasing and biting a burlap rag. The first outlet for this young puppy to show her appropriate things to chase and bite.

Herding breeds are generally the dogs where this behavior shows up, but there are individuals in other groups that can show this type of behavior.

The Problem with the Protectiveness Misconception

Thinking that your dog is protective when they really have a different issue is problematic. It can prevent your dog from getting the right kind of training, and it can cause you to deal with the behavior from too long.

A qualified dog trainer can help you to determine the root cause of your dog’s issues. Knowing the cause allows you to have the right plan for behavior modification, and will let you give your dog the best help.

If you think that your dog could benefit from a behavior evaluation, contact us and tell us a bit about your dog.

How Do I Teach My Dog to Swim?

puppy swimming lessons

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise that you can offer to your dog! Dogs have a blast doing it, it is easy on their joints, and allows you to burn off energy during the hottest times of summer.

The right introduction to the water is key in ensuring that your dog loves this fun activity!

How to be Your Dog’s Swim Coach

1) Consider Breed and Age

Some dogs are better suited for swimming than others. Certain breeds, such as retrievers, newfoundlands, and Portuguese water dogs are all bred for activities in the water. All dogs have individual preferences, but generally you can expect these breeds to thrive in the water.

Other breeds may have physical challenges with learning how to swim. Breeds who are front heavy and long backed, such as bulldogs and corgi’s, often struggle with keeping their heads above water. These dogs are great candidates for swimming in a life jacket.

golden retriever puppy

Age is also something to keep in mind when you are teaching your dog to swim. A good example of this was Angel, a young golden retriever puppy that I was working with. Angel’s owners have a swimming pool, and wanted her to know how to swim and how to safely enter and exit the pool. She was a typical golden puppy and loved the pool from the second we introduced her to it! However, she did not have the stamina of an adult dog, so we had to make sure to keep her sessions short and successful.

Older dogs are one of the groups that benefit the most from swimming. Water is very easy on arthritic joints, and can help prevent muscle wasting and weight gain. Older dogs may have some similar issues to puppies, such as a lack of stamina. Life jackets can really help to make sure that your dog is able to have fun swimming during their golden years.

2) Start Shallow

When teaching your dog to swim, you do not want them to become scared or intimidated by the water. Gradually allow them to build up the desire to be in the water, and build their confidence around it.

Start by letting your dog play in the shallow parts of lakes, rivers, or the ocean. It can also really help to bring along another dog who already knows how to swim. When playing, dogs will often follow another dog’s lead when they splash through the water.

teaching dog to swim

If you are using a natural body of water to each your dog to swim, you should see that they naturally start venturing further and further into the water. You can encourage this by getting into the water with them, or by strategic toy throwing. You do not want to throw a toy too far out and the dog get discouraged. Throw it just far enough away that they can barely touch the bottom, and then move it farther out as they build confidence.

3) Safety First

As with any activity we do with our dogs, safety is important. There are a few key things to watch out for when swimming with your pup.

  • Monitor your dog’s energy level. A dog who is too tired may not stop on their own because they are having too much fun.
  • Do not let your dog excessively drink or bite at the water. Water toxicity is an issue that can arise in dogs that consume too much water at one time.
  • Do not let your dog swim in water with fast moving currents, and watch for rip currents if you are at the ocean.
  • Be aware of the wildlife that is present in water in your area. Alligators and venomous snakes are a risk in the southern US, but will not be an issue if you are in New England.
  • During the summer, check and see if there are any algae blooms locally. Blue-green algae can be an issue even in clear water, and is dangerous to dogs.
  • Bring multiple toys. Your dog may loose track of his/her toy in the water and get into a frenzy trying to find it. Some dogs will get into trouble because they will swim to the point of exhaustion hunting for a toy. Bring a second item that you can throw to your dog if this happens to you.
  • Make sure that you train a very good recall. This isn’t such a big issue if you are swimming in a backyard pool, but natural bodies of water are full of enticing things like ducks and geese. If your dog decides to give chase, it pays to have some solid obedience.

4) Have Fun With It!

Dogs and water are such a natural match that there are even dog sports built around it! Dock diving is the most popular, and there are multiple different ways to play. Teaching your dog to swim is the first step, followed by getting them comfortable jumping off of a dock.

People who are super passionate about the sport take lots of time teaching their dogs how to jump off the dock properly, and how to track their toy in mid-air to get maximum points!

Check out North American Diving Dogs to find a facility near you!

dog dock diving united air dogs

Top 3 Separation Anxiety Training Tips

Separation Anxiety is extremely common, and can be hard to cure.

This is a problem that can show up in any age of dog. Some dogs display it by being vocal, others by being destructive. Separation anxiety is a frustrating behavior issue because you generally aren’t there to see it, and adjusting your schedule around your dog can be problematic.

Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to make your dog more comfortable in your absence. Here are our top three separation anxiety training tips.

1) Create healthy separation while you are home.

If your dog is having issues when you are just in the next room, they will definitely struggle when you leave for work. The first step that you should take is to establish some healthy separation in the home.

Dogs relaxing in crates separation anxiety training

Make your dog’s crate an enjoyable place when you are home. Feed her all of her meals in there and give her interactive toys such as stuffed Kong’s in the crate. Periodically put her in the crate for 10-15 minute periods for no reason. You can even be in the same room! Your dog is only allowed out when they are calm and quiet.

Temper and Mo are able to totally relax in their x-pen while I am answering emails.

Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog spends in the crate. You should start to see your dog become more and more comfortable staying calm when you walk into the next room.

You should also teach your dog stays and a place commands. These are behaviors where your dog will have to show self control when you walk away. You can reinforce your dog heavily for these behaviors, and show them that you going further away isn’t a bad thing. Gradually increase the distance and duration of these commands.

Group class stays
Stays and places give you a chance to reward your dog for being away from you.

2) Staying calm will help your dog to stay calm.

It’s nice to come home to a happy dog after a long day at work. Most people shower their dog with affection as soon as they walk through the door. While people do this with the best of intentions, it can have a negative affect on your dog’s state of mind.

If you have a dog who is struggling with separation anxiety training, you need to be careful not to reinforce the wrong things. Your dog has been anxious all day waiting for you to come back. If you walk through the door and make a big deal about them, it reinforces their thought process that things were bad when you were gone, and are now good since you are back.

Instead, come home and immediately let your dog out in the backyard or take them for a short walk.

Do not give them petting and attention until you have been home for 20-30 minutes and your dog is completely calm.

Doing this will change the way that your dog perceives you coming home. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your dog and that you can’t give them affection, it just means that your dog shouldn’t see you coming home as the most exciting part of the day.

Dog with toy
Your dog should be most excited about playing with you and training with you, not just seeing you walk through the door.

3) Take advantage of technology.

Separation anxiety training methods have changed quite a bit over the years. One of the biggest changes has come from new technology that is available.

As mentioned earlier, one of the hardest things about this issue is that it happens when you aren’t around. This means that it can be hard to monitor progress, or to reward your dog for the right things.

One thing that you can do is set up a camera in your dog’s area so that you can see them from anywhere. We personally recommend the Nest Camera system, which can be easily connected to your phone so that you can monitor training progress from anywhere.

Separation anxiety training with treat and train
The Treat and Train is a great tool for separation anxiety training!

Another great tool is the Manner’s Minder, or Treat and Train. This machine can sit right on top of a wire crate, and can be set up to deliver treats to your dog either with a remote or on a timer. This means that you can reinforce calm behavior from the other side of the house. You can even set it on a timer before you leave for work, so that your dog is periodically rewarded throughout the day.

Be Patient

Separation anxiety didn’t develop overnight, and it takes time to bring your dog into the right frame of mind. If your dog suffers a setback, don’t get discouraged. Consistency is key in all areas of dog training, and over time you will see great results if you stick with it.

If you have any further questions about these tips, contact us for more information.

When Behavioral Problems Aren’t Behavioral

Today I met a couple who are struggling with potty training issues with their young Biewer terrier.

They have been trying to house train her for weeks with no improvement. When they take her out, she will go, but then she goes again as soon as they bring her inside.

They are understandably frustrated by the lack of progress. In the hour that they were at the facility, the little dog peed three separate times. That threw up a red flag to me, and I recommended that they head to the vet to check for a UTI.

Health Related Potty Training Issues

There are a few different health issues that can affect house training. Urinary tract infections are the biggest culprit. Commonly an issue with female dogs, this issue can put a dent in your training. Fortunately, it can easily be solved with a round of antibiotics from your veterinarian.

Other issues can also cause regression in potty training. Kidney infections or kidney disease can result in urinary problems. Older dogs may struggle with incontinence. Some spayed females will also have issues in this area.

Puppy behavioral issues with trainer

How can you tell if the issue is health or behavioral?

If your dog has been doing really well with house training, and suddenly has issues, a trip to your veterinarian is in order. Other red flags include:

  • Seeming unable to “hold it”
  • Puppies who don’t seem to make progress
  • Dogs who go multiple times in a short period
  • Discolored urine
  • Lethargy or acting uncomfortable
  • Increased thirst

If you notice any of these symptoms, your dog should receive a veterinary exam. Bloodwork or a urinalysis may be needed to discover the cause.

Health Issues Related to Aggression

Aggression from a dog is always concerning. It can be particularly distressing when it shows up in a dog that never had those type of issues before.

Aggressive shepherd dog

Sudden changes in behavior always warrant a health check. Thyroid issues are often the cause of sudden changes in behavior. Thyroid levels can be checked with bloodwork, and your vet can prescribe a medication to help your dog return to normal.

Pain can also cause your dog to lash out aggressively. Dogs who have joint issues, an injury, or worsening arthritis may be extra defensive of their space. This can even be seen with sick dogs.

My dog Modoc was diagnosed with IBD, an autoimmune condition, when he was just under two years old. He has intermittent flares, and one of the symptoms of this is him getting grumpier.

This phenomenon has been seen in multiple studies that looked at how GI issues related to behavior. GI imbalances in rats and humans led to more anti-social behavior.

Lastly, neurological conditions can cause aggressive behavioral issues. Certain types of epilepsy can show up in this manner. Dogs with brain tumors may also show a sudden change in behavior that it otherwise without cause.

Health Issues Related to Fear

Some dogs will suddenly develop phobias that they never had before. One case that I saw was an agility dog who started to refuse weave poles. She was unhappy when asked to weave, and would regularly miss poles.

Disc doc Zoe
Reluctance to do normal activities can be a sign of injury.

This was a dog that normally loved agility. She had a great trainer, had no other behavioral issues, and had trialed extensively.

When this behavior started up, her trainer responded just as she should. She took the dog to the vet, because sudden behavioral changes are often health related.

An exam and x-ray of her dog’s foot revealed a broken toe. It wasn’t a bad enough injury to affect normal life, but it made weaving painful for the dog.

Some rest and recuperation were prescribed, and the dog went on the successfully start agility again and run for many more years.

Injuries like these can often cause a more sensitive dog to show fear or apprehension. Sometimes the injury can be very small, other times it might be a more serious issue.

Be An Advocate For Your Dog

When you live with a dog, you really get to know them. You know their quirks, their favorite snacks, and what their favorite activities are. If you notice sudden changes in your pet, make sure to monitor them.

Don’t be too quick to assume that your dog is being too stubborn or obstinate. Sometimes it’s as simple as a UTI or a stubbed toe.

5 Reasons to Do The Canine Good Citizen Test

Part of being a responsible dog owner is making sure that your dog is well mannered. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, so the American Kennel Club came up with a program to standardize it. The Canine Good Citizen test is a way of showing that your dog has met the minimum standard for a dog being well behaved in public.

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Some people take the test because their trainer recommended it. Others take it because they wanted a certificate. Here are 5 other reasons why you should consider taking the CGC test with your dog.

1. Goal Setting

The journey to a trained dog can be a long road, and it is good to have checkpoints along the way. The CGC has to be taken without toys, treats, or training collars. This makes it a great way to measure how good you have done fading tools out.

The test items are diverse to test all aspects of training. If your dog has issues with separation anxiety, passing the Supervised Separation item is a big deal. Having that item as a clear goal can help you have something to aim for.


Not every dog passes the test the first time they try. You may find that your dog misses an item or two. Instead of looking at this as a failure, try to look it as information. If your dog makes mistakes in the heeling items, that tells you what you need to work on next.

2. A Stepping Stone to Bigger Things

The Canine Good Citizen test is the simplest obedience test offered by the AKC. Passing the test is a good goal to reach for, but there are other things out there. Performance and working events are great fun for dogs, and are options once your dog knows the basics.

Rally and obedience are activities offered by the AKC that build upon the skills already covered in the CGC. Sports like agility and flyball are high energy, and often high distraction. Having a dog that knows how to navigate crowds is a great asset in these sports.

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The sport of Mondioring in the United States uses the CGC as one of their temperament tests. A dog must past a temperament test before they can compete. This ensures that the dog’s on the field are safe to be around.

The CGC is also a good starting point for new handlers. You might find it intimidating to stand in front of a judge with your dog. Doing it in a lower pressure environment with the CGC can help you gain confidence before trying other sports.

3. Better Insurance Rates and Housing Options

Finding housing with a dog can be a struggle. You may have a hard time finding a place to rent, getting homeowner’s insurance, or even living in certain areas altogether. One way that you can improve your odds is to have your dog pass the Canine Good Citizen test.

Many landlords don’t like to rent to people with dogs, especially large breeds. There are risks to them in terms of damage to property and liability. When your dog passes the CGC, you get a certificate that you can show to your landlord as proof that your dog is well mannered and trained.

Some insurance companies are catching on to how great this test is. Some companies will raise your rates drastically with a dog, or even deny you based on the type of dog you have. The Canine Good Citizen test can be used to keep your rates reasonable.

4. Keeping Your Standards High

Training your dog isn’t something that you ever really finish. After your dog learns a command, it needs to be tested around distractions, and then you have to maintain it. It can be easy to let old behaviors start to creep back into the picture in the years following a training program.

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If you make the decision to take the CGC test every year or two, you have a standard to maintain. It is much easier to keep things going strong than to have to fix issues before the test. Staying invested in the long term will have big benefits for both you and your dog.

5. Setting A Good Example

Dog behaviors issues are on the rise. We get more and more phone calls from people who are struggling with issues that are a big nuisance, or worse. By taking the Canine Good Citizen test, you set your dog up as an example for what other pet owners should strive for.

The test is well known amongst dog trainers, but not with the general public. Increasing awareness of the test also increases awareness of the importance of training. The more people who make that extra effort with their dog, the better off the whole community is.

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Invite your friends to come watch your dog take the test. Order one of the cute CGC bandanas from the AKC so that your dog can show off. If you are talking to someone about your pet, educate them on the importance of good behavior. More community awareness will make the world a better place for our dogs. After all, a trained dog is a happy dog!

Learn More!

If you are interested in learning more about the test and where to take it, you can go to the AKC Canine Good Citizen website to find the test items, evaluators near you, and information on the advanced versions of the test.

Head Trainer Sam Adams is a CGC evaluator. Contact us if you would like to take this test in the Lexington/Louisville area.


Training Tip: Bad Compression When Playing Tug

A good game of tug can be a great reward for toy driven dogs. Shepherds, working breeds, and terriers typically love tugging, but I’ve even had a shih tzu that enjoyed tug rewards.

One of the most common issues that I see with clients who use tugs as a reward is that their dog has bad compression. What this means is that the dog doesn’t bite down very hard on the tug toy. The toy may slip out of the dog’s mouth, they may munch on it, or they may only hold the toy with their very front teeth.

Using a leather tug or bite pillow encourages your dog to bite down harder.

If a dog bites incorrectly on a linen or jute tug, they can often still hang on because their teeth get hooked in the material. This prevents them from learning how to bite correctly. One of the best ways that I have found to avoid this is to use a toy with leather material.

In particular, I like the leather bite pillow that For Dog Trainers sells. I’ve used it with several of my personal dogs as well as working dog clients, and it really encourages a harder, fuller bite on the toy.


If the dog doesn’t bite down hard enough, the toy will slip out of their mouth. This builds frustration, and they learn that they have to bite more fully in order to keep their prize.

You can also play with your dog while an assistant handler holds them back on a harness. Back pressure also builds frustration and motivation to get the toy, and it makes it easier for you to keep tension on the toy at all times. If you have never done harness work like this, check out for video on how to be a “post”. This is a very important skill to learn for this type of work.

To reiterate, this isn’t formal protection work, just you playing tug with your dog. Another toy that you can utilize to work on this is a leather bite rag. This is a great option for dogs who love to chase things, as you can put the rag onto a flirt pole or line. Making movement with the rag encourages the same drive and frustration as the back pressure would.


Rag available here.

Here is an example of a Frenchie who needed an outlet for his energy. He loved playing tug and biting the leather rag, and it was a great way for his owner to exercise him.

These are just a few of the ways to improve your dog’s tug game.

If you have any questions about these toys and how to use them, contact us or find a training club in your area.

Success Story: Biscuit the Pomeranian

Small Dogs Need Training Too!

Biscuit is an awesome young Pomeranian who came to training because her owners wanted her to be the best she could be. Many people think that only large dogs benefit from training, but that is not the case. Biscuit is a great example of a toy breed who loves having a job and loves to learn new things. She thrived in our obedience board and train program, and is now a perfectly behaved little pom.

Laying The Groundwork

The first thing we started to do with Biscuit was introduce her to new skills that she would need. Her owner’s said that she was bad on a leash, so it was important that we teach her a solid heel command. We also taught her reliable stays and places, which help with impulse control. Stays and places also make managing your dog easier. For example, instead of your dog being under foot while you are cooking dinner, they can be relaxing on their bed in a place command.

Biscuit had great food drive, so it was easy to motivate her to do new things. Like all dogs, she did have her quirks. She liked to spin in circles when she got excited, which is a common trait to find with a pomeranian. We taught her a new default of a sit when she got excited. However, this is a genetic trait, so it will never completely go away. We gave the owners lots of ways to manage the behavior so that it did not progress into something obsessive compulsive.

More Advanced Training

Once Biscuit showed that she understood all of her training very well, we started adding more distractions. This included lots of dogs running around, people calling her or petting her, and food distractions. When we train a dog, we do not want them to just listen in the living room. Our goal is for the dog to listen and be responsive no matter what is going on around them.

Biscuit also had a few small behavioral issues that we had to tackle. Small breeds can run into dental issues, so Biscuit’s owners wanted to brush her teeth regularly. Biscuit had other ideas, and would be very hyper and mouthy when the toothbrush came out. We taught her how to be calm and accepting of the teeth brushing, which made her owner’s life way easier. It also is great for Biscuit. As a former vet tech, I saw many a pomeranian with dental issues. Preventing these issues saves lots of stress on the dog later on. Biscuit would also jump all over guests and onto furniture, and it was becoming an issue at home. We showed Biscuit that the key to getting attention was to sit nicely, not to jump all over.