Saturday, September 29, 2012


The Class Bully

Does this sound familiar? Your dog is really very sweet. He knows how to walk nicely on a leash (although sometimes he takes you for a walk when he sees another dog/cat/bird/squirrel) and he greets people nicely as well.

But as soon as you arrive at class he turns into a completely different animal. He drags you through the door, he stares at the other dogs and barks and lunges at them whenever he gets close enough to do so.

You have become the class outcast and must sit far away from everyone else to have some peace and quiet, or you spend the entire class stuck behind a barrier. You are embarrassed and frustrated by your dog’s behavior and don’t know what to do.

School yard bully or scaredy-cat?

Chances are that your dog is not a bully, he is afraid. Maybe it is the building; there are too many strange sights and smells to take in at once. Maybe it is the number of other dogs; he can deal with one or two at a time, but 5 or 6 is asking way too much. Or maybe there is this other dog who is sending signals to him that he finds threatening and he is lashing out before the other dog can.  Whatever the reason, your dog is uncomfortable and trying to protect himself.


Many trainers manage this kind of behavior by placing the disruptive dog behind a barrier. And that works very nicely. It brings calm back to the class and everyone can learn their lessons, including the disruptive dog, although, he cannot participate in exercises as a member of the group. But management does not solve your problem with your dog. He has not learned how to deal with a classroom situation calmly and confidently.

Enter the Thundershirt

While this is not the answer for every situation, boosting your dog’s confidence will often go a long way towards being able to safely integrate your dog into a group.

The Thundershirt is a useful, easy to use tool for doing this. The Thundershirt should be put on before the dog leaves the car at class, or better still, before he leaves home. Try to arrive at class early and  wait outside for his classmates to arrive.  Allow him to greet each one before they go inside. If possible have him approach the other dog’s rear first and sniff for a few seconds. Keep the greetings short and reward your dog as you move away from the greeting for being calm and polite. Make it fun. You must stay calm and positive.  He will pick up on your attitude and mirror it.

Once inside, it may take a few classes to really become a part of the group. Don’t be in a hurry to be in the center of activity. Keep his attention more on you than on the other dogs by giving him simple things to do that you can reward.

Remember to bring a favorite chew toy with you so he has something to do during any down time. That way he won’t be so ready to look around and get into trouble. Make sure your toy is quiet (no squeaky toy please) so he doesn’t disrupt the class or unduly attract the attention of the other dogs.

Each successful class will help build your dog’s confidence and make training classes more effective and fun.

Joan Morse CPDT-KA
A Touch of Calm
Behavior and Obedience Training
Tellington TTouch Practitioner I
AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Helping a Timid Dog – People Shyness

Although dogs have been around humans for many generations, not all dogs are comfortable with strangers. As puppies, dogs should be socialized carefully and thoroughly during their impressionable stage. This helps ensure the dog will be as comfortable and well behaved as possible for the rest of her life. Sometimes, though, things don’t quite work out that way. You may get a dog as an adult, after that socialization window has closed. What to do then, if your dog is not sure of new people?

Many dogs are nervous of new people, and they will each react in a different way. Some will simply avoid people. Other dogs may bark in alarm, while still others may cower or hide behind their owners. Often, once the person has passed out a few cookies and bent down low to the ground, the dog is much more willing to approach. But what about when that isn’t enough?

When I encounter a dog who is worried about strangers, I do a few things:
  1. Pair strangers with lots of fun and food, often simply showering a handful of treats on the dog whenever a stranger appears. It’s important to do this in a way that does not cause the dog to react.
  2. Teach the dog an appropriate greeting behaviour, such as touching a fist with his nose, to give him something deliberate to do with a friendly stranger.
  3. Put a Thundershirt on the dog prior to any potential greetings.
  4. Do set ups with friends and then with known strangers (known to the owner, not the dog) so the situation can be controlled until the dog has some confidence. Again, this should be done such that the dog does not react nervously to the person.
The Thundershirt really seems to calm the dogs with gentle pressure over the body. The dog is able to think and learn faster and better with the Thundershirt than without, and therefore, owners see results faster, and are happier. I haven’t seen any side effects, and for dogs who don’t mind having it on, it’s almost maintenance free. It is a low risk, high benefit tool, and the Thundershirt has proven a great addition to a stranger-nervous dog’s protocol.

Courtenay Watson, AHT & RLATp
Kamloops BC