Five Keys To Observing Your Dog ©
Focus of dog’s sensory equipment
(his eyes, ears, nose, body)—tells you where the dog’s attention is, what the
assumed topic of your dog’s thought processing is. If it is not on a
subject—stimulus, reinforcer, or behavior-- you want the dog to be focused on
and if the dog’s focus cannot be permanently shifted onto that topic within a
half second of your command, then the dog’s focus indicates arousal behavior
Pace of behaviors—pace or fidgets increase or pace/fidgets abruptly
decrease indicates arousal behavior (undesirable).
Rate of breathing/stuff coming out of dog’s mouth—increases
disproportionate to exercise level, ambient temperature/humidity or abrupt
decreases indicates arousal behavior (undesirable).
Skin and muscular tension
in face, body, tail indicates arousal behavior (undesirable).
Can the dog eat food, normally, gently? Yes? Then the dog is in doggy
zen. No, then the dog is in arousal behavior (undesirable).
Seven Training Samurai ©
Positive Marker (Training
Name Response (Training
Voluntary Eye Contact—
Dog should have a habit of offering voluntary eye contact to owner(Training
Exercise— Eye Contact)
Dog should be able to move with a human body on or off leash, without lunging
towards something else, without mauling you, without balking, or cowering
behind you! (Training Exercise—Moving Back-ups) (Training Exercise—Attention
Cha Cha Walking) (Training Exercise—Moving Circles)
dog should be standing still—not invasively nudging or otherwise soliciting
your touch; not moving or orienting himself or his gaze away from you while you
touch him. The pet dog should have no flight zone/arousal zone regarding touch!
(Training Exercise—Attention Petting) (Training Exercise—Food Bumps.) (Training
Exercise—Ready, Aim, Touch! is an example of a split-attention training
exercise. Desensitization— dog learns to focus on a target while being
Follow Hand Signals
(Training Exercise—Follow The Finger) (Training Exercise—Babe Ruth Single &
Double Pump (aka the Human Meatball Launcher—for hand directional signals. The
Double Pump evolves into a split-attention training exercise.) (Training
Talking Heads, not Tails to the dog when the dog is calmly focused
and oriented towards you. (Training Exercise—Talking Heads).
Emotional States of Dog ©
Doggy zen—desirable. We want to reinforce doggy zen whenever it
occurs. Doggy zen is defined as calm focused behavior appropriate for training,
companionship, or performance. My term for the calm, relaxed, focused emotion
and behavioral and focus flexibility in a dog optimal for dog training and
performance, the relaxation behavior occurring before and after good training,
and for the performance-arousal behaviors that are bracketed by "doggy zen”
behaviors that begin and end a cued performance behavior. ”Doggy zen” is rooted
in the dog’s parasympathetic nervous system, his nervous system in charge of
relaxing and eating responses. USEFUL POSTURES: nose pointed to ground, lie
down, looking away, slowing down, relinquishing, etc.
Arousal behavior—undesirable. If dog’s behavior and focus cannot be
shifted on command in 0.5 sec., he is aroused. Arousal behaviors are
uncontrollable fight or flight/freeze behaviors. Arousal behavior is a
behavior response of aggression or of avoidance or freezing which spontaneously
and uncontrollably occurs when an animal’s
is violated by a stimulus. (Arousal behavior can also be elicited by illness,
physical trauma, or brain, biochemical, or physical malfunctions.) The animal
is aroused to action, and the same part of the autonomic nervous system (the
sympathetic nervous system) is stimulated regardless of whether the animal’s
external behavior response can be categorized as aggressive or avoidant.
Arousal behavior and focus is potentially injurious (to the animal and others)
if the behavior cannot be switched off and the focus of the animal diverted and
maintained onto another object/behavior within a ½ second of a cue.
to recognize as low level arousal behaviors that serve as the “gear shift” from
extreme arousal to doggy zen and vice versa. Although less obviously harmful,
these are still arousal behaviors. Sniffing, nose licking, and scratching are
some common displacement behaviors in dogs. A term borrowed from psychiatry
which refers to a psychological, physical defense mechanism in which a behavior
response and emotion resulting from an otherwise repressed emotion is
transferred to another, safer, more acceptable object or activity. Displacement
behaviors are a subset of arousal behaviors and can serve to modulate the gear
shift change between “doggy zen”'s calm focus and relaxation and the more
extreme arousal behaviors. Sniffing off-subject is an example of a common
displacement behavior in dogs.
Exhaustion behavior—undesirable for training. Dog is noticeably tired or
asleep. The dog recovering from physical exhaustion is tapping into his parasympathetic
nervous system to repair himself; however, the dog, due to his extreme
exhaustion, is not sufficiently or normally alert to stimuli.
Five Main Perceptual Causes of Dog
Science shows us that there are five main, non-genetic, psychological
perceptions that make learned aggression responses more likely in dogs. These
conditions can exist not only in the situation where aggression is more likely
to happen but also in other daily situations in the animal’s life.
Eliminate these problems, and you lessen the likelihood of aggression:
Punishment—states occurring after a behavior that animal finds aversive, from
animal’s point of view.
An animal who is punished will predictably escape, avoid, or aggress. If he
aggresses, it is usually towards something the animal regards as smaller and
more vulnerable than himself, not necessarily in the same context and not
necessarily towards the actual source of the punishment.
Categories of Types of Punishment:
Positive punishment (adding some aversive to animal’s environment)
Negative punishment (deprivation of desirable objects)
Over-stimulation (Stimuli in the environment are punishing—too much
stimulation, too threatening, too close)
Under-stimulation (Basic physical, social, mental needs not being met).
Lack of a focus/lack of a job in situation (Aggression towards a stimulus can
become that focus/job).
Lack of predictability in environment/lack of control over environment—things
happen, both good & bad, regardless of the animal’s behavior, out of the
The animal learns that aggression gets him what he wants—attention, food,
objects, places, removal of other animals or people, removal of toe nail
clippers, removal of self from situation, emotional release (displaced
The Flight Zone
The Flight Zone is the name sheep herders use for sheep’s interpersonal
comfort zone, a minimum distance the sheep need between themselves and a
predatory threat before the sheep first alert and then begin to move away (or
otherwise respond) from that predatory threat.
I apply this basic term with all species, including dogs, to refer to the
minimum distance an animal needs to keep between itself and any encroaching,
arousing stimulus/cue before the animal reacts with an arousal behavior
(However, “arousal zone” might actually be a more accurately descriptive, more
inclusive term than flight zone).
My goal in desensitizing an aggressive dog is to shrink his flight zone to 0.
How to use the rules of the Flight Zone to identify and cope with the at-risk
dog before aggression:
Change In The Size Of The Flight Zone Is Governed By A Variety Of Factors For
Dog and Stimulus/Cue:
Head presentation of stimulus/cue
Postural approach of stimulus/cue
Direction of movement of stimulus/cue
Stimulus/cue’s speed and intensity
Other non-visual aspects of the stimulus/cue intensity, including sound, smell,
tactile, heat, gas and air composition and pressure changes. [Note: these
non-visual cues are not listed in any order indicating their relative impact on
the size of the flight zone.]
Stimulus presentation outside the dog’s flight zone which systematically and
gradually varies aspects of 3-8 will change 1 so that 2 can shrink, too.
If desensitization proceeds without establishing basic building blocks first in
calm situation and without graduating the presentation of the arousing
stimulus, then you will actually further sensitize the animal, not desensitize