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Five Keys To Observing Your Dog ©

  1. 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 (undesirable).
  2. Pace of behaviors—pace or fidgets increase or pace/fidgets abruptly decrease indicates arousal behavior (undesirable).
  3. 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).
  4. Skin and muscular tension in face, body, tail indicates arousal behavior (undesirable).
  5. 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 ©

  1. Positive Marker (Training Exercise—Stuff-a-Dog)
  2. Name Response (Training Exercise—Name-Response)
  3. Voluntary Eye Contact— Dog should have a habit of offering voluntary eye contact to owner(Training Exercise— Eye Contact)
  4. Following Closely— 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)
  5. Useful Touching— 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 touched/groomed.
  6. 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 Exercise—Stop Signal)
  7. 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 flight zone 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.
  • Displacement behavior—Important 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 Aggression ©
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:

  1. Confusion

  2. 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:
    1. Positive punishment (adding some aversive to animal’s environment)
    2. Negative punishment (deprivation of desirable objects)
    3. Over-stimulation (Stimuli in the environment are punishing—too much stimulation, too threatening, too close)
    4. Under-stimulation (Basic physical, social, mental needs not being met).

  3. Lack of a focus/lack of a job in situation (Aggression towards a stimulus can become that focus/job).

  4. Lack of predictability in environment/lack of control over environment—things happen, both good & bad, regardless of the animal’s behavior, out of the animal’s control.

  5. 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 aggression).


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:

  1. Previous experience
  2. Distance
  3. Eye presentation
  4. Head presentation of stimulus/cue
  5. Postural approach of stimulus/cue
  6. Direction of movement of stimulus/cue
  7. Stimulus/cue’s speed and intensity
  8. 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 it!