US Episode 101 - Cooper

Any time new episodes of It’s Me or the Dog are airing on Animal Planet in the US, Victoria will answer questions about that episode later that week. Post your questions to Victoria about the most recent episode here anytime.

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US Episode 101 - Cooper

Post by Victoria » Sun Oct 12, 2008 3:37 pm

Cooper the Boxer was a beautiful dog that had severe issues around other dogs. Dannee and Camille had tried many methods to attempt to modify Cooper's behavior but his reactions to other dogs just got worse. He displayed threatening behavior on and off leash except at day care, where he seemed to be relaxed and having a good time with the other dogs around him. How could his reactions be so different?

This was a fascinating case for me because it posed so many challenges. Cooper was extremely uncomfortable around other dogs - he was a rescue, but his intense reaction didn't show itself for a few months after he had been adopted. He appeared fine with other dogs on and away from his territory and of course at day care. But then his behavior changed and Dannee and Camille were at a loss as to what to do. They had tried some harsher methods of discipline including a shock collar to try and modify his behavior but this of course had made things worse. Shock collars should be banned! Resorting to tougher methods of discipline only made Cooper feel more insecure around dogs - dogs meant pain happened to him and that only served to deepen his discomfort. Cooper had found a good way to deal with his discomfort though - aggress and the other dog goes away. He learned that his behavior both on the street and on the deck worked and this was the only certainty he had (in a way this was his crutch - his way of coping whenever another dog was near him). Bottom line: Cooper was fearful and unconfident around other dogs and this was at the very root of his aggressive response.

But where did this come from? I suspect that his past, his age (hormonal changes) and possible incidences at day care all contributed towards his insecurity. Even though the people at day care had told Dannee and Camille that Cooper was never a problem, I got a different story - Cooper regularly ended up in time outs for bullying behavior and I suspect this was an important factor behind his response. However Cooper was still better at day care than he was out in the big bad world - that had to count for something. Dannee and Camille were convinced that he was having a good time and it was important for me to see just what he was like. My suspicions were confirmed within the first ten seconds of viewing him in day care. This wasn't a dog that was having a good time - this was a dog that was practicing avoidance, pacing constantly, panting and drooling from stress and repeatedly going to known exits to try and get out. Cooper was being flooded with his fear being around other dogs and this was causing him to shut down - he wasn't able to show his true behavior - being in such an environment served to increase his insecurity, but surrounded by his fear, his survival instinct kicked in, and he knew that there was threat of attack if he started anything. Dogs are smart - what are you going to do surrounded by 20 plus dogs in a room where you know you can't get out? My guess is you're going to keep your head down, suppress your true feelings in the presence of something you fear and not show a true reaction - you shut down. This is a crucial survival instinct but is very stressful and having to deal with this stress three times a week for eight hours a day was causing lasting damage for Cooper. The process is known as flooding and is a technique still used by some trainers in an aim to desensitize a dog-aggressive dog. It is a controversial technique because the likelihood of failure is very high.

Basically the technique goes like this: Take a dog-aggressive dog and expose it to many other dogs in an enclosed environment and hopefully the dog's anxiety will decrease over time so that eventually, because the body can't keep up a state of alarm for ever, the dog finally relaxes in the presence of the fear and voila! the dog is desensitized and realises that other dogs won't hurt him so will no longer respond negatively. Sounds great and in some cases flooding works, but in the majority of cases flooding only makes a dog more anxious and the dog adopts different coping mechanisms. Some dogs will fight irrespective of how many dogs there are around them but most dogs will shut down - an instinct that ensures survival. This shut down lasts until the dog is out of the flooding environment and when back in its comfort zone it can show its true feelings around other dogs - that is why Cooper looked like he was having a good time at day care but resorted to aggressive behavior when back in his comfort zone. Doggy day care was the worst place for Cooper to be and only fed his anxiety more. His body language showed this to me at every turn and it was disconcerting to watch, but for those who are not versed in dog language, Cooper appeared fine and even looked as if he was enjoying himself.

I advised that Cooper not go to day care again until his rehabilitation was complete and there was a chance that he might never feel comfortable in day care again. This made it even more important that Cooper be trained to cope on a walk with other dogs around him.

The program shows the first steps we took in Cooper's rehabilitation - no easy task, but it centered around pulling his focus away from other dogs and onto Dannee and Camille so he could take cues and direction from them and gain confidence. Treats were then given to show Cooper that instead of bad things happening to him when other dogs were present good things happened instead in the form of delicios food and he slowly began to catch on.

I only had a week with Cooper and the family but he made great strides and began to focus more on Dannee and Camille when other dogs were around. His reactions became less intense and he was able to relax in the presence of his fear. It's one thing to suppress a behavior but quite another for a dog to feel differently about a fear source. This is the major difference between the old traditional methods of discipline that are still practiced in this country (the US) where discipline such as Alpha rolls, physical digs and sometimes shock collars are used to suppress reaction to emotion, but where no effort is made to make sure that the dog feels differently. The former style is quick fix training because it works to suppress behavior for that moment, but the dog still feels the same. In a way it is easier for people to implement this training because it doesn't take much effort and looks like it works - we all want a quick fix, but unfortunately the dog stills feels stressed out and lives in misery with intense feelings that he is not allowed to show. Positive training aims to change the way a dog feels so that the dog feels less stress for the rest of its life - a much better state of being. Cooper was at the beginning of his journey and Dannee and Camille are still working hard on helping him to feel differently. Fortunately they live close to me so I can keep eye on them and take Cooper even farther in his rehabilitation off-camera which is a real luxury.

Time contraints with an intense filming schedule don't allow me to discuss this with you all as much as I would like but please discuss it between yourselves and I will chip in when I can.

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Post by lablver2 » Sun Oct 12, 2008 4:14 pm

I can't wait to watch this episode on my DVR. I saw the end and was so happy. I honestly don't trust kennels or day cares with Belgian. Belgian already has panic attacks at the vet and becomes a totally different dog there. It is sometimes scary but he was severley traumatized as a pup when he had a emergency surgery and was left overnight. It takes the vet, a nurse and me to calm him down enough for shots when he goes to the vet. I don't know what would happen if he was at a kennel/day care and had a emergency. I would be afraid he would bite someone just because him and vets do not get along what so ever. As he has gotten older he has been getting better but still he still gets very uncomfortable and has these panic attacks.

Belgian is left with friends and family members if I have to leave him. Some one who is familiar with him makes it easier. The people who he is left with know how to control him and understand that he can become easily frightened if he was left at a vet.

The day cares around me I personally would never trust. Some of them cramp dogs into a home all together. Another one takes the dogs to neighbor houses to swim. That's fine but I am a little picky who takes my dog out places. I am not there and Belgian can be a little tricky. He's well trained but he only listens to some people and doesn't listen to others.

That being said I need to go to my DVR and watch the new episode. I am really excited. I saw the end of the episode but I need to watch the rest especially since I love boxers.
Belgian: 6 year old English Chocolate Labrador Retriever.
"The more boys I meet, the more I love my dog"-Carrie Underwood

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Post by Monkey » Sun Oct 12, 2008 4:23 pm

I really enjoyed seeing your show last night, Cooper is just like the foster I have here, difference is that the guy I have has a good bite inhibiton and are still curios and actually enjoy other dogs and people despite a bit fearful. I was hoping for some quicker way than what I have been working with, which is the exact same thing you are doing, treats, clicker, building up, step by step, at least I got confirmed that I am doing the right thing.

You really did good, and I can't wait to see the other episodes. Even my husband that prior to meeting me was basically nervous around any of the bigger breeds has grown to love dogs and has a growing interest for dog training sat down and he told me to tell you here that you did an awesome job *lol*.

I am so glad that US finally get a positive reinforcement trainer that actually works with the dogs here on the TV, than beliving that you fix a dog with a quick yank.. I so hope this will change the average method that is used amongst most dog owners over here.

Keep up the work and I can't wait to see the next episode!!!
The problem is in the other end of the leash!

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Post by lablver2 » Sun Oct 12, 2008 5:10 pm

Yea me too. I am having one problem with Belgian though and the leash. He decides that all of a sudden he can stop moving or sit his butt on the ground. I don't know what to do. Sometimes I get him to go with a guick jog making him want to chase me other times I have to sit there because he sits like a statue. People think it is funny but I think there is nothing funny about a dog misbehaving.

I am glad a real dog trainer is finally on TV and not some fake one.
Belgian: 6 year old English Chocolate Labrador Retriever.
"The more boys I meet, the more I love my dog"-Carrie Underwood

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Post by ckranz » Sun Oct 12, 2008 5:25 pm

I read much of the same in Cooper's behavior at day care. Constant pacing, drooling, total avoidence of the other dogs at the day care, his movements were very stiff and not fluid. I used to think boxers were difficult to read, but Coopers signs were very clear and evident.

One thing also I noticed in the show, was that you and one of the owners...the one without the glasses used more relaxed an pleasent sounding tones when re-directing Cooper while the other used a tone and voice and posture that seemed much more forceful.

Having worked (and still working) a dog with very similar issues, I know I had to change much of the way I did things including vocal praise delivery. It's a hard thing to face that your "good dog" is not being recieved with the same intent you mean it.

When I would try and use my voice to encourage or praise my dog, he would litterally shutdown, so of course I would only praise even more creating a nasty circle. I am thankfull to my agility instructor who told me to keep my big mouth shut and let Khan have fun.

I also really like the emphasis on the lsow progression to reduce distance on the balcony on the second visit. I have found that really helped Khan and that when I felt I was ready to move it meant I had to repeat my current exercises for another 2 weeks. (I so want to rush things...agility training has also taught me patience)

I also like in your blog about change does not happen over night. There are no quick fixes. Cooper's owners have a lot of work ahead of them, but I think they are up to the task. I am so looking forward to hearing and seeing this season. Hopefully it will show people in the US that positive training is a better, and more effective way not only for training highly refined tricks, but also dealing with severe behavorial issues as well.

It wasn't mentioned in the show (at least in what was shown), but are they still walking Cooper with their other dogs? I think it would help both them and Cooper to have him walk alone rather than with his packmates. I know in my case, my dogs pick up on the emotional state of my other dogs which had resulted in 2 dogs seeming reactive. Walking Khan alone was much easier to manage as well as respond to training issues. It allowed me to focus better on the environment around in order to take action to prevent any aggressive behavior. I think that too would be of benefit to Cooper.

Its a beautiful start to what looks like an incredible season.

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Post by dobiemuse » Mon Oct 13, 2008 12:03 pm

Thanks for the blog post. More of his behavior makes more sense. I thought harsher methods were used since they did say that they tried "everything". Perhaps that might also have been a good thing to put into the show. What shock collars could increase in a fearful dog. However, I can see that causing more controversy and the positive message could be lost. Hard balance to make.

I was thinking that the excessive drool that Cooper had on the balcony before he reacted to the neighbor's dog was also a stress signal. If they learn to look for these things perhaps they can take him out of the area to reduce his stress.

I did enjoy the episode and I like the new format as well.

Hope you do have a dog in another episode where you have trouble finding their high quality motivator. Although in my case this is early in the "new" dog's retraining, but I see indications where I do need to find that motivator. Could use some hints. :)

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Post by i_luv_my_pups » Mon Oct 13, 2008 4:31 pm

that was such a gr8 episode! my lil sis and i would run to our parents to tell them what Victoria had just done during the comersial breaks.

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Post by Gershep1 » Tue Oct 14, 2008 1:58 am

I really enjoyed this episode and the hour-long format.

I was so happy to see the boxer respond to rewards when he saw other dogs. I started using that method a few years ago when I adopted my first Anatolian (a breed prone to dog aggression, though generally not from fear). She was returned to rescue once because she pulled her owners down the street to get after other dogs. She got zero exercise and her weight ballooned to 136 pounds! I immediately put her on a Gentle Leader and taught the "watch me" command with treats, and didn't have a single aggression problem from day one. And her weight got down to a normal 95-100 pounds :wink:

Yes, let's ban the shock collars!!! I could not believe that I was the only person in not one but two schutzhund groups who trained without one. It made me (and my GSD's breeder) sick.

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Post by Noobs » Tue Oct 14, 2008 10:12 am

My 13-month rescued Lab mix Murphy is very skittish on walks. He was doing very well for a while when I walked him to the dog park (2 miles) daily through our semi-busy streets. But when I got a bike and started running him to the park, he started regressing a little on walks since he was running more than walking. He's gotten spooked by things and immediately afterwards lunged at people - I guess he would get worked up so he turned to the next person who passed us? So I've taken him back to kindergarden. I'm still biking him to the park to get energy out, then I walk him on our block, back and forth, with high-value treats such as hotdog, turkey, or cheese, doing a lot of "watch me" and sit/down/stay drills every once in a while. He also gets territorial on our porch with certain stimuli (one guy on our block and two different dogs), so I've done "watch me" and treat on our porch as well.

So on walks or on our porch, when I see him look at something and get a little stiff, I say, "Look at that (nice man, nice lady, etc.), good boy" and give him a treat, and he seems to respond well, like Cooper did - look at the object and eat the treat. I've only been doing this a couple of days, since I saw this episode. And this morning, he got spooked by a passing truck and immediately looked right at me instead of focusing on it. I was so pleased, I will definitely continue using this method, and I know it will take some time, but my little boy is worth it.

The next step is changing his reaction to cats. He growls from the porch or lunges on walks when he sees cats, but now he looks at them if they're far away but still growls when they're too close. So I'm using this method for cats whenever I get a chance. Wish us luck!

And thanks, Victoria, as usual for your gentle methods. Great first episode!

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Post by cassiesloveableowner » Tue Oct 14, 2008 5:53 pm

i_luv_my_pups wrote:that was such a gr8 episode! my lil sis and i would run to our parents to tell them what Victoria had just done during the comersial breaks.

Ha ha, im so glad you mentoind this!!! Me and my sister did the same thing!!!! :lol:

As for the #1 episode, Victoria, you were amazing training cooper!!! :mrgreen: I love and use your training methods. Great way to start off a new season, Victoria!!!

Well done Victoria!!!!!!


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Post by praline » Wed Oct 15, 2008 8:59 am

I loved the first show! Not near as fast with the whole hour to watch how you do things! The reruns with 30 minutes is kind of rushed... 1 minute dog from hell then after commercial the best behaved dog on the block! HA-HA

I liked how the show went into detail about not having a quick fix! That it takes months and sometimes a year or two to fix this type of behavior!

I also liked the fact that there were no children in the home. I think shows dealing with kids in the home are EXTREMELY important. So many people get a family dog for their KIDS and things go so wrong! A boxer like this with school aged children in the home could potentially be so much more dangerous.

Not sure if you glance at this or not Victoria BUT how about a kids show!!!!!
I know all 3 of my kids hang on to your every word and they are 7,11 and 14. If you did a special on how kids can train and get their pups to listen to them at their level would be tons of fun and a learning experience for the kids. I have seen you work with older kids (teens and adult kids) but never children.

I am not for the "kid dog only" but so often in a home setting the dog doesn't always respect or think of the child as a leader and can "walk all over the kid..."

We tend to have this issue with my 11 year old son and my 12 year old corgi. He does try to gain leadership and get her to respect him. Here this old gal is thinking to herself... BOY I used to yank your diaper off and pull you off of the counter when you were a baby who are you to tell me to get off the couch?! Of course she is never mean or aggressive and eventually (with much grumbling) does what he says but she is so much more quicker to follow and respect me.

We would love to see a show where you are teaching children how to work and respect their dogs at the kids' level of understanding.

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Post by herdingdogs » Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:29 am

I'm sorry I missed this show. I'm definitely going to have to watch to see if they run it again.

I have 4 dogs. Two of the aussies are rescue. One of them is fearful of other dogs and will just bark at strange dogs and move away. Unfortuntely the other one has picked up on this behavior and is starting to become dog agressive. He barks and lunges at strange dogs. I am working with them on many of the ideas Victoria shows but it is hard to set up the right situations to work it.

How do you all deal with walking a dog you are trying to work with on dog agression issues when there are loose dog running around? Unfortunately in my neighborhood too many people let their dogs loose even though it is against the law. It's hard to work on training in this situation and because of this I don't take my dogs out for walks often. It's even become a problem in my yard for they will fence fight with the loose dogs.

I really enjoy watching this show and have learned a lot. Look forward to learning more and putting some of Victoria's training methods into practice. I just wish I was as good at it as she is.
Tab (PWC)
Sage, Remmy, Blade (Australian Shepherds)

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Post by Cracker » Sat Nov 01, 2008 2:56 pm

I am jealous. LOL.
I don't get Animal Planet (don't have Cable) and I'm not sure if it's shown here in Canada anyways. Oh well. I am happy that there is an episode summary like I can know what is happening in each case.

I am a dogwalker/trainer in training so I totally understand how poor Cooper must have many other walkers I see know very little if anything about the dogs and their physical "tells" about how they are feeling. That daycare is in desperate need of some education of their staff.

The class I assist with is quite good at determining stress signals in the pups and we (the assistants) are encouraged to let the owners know if we think their dog needs a break and describing HOW the dog shows us this. The people are always amazed that what they thought was stubborness or just plain distraction were really calming/stress signals.

Belgian...the sitting down thing may be a moment of "overwhelm" for your boy. Next time he does it have a good look at what happened just prior and whether there is anything around that may have triggered some excess stress for him. It takes practice to "see" what the dog may have, and sometimes we don't see it at all..their senses are so very acute compared to ours. Give him the benefit of the doubt and try to refocus him on your before "hupping" him along for the walkies. It may be a case of "intelligent disobedience". Like the dog trained to sit at all curbs may decide not to sit when it's freezing cold or wet...can't blame him for that...we wouldn't want to do it! LOL
Maggi Burtt
Tailspin Petworx


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Post by Missymay » Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:13 pm

I agree with whoever said it is about time we had a R+ Based Training TV show here in the States.

And I was also happy that there was no quick fix, that this showed that modifying behavior and changing the ineer workings of the mind take more than a quick yank on the leash.
Kim and Asher

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotionâ€

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Post by zeus'fostermom » Wed Nov 19, 2008 3:47 pm

How do you all deal with walking a dog you are trying to work with on dog agression issues when there are loose dog running around? Unfortunately in my neighborhood too many people let their dogs loose even though it is against the law. It's hard to work on training in this situation
to Herdingdogs

I've had this very situation, first with my German Shepard and now with my Great Pyrenees. Both became reactive because they had too often been agressed toward by other dogs. And you're right, if off-leash dogs are approaching, uncontrolled by their owners, it may be difficult to apply some of the training techniques discussed here.

I found I got the best results by immediately stopping and calling out to the owner "please call and leash your dog". You may find owners respond with "my dog is friendly". You can then say "my dog is not friendly. Please obey leash laws". It may not be true that your dog isn't friendly but who cares as long as you can get the other owners to control their dogs.

Hopefully, you can then get on with your training.
Foster failure ... I've adopted Zeus !

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