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Dog Waving Paw

Dog Blog

  • Writer's pictureBecki Gude

Updated: Apr 6


Guide dog

Dogs have earned their reputation as Man’s Best Friend for so many reasons. Beyond their loyalty and companionship, they have demonstrated an incredible capacity to aid people with disabilities, transforming lives in the process. Assistance dogs, specially trained to provide support to those in need, play a vital role in enhancing the independence and quality of life of their human.


As someone who specialises in owner trained assistance dogs, I wanted to write this article to share a little bit of information about this truly remarkable niche in dog training and how special these dogs really are.



What Are Assistance Dogs?


Assistance dogs, also known as service dogs in other countries, are dogs trained to assist people with disabilities in various ways, depending on that person’s needs. These highly skilled dogs provide physical, emotional, and practical assistance to their handlers, making daily tasks more manageable and helping to increase their independence. There are several types of assistance dogs, each trained to perform specific tasks tailored to their handlers’ requirements.



assistance dog puppies in training


Labradors, Golden retrievers and other gundogs make excellent assistance dogs due to their gentle nature, intelligence and eagerness to work. But other dog breeds can be equally as suitable with the right upbringing and training. Different breeds may be suited to different tasks, due to their size, their natural skills sets and their stamina.



 


It is important to remember that assistance dogs are not pets, and are instead highly skilled working animals. If you see an assistance dog out in public working with its handler, it is important to allow the dog to do its job without trying to distract it (as tempting as it is to ask for a cuddle!)



 

assistance dogs uk

Types of Assistance Dogs in the UK


  1. Guide Dogs: These dogs assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired, guiding them safely through their daily routines. They help navigate obstacles and ensure their handlers’ safety when crossing streets and manoeuvring through various environments.

  2. Hearing Dogs: Hearing dogs support individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting them to important sounds, such as doorbells, alarms, and approaching vehicles. They provide their handlers with a heightened awareness of their surroundings.

  3. Mobility Assistance Dogs: These dogs are trained to help their handlers with physical tasks such as retrieving dropped objects, opening doors, carrying things and even assisting with transfers in and out of wheelchairs. Helping with physical tasks can help increase their handlers independence if they struggle with these tasks alone.

  4. Medical Detection & Response Dogs: Individuals with medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, or severe allergies find invaluable companionship in medical alert dogs. These dogs literally save lives. They are trained to detect changes in their handlers’ body chemistry or behaviour that signal an impending medical emergency, enabling early intervention. They can also be trained to sniff out trace elements of allergens in their surroundings to alert those who suffer with severe allergies.

  1. Mental Health Assistance Dogs: Those struggling with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression may receive support from psychiatric assistance dogs. These dogs provide emotional comfort, interrupt destructive behaviours, and offer a sense of security in challenging situations.

  2. Autism Assistance Dogs: Autism assistance dogs are trained to provide a sense of security and emotional stability, assisting in reducing anxiety and sensory overstimulation for those who are autistic. They are also skilled in helping with tasks like interrupting repetitive behaviours and promoting social interactions. They can help increase independence and confidence in autistic individuals, creating a stronger connection to the world around them and enhancing their ability to engage with others.



The Training Process of Assistance Dogs


Training assistance dogs is an intensive process that requires dedication, patience, and expertise. These dogs all undergo rigorous training programs, often taking 24 months or longer to complete. Here are the key stages involved:


Puppy Raising:

Assistance dog organisations often rely on volunteers to foster and raise puppies destined for service. During this stage, the puppies are socialised, exposed to various environments and taught basic obedience commands. The puppy’s early months are crucial and can be pivotal in whether the puppy qualifies or not later on.


Specialised Training:

Once the puppies reach a certain age, they are placed with professional trainers who teach them specific tasks and commands tailored to their intended roles. For example, guide dogs learn to stop at curbs, avoid obstacles, and follow directional commands.


Customisation:

The training is customised to meet the unique needs of each individual handler. Training programs may vary depending on the handler’s disability and requirements.


Graduation:

After completing their training through a charity, assistance dogs are then paired with their handlers. The training continues as the dog and handler work together to build a strong bond and fine-tune their partnership. If the handler has decided to train their own assistance dog, there are also options to qualify through independent assessment charities like the Assistance Dog Assessment Association (ADAA).



assistance dog puppies in training

One of our lovely puppies in training at Surrey Canine Corner. Practising focus around things that would normally be distracting is key in the early development of assistance dogs. Here she is learning to focus on her handler and to ignore all of the tasty treats and toys in a local pet shop.



The Remarkable Impact of these Amazing Dogs


The impact of assistance dogs on the lives of individuals with various disabilities cannot be overstated. These superdogs serve as loyal companions, providing not only physical assistance but also emotional support and an unrivalled sense of connection. Their dedication to enhancing the well-being and independence of their handlers is a testament to the incredible bond that exists between humans and dogs.


Assistance dogs not only change lives, but they also inspire hope, resilience, and a deeper understanding of the pivotal difference that a furry friend can make in our world.

Seeing the bonds that develop between assistance dog and their handler is something that will never ever get old for me <3


Becki Gude Ba(hons) PACT ABTC- ATI

Updated: May 5

Dog training goes way beyond just teaching your dog commands. It's a journey that extends past verbal cues and obedience drills; it involves a unique interplay of emotions between you and your dog. Emotions really do matter when it comes to successful dog training, both yours and your dog's!


 

Here's why emotions are integral for successful training and for helping to shape a well behaved, happy dog:



Communication Beyond Words:

Dogs are incredibly sensitive to human emotions. They can pick up on your feelings through your body language, tone of voice, and your overall demeanour. When you train a dog with positive emotions and have patience, enthusiasm, and encouragement, it helps in conveying your intentions effectively. This can really help your dog understand what is expected of them and how they should respond.



Building Trust and Bonding:

Training isn't just about teaching; it's about building trust and a life-long bond. Training sessions are a platform for building a strong and trusting relationship between you and your dog. Feelings of trust and respect create a deep bond and a sense of security in your dog. When training is practised with positive emotions, your dog will feel more connected to you and will be more willing to listen and learn!



Building trust with your dog

Building mutual trust is a crucial part of training your dog


Motivation:

When your dog sees you happy and excited during training, they get excited too! Positive emotions like joy and excitement are huge motivators in dog training. It makes the process more engaging for them and makes learning new things fun! Using rewards like treats, toys, and verbal praise creates positive associations with the behaviours that you want to see more of. Dogs are much more likely to eagerly engage in and repeat actions that lead to positive emotional rewards , which can improve their overall behaviour tenfold (3).



Reducing Stress and Anxiety:

Just like you, your dog can feel stressed, frustrated or worried. But when you're patient and calm during training, it helps your dog relax and focus better. Dogs are highly attuned to their human's emotions, so the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed and able to learn your dog will be (2).



Consistency and Predictability:

Consistency is key in dog training, and emotions play a pivotal role in maintaining it. Predictability creates a sense of security and will make you a stable and constant figure in your dog's life. When you're consistent in your emotions and responses, your dog learns what to expect much more quickly, making it easier for them to understand cues and behaviours and learn more efficiently.


Positive emotions in dog training

Training will be more enjoyable if both you and your dog are experiencing positive emotions


Understanding What Your Dog Needs:

Every dog is different! Some like playful training, while others prefer calmness. Knowing and showing the right emotions help you communicate better with your furry friend. I have worked with dogs who learn fast when given feedback in the form of negative markers such as “oh oh”, or “try again”, and others that will shut down and become anxious when such feedback is given. It's important to tune into the emotions of the dog in front of you, be flexible when you can and not try train every dog you have in the same way.


positive reinforcement dog training

Building a solid bond with trust, patience and understanding is a game changer when it comes to training your dog <3


Do negative emotions effect training?


Research shows that using anger, fear, or frustration during training can in many cases be counter productive and have an adverse effect on your dog's behaviour, trust, and willingness to learn (2)(3). Trainers like myself often have to deal with the fallout of this kind of training as it can result in higher rates of aggression, reactivity and generalised anxiety in our dogs. Dogs don't actively choose to misbehave or be "naughty", there is usually an underlying issue that drives these behaviours.


negative emotions in dog training can lead to further issues

Training a dog through force and fear can be incredibly demotivating to dogs and can lead to further behavioural problems.

Pain, trauma and previously bad experiences can all lead to what we consider to be "bad behaviour" in dogs. Each of these issues should be addressed professionally through your vet or a clinical animal behaviourist and should never be attempted to simply "correct".


In a nutshell:


In short, emotions are super important in dog training. They help you and your dog understand each other better, making training a happy and successful experience for both of you.


Always use positive reinforcement training alongside taking into consideration your own emotions as well as your dog's. A calm, patient, and understanding approach will help your dog to succeed. By harnessing positive emotions, creating a nurturing environment, and understanding the importance of emotional cues, you can establish a strong bond and achieve remarkable success in and training your dog and shaping them into stable well adjusted pets.



 

Find a positive reinforcement trainer near you:

Professional Association of Canine Trainers: https://www.pact-dogs.com/find-a-trainer

Animal Behaviour and Training Council: https://abtc.org.uk/practitioners/


 

References:


(1) Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro et al (2020) "Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare" https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7743949/


(2) Nicola Jane Rooney & Sarah Cowan (2011) "Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability" http://cdn-origin-etr.akc.org.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/01164443/2011-Training-Methods-and-Owner_Dog-Interactions.pdf


(3) Hiby et al (2004) "Dog training methods: Their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare."https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-10850-010

Updated: May 5

Have you ever witnessed your dog doing curious things—like scratching non-stop in certain scenarios or yawning even when they're wide awake? How about mouthing at your arm when you visit a new place? And remember those puppy play sessions that escalated into a frenzy of humping? Well, these actions could be your dog's unique way of expressing uncertainty or stress, indicating that they could use some extra care and support.


Displacement behaviour in dogs is a fascinating and essential aspect of canine communication. However, it can often be a sign that your dog is finding it difficult to cope with something. Understanding these behaviours can help dog owners and professionals develop a deeper and more empathetic bond with their furry friends. In this guide, we will explore displacement behaviour in dogs, what it looks like and how we can respond to it.


What is displacement behaviour in dogs?


Displacement behaviour refers to actions or behaviours that our dogs display completely out of context, in response to mixed feelings or stress. These actions are normal in less tense situations, but they appear in odd moments when a dog feels conflicted or worried. Experts think these behaviours help dogs handle their emotions, ease tense situations or let others know they are overwhelmed or uncomfortable.


displacement behaviour in dogs

Not sure whether to laugh or cry! Inner conflict and feeling overwhelmed can drive displacement behaviours.

Common types of displacement behaviour


Displacement behaviours can vary depending on the dog and the specific situation they are facing. Here are ten common examples of displacement behaviours in dogs:

  1. Yawning: Dogs may yawn excessively, even after a good night's sleep.

  2. Lip Licking: Excessive lip licking, even when there is no food around.

  3. Scratching or Itching: Dogs may scratch themselves even when they don't have any itchiness.

  4. Humping: Both male and female dogs, regardless of being neutered, may engage in mounting or humping behaviours.

  5. Sniffing the Ground: Dogs may start sniffing excessively the same bit of floor that they have been stood in for the last ten minutes.

  6. Shaking Off: Dogs may shake their bodies as if they are wet, even when they are dry.

  7. Heavy mouthing or lead biting: Heavy mouthing of your arms, legs or clothes after puppyhood when teething is no longer an issue. Mouthing or ragging on a lead during walkies, for no apparent reason.

  8. Avoidance: Dogs may walk away or turn their head away from a situation, even if the situation may otherwise seem enticing.

  9. Excessive Grooming: Grooming behaviour, like licking paws or fur over and over in a repetitive way.

  10. Excessive Panting: Panting in cooler temperatures when there has been no physical exercise.

yawning as a displacement behaviour

An out of context yawn when a dog is well rested is a common displacement behaviour. It may be a sign that your dog is overwhelmed or stressed.

Causes and triggers of displacement behaviour


It is believed that displacement behaviours have emotional, sociological and in some cases physiological functions. However, experts are not 100% sure why all displacement behaviours occur and research is ongoing.


Emotional Triggers:

Displacement behaviour can be triggered by a dog's emotions in several different ways. These include being an outlet for conflicting feelings, a direct response to stress or for releasing tension.


For example: When a new guest arrives at your home, your dog might feel both excitement due to their love for people, but also uncertainty since they have never met this person before. These conflicting emotions can lead to your dog feeling overwhelmed, prompting behaviours like mouthing the guest's arm or attempting to hump them throughout the visit.

Emotionally driven displacement behaviour can also arise from frustration or even physical discomfort and pain.

nose licking dog

Out of context lip licking when there is no food around can be a displacement behaviour

Social Triggers:


Studies suggest that certain displacement behaviours may help to calm tense situations in the dog world (Pedretti et al). If a dog starts scratching or yawning when they are feeling uneasy, it can help diffuse tense situations between dogs or calm down over-excitement if play becomes too intense. (Anna E. Hoff)


In some cases, odd behaviours can also be displayed in an effort to delay the unavoidable or ease any social pressure put on the dog. Particularly if your dog is asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable. For instance, imagine recalling your dog at the end of a walk. They might not want the walk to end, but they understand it is time to leave. They might slow down and meticulously sniff every patch of ground on their way back to you, to stall the end of the walk. This displacement behaviour helps ease the social pressure that the dog may be feeling and is clear display of unease.


Physiological Triggers


It is believed that some displacement behaviours have a solely physiological function. Some studies suggest that yawning might play a role in stimulation of the nervous system. Robert Provine suggested in his research that yawning increases blood flow to the parts of the brain that increase alertness, which can help decision making when experiencing inner conflict (Provine R, 1986) Another example of a physiological triggers are some self directed behaviours, such as excessive scratching and overgrooming. These actions can release calming hormones like endorphins which can help an overwhelmed dog relax. Behaviours like these can become painful habits if they are regularly used to self soothe. If a dog grooms themself to the point of injury they should always be assessed by a vet.


dog scratching displacement behaviour

Excessive scratching is a common displacement behaviour in dogs

"I think my dog is displaying displacement behaviours often, what can I do?"


Understanding the triggers of displacement behaviour is crucial for helping your dog. By identifying the root cause of their worries and providing a supportive environment, you can help your dog cope with their emotions in a healthier way. Here are some steps you can take to support your dog in stressful situations and reduce displacement behaviours:


  1. Identify Triggers: Observe your dog closely to identify the situations or events that trigger the displacement behaviour. Common triggers may include meeting new people or animals, encountering unfamiliar environments, loud noises or other stressful events. Avoid too much exposure to these triggers and allow your dog to move away if they need to.

  2. Create a Safe Space: Provide your dog with a designated safe space where they can retreat to when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. This could be a quiet corner of a room with their bed or crate, where they can feel secure and comfortable.

  3. Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques to build your dog's confidence and reward them for their efforts. Whenever they exhibit calm behaviours in stressful situations, offer praise, treats or affection.

  4. Avoid Punishment: Punishment or scolding can increase anxiety and worsen displacement behaviours. Instead, focus on rewarding positive behaviours, reassuring your dog and creating a supportive environment.

  5. Consistency and Routine: Dogs thrive on routine, so try to maintain a consistent schedule for feeding, playtime, walks and training. A predictable environment can help reduce anxiety and help them feel safe.

  6. Calming Tools: Some dogs benefit from using calming aids, such as a Thundershirt (a snug-fitting garment), calming pheromone diffusers, or even calming music specifically designed for dogs. These tools may help to alleviate anxiety in certain situations.

Don't forget, it's all about context!


Keep in mind that the situation matters a lot when understanding displacement behaviours. What is seen as a displacement behaviour in one scenario might not be in another. If you notice your dog often showing these behaviours in certain situations, it's vital to think about the context and figure out if there is something causing stress underneath the surface.

Creating a secure and encouraging setting for your dog, along with using positive training techniques, can really help them feel secure in their environment. If you are uncertain about your dog's behaviour, it is recommended that you seek advice from a qualified dog trainer or behaviourist.


Becki Gude Ba(hons), PACT, ABTC - ATI https://www.surreycaninecorner.co.uk


 

References:

Anna E Hoff (2001) "Mouths Wide Open: Yawning as a Communicative Behaviour in Dogs" https://api.mountainscholar.org/server/api/core/bitstreams/48025e2f-6b0d-4709-8c89-44bc4c66e801/content


Rovert R Provine (1986) "Yawning as a Stereotyped Action Pattern and Releasing Stimulus" https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0310.1986.tb00611.x

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