Humping (or mounting) in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy mounting and humping

Puppy humping, the very shame of it. You have a guest over and before you know it your adorable little ball of fluff is attached to your guests leg and humping away like crazy…mortifying! As our dogs grow we may start to feel less ‘surprised’ by it, reaching sexual maturity can forgive all manner of sins! However, in a young puppy, why is this behaviour being performed? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to say, that humping (or mounting), is not uncommon. If you do have a ‘humper’, please don’t think you are alone as it is a very common behaviour shown. Male and female pups may hump, so again don’t feel if you have a female pup that it is ‘strange’ that they hump, it’s not.

Humping is a topic which is actually still being researched to this day, and if you do your own research you will find a LOT of varying opinions as to why dogs (and puppies) do it. Lots of these opinions are scientifically shown to be untrue, and some are in the process of being researched. Many people will throw ideas around as to why it occurs, but largely many people are still fairly unaware as to why this behaviour occurs in the first place. A lot of assumptions are made with regards to mounting behaviour, but how much do we really know?

Humping is a behaviour which can be seen in relation to ANY object or being. A dog may mount another dog, another animal ie. family cat, an object like a cushion or bedding, a persons leg or arm, or indeed objects like toys. Mounting, whilst not the most pleasant behaviour to witness for an owner, is in fact a perfectly normal part of a dogs behavioural repertoire. Whilst we don’t necessarily want our dogs or puppies to do it, it is, in fact, normal canine behaviour.

Largely we see mounting or humping as a sexual behaviour, a reproductive behaviour which we may believe should only be displayed in that context. However, there are many other contexts in which mounting and humping can occur, such as play.

For example, some common instances of mounting or humping may be seen during:

  • Play
  • An anxious emotional state
  • A high arousal/excitement level
  • During stress
  • As a displacement behaviour

For puppies, the key reasons we should be looking at are play and high arousal/excitement levels. This is not ALWAYS the case with puppies, anxiety may well play a part, but certainly in my experience it is most common. Puppy play is not always pretty and may include barging, jumping and indeed mounting, so all of these can be motivated by play and social interactions in those early days, exploring via various displays of different behaviours.

I have talked about arousal levels before and the behaviours high arousal levels can elicit, well mounting is one such behaviour. If a puppy is super excited, because for example you have a guest over, this excitement is going to be released and directed into a behaviour be it biting, running, jumping, or indeed mounting. It must also be remembered that mounting can also, in itself, quite simply be enjoyable! A puppy can, believe it or not, find it fun and it’s as simple as that! However, I would hazard a guess that largely a puppy mounting is either play, or arousal.

Additionally it is important to remember that your reaction to a puppy mounting, can increase the likelihood it will be repeated. As with all behaviours your pup displays, if you reinforce it, it becomes a great behaviour to perform and will be seen again at any opportunity!

If you look up puppy mounting and humping you may well find many an article suggesting puppy mounting is a display of dominance over another dog, person or animal. An attempt to gain a higher status level. This is not true, research has vastly shown this to be inaccurate, for example Peter Borchelt PhD found “mounting could be part of a suite of behaviours associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and standing over. But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue”. Furthermore Marc Bekoff Phd found in his research of social behaviour in young dogs, coyotes and wolves, that mounting, clasping and humping were not directly related to dominance.

Really, more research is needed as to why dogs (and puppies) display mounting or humping behaviour, not enough has been done to reliably determine a common cause. Some have other ideas as to the reason a dog may mount or hump, for example as a calming gesture, to calm another over-exuberant dog down for example.

However, what can we do about it? What if we have a puppy who is a humper?

  • Determine the cause – why is your dog/pup doing it? Is it play? Over excitement? Or a mix of the two? Anxiety? Look at why the behaviour occurs in the first place.
  • Is it a problem? – if the humping is occurring very briefly, very infrequently, do we really need to do anything about it?
  • Antecedents – what is happening just prior to the humping or mounting? If we can determine the cause or activity which elicits the behaviour, we can alter/modify to elicit a different response.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ – more practically speaking, keep excitement levels as low as possible and encourage a ‘settle’ behaviour. There are other training based techniques you can use, get in touch for more information on these.

To be honest, whilst WE may find mounting and humping hugely unpleasant, it’s NOT an abnormal canine behaviour, so do not fret. Dog are, at the end of the day, dogs, and they will perform behaviours which sometimes don’t necessarily cause any harm, but we just do not like. Pick your battles, is it hugely disrupting your life or anybody else’s? Is it becoming excessive? Is it something that is causing a problem to you, or others around you? If so, work through the above. If not, let them be dogs.

For more information about any of the services I offer just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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Reinforcement in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

reinforcement in puppy training

I have touched on reinforcement in various articles before, essentially because it is a huge part of how dogs learn. We talk a lot about reinforcers because they are essentially what makes behaviour more likely to occur again. So, largely we use reinforcers to increase the likelihood of the behaviours we want to see, being seen again. Reinforcers can be absolutely anything, from a tangible object like food or a toy, to an event like playing with dog friends. However, there are many different types of reinforcement, and there are two types of reinforcers I want to talk about today, primary and secondary! Bear with me, all will become clear.

Primary reinforcers are essentially things that are inherently reinforcing. These are, technically, things an animal needs for survival. Things like food, or water. If I ask my dog to lay down and I give her a treat for doing so, I am using a primary reinforcer to increase the likelihood of her repeating that behaviour.

Secondary reinforcers (or conditioned reinforcers) are slightly different, in that they are not something an animal ‘needs’, and as stand alone entities they are not reinforcing. Secondary reinforcers are only valuable when paired with a primary reinforcer, thereby eliciting the similar response to the primary. It takes on a reinforcing function by being paired with the inherently reinforcing primary reinforcer, such a food.

If, for example, every time my dog does something I like I say ‘good girl’ and give her a treat, she will learn that the ‘good girl’ is swiftly followed by something nice ie. food. She will, in time, learn that the good girl is extremely valuable IN ITSELF and will work to achieve those words as they begin to elicit the same emotional response as the primary reinforcer, the treat. Clicker training is another example of secondary reinforcers, the ‘click’ as a stand alone noise means nothing, however when paired repeatedly with food or a toy, it very quickly takes on meaning and a dog will work to achieve that ‘click’, knowing high value reinforcement is coming.

It is, however, still important to pair your secondary reinforcer with the primary reinforcer at least some of the time, even when the association has been made, for a behaviour to be truly established. You can, in theory, condition many things to become a secondary behaviour. For example, I tickle my dogs chin then give her a treat, even though she may inherently LIKE a tickle on the chin, by pairing it with the treat it makes that ‘tickle’ become a far more powerful reinforcer long term. Hence, when she does something I like, I can give her a tickle on the chin which will have taken on the same properties as a secondary reinforcer (ie. ‘good girl’).

Some do feel that a clicker, whilst it is a secondary, or conditioned reinforcer, is a ‘marker’ rather than a reinforcer. I am still in mixed minds about this myself, however it IS always important to pair that click with the a primary reinforcer to maintain the association. However, when you think of us mere humans, when we for example hear clapping there is nothing particularly exciting about that noise. By pairing it with praise and adoration or reward, it takes on meaning to us and we LIKE the sound and will work to attain it.

Try and remember with reinforcement generally, it only ever occurs if the behaviour is strengthening or increasing. Be it positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, they work to increase behaviour in different ways. (I won’t delve into the positive/negative reinforcement at this stage, another day maybe).

Remember reinforcement is not simply ‘using food in training’, it is a far more complex process. Using food in training is certainly a form of positive reinforcement, adding something good thereby increasing the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated, but reinforcement alone is not simply ‘giving the dog a treat’.

For more information about this topic or the services I offer, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Noise sensitivity in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

noise sensitivity in dogs

Any kind of noise sensitivity for a dog may not only be hugely traumatic for the dog involved, it’s distressing for the owner to witness too. This fear response to certain noises may be linked to various different sounds, one or two, or span a wide range of different noises. But why do dogs develop such anxiety about sounds? And what can we do with our pups to prevent noise sensitivity developing?

Studies have shown approximately 80% of pet suffer with some kind of noise sensitivity or noise phobia (Maddison, 2016). It is hugely distressing for a dog, or indeed any animal, to display a fear response to sounds so it’s hugely important we set our pups up to confidently accept any kind of novel or familiar sound well. Sound phobias are not uncommon, they will largely develop due to lack of habituation to a particular sound or noise, or due to over-exposure causing distress or anxiety. They can be associated with ANY sound, from a siren to fireworks to thunder, there is no standard ‘sound’ which will induce a fear response. Of course, the ones we are likely all most familiar with is indeed fireworks. I will not delve too much into how to deal with an already noise phobic dog, more focus on puppies!

For reference, what are the physiological signs we may see when a dog is noise phobic?

  • increased HR
  • urination
  • panting
  • lip licking
  • dilated pupils
  • tensing of muscles

These are a broad and general range of physical changes you may see, however the behavioural signs may be easier to spot, these may include:

  • pacing
  • escaping behaviour
  • barking/whining/vocalising
  • self-harm
  • hiding

Of course, some of these are descriptive of severe cases. Often, you may see a dog simply seeming ‘uneasy’ and being particularly clingy to you, seeking reassurance for example.

The key point to remember with noise phobia is that we can set our pups up from very early on to be relaxed around any kind of noise. We encourage our pup to be relaxed and tolerant of lots of different types of sensory manipulation, for example:

  • touch/handling – we work on trading a touch for a treat
  • sight – we work on not racing after every moving object ie. rabbits/birds etc
  • sound – we can work on instilling calmness in our pups around all types of noises
  • fans/wind – we work on habituating our pups to ‘blustery weather’ and bags flapping in the wind etc
  • animals on tv – we play videos of animals/dogs on tv to habituate our pups to the sight of them in our living rooms!

So how can we go about all this? We can start with some sensory education! We expose our pups to many different sounds whilst pairing them with something good. We would start off very gradually, for example having some sounds playing very quietly, whilst doing our training sessions for example. We would then in time be raising the volume bit by bit. We would keep our pups busy whilst this is going on, so the noise of the sounds very quickly transfers to ‘background noise’. The more a puppy hears a certain sound/noise and is exposed to it positively the better, by pairing it with something GOOD we will build up positive associations with the offending sound.

Breeders are often quite on the ball with this! You may find your breeder has already been playing audio cd’s of various noises prior to your pup moving in with you, and you simply need to continue the process. However, if your breeder hasn’t done this, do not panic you can buy many cd’s online which are specifically designed for gradual exposure to sounds for puppies. Victoria Stillwell does a ‘noise phobia’ series of cd’s for example. You can start off with simply ‘relaxation’ sounds (some say puppies relax to classical music!) and then as your pup becomes comfortable with this via associating these sounds with something positive and reinforcing, you can gradually ‘up’ the level of cd’s until you are listening to fireworks or thunderstorms.

So, some tips:

  • gradual exposure to MANY different sounds
  • invest in audio cd’s ie. Victoria Stillwell series
  • pair potentially ‘scary’ sounds with something positive
  • repeated exposure, so noise becomes background noise, passively heard rather than actively listening
  • try to ensure pup has been exposed positively to many different sounds he will encounter during life by approximately 14-16 weeks old
  • start with ‘calming’ sounds, build up to more ‘offending’ sounds ie. fireworks
  • watch your pup and ensure he is comfortable throughout any noise exposure

If your pup DOES develop noise sensitivity later on, please don’t think you have done something ‘wrong’. The likelihood is you haven’t. You can do everything right, and still find there is one tiny issue which your pup develops. Remember your pup does have a genetic make-up too! There are medications available depending on the severity of the problem, ask your vet for advice. It must be remembered that whilst these may work, they do not treat the underlying cause they will simply ‘mask’ the problem. However, in severe cases, it is a necessity. Often medication is prescribed alongside a behaviour modification programme.

There are a multitude of natural remedies out there too, all claiming to help with anxiety relating to things such as noise phobias, travel, kennelling etc. I must state I have not looked into scientific studies relating to the effectiveness of various herbal products, feel free to though if you are interested! There are pheromone products like adaptil collars and plug ins, rescue remedy drops, skullcap valerian products, the list goes on.

Try and remember with regards to our pups, gradual habituation to ALL kinds of sounds will hugely reduce the risk of your pup developing a noise phobia long term. It won’t completely eradicate it, but it will set your pup up with a better chance. Look into sound sensitivity cd’s, you may find them hugely beneficial!

I do cover habituation to objects and sounds in my 1-2-1’s, and talk about how best to go about exposing your pup to these. For more information just get in touch!

Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Separation anxiety in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

separation anxiety in puppies

Separation anxiety is a common and quite distressing problem for dogs. Many dogs develop separation anxiety largely due to them never having to face the prospect of ‘being alone’. In puppies in particular, we can see why separation anxiety may occur. They have left all they have ever known, been put into a strange and unfamiliar environment, and when the one thing they DO cling to (you) leaves, they simply do not know how to cope. So, what can we do about it? And more importantly, how can we prevent it even starting?

Firstly, let’s look at what separation anxiety is. Separation anxiety, or isolation anxiety, displays itself when a puppy is unable to cope with being left alone. I’m sure we have all at some stage felt a little anxious or uneasy at certain points, maybe your first day in a new job and it’s daunting and scary and you just want the familiarity of home, or your first day at university when you really don’t’ know if you can cope and again want to run home! Well these feelings to us are merely a normal emotional response to a new and daunting challenge, we have the ability to see these feelings for what they are and the context they are felt in. However, for our pups, it’s a bit harder. Our pups develop a very real and strong attachment to US, so when we leave, without prior preparation and conditioning for this, it can be hugely traumatic for our pups.

So, how does separation anxiety begin in the first place?

  • A puppy who has never had to cope alone, or never been left alone.
  • A puppy who has had a frightening incident at home ie. fear of the washing machine sound, fireworks have given pup an irrational fear of a certain room of the house etc.
  • Rescue dogs – not always, but a dog who has been moved about a fair amount may develop anxiety when left alone (understandably!).
  • Genetics – exactly what it says! Genetic predisposition to the behaviour.

How does separation anxiety display itself? What will we see?

  • A shadow – does your dog follow you around the house, everywhere, even to the bathroom?
  • Obvious signs of distress – pacing, scratching at the door/flooring, whining, barking, howling, urinating/defecating.
  • Physiological signs of distress – increased HR, increased respiration, dilated pupils, restless, unable to lay down, moving constantly.
  • Destruction – often this can be something with your scent on ie. slippers, clothing, sofa cushions etc, and leaving a little ‘den’ of destruction! We have all seen images of such destruction on Facebook I am sure, the dog chewed up cushions and the debris is all around him and he is in the middle!
  • Overly-excited greetings – an overly boisterous and over-aroused greeting when you return.

Ok, so we know why separation anxiety may develop, and we know what to look out for, but what exactly can we do about it? We can prepare our pups from early on, it’s really the only way. We need to gradually and positively habituate our pups to being on their own. This IS easily done, even if you have a pup who is already showing signs of distress when you are not there.

I cover the prevention of separation anxiety in my 1-2-1’s, however we can briefly look at some top tips to gradual acclimatisation:

  • Rest/sleep area – make sure your pup is well aware of where his sleeping area is, be it a crate, pen or simply a certain area of the kitchen.
  • Start off very gradually – do not attempt to leave your pup for 2 hours to start off with! We’re looking at simply 30 seconds out of the room in the early stages, then building up slowly, ensuring the pup is confident and comfortable all the way.
  • Make sure you leave your pup with something interesting – something which will not only take your pups mind off you leaving, but something he doesn’t normally have randomly throughout the day ie. a stuffed kong, activity ball, chew/bone.
  • No long goodbyes! – as much as we WANT to have a big drawn out ‘I love you I’ll see you soon my baby you be good mummy loves you’……it won’t help with an already slightly anxious pup. A nonchalant attitude is best, ignore your pup for 5-10 minutes before you leave.
  • No big greetings! – similar when coming HOME, don’t make a big song and dance of your return, ignore your pup for a few minutes, get yourself a drink etc and then a calm hello/cuddle etc.
  • Mental/physical exercise – make sure your pup has had an adequate amount of mental and physical exercise prior to you leaving.
  • Music/radio/tv – always have some kind of background noise left on when you are out. Classical music is said to be soothing, or the tv for the sound of voices.
  • Consistency – try to make it a routine, practice all of this daily, don’t start practicing the day before you’re going out, this needs to be built up over the course of weeks/months.

A final note of caution, if you are obtaining your puppy NOW, in the summer (well it’s supposed to be summer!) months, be mindful of when you are all back at work/school and what your routine will be. Try NOW to build up the routine that your pup will have. Do not under any circumstances spend all day every day with your pup over the summer holidays, and expect he will cope just fine when everybody disappears to school/work in September. Start routinely leaving him every day now, it will pay off come September and with the correct preparation as detailed above, your pup will see you leaving as not only a nice thing because he gets something fun he doesn’t have all the time, but a completely normal and routine procedure.

As with any behaviour, if you feel it is going beyond the realms of ‘normal puppy behaviour’ please seek your vets advice. There are indeed medications to help with severe anxiety and your vet will be able to talk to you through these and discuss the best course of action.

It is essential your pup is shown how to relax and feel fairly comfortable when being left. Separation anxiety in adult dogs is not only hugely stressful for the dog, it is a huge problem for us, the owners, too. Be sure to start setting your pup up NOW to view being left as a positive and relaxing experience.

For more information just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cambridgpuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining