Can puppies seek revenge or ‘protest’? – Cambridge Puppy Training

emotions in dogs

I was having an interesting chat with a puppy owner the other day, he said that when their pup is denied something, it will pee in ‘protest’. He believed the puppy was trying to ‘get him back’, show his annoyance after the event, ‘get even’ if you like, by urinating on the floor. This got me thinking, I have heard owners before saying their pups will ‘protest’, either via toileting or vocalising etc, but is this really what these pups are doing? Protesting? Getting their owners back and showing their annoyance at an event which has actually passed? Are pups capable of that kind of memory and indeed thought? And more so, that feeling of needing or wanting revenge, and actually gaining revenge? Anthropomorphism, and canine emotion generally, may help us to see.

Anthropomorphism, is quite simply, attributing a human emotion to an animal, inanimate object or concept. I’m certain you have all done this, have you ever said of the weather, it is ‘fierce’? We have ascribed a human quality or emotion, to something non-human. Much like if we say of our dogs, if they do something we perceive as naughty, we say they are ‘guilty’ and have a look of ‘guilt’. We sometimes even think this is quite sweet and funny, however all we are really doing is attributing to that puppy what WE think they SHOULD be feeling at that moment. Are they actually feeling bad about what they did? Feeling guilty? Unlikely. We need to be really careful when doing this, if we assume our pups are feeling emotions which firstly, they may not be and secondly, may not even be capable of, we will then treat them how we feel they SHOULD be treated due to this perceived emotion. If we are wrong, this is a dangerous place to be, treating our puppy in such a way which is not appropriate to the emotion they are actually feeling. For example, we see ‘guilt’, when in fact it is fear.

When looking at the situation with the owner I mentioned, the pup was peeing, the owner believed, due to protest. A ‘I am going to do this to you, because you did that to me’. If we break this down a bit, what thought process does the pup have to go through to achieve this goal of ‘revenge’.

  • Firstly, he needs what we may term ‘theory of mind’ to be able to recognise that YOU (another individual) had the intent to wrong him in some way, and to take it in that context, so he needs to be able to predict other individuals thoughts
  • The puppy would need to gain some form of reinforcement or satisfaction from ‘gaining revenge’
  • The puppy would need to have the complexity of thought to be able to recognise thoughts and emotions in others, thereby predicting how the owner will feel after he has ‘protested’ and recognise when his owner DOES feel this way

So, if this puppy were indeed protesting, or ‘getting the owner back’, he would need to be aware that this wee, a normal bodily function, was ‘wrong’, that the owner perceives it as ‘wrong’, that if he does it his owner will feel ‘hurt’, and that his owner will associate this wee, with the event prior to the wee taking place. That is a LOT for a puppy to be capable of don’t you think? I would hazard a guess this urination is anxiety based, derived from frustration in a given situation of being unable to communicate his desire effectively to gain a resource and being denied an object/item he feels is essential to survival.

If we look at children, their emotional development is something which changes over time, they are not born with a set list of emotions which are present and functioning from birth. As children age, they are able to feel more and more emotional states, largely gaining in complexity as they grow. Studies have suggested that dogs have the same mind, or emotional capabilities, of a 2.5 year old child. So certainly dogs do indeed have emotions, but certainly not on the same scale as you and I.

So, if we are basing our dogs emotions on a 2.5 year old child, what emotional range do they have ?

  • Calm/arousal – a range of excitement levels
  • Contentment/distress
  • Fear/anger
  • Shy/suspicious
  • Affection/love

Children generally do not experience emotions such as shame, pride or guilt until after the 2.5 year period, so we can somewhat presume dogs do not possess these emotions. We must remember that the rate in which our dogs will experience all the above emotions is QUICK, they will have felt all the emotions they will feel throughout life by around 6 months old.

So, what emotions will your dog likely NOT feel?

  • guilt
  • pride
  • shame

Have you ever spoken to someone and they tell you their pup raided the bin whilst they were out, or went to the loo in the house, and they came home to this unpleasantness! They then explain that they came in and saw the mess and ‘she knew what she’d done she looked really guilty about it, she knew it was naughty’. Well this is just not the case. The behaviours you see, the hiding, the tail tucked under the body, the wide eyes and the ears back, are all fear related. The dog has learned, when there is rubbish on the floor, or wee on the floor, when you walk in, punishment ensues (please remember ‘punishment’ does NOT always mean aversive treatment). A dog does not know that wee/poo is ‘bad’, it’s just a normal bodily function, they have no concept of it being ‘horrible’. Why would they feel guilty for going to the toilet?? It is a learned behaviour due to prior punishment for the same event occurring.

The world of canine (or animal!) emotion is a fascinating one and there is SO much scientific research being done as we speak, trying to find out more all the time. Canine behaviour is a fast paced subject!

I realise this article isn’t so much ‘training’ related, but I still felt it was important that we looked at emotion in our dogs, and what they do/don’t feel and are/aren’t capable of. Generally speaking, it may well not do our dogs any harm for us to attribute OUR emotion in a certain context to a dog, but be aware of it and be cautious of actively changing how you treat your dog due to how YOU perceive it may feel.

If you would like more information about this subject, or about the 1-2-1’s I offer, just get in touch!
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!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Fear stages in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

fear stages in puppies

I have been asked many a time by owners why their seemingly confident little pup has suddenly become fearful. This can manifest itself as a fear of anything in the environment, from people to dogs to dustbins! Your once relaxed little pup who would stride by anything and everything with ease, suddenly seems to have a minor meltdown at the mere sight of an outstretched hand or a dustbin in front of your home. But why does this occur? What is going on?? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to remember our pups go through quite a few developmental stages during the course of their first 2 years. It may seem quite clear cut, we get our puppy at 8 weeks, we bring them home and as long as we socialise them adequately then our job is done and we should have a confident and fulfilled dog at the end, right?? Well, maybe. There are however stages that it is important to be aware of along the way.

One of these stages is termed the ‘fear period’ or ‘fear imprint stage’. This is a stage in which your pup will seemingly out of the blue develop a fear or anxiety about something which has likely previously held no meaning. Something very normal like a person in the street, or something a bit more obvious like traffic or other dogs. This may display itself via avoidance behaviours ie. hiding behind you or pulling back away from the object, you may see a change in body posture from a relaxed tail carriage to a ‘tucked under’ tail and a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression.

Fear periods can occur twice in a pups development, the first is around 8-10 weeks old, and the second between 6-14 months (nicely coinciding with the adolescent stage which brings a whole new set of behaviours in itself!). The puppy will respond in a more fearful way to anything which it may deem ‘traumatic’. Something which is likely not traumatic, will be perceived by your pup as pretty scary and something to be avoided. It is also at this stage that events will have more of an impact than at any other time, so in short, it’s a pretty important period of time all round! The fear stage is not limited to NEW experiences or stimuli which is important to remember, it may be something that your pup has seen every day since being with you and something he has paid no attention to at all, or even enjoyed, up until now. So, to define, a fear period is a stage in which a puppy may perceive new or familiar stimuli as a threat.

We can see, biologically, why this stage may occur. A puppy at this age is just starting to ‘fly the nest’ and any wrong move or misjudgement about what is/isn’t ‘safe’ will effect survival chances. Also, the first fear stage will coincide with when a pup is leaving his mum and siblings and going off to a brand new unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and stimuli.

So, what can we do to help our pups if we feel they are going through a fear stage??

There’s a few things to consider:

  • Bond – bond with your puppy! Via training, communication, and patience. Gain your pups trust and engage with him daily. Encourage focus behaviours ie. eye contact, practice engagement training (look back at my blog articles if you’re unsure how), and work on handling techniques to gain a solid level of trust between you both.
  • Make it FUN – use treats/favourite toy to help build positive associations with every new experience your pup has! Take things at your pups pace, don’t force interactions, let your pup make a choice as to how far he wants to engage with the environment around him. Encourage, praise progress, and keep a light-hearted tone in your voice. There is actually no evidence to suggest you can reinforce an emotion (fear is an emotional response to an event/object), however there is no need to go overboard with your ‘cuddling’ if your pup is fearful! Reassurance yes, panic-stricken cuddling, probably best not.
  • Use calming aids – I have said before that the scientific evidence behind such tools ie. Adaptil plug-ins and collars is far from conclusive, but, I can tell you some people swear by them so they are worth consideration I feel!
  • Use a set up – set up ‘pretend’ situations! Your pup is worried about people going by when walking? Ask a friend to help with gradual desensitisation. Your pup is scared of dustbins? Spend some time every day building positive associations with the dustbins! Pup is scared of the vets table? Ask your vet if you could have a ‘social visit’ with just treats/cuddles and fun! They will not mind!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep! Inadequate sleep leaves a pup unable to learn, process information and will likely be more sensitive to situations.
  • Stay calm!!! – the first thing we do when our pup is worried is worry ourselves! Stop yourself, think clearly, what can I do to improve this? How can I change my pups emotional response to this object? There will be a way, so just calmly work through it.
  • Ask for advice – if you are unsure, don’t go through it alone, ask a professional for advice!

Although it may seem like a worrying time, your once confident little pup is suddenly worrying about something entirely meaningless and inconsequential, try to stay calm. Don’t build it into more of an issue than it needs to be, stay relaxed and simply work out a plan to try and change your pups view of the ‘scary thing’. It’s perfectly do-able.

There is, as stated above, a second ‘fear stage’, however I am a puppy trainer and try to limit topics as much as possible to puppyhood so I will refrain from delving into it too much! If you need more information regarding this second stage just get in touch.

I do cover the developmental stages our pups go through during my 1-2-1’s so if you feel you are struggling with anything mentioned just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Jumping up in puppies! – Cambridge Puppy Training

jumping up

Jumping up is a normal and common behaviour puppies display. It certainly isn’t unusual to be greeted by a puppy with paws all over your legs. Largely, this occurs because it has been reinforced from the very beginning. The first time your pup does this, he will likely be extremely young and extremely small!! The recipient of the ‘jump’ will likely put their hands down, stroke, and say how cute your puppy is. This isn’t unusual, I think we are all guilty of a little bit of ‘over-tolerance’ when it comes to puppy jumping, however this serves to reinforce the behaviour. So, what can we do about it? And how can we teach our pups NOT to jump up?

I have briefly touched on jumping up before, but not in too much depth and if we’re honest I think most puppy owners will face this issue at some point. I do offer advice regarding jumping up, beyond what is covered here, in my 1-2-1’s so if you ARE struggling just get in touch.

Firstly, it is important to say that as mentioned above, this is not an unusual behaviour. Not only does a behaviour such as jumping up get reinforced from the beginning, it is also a natural behaviour for puppies to perform. Their first inclination is to get nearer to either our hands, our faces, or our treats!! All of which are out of reach if ‘all 4 are on the floor’. If you watch puppy play, it is largely unregulated in those early weeks and manners are often somewhat lacking! Pups will leap, jump, bundle, bat, and mouth……all in the name of play. So it is of little surprise they see fit to treat us in much the same way until shown different. As stated above, jumping up works, it results in a rewarding response (our attention), so we can see how it then develops into a behaviour which is performed whenever a person approaches.

It is important to mention not ALL dogs are ‘jumpers’, breed differences, personality, genetic predisposition and reinforcement history will all play a part. However I would hazard a guess that at some stage, most pups due to their opportunistic tendencies, will have a go at jumping up. This may seem all very sweet when we have a tiny little puppy, and indeed if you have a small breed again it may not seem like a big issue. However, if you have a larger breed of dog, or quite simply would like to instil some self control into your puppy regardless of breed, it needs to be under control from as early an age as possible. I should also add, some people don’t actually mind their dogs jumping up at people they know. As long as they are not causing distress, concern or worry in any way to the public (ie. jumping at strangers etc) then I am a firm believer in each to their own. What works for you and your dog is what is best.

So, what can we do about jumping up??

We have a few things we can do, ideally all in conjunction with one another.

Firstly, before our pup even starts to jump up or display the behaviour, we’re going to show our pups what we WANT them to do. This isn’t something we start doing AFTER our pup has started leaping at every person it passes in the street, this is something to be doing from the very beginning. If, each time your pup jumps up at you, you say ‘off’ or ‘down’, your pup may well comply and he may put all 4 feet on the floor. HOWEVER, be mindful of just how clever our pups are. They will very quickly learn that when they jump up, you say ‘off’, they then get off and get a reward. They ARE that clever. So, when you come home, or when you walk into the room etc, as your pup starts running towards you (or the second you get in the door) immediately mark (ie. YES, or clicker) and put a treat on the floor for your pup, before his feet even leave the ground. Your pup will then look up at you again as you’re walking through, immediately mark and put a treat on the floor. Keep repeating every single time you come through the door. We are not ‘asking’ our pup to do anything, but we are marking and rewarding an offered behaviour of ‘all 4 on the floor’. If you find you weren’t quick enough, and your pup has leapt at you, step to the side to get the paws off and completely ignore. Try and remember that interaction isn’t simply ‘talking’ to our pups, it’s touching, it’s eye contact, it’s verbal (even a firm voice!). If you are not quick enough with your marker and reward, walk away.

Secondly, we’re going to start working on our ‘settle’. Encouraging our pup to ‘settle’ is hugely beneficial, not only will this be incredibly useful throughout your pups life in varying situations, it will really help to improve your pups ‘self-calming’ skills.

Thirdly, we are going to work on impulse control and general self control exercises. Leaving food/toys of high value when asked, offering eye contact, stay exercises, and proofing these. Practicing and proofing a solid sit/stay or down/stay will be very helpful, it can be used as an incompatible behaviour to jumping up. I would be cautious of attempting this with visitors when your pup is very small, it’s highly unlikely a young pup will have the patience or reserve to perform a stay when a guest arrives! A stay is a ‘passive’ behaviour and whilst we aim to encourage these, we need to be realistic in our training goals and possibly think of an ‘active behaviour’ for our pups early on. However, start practicing these, it will pay dividends in the long run and serve to keep arousal levels low generally. Try practicing ‘fast movements’ and click and put a treat on the floor when your pup keeps ‘all 4 on the floor’. Rush about, run up and down, jump around, WATCH your puppy, you will see when they are about to jump, get in before they take any feet off the floor, click and drop a treat down. Use a high rate of reinforcement to start off with, make slight movements at first, and build it up. Remember this isn’t something we are ‘correcting’ once it has started, it’s something we are showing prior to any jumping starting.

Fourthly, use reward stations! I wrote a blog post about reward stations the other day, have a look back! Maybe your front door would be an ideal place for a reward station?

Lastly, ask people to ignore your pup until you have done what you need to do. People WILL understand. I know I certainly would and I would be pleased someone has the good sense to ask me to wait before approaching their pup. Interestingly, nobody ever has, and I have met a LOT of puppies. Also, if somebody is keen to cuddle your pup (as most people will be!) try asking them to help you, ask them to approach slowly whilst you ‘click and drop treats’ etc. If your pup gets too excited ask them to take a step back and work up slowly again. People will like helping a little puppy in their training! I know we are all guilty of cuddling puppies when they approach but there are a few ways we can stop a pup jumping on us even if they don’t belong to us. Whilst we are saying hello we can put a finger in the collar to limit any feet coming off the floor. We can also get a treat out (if we have one!) and immediately throw it on the floor, or lastly ask for a sit when we approach a pup or they approach us. We can also completely ignore/turn our backs if any feet come off the floor. Or, quite simply, we can ask the owner if it’s OK to say hello! Something I am sure we could all do more of.

So, whilst jumping up is a normal behaviour for a puppy to display, it is one that continues because it is reinforced. Show our pups how to behave upon greeting before jumping even STARTS to become the ‘norm’ and we may set our pups up for success. Teach incompatible behaviours, teach self-calming behaviours and focus exercises and teach our pups to control their impulses!

This is a normal and common behaviour as I said, and I do cover this in my 1-2-1’s so do get in touch if you need more information.

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining