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Last Updated:
6/13/2019 9:24 AM


 

TRAINING YOUR BRITTANY

We recommend that all adopters take their Brittany to a positive reinforcement obedience class. Well-run, positive classes are a good place to bond with your new dog in an atmosphere that’s geared toward making YOU the boss. Brittanys are like small, very intelligent children and they keep their families on their toes. They’re curious, they enjoy life and if they can do that on their own terms, they will.

A Brittany may not be a good choice for your very first dog. Many Brittanys will try to be the top of their pack. They won’t do it by fighting and snarling their way to the top; they’ll most often do it by charming you into doing things their way or by using passive resistance. As with all dogs, if you want a Brittany who is truly a joy to live with, you’ll need to make sure he has enough mental and physical exercise and you need to be the one in charge.

ABR has volunteers who hunt, volunteers who have years of experience with Brittanys, and volunteers who are trained in obedience and behavioral studies. If you are having difficulties with your Brittany, please look at the information provided here. If you don’t find your questions answered here, contact your state coordinator or email us at info@americanbrittanyrescue.org

We are often asked for information on:

Positive Reinforcement

Once upon a time ago, it was believed that the best way to train a dog was to tell him over and over, and often harshly, all the things he was doing wrong. If the dog pulled on the leash, a sharp painful jerk was the way to correct this. If the dog jumped on a person, his back paws were stepped on. The belief was that if you showed a dog all the bad things that could happen as a result of an undesirable behavior, that behavior would disappear. Not only did this create unimaginable stress on the dog, most loving owners found these training techniques very stressful. Stories of dogs being injured, and even worse – dying – as a result of these training techniques scared owners away from obedience.

In the early 1980s, Ian Dunbar developed reward-based training. Considered by many to be the ‘Father of Positive Reinforcement Training’, Dunbar showed the training industry how incredibly effective reward-based training could be. Instead of correcting the wrong behavior, now training involved rewarding the right behaviors. Think how frustrating it can be to be told everything you are doing is wrong (everybody has had a boss like this in their life), yet you are never told ‘good job’. How would you ever know what behaviors to repeat? Instead, if you were told you that you did a great job on project X, you could repeat that same process over and over. Both you and your boss would be much happier.

The most compelling reason to use positive reinforcement training is that it is HUMANE. Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT) focuses on telling the dog when they are doing something right and shaping (not forcing) correct behaviors. For example, to teach Sit an owner doesn’t force the dog’s hind to the ground, but rather uses a treat to lure him into a sit. The luring method works better than force because the dog is learning how to shape his own behavior. Pretty soon, a sit means a reward and thus a frequent, positive behavior is formed. Because the behavior has always been associated with good things, the behavior will often appear on its own with little, if any, prompting from the owner. The only thing the owner has to know for positive reinforcement training to work is what behavior they want. When they see that desired behavior, they reward it!

The second most compelling reason to use PRT is that punishment based training can cause very serious, unintended consequences. The most common consequence to punishment training is aggression. How can this happen? When a dog sees another dog in the park, he pulls on his leash because he wants to play with the dog. The pulling dog gets choked, pinched and/or corrected for the pulling. The dog knows he saw another dog and felt pain. This happens over and over until the dog decides he gets hurt every time he sees another dog; therefore, the other dog must be causing his pain. Hence a dog-aggressive dog has been shaped by his owners. I am sure this was not their intention.

Another type of aggression than can result from punishment based training is fear aggression. This can very easily occur with dogs that generally have very soft personalities, like Brittanys. Brittanys are emotional dogs and express their feelings with their whole self. They do an entire dance when they are happy and they will have the same exuberance when expressing fear. A fearful dog is one that is very likely to lash out at the source of the fear, and for a dog this means biting since that is a dog’s only real option for self-protection.

PRT creates an environment where your dog wants to learn. Because there is no punishment involved, your dog can relax. Relaxed dogs learn better and perform better. PRT focuses on building a mutually respectful relationship between you and your dog. Your dog wants to do the right thing to earn his rewards. In punishment systems, dogs would often shut down from training. I can only imagine after the first ten corrections what a dog must have been thinking "I can’t do anything right so I just won’t do anything at all!"

Another reason to use PRT is that you don’t have to be a training expert to be successful. Since in PRT the trainer rewards the right behavior and ignores the wrong behaviors, the worst thing that can happen if the trainer has an instance of bad timing and forgets to reward or inadvertently rewards standing instead of sitting is that the dog gets an extra reward and it takes a little longer (another repetition) to get the behavior right. Compare that to punishment based systems where an instance of bad timing can result in the dog having pain inflicted for something as simple as looking at the sky, or whatever benign behavior the dog was partaking in at the time of the correction.

Brittanys are extremely intelligent. They will not want to participate in ‘games’ (read training sessions) that are not fun and rewarding. Brittanys can also be stubborn which is why a good positive reinforcement training class is highly recommended, as is a positive Leadership Program. Please see ABR’s Leadership Program entitled ‘Who’s the Boss?’ for more information on why a Leadership Program is important and how to get started. ABR wants to promote a happy, healthy relationship between you and your pet. We strongly believe that through positive reinforcement training methods, you can achieve a wonderful relationship built on mutual respect and trust.

If you have questions, please email us at info@americanbrittanyrescue.org. To find a positive trainer in your area, please visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.com.

Aggression

As a general rule, Brittanys are not aggressive dogs. However, if your dog is exhibiting what you perceive as aggressive behavior, please speak with a professional, positive reinforcement trainer right away. Aggression comes in many shapes and sizes, and can stem from a variety of causes. A professional trainer can help you properly diagnose your dog’s behaviors and start you on the appropriate action plan to help reshape the behaviors. If you do not know of any positive reinforcement trainers in your area, please visit www.apdt.com for trainers that promote positive techniques in your area. Your vet may also be able to make a referral.

Barking

People talk, dogs bark. It is not reasonable to expect your dog to never utter a single bark; however, when barking becomes excessive it can create problems for the owners, the neighbors, and ultimately the dog. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. The first step in correcting problem barking is to figure out why your dog is barking. If your dog is barking when you are not around, you may have to do some detective work like enlisting the help of the neighbors or even go as far as setting up a video camera to record when your dog is barking.

The Most Likely Reasons Your Dog Barks

 

      • Territorial Barking –occurs when ‘intruders’ are present (the mailman, neighbors walking their dogs, etc.). The purpose of this bark is to warn the ‘intruder’ that they have not gone unnoticed, and warn the other pack members of the ‘threat’.
      • Fear Barking –occurs when your dog is uncomfortable in a given situation (barks at fireworks, thunder, etc.). It’s your dog’s way of warning the impending ‘danger’.
      • Request Barking – occurs when your dog wants something now! Common examples are barking for a treat, access to outside, walks, etc.
      • Boredom Barking – occurs when a dog creates his own fun by barking. This usually occurs when a dog is under-stimulated as a result of his daily needs of physical and mental stimulation not being met.

How Can I Control My Dog’s Barking?

    • Territorial Barking
      • Teach your dog an alternative behavior. For example, teach your dog that when he hears the doorbell ring, if he does a down stay he gets a tasty treat. Practice learning a down stay well, then once your dog has it, ring the bell, and issue the command. When your dog goes down, reward with a treat. After several repetitions, your dog will have learned that the ringing of the bell means ‘Down Stay’ and he gets a tasty reward. (Be sure to pick where you want the down stay. Make sure it’s not directly in front of the door!)
      • Teach your dog a ‘Quiet’ command. Once barking, lure your dog’s attention to you with a treat and when he becomes quiet, say ‘Good Quiet’ slowly and calmly, rewarding with a treat for quiet.
      • If you haven’t already, have your pet spayed or neutered. This alone can sometimes curb territorial barking.
      • As a behavior management technique, you can block your dog from having access to the front rooms of the house (which is where this type of barking most often occurs).
    • Fear Barking
      • You have to determine what it is that is frightening to your dog.
      • Once you know what it is that is scary, start a program to desensitize your dog to the noise. If it’s thunder, you can buy a tape with thunder noises and play it at a very low volume while asking your dog to do things he is good at, like sit, for lots of tasty treats and praise and petting.
      • If your dog is scared of strangers, carry a very tasty treat with you at all times and ask strangers to toss the treats to your dog. Eventually your dog will think that all people are treat dispensers.
    • Request Barking
      • This is probably the easiest barking to cure. It’s simple – your dog is barking to tell you he wants something. So, he doesn’t get it until he is quiet. You should ignore the barking completely. When the barking ceases, then your dog can have what it is that he wanted. Soon your dog will learn that being quiet is a faster way to get what he wants!
      • It’s important to note that if your dog has been successful in getting what he wants by barking, he will bark louder and longer the first few times you ignore him. Don’t give in! It’s a test! Stand your ground and eventually the behavior will extinct itself because it’s no longer rewarding.
    • Boredom Barking
      • Boredom barking occurs when your dog doesn’t have anything better to do than bark! This may occur if your dog isn’t getting enough physical and mental stimulation.
      • Increasing your dog’s stimulation will help to eliminate boredom barking:
        • Walk your dog at least once every day. It’s mentally and physically stimulating.
        • Take your dog through a positive-reinforcement obedience class, or any positive training class like agility or tricks. Practice a few of your commands every day to make your dog’s mind work.
        • Provide interesting toys like stuffed Kongs, Goodie Bones, Buster Cubes, etc. Consider rotating the toys so there is always something ‘new’ in your dog’s environment.
        • Consider enrolling your dog in doggie day-care where he can romp and play with other dogs.
        • Consider hiring a dog sitter to help exercise your dog while you are at work.
        • Provide high energy games like fetch to tire your dog, especially before extended absences.
      • Do Bark Collars Work?

        The answer here is ‘sometimes’ but they should be used as part of your training program, not instead of one. Even if a bark collar is successful, you have not addressed the underlying cause of the barking. Often, if the barking ceases, the behavior will just manifest in another way. For instance, if your dog is Boredom Barking, you may be successful in ceasing the barking, but you may wind up with a digging dog. In no case should a bark collar be used in cases where your dog is barking due to fear or anxiety.

        First consider using the Citronella Collar which emits a citronella solution when your dog barks. The theory behind why this collar works is that when the citronella is emitted, your dog will sniff it. Dogs cannot sniff and bark at the same time. A disadvantage to this collar is that it is sound activated which means that sounds other than your dog barking could potentially set it off, creating one confused pooch! The collar works best as a training tool, when the owner is present to reward the quiet times.

        The electric shock collars can work when used properly as part of a training program.  But they can also  have horrific side effects.  For instance, your dog barks when the mailman comes each day. At the bark, the collar shocks the dog. After a few repetitions, the dog has figured out that he gets shocked every time the mailman comes and, therefore, the mailman must be causing the shock. Now you have a dog that believes the mailman is causing him pain, and this can evolve into full-blown aggression at the mailman. Now consider how many times a day this scenario happens when people and dogs pass the house. You have created a dog that is at best fearful of people and dogs and at worst aggressive towards them. So, again, this type of collar can be an effective training tool, but it IS NOT a substitute for doing the work of finding out why your dog is barking and then giving him the training he needs.

        Also see: http://www.ddfl.org/education/dog-behavior-tips/barking http://www.sfspca.org/sites/default/files/dog-barking.pdf

Biting

ABR’s policy is NOT to place a dog who is a known biter. If your dog has bitten, it’s very important to get assistance immediately! Remember, a bite does not necessarily mean ‘blood’ but can also mean bite warnings such as snapping. It is important to be aware of why dogs bite – and to make sure your children understand. http://www.ddfl.org/education/dog-behavior-tips/aggressive-behavior

Destructive Behavior (Inappropriate Chewing)

http://www.ddfl.org/education/dog-behavior-tips/destruction

Digging

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/digging.html

Escaping

 http://www.ddfl.org/education/dog-behavior-tips/escaping 

Who's the Boss

Do you see yourself in any of the following situations?

  • Your dog drops his toy in your lap when it is time to play.
  • Your dog goes to the treat jar and stares at it wanting a biscuit.
  • Your dog puts his muzzle into your hand when he wants to be petted.
  • Your dog does not move off the couch or bed when asked.
  • Your dog does not come when called.
  • Your dog defends valuable items and will not let you have them.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your dog has given you a command!

Background on Dog Behavior
Dogs are pack animals. This means that they are used to living in a social climate. In the wild, these packs developed a social structure called a hierarchy that determined who was in charge. Your family is now your dog’s pack and it is up to you (and all the humans in the pack) to determine who is in charge.

How Can I Do This?
You (and your family) can determine your own social hierarchy by starting a Leadership Program with your dog. The key to a good leadership program is making your dog work for his resources. As the human in the relationship you (and your family) naturally control all of your dog’s resources; food, treats, water, toys, affection, games, access to potty area, play time, etc. A leadership program is a natural, non-confrontational way of letting your dog know who is in charge.

Getting Started
You only need four things to get started: your dog, you, a sit command, and a reward! When your dog works for a resource the resource becomes a reward for their hard work. Here are a few examples to get you started.

      • When your dog brings you his ball for a game of fetch, make him sit before you throw the ball. Make him sit before each toss.
      • When your dog wants outside ask him to sit while you open the door. Assuming your dog is housebroken, he can wait for five seconds to sit nicely while you open the door. This will also help to eliminate your dog trampling you to get outside.
      • When you feed your dog, require him to sit before his meal is given to him.

Once your dog learns more commands, you can change things up so that your dog doesn’t know what ‘work’ he will have to do to earn his reward. Sometimes he might have to sit, other times lie down, and sometimes he has to shake. In any event, he will have to work for his resources.

By using this simple, non-threatening technique, you can easily establish yourself as the pack leader in your home. All family members should follow this same methodology to ensure that your dog knows that all the human pack members are ahead of him in the hierarchy. The vast majority of dogs are happy to know that you are in charge and have things under control. By showing your dog you are the leader, you give him the consistency he craves.

Having a Baby

Having a baby is one of the most exciting times in someone’s life! There is so much to do and so much to prepare before the day your baby is born. Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of this exciting time, often we forget to include our dog in the preparing process. In an instant, your dog’s world as he knows it will be changed forever. Often, the dog goes from the pedestal position of fur-baby to second tier. This can be extremely confusing and threatening for your dog and this is why many dogs end up in rescue after the birth of a child. Usually everything from bed time to meal time to walk and play time is affected by the new baby’s arrival. You can make this transition much easier for you and your dog by following some practical advice long before the arrival of your new bundle of joy. By the time your baby arrives, the only thing new to your dog should be the baby herself!

If you haven’t already done basic obedience training, now is the time. Your dog should know all the basic commands, including sit, down, stay, no jumping, to come when called, leave it, and how to walk nicely on a leash. If you need some guidance on how to best teach these commands, find a reputable positive-reinforcement trainer in your area. Keep in mind that a typical class will last between six and nine weeks, so get started right away! If you've never crated your dog, this is also a good time to begin crate training. A crate can provide a safe place for your dog to relax when either of you are feeling overwhelmed by the changes that are coming. Begin by putting him in the crate with a tasty treat, such as a stuffed kong, for very short periods of time. As your dog becomes more and more at ease with the crate, gradually increase the length of his confinement. A crate can also come in very handy for baby feeding times, or bath times, when you need 100% of your attention focused on the baby. Another invaluable command to teach your dog will be the quiet command. You will need to be able to prevent and quickly stop barking during baby’s nap times.

Now is also time to think about how your dog will get his usual exercise and play when the baby arrives. Will you be able to walk him with the baby in a carrier or a stroller? Is there a dog park where he can go to run? Will another family member take over the exercise routine? If you are anticipating changes to your dog’s exercise and play routines, start incorporating those changes now. Having a new baby in the house is just as stressful for your dog as it is for you so ensuring your dog has mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis will be more important than ever. If you are planning to incorporate your dog’s daily walk into a family walk with a stroller, be sure to practice this before the baby arrives. Let your dog sniff the stroller but do not let him jump on it. Make sure your dog sees the stroller as a positive, happy thing so be sure to offer lots of praise and even a tasty treat or two when the stroller is around. Now practice walking with you pushing the stroller. For most people, this is very awkward at first because you are no longer holding the leash, but rather pushing the stroller with the leash over one wrist. It will take a few trips to get this new walking style down for you and your dog as he will no longer be able to freely move from side to side – there will be a stroller blocking the way! Imagine how much more difficult this would be with a baby in the stroller! Get started now so you dog understands his new walk routine before the baby arrives.

A baby means lots and lots of new, unfamiliar things. Set out the things your baby will need - the baby seat, a swing, baby toys, baby blankets, high chair. Be sure to associate positives with these objects in the form of praise and a tasty treat every now and then. Put the lotion or powder you'll be using on your own hands and let your dog get used to the scent. Get a recording of a crying baby and play it softly while practicing your obedience. Increase the volume as time goes on in preparation for the real thing coming home. If you have family members with small children, see that he is exposed to them often and be sure that exposure is a positive experience. If you have a friend with a baby, invite her to visit. You might even get a baby sized doll to cradle, carry around and talk to. This is a good way to prepare him for the time when he's going to need to share your attention and for you to begin to show him that he's not losing you, but that you expect him to behave in a certain way. It will also help you understand what your dog’s specific concerns might be. Your dog’s senses of both hearing and smell are much more sensitive than your own so help prepare him for the sights, smells and sounds of a new baby long before the real thing arrives!

All that preparation for the past few months has hopefully paid off. Now the big day is here and you are off to the hospital to deliver that wonderful bundle of joy! Wait! Who’s going to feed the dog? Make sure your hospital plans also include plans to keep your dog fed, let out and exercised while you are in the hospital. While you're at the hospital with your new arrival, have a family member bring home a blanket that your baby has been wrapped in. This will be your first opportunity to expose him to the real scent of the new family member so make sure the blanket is presented with lots and lots of praise and love! On the day you come home, it will be natural for your dog to want to greet you after your absence. Ask someone else to hold your new baby while you greet your dog. Once your dog has settled down from the initial greetings, hold your baby in your lap. Ask him to sit and stay while you let him see and smell the baby. No harm will come if he licks the baby! If your dog seems to be getting stressed by all the first-day-home commotion, put him in his crate for a short time with a bone or special treat that can keep him occupied. Don't leave him there for an extended period of time, especially when the baby first comes home. He needs to know that he's still important to you.

Just like a first child when the second one comes, a dog may break housebreaking rules for a short time after the baby comes. Dogs may consider the baby as a new littermate who soils all over the house and they may start to do it too. To discourage this, be sure not to leave diapers lying around and be sure to clean up as carefully as you did in the early days when you were housebreaking your dog. If you do experience housebreaking problems, do the same things you did when you first brought our dog home - limit areas of access, take him outside immediately when you see that he's soiled something, praise him for doing his business outside. Also remember not to be harsh with your dog if he does have accidents, or forgets some of his other training. This is a very stressful time for your dog! Just remind your dog of what is proper and acceptable through praise and rewards and in no time he’ll figure out what the correct behaviors are.

As long as you're able to act relaxed and happy when your dog is in the house with the new baby, it shouldn't take long for him to accept the new family member. If you're very stressed by the arrival of your baby, your dog will pick up on this although he may not be sure where the stress is coming from. Your dog can be an enormous stress reliever - let him be that for you. It is important to carve out at least a little one-on-one time for you and your dog each day so your dog stills knows how important he is to you. Your dog wants you to be the leader of his pack and can accept your new baby and be as devoted to him as he is to you. With some planning ahead, your new baby can be a wonderful addition to your pack for both you and your dog.

Introducing Dogs and Cats

www.sfspca.org/behavior/dog_library/cat_dog_intros.pdf

Separation Anxiety

This is a very complex behavior and can be misdiagnosed. Often, destructive behavior is mischaracterized as separation anxiety. If after reading the linked document you think your dog has separation anxiety, it is recommended that you work with a professional, positive reinforcement trainer or talk to your vet. http://www.sfspca.org/sites/default/files/separation-anxiety.pdf

Information on a large variety of other subjects can be found at the websites of two of the nation’ top positive reinforcement training centers: