Dog Training: Anatomy of an Evaluation

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by Jamie_Dog_Trainer, Feb 1, 2011.

  1. Jamie_Dog_Trainer

    Jamie_Dog_Trainer Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 8, 2008
    Washington State
    I thought I would start this topic because I do give a lot of advice about dog training, and dogs in general here. Many of your questions regarding training I give the advice that you might need a professional trainer to come in and do an evaluation, then take some private lessons. For those of you who have never had a trainer in your home or worked with one, here is an over view of the first meeting with a trainer. All trainers are different but this is how I deal with an Evaluation.

    The purpose of the Eval is not only to guage the dog but also the owner/family. Even the most easily fixed issues on the best temperamented dogs can't be dealt with if I am not sure the owner or family is going to be able to follow through on my suggestions and be consistent in training/rehabing their dog.

    This is an example of a pretty typical Evaluation I deal with. This is a real example from an Eval I did just this past Sunday.

    Dog: 8 Month old Golden, neutered two months ago. Household: Husband, Wife (in their 40's), one 18 year old daughter who recently moved out of home to college, one 16 year old daughter, and one 6 year old boy. House: Large home, on several acres with close neighbors, fenced back yard. Other animals in home: Min Pin, 4 years, house rabbit, 4 month old pot belly big. -- Interesting note: husband has worked in Zoos as an animal trainer.

    Old History: Family has had goldens before. Their previous dog died suddenly while outside, no known cause of death. Dog was 11 years old and in excellent condition/health (I saw pics of him, didn't look old in any way). Got an older puppy as a compromise with family. Kids wanted a little pup, Parents wanted to 'rescue' and older Golden or mix.

    Found this 8 month old Golden, "Calvin" on Craigs List. Previous owner was complaining of aggression to her 4 year old son. Growling/snapping episodes several times. Previous owner said her husband was a trucker and hardly ever home, she was dogs primary caretaker and he was really mostly bonded to her. No socialization, no training.

    Current History: Had Calvin for two months. Had him neutered right away. Family states they spent 45 mins in McDonald parking lot talking to previous owner before deciding on this dog. They were not really concerned about the aggression for several reasons, this is all ver batim: 1) He's a Golden and they aren't like that, 2) He was submissive to all family members on initial meeting, 3) they felt they had enough training experience to deal with most dogs. 4) They felt his age would be a good compromise for the kids and Calvin would be past most of the difficult training stages.

    Main issues: Aggression to their 6 yo son. Dog has bitten about 5 times. Twice breaking skin. Once was over a toy. Boy left nerf football on floor, dog chews it up. Mom tells son to clean up the mess, Calvin approaches son from behind and does a sneak-attack ankle bit, breaking skin slightly. Dog does NOT move away after the bite, only leaving the scene once the Mom approaches the dog. Dog is placed outside. Second skin break was more serious, on the boy's wrist. This was when Calvin was "counter surfing" boy came in to kitchen pushed the dog off the counter, dog swings, growls and bites his wrist, then runs off. Dog is placed in laundry room after the Dad yells at the dog.

    Calvin also will growl at adult friends of the family, never at a woman according to them. Dog acts very submissve to all visitors, especially men. Calvin will growl at adult male visitors only when owners leave the room. Calvin has never attempted a bite or even a growl at anyone in the family but the 6 yo son.

    Calvin is also possessive of food, any food. According to his owners he's never bitten or growled at them, but he's gone after both the pot belly pic and the Min Pin for being around the food dishes, before, durring, and after feeding times. This issue is being managed by putting Calvin in the Laundry Room durring feeding time. Wife admits to being scared of the dog, especially over food aggression.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2011
  2. Jamie_Dog_Trainer

    Jamie_Dog_Trainer Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 8, 2008
    Washington State
    My First Observations: Upon arrival I see the Husband outside on the phone, Calvin was out with him. He approached me with excessive submissive behavior, although he was genuinly interested in me. Calvin approached slowly, butt down, and slinking slightly. Eyes squinting and lips pulled back slightly. Head not super low, but as I made eye contact he turned sideways to me, tail wagging and clamped over his botton but not between his legs. Rubbed his body against my legs and I said hello to him verbally but didn't touch him. Owner repeatedly commanded the dog to come, or down but the dog didn't comply until I approached the Owner and then he left me and stood behind him watching me as I shook hands with Owner.

    Owner showed me inside where he told Calvin to go to his bed. Calvin complied nicely and laid down watching me, still squinty eyed. I greeted Wife, and both kids present (16 yo girl and 6 yo boy).

    Sat down and asked lots of questions about Calvin's previous home. Owners seem to think that Calvin wasn't treated well and that they had too much going on to deal with him. I asked detailed questions about biting and growling, when, where, and how often. They hoped neutering him would stop aggression but it hasn't made a difference so far. All bites have happened when the adult owners weren't in the room, Calvin bit once (ankle bite, breaking skin) when the 16 yo was in the room. Another bite occurred when Calvin shoved between 6 yo and 16 yo were interacting, 6 yo shoved dog and Calvin bit his arm but not breaking skin.

    They described his growling at adult male friends as "bizzare". They don't know what to make of his behavior at all and are considering rehoming him.

    After Q and A time I tell them I would like to interact with the dog with them there, and that I would point out behaviors along the way. I want them to see what triggers insecurity and see if he seems to relax, how much, and what I do that makes him feel comfortable.

    The Active Evaluation: I call Calvin to me from his rug. He comes right away, slightly more relaxed, but with all privious submissive behaviors in place. He sniffs my hands, licks them and then licks my face. I talk to him a little, run my hands over his face, ears and down the top of his neck. He enjoys the petting but remains very wary and tense. I do not see any aggressive behavior at all. Just nervousness, placating me.

    What I describe to the owners: His face is tense, eyes squinting ( very exaggerated), corners of his mouth are pulled back a little, ears are down and back, tail is clamped but wagging. They say they have never noticed the eye squinting, but that they can tell its not how he normally looks. Lips pulled back is a new one for them too, they are suprised. I remain sitting and I run my hands down his back over his tail, his head follows my hands. I pick up his front feet and feel his pads and toe nails. He never jerks away and seems ok with it, he remains squinty eyed but also excited. I look in his ears and he stands nicely for exam. I like this dog so far!

    I stand up and his demeanor changes. Again back to the overly exaggerated submissive postures. He lowers himself down but not prone. I pet him for several seconds to see if he'll relax. I don't not stand over him, just next to him. He relaxes some and I continue to point out how he reacts to my more assertive posture. Then I lean over him and pet his sides, right away his lps pull back into a "smile" (nervous grimace) and his eyes go almost closed. He arcs his body away from me and also leans into me, but at no time did he try to move away from me. I never held his collar and at any time he could have chosen to move off.

    The owners are suprised to learn what this body language means. They say they have never considered him a nervous or insecure dog, just a submissive one. After I stop petting him and sit down he goes over to the female owner, greets her excitedly (she had not called him) and starts panting. He shakes off and keeps panting, and reapproaches me, keeps panting and brushes up against me. I continue talking to the Owners and Calvin goes from person to person greeting them. He greets the 6 yo neutrally, with some wagging and still panting.

    I call the dog over and ask the 6 yo to approach me, but instruct him to stop if I ask him to. He does three approaches, stopping every three feet or so. At no time did I see Calvin show anything other than casual interest towards the boy. As I saw this I asked the boy to come stand by me and shake my hand. The only difference in the dog was that he actively body blocked between the boy and I. After he attempted this once he didn't do it again and was neutral. Calvin remained next to me as I chatted with the 6 yo.

    I asked the 16 yo to call Calvin. He came to her and I sat next to her. I asked the 6 yo to approach them and shake her hand, but to stop if I asked him to. Same body blocking, attempted once and also the dog placed one foot on the 16 yo but removed himself when she said "down" and then he moved away. No tensing, no hackles, no pushing other than the body block, no mouthing, no freezing. This dog was being controlling but not aggressive. This I pointed out to the owners.

    Section Two Next.
  3. True Grit

    True Grit Chillin' With My Peeps

    Ooh very interesting. Thanks for posting. Eagerly awaiting Section 2.
  4. gritsar

    gritsar Cows, Chooks & Impys - OH MY!

    Nov 9, 2007
    SW Arkansas
    Thanks for posting this Jamie. [​IMG]
  5. TigerLilly

    TigerLilly I failed Chicken Math

    Jul 18, 2010
    Central Florida
    This is very interesting; also eagerly awaiting section 2!
  6. BeccaB00

    BeccaB00 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 16, 2010
    This has got me so interested. Awaiting section 2! [​IMG]
  7. Jamie_Dog_Trainer

    Jamie_Dog_Trainer Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 8, 2008
    Washington State
    Section Two: Active Evaluation, Food aggressiveness

    I ask them if I could see where, and how they feed him. Wife states she has been exclusively feeding him in the laundry room (also where he sleeps, no crate). Feeding this way since she first saw him "go after" the Pig and the Min Pin for even being near their food bowls. Wife reinterates that she is afraid of his reactions during these times and expresses to me that she "hopes this doesn't go wrong". I tell her to ask the kids to remain in the other room until I can guage his reactions.

    The husband calls Calvin into the laundry room, I watch from the door. He has him "wait" while he pours food into the bowl. Calvin doesn't wait until released, owner shrugs. I approach Calvin, he wags his tail and keeps eating, gobbling food down. I say his name, he wags more but doesn't look at me or move his head. I place my hand on his side. No other response. No tensing, no freezing, no growling. Just excited wagging and eating. I touch the food bowl with my foot, scooting it a few inches. Calvin lifts his head, just to follow the bowl. Still no aggressive behavior. Seems ok with me being there and touching him. I say his name, then gently push him away from his bowl with my knee. He allows this with ease, and tries to eat more. I ask him to 'wait' with a hand signal. He steps back but comes forward again. I body block. And ask him to 'wait'. He seems confused and focused on me, gives me eye contact, happy body launguage. I note at this time the eye squinting is nearly gone and his body posture is more normal. He's relaxing, even amid me testing his food related behavior.

    Calvin does a wait, with much help from me. I continue to body block but keep my own body laguage happy and in a teaching mode. After about 90 seconds of a wait, I release him, he goes back to eating, finishes the food and walks out into the kitchen. I ask the owners if that is what they expected. The Wife says that, no she was expecting him to bite me and was shocked that he was so happy about it. I tell her that, in my opinion he's not go food aggression or possessive behavior towards people. Toward the other animals remains to be seen. She expresses that she is relieved.

    I move the dog bowl into the kitchen. I get a cup of kibble. I show Calvin that I am throwing food into the bowl, he eagerly eats each peice. After a couple times of this I ask him to "wait" prior to throwing it. He goes right for the food, I body block and repeat the command just as when we were in the laundry room. He obeys, but barely. I give him a couple seconds to allow this to 'sink in', then release so he can eat. I repeat this twice more. I lessen the body blocking each time and allow him to make the decision to obey, but I remain next to the bowl incase he can't help himself. Calvin chooses to step back from the bowl and lay down. At that I tell the owners that he's responding beautifuly, with a lot of thinking and he's enjoying the learning. His laying down means he is accepting the wait and accepting that I am controlling the food. They are suprised and happy.

    I then make it a little harder by moving away from the bowl one step and asking for a wait. Calvin immediately goes for the food. I tell him "NO" firmly but he ignores me. I gently take his cheek in my hand and turn his face away from the food. If this dog was going to bite over food this moment would have been it. He never even acted resentful of the action, he never growled, nothing to tell me he was afraid or uneasy. After I releaed him he moved away easily. After about 30 seconds I released him to eat the food and he had no fearful hesitation. Wait for food again, this time he was perfect, making good eye contact. I walked away and around the other side of the island in the kitchen. He looked at the food but remained respectfuly at a distance. I had the other family members move around him and the kitchen. He remained on the wait. Even when the 6 yo approached.

    The family is very pleased, as am I. This dog has no food or bowl possessiveness with people. Even the little boy.
  8. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
  9. CityClucks

    CityClucks The Center of a 50 Mile Radius

    Jan 31, 2009
    Tulsa, OK
    Thanks Jamie - really good stuff.
  10. Jamie_Dog_Trainer

    Jamie_Dog_Trainer Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 8, 2008
    Washington State
    Section three will be evaluating his food behavior with the other animals.

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