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Special Situations

How to Say Hello: Teaching Manners to Aggressive Dogs

While emotions drive behavior, the reverse is also true: emotions follow physical expression, or behavior. In psychology, the practice of "smile therapy" advises clients to hold a smile on their faces, whether they feel like it or not. The theory is that even a forced smile washes away the emotions that prevent you from smiling, increasing your motivation and confidence. In other words, if you want to be happy, act happy. In addition, changing the consequences of a behavior can alter an emotional state. While the psychologists are concerned with human behavior, clicker training accomplishes both objectives for our dogs. We can teach our dogs to perform separate social behaviors on cue while interacting with other dogs. If these behaviors are solidly on cue, they can help them relax, and spark spontaneous appropriate interactions.

Changing Stress Cues to Calm Cues: A Training Recipe from Click to Calm

In her new book Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog, Emma Parsons presents several groundbreaking concepts in treating canine aggression through clickertraining. One of her remarkable new ideas recognizes the impact of the handler's body language on a dog's aggressive responses. She describes the moment in which she realized her own signs of stress were cueing her Golden Retriever Ben's aggressive display:

Fear of the Elevator

I took four dogs to dog shows this weekend, one of them was a young Labrador that I own with a family about an hour away from my home. I had seen the dog off and on for the past year but she has had no real training other than coming to puppy class. This pup is clicker wise. I stayed in a hotel and had to bring each dog up to the fourth floor of the hotel! Pearl had never been in an elevator and decided to put the breaks on—there was no way she was taking a step into that scary looking place with the shiny floor.

Kittens Harassing Elderly Cats

Young active kittens and cats confined to a house with older cats are inevitably going to want to roughhouse and playchase those older cats. And the older cats, politely, are unlikely to respond aversively. Besides, fighting back might be fun for the kitten; keeping a low profile is probably a safer strategy.

Clicking Feral Cats

Trying to desensitize and tame a hissing, feral cat, whether kitten or adult, can be a slow business. You can speed it up immensely with the clicker. Use a highly-preferred treat, such as canned tuna or any freeze-dried fish cat treat. Approach the cage, let the cat retreat, put a pea-sized treat in the front of the cage, click, and instantly back away.