Human-Directed Reactivity

Human-Directed Reactivity Attendees: Limited to 4 dogs Length: 6 weekly sessions Time: 1 hour per class Tuition: $250 Prereqs: Consultation with Dr. Valli Having a dog that barks and lunges at people is a stressful thing. It can also be difficult to treat because helpers can be difficult to find. That is why we developed this class. This supportive group class gives structured and safe opportunities for clients to practice behavior modification to reduce their dogs’ reactive behavior towards unfamiliar people. It is one of Synergy’s Behavior Therapy options for Dr. Valli’s clients. Please note that, because of the nature of this class and safety considerations, attendees are required to have a Behavior Health Assessment with Dr Valli prior to class. Note that the cost of the assessment is not included in the class fee mentioned here. For more information about general class policies please visit our Class Policy page. For other commonly-asked questions, please visit our Class FAQs page. Sign-Up for an Upcoming...
“Fine” is a Four-Letter Word

“Fine” is a Four-Letter Word

Have you ever looked at your dog and thought that she looks “fine”? Have you described your own or another person’s pet as “fine” when you describe them to your friends? Beware, the word “fine” is often not so fine! What is “fine”? One of the most common statements that I hear when I am counseling clients is that their pet is “fine”.  Here are some examples in which a client may describe their pet as “fine” (names are changed to protect the innocent!): “Our dog Fluff is fine when our baby snuggles with him on the dog bed.” “Our cat Puffy is fine when she’s being petted.” “Spot’s fine when she’s on a walk.” Unfortunately, the word “fine” is not very informative when addressing current or potential problem behaviors. It provides an interpretation of a pet’s behavior, which may not be actually be accurate. With a little more digging,  the word “fine” can be replaced with some specific behaviors for the above scenarios: Fluff doesn’t growl at the baby when the baby snuggles with him on the dog bed. Puffy doesn’t his or growl when she’s being petted. Spot walks past people and dogs without barking at them. On first glance, so far so good! Notice, though, that when the pet is described as “fine” in the above examples, it is associated with a current lack of threatening or aggressive behavior. This is typical of what I hear in real life as well. I am often then told something like “Fluffy has always been fine with the baby, so we were shocked when he growled at her.” What’s...
Calming Signals or Stress Signs?

Calming Signals or Stress Signs?

When working with clients, I am often asked about the body language of the dogs that we are working with. One question that comes up, particularly with those who have some background in behavior and training, is about whether the behaviors (yawning, licking lips, turning away, sniffing the ground, panting, full body shake-offs, etc.) we are seeing are… Calming Signals (popularized by trainer Turid Rugaas) which (using my own loose translation) are the signals that dogs use with each other to diffuse tense situations and communicate their desire to calm the other dog.Or… Signals of stress or of a post-stress response to an experience that has happened a short time ago. Lip licking – an example Defining these signals as “stress” or “calming” is really a matter of interpretation. For example, I have found that dogs will often lick their lips during or after (or at the peak of) a stressful experience. Drooling is a physiologic response to stress and it is my belief that dogs lips their lips when there is an excess of moisture formed there from the stress they experience. Some dogs will also lick their lips after drinking or when treats are nearby, so context is important. If however, they do this each time after being petted – the petting may be stressful for them. Yawning – a second example One interpretation would be, when approaching a second dog, a dog may be showing signs of stress that the second dog picks up on and reflects back at them with increasingly tense body language. When the first dog sees this, their caution is confirmed and...
Say What?  Whale Eye

Say What? Whale Eye

Whale eye occurs when a dog’s head is pointed one way but their eyes are looking at something in a different direction. The whites of the eyes can be seen as an arc. It can be thought of as looking out of the corner of the eye. Dogs who show this behavior are typically concerned about something that is going on around them. We often think of this behavior as an early warning sign that a dog is anxious as a situation, and that something needs to change so that the dog’s anxiety is reduced. In the example photo to the right, the sitting dog is concerned about the dog sniffing her hind end. Notice how her nose is pointed towards the camera, but her eyes are focused on the dog behind her.  This is typical of the dog who wants to keep an eye on what is happening, but is not comfortable enough to look directly at it. In addition to the whale eye, the sitting dog’s ears are back and her body is tense, also signifying anxiety about the...
Say What?  Bunting

Say What? Bunting

Bunting, head-butting or face-rubbing, is something anyone who has been around cats will recognize. Cats will rub against inanimate objects, as well as people or other animals that they feel comfortable with.  The term “allorubbing” is also used when bunting is done in a social context. Cats have scent glands along the sides of their mouth, chin, forehead, and their ears. They also have them between their pads and hind end. When a cat rubs on a surface, some of their sent is left behind. Cats appear to be very sensitive to the smell of other cats that do and do not belong in their social group. It is believed that a primary function of rubbing is to help establish a “colony scent” to more easily identify non-colony members, as well as indicate areas of usage. When done on a person, another cat, or other animal, it appears to be part of a greeting behavior pattern. Often, bunting starts with a little bit of sniffing on the area or individual in question, then the cat rubs the side of the nose, mouth and cheek against the target. Sometimes this evolves into a full-body rub, sometimes the cat rubs one side of the face a couple of times, or one side of the face then the other.  Cats may show different patterns of rubbing based on the height of the target site, or possibly the social relevance of the individual being rubbed. The function of the different patterns of rubbing has not yet been determined. How does your cat greet you when you come...