Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beyond Sit: Useful Cues and Verbal Control

A harmonious relationship relies on each party both comprehending the other, and being able to relay information in a way that is comprehendible by the other. We must speak the same language. We all know that. 
Humans and dogs inherently don’t speak the same language. There is no natural common ground communication, which means we have to build it. We must become bilingual. 
Our dogs are already somewhat better at that than we are. Although they only speak doggish, they are interested in us and understand our body signals, and they are capable to learn the meaning of words we speak. In contrast, dogs’ communication signals, other than a few overt ones, are a mystery to most people. Which means we have to make a conscious effort to learn to read dog - but we shouldn’t speak it, because it is a half-ass attempt at best. We really are lousy in getting it right. Instead, we ought to teach our dogs to understand the language native to our species, and I prefer verbal signaling to non-verbal cues. Why? Aside from the fact that my body awareness is less than stellar, which means I can be much more precise with words, hand and body signals only work if the dog is looking.

Unless there is a physiological reason, all dogs can learn the meaning of words, but not all have equal aptitude. The more visually inclined, like our not so new anymore Border collie Bowie, are innately more aware of movements and learn to distinguish body signals more easily. From the very start, Bowie closely watched me to make sense of his world.  Nevertheless, with a little intentional effort - putting a precise word right in front of a distinct hand-signal with the goal to ditch the latter at one point - he has now a nice repertoire of cues under verbal control.
Wait = don’t move
Come, lie down, sit, kitty, deer, squirrel, ball, disc, stick, car – although the verbal cue to get in the car may be the sound of the doors unlocking.
Bowie has name recognition and Bowie is a no-fail attention getter, but he also still responds to his previous name, Billie. Bowie’s ear tips often cutely bob when he walks, and his nickname is Billiebobedybobbobbowie, and his head pops around the moment he hears Billie
Easy = slow your movement while you approach something, but that cue is actually changing right now into Walk Up, and we’re almost there
Keep Going = keep on moving forward
Get It = release cue to go after something that moves
Leave It = shift your focus and walk away
Head Off = avert your head/quit staring at something/someone
Over = move to the side
Cross = the road in a straight line
Move = over on the couch/bed or out of the way
Back Up = create distance to me – not the same as Beep-Beep back up that happens in a straight line back. With Back Up, Bowie turns around to walk away, then halts, and focuses on me again
With Me = walk right beside me holding eye contact
Drop It = drop what's in your mouth in front of me
Give = release into my hand
Go Pee = self-explanatory, ditto Stop Licking Your Butt
Yes = reward marker. Interestingly, Good Boy, which and unlike Yes is not always followed with tangible reward, only elicits a happy tail wag when Bowie is watching me, which indicates that he relies on my happy facial expressions to feel happy too vs. Yes where the anticipation of the reward makes him happy. My observational input to Dr. Patricia McConnell recent article
Hey-hey = interrupter.

All of the above do not rely on a hand or body signal any longer. I am sure of it because often when I am using any of these, Bowie is looking elsewhere, sometimes has his back turned to me. That is not to say that I am not giving non-verbal cues, just that he is not seeing them and hence responds to the spoken word. Not talking with your body is more difficult than you may think. Inadvertently, you might be giving facial, body and hand messages you are unaware of until you pay conscious attention to it. 
Some cues, because of the context in which we use them, will always have a non-verbal component.
Drop It and Give are under verbal control, and for a while I believed that Hand = bringing his disc to my hand instead of dropping it in front of me, also was, but of course I am reaching my hand out to receive it. Likewise with Gentle, Bowie’s soft mouth reminder, and Touch – the hand target game. Is it the word or hand that prompts him to respond?
Stay = you’re not coming with us and have to stay in the house/car, and Let's Go  = you are coming and we are going to move in the same direction together, also automatically involve my body.
Our new cue Do It, based on Claudia Fugazza’s work on social learning, is under verbal cue, but prior to it Bowie is watching my body demonstrate something.

And then we have a few that are in various stages of being under sole verbal cue:
Front = sit in front of me
Around = get into heel position from an in front of me sit, and Spin = turn around your own body
Stand = self-explanatory
Platz = sit on the mat/towel 
Rechts and Links (right and left directional cues) still require my pointing or leaning in the corresponding direction, but Rechts is a lot better than Links, and we’ve had a few times when I could direct Bowie with a verbal Rechts to take a certain path on an off leash hike.
Pass Auf, which I use to remind Bowie to watch what I demonstrate, is mostly under verbal cue but, like Rechts, not always. Same with Clean Up = gather up your toys and put them in your basket. With the ones we’re almost there, I wait for a few seconds after the word to see if he comes up with the correct behavior, and only help if I need to. Sometimes repeating the verbal cue works as well.
All Done, Bowie’s information that no more reinforcements, including attention and interaction, are coming from me for the time being, needs the hand signal, and its related cue In Five, also does.
Momma, Daddy, Will all need pointing, and so does Jump = over something and Up = onto something.

Jotting down all the things Bowie knows made me realize how much he’s learned in the last 7 months. To boot, to the best of my knowledge the language he heard prior to coming to Nova Scotia was French, not English. I know, I am bragging, but I don’t mean to. Honestly! When I set out to write this post I actually wanted to share something I read about before and now noticed with Bowie, but as the fingers hit the keyboard the post took a life of its own. Perhaps because lately I’ve been brooding off and on if I deserve a Border collie, or if I am wasting talent since I am not into dog sports, tricks and traditional obedience, and my search for a place nearer to us for more herding lessons or Rally O’ classes has been futile.

Anyway, what I originally wanted to share was that with Bowie the sound of a word seems to matter. For example, when I taught the behavior wait, I tested Stop, Halt, Stay and Wait. Wait got me an ear twitch right away, with the other three there was no response, so we used Wait even though Will’s cue for the same behavior is Stay. In that fashion, I fooled around with a few words for every behavior, hence the apparent erratic mix of English and German words that isn’t erratic at all, but consistently planned. I feel though that we didn’t get all of it right, indicated by the fact that some behaviors still rely on non-verbal help even though we rehearsed them just like the others. I’m not loosing sleep over it. 

What is the take-away message? Don’t worry if your dog learns some things better than others. We are all individuals. But don’t give up either. It is important, for day-to-day life, that you establish common ground communication that allows you to give your dog information when he needs it. If you’re stuck, maybe it’s the word itself that is the hurdle. You don’t have to use the words commonly used, or the ones your trainer tells you to. Play around with other ones. Have fun. Watch your dog to find out which one he has an ear for, and then use that, and be careful not to botch it, turning it into a poisoned cue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Honeymoon Is Over

In relation to dogs, the honeymoon period is the behavior the dog exhibits in the first few weeks in a new home. The common notion is, as the word honeymoon implies, that behavior is better during that time than after the pooch has completely settled in. That, indeed, can be the case, and there are a number of explanations why.
A cautious dog, thrust in a new situation, may appear calm and well behaved, but in reality just doesn't want to draw attention to himself. With time and the new becoming familiar, confidence to act increases, and behaviors previously hidden pop up. 
Sometimes behavior changes because the social dynamics in the new home doesn't work for the dog. He might be under- or overstimulated, or there could be an incompatible other dog, or inconsistent handling, pressure and expectations that are too high. All of it can lead to unwanted expressions. 
Also, not everyone in rescue is knowledgeable or kind. Some apply prong or shock collar punishments to quash any action they don't want to see. The problem with that is that the unwanted expressions disappear, but the dog’s emotional response that prompted the expressions does not. In other words, the subdued dog presents nice enough, and might lay low for a couple of weeks in the new home, but unless his people are equal effective punishers, they resurface, typically taking the owners by surprise.
By nature cautious and sensitive dogs tend to lay low until they have more information. Bolder ones are just as unsure when forced to live in a new social setting, but it can play out differently: They can be more aroused and act out, or overreact. With them, behavior can actually be better after the honeymoon period. 

We’ve had Bowie, a 3-year-old Border collie, for about 6 months now. From the start, he wasn’t tentative or passive, but vigorous, and purposeful, and unafraid to act. He was also, right from the start and still is, polite with people and very eager to please. The perfect combination: Bowie was about as move-in-ready as a dog could possibly be. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t behaviors I wanted modified. And they have. Such, I am glad our honeymoon is over.

One of our must-have requirements was that he’d like our old dog Will, and in the beginning that wasn’t so clear. Will was fond of him right away, but he perceived her more as a resource competitor than companion. He tried to block her from getting close to me or on the bed, tried to stare her away from her food bowl, even nose punched her when she came to have her walking harness put on. Yet, Will was not deterred from doing what she wanted to do and did not avoid him, and that’s why we decided to adopt Bowie anyway and work with it. How, I explained here
Now, Will and Bowie are nicely bonded. I feel that she still likes him more than the other way around, but who could blame him: He is a handsome Quebecois and ten years younger. It doesn’t matter, though. Will’s supported merely by Bowie’s presence, and even though I think he could do fine without her, there is relaxed acceptance and space politeness, no more resource possessiveness and even the odd sweet gesture. Will doesn’t insist on too many things, but when she does, for example who gets first access to the water bowl after the walk, he defers. Each time.

Other than one child who tied his shoes waiting for the school bus, Bowie ignored other people from the beginning, but dogs were more of a concern for him. He was great on the off-leash trails, but growled when he spotted one, hackles up, in every other context. The growling was under his breath, barely audible, but I heard it, and felt the vibration through the leash.
Time alone, and mindful of Bowie’s comfort level exposure to dogs and humans, was enough to change that. As he became more experienced with us and secure in his new environment, anxiety dropped and confidence rose, and now he is indifferent to people no matter what age and what activity they are engaged in. All but street musicians I should say. They still scare him, but he doesn’t growl. He passes as fast he can in a wide arc.
Now, Bowie ignores most dogs as he does humans, surprisingly even my friend’s dog who visited and barked at him. When one is in close proximity, he greets appropriately whether on or off the leash, however, if one rudely infracts his space he is quick to assert himself, measured and clear, not aggressive. But most dogs don't. Our herding instructor pointed out that Bowie is powerful and self-assured, a dog who is able to control subtly from a distance and doesn’t need to push his weight around to make a point. And doesn’t with dogs, typically, anymore.

Bowie’s initial insecurity was also the reason why he didn’t budge one night when he flopped himself on my legs. We don’t mind our dogs on the bed, but I am protective of my sleep and Bowie horizontally on me was rather uncomfortable. He wasn’t aggressive at all when I tried to reposition him, just total dead weight. Now, I can whisper move and he does. Proof that his reluctance wasn’t dominance, but a neediness to be as close as possible, and an insecurity where I might, physically, move him to.

In the first couple of weeks, Bowie counter-surfed, a couple of times successfully scoring food. Hungry dogs will look for food where they know they have a chance to find it, where it smells like food, where they know it is prepared. That has completely stopped after a few interrupting hey-heys combined with not leaving food on the counter, but providing surplus away from it.

Bowie’s strong interest in squirrels, wildlife in general, has diminished quite a bit, and I believe that is because we work with the disc and his ball each day, and not just once, which means I revised my original plan to have ball/disc free days to prevent compulsion. Dr. Karen Overall's criteria for a canine obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis includes that the dog can’t be called away from the behavior, and Bowie can. He also doesn’t pester me all day even though a ball is part of the toy box, and he enjoys other activities as well. But disc is definitely what floats his boat the most, and by providing it as a structured outlet I meet his needs more than wildlife does. Plus it allows me to built in obedience, which satisfies his mental needs as well, and leaves him content and tired after about 15 minutes work.
As a result of us spending a lot of quality time together outdoors, he stays much closer now when off the leash, generally, but even when he explores he always knows where I am. He doesn’t need to be right by my side, looking into my eyes, to pay attention and defer to my requests. For the most part, the come command has become redundant: I move, and Bowie coordinates his movements to mine, including when he is ahead and out of sight. I absolutely love that in a dog, had it with Davie and have it with Will, and it is nothing I particularly trained for. It just happens as the relationship strengthens.

It took about 4 months before we felt that the bond was deepening and Bowie fully trusting us. Before, whenever there was a sudden sound outside, whether loud or grumbling, he would retreat to the office or hide under a piece of furniture. We’d follow and sit with him for a bit, reassuringly, but then leave, and eventually he’d join us again. He never barked, whined or destroyed anything, just hid and shut down. It was the middle of July when we had another thunderstorm and Bowie, for the first time, stayed on the bed snuggled against Mike. He was still scared but was seeking safety with us, not away from us.

Bowie has learned to trust us, and goes with us everywhere confidently. He is still deferent and biddable, and very polite with his humans. He is keen to learn and picks up new things so fast that it amazes me each time. His command vocabulary is extensive. 
The one thing that is still a work in progress is loose leash walking. The catch is that I don’t want to put too much pressure on walking properly on a leash cause if I’m a nag at the loop end, guess who won’t want to be with me whenever the leash is involved. Not my goal. I don’t want the leash to be perceived as punishment - it may not be entirely unavoidable cause a young Border collie is of course not meant to go on a leisurely stroll with a 55 year-old. But we are getting there, mainly with me providing resource access when he walks as a teammate: Picking berries, allowing him to sniff where he likes, getting to our favorite woodlot or field where we play ball, and recently the herding lessons when only walking with me allowed him to control the sheep, and where I assisted him on the leash through sheep that plastered themselves against the fence, threatening. I think I impressed him with that, cause after the workshop his leash manners are a whole lot better.

In the last 6 months, Bowie turned from a really cool dog to one who’s just about perfect, but there are two behaviors that were actually better in the first few weeks. And that’s the thing: Dogs aren’t machines. Their behavior is in flux, and it is often the case that most improve while a few less desired ones pop up as the new dog’s sense of belonging develops. 
Bowie, and I actually see that frequently in rescue dogs, isn’t as friendly and inviting to visitors as he originally was. Has he become territorial? No, that’s not it. Rather, on home turf there is now an established experience of Mike and me and Will and no one else. When a person or dog suddenly appears, the huge detail change sparks his attention and arouses him, resulting in charged barks.  Once the new is known, with Bowie that happens within seconds, he invites the guest to a game of fetch: “Now that you’re here you might as well make yourself useful.”
The other issue is that with increased attachment and fun associated with trips, he’s a bit unhappier being left in the car than he was in the beginning. But with the arrival of fall temperatures and more opportunities to practice staying with Will in the vehicle, I am sure we’ll solve that.

What’s the take-away message here?
When you first meet a dog, you get is an idea what he is all about. Chances are that, after you’ve lived together for a few months, most behaviors will be similar to what you first saw, but there likely will be new and different ones as well. A lot of what happens next depends on you. People have influence over their dog’s conduct. You better, otherwise you potentially run into problems.

What’s utmost on your new dog’s mind is: Where do I sleep? When and where do I eat? How do I fit in? And you must create a safe and structured basic routine for him. 
Teach your dog commands that establish common ground communication, but don’t rush things. Your new dog does not have to meet every neighbor, go to the off leash park, or even attend an obedience class, within the first week. Take time to observe your dog. What are his preferences and worries? Likes and dislikes? I wish that new dog parents would understand that getting to know the whole dog, building the relationship, is more important than instant perfect behavior.
I get it. I really do. I, too, was ├╝ber-excited about having a new dog and couldn’t wait to discover how he'd handle adults, kids, dogs, cats, dog sports, off leash parks, trails, the training facility, sheep, traveling with us… I also wanted to show him off. I was impatient, but weather and time – it seems there’s never the right time for a new dog but sometimes the dog is so right that it doesn’t matter – prevented me from doing all of these things at once or in quick succession. I was forced to build the relationship slowly and steadily. Exactly my mantra for others, no matter how old the dog is or where from. 

It takes time for a dog to trust and feel safe, and until then he can overreact to things. Don’t turn purple when that happens. The first time I gave Bowie a high-value bone he blocked it with his body when I walked past him. Nothing major, but he didn’t trust me. I began tossing a treat and walking away – treat and retreat – and after a few times the problem was solved: He trusted me in that context.
Until a bond is formed, the dog is reluctant to take cues from his people. Don’t pressure him, and don’t use force to suppress every little thing you don’t like. That’s not conducive to the relationship, and does not reduce insecurities your dog may have that causes him to overreact.
Don’t punish when he makes a mistake. He is learning, like you would in an environment you know nothing about. Help him out, gently guide him, and patiently teach him better ways.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sheep Herding Reflections

Any dog can enjoy, and be good at, a variety of things, and every dog has the potential to be a wonderful companion, but truth is that a pooch with a pedigree, selectively bred for specific characteristics, can have strong drives that require an outlet, and I strongly believe that it is the person's duty to provide it.  
Bowie doesn’t have a pedigree, but we’re pretty sure that he is a Border collie. He looks like one, behaves like one, and his previous owner said that he is one. True to what I preach, since March, when we got Bowie, I couldn’t wait to get him evaluated on sheep. It finally happened last Sunday.

I only attended a herding event once before with our Australian shepherd Davie, and that was almost a decade ago, but it gave me an idea how things would likely unfold. I presumed that herding instructors, like everyone else, put their own spin on things, and I know that herding is not willy-nilly chasing sheep but very controlled work, but I still anticipated that the emphasis would be on the dog’s keenness more than his obedience, since it was an instinct test, not a herding clinic. 
I expected that the dog would in a confined area with a few sheep, on the long line just in case, encouraged a bit if need be, but by and large not interfered with unless the welfare of the sheep was in jeopardy.
That was not quite what happened. The sheep, confined space and long line did, but our instructor put much more weight on the relationship between the dog and handler, and the control the handler had over the dog, than I thought. Luckily, we were prepared.

Right from the start I realized that being outside with the disc is Bowie's highlight of the day. In other words, he is highly motivated to access it, and has such focus that he seems unaware of anything else around him.
Initially I was playing with the idea to aim for competition, but who was I  kidding: Whether it is humans or dogs, on an individual and collective level I couldn’t care less who is fasted, can throw farthest, or scores highest. I respect people whose goal that is, but I’m just not into that.
However, I am into a dog who takes his cues from me, and I thought I could, perhaps, use Bowie’s drive to teach behaviors that are valuable in day-to-day life: principally impulse control when aroused and around moving things, and staying receptive to my cues when his visual attention is elsewhere, and on something he wants to get to. I don’t expect a dog to always watch me. That is unrealistic. My dogs are allowed to discover the environment they live in, but I want them to stay mentally connected to me.
In lieu of sheep, I used the disc to teach Bowie: wait till I release you to get it, easy walk up and wait, left and right, back up, drop at my feet, and give into my hand.

Naturally, get it is Bowie’s primary reward, but I feel that what we do that leads up to it has reinforcement value as well. I feel the brain workout is necessary for his wellbeing.
Even though we have 2-3 sessions almost every day, about 10 minutes each time, and have also begun to take the show to various other places than our yard, I had no idea if what is well rehearsed with the disc would actually work with the sheep. But it did. Mostly.

Each dog had two turns. When we entered the pen the first time, Bowie noticed the three sheep, but then directed his interest to their deposits, which I interpreted as displacement. Not unease, but being uncertain what to make of the situation, unclear what he was supposed to do, buying time until he had more information – a cue he understood. I thought displacement rather than an urge to consume the poop because Bowie had had ample opportunity to munch prior to us entering the pen, and he showed no desire, didn’t even sniff it. Anyway, after I told him to leave it he refocused on the sheep, and because he listened nicely to me, we got the go ahead and he was allowed to chase them bit.
One sheep in the first, and another in the second group, was nervous of Bowie without him doing a whole lot, and I found that interesting because I occasionally observe the same with some dogs who, presented with Bowie’s presence, evade or become defensively standoffish. Plus, our Will was never as relaxed around stranger dogs since she was a year old, before our Newf Baywolf died, and she is almost 13 now. So there is something about him, not plain to humans, that less self-assured animals pick up - which tells you that if you want to know what’s going on with your dog don’t only watch your dog, but also the behavior of the animals in his close proximity.

There were a couple of hours between round one and two, and Bowie was under pressure. He wanted to get back in pen, barked a few times in frustration – Bowie rarely barks and if only to announce someone at the door or briefly with excitement when Mike or I return home - settled when prompted, but kept his eyes on the sheep the whole time, ignoring the commotion around him absolutely. To reduce the pressure, we removed him from the situation and took a couple of walks on the property.

Before we entered the pen again, the instructor told me to be definitive with my dog, and I appreciated the reminder. I am all for a dog understanding that when it matters there isn’t a choice. My definitive does not mean: “Do as told or it’ll hurt”, or “No choice and I don't care if you're scared” but: “You must do this to get that”, and I was determined to convey that to Bowie very clearly.
This time, Bowie knew what we were doing and there was no hesitation or displacement behavior. He wanted the sheep a lot more, and I was more definitive, and I think in combination it created more pressure. A couple of times we pushed the boundary, Bowie signaling it with a shake-off after the difficult moment had passed. Like barking, I rarely see Bowie shake off other than when his coat is waterlogged. But there were no signs of real distress – no avoidance, no trying to get away from me or out of the pen, and we continued for about 6 minutes with a repetitive walking up, waiting, releasing and calling him off again. At the very end, the instructor asked me to be with the sheep and leave Bowie in position, wait, about 6 feet away, and after that we got a “that’ll do” and were done. 

That last moment was the only part I disagreed with. It was difficult for Bowie to stay while I was with the sheep, but he did, and there was no reinforcement as consequence. Instead of being allowed on the sheep, we walked away and out of the pen.
The following day I had indication that there might have been, indeed, too much pressure, or rather not enough reinforcement in relation to the pressure: Bowie was less willing to wait when we worked with the disc. He still obeyed, but I sensed that the cooperative closeness, the teamwork was missing. That’s not what I want. I don’t want obedience at the cost of the relationship. I want my dog to want to work with me, and to regain his trust I really lowered my criteria that day, asked him to wait less often and only very briefly.
By day two things were back to normal.

What’s next? Bowie and I are headed for PEI later this month to take lessons with Lorna McMaster, author of “Dancing with Sheepdogs”. I am pumped, and quite possibly as motivated as Bowie.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dogs 'N' Cats and Dogs 'N' Dogs

Contrary to popular belief, dogs can be cool with cats and even form strong friendships with them, but not all dogs do.
Whether a dog is prosocial or not depends on if and how he experienced cats during the early developmental stages, but genes also play a role. Our Will, probably exposed to cats where she was born and for sure in her last foster home, is good with them, but also with animals she likely did not encounter. Our Newfy Baywolf was much the same, but in contrast, Aussie Davie would kill any small, non-dog animal without hesitation had she had the opportunity, which, except once, she didn’t.
With us, it doesn’t matter whether a dog is good with cats or not. We never owned one and aren’t planning on it, not because we dislike cats, but because we like dogs more. Many people, though, are equally fond of cats and dogs and share their home with both species, and then it matters a whole lot that the canine matches pawsitively with everyone.

When a shelter or rescue organization takes a dog into their care, there often is no, or unreliable, information available what he is like with cats. It is a no-brainer that if additional facts aren’t collected, adopting him to a family that has cats is rolling the dice.
However, sometimes there is information that suggests that the dog is good with cats, and that is how he is presented to potential adopters, and then, in the new home, he isn’t. What gives? Were the rescuers deceptive? I don’t think so.
More likely, perhaps the shelter or foster parents observed the dog only in few circumstances, in which he was good, and they concluded that he is good period. That seems reasonable, but is not necessarily correct because context counts. In a relationship, it is always an input/output dance of sender(s) and receiver that determine behavior, and a cat who is especially skittish, bossy, or animated can provoke a different reaction than one who is savvy and chilled out. Along that line, in order to get an accurate evaluation, a dog must experience a cat in motion. Seeing one held in a person’s arm or in a crate isn’t good enough.
The dog should also be a bit bored when tested. Why? Because if he lives, let’s say, in a home where there are other dogs to play and romp with, the cat is a more or less irrelevant sideshow. Minus these dogs in a new home, she arouses interest and becomes the target.
A dog can perceive a cat as a resource competitor and act adversely only around a possession that might not have been available at the shelter, and hence, aggression wasn’t observed there. Keep in mind that people can be a very important resource once a dog is bonded.
A dog in a shelter or foster home can be anxious because he was suddenly thrust into this new environment, and that can play out as over-reacting to something, or not at all - treading very cautiously. It is called honeymoon period, and I’ll talk about it some more in my next post.
Or the dog might have been harshly punished for aggressive displays, and in the new home, with the effective punisher and the threat of pain gone, how he really feels about cats is expressed again.

If inadvertent mistakes were made and the new dog doesn’t get along with the resident feline, can that be fixed? It depends.
Resource guarding, in most cases, can be solved when approached correctly.
If the dog is just a little uneasy because he is generally worried about new things, or cats, or that particular cat, there is a good chance that the relationship can work once she has become familiar and is perceived as a safe, even positive, appearance. In that case, all it takes is patience, and training helps, and of course until that happens careful management to avoid that the cat is within teeth range is crucial.
When a dog is bored and tagged the cat as “it”, peaceful cohabitation is possible if he can fairly easily be motivated into doing something else, like playing with a toy or emptying a filled Kong. In time, the cat could become the cue for that alternate activity.

If the dog is difficult to re-motivate and not interested in anything but the cat whenever he spots it, she is at risk. 
It could be that the dog is genetically prone to, and serious about, controlling space and movement of other animals, that he has a strong prey drive, or is truly hostile toward cats. With Davie, we had a triple whammy: she was innately bossy, had a heightened sensitivity to things in motion and the impulse to chase, but with cats there was an additional component not present with other animals: A learned and experienced at one point, I am sure, aspect that made her downright vicious toward that species. Just to be clear, lack of obedience wasn’t the issue here. Davie had a near perfect recall, and knew “leave”, including with cats, but for a lifetime needed that precise instruction, and even though I got body compliance, her mind was still fixated on the cat she saw and she was keen to get to it, and that was impossible to change. In addition, she stayed pumped for quite some time after it was out of her view. Prolonged recovery is another sign that the problem is a major one.

There are people who claim that you can shock even the worst dog into liking cats, or at least not killing them, but I wouldn’t bet my hypothetical kitty’s life on what happens when I have my back turned or the battery is empty.
The most humane solution for such a dog is a cat-free home. And even with the less severe cases, whether to pursue behavior modification depends if the people can manage well in the interim, but also if the cat’s quality of life can be maintained. Some cats become very stressed when they’re targeted by the new dog, and begin to refuse to join their humans socially, stop playing, even urinate and defecate in inappropriate places.

Testing dogs well with cats can be a difficult task because a cat, or safe evaluation area, isn’t always available.
Testing dogs how they respond to dogs is much easier, and yet, I see the same problems, more often than you might think. A dog is said to be good with dogs, and then isn’t in the new home. Methinks the reasons are the same: resources, dynamics, suppressed expressions, and the inaccurate assumption that because he plays nicely with familiar dogs when off the leash, that he is equally affable with unfamiliar dogs on an on-leash walk. He might, or he might not be. 
I had a few clients where there was a huge discrepancy between what they were told, and what the dog was like once adopted. Characterized as so amazing at the shelter that he was utilized as a balancing playmate or test dog to evaluate others, in the new home he showed such severe behaviors that his owners were unable to walk him. I am wondering about the popular practice to team up an even-tempered pooch with aggressive or rowdy ones. I am questioning if it is ethical. It appears that there is potential for fallout - a real risk that the good dog becomes anxious and defensive, and sometimes the damage caused is long-term.

Lay people take for fact what they are told. Good with cats and dogs is exactly what they expect, and when that is not the case they are shocked, and sometimes feel cheated even though the rescue didn’t cheat, just didn’t know. Which means that a dog either needs to be observed in a variety of situations, including when he has a valuable resource, or the shelter/rescue has to state that the dog is good in the contexts they evaluated, but may or may not be in situations that would be part of his life in the new home.