Insider Training Tips and Secrets

A New Year is Already Here!

January 1, 2018

A whole new year has arrived! My resolution is to keep learning and teaching all I can about dog behavior and psychology! Here's a short video I made about "dominance"--dominance is actually a fleeting state, not a personality trait, and simply refers to a dog having priority access to and "claiming" a resource. Check it out!

I Don't Always Know When I Have To Go!

September 18, 2017

Puppies especially don’t know that we expect them to tell us when they need to potty, and don’t realize that squatting right wherever they happen to be is not a behavior we appreciate. Training has thankfully evolved over the years, as the outdated techniques of punishing a dog by yelling, hitting, or “putting their nose in it” do not teach them what to do, are inhumane, and teach them to fear us more than anything else. It can also make them think that we hate when they eliminate ever, and they will then try to hide and do their business where you can’t see it happening. Instead, if you see your dog starting to squat or lift a leg, immediately carry or lead them outside, and stay with them so you can praise and reward them when they’ve finished doing their business. Check out this fantastic website for potty-training advice (as well as tips on a host of other subjects), and think about using a potty bell! It’s easy to do, and we trained our dogs to use it to let us know when they need to go outside. Get a lightweight bell from a craft store, hang it on a string, and right before you open the door, tap the bell lightly on your dog’s nose. Then open the door and go out with her so you can catch and reward the behavior you want. Over time, your dog will make the association that ringing the bell is a magical way to cause a human to come to the door and let her outside!

J to the Lo and SiSta LeaDr!

June 19, 2017

If we can abbreviate Jennifer Lopez’s name down to "JLo," remembering "SisSta LeaDr" can help you remember some cues that are important and worth teaching your dog! I like to teach clients’ dogs Sit, Stay, Leave It, and Drop It, because these vocabulary words could help save their lives one day. If your dog is across the road from you and a vehicle is approaching, getting a Sit and a Stay from distance will ensure she doesn’t run out into the road. If you’re out walking and your dog sees a dead bird or something unsavory and wants to examine it, a firm Leave It can make sure she passes by without further investigation. As far as Drop It, if your pup gets ahold of that dead bird or discarded cigarette before you’re able to warn her off, plenty of Drop It practice with toys or balled-up socks on a daily basis (when compliance isn’t as crucial) can help her get used to spitting it out quickly on command and potentially prevent illness or worse.

I Feel It’s A Threat When You Get Upset!

May 1, 2017

Ever have the feeling that your dog “knows when she did wrong” and actually feels guilty about it when you scold or punish her? Take a look at this article, which refutes that theory and explains exactly what is going on! Our dogs don’t understand the human constructs of “good,” “bad,” “right,” “wrong,” and “guilt”—they only see the world and their actions as being either safe (or not) and effective (or not) to get what they want.

Adjective, Shmadjective--It's All Greek To Me!

March 19, 2017

I recently saw a video that made me feel quite sad and frustrated. Someone had hired a man to train their dog. This man posted a video of himself trying to teach the dog to sit on cue. The man told the dog “Sit!” while simultaneously yanking up on the leash (essentially not even giving her time to process the word and take action). When she didn’t comply, the man brusquely said, “No Sit!” and then said “Sit!” again. The dog actually sat, and the man said “Good sit.” But here’s the disconnect: that poor dog probably heard the world “Sit” over and over, without realizing that “good” and “no” were adjectives/modifiers of the word “Sit,” and wondered why she kept hearing the same word repeatedly. Chances are good the dog sat as a calming signal in the face of the man’s harsh treatment of her. Dogs don‘t know what adjectives are! Here‘s a human example of why it may seem our dogs “don't listen:” I walk into a room and ask you to give me a “Gelber Bleistift.“ You do nothing, just sit there looking at me like a deer in headlights, and I yell “Kein Bleistift!” and smack you on the head. Once you hand me what I asked for, a yellow pencil, then you might hear “Richtiger Bleistift!” Did it help clarify what I wanted by yelling? Or repeating the word over and over, saying “yellow pencil,” “no  pencil,” “right pencil,” or by physically correcting you? Keep that in mind when asking your dog to do something for you, especially if they’re learning a cue or action for the first time. We can’t “explain” what we want to our dogs, but must instead guide and lure them to get the behavior we’re seeking.

Give Me A Staycation If You Tour The Nation!

February 6, 2017

If you plan to take off on holiday this coming spring or summer, it’s always nice being able to board your dog at a reputable kennel. Be sure to check out the facility before leaving your pets there, however, and ask to have a tour of where your dog will be staying. Look for things such as overall cleanliness, access to indoor and outdoor runs (to prevent your dog having to get used to eliminating “inside”), maybe some classical or soothing music piped in, and ideally, daily outside time to for your dog run and play without you having to pay an extra fee. It’s unconscionable for a kennel facility to keep dogs inside a concrete, windowless building in a run separated from other dogs by only a chain link barrier. The anguished howling and barking by other dogs kept indoors 24/7 reverberates through the building and causes stress for all dogs incarcerated in such a prison-like atmosphere, and can result in dogs shutting down, refusing to eat, and developing emotional and and behavior issues.

Rain, Rain, Come On Let’s Play!

January 2, 2017

If you’ve had the recent downpours El Paso has had or inclement weather in general this winter, it can be frustrating for us and our dogs. We can’t explain to them why it’s not practical to take them for a walk in gale-force winds and pelting rain, but it’s important to keep their minds occupied, and mental enrichment will usually help tire them out physically as well. Here are some terrific suggestions for some indoor enrichment—47, in fact! Check out the list and see whether any can help occupy your stir-crazy pup! 

Unnecessary Mutilation is Truly An Abomination!

December 19, 2016

If you adopt a new furry family member over the holidays, please resist the urge to subject your pup to any unnecessary, painful cosmetic surgery such as chopping off their ears or tails just because you think they’ll “look better.”  As Terry Marie Curtis, DVM, MS, Diplomate of the ACVB and a clinical behaviorist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville, explains, “Every breed signals happiness in some way, but differences can come into play with dogs who’ve had their ears cropped and tails docked, such as Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Boxers. These physical alterations may make a dog more difficult to read—especially by another dog who has not had the same alteration.” And if a dog’s intentions and mood are more difficult to read due to perpetually erect ears or a non-existent tail, misunderstandings and fights are more likely to occur between dogs. It’s not fair for us to mutilate our dogs’ bodies, and is just as abominable and unconscionable as parents deciding their newborn child’s feet are too big and removing a toe from each foot for “cosmetic purposes.”

Teasing Me With A Light Is Really Not Very Bright!

October 3, 2016

Despite their prevalence in pet stores as a way to “exercise your dog,” please resist the temptation to use a laser to “play” with your dog, especially if you have a highly sensitive or herding breed. Dr. Nicholas Dodman explains in this article how frustrating it can be for a dog to chase and attempt to catch the light, but never, ever be allowed to be successful, and the practice can lead to major behavior problems.

There’s No Shame in My Name!

August 15, 2016

Take some time and care when choosing your new pet’s name, especially if your dog is a large or powerful breed. While it may seem funny or whimsical to name your Pit Bull “Monster” or “Devil,” that can backfire in an unintended way. If you introduce your 90-pound Rottweiler as “Killer” to your friend Mary, Mary may just shrink back in fear or terror wondering what exactly your dog has done to earn this moniker. Mary’s terrified reaction will make no sense to the dog, and might put the pooch on edge, wondering why this person they just met is suddenly feeling fearful, anxious, nervous, or terrified. It’s a better idea to defuse a potentially scary situation and avert wearisome breed stereotyping by naming a huge powerful dog something completely opposite, like calling a Great Dane “Fluffy” or a Pit Bull “Tinkerbell.” One good friend and respected trainer has named his male Pit Bull “Jayne,” solely for the purpose of having people walk up, learn the dog’s name, and respond with a sympathetic, disarmed “awwww” at the irony of meeting a boy dog with a girl‘s name! 

Help My Parents Learn That the Pavement Can Burn!

July 18, 2016

Since local temperatures are consistently hitting above 100 degrees this summer, please remember that walking on streets and sidewalks is extremely hot and can burn your dog’s feet! If you need to take your pup to the vet, kennel, daycare, dog park, or other location, try to park as close to the entrance as you can so your dog doesn’t have to burn her paws walking on the scorching asphalt. If there are two of you in the car, drive up to the building’s entrance and drop off your dog and passenger so they can wait inside the facility door while you park the car. Your pooch will thank you! 

Messing With My Food Is Really Just Rude!  

June 20, 2016

Half a century ago (and even nowadays with many uninformed, compulsion-based “trainers”), the prevailing method of curing and/or preventing dogs from becoming aggressive around their food bowl (known as resource guarding) ranged from practices such as humans taking the food bowl away from them, to sticking fingers in their bowl, to punishing them for growling or showing teeth around their food. This practice has the opposite effect, however, and especially with dogs who have no resource guarding issues to start with, can actually create a dog that becomes possessive and aggressive around its food and food bowls. If you have a dog who’s uncomfortable with you being around his food or food bowl, one method you can try is to approach him in a circular path while he’s eating (rather than striding straight up to him, which can be interpreted as confrontational), toss a piece of chicken in his bowl, and walk away. Over time, the dog will begin to view mom or dad’s approach with great joy and anticipation rather than trepidation that something is about to be taken away from him.  More great tips on this subject and more from Dr. Ian Dunbar are available for free on his website Dog Star Daily.

Give Me The Tools To Follow Your Rules!

May 16, 2016

I received a call from a desperate pet parent who revealed that her dog was “becoming aggressive when we punish her.” I explained that dogs don’t understand our intentions when we yell, spank, hit, kick, or scream at them. Since they don’t experience the emotion of guilt; their gut reaction is one of fear and confusion, which can lead to their lashing out in terror. After a couple of sessions working with this sweet, sensitive dog, she and her parents were able to mend their relationship and thrive by creating a dialogue in which they told her what to do instead of getting angry at her unwanted behavior. It’s not fair for us to punish our dogs for not following our household rules when we haven’t taught them what the rules are.

Read Me A Story, Please, Whether I’m a Mastiff Or Maltese!

April 4, 2016

I’ve heard of this phenomenon happening before in shelters, but experienced it myself only recently. A client had me come to do a “tune up” on her two dogs, one a small male Terrier mix and the other a female Shepherd mix. Both dogs were rescues who didn’t have the best start in life, and are extremely cautious around visitors. The male felt comfortable enough to sit on the couch next to his mom, but the skittish female lay behind the couch the entire two hours I was there—until I pulled out a hand-out for my client and started reading it out loud. Within about 20 seconds, the little Shepherd girl came out from behind the couch, stared at me, and remained there while I tossed her treats without looking at her. I began to steal brief glances at her, blinking to let her know I came in peace and wasn’t going to hurt her or get into her space, and for the next half hour, she stayed in the room with us as I tossed her and her brother treats. If you’re trying to get a shy, skittish dog to feel comfortable in your presence, resist the temptation to go towards them or lean over in their direction or reach to pet them. Another technique I’ve used in shelters is to enter a dog’s kennel with some yummy treats, sit down on the ground facing away from them, and toss treats behind me until they feel comfortable approaching (or not—it’s entirely their choice). I’ve had great success with this method, and even got a huge Great Dane mix to approach me, lie beside me, and ultimately rest his head in my lap for some affection.

Saying ‘No Bite’ Won't Make It All Right!

March 7, 2016

Resist the temptation to try and “explain” or “talk” your dog into good behavior! One of my clients explained how he was frustrated that telling the new family puppy, “No bite!” had no effect on stopping the biting behavior. I explained to him that dogs don't speak English (or German or Italian or Swahili) and that simply saying it would not make it so! In fact, if your dog is biting you and you call (or label) the behavior “No bite!” you have just given the biting action a name. That means when you say “No bite” in the future, your dog will think, “Oh yeah, that's what he said when I was chewing on  his hand, so ‘No bite’ must be what this action is called!”  Think of how we teach our dogs the word “Sit.” We wait until their rear end hits the floor, and then call or label it “Sit.” It’s always a wonderful goal to expand your dog’s understanding of human vocabulary, but just be careful about your timing when introducing a new word.

It’s not Just Polite, It Could Save A Life!

February 1, 2016

If your dog barks all the time, no-one will bother to investigate to see whether something is really wrong. A friend of ours told us about her neighbor whose little dogs barked almost non-stop in their  yard. The neighbor never made a point of bringing his dogs inside when they barked or doing anything else to dissipate their energy. Our friend said she came home one night after 11pm and her neighbor’s dogs were putting up a racket as usual, so she thought nothing of it. She later found out that her neighbor actually passed away that night, and wondered if her going over to the house when the dogs were barking so frantically could have perhaps made a difference in the tragic outcome.

Let’s All Agree, No Pup Under The Tree!

December 14, 2015

Please think twice about giving anyone (aging parents, grandparents, or especially a child) a puppy as a “gift” this Christmas season. It’s just as irresponsible as giving someone a newborn baby—with a huge grin on your face and announcing, “Surprise!”—as you hold out the helpless, tiny creature at arms’ length. Unless you have been considering adding a pet to your family for some time, getting a puppy as a present may be fun and exciting at first, but it quickly loses its appeal when the new owners, or your fickle five-year old, realize that the puppy needs to be fed, walked, groomed, obedience-trained, potty-trained, and picked up after, day after day after day, without exception, for at least ten years and sometimes well into its teens. Dogs are for life and don't deserve to be discarded a month or two later like trash once that “new dog smell” has worn off. If you want someone to enjoy the experience of owning a pet for the first time, start small with a goldfish or a hamster. They require much less of a commitment than a dog. [Originally published December 5, 2011

Saying They’re Balanced Doesn't Mean They Have Talent! !

November 02, 2015

When searching for a trainer or class to work with your dog, be sure to do sufficient research to make sure you agree with the methods that will be used. There are certain ‘buzz words’ that can give you an idea of what methods a particular trainer uses. Definitely be on the lookout for obvious punishment-based terms or tools such as a choke collar, prong or ‘training’ collar, ‘e-collar’ (which refers to an electronic collar, for shocking the dog for non-compliance; it’s completely different from a vibration collar, which can be an effective, painless option for working with a deaf dog). An especially ambiguous but innocuous-sounding term is ‘balanced.’ A trainer who claims to use a ‘balanced’ approach usually means they use positive reinforcement and punishment (shouting, hitting, harsh corrections). Other terms to be wary of include making you a ‘pack leader,’ ‘dominance,’ ‘submission,’ ‘how to be the alpha,’ ‘positive punishment’ or ‘negative  reinforcement.’  (For a quick explanation of operant conditioning and the terms Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment, click on this link.) Words that indicate a school or trainer uses modern, scientific, humane training include terms such as ‘motivation,’ ‘confidence,’ ‘success,’ ‘taught and molded rather than forced,’ and ‘willing participation.’ Be an advocate for your dog—don’t ever subject them to any method you (or they) are uncomfortable with. 

Baby Steps, Baby Steps!

September 21, 2015

When we’re teaching our dog our human vocabulary, it’s important to go at their pace and keep  training sessions fun and interesting.  When teaching “Stay,” for example, work with whatever your dog is capable of giving you at the time.  If Rover is able to Stay when you take one step back but not two, reward his one-step Stay with praise and a treat!  Do a few more repetitions to set him up for success and increase his confidence, then try taking two steps back.  If Rover is successful with two steps, praise and treat!  Take whatever your dog is able to give you and build on that, rather than “going from kindergarten to college” too soon.  Once Rover is able to stay for 2, 3, 4, and 5 steps, be sure and start mixing it up so it becomes unpredictable and remains fun for him.  Don’t just keep building up to 90 steps, then 91, then 92, etc; make it interesting (and make him use his brain) by asking for a Stay and then taking 2 steps back, then 7, then 3, then 12, then 4, etc., so Rover always has to pay attention to your cue rather than predicting when the reward is coming.

Pet Bills 911!

August 24, 2015

Brandy Arnold at the Dogington Post writes about resources for those struggling with vet bills or feeding their dogs. She provides a large list of resources nationally and by state. She describes it as, “a list of national and state-specific organizations that assist pet parents in need of financial assistance. These organizations understand that the very best place for a pet is with the family that loves them.” The full list is available here.

Sock it To Me!

August 4, 2015

Does your dog like to steal and chew socks? Paper? Books? Toilet paper? Let her! The best way for a dog to learn that running off with such items is not a crime and will not result in scolding or worse is to let them “get it wrong” for training purposes, then teach them in a fun, controlled, and compassionate way that giving the items back to Mom or Dad means they will get praised and rewarded! Here’s how you do it: when you’re not in a hurry and have time to play the game, get a few balled up socks (or books or wads of paper, etc.) and toss them on the floor. When Fifi goes for one of the items, in a happy voice say something like “Oooooh, what’s that?” (One of my clients uses “Show me!” which I love.) Then when Fifi trots over to show you her prize, have a treat ready in one hand, place it next to her nose above the item and say, “Drop it!” Fifi should be happy to “trade up” to a higher-value resource, and then can get a second reward by you giving her the item back! (If Fifi won’t come over with her purloined treasure, try walking away from her, crouching down by the floor, and scratching the floor with your fingers. That usually makes dogs curious enough to come running over to see what treasure you’ve found! Then you can try having her drop the sock when she’s in closer proximity.) Once Fifi realizes she’ll get praised and rewarded for bringing you her treasures, she’ll be more likely to come running and willingly let you have what’s in her mouth!

Be Smart; Follow Your Heart!

May 4, 2015

If anyone, whether a trainer, rescue group, charity group, breed-specific rescue, or even a friend ever, ever advises or insists you use a particular tool or method to “train” your dog that you’re uncomfortable with, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit!  Please make sure that whomever you choose to work with uses modern, positive reinforcement methods. If you’re told to use a choke collar, prong collar, or to physically “correct” your dog’s reaction to a particular situation, that will only escalate the situation and make it worse.  As a matter of fact, prong collars were originally used to protect Livestock Guardian Dogs from predators that would threaten their flock or herd, and were never intended to hurt or “correct” the dog. Above is a picture of their original-intended use. Unfortunately, someone had the brilliant idea to flip it around, driving the spikes into a dog’s neck, thinking it could eliminate unwanted behavior or cure aggression. Since most aggression is based in fear, however, as Victoria Stillwell explains it, “trying to ‘put the dog in his place’ usually results in a short-lived quick fix, merely postponing the inevitable negative response once the dog feels threatened again. This delayed reaction can easily resurface at the worst possible moment, such as around children or in public.” Any trainer you hire to train your dog should use a combination of desensitization and counter-conditioning in order to change a reactive dog’s conditioned emotional response to the stimulus causing the reaction.

A Zoo Review for Dog Owners Too!

May 4, 2015

I recently took a trip to San Antonio, which included a visit to their zoo. After watching Lucky, the Asian elephant, work with her trainer, I was fortunate enough to have a brief conversation with the trainer, and expressed my admiration at her use of calm, gentle cues to which Lucky willingly responded. I told her how amazing it was that the Positive Reinforcement quadrant of operant conditioning applies to all animals, regardless of size. The trainer did target training with Lucky, using praise and food rewards, and at one point, asked her to lie down. She asked her in a very quiet, conversational tone, and waited literally about two minutes until Lucky lay down, then began rubbing the end of her trunk. She didn’t shout, yell, intimidate, or repeat herself, and essentially got a ten-thousand pound animal to do what she asked through respect, patience, calmness, and a well-earned reward. If these methods work with a sensitive, sentient animal of this size, shouldn’t we at least vow to first do no harm with our dogs, and avoid using outdated, punitive, and painful methods such as hitting, kicking, shouting, prong collars, and choke chains? 

Please Leave Some Kibble For Me To Nibble!

April 6, 2015

I’ve recently learned to always keep paper plates and a spare little bag of dog food in the car for any occasion I may see a stray, loose, scared dog that may be lost or have been dumped on the side of the road. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a white Boxer in a field by himself when I was driving home, and I stopped to see if he would come to me—but he was too scared. I walked down a hill to where I had parked my car, grabbed some treats from the back, and returned to where he was—it appeared he had been dumped in that location with a dirty, worn plastic dog-food bowl. I crinkled the treat bag to attract him and poured the contents into the bowl, and he came and ate with great gusto. Then I got worried that he had no water, so I went back to the car, grabbed a couple of half-full bottles I had, put the rest of the treats beside the bowl, and then poured water into the bowl. I was still worried about him, so I drove up to a nearby pet store, got a bag of food and a clean new bowl, filled up my empty water bottle from their bathroom sink, and then went back one more time to try and set him up with some food and water for the night/next few days. I don't know what his fate was and I hope he was rescued humanely, but it taught me to always have some spare food, water, and plates handy just in case it happens again. 

I Might End Up Squirrely If You Adopt Me Too Early!

March 2, 2015

Newborn puppies are cute, fluffy, and adorable, and most adoptive families want to take them home as soon as they can! There’s a danger in removing a puppy too soon from its mother and littermates, however. Most puppies should stay with their litter until they are between eight and twelve weeks old, and the longer they can stay with their brothers and sisters, the better. Puppies learn some very important lessons during that timeframe, making it very difficult for us humans to replicate if they come home with us too early. Puppies learn body language, social skills, and the all important concept of “bite inhibition.” Bite inhibition is how a young pup learns how to be gentle with siblings during play. If play becomes too rough between a brother and a sister, the one tired of being the “chew toy” will squeal and stop the play, saying in essence, “This game is over and I won’t put up with it any more.”  Allow your pup to stay with its family long enough to learn these important lessons, and your initial training will consist more of fun obedience exercises rather than having to modify unwanted behavior!

In The Saddle or Doing Battle?  

February 23, 2015

Successful equestrians learn how to lead and guide their horses using gentle, quiet, confident communication techniques, as a 1000-pound horse would not respond well to being yelled at, beaten, ignored, or otherwise abused. It’s the same with our dogs. We shouldn't have to come home every day geared up to do battle with our furry family members. Dogs are not comfortable following the instructions of an angry, nervous, anxious, or frustrated owner, and will often walk away until we are in control of ourselves. Dogs respond best to kind but firm instructions when we ask them to do something. By having consistent rules and boundaries that everyone in the household follows, including guests, dogs will start to relax once they realize their family members are “in the saddle” and will tell them exactly what they need to do in order to be safe and get what they want.

Get Me This Toy and I’ll Be a Good Boy!

December 15, 2014

Planning to host a party or two during your holiday break? To help keep people and dogs feeling calmer and less stressed, try going on a nice long walk before your guests arrive. Then if your dog is comfortable interacting with visitors, you can let him socialize with guests. If you think your dog would be happier on a corner bed or in a separate room, here are some great toys you can use to help keep him busy (and actually release endorphins by chewing). A Seamsters Weave Bone is a rubber chew toy that threads thin strips of rawhide  through holes in the rubber shell. The dried and hardened rawhide forms a tough seam that will challenge a dog both physically and mentally.  Alternatively, this company has several pages of some amazing dog toys (including the fantastic Nina Ottosson puzzles) that really force a dog to concentrate in order to get food or treats out of them. 

Bring Me Inside So I Don't Backslide!

October 27, 2014

Heeling Hounds has had a recent spate of calls from clients who force their sweet dogs to live outside. Just because a dog grows from an adorable two-month old Rottweiler into a massive 130-pound bundle of muscles, it is not fair to rip them from their human family, especially if they were allowed inside the house as puppies. Dogs don't understand why they go from being allowed to socialize with their human family members (and other small “inside” dogs) to being banished to a lonely, boring, barren back yard. Remember, behavior problems only get worse whenever dogs are made to live outside, and they will end up providing their own entertainment in the form of digging, barking, destroying plants, or worse. 

More Bubbles, Less Trouble!

September 22, 2014

Now that the school year has started back up, do you find yourself running hither and thither with sports, meetings, study time, and dance lessons? If you occasionally have to race out the door without a chance to walk Sparky, here’s a fun little game that can help tire him out and leave him dreaming of tiny bubbles when you depart.

Tag, You’re It!

September 1, 2014

If you’re looking for a quick, easy way to move your dog’s tags from one collar to another, check out this TagWorks clip we recently found at PetSmart. Since our three dogs have several different collars (and sometimes need to have their “clothes” tossed into a load of laundry), it’s very easy to unclip their ID and rabies tags from one collar loop to another to help ensure their safety if they were to go missing. This would also be a great resource for rescues, boarding, and daycares that have dogs coming and going on a regular basis and want a quick way to clip a generic ID onto the dogs in their care.

No Pup-Paw for Mee-Maw!

August 11, 2014

Heeling Hounds gets several calls a year from well-meaning adults who have given their parents a new dog for companionship. While a calm, well-behaved older dog can give a senior citizen a new lease on life, it can be frustrating for Grandma to suddenly have to deal with a chewing, digging, barking, tinkling furry creature that’s just doing what comes naturally. Try stopping by your local shelter to see if there is a calm, older (2 years or older) dog you can adopt that knows even a couple of basic commands like Sit and Stay; that will result in a much happier, calmer household than handing the grandparents a bouncy, biting, barking clueless 10-week old Boxer puppy and saying “Have fun with that!”

Let The Stride Be Your Guide!

July 8, 2014

Looking for a way to stay fit, germ-free, and protect the environment? Check out this amazing new product called Stride, a three-in-one product featuring a waste bag dispenser, hand sanitizer, and a pedometer all in one! This handy little walking companion will allow you to pull out a biodegradable waste bag, scoop up after your dog, and then apply hand sanitizer on the go. The pedometer actually monitors calories, distance, and steps, and can store a week’s worth of data. If you could use a little extra motivation getting out the door with your dog and counting your steps for the day, this little accessory might be worth checking out!

If You Really Care, Don't Cut Off My Hair!

June 16, 2014

While it may be tempting to shave a long-haired dog to help him stay cool in the current high temperatures, please don’t! Shaving off a dog’s coat has the exact opposite effect, especially if the dog has a two-layer or “double coat.” Huskies and Malamutes especially are prone to being shaved when the temperatures begin to climb, but instead of helping them stay cool, removing all their hair actually removes their ability to stay cool, because the top guard coat helps keep dogs from getting sunburned, and a properly groomed undercoat allows the air to circulate onto their skin and regulate their body temperature. The only time a double-coated dog should ever be shaved is in a medical necessity, or if the coat is so damaged or matted that normal grooming will not suffice. Here's a very good explanation of why allowing a dog to keep its coat will keep it cooler and safer in the summer.

Pinch Collars Are So Passé!

April 6, 2014

While working with a Golden Retriever, Sadie, on leash reactivity, I came to find that the family had previously utilized the services of a dog training company which relied on pinch collars for getting desired behaviors. Pinch collars may seem to work, with immediate results, but those who use pinch collars run the risk of creating reactivity in dogs. Leash reactivity means such things as aggression, lunging, and incessant barking at passers-by and other dogs, while wearing a leash. Before I became a trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques, I was instructed by my trainer to use one on my newly-rescued basket case of a Jack Russell Terrier. What soon developed, and I eventually corrected, was leash reactivity. The pinch collar is designed to apply pressure to a dog’s neck when the handler gives a pop of the leash. Since we’re human, we may not give enough of a pop of the leash at the first correction in order to completely eradicate the problem behavior. When that happens, the dog develops resistance to the pinch and then the handler requires more and more pop of the leash to correct the behavior. The result is that the dog associates pain toward those very things you’re wishing for him to stop—and then reactivity and aggression are imminent. —Katherine Porter, Independent Contractor Trainer

Lions and Tigers and Bears—and Chloe!

March 17, 2014

If positive-reinforcement training has successfully been used to train lions and tigers and bears for movies, take a look at how well it works with 11-week old Chloe the German Shepherd!  Chloe was very happy to work for and earn some treats, and learned that there's no penalty for guessing wrong, but there are happy rewards for guessing right. If you're curious as to why and when that click happens, click on “Show more” below the “About” section.

Opposites Attract?

December 30, 2013

Or at least can be fun to play with! After you teach a dog a new cue, like “Leave it,” try teaching the opposite cue to expand her vocabulary even more. If I drop something in the kitchen, depending on what it is, six pleading doggy eyes look up at me to see what I’m going to say next. Their cue will be either “Leave it,” or “Clean it.” They have much more fun with the second cue than the first, but this way I can keep them safe and under control if I drop something that could be harmful for them to ingest. They also know the cues for Inside, Outside, Take it, Drop It, Up, and Off. Expanding your dog’s vocabulary helps you communicate exactly what you want them to do once they have learned a word, and what is expected of them once you say it.

Want A Pup To Squeeze? Consider One Of These!

October 21, 2013

Winter holidays and celebrations are coming up—time to check those gift lists!  While it may be tempting to surprise a child with a pet as a “present,” that is often an overwhelming responsibility, and inappropriate for children under 15. If you want your toddler or young child to learn how to treat a pet gently and humanely, here’s an excellent product that can help you do just that: an interactive plush pet!  Your child can learn the difference between using their hands to be kind and gentle, and how tugging or hitting actually hurts the dog.  The product description explains, “Gently press or tug the pressure points and your pet will react just like a real animal! Scratch the dog’s belly and he sighs contentedly... stroke the cat’s fur to hear her purr. Touch their face to their food bowl and they make eating sounds.  But if you squeeze too hard on their paws or tug too hard on their tails, the sounds they make tell you they aren’t happy!” If you're feeling especially industrious, there’s even a  “Knit Your Own Dog” with breed-specific details and 24 different patterns—check it out!

Vacation For You, Staycation for Me!

September 16, 2013

Fall and winter holidays are coming up!  Planning on taking a trip soon, but all your favourite kennels are getting booked up? Try DogVacay, a service that finds host families to watch dogs while their owners are on vacation.  Here's how it works: simply browse hosts in your area, find a match for you dog, schedule a meet-and-greet, book a reservation on line, and then get to relax on your vacay knowing your pet will be in a safe, cage-free environment.  The DogVacay website includes user reviews and has thousands of vetted and insured dog lovers across the country ready to welcome your dog as a member of their family.  Rates start at $15/night, and all reservations include complimentary insurance, 24/7 customer support, daily photo updates, and a 100% money back guarantee.

It’s Not You, It’s Me!

July 29, 2013

Our dogs love to run in a local open field which is surrounded on all four sides by a brick wall.  They will occasionally get little stickers caught in their paws, which are no doubt painful.  I noticed that when this happened recently, our Husky/Border Collie mix Sadie looked over at me and stopped with her front paw slightly elevated.  Knowing what had happened, I called out, "Sadie, stay!" so she wouldn't cause herself further pain by walking over to me.  The funny thing was, Sadie actually then looked “guilty” after she got a sticker stuck in her foot, using the calming signals of blinking, turning her head away, ears folded back, and licking her lips, but that's undoubtedly not how she was “feeling.”  She was responding to my tense, agitated approach and body language as I hurried over to help her and take her pain away.  If you ask your dog to do something and get what looks like “guilty” body language on their part, take a mental step back to check and see whether they’re perhaps too overwhelmed or in too much pain to comply with a command they are normally able to accomplish every day.

Get Off My Back—I Don't Want to Attack!

January 1, 2013

While it may be fun for us to watch children interacting with dogs, it’s even more important to be aware of any “stress signals” the dog may exhibit during these interactions. This video shows a young child basically harassing and jumping on a Rottweiler that is using incredible restraint throughout the process—the poor Rottweiler exhibits numerous, repeated stress signals such as yawning, licking his lips, showing the whites of his eyes, and more. Please watch this video and read the accompanying explanation of what the dog’s body language means. Remember, dog attacks rarely happen “out of the blue,” and if we take the time to learn just a little bit of their language, we can help them live comfortably in our world without them feeling their distress signals are being ignored. We can help them avoid thinking that they have no other choice but to defend themselves.

Be A Good Dad—Don't Get Mad!

December 3, 2012

And a good Mom! If your dog does something she shouldn’t, instead of getting mad, make it a point to “educate” her in what you would like her to do instead!  She doesn’t know that the shoes you bought for $150 are valuable, and getting angry with her for not knowing that fact will only scare her and compromise her trust in you. Direct her to something else you would like her to do, like chew on a chew toy, and then praise her to let her know you like that particular activity. Anything you give attention to will increase, and she will gradually start chewing on things that get her good attention rather than a correction.

He Just Won’t Listen!

October 4, 2012

No, I’m not talking about my husband... This is how 70% of my prospective clients respond when I ask what issues they are having with their dogs.  As soon as I hear, “He just won’t listen,” my first thought is always, “Well, what language were you speaking?”  If our attempts to get a dog to stop chewing the table leg involve using words he hasn’t learned yet, like “Stop it! Let go! Off! Leave it!,” the dog will likely look at his owner, cock his head for a few seconds, and go right back to chewing the table leg.  It’s our responsibility to increase our dogs’ human-word vocabulary gradually and consistently, and then ask that they respond to the words we have taught them!

The Nose Knows!

October 1, 2012

A friend of ours who takes her dog to the same daycare as ours sent me a note that I found so interesting: “I was walking A. into daycare about 8:35 and I always stop at the door in the entry area so she can sit before walking into the office. She always sits very nicely, no problems... however, yesterday she wouldn’t sit and she kept sniffing the door and her tail was wagging. Needless to say I finally got her to sit and we walked into the office. I wondered why she had acted that way, but figured it out when I got to the sign in sheet.  She must have smelled Tasha and Sadie, because I signed in right after they did... too funny!! What a nose....”

I Might Need Sedation For Your Celebration!

July 2, 2012

While the 4th of July holiday is a time for celebration, family gatherings, BBQs and fireworks for us, it is a time of year when many dogs panic at the loud thundering of fireworks and end up running away from home just to try and escape the cacophony.  There are several options we have to help our dogs feel calmer during fireworks, thunderstorms, and other situations that cause them to be fearful.  One good idea is to take your dogs on a long walk before the fireworks begin in order to have them in a more relaxed state for the evening.  Other things that can help ease anxiety include herbal remedies such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy drops, Pet Ease tablets, a Thundershirt, DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) drops or spray, playing Through A Dog’s Ear CD, herbal calming collars, and even special doggie earmuffs that can help block out loud noises.

Check Those Facts Before You Give Out Snacks!

June 3, 2012

Please choose your dog's treats carefully!  The Food and Drug Administration has reported that nearly 1,000 dogs have been sickened by chicken jerky pet treats made in China, according to recent complaints from owners and veterinarians submitted to federal health officials.  Three top brands of chicken jerky treats were among those most recently cited by pet owners and veterinarians in complaints of harm, and include Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brands produced by Nestle Purina PetCare Co., and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp. Source.

Cherish A Memory And Plant A Tree!

May 14, 2012

In the sad event that you or someone you know has lost a beloved companion, one way to preserve your pet’s memory is by planting a tree using a special urn to hold the ashes of your loved one. Limbo Zoo makes 100% eco-friendly urns that can safely hold your companion’s ashes and help enrich the environment. Planting a tree using a living organic urn containing your pet's ashes will “help (a) tree grow strong and healthy, making it a perfect memorial for your pet.” The company also offers urns that dissolve and are meant to be released into the ocean or into a fresh water source, returning your family member back into the arms of Mother Nature.

Just Made A Friend? Try This New Trend!

April 16, 2012

Do you enjoy going to the dog park and meeting new dogs and their people?  If you’re interested in exchanging contact information but don’t have a pen and paper handy, here’s one way you can quickly exchange names and numbers for future play dates: customized calling cards from Fire Hydrant Press. They can be personalized with color, font, dog breed, and tag line for your individual pup, and help foster new friendships!

Don't Leave Me High And Dry If You Have To Go TDY!

March 12, 2012

If you or someone you know is a military member and pet-owner who's facing a deployment or Temporary Duty (TDY), don’t feel you have to permanently give up your dog for adoption or take her to the pound!  There are wonderful groups that can find foster homes for your pets while you are gone.  Guardian Angels for Soldiers' Pet and Pact for Animals are two organizations that help find local volunteers that will be happy to care for your pet while you’re gone, and rejoice at your safe return along with your dog, cat, bird, or other furry family member!

Donate A Bag And Make Our Tails Wag!

February 21, 2012

Ever buy some dog or cat food only to find out your dog doesn’t like it or adapt well to it? If you live in or near El Paso, don’t throw it out—donate it to a wonderful cause:  Ben's Pet Pantry!  Ben’s Pet Pantry is the one and only pet food bank in El Paso, and was started in an effort to provide short-term help to pet parents struggling to feed their pets.  Even if you don’t have spare food to donate, consider making a donation on line—every little bit helps!

Look At Their Muzzle To Help Solve The Puzzle!

January 9, 2012

This is a fun video of a dog enjoying someone playing a guitar. It’s amusing to watch, because the dog shows two completely different “moods” when the guitar is being played and when the musician stops playing. But it also shows a clear picture of a dog being completely relaxed and comfortable in his body, followed by the dog becoming slightly discomfited and more alert. Whenever the dog is relaxed, his body language is to have his mouth open and his eyes soft and blinking. Whenever the music stops, the dog exhibits a slightly heightened alert status by closing his mouth and raising his ears.

Let’s All Agree, No Pup Under The Tree!

December 5, 2011

Please think twice about giving anyone (a child, especially) a puppy as a “gift” this Christmas season. It’s just as irresponsible as giving someone a newborn baby — with a huge grin on your face and announcing, “Surprise!” — as you hold out the helpless, tiny creature at arms’ length. Unless you have been considering adding a pet to your family for some time, getting a puppy as a present may be fun and exciting at first, but it quickly loses its appeal when the new owners, or your fickle five-year old, realize that the puppy needs to be fed, walked, groomed, obedience-trained, potty-trained, and picked up after, day after day after day, without exception, for at least ten years and sometimes well into its teens. Dogs are for life and don't deserve to be discarded a month or two later like trash once that “new dog smell” has worn off. If you want someone to enjoy the experience of owning a pet for the first time, start small with a goldfish or a hamster. They require much less of a commitment than a dog.

If You Buy Me A Disguise, Don't Keep It A Surprise!

October 24, 2011

Thinking of getting your dog a costume this Halloween?  Well, you have a full week to get him used to wearing something foreign on his body and/or his head!  Once you have the costume home, open the package, lay the costume parts on the floor, and just let your dog explore (or not) at his leisure. If you're familiar with clicker training, this is the perfect situation to use that tool. If your dog looks at the costume, click (or say “Yes!”) and give him a treat. If he sniffs the costume, click and treat. If he noses the costume, click and treat, and so on, until he realizes interacting with the costume results in a yummy reward. The next day you can start putting the costume parts on him, for seconds at a time, with a click and treat as a reward. Keep putting the parts on him for longer and longer, spacing out the rewards, until he’s comfortable wearing, sitting, standing, and moving around in the costume. You might even win a local costume contest!  Speaking of which, El Paso’s Howl-O-Ween Costume Contest will be held on Sunday, October 30th at 1700 at the West Side Dog Park at 1400 High Ridge Drive. See you there!

You Won't Spoil My Mood If You Phase Out The Food!

October 3, 2011

When a dog is first learning to perform a behaviour on cue, it’s very effective to use treats as a reward (as long as the dog is motivated by food).  Many clients ask me if they will have to continue to use treats for the rest of the dog’s life in order to elicit a newly-learned behaviour, and the good news is, no, they do not.  Once you are sure your dog has learned a particular cue (through hundreds of repetitions in a multitude of settings, not just a dozen times in the living room or back yard), you can replace the food reward with what’s called an intrinsic reward, meaning the dog still gets a reward, but a different kind: an intrinsic reward is allowing the dog to have or do what they want, like going through the front door, climbing into the car, fetching a toy, hopping up onto the couch, and so on, after they have offered the behaviour you request (like “sit”).  Start thinking of ways you can begin to phase out food lures and replace them with intrinsic “life rewards” to avoid having to carry treats with you for the next decade!

Don’t Fly the Coop—They Might Find You Through the Poop!

September 12, 2011

For El Paso West Side residents enjoying the newly created High Ridge Dog Park, it should be our goal to keep the park as clean and tidy as we can in order to protect the health of our animals. There is currently no accountability system in place, but that doesn't mean science can’t identify which owners are not policing after their dogs!  According to a recent CNN report, a growing number of apartment complexes around the US are requiring their residents to submit DNA samples of their dogs in order to identify whose droppings are being left on the ground. Let's keep High Ridge clean so hyperactive law-enforcers don't attempt to enact and enforce new laws and turn us all into suspects on a new episode of CSI: El Paso!

Thinking About A Pet, But Can't Commit Just Yet?

September 5, 2011

If you’re thinking about adding a dog to your household, but are holding off due to a lack of space, small backyard, no time to train, or family allergies, I’d like to first of all commend you for taking the decision seriously!  If you find yourself pining for puppy kisses and longing for a hound to hug, consider visiting a local dog park and mingling with the furry visitors, or perhaps volunteering to walk dogs at your nearest shelter.  An excellent resource for finding a dog park is El Paso Dog Parks , and you can find local rescue organizations and shelters on the Heeling Hounds Resources page here.

Help Prevent Rage—Respect The Cage!

August 22, 2011

We are currently reveling in a completely brand-spanking new dog park on our side of town, the first ever installed on the west side of El Paso.  So far it consists only of three grassy areas surrounded by chain link fences, but it also provides several small double-entrance cages similar to batting cages.  These small gated enclosures allow an owner to take their time getting dogs into the park gradually, and lessens the chance of a dog running into or out of the park if there were only one entrance.  During a recent trip to the park, I had entered the first small cage area with our two Husky mixes, then continued through to the second small cage.  That's where I require that they sit before I open the door to “Disneyland,” which is quite a challenge on their part to remain until I release them, but makes for good training.  While I was in the second cage with the dogs off their leashes, they were just about to sit for me when a lady entered the first cage and then continued on into our second cage with her large dog, small dog, and two other people.  Since tight spaces can provoke a fight between unacquainted dogs, I told her we were in the middle of training, and politely asked if she would mind using the empty adjoining cages for her own dogs.  Please remember to respect the purpose of these little cages, and if they happen to be in use when you arrive, take your dog for a quick spin around the parking lot until you can enter at your leisure!

Help Me Relax Without Panic Attacks!

August 8, 2011

If your dog tends to react fearfully to certain normal sounds in our human world, you can help to desensitize and counter-condition her to hearing these sounds without associating them with fear. Legacy Canine provides CD recordings of crying babies, barking dogs, vacuums, kitchen sounds, thunderstorms, children, and fireworks.  If you purchase a CD of the sounds that your dog fears, play the CD at an almost inaudible level while feeding your dog some yummy treats for just a few minutes.  Day by day, increase the volume of the CD while feeding treats so that your dog begins to associate the particular sound with something good, and no longer perceives it as a threat!

An Exercise Pen Can Be Your Friend!

July 18, 2011

If you bring a new dog or puppy into a household with older dogs, consider investing in an exercise pen. While a puppy’s natural energy and desire to play is perfectly acceptable to his litter mates, an older dog might resent a youngster's boundless energy and feel overwhelmed by a young pup that always wants to play. A way to make it fair for all the pack members is to take the puppy for a walk to help expend some of that energy, then bring him inside to relax inside an exercise pen. As long as he has a comfy little bed, something to chew on, and a small bowl of water, he’ll be able to be around his family members without being allowed to run roughshod over his more mature, low-energy siblings!

I'll Help With Your Hound, Just Let Me Sit Down!

June 27, 2011

When inviting a trainer into your home, while we are eager to get to work and help solve your dog’s issues, it’s generally not helpful to bombard us with with a year-long case history while we're still standing in your front hallway, loaded down with bags and briefcases, trying to observe your pet’s behavior. Let us come in, quietly observe how the dog reacts, allow us to sit down and organize any paperwork and questionnaires, and maybe even offer us something to drink!

A Blurb About Herbs!

May 30, 2011

Interested in battling some of your dog's health issues using natural remedies rather than prescription drugs? Dogster Inc., based in San Francisco, has an interesting list of ten herbs that can help solve everything from treating dry skin to repelling insects, stanching bleeding, reducing anxiety, aiding digestion, staving off congestive heart failure in senior dogs, improving mobility, and even fighting cancer.  Check them out!

Don't Be Daffy—I'm Not A Piece of Taffy!

May 16, 2011

When teaching our dogs to lie down, it’s tempting to try and “help” them by either pressing down on their shoulders or by pulling their paws forward out in front of them. This usually has exactly the opposite effect, because dogs have an oppositional reflex, meaning if you push them, they’ll push back, and if you pull back (like on a leash), they’ll pull forward.  The best way to coax a dog to lie down is to hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger, and trace the letter “L,” first from their nose, then down their chest, down to the ground, and then out in a straight line in front of them.

Want to adopt? Window-shop!

May 9, 2011

Interested in adopting a pet but don't have the time to drive over to the Humane Society of El Paso (HSEP) on Fred Wilson? If you subscribe to Time Warner TV service, check out their new "Paws On Demand" channel!  Time Warner has added the Humane Society's adoptable pets to their On-Demand menu selection, available on Channel 831, where you can view all the pets looking for homes—every view earns HSEP a $1 donation from Time Warner, so be sure and check it out!

If We Sneeze, It's The Bee’s Knees!

April 18, 2011

It's easy to recognize that a dog wagging her tail generally indicates she’s feeling happy.  But a less well-known phenomenon occurs when they get so happy that they sneeze!  Dog behaviourist Sarah Kalnajs explains that when a dog is really, really happy, she will sneeze several times in a row—the ultimate expression of joy!  I actually witnessed this for the first time when we babysat our friends’ Husky; upon her owners’ return, this happy girl was wagging her tail, dancing in a circle, and suddenly had a little sneezing fit as well, with four or five good sneezes in a row, essentially telling her owners, “I’m so thrilled you're back!”

If You Disappear, Make Sure Someone’s Here!

April 4, 2011

A gentleman recently left me a voice mail saying he had unexpectedly landed in the hospital.  He called Animal Control, as he was concerned for his dogs at home who had no-one to care for them until he came home, and was given my number.  I was fortunately able to check in on his dogs for a couple of days until a family member arrived, but it got my husband and me thinking about who would look after our four animals if we were suddenly unable to care for them.  It’s important to have friends, family, and neighbours lined up to look in on our pets in case we end up out of commission and need someone to check on them!  The company Ghost Memo is an option for people without nearby family members, as they offer a service which can “provide a way for you to send personal messages to your emergency contacts in the event that you experience a personal tragedy such as: death, coma, loss of consciousness, accident, etc.” Alternatively, the company Trusted Pet Partners has the goal of making sure no pet ever becomes homeless, should an owner be unable to care for him or her.

Think of Your Pup—Don't Hang Up!

March 21, 2011

If you call a dog trainer and are interested in obtaining training details or information about the company, please take a few seconds to leave your name, number, and quick synopsis of the information you’re seeking. Whenever I see I have missed a call to Heeling Hounds without the caller having left a message, it makes me think that if they’re not willing to take five or ten seconds to leave me contact information so that I can call them back, they probably won’t be willing to take the time to do the homework I assign for addressing their dog’s issues!


February 27, 2011

“IRP” is the best acronym I can come up with for the way I like to correct dog behaviour. It stands for “Interrupt, Redirect and Praise.” Whenever you see your dog doing something you don't like, before making a correction, decide what you'd like him to do instead. If he’s chewing on a shoe, grab a more appropriate item like a chew toy or Nylabone, walk over to him, quietly say, ”Uh-uh,” take the shoe away, and replace it with the chew toy, then give a few words of praise or affection.  Most of us are really good at the first stage of correction, interrupting, when bad behaviour catches our attention and makes us shout no!  But if we leave it at that and just walk away, the dog will mentally shrug his shoulders, think, ”Huh,” and probably go right back to what he was doing.  It’s equally important to let our dogs know what we want them to do, in addition to interrupting the the thing we want them not to do.  Also keep in mind that this is a learning process, especially for a puppy or new dog, and they shouldn’t be punished for a wrong response, but instead shown what the rules of the house are.

It's Not a Blame Game!

February 21, 2011

When I’m taking a case history of a dog’s problem issues, some owners are a little hesitant to tell me the whole truth about their dog’s behaviour problems, as well as the methods they have tried to solve the problems.  Keep in mind that an effective trainer who’s truly interested in your dog’s and your family’s welfare will be there to assess past behaviour and patterns and move forward, not judge and blame owners for past mistakes.  Berating owners for having used ineffective methods achieves nothing and compromises the trust between trainer and client.  For me, it can be frustrating when clients have already tried everything I suggest—I personally love when clients have “done everything wrong,” because I get excited about showing them effective techniques that will work!  My goal is to give dog owners the tools they need for achieving the results they want without blaming them for a lack of knowledge, because as the saying goes, when we know better, we do better!

A Gentle Blink Means More Than You Think!

February 7, 2011

Try sharing a moment of silent communication with your dog.  In dog body language, one dog looking at another and blinking slowly and gently sends the message, “I’m no threat to you; we can be friends.”  It serves as a sort of “check-in” mechanism which they can give and return to let each other know they’re comfortable being together.  When your dog is awake and relaxed, and sitting or lying within your eyesight, look over at him or her, soften your gaze, and give a slow blink.  If your dog is well-versed in body language, you should get a blink back!

Please Let Me Talk—Don’t Crop or Dock!

January 24, 2011

The common procedures of cropping (“slicing off”) a dog’s ears or docking (“cutting off/removing”) their tails is unnecessary mutilation that compromises a dog’s ability to effectively communicate with other dogs, and can prevent him from becoming properly socialized. Docking and cropping were initiated for health purposes—tail docking was done to prevent hunting dogs from damaging their tails in heavy brush, and ear cropping was thought to help prevent infections, but both of these excuses have proven irrelevant with household dogs that end up being kept as family pets rather than as working dogs, as long as they receive regular grooming and physical check-ups. Cropping and docking have already been outlawed in Austria, Australia, England, South Africa, and Scandinavia.

Pit Bulls in El Paso especially are subjected to the torture of ear-cropping (often at home by medically-unqualified owners) and, for the rest of their lives, are involuntarily handicapped when around other dogs because they aren't able to use all their body parts (face, mouth, nose, ears, hackles, tail, weight distribution) to communicate with other dogs and indicate whether they’re feeling comfortable or threatened. Powerful breeds such as Pit Bulls, Boxers, and Mastiffs should be the last breeds of dog we would want to handicap in their communication with other dogs, as they can inflict such major damage if a confrontation occurs, and it’s much more humane to give them every avenue possible to tell other dogs (and humans schooled in canine body language) what their moods and intentions are.

A Clicker Is Slicker!

January 3, 2011

When teaching your dog a new behaviour, try your best to keep the training sessions calm and unemotional, because the dog’s trust and security, both in the trainer and in himself, rely on the trainer’s calm demeanour to help him concentrate. Using a clicker to mark the behaviour you like can be beneficial, as it provides more neutral, consistent feedback than the owner praising the dog with an excited “Good job!” one time and a calmer “Excellent” the next. Remember, human words have no meaning to dogs unless they have been taught what the words mean.

We’re Not Lions and Tigers and Bears—No Lie!

December 27, 2010

When our pet dogs are forced to live permanently outside in back yards and never allowed indoors, it’s impossible for them to form meaningful relationships with their human pack leaders. Frustrated owners call me wondering why their “outside dogs” won't listen, won’t stop jumping, and won’t do what they are asked. If we keep our dogs apart from us and interact with them only when it’s feeding time or for a few minutes of play, we are essentially acting as zookeepers rather than as leaders and protectors. In addition, the dog that finally gets some attention from you basically means that in their eyes, you’re Disneyland—they get so excited to finally have some quality time with you, they can’t control their excitement because they haven’t been taught how to do so. Bring your dog inside! Go for walks! Spend time training! Your dog will learn to listen to you, mind you, and build a lifelong relationship with you based on mutual trust and respect.

Look At The Deeds, Not Just The Breeds!

November 1, 2010

A friend of ours mentioned wanting to possibly adopt a Rottweiler in the near future. This person was considering getting a dog of this breed because of a Rottie he grew up with as a child, and reminisced happily about how fantastic that dog was and how it was such a wonderful breed. While Rottweilers are indeed a wonderful breed, there is no guarantee that adopting a Rottweiler puppy would guarantee that our friend would end up with a dog that was identical in temperament to the one he had as a child. To me, that's akin to a person who’s interested in adopting a baby, and chooses to adopt a child from India because, “I really admire Mahatma Ghandi, and he's from India!” While certain breeds do have in-bred propensities for exhibiting certain behavior and personality traits (terriers love to dig, collies love to herd, greyhounds love to run), that does not guarantee that each individual puppy in a litter is going to have a predetermined personality based on breed alone.

Using a Prong is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

October 18, 2010

For the most part, use a prong collar is wrong and it is always wrong as a first resort.  A beautiful Saturday at this year's Dog Lovers' Fair was spoiled for me by the astounding plethora of dogs sporting a prong or "pinch" collar (the one that has the long, spiked "teeth" all the way around the inside).  At least 75-80% of the dogs in attendance were forced to wear these medieval-torture looking devices around their necks. One poor Standard Poodle was wearing a prong collar and a post-surgery elizabethan collar "cone," so was probably feeling in pain and under the weather in that heat anyway.  His handler was trying to move through the crowd, but the dog lay down on the cement, at which point the human just kept tugging on his leash, making the prong collar dig into the Poodle's neck, instead of stopping, looking back at the dog, and trying to gently coax him to move forward with voice or perhaps a treat. While it may be true that putting the collar around a human arm might not "hurt" all that much, how can we be so arrogant and heartless as to presume to know what will hurt a certain dog and what won't?  They have different pain thresholds just like we do. I have no tolerance for pain, and just about need general anesthesia to rip off a Band-Aid.  Wouldn't it be better to err on the side of caution and start with the lowest level of pain and discomfort on our dogs' bodies when trying to get the results we want?  We should strive to at least mirror the medical field's vow of, "First do no harm."  Here are some kinder, gentler alternatives to just slapping on a device that may get quick results for us, but should be an absolute last resort for our dogs:  Easy-Walk Harness, Illusion Collar, or Headcollar.

I Am What I Eat?!?!

October 10, 2010

A fellow dog-training professional found this link, and it’s a real eye-opener in highlighting the ingredients contained in our dogs' food.  While it is beneficial for us to read labels in general, sometimes knowing the definition of what we’re reading makes all the difference.  For example, while an ingredient such as “animal fat” may be listed on the label, despite its sounding somewhat innocuous, the source explains how “Animal fat is a generic by-product of ‘rendering’… the same high-temperature process used to make meat meals.  Since there’s no mention of a specific animal, this stuff could come from almost anywhere… restaurant grease, slaughterhouse waste, diseased cattle… even euthanized pets.”  Take a few moments to research your pet’s food, and remember that spending a little more money on a higher-quality food will be healthier for your pet, and could save you veterinary costs and procedures years down the road.

I’m King Of The Hill—All Three Pounds of Me!

October 4, 2010

In the dog world, height denotes status. Small dogs especially can become a little too “big for their breeches,” as my grandmother would say, when they get carried around all the time. If a Chihuahua spends most of his life being carried around by his owner, in his mind he thinks he’s eight feet tall and is not afraid to pick a fight with a Great Dane! Make carrying your companion dog or inviting him onto the couch a privilege rather than a right!

What’s The Role of the Roll?

September 7, 2010

While it may be tempting to attempt to “roll” our dogs on their backs or sides to demonstrate assertiveness or dominance, that usually backfires.  Attempting to imitate what we perceive as something that happens in nature is actually forcing a natural phenomenon to occur in a backwards fashion.  The “Alpha Roll” that can occur in a wolf pack is an action that is offered freely by one wolf to another rather than forced upon another pack member.  If a subordinate wolf commits a transgression against a senior-ranking member, the subordinate wolf will offer an alpha roll of his own accord, and lie on his back with his stomach exposed in order to demonstrate an apology, in essence saying, “I made a mistake and the ultimate price I might have to pay is for you to kill me.”  When this gesture is offered freely by an offending member of the pack, the senior wolf will likely do something like stand over the offender, growl, then walk away, essentially saying, “All right, you’ve said sorry, don’t let it happen again.”  A wolf will never forcefully roll another pack member on his back unless he intends to kill him.  This is the message we can inadvertently send our dogs when we flip them onto their backs or sides to “show dominance,” and will result in a dog that is more fearful, less trusting, and possibly more aggressively reactive because he believes he is about to be harmed or killed by the pack leader he should be able to trust the most.

It’s All A Balancing Act!

August 23, 2010

Too much or too little will result in imbalance, whether with dogs or humans.  Aggression or misbehaviour problems in dogs are often the result of either abuse or overindulgence.  Both extremes can produce the same thing and may result in a dog that is anxious, fearful, antisocial, obnoxious, or aggressive.  Spoiled dogs have an inflated view of their importance and privileges, and abused dogs live their lives in fear and constant stress, which makes them more likely to lash out at a potential or perceived threat where there is none.  We owners should make an effort to keep a balance between affection and incorporating boundaries in our dogs’ daily routines!

Hurry Up and Wait!

August 9, 2010

Clients typically ask me how long it will take for their dog to master a certain behaviour, or stop doing an unwanted activity. Unfortunately, trainers don’t carry a crystal ball that tells us the time-frame each dog will require to achieve the success we want, so the answer is, “It will take as long as it takes!” It’s the same as a child learning to walk—when a baby tries to take those very first few steps, she is probably not going to sail effortlessly across the living room floor without taking a little tumble after a step or two, and the process of a child learning to walk successfully is going to take as long as it takes. In fact, when working with dogs, sometimes slowing down our physical movements and rate/amount of speech can actually speed up the training process, because the dog can then relax and not feel pressured to deliver the results on our typically compressed human time schedules. As I explain to clients, if you’re mentally or physically rushed while trying to elicit a particular behaviour from your dog and act like you only have five minutes, it could take all day. If you’re relaxed, calm, and act like you have all day, it may take only five minutes.

Switch To Decaf—You’ll Be Glad You Did!

July 12, 2010

I think of the testosterone circulating through a male dog’s body as the equivalent of non-stop cups of espresso coffee.  Male dogs that have not been neutered can operate on a whole different level of crazy than male dogs that have had the surgery.  Think of it this way:  male dogs that have testosterone coursing through their system have an unassailable drive to find a female to mate with, and not being able to do so can leave them feeling hugely frustrated.  This frustration manifests itself in unwanted behaviours such as mounting (humping), urine-marking, running away from home, and increased aggression.  In addition, unneutered, or “intact,” males run a much higher risk for diseases such as testicular tumours, hernias, and prostate disease.  Insisting that a male dog remain intact is essentially the same as if someone made you drink 10 cups of espresso in a row and then forced you to sit quietly in a chair for several hours without moving, talking, reacting, or fidgeting.  By taking away the testosterone hormone from a male dog’s body, it’s like switching him from drinking espressos to drinking decaf, and allows him to finally relax and just enjoy being a dog.

So Glad YOU Feel Better--Now I'M Homeless!!

June 28, 2010

An acquaintance, who is an aspiring dog trainer, has five small dogs--let’s call them Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, & Rudolf.   Rudolf and Dancer fight frequently, and the fights have been violent enough to require repeated trips to the vet.  “Susan,” the owner, has, in her own words, “tried everything” to get them to stop fighting.  However, Rudolf is allowed to be a bully and frequently picks on Dancer.  Susan does not intervene at the first sign of Rudolf exhibiting obnoxious, bullying behaviour, and tries to fix it with armchair leadership.  Instead of striving to be a composed, confident leader and going over to address the situation and physically separate the dogs with a body block or redirection before low-level behaviour escalates into aggression, Susan ignores Rudolf’s early signals of bullying.  When Rudolf’s behaviour does escalate and result in a scuffle, Susan indulges her human frustration with outbursts of impatience and screaming.  While I happened to be visiting the home talking with Susan, Rudolf kept body-blocking Dancer from receiving affection from the humans, and gave signals that one schooled in dog body-language would recognize as possible precursors to a fight.  Rudolf then escalated to growling and posturing at Dancer, and Susan literally stopped mid-sentence and screamed, ”Rudolph!” at the top of her lungs.  It was so loud it actually made me jump.  Shortly after that episode, Rudolf, the dog Susan thought was the source of the pack’s imbalance, was surrendered back to a shelter and made homeless.  Even though our initial human reaction to dogs behaving badly may be to want to curse, scream, shout, or hurt them physically, it is not a method that will correct and improve their behaviour, or let them know what it is we want them to do.

Take Your Dog To Work!

June 21, 2010

June 25th is this year's Take Your Dog to Work Day!  Make an effort to bring your best furry friend with you to work this Friday!  According to Pet Sitters International, studies have shown that allowing dogs in the workplace increases productivity and creativity, decreases absenteeism, and improves co-worker relationships.  Visit the event web site, Take Your Dog, to find more details, download their Action Kit, and participate in the annual fun photo contest!  Cesar Millan also offers some tips for creating a cohesive Office Pack and achieving and maintaining harmony in the workplace.

Drive Friendly — Be Considerate And Share The Road!

June 7, 2010

If you’re out walking your dog and another dog and owner come your way, be considerate and try to “Share the road!” We are lucky to live near four different walking paths just down the street where our dogs can run off leash, with a stone wall on one side and a deep canal on the other. The other day, an owner walking her dog headed right towards us and the path we were on, despite having the choice of three other equally appropriate walking paths. She let her dog off leash, and I immediately had to leash our two in the interest of safety and courtesy to the other dog and owner. As it turns out, all dogs were friendly and eager to meet each other, but one never knows the disposition and temperament of other dogs, or whether an owner is practicing training techniques at any given time. I would have greatly appreciated it if she had chosen another path with her dog, allowing all of us to relax, enjoy our walk, and wave from across the canal in a relaxed greeting!

I Heart!

May 24, 2010

If you’re looking for supplies for your dog or cat and enjoy shopping on line, you can find a lot of products at Petsmart, Amazon, and Doctors Foster and Smith. One website I recently found and now prefer, however, has a huge selection of the same products you’d find at more well-known stores but at much lower prices—check it out!

Pet Poetry?!?

May 10, 2010

I’m thinking of having a plaque made to hang outside our front door, with a little poem along the lines of,

    Our dogs are friendly
    But still kind of shy
    Don't talk to them just yet,
    But look Mom in the eye!

My sister and her husband came for a visit two weeks ago and, knowing they were going to be here a full week, I wanted the introduction between them and our three rescue dogs to be smooth, unintimidating, and as comfortable as possible (not that they’re intimidating people; our dogs just can take a little while to warm up to visitors). I asked both Angie and Ted to walk through the door after me and basically ignore our dogs without talking to them, looking at them, or trying to pet them. After a while, Sadie and Tasha came up and took their time to sniff and get to know the visitors. After a few minutes of no pressure from the two new people, Sadie and Tasha warmed up quickly and let Angie and Ted pet and greet them, and were comfortable with them in the house for the rest of the week. When we communicate with dogs in a fashion that they view as polite and considerate, it can go a long way towards relaxing them quickly.

Can You Ear Me Now?!

April 19, 2010

I think of living with our three dogs as living with three expressive, intelligent, mute souls.  Since dogs are not able to speak in human language, they use virtually all of their body parts to communicate with us and with each other.  You can learn to decipher some of your dog’s body language, and thereby his emotional and psychological state, by observing changes his ears, eyes, mouth, tail, fur, and overall posture, and these changes speak volumes.  When interacting with your dog, watch his body language carefully.  If you reach to pet or hug him and he responds with averted eyes, a yawn, a lick of the lips, freezing up, sniffing the ground, or scratching himself, do him a huge favour: say “Ok!” and just walk away.  He will heave a huge sigh of relief (and probably take a “shake break”), realizing that you just deciphered his signals and can understand his “language,” which will go a huge way towards nurturing the trust between the two of you.  While we owners can’t possibly hope to decipher every single instance of dog body language, as they can be so quick and so subtle, there are some common signal dogs use that can let us know when they are feeling uncomfortable, fearful, or ready to defend themselves.  Turid Rugaas, a pioneer in the field of canine body language, has listed these signals on her webpage.  It’s a fascinating topic and worth checking out!

Too Much Cute Could Cost You Loot!

April 12, 2010

Keep in mind when bringing a new dog home, especially a puppy, that behaviours you find cute in the beginning can become just the opposite once the dog reaches her full size. A fluffy little St. Bernard puppy that likes to jump up for attention, chew on your fingers, or run into your legs will grow into a 100-pound missile if you don't redirect those activities when the puppy is small. While family members may put up with such rambunctious behaviour and find it amusing, guests visiting your home who find themselves flat on their backs with a St. Bernard giving their face a bath may not be so understanding. In addition, a dog that gets big enough to destroy objects or injure people will undoubtedly incur expenses you never planned on!

Don’t Struggle—Just Be!

March 29, 2010

Effective pack leaders don’t struggle to achieve or maintain leadership; they just live their lives. If a dog sees or senses a leader struggling, it can cause him to panic, because in the animal kingdom, struggling equates to weakness, and a weak leader can threaten the survival of the pack. Dogs do not regard anger, frustration, nervousness, guilt, coddling, or being tense as a source of leadership, and will not follow such energy regardless of our intentions, good or bad. Our dogs derive the most comfort and sense of security when their leaders project an air of being relaxed and confident, even if we’re not always sure what our next move is going to be!

Don't Be (or Give) A Jerk!

March 15, 2010

If you have taught your dog how to sit and are practicing that behaviour while working with him on a leash, wait a few seconds for him to process the command and then respond properly, especially if you are working in an area with a lot of distractions. It is imperative that the dog know what the word "Sit" means, because just saying it doesn't let him know what action he should take unless you have first taught him what the word means. (If I asked you in German, "Aufstehen!" would you know what to do unless I had taught you that Aufstehen means "stand up"?) If your dog doesn't immediately sit, and his eyes and head drift off to one side, reposition your body so that you are squarely facing him, and walk half a step to a step forward into his space. That will usually get him to look up at you to see what you're doing, at which time you can calmly repeat, "Sit," and wait again for him to comply. If you ask your dog to sit and get no response, do not jerk or pull up on the leash. If I told you "Aufstehen!" and you did not respond, would it help you understand what I wanted if I just said nothing and reached over and smacked you in the head? It would be more helpful if I stood squarely in front of you and placed my palm facing upwards and raised it a few inches. We should treat our dogs with the same respect, fairness, and patience.

Yours, Mime, and Ours?!?

March 8, 2010

See how much you can communicate without using words. Dogs use body language, position, energy, and touch to communicate with each other. A true top-dog uses mental control (not physical domination) to earn respect and willing compliance from lower-ranking individuals. We can learn from this and give our dogs a chance to read our body language and intentions to figure out what we want them to do. A prime example is in the allocation of space: if you want your dog not to rush to the front door and block you when a visitor rings the doorbell, don’t stand behind the dog yelling and tugging at his collar, body, or leash. Instead, pretend you’re a soccer player: the door is the goal, you’re the goalie, and your dog is the opposing team. That means that in order to “reclaim” your access to the door, you will get between the dog and the door, face the dog, and silently move your body forward with small shuffling steps to get the dog’s body out of the space you want. It can be as much space as you desire; a two-foot, five-foot, or 10-foot square that you claim as your property, for as long as you deem necessary. Once the dog has given you that space, follow up with a happy “Yes! Good job!” to let him know that’s what you wanted!

It Takes A Village!

March 1, 2010

Make sure all your family members, friends, and visitors to your home abide by your established rules when interacting with your dog. If you have decided that you don’t want your 150-pound Great Dane jumping on people and would rather have her sit instead for attention, don’t allow well-meaning friends to ignore your wishes and say, “Oh, I don’t mind the jumping, it’s ok!” Informing people who interact with your dog about your house rules also means monitoring how they interact with your dog. If a person engages your dog in a rough, intimidating, or teasing manner in the name of “play” or makes your dog uncomfortable, it is your job as leader to intervene, protect your dog, and inform others that that is not how they should interact with your dog and that they are not permitted to treat your family member that way. Leaving your dog to fend for himself, or encouraging or ignoring unwanted human behavior will only serve to confuse the dog, reduce his trust in you, and possibly engender in him a fear and mistrust of humans. This could eventually result in a fearful lunge or defensive bite when the dog tries to protect himself and defend his personal space because he feels you aren’t doing it for him. Our dogs have the right to decide how much space they are comfortable with, and the right to be left in peace, especially around strangers.

Take a Shake Break!

February 8, 2010

Start observing how often your dog shakes after an interaction!  Whenever dogs need a “reset button” to calm or restabilize their internal emotions, they will shake themselves off.  When dogs are playing or wrestling, for example, this action, known as a “calming gesture,” also serves to tell the other dog, “Ok, quick break, let’s take five,” and prevents their play activity from escalating into something more serious.  Dogs will frequently shake after basically any new or unfamiliar encounter with another dog, human, or situation.  Each time our Husky-mix Tasha alerts us that someone is at the door, as soon as we ask her to sit, tell her “Thank you!” open the door, speak to the visitor, then close the door again, Tasha will shake and then go lie down to relax.  It has become so predictable with both her and her sister Sadie that we’ve been able to put “Shake!” on cue, which really helps during brushing and grooming sessions!

And I’m Not Your Granny’s Fondue Pot!

January 18, 2010

Remember going to grandmother’s house as a kid, where she would pull out her fancy china, best linens, fondue pot, and special crystal to celebrate your visits?  (In our case, our grandmother had a closet where she stored the gifts she got from her five itinerant military sons.  My uncles and father routinely brought back beautiful gifts such as pearls and a silk kimono from Japan, linens from Europe, and souvenirs from all over, all of which she permanently kept safe in the closet and declared “just too pretty to use!”)  Problems arise in today’s households whenever dog owners treat their furry family members like the ignored fondue pot that occasionally gets pulled out to use only when THEY feel like it.  Dogs don’t understand being ignored for long periods of time, and a persistent lack of interaction with their family members actually makes it harder for the owners to accomplish any sort of successful training with their dog.  Clients who force their dogs to live outside often call me complaining that their dog “always gets too excited, and jumps on us every time we go outside.”  That’s because the poor dog is longing to be included into his human pack, and every time a family member goes outside to feed or interact with him, the dog gets overly excited because that person is as intoxicating as a trip to Disneyland!  If a dog gets to hang out with his family and sleep inside the house on a daily basis, he won’t become nearly as excited and hyper when humans do appear!

I’m Not A Toaster!

January 3, 2010

A dog that is psychologically “balanced” is totally calm, relaxed and content within his body.  Every dog needs his own period of time to learn and to become balanced; it’s not something that can be rushed, and not something that happens automatically when you bring a new dog home and want to “plug” him into the family—dogs are not appliances.  Make sure your dog is calm before introducing him to any experience out of the ordinary such as a visit to the pet store, veterinarian, or dog park.  The best way to achieve that is through a nice long walk to relax him physically and mentally; that will result in less stress, resistance, and nervousness—for him and for you!

Violence and Intimidation Are Not The Training Answer!

December 21, 2009

I have had several prospective clients call me looking for a new trainer because they were unhappy with the “training” methods they were subjected to while attending classes conducted by a local kennel.  Some of the reported methods of “correction” at this facility included:  hitting a dog on the head with a metal food bowl because the dog didn’t do as requested—that’s not training, that’s abuse.  Hanging a dog from the end of his leash such that he is suspended in the air and choking—that’s not training, that’s abuse.  Telling students to bring in items they wish their dogs to leave alone so that they can “set them up to fail” by rebuking them harshly when they investigate the items—that’s not training; that’s abuse.  Instructing students to “alpha roll” the dogs onto their backs in order to “establish dominance” as Lesson One—that’s not training, that’s abuse.  Using a prong-collar on a fearful, shy dog as the first "corrective" method of leash training—that’s not training, that’s abuse.

While I in no way claim to be the All-Knowing, Infallible Training Goddess of the Universe, I recognize cruelty and abuse when I see and hear about them.  The methods outlined above, which were widely used 40 years ago, have been found to be not only abusive, but also ineffective. Here’s why: a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that employing “old-school” dominance-based techniques “does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”

If owners attempted to “punish” unwanted behavior out of a dog (rather than making the effort to catch and reward the behaviors they did like), they would have to make sure they corrected the dog every time he misbehaved, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or else the dog would view the punishment as inconsistent and random.  Dogs then learn quickly that they can get away with what we consider bad behavior whenever we’re out of the house because they aren’t being "punished" for their actions, which in turn reinforces behavior we don’t want.

Studies have proven that using punishment-based “training” results in learned helplessness, meaning that a dog will just give up and comply in order to make the pain or abuse stop.  Dogs subjected to this method become apathetic, slow to learn, lethargic, fearful of offering behaviors, and "behaviourally flat."  Many people (especially advocates of these outdated, confrontational methods) confuse a dog’s giving up with success; they assert that the dog is no longer "misbehaving," which must mean that he has been “trained.”  What they don’t realize is that the unwanted behavior may have been inhibited in that instance at that moment, but that the dog is very likely to react with aggression when reprimanded harshly in a similar situation in the future.

If you find a trainer using abusive methods who says, “Don’t worry, this works great!” remember that just because something works doesn't mean it’s the best or most humane way.  Can a dentist extract a tooth without using novocaine?  Yes.  Is it humane?  No.  Is there a better way?  Yes.  Do your dog a favor and find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods rather than physical punishment, intimidation, and dominance.  To quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “If our peace is our goal, then our means must be peaceful.”

This Is Not The Golden Corral!

December 7, 2009

Dogs that are allowed to “free feed” (when their food bowls are left down all day for them to access whenever they want) often exhibit more behavior problems than dogs that have set mealtimes every day.  Giving your dog regularly scheduled mealtimes is beneficial and will HeLP you as the leader in at least three different ways:  Health, Leadership, and Potty Training.  Health:  If you know how much your dog typically eats at each meal, you can detect possible medical issues earlier if you notice either an increase or a decrease in his appetite.  Unless your veterinarian has advised otherwise, dogs, like humans, benefit from having their food divided into at least two meals per day to aid digestion rather than overloading the digestive system with one large meal a day.  Leadership:  If your dog is allowed to free-feed, you have given away a leadership “bargaining chip.” That's because your dog will not see you as the keeper of resources if he is allowed to eat whenever he wants without having to give you something first.  Asking your dog to sit or wait calmly before each meal is a small “job” he can do to earn the “salary” of a meal.  Potty Training:  Especially with young dogs, knowing exactly when your dog has eaten a meal will mean that he will need to go to the bathroom 15-20 minutes afterwards.  It’s the basic principle of, “What goes in, must come out!”  Taking your dog to an outside potty spot and gently encouraging him with a cue word such as “Potty!” or “Toilet!” will tell him exactly where he has to go—following this up with praise and affection when he’s done his business will let him know he’s done what you wanted!

If It Ain't Broke...!

November 30, 2009

Dogs do what works; they don’t engage in particular behaviors just to be obnoxious or annoying, believe it or not!  If your dog has discovered that jumping up and putting his paws on your chest will result in a) getting your attention and b) getting you to pet him, he will keep doing it because it works.  If you decide you don’t want this behavior and give your dog an incompatible, alternate action to perform instead (like sitting) which will result in the dog a) getting your attention and b) getting you to pet your him, your dog’s habit of jumping up to get your attention will result in extinction, meaning that he will no longer attempt that behavior because it no longer gets him the result he wants, whereas sitting gets him what he wants:  your attention and praise.  If your dog learns that he can’t rely on a daily walk to drain his energy, but that chewing on soft, expensive leather shoes or digging a 10-foot hole in the back yard will help relieve his boredom and give him a release for his energy and something to alleviate the mind-numbing boredom, he will keep doing it because it works.

Rules Rule!

November 23, 2009

In nature, a pack leader makes the rules and sticks to them rather than capriciously changing them from day to day.  The rules for the family dog should be consistent—there should be the same results for the same behavior, from all family members, all the time.  If you decide you do not want your dog to bark at the cat, decide how you want to correct and redirect that behavior, and make sure all family members take the same action, each and every time:  each instance of unwanted behavior must be corrected consistently every time and in the same way.

Balance Me Before You Train Me!

November 9, 2009

While most new clients call me in a panic saying their dog needs “training,” what they usually mean is their dog needs behavior modification.  While “obedience training” serves to add desired behaviors (sit, stay, come, heel) to a psychologically balanced dog’s repertoire, behavior modification serves to remove unwanted behaviors (jumping, barking, digging, eating the cat) by establishing leadership. Obedience training should be attempted only after a dog has achieved psychological stability and is receptive and submissive to the human pack leader.  While balance and leadership are achieved using a consistent series of steps on a daily basis throughout the dog’s life, obedience training is an activity that should take place a few times a week in short 5-10 minute sessions.  A popular training method is clicker training.  Using the small, hand-held clicker device provides a neutral, consistent indicator of success for the dog, meaning that it tells the dog “Good job!” the same way every time without ambiguity or emotional variance.  It serves to alleviate any tension that may occur between dog and trainer, and allows the dog to work on his own, respond to his environment, and make choices on his own.  The learning process is more relaxed.  When learning happens in a relaxed way, the lessons are retained more quickly and smoothly.

Tell Me What You Want!

October 11, 2009

Although I tell clients that their overall discipline philosophy should be the Nancy Reagan approach—Just Say No!—to behaviors they don’t like, in actual practice, it is important not to constantly just say the word No! when giving a dog a correction.  The reason for that is because if your dog is barking at the front door or chewing on a shoe or chasing the kitty, yelling “NO!” serves only to interrupt the behavior temporarily and inform the dog of what you want him not to do, without telling him what you want him to do.  Think of an opposite or alternative action you would like your dog to take, and use that word instead.  If your dog is barking at the door, walk up to him (remember, "armchair leadership" doesn’t work), say “Quiet,” or whatever word you choose, and then ask him to do an alternate, incompatible behavior such as sit, go to your bed, or lie down, then praise him when he does.  Just make sure the dog knows the meaning of the command you give and has done it successfully in the past, otherwise it’s not fair and won’t make sense to him.

The Name Game!

September 21, 2009

Start naming everything your dogs commonly do and encounter in order to create a conversation using words like “Outside,” “Inside,” “Dinner,” “Water,” etc.  You can even do it with fun behaviors you catch them doing and want them to repeat on cue—you’ll be surprised at how just saying a particular word at the moment your dog is doing something “cute” will stick with them enough that, after a few times, you can then say the cue word and get the behavior!  You can cue natural behaviours your dog does on his own to create fun tricks.  Start watching for behaviours your dog does naturally that you think are cute, and if it’s something you can predict is going to happen, give a cue word right before the behavior occurs.  Our two dogs have little habits they do that we’ve trained them to exhibit on cue:  when Sadie lies down on her side, she'll often rub her paws over her nose; I started giving her the cue, “Say your prayers!” in a happy, upbeat voice, and now she does it on command!  Our other dog, Tasha, will lie on her back and paw the air with both front feet when she wants a tummy rub, and I’ve started telling her, “Go swimming!”  It may take a while for them to catch on, but it’s a fun thing to try!

It’s The Leash You Can Do!

September 7, 2009

The best leash to use when walking your dog is either a nylon or leather 4- or 5- foot leash.  This type of leash will help you stay in control of your dog during the walk and enable you to keep him close by your side as well as extend the leash enough to let him have freedom to sniff and go to the bathroom when you decide he can.  If you have a dog that pulls, using a traditional harness will actually encourage him to pull more due to a dog’s innate oppositional reflex.  This also applies to using an extendable “flexi-leash”:  when a dog is consistently allowed to drag his owner down the street without having to pay attention to where the owner wants to go, this communicates to him that he is leading the walk and that his owner is simply along for the ride and fulfilling the role of Official Leash Holder.  The flexi-leash also encourages pulling, since a dog will learn over time that if he pulls forward just a bit on the leash, he can keep going farther and farther forward!

'Splain It to Me Gently!

August 17, 2009

Leadership does not mean shouting, hitting, kicking, or rubbing a dog’s nose in excrement; pack leaders never hit, kick, slap, or physically abuse their subordinates, and neither should we.  It makes no sense to a dog and only serves to instill confusion, fear, distrust, and sometimes aggression.  It is our job as human "pack leaders" to explain to our dogs exactly what behavior we want or don't want using a form of communication the dog can understand.  Pack leaders do correct with touch, but it is consistent, painless, non-emotional, and over with quickly.

Be A Fair Enforcer!

August 2, 2009

Corrections and discipline can be enforced ONLY at the time of the “infraction”—we cannot correct a dog’s misbehavior after the fact, and we must be specific.  Dogs live in the moment and do not understand why they would be yelled at or physically abused three hours after chewing up a shoe, since they do not make the connection between the correction and the ruined shoe.  It’s a myth that dogs experience the emotion of guilt—they don’t, according to a scientific study.  Although a dog may look "guilty” when being yelled at, scolded, or punished, this is simply a reaction to us throwing a tantrum, and the canine body language you would see (head down, turning the nose away, blinking rapidly, yawning, licking lips, ears down, urinating) is their attempt to send us “calming signals” to do just that—calm down.  If you were to walk up to your dog at this very moment and begin scolding him out of the blue for nothing, he would have exactly the same physical reaction as if he were being scolded for something he did several minutes or hours before—it would make no sense and leave him confused, scared, and less ready to trust you (so don’t do it—it would be mean). When you do correct your dog, be specific about what behavior is being addressed.  Here’s an example to illustrate why we have to be specific:  I witnessed a friend’s large six-month-old Great Dane enjoying a swim in their pool, which was completely fine.  A small child got into the pool, and the over-excited puppy paddled over to the child to play.  The child began to panic, screamed, scared the dog, and the dog tried frantically to swim away from the screaming child, and ended up accidentally scratching her with his nails in the process.  The dog’s owner came over, dragged “Hamlet” from the water, shouted, “Bad dog!!” and promptly sequestered him in another section of the yard without any further interaction. The dog at that point was left completely confused and wondering, “What exactly did I do wrong?  Jump INTO the pool? Get OUT of the pool?  Swim towards the kid?  Swim away from the kid? Fetch the ball in the pool?”  The owner should have made sure to monitor the situation and remain with both the child and the dog in the pool until she was sure Hamlet comprehended the concept of being gentle and calm around the child.

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

July 20, 2009

When human beings are extremely happy or thrilled to bits, it’s not unusual for us to get excited and jump up and down.  We mistakenly transfer this concept when we assume that the same behavior in a dog automatically means he is feeling happy.  Dogs are what we would define as “happy” or “content” when they are in a calm, polite state, which means they are psychologically balanced.  Even though it may look like happiness to us, excitement, jumping, and panting in a dog does not necessarily equal happiness—it just means they’re excited.  Calm obedience in a dog means they are feeling relaxed, safe, and secure.  We humans experience this “calm, obedient” state when we are reading a book or sitting in a lecture, church, or concert hall.

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste!

July 13, 2009

While it’s important that we make the big, day-to-day decisions for our dogs, such as when to eat, how much to eat, when and where to walk, when and how to play, and so on, they also need to have the opportunity to think for themselves, make decisions for themselves, and choose what behavior they will pursue based on what the consequences will be.  For example, a dog should develop enough self-discipline to weigh the options of whether to be nice to the family cat or eat the family cat, and know that being nice to the cat will result in positive reinforcement like praise and possibly treats from the pack leader, whereas eating the cat will result in admonishments, negative punishment (a training term, meaning “the removal of something the dog likes,” like human attention), and an unhappy pack leader.  It is especially tempting to coddle dogs who may have had difficult histories or illnesses in the past, because that’s how we nurture human beings back to health, but too much protection, indulgence, and affection will produce a dog that is allowed to get away with whatever he wants with no consequences.  As I told a recent client who had a gorgeous Doberman Pinscher that had had a rough start in life, even though the dog survived some shaky times in the past, she’s now a beautiful, healthy, strong, amazing girl.  The dog is not obsessing about what happened when she was three months old, and she’s certainly psychologically strong enough to begin following some basic rules and boundaries and learning to be polite.  Don't let your dog hold past illnesses or difficulties over your head—it would be the same thing as me milking my immobilization after the shoulder surgery I had last summer to repair a torn rotator cuff:  my husband was amazing at taking care of me, cooking meals, taking care of the dogs and cats, running the household, and fulfilling all our other obligations.  It would be selfish of me and somewhat manipulative to demand that he still do all those things for me even though I’m now healthy enough to do things for myself, and that’s how we can look at it with our dogs—they won’t ever learn to make decisions for themselves if they’re not challenged to think for themselves and make choices based on what the consequences will be.

Are You Positive About Reinforcement?

July 6, 2009

Here’s an experiment:  try to become mindful of how often you give your dog affection, treats, and positive attention.  Start noticing when you’re petting or hugging your dog, and keep this in mind:  every time we give a dog affection, we are reinforcing the behavior that came immediately before it.  This means that if your dog is barking and you pet him, you have just communicated to him that barking is a good thing, and petting is his reward, or positive reinforcement.  If your dog lunges at another dog and you give him a biscuit to try and calm him down, you have just communicated that lunging is good and a biscuit is his reward.  Never give a dog affection or positive reinforcement if his mind is in an unstable state.  If you pet or reward a dog when he is nervous, afraid, aggressive, hyper, or anxious, you are reinforcing and nurturing a negative state of mind or behavior and telling him it’s OK to behave that way.

Walk This Way!

June 22, 2009

The way a leader can properly “lead” on the daily walk is by following a consistent series of steps every time.  The walk actually begins before you ever leave the house—by that I mean, your internal attitude or intention should be to make sure you’re in charge of the walk—don’t race out the door while planning a thousand other things you need to accomplish—be living in the moment and strive to be mindfully present with your dog.  I usually envision something like, “I’m a decisive pack leader.  We are going on a walk, migrating as a pack, and are off to hunt wildebeest,” because our dogs can feel whether or not I’m walking with them or distracted by my own daily concerns.  Step one of the walk should be to make sure your dog comes to you and is in a calm state when you attach the leash.  There should be no jumping, barking or biting, and you should not have to chase your dog to attach a leash.  This may take several repetitions before the dog understands what he is required to do.  The second step is to have the dog wait quietly in front of the door while you open it—the dog should not dart out in front of you, but should respectfully wait to let you exit the house first and then follow.  Have your dog wait calmly while you close the front door, and make sure to repeat the process when you come back into the house.

Be The Master of My Domain!

June 15, 2009

If a dog has a phobia about something or someone, it’s often because the dog feels the owner has not taken charge of his “universe” and is therefore worried about every unfamiliar encounter or object. Until you demonstrate that you are the pack leader, your dog won’t trust you enough to let go of his fears and obsessions.  Once a dog sees that the human is in control, he will relax and not feel he has to assume a dominant or fearful way of being.

Be An Oprah, Not An Adolf!

June 1, 2009

We should be leaders in the way that Oprah Winfrey is a leader, rather than being cruel, impatient dictating leaders (like Hitler).  Both are leaders, but one supports, directs, and earns respect by using firmness, kindness and respect, and one just demands compliance by using brutality and malevolence, with often devastating results.  Leaders lead and expect pack members to follow.  Dogs fall into confusion and insecurity when left to make all the decisions for themselves.  When an alpha wolf wakes up in the morning and rouses the rest of the pack, he decides exactly where they’re going, what they’re going to hunt for food, and when they’re going to eat.  It’s not a democracy—he doesn’t stroll amidst pack members mulling, “I’m thinking, antelope for breakfast today—any objections?”  And dogs actually derive a sense of security from having those decisions made for them—it’s like lifting a hugely heavy mantle of responsibility from their shoulders and not forcing them to face the world all by themselves.

Beat Feet, But Mind The Heat!

May 18, 2009

While it’s an excellent idea to take your dog on a daily morning walk, be mindful of El Paso’s rapidly climbing temperatures before you venture outside.  While all dogs are susceptible to heat stroke in high temperatures, many breeds are particularly vulnerable:  dogs with thick and/or long coats; dogs that are dark in color; and dogs with short noses like pugs, boxers, and Boston terriers, as they can overheat quite easily.   Observe your dog carefully when outside, and if you notice any of the early signs of heat exhaustion (heavy panting, rapid breathing, salivation, fatigue, unsteady gait, muscle tremors, and staggering while walking), be sure to find shade or head home quickly so your dog can cool down.  Also be aware that a hot pavement can cause major pain to your dog’s unprotected paw pads.  If you suspect the street you’re on might be a little hot, slip off one shoe and place your bare foot on the pavement for a few seconds to see whether it feels overly warm.  Check out this webpage that provides further helpful information about walking, hiking, and driving with your dog in the summertime.

How Low Can You Go?

May 4, 2009

I want to challenge you to communicate with your dog in the most calm and quiet way possible.  Think about interacting with your dog using a sliding scale of intensity ranging from one to ten — try to keep the scale fluid and have varying degrees of interaction rather than always communicating at one particular level of intensity and volume.  For example, if your dog is in the kitchen and you would like him to exit, try communicating at a Level One—silently.  Use your body language, perhaps pointing an arm in the direction you would like your dog to go, before attempting to get the behavior you want using a verbal command.  If the physical cue doesn’t work, ramp up your communication to Level Two or Three—calmly and firmly say “Out” as you give the physical/pointing-arm cue.  If that doesn’t work, try a Level Four:  walk towards your dog and shuffle him out of the kitchen as you say “Out” a little more firmly.  Keep ramping up the cues, physically and verbally, ONE level at a time, until you get the desired response.  While using this technique is not practical in emergency or time-sensitive situations, try experimenting with your body language and verbal tone in situations that aren’t critical and in which you aren’t in a hurry—you’ll be surprised at how your dog starts to watch you and want to interact with you to deduce your requests!  This also challenges a dog psychologically to use his brain to work out what is being asked, and makes him feel good when he can figure it out rather than being yelled at daily for basic requests.  We should all have a “range” in our tool-box of communication rather than just reacting at Level Eight every time we want our dogs to do something—good leaders don’t react, they respond.  The more we say, the less they listen, and conversely, the less we say, the more they listen!

Reason #810...

April 20, 2009

... to keep your dog adequately exercised, mentally stimulated, and psychologically challenged so that boredom and frustration won't come out through inappropriate behavior:


You've been warned. >;-)

Follow The Leader!

April 6, 2009

If a dog senses that his human owner is not assuming a leadership role and taking charge of the household, the dog perceives a leadership vacuum and feels the need to step in and fill that role.  This holds true especially in multiple-dog households where dogs will fight to become pack leader, because discipline (rules, boundaries, limitations), order, and pack stability are vitally important to maintaining social harmony, reducing conflicts, and ensuring survival, and someone needs to assume the leadership role.  Dogs are so finely tuned to the rules of the group because cooperation means survival.  Social animals rely on knowing their place and their role within the group in order to ensure the group’s survival.  Clients who tell me “Oh, Tinky is our alpha dog!” and allow their dogs to “duke it out” amongst themselves to establish leadership tell me the human family is not in charge.  Humans should always be the leaders or alphas in the family!

Take This Job and Love It!

March 30, 2009

One way to view "discipline" for dogs that join a new household is that it’s like their first week at a new job—they need to find out what the rules are.  We can help educate them on what our rules are by establishing consistent rules and making sure all family members follow the same routine.  This lets our dogs know exactly what they are allowed and not allowed to do.  Think back to when you first started a new job:  you needed to learn such rules as whether business attire was mandatory; whether work hours were flexible; whether you were allowed to put your feet up on the desk, or whether you could wear flip flops and drink beer.  You were no doubt informed of the rules in a calm, matter-of-fact way, with no anger, resentment, rancour or shouting (well, except for the beer and flip-flops situation).  That’s how we need to educate our dogs—calmly and without anger, resentment, or frustration—because how can we be angry with them for not following our rules are if they haven’t been taught what the rules are?

Democracy Is Not The Answer!

March 16, 2009

Dogs would rather have a clearly defined social framework with clear-cut rules, boundaries and limitations enforced by a fair, consistent pack leader whom they trust and respect than try to assume that role themselves—the responsibilities are much too overwhelming.  Dogs need mentors, coaches, CEOs, and not room-mates or equals. Dogs do not respond well to rule-by-committee.  We as household pack leaders should represent strength, security, and affirmation.  Alpha dogs make decisions and subordinate pack members live with these edicts and actually derive a sense of security from them.

Celebrate Good Times—Come On!

March 9, 2009

In keeping with the idea of “I Done Good!” and making a conscious effort to catch our dogs doing things we like, we should also celebrate any progress that we humans have made when it comes to training and redirecting our dogs' unwanted behaviors!  I routinely check in with clients after we’ve come up with a plan of action to solve the issues they called me about.  When I call to ask how the new training program is going, the first statement I hear inevitably involves what isn’t working perfectly at the moment.  For example, a week after an initial session, I’ll ask, “So how are things going with Splinky?”  A typical response is, “Well, he won’t sit and stay for more than fifteen seconds!”  When I follow up with, “Well, has there been any improvement with the chewing, potty training, barking, digging, leash training, and jumping on guests issues?”  I usually hear, “Oh yeah, all that’s perfectly fine now!”  If you find yourself becoming frustrated because “only” 9 out of 10 behavior issues have been solved, stop for a moment, take a breath, and count how many successes you have had, large and small, with problem behaviors you had in the beginning before training.  In the impersonal fast-paced society we live in, we are so accustomed to instant results in all areas of a new program that we sometimes forget that dogs are sentient, intelligent beings and not automated machines that can be fixed instantly with a tweak here and a tweak there!

I’m Just A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing—Part Two!

March 2, 2009

Six weeks ago, on 22 January, former French President Jacques Chirac found himself on the wrong end of the muzzle—he was mauled by his pet dog “Sumo,” who had earlier been clinically diagnosed with depression.  Want to take a guess as to what breed Sumo is?  Thinking Rottweiler?  Doberman Pinscher?  Presa Canario?  Well, Sumo is a mix, actually, of two different breeds, one originating in Germany and the other in Malta (maybe that’s why the dog felt emotionally conflicted).  Take a look at the news report to see whether you guessed Sumo’s breed correctly.

Red Light Green Light!

February 16, 2009

While the concept of “discipline,” which encompasses rules, boundaries, and limitations, can seem like drudgery and a hassle to human beings, rules, boundaries, and limitations make dogs feel safe and secure in a big, overwhelming world.  Think of it as the rules of the road we all have to follow when driving a car.  Whenever I get into my car to drive somewhere, I take great comfort and security in knowing that there are established rules that every driver is obligated to follow.  I know that when my light turns green and the opposing light turns red, drivers going in the opposite direction will stop while I continue forward.  Now picture getting into a car and driving along a road with no stop signs, traffic lights, or other indicators of who is going to do what when—we’d all end up nervous wrecks, constantly wondering who is going to make which move.  We derive a great sense of security in knowing that all those decisions have been made for us, and that’s how dogs view our setting rules for them.  For them, it’s more of a big, encompassing psychological “hug” that helps them feel safe rather than being a constricting set of regulations.

I Dun Good!

February 2, 2009

While it’s easy and customary to focus on a pet's negative behaviors, try to make a point of catching your dog doing good things rather than just correcting his mistakes.  This can even mean rewarding the absence of a particular behavior, or telling your dog, “good boy” for doing absolutely nothing (as in, if he learns to lie quietly and just watch you as you're getting ready for work, rather than race up and down the hallway like a maniac, for example).  Of course we still need to redirect our dogs away from behaviour we don’t want, but start to watch for behaviour we do like.  For example, if your normally hyper dog is lying quietly at your feet for a few moments, reach down, stroke his head gently, and say “Good Marley” in an approving, appreciative tone.  Once our dogs see which behaviour gets them positive reinforcement, they will exhibit it more frequently.

Made in the Shades?

January 19, 2009

Maybe not so much!  Whenever you’re working or training with your dog to practice certain behaviors, it’s best not to obscure your eyes behind sunglasses.  When dogs want information about our intentions, they pay huge attention to what our eyes are saying, as well as what our body language and overall energy are telling them.  Although I have light-sensitive eyes, which makes me grab my sunglasses whenever I’m outdoors, I make a conscious effort to take the glasses off if I’m trying to communicate with my dogs, or especially when working with a new dog.  I may squint through a training consultation like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, but I know I’m making it more “fair” for the dogs to try and figure out what I’m asking them to do!

Don’t Make Me A Slave To Freedom!

January 12, 2009

Treating a dog like a dog (rather than a child, sibling, or soul-mate) gives him freedom and opens up his world to be what he is:  a canine.  While we may consider “freedom” for a dog to be unlimited privileges such as commandeering an owner’s bed, having unlimited all-day access to food, choosing what he wants to chew on, or being allowed to decide where he wants to go while out on a walk, freedom for a dog actually means having someone to make all those decisions FOR him:  when to eat, when to sleep, when to go for a walk, where to go for a walk, how to greet visitors, and so on.  This philosophy is counterintuitive to humans, because generally speaking, if there’s someone dictating every moment of your daily routine—when to eat, sleep, exercise, bathe, relax, etc.—it means that you’ve committed a major crime and are now in prison!  But it’s just the opposite for dogs; it can be a big, bad scary world out there to a 5-, 30-, 50-, or even 90-pound dog, and knowing that there’s a decisive, capable, pack leader making all the day-to-day decisions will psychologically take a load off a dog’s mind and allow him to just relax, be a dog, and bask in our firm and benevolent leadership!

Emotional Energy: Think EMT, Not Richard Simmons!

January 5, 2009

Try to interact and communicate with dogs using calm, confident, non-emotional energy, like an Emergency Medical Technician would do when dealing with an injured human.  Picture the scene of a car crash:  if a victim were lying on the road bleeding, how helpful would it be if an Emergency Technician screeched up in his van, jumped out of the vehicle, ran over to the victim, gathered the injured person in his arms and gave him a big hug, saying, “Ohhhhh, I’m so sorry you’re hurt, you look awful—this is TERRIBLE!”  That’s the same disservice we do to our dogs when we overreact emotionally, when what they need is for us to be composed and confident (think of situations like the vet’s office, or a grooming salon.)  If you project fear, panic, worry, or hysteria, you’ll increase your dog’s fear, which will increase his heart rate, which can worsen any life or death situation. If you nurture fear and instability with overly excited, emotional energy, that will only serve to intensify any traumatic experience.  It can certainly be harder to be detached in a tense situation when dealing with our own dogs with whom we have emotional ties and histories, rather than with dogs we’ve never met, but projecting a calm and patient emotional state will serve to help our dogs feel more secure and less fearful when facing uncertain circumstances and unfamiliar surroundings.

Get Up, Jump Up, Stand Up For Your Rights!

December 29, 2008

Successful pack leaders address unwanted subordinate behaviors up-close and personally.  “Armchair leadership” will not work.  To be successful human pack leaders, we need to address unwanted behaviors personally by physically going over to the dog and correcting the behavior, rather than screaming from another room or throwing something at them to get their attention or end the behavior.  To stop a dog from chewing on your shoe while you are watching TV, for example, quietly get up and grab a chew toy you’d rather he had, go over to the dog, calmly but firmly remove the object you don’t want him to have (using a “drop it” command comes in handy here), shake your head no and say “No” in a low, firm voice, and replace the shoe with the chew toy you prefer he have.  Be sure to go back a few minutes later to praise the dog for chewing quietly on a “pre-approved” chew toy!

Dogs Don’t Speak English!

December 22, 2008

Or German.  Or Swahili.  Or Portuguese!  We human beings are so accustomed to communicating through verbal language that it’s difficult for us to comprehend that dogs don’t understand English!   Owners will attempt several versions of the same command to try and get a dog to comply without realizing that yelling 14 different versions of “Come here!” (“Come!  Get over here!  Hey, Sparky! Come on!  You better get in here!  Come on over!” etc.) makes no sense to the dog no matter how many different ways you put it if you haven’t taught the dog what those words mean.   If I were to tell you in German, “Dort bleiben!  Nicht bewegen!  Stehen bleiben!”—would it help that I told you three different ways to “Stay,” or maybe tried yelling it louder and louder?   It’s the same with a dog—he will hear you speaking (or yelling), cock his head like the RCA mascot, and wonder what on earth all those sounds mean.   Dogs communicate primarily through the sense of smell, through energy, and through body language.   Unless we attach meaning to words by teaching dogs what the sounds mean, they will not magically respond to a command just because we yell it over and over or louder and louder.

See No Evil?

December 15, 2008

In our neighbourhood, we have a lot of barking dogs.  These dogs, to our knowledge, are never, ever taken for walks or exercised beyond the four walls of their back yard.  A couple of neighbours have attempted to solve the barking issue by putting up barriers across the fence that will stop their dogs from noticing any triggers outside the fence that cause them to bark.  While erecting physical barriers and making the backyard prison even smaller may stop some of the barking and make the humans feel better by alleviating the annoyance and relieving them of responsibility, it only serves to make a dog’s world smaller, which means he will pay even more attention and bark or become obsessed every time a doorbell rings or a bird chirps or a car backfires.  The more often a dog is able to “migrate” through his surrounding neighbourhood, or on a mountain trail or along the Rio Grande, the less he will react to every little element of change in and around his tiny back yard. “Seeing no evil” through installation of barriers does not mean that a dog will sense no evil, whether real or imagined -- so incorporate your dog into the neighborhood.  Far from creating opportunities for misbehaviour, this will actually acclimatize him to the routine, daily events he senses from house and yard.

There’s No Free Lunch!

December 8, 2008

If you have a dog that is challenging your leadership and not listening to your commands, try a new philosophy with him:  “Nothing is for free.”   This means that all the good things in your dog’s life must be earned.  We have to earn our salaries by performing certain tasks, so why shouldn’t a dog have the same opportunity?  Dogs actually thrive on having little jobs to do, because it serves to increase their self-esteem as well as teach them submissiveness to a pack leader.  Start asking your dog to sit or stay or lie down before being petted, getting a treat, being fed a meal, or receiving a toy.  This will instill self-discipline in the dog and create a calmer psychological state.

Walking Is The Miracle Cure!

December 1, 2008

When clients ask me how to “cure” such issues as barking, digging, jumping, chewing, and the like, they are surprised to learn the number-one secret: if they can successfully drain a dog’s energy physically and psychologically by going on a daily 30-45 minute walk, the dog will very likely come back home, drink water, eat breakfast/dinner, lie down, probably fall asleep, and have no energy left over to do all the “annoying” things owners don’t like.  The walk must of course be conducted properly and should mirror the way a pack “migrates” in the wild; that is, the leader must lead; there should be no dilly-dallying; and concentrating on staying beside or behind the leader will drain a dog’s energy psychologically while walking drains him physically.  Although many clients with huge back yards think that letting their dog run and play in the yard is sufficient exercise, if a dog spends his entire life in just that one area, it becomes a prison, because the dog will ultimately memorize the location and disposition of every rock, every flower, every tree, and every blade of grass.  I tell my clients to look around the kitchen where we’re usually sitting, and picture never, ever being allowed to leave that room again.  The room may be large, it may have lots of interesting things in it, but it would make a person stir-crazy to never be allowed to leave.  It’s the same for dogs relegated to life in the back yard--they go stir crazy if they’re never allowed to migrate, and that frustration manifests itself in the problem behaviours that frustrate their owners.

I’m Just A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing—Honest!

November 24, 2008

Despite the prevalence of the currently popular label “aggressive breed,” there is actually no such thing as an aggressive breed of dog -- there are only powerful breeds.  Dogs experience a range of feelings and moods just like we do, meaning that on any given day, they may be feeling happy, content, cranky, aggressive, loving, standoffish, submissive, playful, or any combination of these.  As with humans, it doesn’t mean they feel one particular way all the time -- they react instinctively based on the situation at hand, and there is no emotion or logic behind instinct.  Neither do dogs sit and brood and plan ahead and plot their revenge against us if we’ve made a decision they’re not happy with -- they’re not cats.  Labelling a particular breed as “aggressive” is as prejudicial and illogical as stereotyping people from various nations:  we’ve all heard variations on, “All Dutchmen wear clogs,”  “Scotsmen are heavy drinkers,” and “French people are snobs.” Rude and fallacious assumptions, right?  Here’s something that may open your mind when assuming that certain breeds of dogs are “typically aggressive:”  think Pit Bulls are vicious?  Rottweilers?  Doberman Pinschers?  You may be surprised to learn that a recent study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science revealed the results of a survey conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania who questioned 6,000 dog owners as to aggressive tendencies.  Guess which three dogs came out on top as being the most aggressive and likely to bite.  (Here are some hints:  Oscar Meier, Yo quiero Taco Bell, and Frasier!)  Take a look at this link and just remember that the breed a dog “wears” is just his nationality -- no stereotyping allowed!

Don’t Make Me Get A Restraining Order!

November 17, 2008

Lavishing too much affection on a dog can make him feel overwhelmed and apprehensive—almost like we might view a stalker who is obsessed with us, or the person in high school you didn’t really like who kept hanging around and wanted to be your best friend and wouldn’t leave you alone.  While it is important to pay positive attention to our dogs, we must also show by our actions that we have bigger issues to worry about than our dogs’ immediate happiness--this will actually bring them a sense of comfort and security.  We should give them a sense that all the important, every-day issues are being taken care of.  A dog that has food, shelter, family, guidance, and purpose will feel relaxed, happy, and secure, as opposed to a dog that feels overwhelmed because he is the center of attention 24/7 and is allowed to make all the decisions, all the time.

Don’t Just Need Me--Lead Me!

November 10, 2008

For a dog, especially an adopted shelter or rescued dog, love is not the most important thing they need, particularly if they have issues. Although sharing love and affection makes us feel good, dogs have different psychological needs. What makes a dog feel happy, safe, and psychologically balanced is: a) living in a household with an established structure supervised by a gentle but firm leader, and b) feeling they have an established role and place in the pack. While it is a normal human emotion to “feel sorry” for a dog who has had a difficult past, feeling sympathetic or sad serves only to communicate a weak energy to the dog, and dogs will not follow or respect weak energy. Think of it like this: if someone chose to date you, marry you, or hire you for a job simply because they felt sorry for you, you would be in a permanently weak emotional and psychological state. Only humans follow instability and accept and nurture weakness; animals attack weakness. We owners can maximize our relationships with our dogs by respecting and honoring a dog’s true nature: when we adopt a dog into our family, it is our responsbility to fulfill the dog’s emotional and physical needs.