Arousal And Recovery

No, I’m not talking about sex! The arousal in dogs that matters to pet owners and trainers is the sort that leads to hyperactivity, barking, jumping, over reactivity, and even biting. It can also show up as fearful escape, shrinking back and shutting down. On a physiological level, our dogs react in exactly the same way we do to events that trigger the body’s fight or flight response - a sophisticated chemical reaction of hormones and neurotransmitters that can save our lives. At modest levels, arousal improves performance and enhances learning. But at higher levels or over prolonged periods learning is impeded, fine motor skills deteriorate, and that brain chemical cascade starts damaging cells. Which brings us to the recovery stage. It takes time for the body to process and “dump” those brain chemicals once the crisis has passed. Depending on the dog (or person) and the degree of arousal, it can take several hours to several days for the arousal chemicals to subside and the recovery chemicals to rise to create a healthy balance. Once arousal chemicals are elevated, it takes less and less stimulation (triggering events) to elicit another reaction and each episode further elevates arousal. The interesting thing about arousal is that it feels good and the body can become addicted to the high it gets from those arousal chemicals - know any thrill seeking humans? Same idea in dogs. For real recovery to happen we have to be able to turn off or avoid the things that trigger the arousal for long enough that the body can detox and find a healthy balance again. You know the importance of taking vacations and likely have a few relaxation routines for yourself. Perhaps you have learned to avoid checking your email before bed and screen your phone calls to avoid certain stress triggers. But how can you help your dog avoid his triggers and maintain a healthy balance of arousal and recovery? Like us, some dogs are addicted to the high they get from arousal. Others are extremely sensitive to their environment and get highly aroused by stuff that another dog would barely notice. They may bark at anything that moves, run the fence, or dive for cover at any sharp noise. These dogs are often rigid in their bodies, move too much or not enough, and may not sleep deeply through the night. It’s miserable and unhealthy for them to be on edge all the time.

Here are some ways you can help your stressed out pooch:

  • Reduce access to triggers - cover windows, close doors/windows, supervise yard time, take walks at quieter times of the day, change fencing/gates, use white noise to cover external sounds, etc.
  • Teach relaxation skills - “Relax on a mat” (Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur) and Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol are a good place to start. Remember that dogs pick up on our energy too, so if you want your dog to relax you will need to relax as well. Breathe deeply, shake out your muscles, have a seat. Model relaxation for your dog.
  • Provide stress relieving activities - Chewing is one way dogs relieve stress so give them plenty of appropriate chew items. Rhythmic movement also helps so a brisk walk or trot for 15-20 minutes is a good idea, provided you can avoid triggers when doing so.
  • Engage their brains - Problem solving activities promote thoughtful concentration which helps tire them out in a non-arousing way. Examples include “find it”, food puzzle toys, hide and seek, and slowly working an obstacle course. Google “Sprinkles” for details on a new twist on a scent game. Your trainer can help you with a variety of games that teach your dog self-control.
  • Keep any training sessions short and non-aversive to avoid adding more stress.
  • Quality rest - Naps in a crate or quiet room may be necessary to help them achieve the deep REM sleep needed for recovery and cellular repair.
  • Quality nutrition - Food plays a critical role in how dogs feel as well as how they behave. Make sure you are feeding the highest quality, most natural food you can afford and avoid feeding anything (even treats and chews) with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
  • Added support - TTouchⓇ, massage, a ThundershirtⓇ or Anxiety WrapⓇ, flower essences, Chinese herbs, acupuncture/pressure, homeopathy, essential oils, energy work, and the D.A.P. diffuser can all be useful aids in helping dogs relax. The nutritional supplements lactium and L-Theanine can help relax dogs with anxiety and sound sensitivity issues. Both are available in chewable form from your vet. In severe cases your vet may suggest anti-anxiety medication to be used in conjunction with your behavior modification plan.

Dogs with arousal issues can be a challenge to live with at times. But with proper management and stress reduction methods, most can lead much calmer, healthier and happier lives. Daily relaxation sessions are a practice that will benefit both you and your dog

The Art of Self-Control

While I often hear people wishing their dog would “chill out”, mastering self-control is a two way street.  Dogs are opportunistic by nature.  Without training most will “throw themselves” at stuff they want.  This can lead to door barging, jumping on people, counter-surfing, etc.  However, humans are often guilty of poor self-control around dogs as well.  Commonly there are the “dog lovers” who are so focused on what they want from the dog (affection, attention) that they engage in excessive greeting (talking and petting) without regard to the dog’s behavior.  Another camp gets easily frustrated by the dog’s boisterousness or failure to respond promptly to a cue.  This frustration comes though in their voice and body language.  Both types of human behavior tend to whip dogs into more of a frenzy.   How can both dogs and humans learn to “get a grip”?


Just because we love dogs doesn’t mean we get to to interact with them at will without regard to how they feel about the interaction.  Like any relationship, there are two sides to it.  We need to take a moment to (at least mentally) ask the dog “how is this for you?”  Remember that dogs do what “works” for them.  So if jumping, grabbing, bolting, stealing, etc. gets you up and moving and interacting with them, in some way the dog is rewarded for these behaviors and will continue doing them.  You may love dogs, but the attention you give may be working at cross purposes to your desires for good behavior.  Take a moment to consider what you want your dog TO DO.  What behaviors are you “paying for” with your attention?  Are those behaviors you like?  If so, great.  Keep up the good work!  However, if you aren’t thrilled about the behaviors you have been rewarding, stop paying the dog for them.  I’ve mastered the “can’t see you, can’t hear you” approach to poor dog behavior.  Stand up, fold your arms, lift your chin and wait for the dog to collect himself.  In some cases, you may have to leave the room and enter more calmly only when the dog has calmed.  As long as the dog remains calm you may look, touch, and talk, but do so in a way that promotes calmness - slow movements, soft voice, calm demeanor.  The instant the dog “loses it”, remove your attention only to return it when the dog has calmed.  Be patient if the dog is working out the problem of how to get your attention.


Smooch 3mo
Smooch 3mo

They usually love us as much as we love them, but all that excitement, coupled with a human that attends to it, can really whip a dog up.  Remember, their behavior is often a reflection of what YOU do.  Practice specific self-control exercises with your dog.  “Wait” is one of my favorite.  It’s just a moment, but I ask for “wait” to exit the kennel, leave the house or car, and to eat meals.   You can also incorporate “wait” into the games you play and things like “getting dressed” in a harness and leash.  I use “wait” to mean “don’t move forward”.  The dog doesn’t have to “sit” first, but many find it easier to wait when sitting.  Gradually expand the difficulty of your “wait” exercises as your dog learns that showing self-restraint is the fastest way to get stuff he wants.  Other self-control exercises include the eye contact game and “leave it” games like Doggie Zen and It's Your Choice.  You can ask for a small amount of restraint before giving the dog anything of value (access to a dog friend, walk, car ride, ball game, etc.)  The more consistent you are with your “works”/”doesn’t work” feedback to the dog, the faster he will learn self-control.  As part of self-control exercises it is important that your dog has a release word - a cue that tells him when he is free to “go for it” and “be a dog”.  Many people say “okay”, but I prefer "ding" or "break" as they are less common in our normal usage.  Choose what works for you.

When you mindfully reward behavior you like and refrain from inadvertently rewarding undesirable behaviors, both you and your dog will be happier and calmer.  This leads to more harmony, gentleness, and clear communication.

Dogs Aging Gracefully

Solo 5-20-13
Solo 5-20-13

Aging has been on my mind lately.  My own, but especially that of dogs.  Several of my friends have lost their old, and not so old, dogs in the past few months.  As my own dog is almost 13 and dealing with several small health issues, I decided I needed help evaluating the care I was giving him.  He had a vet check-up, full blood work, and a visit to his DOM.  I also rented the Winding Down video by Dr. Karen Becker from BowWowFlix. This DVD was a treasure trove of useful information!  I was familiar with many aspects since I've been on a natural healthcare journey for years, but it was a good reminder of some things I had forgotten.  While specifically aimed at owners of geriatric animals, the wealth of information provided will help you make better choices while your pet is still young and help keep them healthy far into their senior years.  Here are a few highlights for you:

  • For optimum health dogs need a varied diet of fresh, whole foods.  While a species appropriate raw meat and bones diet is optimal for our dogs (and cats), even a prepared diet can be improved with the addition of raw foods.
  • They need regular access to clean air and pure water.  If there are smokers in your home, an air purifier will reduce your pet's exposure to second hand smoke.  Filtered or purified water is available in many forms for us and for our pets.
  • We need to reduce their exposure to toxins, chemicals, preservatives,  and other obstacles to good health.  Make informed choices about all vaccinations and the use of flea and heartworm products.
  • Our animals "break" at the weakest link.  So things that happen in their youth can give us an inkling of their weak spots - accident, injury, surgery, chronic infections, sensitive digestion, pulling on leash, jumping off furniture, chronic reactivity can all lead to weakening of the body in some way.  The more we recognize this, the sooner we can take steps to mitigate the damage with supplements, preventive care, and training.
  • Regular check-ups and a good relationship with your veterinarian are vital to your pet's health.
  • There are MANY complementary modalities that can also benefit your pet's health.  Acupuncture/acupressure, chiropractic, TTouch, massage, Healing Touch for Animals, flower essences, herbs, nutraceuticals, etc.
  • Most older animals can benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes, probiotics, anti-inflammatory supplements and acid reducers.  I chose the N-Zymes system for Solo.
  • Despite all that we may be able to do for our pets, we must also be respectful of their spirit and desires.  That may mean NOT adding another supplement, treatment, or surgery and accepting that they have a voice in deciding the length and quality of their life.
  • Dr. Becker suggests creating an "autumn file" for our animals - information that will help us when we reach the "fork in the road" with them.  If we pre-plan and make some decisions while they are well, it will save us feeling overwhelmed during a time of crisis.

You can get a copy of the Winding Down DVD for only $20. I went to order a copy for my library and found that they have a special offer available now - buy any book and get a free DVD.  So I ordered Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats and requested the Winding Down DVD.


He will be 13 on the 4th of July.  That's phenomenal for a Doberman!  The current average is, sadly, 8-10 and I lost 2 of my previous Dobes at about 8.  Solo is my first "old dog".  That has brought some added challenges but also many gifts.  He's incredibly sweet and funny now.  He sleeps more.  He has more lumps and bumps than you can count.  Some past issues with his liver and digestion continue to give him trouble at times - which leads to sleepless nights for both of us.  He has arthritis in his front feet and he is slowly losing muscle mass and strength.  Despite a life of raw foods, his teeth are wearing out.

The Winding Down DVD reminded me that much of this is "normal aging" and some of it is simply the by-product of his life.  He has always been an intense dog.  He over-reacts, worries, has trouble relaxing, and throws himself into his activities with abandon.  This kind of lifestyle takes its toll over time.  I've worked hard to moderate his intensity and have made great strides.  But that hasn't changed his basic nature.  So I accept him for who he is and we compromise on many things.

Puppies require a certain vigilance and lots of extra care and attention.  So it is at the other end of their life as well.  Fortunately for us, all that extra work is balanced with an emotional closeness and intensity that can't be duplicated.  If your pet is still in the spring or summer of their life, take some time to review your care plan.  Are you doing what you can to create a lifetime of health?  If, like mine, your pet is in their autumn stage, is there anything more you can do to provide them with, as Dr. Becker emphasizes, "comfort and relief"?  I'm doing my best.

The Great Training Divide

Dogs - we love them! We invite them into our homes and even our beds. We spend billions of dollars a year on them. We buy, adopt, rescue, breed them. We just can’t get enough of dogs. Everyone that’s ever had a dog can tell you stories about those dogs and likely has an opinion about training dogs. If you have a dog with issues, you’re likely to get training advice from a guy at the dog park, your grocery clerk, and your mechanic. People will tell you, “I’ve had dogs all my life…” as some measure of their expertise. Well, I’ve had teeth most of my life, but that doesn’t make me a dentist! It’s likely that you will receive a lot of conflicting advice as well. To make matters worse, there are trainers on TV, a slew of training books, and many websites and on-line resources that offer different training approaches and advice. How do you choose? How do you know what is right for your dog? At their core, training philosophies boil down to a choice between correction based training or reward based training. Let’s look at the evolution of this choice. Our history with dogs is long and complex. We share many characteristics that make us natural companions. I like to think people enjoyed the company of dogs even when practicality required that the dog serve a purpose and function. In many cases, human survival was aided by a dog doing a job - primarily herding, hunting, retrieving, and guarding. I’m sure there was some training involved, but for the most part the dogs were doing what came naturally to them, and what they were specifically bred for. A natural balance existed. World War II changed everything. It changed the way people earned a living, where we lived, how we ate, and changed the lives of our dogs as well. War rationing of food gave us grain-based kibble to feed our dogs. Urbanization left many formerly working dogs unemployed. And the dog training method employed by the military found its way into our homes through the works of people like Bill Koehler and Blanche Saunders.

This is also about the time when the “dominance theory” came into vogue. It was based upon a study of wolves in captivity and claimed that wolves formed packs with an alpha male and female and that the alpha wolves maintained this position of dominance by forcing the other wolves into submission. This theory was then extrapolated to our pet dogs and we were told to use techniques like the “alpha roll”, “scruff shake”, and “chin clip” (made popular by the Monks of New Skete) to “dominate” our dogs. We were indoctrinated in the belief that we must always “be the alpha” when dealing with our dogs. This attitude fit quite nicely with the punitive methods of military style training.

The military style of training (now commonly referred to as traditional training) relies heavily upon the use of the “training collar” - a choke chain, pinch/prong collar, or even shock collar - and a six foot leather lead. Dogs were sent to obedience school when they were six months old - strong enough to withstand the “corrections” used in training. Handlers were taught to give “commands” that the dog must obey to avoid receiving a “correction”. These traditional training methods could be quite harsh and there were many dogs that “failed” obedience school. These were dogs that couldn’t handle the stress and physical punishment. Their responses to training were to either “fall apart” - urinating, cowering, crying, freezing up - or to “fight back” - growling, biting, attacking their handlers. The dogs that fought back were often subjected to even harsher training as the humans were told they must “win” and “dominate” these dogs. Not only were the methods hard on the dogs, they were hard on the humans as well; requiring some brute strength and physical confrontations with the dogs, which sometimes led to owners being bitten and dogs dying.

A new era dawns

Further research has debunked the dominance theory ( Modern studies shows that wild wolf “packs” are actually family units. Submissive type behaviors are offered rather than demanded and there is little violence between family members. While there are still many similarities between dogs and wolves (as there are between humans and apes), dogs are not wolves. We must be cautious in applying our wolf theories to dogs and we would be wise not to put ourselves in positions of physical confrontation with dogs. They have mouths full of razor knives and they are generally stronger and way lots faster that we are. Even with young and small dogs, just because we can physically overpower them, doesn’t mean we should.

Fortunately, for us and for our dogs, modern science prevailed and brought us out of the dark ages of dog training. In the 1970’s and 80‘s marine mammal trainers started going public with what they had learned. They had quickly realized you could not put a choke chain on a killer whale and any sort of “correction” could result in an injury to the trainer or the animal just leaving. They had to find another approach to achieve their goals. Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot The Dog, published in 1984, revolutionized our understanding of the science of learning - and applied to “anything with a brainstem”. Enter the positive training movement. A complete change in attitude came along with the new science. Dogs were now given cues instead of commands and the primary “correction”, if one existed, was loss of the opportunity to earn a reward. If a person could teach a killer whale to do a back flip with only a whistle and a bucket of sardines, then surely our pet dogs could be taught basic manners without the use of a training collar. And basic manners were just the beginning of what dogs have been taught with positive methods.

The Science of Learning

In it’s simplest terms, traditional, military style, training focuses on “correcting” undesirable behaviors: The dog remains standing when told to sit so the leash is “popped” to “correct” the dog for the mistake. Modern, positive, training focuses primarily on rewarding desirable behaviors: The dog sits when asked and is then given a treat and/or praise as a reward for compliance. Both methods can be effective, so lets look at the pros and cons of each.

Correction Based Training


Generally fast results if effective, basically simple concept if applied correctly.


High probability of “fallout” - dog becomes fearful or aggressive, physically taxing on dog and handler, handler must be physically able to make corrections, requires special collar, easy for humans to become “correction happy” and jerk the dog often and for no reason, may permanently damage dog-human relationship, damage to the dog’s neck/throat is common, ineffective and abusive if done with poor timing or technique.

Reward Based Training


Much of it can be done “hands-free”, can be done by anyone (children, adults, elderly, etc.), long lasting effects, fosters cooperation and respect, does not require special equipment (except perhaps a clicker), little risk if done with poor timing or technique, is generally fun and pleasant for dog and handler.


May take longer to accomplish some goals, requires handler to be patient and precise for best effect, requires handler to learn more about dog behavior and training.

When you consider this data, the choice between correction based training and reward based training seems perfectly clear. Modern science shows us that dogs can easily learn without force, fear, pain, or intimidation; that force-free training is safer, kinder, and has more long lasting effects than traditional methods, and that we can have more trusting and cooperative relationships with our dogs when we use force-free methods. Why then do we persist in “correcting” our dogs? Why are traditional obedience classes still common? Why is the public fascinated by TV trainers who advocate correction methods based on the dominance theory? After 30 years, why aren’t we getting it?

The Positive Paradigm

A commitment to reward based training requires a paradigm shift. Whether, like me, you see dogs as spiritual beings in dog bodies, or you view them as “just dogs”, these creatures share this planet with us and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. There is no reason to use pain, fear, force, or intimidation when less invasive and less aversive methods will work just as well and with fewer risks. But it takes effort to break old habits, to see things in a new light, to let go of “tradition”, and to open ourselves up to seeing the world from another’s point of view, especially when that “other” is another species. Examining ourselves, our history, our motives, and our desires can be taxing. It’s just easier to keep doing it the old way, without thinking.

We are a culture that defends our freedoms vehemently, including our right to own dogs. We also recognize the need to protect those that can’t protect themselves. Every state in the country has laws defining and prohibiting animal cruelty and abuse. Yet little abuses happen daily right under our noses and we overlook them by calling it “training”. Training collars, including those that produce an electric shock, are available for sale everywhere and could easily be considered tools of abuse, yet we condone their use in the name of “training”. Funny thing is, those that advocate the use of these items have developed a wide range of euphemisms to describe them - slip chain, power steering, nick, tap, buzz, tickle. If they are so safe and effective, why do they need to hide behind these obfuscations? Let’s tell it like it is and stop the madness!

Hopefully, by now I have convinced you to throw away your “training collars”. But then what? Those were your primary means of communication and control of your dog. As a necessary step in the paradigm shift, you may now feel powerless to control or train your dog in any way. Good! That will prompt you to look for new ideas and options. When I first made the switch away from traditional training, it took me a full year of having my dogs not wear collars at home to break myself of the habit of grabbing those collars any time I felt the need to reposition or stop my dog. That feeling of helplessness was instrumental in my learning to communicate with them better and to actually teach them words for the things I needed from them - inside, outside, wait, touch my hand, move out of my way, etc.

Learn to listen to your dog

Dogs do what works for them. If barking at the door gets you to let them out, then they will keep barking at the door. But if barking at the door never gets your attention or gets you to go to the door, eventually your dog will give up barking at the door in favor of a more rewarding behavior. Behavior that is rewarded tends to increase. Behavior that is not rewarded tends to fade away. You can’t really teach a dog what NOT to do. You can only teach what TO do. Make a point to notice what your dog is doing right - resting at your feet, playing quietly, waiting patiently, following you. These are behaviors we want to reward. Your dog will tell you if your training efforts are on track and working.

To be clear, positive training is not passive or permissive. It takes a great deal of attention and discipline to be consistent, active, and creative when it comes to raising our dogs with positive methods. It’s easy, and perhaps reflexive, to just say “No!” It takes knowledge and practice to be proactive and patient.

Where knowledge ends, violence begins. This could not be truer than in dog training. Every time a person yells at a dog, yanks a collar, or swats a rump it is a clear indication of the limits of their knowledge. When we don’t know what to do to accomplish our goals or solve a problem we get frustrated and upset. So the obvious solution to most, if not all, of our dog problems is educating ourselves. The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller are great places to start. We must learn how dogs “work” and to apply the science of learning effectively if we want to live in harmony with them and treat them humanely. Our society continues to shift away from corporal punishment and authoritarian methods with our children, so the day is sure to come when those methods are no longer accepted or tolerated with dogs. And that can’t happen soon enough if you ask me.



Growling Dogs: It's Not Personal

Why is it that we humans so often feel insulted, disrespected, and devalued by information and feedback?  This information may come in the form of a grade on a school paper, a comment from a co-worker, or a growl from our dog.  Any little thing can trigger a cascade of emotions in us. We may feel angry, hurt, defiant, resentful, you name it.  It’s not a very useful response as it often clouds our judgment and limits our ability to respond rationally.  While it’s possible, though unlikely, that other humans may intend to hurt us or make us angry, that certainly isn’t the case with your dog.  He doesn’t lay awake at night dreaming of ways to make you crazy.  He doesn’t hate you or want to embarrass you in public to gratify his ego.

We really need to get over taking his behavior personally.  Rather than “How dare you growl at me.”, we would be wiser and more effective with “Wow, wonder what brought that on?  He must be really uncomfortable with something.”  Then we can use our rational brain to (1) find the source of his stress, (2) remove the stress, and (3) formulate a plan to overcome the stress.  Otherwise we’re just stuck feeling hurt, afraid, and angry, none of which are especially helpful in changing the situation and moving forward.

So next time your dogs does something you don’t like, stop and take a deep breath.  Do a mental “step back” and ask yourself, “How might this look from the dog’s point of view?  What can I learn from the feedback I just received?  What can I change to help us be more successful next time?”  Your dog will come to trust and respect you more if he knows he can give you feedback without you freaking out (that’s what he might think of your previous reactions).  You will keep the lines of communication open and allow room for growth if you learn that “it’s not personal”.  This also works well in our relationships with people.  Give it a try.

Teen Dogs - Dealing with new annoying behaviors

QUESTION :Rover, our almost 9-month old, generally well-mannered dog, has developed some annoying behavior lately. He starts barking at random times to obviously get our attention, but it's a higher-pitched "yappy" bark. If we don't pay attention, he butts us with his head. His needs have been met (food, water, potty) and he has been very well exercised. What should we do?

ANSWER: Sounds like Rover, now a teen, is experimenting with some new behaviors to see if they work for him; trying to get your attention in various ways and "demanding" action from you. He's using all his best efforts to train you.

Time to fine tune a few details that may have slipped. When we start feeling that our puppies are pretty well-mannered (clean in the house, no more biting or inappropriate chewing), we often get a bit lax. After all, we've worked really hard for months, don't we deserve a little break? Unfortunately, just about that time, they become teenagers and we have to be vigilant all over again, just in a little different way.

Teen dogs (and kids) question the rules, test their boundaries, and try out new stuff. Sure they know a lot, but they often seem to forget or are unresponsive. It's normal. A study on teen humans showed that their brains actually go into a sort of rest state where it is really just busy processing all the stuff they have learned up to that point, but aren't taking in as much new info. I think of it as mental housekeeping time without much space for new info until the mess gets cleaned up. I imagine teen dogs experience a similar lull in their learning. No worries. It's a stage that passes.

So, what to do during this stage? Maintain routines. Keep asking for simple things you know they have already learned like sit, wait, come, etc. Try not to make these exercises too challenging, and practice many times a day as part of your normal routine. For example: sit to come out of the crate, go out the door, get fed, get petted, etc.

Be patient, but firm and consistent. In some cases, ignoring teen behaviors is really tough, especially if they are willing to escalate to worse barking and head butting like Rover. So take the "ignore" a step further and actually walk out on him if he acts this way. Since most likely what he wants is your attention, leaving the room deprives him of the opportunity for that attention. If you remain in the room, he keeps trying new (worse) things to see what will finally get you to pay attention to him. If you leave, he can't do that. Of course, you only leave for a minute or so and then calmly return. Repeat as often as needed.

His physical needs may have been met, but possibly not his mental or emotional needs. Do some short (3-5 min) training sessions several times a day, play with him, and make time to just sit and hang out for a few minutes. This will give him the attention he craves, but on your terms and for behaviors you like. During the rest of the day, make a special point to notice when he is calm and relaxed and "being good" (playing by himself, resting quietly, watching you work), and praise and reward him for those behaviors. Again, attention for stuff you like. You can keep some dry treats in strategic locations around the house (out of his reach) so you can quickly grab a treat if he is doing something nice. The more you notice and reward his "good" behaviors, the less he will need to resort to obnoxious behaviors.

Face it, there are times when we just can't "walk out" or attend to training the dog. Perhaps, for you, that's when you are busy getting the kids ready for school. You have a schedule to keep and they need your attention as well. At these times it is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to pen up the pup. You've fed, watered, and pottied him and spent a few minutes playing or cuddling. Then you put him in his pen or crate with a yummy chew and explain to him that now it's time you attended to the kids. Our dogs have to learn that they don't always (nor should they) "come first" and they must learn to be patient, relax, and entertain themselves.

Teen dogs may still need some limits set on their freedom (pen, leash, house line, etc.) to help them learn the self-control and patience they need to live with us. Pay attention to when Rover is most inclined to flip into one of his yappy states. Is he tired? Have you been at the computer too long? Has he been napping for hours and is now awake and bored?? Be proactive when possible to meet his needs before one of these moments comes up. If you know he has an issue just after a walk, or when the kids get home from school, use your pen to prevent him from making mistakes; maybe walk him before the kids arrive and then pen him for 20-30 minutes after walks to help him calm down again.

Hang in there. It will get better, but by all means take control of the situation rather than let him make the rules.

Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?


Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy - the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow.  Awww, how adorable!  But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props.  So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.

  1. How old are your kids?  Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven.  Kids squeal and run.  Puppies bite and jump.  Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy.  I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy.  Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them.  So what is a reasonable compromise solution?  Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children - a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success.
  2. What is your house like during the holidays?  Do you have lots of visitors, parties, and excitement?  Will you still have the time and inclination to  focus on caring for the puppy, or will your other activities completely fill your day?  In most cases, it’s better to plan to bring a new puppy home in January after the excitement of the holidays has passed.  This time is more like your “normal life”, and generally better suited to raising a puppy.  You can still provide an exciting Christmas for the kids by giving gifts associated with caring for the puppy – a crate, leash and flat collar, some toys, books about dogs, like Puppy Training for Kids by Sarah Whitehead – and a “gift certificate” for the puppy.  Anticipation is exciting for kids, and you can channel that enthusiasm by getting your kids actively involved in choosing the puppy, which will ultimately increase your chances of a successful adoption.
  3. Owning a dog is expensive! The purchase price is often the smallest cost.  Before adding a dog to your family, consider the annual (and lifetime!) cost of food, grooming, veterinary care, training, and supplies for the puppy.  Choosing an inexpensive or “free” puppy without knowing any history can end up costing you far more in the long run, as it may have health and behavior problems of which you were unaware. There is a reason why puppy mills have a bad reputation, when their concern is breeding and selling puppies regardless of genetic or other underlying health concerns.  And what do you know about the dog that “accidentally” had a litter of pups by some unknown male?  Ask yourself, if there are problems (and even if there aren’t), can I realistically afford to own a dog for the next 10-15 years?
  4. Young puppies are a LOT of work.  It’s very much like bringing home a new baby.  They require a dozen or more potty trips outside each day.  They need to be fed three times a day.  They explore the world with their mouths, so there is lots to do to teach them what are, and are not, appropriate chew items, including how to keep their teeth off humans.  Raising a puppy requires patience and consistency, and in most cases, you’ll be sleep deprived while doing it.  So it’s important to make an honest assessment of your home, family, and lifestyle before committing to raising a puppy.  In many cases, you may be better off adopting an older puppy, young adult, or even a senior dog.  As cute as puppies are, getting through the first year of their life can challenge even experienced dog lovers.  And let’s be honest; if you’re not up to the task, who ultimately is the one who suffers most?  That’s right, it’s the dog.  Plus, a failed adoption will negatively impact your kids as well.
  5. Regardless of the season, choosing a puppy for your family should involve some mature decision-making and preparation on your part.  Do your homework!  Everyone in the family should have a chance to express their thoughts and desires and then, as a group, come to a decision about the type of dog that would best fit your family.  Admittedly, this does not make for a good surprise, but you’re about to take on a big responsibility.  This is not a sweater you’re getting, which if you don’t like the color, you can simply go and exchange for something else.  You’ll want to consider factors like adult size, exercise requirements, grooming needs, activity level, and basic breed characteristics.  If you, your children, or frequent visitors have allergies you'll also want to consider what type of hair the pup has. Many dogs are re-homed every year due to unexpected allergies. Websites such as Breed Match and PetNet can identify and recommend suitable breeds based on your answers to key questions you may not think of on your own.
  6. If you have never owned a dog before, it's wise to educate yourself beforehand so that you may care for your puppy properly, thus increasing your chances of having the puppy become a happy, well-mannered addition to your family.  As a starting point, please download your free copy of Ian Dunbar’s fantastic book Before You Get Your Puppy.
  7. Another honesty check… who is going to be the primary caregiver for that new puppy?  Who will walk the dog 3-4 times a day once puppyhood is over? Many kids promise they will “take care of it,” but school work, sports and other activities often take precedence.  Even with older, very responsible kids, the bulk of the dog care is likely to fall on mom.  Dads work hard too, but moms, typically being the nurturers, can’t avoid picking up any slack.  So it’s important for mom to have a special say in whether or not the time is right to add a puppy to the family!

If you’ve made it through all of this and can honestly say that the time is right and you are ready, willing, and able to give a puppy a loving, forever home, then go on to Choosing A Puppy.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Choosing a Puppy - Do's and Don'ts



Educate yourself. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, the American Kennel Club site provides information about each breed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a pure bred dog.  Years of specific breeding have often created genetic health issues, so be sure to find out what problems are common in your desired breed, and what health testing you should expect a good breeder to do.  For more on education and breed selection see Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

Choose a breeder wisely. They are not all created equal, and finding a good match can really help you.  A good breeder will want to interview you to ensure that their dog will be going to a good home.  They will put the dog’s welfare ahead of their own monetary benefit.  They will expect you to sign a contract of some sort.  They will require you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to care for it at any point in time.  They will be willing to answer your questions, offer advice on raising your puppy and serve as a great support system.  I have pretty high standards these days and generally suggest Natural Rearing breeders.

Consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. While most dogs in shelters are mixed breeds, approximately one third are pure breeds.  If you have your heart set on a particular type of dog, there are specific breed rescue groups across the country.  If you are open to a mixed breed, there are lots to choose from!  Mixed breed dogs generally have hybrid vigor and are often healthier than pure breeds.  Ask if your shelter uses the Meet Your Match program to help you choose a suitable dog.  Shelter adoption fees are generally quite reasonable and you are giving an unwanted animal a loving home.  Dogs are smart, and they will appreciate and love you for it.

Get to know the puppy.Each puppy will have a different personality.  Some are adventurous and outgoing while others are calm and cuddly.  Part of this can be breed-related, but there are many variations within a breed and litter.  If you have your heart set on a “cuddler,” you won’t be fully happy with an “explorer.”  The only way you will know is by spending time with the pups you're considering.

Prepare for your puppy’s arrival.Read Before You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar.  You’ll also want to have a copy of After You Get Your Puppy on hand to help you.


Buy from a pet store.Almost all the puppies in pet stores have come from large, commercial breeders (puppy mills).  They are generally taken away from the mothers at too young an age, which can lead to a variety of behavior problems.  They are often challenging to house or crate train because of the way they were housed.  These puppies are treated as commodities, rather than living, breathing, feeling, thinking beings.  Finally, they often have health issues and sadly can be a heartbreak waiting to happen.

Buy from the internet.Due to the "anonymous" nature of the internet, you have NO way of knowing who you are dealing with and what the puppy is like.  It is so easy for puppy mills and other unsavory people to make false claims and take your money.  These days there are reputable breeders with web sites, but they typically want to meet you in person, interview you, and help you select the right puppy.

Have a puppy shipped to you. Young puppies are very vulnerable and the stress of a flight can inflict lasting damage.  If you choose a puppy several states away, arrange to pick the puppy up in person.  While some may do fine flying back in the cabin of the plane, as a general rule I do not recommend it.

Buy a puppy from the classified ads, either the newspaper or Craig’s List.  There can be acceptable puppies there, but the risks are high that they are poorly bred (increased risk of health and behavior problems), or have been “damaged” in some way.  If you are an inexperienced puppy buyer and don’t know what to look for, or what to ask, you are at greater risk with these sources.

Be impressed or swayed by claims of “AKC papers” or “championship lines.” The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a breed registry.  AKC registration only means that the dog is a product of purebred parents.  It, in no way, guarantees the dog conforms to the breed standard or that it measures up to any standard of quality.  There are breeders out there claiming “championship lines” because one dog in the pedigree earned the title of AKC Breed Champion several generations back.  This is meaningless in evaluating the quality and suitability of the present generation of puppies they are selling.  They may also make “championship” claims based on other breed registries like the UKC (United Kennel Club) - equally meaningless.  Good breeders should be able to show you several generation of champions in your pup's pedigree, but even that doesn't guarantee that your puppy will be championship quality - or healthy or of good temperament.

Pay extra for a “designer breed.” Other than the Labradoodle, which has been around for enough generations to be a unique breed, the rest of these so-called designer breeds are really nothing more than well-marketed mixed breeds.  While there are some nice combinations, they are not worth paying a premium.  And any breeder that claims their mix (or pure breed) is “rare” or “unique” is selling you some oceanfront property in Montana.  These are often Mother Nature’s genetic accidents and consequently they tend to be less healthy (physically and mentally) than their more normal counterparts.  The best place to find a nice mixed breed puppy is at your local shelter.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Preparing for a new puppy


You’ve done your homework, decided the time is right to get a puppy, and chosen the right puppy.  Now it’s time to prepare yourself and your house for the new arrival.  Yup, just like you would get ready for your new baby! Prepare a safe place for your puppy.You’ll likely want a crate for sleeping and an exercise pen (X-pen) or baby gate to create a safe containment area on an easy clean surface.  I suggest having the crate in your bedroom at night and the pen near your main living area.  If you don’t have an appropriate floor surface available, get a remnant of vinyl flooring from your home center or carpet store to use under your X-pen.  You will use the X-pen as a long-term confinement area for times when you can’t watch the puppy for a few hours.  You can use the crate at night, and for short periods like taking a shower or talking on the phone.  Rid yourself of the mindset that a crate is punishment; by using it properly, it will instead become your dog’s favorite safe haven.

Puppy-proof your house.Any areas where your puppy will be permitted access should be thoroughly examined from puppy eye level for potential hazards.  Remember your puppy is a baby, your baby, and you must keep that in mind and act accordingly (just like having a human baby, isn’t it?)  Remove, contain, or block access to power cords or loose cables.  Remove breakables.  Clear off the coffee table.  Put up any papers, books, remotes, or other items that could be chewed.  Remove throw rugs and loose pillows.  Pin up or tie back draperies if needed.  Get your children in the habit of picking up their things and closing their bedroom doors.  Having done all that, I still recommend that your puppy should never be outside of his pen or crate without direct supervision until he has learned proper potty and chewing habits.

Puppy-proof your yard and garage. There may be even more potential puppy dangers outside than in your house.  If your yard contains any potentially poisonous plants you’ll want to remove them or block your puppy’s access to them.  Use fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides sparingly and cautiously.  Garages often hold many substances which are poisonous to dogs; spilled antifreeze is a classic example.  If your dog gets a foreign substance on their paws, they will instinctively want to lick it off.  Never leave your puppy in the yard unsupervised.  They can be injured or stolen, and unmonitored they can develop bad habits like barking and digging.  You need to teach your puppy how to act in the yard as well as in the house.  Make sure your fence is secure so your pup can run and play safely.  If you don’t have a fence, you’ll need a long line (20-30’ heavy cord) to allow your pup more freedom while still maintaining safe control of him.

Plan a puppy schedule.You should take your puppy out to potty every time he wakes up, eats, drinks, plays, and about every hour or two in between if possible.  Until the pup is 4-5 months old, he will need to eat 3 times a day.  Choose a two hour window for morning, evening, and mid-day feedings; do not get lazy and simply leave a food bowl down all day long.  You’ll also want to schedule several training and play sessions each day.  Puppies have short attention spans, so keep these sessions to less than 5 minutes for the first month or so, but try to have a short “lesson” every hour or two.

Have some resources handy.You’re sure to have questions daily so get yourself some good dog books.  If you have kids, I suggest this one:  Living With Kids and Dogs… Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar.  Other good references are After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar, and Positive Puppy Training Works by Joel Walton.  You can also join my Start Puppy Training list on Yahoo.  Check your area for positive puppy kindergarten classes as you will want to enroll as soon as possible.

When the big day arrives for the pup to come home with you, use these Tips For Success to get off to a good start.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Bringing Home A Puppy - Tips For Success

puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots
puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots

The big day is finally here!  You want to be prepared and get off to a good start right away with your new puppy.  Here are some tips to make things go smoothly. The ride home If you have a helper to drive, the drive isn’t too long, and the puppy is tired and/or calm you can try holding the puppy on your lap.  Otherwise you’ll need a crate or at least a cardboard box to contain the puppy.  If you use a box, put some plastic under it just in case.  Place a thick towel at the bottom of the crate or box to give the pup good footing and to catch any accidents.  If your trip will take more than an hour, plan to make a potty stop (or two) along the way.  I would avoid highway rest areas as they are frequented by lots of dogs and your puppy doesn’t have full immunity yet.  If possible, opt for a quiet grassy area instead. Be sure your puppy is wearing identification and has a secure collar or harness.

At the house Your first order of business should always be a potty trip outside.  You want to start a good habit right away.  So choose the door you will regularly use for potty trips and consistently take the pup out that door.  Consistency is everything when training!  Don’t ever forget that.  If your puppy has already been trained to potty pads, read Potty Pad Training for Puppies.  If you have family and kids waiting to meet the puppy arrange for everyone to sit down in a circle (outdoors if possible) with your pup in the middle.  Each person can have a few tiny morsels of something yummy to feed the pup, but allow the puppy to decide to go and visit each person.  That means the kids have to wait patiently and not overwhelm it.  After 15-20 minutes of this the pup will need another potty break and then a rest period.  You can sit with him in your long-term confinement area (see Preparing for Puppy), but try to remain calm and detached so the pup will settle and rest.  As much as the kids will want to play with the puppy non-stop, they will have to learn that puppies get tired and need naps - just like young babies do.   Teaching both the pup and the kids self-control will be one of your biggest challenges.  Be calm, patient, and consistent with them all.

The first night If your pup has not been introduced to the crate by his breeder, be prepared for a good deal of fussing and crying.  Make sure to take the pup out to potty before bedtime.  I have found that many pups do best if you engage in a bit of lullaby and cuddle time before bed.  Your goal is to quiet and relax the puppy, so soften the lights, turn off the TV, and relax yourself.  When the puppy is sleepy, slip him into his prepared crate near your bed.  Continue to sit with him until he falls asleep, then softly secure the door closed.  Be prepared for him to wake up crying in a couple of hours.  If possible, set your alarm and get the pup up and out for a potty trip before he wakes up.  Afterwards, calmly put him back into his crate and sit near him, without interacting with him, until he settles again.  You may also want to make a “sock puppy” as a sleeping buddy for your new puppy.

Setting the tone It takes about three weeks for a dog to settle into a new home.  During this time you are dealing with a small creature that doesn’t speak your language or understand your rules or expectations.  Therefore you must be extra patient in showing him what is expected while also being careful to set him up to succeed.  This generally means restricting his freedom to safe areas and watching him like a hawk.  The biggest mistake people make with a new puppy or dog is allowing them too much freedom too soon.  While your goal may be for the pup to have free run of your house, it can take months before that’s reasonable, possible, or recommended.  Set realistic expectations for your puppy.  They are not adult dogs in small bodies any more than kids are adults in small bodies.  I don’t expect puppies to have the mind/body awareness necessary for true house training until they are at least 12 weeks old (longer for the toy breeds).  Until that time, their success at being clean in the house is entirely up to you.  The more you are able to be calm, confident and consistent, the faster your pup will learn how to act in your home.


Reward behavior you like. Every interaction you have with your puppy is a learning opportunity.  If you make a point of telling the puppy all the good things he is doing you will be giving him attention (something all puppies crave) for the things you like.  Adding a tiny morsel of something yummy further rewards and reinforces his good behavior.

Ignore or prevent behavior you don’t like. This is the point of all that puppy-proofing.  It helps prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors.  If you calmly redirect your pup to an appropriate chew item when he’s investigating his world, he will develop good chew toy habits.  Remember he can’t think like we do.  Don’t give him an old shoe to chew on, thinking he will understand the difference between that and your new Ferragamos or Jimmy Chus.  Avoid getting yourself into the “no” habit.  Saying “no” is just another form of attention for the pup, and he may learn to be “naughty” just for the attention.  That’s why it’s important to be proactive and focus on, emphasize, and reward his good behavior, rather than being reactive to his bad behavior.

Be proactive. Puppies are curious and busy.  If we make a point of directing them into activities we like, we can avoid the common pitfall of chasing after them telling them “no” all the time.   Make it a habit to keep your pup busy and actively engaged in something rather than overlooking his good behavior and waiting for him to make a mistake.  Puppies are little learning sponges, so take advantage of this tendency and start teaching him right away.  Puppy classes are great for this and for the important social experiences (for the puppy, not you).

Be clear and consistent. While puppies learn quickly, we can help them by being very clear about what the house “rules” are and being very consistent in our responses to their behavior.  You will confuse him terribly and make your job much harder if you sometimes allow him to jump on you and other times get upset when he jumps on you.  So decide as a family what is and isn’t acceptable in your house and stick with it.  Along with this you will all need to use the same cues (words) to tell him what you want.  If one person says “down” to mean “lay on the floor” and another uses “down” to mean “get off the couch”, your puppy will be thoroughly confused in no time.  Dogs can learn lots of cue words but each word can only have one meaning.  It may help to make a list of the words you want to teach and what each word means.

Arm yourself with resources I encourage you to enroll your puppy in a positive puppy kindergarten as soon as possible.  This will help you learn how to communicate with your puppy and give your puppy some much needed social experiences.  If you haven’t done so already, get a couple of good books like The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller or How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar.  Then join my Start Puppy Training list at Yahoo for help and support.

Puppies are adorable, exciting, and fun, but they can also be challenging, exhausting, and messy.  Don’t be discouraged; the time you invest in teaching your puppy good manners and proper habits will pay off for years to come as you enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship with the well-mannered adult dog your puppy will have become.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

The "Sock Puppy"

When first separated from their litter mates and moms, many puppies can be very fussy and stressed about sleeping alone.  The "sock puppy" gives them the sensation of sleeping with another puppy.  It's easy to make and may help you and your pup get a better night's sleep. You'll need a sturdy tube sock (the kind that doesn't have a heel).  Fill the sock with enough plain rice (not instant) to approximate the size of your puppy.  Then tie the end securely; preferably with a knot in the end of the sock.  If you need to use a heavy string, tie several knots and trim off the loose ends.  Just before bedtime, microwave the sock puppy for a minute or two until it's close to the puppy's body temperature (about 102F).  Place the "sock puppy" in the crate with your puppy so he has a warm body to sleep with.

You can magnify the calming effect by adding a drop of pure lavender essential oil to the sock before placing it in the crate.

Where is your dog sleeping tonight?

I've heard many answers to this question... In the garage, in his dog house, in the laundry room, on the couch, in my bed, in a crate, on a dog bed, and even anywhere he wants.  What's the best answer?  Near his human :-) Dogs are social animals and they like the feeling of belonging to a group and having companionship.  Many, given the choice, will follow their humans from room to room all day.  So it only makes sense that they would want to be near us when we sleep.  There is safety in numbers for them so sleeping near their "leader(s)" helps them feel safe so they can rest more easily.  When they sleep alone they are often alert to subtle shifts and sounds, needing to be aware of potential dangers.  Some dogs are, by nature, very vigilant.  So being able to really go "off duty" and get a good night's sleep is important for them.  Puppies that sleep near their people usually sleep through the night (and without potty accidents) sooner than pups confined away from their humans.  Also, having your dog sleep near you enhances bonding... even while you're sound asleep.

Now this doesn't mean the dog has to be in bed with you, although some people enjoy that degree of closeness.  If you enjoy having your dog in bed with you, just make certain of a few things:  Your dog will wait for permission to get on the bed, will get off the bed without a fuss if you ask, and settles down to sleep instead of thinking the bed is for games.  If your dog can do all those things then you have a perfect sleeping partner.  If not, I suggest keeping the dog off the bed until he masters those skills.  For some dogs, sleeping on the human bed can be part of a lack of leadership issue in the house.

You could also use a dog bed or crate in the bedroom.  Many young dogs still need the crate to prevent them from getting into mischief in the night.  It helps create good habits.  Most can eventually be transitioned to sleeping on a bed, but some still prefer the coziness and security of their crate.  My dog started in a crate but now sleeps on a dog bed right next to my side of the bed.

It takes some time to adjust to sharing your sleeping space... with a dog or another human.  So don't be discouraged if neither of you sleep too well for a few nights.  You may have to get used to the dog standing up and circling to change positions.  You dog may have to get used to your snoring ;-)  If you have some real limitations that make sharing a room impractical, at least move the dog as close as possible... like in the hall outside your door or into one of the kids rooms.  If your dog is in the garage or outside, try moving him one step closer to being with you.  I don't recommend letting the dog sleep "wherever he wants".  That can be another facet in a lack of leadership issue.  Most dogs thrive on having some boundaries and expectations of behavior.  It may be okay during the day but at night decide where you want him to sleep and help him adjust to the new routine.

Take into consideration your dog's physical comfort and needs.  Some young puppies need to sleep "bare" so they don't soil or chew their bedding, but once past that stage most dogs prefer something soft to sleep on.  If you keep your room quite cool you may want to provide a bed or blanket the dog can snuggle up in.  Avoid having your dog in a draft or where it's too warm either.  My dog used to be quite warm all the time but as he has aged he now prefers being covered with a blanket on cool nights.

Sweet dreams!!

Dog Parks - Be Safe and Sane

The dog park can be a great thing for your dog(s).  But it can also be very risky.  Here are some tips on getting the most out of the dog park and minimizing the risks. 1 - Know your dog!  If your dog is afraid of other dogs and/or people, the dog park is not the place to take him to "get over it".  Hire a trainer to help you with his issues and evaluate when and if he's ready for the dog park.  The same goes double for dogs that are aggressive with other dogs.  It's unfair to the other park users to let your "bully" rule the park.  Not to mention the risks you face should your dog hurt another dog or person.

Also, what type of play style does your dog have?  Is he a wrestler, a chaser, or more of cocktail party mingler?  Help your dog find dogs that have compatible styles.  You might even try to schedule your visits when you know those dogs will be there... and avoid going when incompatible dogs frequent the park.

2 - Pay attention to your dog!  The dog park is primarily so your dog can socialize, not so you can.  It's fine to be polite and chat with other owners, but your dog should always be your first priority.  You should know where he is and what he is doing at all times... and be ready to intervene or help him out should the situation warrant it.  Do not chat on your phone, read your e-mail, or check your text messages in the dog park.  You will lose focus and forget to watch your dog.

3 - Do not bring small children into the dog park.  I see so many people make this mistake.  The dog park is for dogs.  Dogs run and jump and play rough at times.  Small children are likely to get knocked over by playing dogs.  There are also lots of dogs that are pretty nervous about young kids and that could lead to nipping or other fearful behavior.

If you have older kids, they can enter the park, but you must now watch the kids and the dog.  The kids have to understand how to act around dogs so as to not threaten or harass them.  They also need to be prepared to avoid running dogs and rough play.  They can't assume that all the dogs are friendly and there for the kids to play with.  The dog park is for dogs, not for kids so the needs of the dogs take priority.  If in doubt, have the kids sit outside the fence and watch.

4 - Pick up after your dog!  This seems like a no-brainer to me, but every day people don't even see their dogs pooping because they aren't paying attention to their dogs.  Or they just act irresponsibly and don't bother.  Aside from the obvious grossness of stepping in poop, many dog diseases are transmitted in feces so picking up poop helps keep the park clean and disease free.  It also makes it more pleasant for the dogs and their humans.  Most dog parks have baggies and trash cans available, so there is no excuse not to clean up.  By the way, the excitement and exercise of the park may lead your dog to poop again even if he went at home before you came to the park.  So always be prepared.

5 - Learn about dog body language.  This can help you prevent a fight and ease the stress and tension that may happen.  Recently I saw a fellow entering the park with his dog.  There was a large dog standing at the gate and this fellow's dog started sniffing the ground and avoiding coming to the gate.  What the guy didn't realize is that his dog was feeling anxious about the big dog "guarding" the gate and was doing her best to avoid or calm the situation.  Had he persisted in pushing his dog to proceed, it's possible a fight may have resulted.  This guy was "saved" by a silly, young dog that enetered behind him and distracted the big dog away from the gate.

I highly recommend that every dog owner read On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas to better understand how dogs communicate.  Then you will be better able to actually listen to what your dog is saying.

6 - Use good judgment about how often you visit the dog park and how long you stay.  Many dogs just can't handle an hour a day at the dog park.  It can be overly stressful and/or overly stimulating.  So when you get home does your dog seem relaxed and happy or physically and mentally exhausted?  Can you tell the difference?  If he is relaxed and happy you're on the right track.  But if he's exhausted, chances are you are going too often and/or staying too long.  Adjust your schedule to find the right balance.

7 - Reward calm and polite behavior.  Your trip to the park starts before you even get in the car.  If your dog is "over the top" on the way to the park, then you are rewarding that out of control behavior by proceeding to the park.  Ideally you want a dog that is calm, relaxed, and under control for the whole trip to, in, and from the park.  He can be animated and happy - that's a good thing - but not out of control.  He should respond to your voice cues and come when you call him.  If he isn't at that level yet, contact a positive trainer to help you reach your goals.

When in the park be sure to praise your dog for wise choices and polite behavior with the other dogs.  He needs to know when he's doing a good job.  Be very careful about using food in the park as it might trigger some competition and aggression.

8 - Safety first!  Remove any collar that could get caught during play before entering the park.  Even flat collars can get snagged on a tooth and choke a dog, but be sure to remove any type of slip, chain, or prong collars (not that I advise using them in the first place!) as these could be serious dangers to your dog.  I would carry your leash and collar with you in the park, just in case you need to calmly remove your dog.  Leaving them at the gate leaves you empty handed, literally.

9 - One last thing... Have your dog on leash and under control while approaching and leaving the park.  At a local dog park I was amazed to see people pull into the parking lot and just open the door and let their dog(s) out.  There are so many things that could go wrong in that situation.  Fortunately, nothing did, but the longer they practice that behavior, the greater the chances are that something will go wrong... dog running in street, knocking over the toddler at the next car, getting into a fight with an on-leash dog, etc.  So play it safe and smart and make sure you have your dog under control at all times.

Then have FUN!  I get the biggest kick out of watching dogs be dogs.  They get along amazingly well despite all their differences and getting a regular chance to practice their social skills reduces the risks of aggression and is a good outlet for them.

How to choose a "Positive" trainer

I consider myself to be a positive trainer, but these days it seems like a lot of people who aren't still say they are.  The term came about as an alternative to the "traditional" or military style training, which relied upon force and "corrections" as a major component.  At the time, positive trainers were shifting away from the use of force and focusing on rewarding "good" behavior instead of punishing "bad" behavior.  But I guess no one wanted to refer to themselves as a "negative trainer" :-)  Reminds me of my husband's comments about political candidates.  They all say they are "tough on crime" because no one would vote for someone who said they were soft on crime, now would they?  Traditional trainers that use food and toy rewards may call themselves "positive".  Some call themselves "motivational" trainers.  These days there are folks that refer to themselves as "balanced" trainers.  But what does all this mean to you, a pet owner, when trying to choose the best trainer for your dog? I think you have to look deeper than the labels and the sales pitch and examine your own beliefs and philosphies and look for a good match.  You, like me, may feel very strongly about using only techniques that do no physical, mental, or emotional harm to the dog.  But even that can become a moral quagmire for some.  Does swatting your dog on the nose or rump constitute harm or abuse?  What about the sting of a shock collar?  Do you spank your kids?  See how complicated this can be?

My biggest problem with the labels that some trainers use to describe themselves is that they are misleading to the public and rely upon euphemisms rather than telling it like it is.  I recently viewed a trainer's website that was attractive, well organized, and she claimed to be a positive trainer.  However the site also included the words discipline and "X-factor".  While something about the site gave me a leery feeling, I thought it best to ask, so I talked to the trainer and was told she used "remote collar training".  That's the modern, nice term for a shock collar.  Granted the collar technology has improved over the years, but the basic premise is the same - the dog does something you don't want and it receives a shock, aka correction, "tap", pulse, etc.  If these collar trainers are so convinced that they are using a safe, humane, dog friendly device, why are they tap dancing around the truth?   Why hide behind pretty prose and gentle sounding words?

Maybe you're okay with using electricity to teach dogs.  I'm not.  I believe the risks are far too great and that we owe it to our dogs do better than to shock them if they make a mistake.  How would you feel if your teacher shocked you, even just a little, every time you made a mistake in class?  Would you like the teacher?  The class?  The subject?  Didn't think so.  Why should it be any different for your dog?  There are so many better methods available, they just may require that you give more of yourself than a slight depression of your thumb :-)

Now there are also some positive trainers out there that are giving good positive trainers a bad name.  That's because they have focused so much on the food and rewards that they have forgotten to set limits for the dog.  They remind me of the parents and teachers that want all the kids to win and have fun without creating boundaries and teaching self-control.  The end result can be a bunch of bratty kids and dogs.  Positive training is NOT passive or permissive.  It really takes some knowledge AND skill to balance rewarding desirable behaviors with creating boundaries so that undesirable behaviors aren't also rewarded.

A good positive trainer knows how to use food rewards effectively without creating a dog that only listens when he sees the treat.  A good positive trainer always looks for the least invasive solution to any problem.  Positive trainers do NOT use "correction style" collars like slip chains (choke collars), prong/pinch collars, or electronic collars (excpet for vibration only collars for deaf dogs).  They will not hit, grab, shock, pin down, cuff, collar jerk or yell at your dog.  True positive training is "force free" - it does not rely upon your ability to out muscle your dog.  You don't have to be bigger, better or faster.  However, it may rely upon your ability to out-think your dog :-)

I'm not perfect, yet <g>.  I get frustrated with my dog sometime.  I still lose my cool now and then and raise my voice.  I'm working on it.  But my goal is to communicate clearly with my dog in a way that leaves us both feeling good.  I gain respect by giving respect.  I don't expect him to be more perfect than I am, but I do expect cooperation if he is to have the things he wants in life.  My philosophy is pretty simple: Reward behaviors you like and ignore or prevent behaviors you don't.  That's because behavior that is rewarded tends to increase and behavior that isn't rewarded tends to disappear.  No punishment needed.  I quit calling myself a positive trainer.  I found it meaningless in todays world.  Instead I call myself a Canine-Human Relationship Consultant and describe my methods as "force-free".  Is that a perfect, consise description that will tell you if I'm a good match for you and your dog?  Hard to say.  But I'm always willing to explain why I do what I do and give clear details about it.  I have nothing to hide when it comes to my work with dogs.  I hope your trainer is the same.

Master leadership for dogs... but not Cesar Millan's way!

I confess, I'm not a Cesar Millan fan.  I get tired of explaining why I'm not a "dog whisperer" and generally prefer to avoid the topic.  But when I heard an ad for Cesar's new "Mastering Leadership" DVD on my favorite radio station I felt my blood pressure rise.  The thought that thousands of people will be using his methods on their dogs made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Does this mean I don't think "leadership" is important?  Absolutely not!  It's just how we get there that makes a big difference to me.Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the man personally.  In fact, I think he's witty, entertaining, and has done an excellent job of marketing himself and his program.  And, he actually has some pretty valid points about the failings of the average human when it comes to understanding and interacting with dogs.  Unfortunately, he also says some things that are completely false, or at best, inaccurate and many of his techniques are NOT dog-friendly.  The big problem is that the average pet owner can't tell the difference between the "good" and the "bad" in what he says and does.  They get swayed by his confidence and buy into the whole package, often to the detriment of themselves and their dogs. As appealing as a "quick and easy solution to all your dog problems" may be, I feel we owe it to our dogs to get to know them personally rather than imposing a "one size fits all" solution on them and hoping for the best.  We need to be able to observe and "listen" to the feedback our dogs give us.  That's really the only way we have of knowing we are on the right track.  There are many ways to suppress behavior ("make my dog stop barking") and most of them are not very kind to the dogs.  If we shift our focus away from stopping the bad behavior and instead focus on creating the behaviors we want, we will become better leaders and have happier dogs.  You see, leaders lead.  They don't follow behind and correct the mistakes we make or punish us for making mistakes.

If you're having trouble with your dog and think Cesar Millan may have the answer you've been looking for, I urge you to use the money you would have spent on his products to instead consult with a positive trainer in your area.  Get some one-on-one time with someone who can evaluate your dog and your situation and help you learn to lead in a positive way.  You and your dog will both be much happier in the long run.

It has been said that great leaders are not defined by their skills or their knowledge, but by their ability to promote feelings of confidence and security in others.

How to Give Your Dog Pills

We all want our dogs to be forever healthy.  But things happen and sometimes we need to give our dogs pills.  While many dogs will just eat them with their food or wrapped in a treat, that is not always and option, especially for dogs that are suspicious and find a way to spit out the pills.  Here are some tips on how to teach your dog to accept pills and reduce the stress for all concerned.Lesson 1: Teach your dog or pup to catch a tossed treat.In many cases, unless the pill tastes bad, a treat catching dog can be tossed a pill... treat, treat, pill, treat, treat... and they never know they had a pill. You can start with dropping piece of popcorn. It falls slow enough for them to focus and adjust to catch it. Toss it up in the air first to give the dog more time. Once they master the mouth-eye coordination for that, try some soft lobs. My dogs have always done better catching the "line drive" throw over the lob, so give that a try too. It's all about timing ;-)

Lesson 2: The "drop the pill down the throat" technique. This is the one that gives people trouble, but it doesn't have to. If you MUST get the pill in the dog, this is the way to do it. No chance of it getting caught in their jowls or being spit out.

Start with forming your hand into a "U" shape and placing it gently over your dog's muzzle for just a moment. Many dogs don't care for this at first, so don't worry if they shake your hand off or move away. It helps to tell them exactly what you want to do first and reward their cooperation well. This is one instance where I really like the Bridge & Target method because the bridging helps the dog stay calm and focused. If you are right handed, have your dog sit in front of you facing to the right and slide your left hand over the muzzle.

Great. When your dog can be calm and relaxed for the hand over muzzle for 5 seconds, proceed to use your left thumb and index or middle finger to gently lift the dog's lips. Your hand just slides the lips up to expose the gums. There is a space just behind the canine teeth (the "fangs") where your finger will rest. Practice this step several times until your dog is comfortable having you raise his lips.

With your left hand over the muzzle, lips lifted and finger and thumb in the space behind the canine teeth, use your right hand to gently open the lower jaw. This works best if their nose is lifted slightly (you'll want to be able to see down their throat). Place the thumb of your right hand on the little teeth in the front and apply just a little pressure. Your are asking your pup to open his mouth. Do just a little at a time and reward all cooperation. Work to be able to open the mouth and look in for 5 seconds while the pup remains sitting.

So far, so good. Now you have a dog that will willingly let you look in their mouth and you keep rewarding this cooperation with treats. Now comes the hard part for you! Place a small treat in your right hand before your attempt to open your pup's mouth. This treat is going to be the "pill" you give your pup. Now open his mouth and drop the treat as far back in his throat as you can. Then close the lower jaw and stroke the underside of his throat until he swallows. Yeah! Reward with a few more treats. Often, that's all you need to do... drop in the pill, swallow, treats.

Lesson 3: The  advanced "push the pill down the throat" technique. Practice this step too just in case.  Rather than dropping the treat in the back of the throat, move your whole hand into the mouth space and place the treat at the back of the throat. Press your finger gently on the tongue near the back to trigger the swallowing. This way you know for sure the pill has gone down and there's no chance of them chewing it or spitting it out. Reward with treats and play.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me, if your pup gets sick and need medicine, you will be glad your did this work. Solo took several supplements each day following his attack of pancreatitis. Most went in his food dish, where he gobbled them up. But some had to be given on an empty stomach. He knows the cue "get your pill" and will sit calmly on his own while I administer the pills. He doesn't fight it at all. Without having done this work it would take at least two people to force a pill down him and that would be incredibly stressful for us all. A little work as a puppy made this simple handling no big deal for him and he truly believes that everything I give him is a cookie.  :-)

Potty Pad Training for Puppies

Years ago we called it 'paper training'.  While some people still use paper, we now have a variety of absorbant pads with a moisture proof backing.  They go by a variety of names including 'potty pads' and 'wee wee pads'.  The purpose is the same, a designated toilet spot for your dog.  The potty pads are superior to paper (usually newspaper) for several reasons; they are more absorbent, won't get newsprint on your dog's feet, and you won't have your pup peeing on the Sunday edition you left on the floor by accident. There are situations where having your dog trained to use a potty pad can be a good thing:  You live in an urban area with regular inclement weather.  You have health or mobility issues that make regular trips outdoors difficult.  You live in a high rise apartment so a trip to the street takes several minutes.  You travel frequently with your dog.  You work odd hours and aren't always able to let your dog out at reasonable intervals.Unfortunately, potty pad training may cause you more problems than it solves.  For many puppies, being permitted (and expected) to use potty pads in the house tells them that it is okay to potty in the house.  This is very confusing to many dogs.  The pads are most often used for smaller breed dogs and many of these breeds have a reputation for being difficult to house train.  Perhaps the potty pads are part of the problem.  Even if the pup is regularly using the pads, if the location of the pad remains the same, the pup may associate 'toilet area' with the location and not just the pad.  So you move the pad and the pup keeps peeing the old spot.

Once the puppy is no longer tiny, or the weather outside has improved, or the owner is tired of picking up dirty pads, they decide they now want the pup to eliminate only outside.  This is where things can get ugly.  The person has changed the rules on the pup and the puppy gets very confused.  The pup won't potty outside, waits to come inside and pees on the floor, the owner gets more and more frustrated, and the pup runs the risk of being sent off to the shelter.  It's NOT the puppy's fault that her humans changed their mind.

If your long term plan is for the dog to only eliminate outside, then I suggest skipping the pads and going straight to work teaching the pup to potty outside... in all kinds of weather.  If your life is such that having the potty pad option available for the pup is a good idea, then your training will be a little more involved and require extra patience and persistence.  You CAN teach the pup to use the pads and to go outside, but you may need some help from a positive trainer.

If your pup already uses pads and you would like to eliminate them, you need a 4-6 week plan for gradually phasing out the pads and teaching the pup the new routine.  This starts by moving the pads a few inches toward the outside door each day.  When the pad is beside the door, you introduce the bell at the door so the pup can signal you that she needs to go out.  Then the pad gets moved to just outside the door and you make extra efforts to supervise and take her to the door on a  regular schedule.  Ask the pup to ring the bell to gain access to her pad.  Give lots of praise and encouragement at this stage because the pup is making a leap of faith.  When she starts ringing the bell on her own to ask you to open the door, you can move on to the next stage.  Start moving the pads farther from the door on the outside until they end up in the location you want your dog to potty.  Then slowly reduce the size of the pad until the pad 'disappears' and your pup is now going potty in the yard without any pads.

Congratulations!  Your puppy has now learned to ask to go outside and the pads are gone.  Since she originally learned to use the pads, you should still be able to use them in a pinch (illness, travel, weather), but your pup is now house trained :-)

Head Halters: Gentle Leader vs. Halti

Head halters are still a useful and humane tool for teaching loose leash walking.  As with any of the tools we use (including leash and collar), they are a means to an end and should not be considered as a replacement for proper training.  You still have to do the work!


There is no "magic" product out there to solve your problems.  They are most often considered for dogs who have developed a pulling or lunging problem that makes them difficult or unsafe to walk (as in the case of the 100# owner and the 80# dog).  They allow the owner to turn the head and redirect the dog's attention.  They are extremely useful in dealing with dogs with aggression issues.  They are not a muzzle, although many people will assume so if your dog is wearing one... consider it an opportunity to educate the public :-)

The two most commonly seen and available head halters in the USA are the "Gentle Leader" (GL) and the "Halti".  They each have their advantages and disadvantages.  The general premise is that they work like a horse's halter.  If you can control the head, you can control the body.  Some dogs are very resistant to them (often the ones that would benefit the most) and some accept them with little adjustment period.  You can increase your chances of success by introducing the halter in a slow and positive manner.

Gentle Leader: Manufactured by Premier Pet Products, they were formerly only available from trainers and vets, but are now available in many retail places.  They come in various sizes and colors, but I suggest choosing a color that closely matches your dog's face.

Description: Two "loops" that connect below the chin at the throat.  The "neck loop" fits like a collar high on the neck just behind the ears.  The fit is quite snug.  The "nose loop" goes over the dog's nose and rests just in front of the eyes. It is adjusted fairly snugly so that the loop won't slide off the end of the dog's nose.  There is a ring at the bottom where the two loops connect.  This is where the leash attaches.

Advantages: Well made.  Nice feeling fabric.  Choice of quick release or buckle.  A second ring on the neck loop allows you to use it as a collar (nose loop hangs loose at throat rather than over nose) in transitioning off of using the GL.  For dogs that accept it readily, the owner can be walking the dog in a matter of minutes.  It doesn't require much training for owners to get started.

Disadvantages: Snug fit is fairly restrictive.  Some dogs find this objectionable.  Generally costs more than the Halti.  The position of the leash attachment gives less control than that of the Halti.

Halti: Created by Dr. Roger Mugford and manufactured by Coastal.  They are available in many pet supply stores and catalogs.  They come in a variety of sizes, originally only in black, but some colors are now available.  If you choose a color, choose one that blends with your dog's face.

Description: One piece design has cheek straps that connect the nose loop and neck loop portions.  Newer models may have some adjustment options.  Leash connects to a ring that is located on the bottom under the dog's chin.  All have quick release connectors.  Fit should allow a finger to easily slide under both cheek straps.

Advantages: Looser fit and lighter weight fabric is less restrictive and better accepted by some dogs.  Location of the chin ring gives better leverage... easier to turn the dog's head without twisting the neck.  Less expensive and may be easier to find than the GL.

Disadvantages: Feels a bit flimsier to the touch.  Looser fit means that the dog can paw it off or back out of it easier.  It is recommended that a back-up leash or collar be used for safety and the Halti now comes with a short safety strap to attach it to the collar.   Lack of adjustment means it may not fit all head shapes.

My Opinion: In most cases, I prefer to use a Halti over a Gentle Leader.  I like the more relaxed fit as it is accepted by more dogs and the placement of the leash attachment gives me better control.  I always use a double-ended leash with head halters to prevent putting steady pressure on the dog's head, which is the main reason dog's object to head halters.  This double-ended leash system is also safer and gives me much better control with less effort.

SAFETY NOTE: A head halter should only be used with a short leash (6 ft. max). Use with a longer lead could allow the dog to run to the end and be jerked by the head. While rare, this could result in a neck injury. The head halter is a training tool and should be used properly at all times.

Bridge & Target Training Overview

Bridge & Target Training is a very simple and clear way of communicating with animals.  It's easy and fun for you and


your dog.  There are two "bridges" and three "targets" in the system.  Once mastered, the possibilities are endless. The completion signal, or "terminal bridge", tells your dog that he has just successfully completed the task you have assigned him. This is cause for some celebration as dogs enjoy being "right" as much as humans do.The progress signal, or "intermediate bridge", tells your dog he is on the right track toward completing the task you have given him. It's easy for dogs to get confused, be distracted, or lose confidence when learning new skills or performing complex tasks. This signal helps him stay focused and know that he IS doing a good job so far. It's a key piece to communicating clearly with them and being supportive of their learning process. It takes only minutes to teach you and your dog the "bridges" so you can get started communicating more clearly.

The three targets, your hand, a target "stick", and a place marker (like a Post-It) we call the "station" target, allow us to clearly explain to the dog exactly what we want him to do. We also teach the dog names for many of his body parts.

When you put all these pieces together, you can then explain to your dog that you would like him to stand with his hip against the wall touching his "station" target, or move his shoulder toward the target stick, or place his chin in your hand and then help him, with the bridges, to know he is on track and when he has succeeded.

This method gives dogs confidence in trying new things and reduces the learning stress and confusion that is common with many other methods.  The dog is always a willing participant in the process.