Good Boy, Gus

Gus is an inquisitive dog who likes to explore his environment and make games for himself when you’re not available to play with him. Sometimes Gus makes really good choices and other times . . . not so much. So as we’re training Gus, the question is: is it necessary to actively teach him what behaviors are wrong or can we simply focus on teaching him what behaviors we prefer him to do?

Let’s look a little closer at how we would go about teaching Gus which behaviors are wrong and compare that to how we teach Gus which behaviors are best. In order to teach Gus that a behavior is wrong or unacceptable, we first need him to *do* the bad behavior so that we can tell him ‘No. Don’t do that.’ In other words, we must set Gus up to fail so that we can punish him. On the flip side, teaching Gus what behaviors are best involves showing and/or luring him to do the desired behavior and then we reward him for doing the right behavior. In other words, we set Gus up for success and then tell him ‘Yes! Please do that some more!’ We can also capture Gus making the right choices on his own and acknowledging it with praise, affection, attention, play, food or any other interaction that Gus finds rewarding.

There’s another layer to this issue as well. In any given situation, there is usually only one (maybe two) behaviors that we humans will deem acceptable and appropriate, and there are potentially hundreds of behaviors that we would deem unacceptable or inappropriate. If we are attempting to teach Gus what behaviors are wrong, then we need to allow him to go through all of the behavior options available in each situation and punish each and every incorrect/ unacceptable behavior. This runs the risk of creating extreme frustration and even defensive aggression for Gus, or possibly causing Gus to simply stop offering behaviors altogether out of fear of being punished yet again. On the other hand, if we just teach Gus from the beginning what the right behavior is in each situation by showing/luring him to do the correct behavior and then rewarding him for doing it, we significantly increase the likelihood that he’ll do that behavior again the next time he’s in a similar situation.

In short, it’s far easier, faster and creates much more long lasting results to simply teach Gus from the get-go what behaviors we *want* him to do, rather than waiting for him to cycle through every possible wrong behavior and punish each, while we wait in the hopes that he stumbles onto the correct behavior. Whenever you’re deciding on a training plan for a dog, you must ask yourself what kind of relationship you’d like to have with that dog. Do you want a relationship built on trust, cooperation and joy of working together? Or would you prefer a relationship built on compliance out of fear of consequences? If you would prefer the former, then your best option is to show Gus from the beginning which behaviors you like best and reward him consistently for choosing those behaviors. And we can help Gus make the right choices by setting up his environment to make bad choices unavailable or difficult to do and good choices easy and readily available – for example if Gus is chewing on inappropriate things: prevent access to furniture and wires/cables that Gus might chew on while providing a variety of appropriate chew options such as Nylabones, antlers, Wubba toys and others with which your Gus enjoys engaging.  Now go enjoy telling your Gus “Yes! Please do that some more!!!”

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Dogs in Public… Which Service Dogs Are Allowed Where?

Guide dogs, Service dogs, Support dogs, Therapy dogs, Companion dogs. These are some of the different roles dogs play. Some of those roles allow dogs automatic and full access to public spaces while others don’t. Here is a guide to the differences between these roles and the types of access to public areas that those dogs are allowed.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines guide dogs and service dogs. Title III defines Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals.

GUIDE DOGS – A.K.A. “seeing eye” and “hearing ear” dogs. Guide dogs spend 14-18 months living with volunteer puppy raisers who teach the dogs good house manners and social skills for public. Guide dogs are allowed access to every public space without question. Therefore, as puppies they go everywhere with their raiser family so that they are exposed to (and can become comfortable with) everything they may come across during their working career from cars to grocery carts, cats to squirrels, restaurants to shopping malls. Then they return to the training facility for several months of intensive training where they learn to obey commands given by their handler and to IGNORE commands that would lead the pair into danger. They learn to stop at elevation changes such as curbs and stairs, avoid obstacles such as low-hanging branches or objects in the path. They learn to lead their handler in a straight line and keep them out of danger. “Hearing Ear” dogs learn to respond to traffic noises and prevent handlers from stepping off curbs if cars are coming from out of sight, and alert to alarms and other such noises. Once training is complete, they’re paired with an appropriate human (matched by personality and communication styles) and go through a 2-4 week class with their new human partner. When their harness is on, they are working: focused, ignoring even the heaviest of distractions, polite and respectful of their surroundings. When the harness is off, they are free to play and romp and be “dogs.” The working life of a guide dog is usually 8-10 years, and often the dog will remain with their human partner through their retirement, though sometimes they’re adopted out to a loving home where they can enjoy their golden years in peace and comfort.

SERVICE DOGS – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “service dog” as ‘any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.’ This may include skills such as pushing a wheelchair, retrieving dropped objects, opening doors, alerting to the sound of a telephone or other noises, alerting to an imminent seizure and many other such skills. Like Guide dogs, Service dogs are NOT considered pet dogs and are allowed free access to all public spaces without question. Service dogs are well socialized and obedience trained as puppies, with tailored training for the specific service they’ll be providing. It’s not mandatory to have a special service dog training organization train your service dog. You‘re allowed to train your own service dog or enlist the help of any professional trainer you wish. But, in order to qualify as a service dog, the dog must be able to perform specific tasks on cue that are directly associated to the disability of the handler.

There are several types of working dog that fall under the category of Service Dog. Below are three of the more common types:

PSYCHIATRIC SERVICE DOGS – The ADA definition of a Psychiatric service dog is, “a dog that has been trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches, or turning on lights for persons with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, interrupting self-mutilation by persons with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.” This category would also include dogs who perform specifically trained tasks for those suffering debilitating social anxiety or agoraphobia, where the dog allows the individual to live and interact with the world in an independent manner.

SENSORY SIGNAL OR SOCIAL SIGNAL DOGS  are trained to assist persons on the autism spectrum. These dogs are trained to alert handlers to distracting repetitive movements common among those with autism, allowing the individual to stop the movements.

SEIZURE RESPONSE DOGS  assist people with seizure disorders. The training for this service is individual to the person’s needs. The dog may stand guard over a person during a seizure or they may be trained to seek out help for the person. A small number of dogs have learned to predict a coming seizure and alert the handler before the seizure begins, allowing the person to sit down or otherwise get somewhere safe.

The dogs that fall under the categories described above are allowed full access to all public places. These dogs allow people with disabilities to live independently. The dogs in the below categories have more limited access to public spaces.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DOGS – The ADA definition of an emotional support animal is an “animal [which] provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with depression, anxiety and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.” Although Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are often used in medical or mental health treatment, they are NOT considered service dogs under the ADA and they are not allowed to go in any public place where pet dogs would not be allowed. In order for your dog to be registered as an ESA, you must get a prescription from a medical professional. The written prescription from a medical professional for the need of an ESA will pave the way to allow your dog to live in housing that is otherwise pet-free. These dogs are also allowed to travel in the cabin of the plane with their handler (the airline is allowed to ask for documentation proving the ESA status of the dog).

THERAPY DOGS – A Therapy Dog generally has basic obedience and public manners. They provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools and even airports. They work in a variety of settings and with a variety of people from those with learning disabilities to those in highly stressful environments such as after disasters. These are typically companion dogs who have solid obedience training and an even temperament and the owner decides to participate in such activities. The dog and owner are referred to as a Therapy Dog Team.

Therapeutic visitation dogs are pet (companion) dogs whose owner takes the time to visit hospitals, retirement facilities and other places where people need cheering up and/or distraction; where people may be away from home and missing their own pet.

Animal Assisted Therapy dogs often work in rehabilitation facilities, helping people regain limb motion, fine motor skills and even pet care skills for when they return home. Therapeutic visitation dogs often do this job as well.

Facility Therapy Dogs primarily work and live in nursing homes. They are trained and handled by a professional member of the staff and help keep Alzheimer’s patients and others with mental illness from leaving the premises or going into areas that are unsafe.

All of these therapy dogs must be well tempered, well socialized, love to be in the company of humans – focused on making the humans happy – and not shed excessively. Therapy dogs must be certified – usually by the facility where they will be volunteering or working. Therapy dogs are NOT allowed in public places where pet dogs would not be allowed. They are only certified to be in the public place where they’re actually working.

COMPANION DOGS – Companion dogs are any dogs who live with us because we wish to share our lives with them. They’re not working dogs, though they may be therapy dogs. Companion dogs are only allowed in certain public areas such as parks and public walkways. Some restaurants allow companion dogs to join you on their outdoor patios, though they’re not allowed within 15 feet of any food preparation areas. These dogs provide love, companionship, joy and comfort. In order to have the best, most harmonious life with our companion dogs as possible, it’s necessary to train them. Ideally using positive reinforcement (AKA force free methods) rather than coercive methods, we work with our companions to teach good house manners as well as public manners. We teach them how to ask for things they want, when they’re allowed to snuggle and when we’d prefer they enjoy a chew toy on their own bed, we teach them tricks which are fun and life-saving skills, which should also be fun!

In sum, the ADA requires that guide/service dogs have access to all public places allowing their handlers to live independently. ESAs are allowed to live in pet-free housing and travel in the cabin of airplanes with their handler (after providing proper documentation of ESA status), but they are not allowed in any other public space that pet dogs would not be allowed. The ADA doesn’t have specific training requirements nor certification regulations as far as who trains your service animal. You’re allowed to train your own service skills, or enlist the aid of any professional trainer to help you train specific skills. You’re not required to register your service dog, though doing so and having visible service dog ID on your dog may help ease the process of gaining access. Although there is no formal regulations in place, Guide dogs and all Service Dogs dogs must be trained for at least one specific skill that they can reliably do ON CUE that directly assists the handler with their disability.

Businesses are allowed to ask what service a dog performs. They’re NOT allowed to ask what is wrong with the person needing the service. Though asking what service the dog performs is something of a loophole in that telling what the provided service is may directly or indirectly tell what the disability is.

While there is no required registration and anyone can purchase the service dog IDs on line, it’s important that we do NOT take advantage of this easy access. For every pet owner fraudulently claiming their pet is a service dog, a person with a true need and a true service animal is being hassled about gaining access to a public space. Taking advantage, committing fraud, may seem like a victimless crime, but in reality it puts a greater burden on service dogs and those needing them to prove they’re legitimate. In our litigious nation, if a fraudulent service animal causes damage or harm, it could lead to legislation changes that limit access for legitimate service animals and their people, thus limiting the ability of those with disabilities to live independently.

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In Memorium: Sophia Yin, DVM, MS (1966 – 2014)

Sophia & Jonesy Jumping                                                    Dr. Sophia Yin and her dog, Jonesy

“I got into behavior because I wanted people to know they don’t have to use force to get their dog to do what they want. If people can understand why their dogs are really misbehaving . . . they can have a much better, more fulfilling relationship that’s actually fun. Your relationship with your dog should be fun. It should not be like you at work having to boss a bunch of people around because they’re not doing what you want. So I want everyone to experience the joy, the actual joy of having a dog.” – Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

You may not have known her name or been directly familiar with her work. But if anyone has ever guided you toward positive reinforcement, stress free and pain free training for your dog or cat’s obedience training or behavior issues, then Dr. Sophia Yin has touched your life.

After a lifetime desire of becoming a veterinarian, Dr. Yin earned her veterinary degree from UC Davis in 1993. After several years in practice, she saw that many more dogs were euthanized due to behavior issues than medical illness. This spurred her to return to UC Davis where she earned an MS degree in animal behavior in 2001. She then spent the next 13 years helping dogs, cats and their people. Her aim was to improve the lives and bonds between pets and the people who love them. She had a successful behavior consultation and obedience training business. She published several books including How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves and Perfect Puppy in 7 Days. She wrote a text book and a highly successful veterinary handbook called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients who Love their Visits. This last book has become something of a bible in the veterinary community. Dr. Yin also enjoyed worldwide recognition as a sought after speaker and lecturer and did several guest appearances on Animal Planet shows focusing on dogs and cats.

Dr. Sophia Yin was a giant of the animal behavior field advocating force free, stress free training and handling. She helped thousands of dogs and cats in her personal career and millions more worldwide through her education directly to pet parents and to trainers like me who use her methods with our own clients. Her premature departure from this world leaves a gaping hole in the world of Animal Behavior and our entire community is mourning her untimely death. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy of highly effective, gentle training techniques that are used the world over. She has many wonderful educational video clips available for viewing free on her website: Dr. Yin also offers a series of excellent educational posters available for download free of charge. These posters are designed for both children and adults to understand and teach about the canine body language of fear and how children should and should NOT interact with dogs.

She was featured in a wonderful short film called Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs, available for viewing on YouTube.

The description for this video says, “This 2012 documentary feature (produced by Anchorhold Films & Tower Hill Films) traces the history of the “alpha dog” concept from its origins in 1940’s wolf studies to its current popularity among ordinary dog owners and professional trainers.” It leads us through the early misconceptions on dominance in wolf packs and shares the journey through our current understanding and why using such outdated misconceptions are a tremendous disservice to our dogs and our relationship with them. While it was originally published in 2012, the makers have now dedicated this short film to Dr. Sophia Yin’s memory and legacy.

May these beautiful gifts be what we hold onto going forward.

Dr. Yin was also apparently struggling with some very difficult personal demons. On Monday, 9/29/2014, she took her own life. It appears that this was a complete shock to everyone around her. She was a wonderfully kind and generous woman who was quiet and a bit shy when speaking to you one-on-one, but vibrant with an infectious enthusiasm when in front of a group. I had the pleasure of meeting her and attending 3 of her seminars in the last few years. Nobody would have guessed that she was facing such a deep personal battle. Our entire community is in shock over the suddenness of her death. We are struggling to understand what could have been so devastating in her personal life that she felt suicide was her only option. She reached out to no one. She faced this battle entirely on her own and unfortunately she lost her battle with depression.

There are two ways that we can honor Dr. Sophia Yin and all that she gave to the world. The first is to treat all of our critters with kindness and gentleness. Respect them as individuals and set them up for success and fear-free experiences.

The second is to reach out to your loved ones. If you think someone you know is depressed or suicidal, be there for them. Do not tell them to “get over it” or “snap out of it.” Depression is an illness just like high cholesterol. Help them. Support them. Get them connected with professionals who can help them. If you personally are feeling lost and alone and are considering suicide as your only option, please wait one day before making any decisions. Don’t do it today. Instead, today, reach out to someone – a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, doctor . . . even an acquaintance. Tell someone you are hurting and see no way out. Give them a chance to help you. Suicide is not your only option and there are people who can help you through this if you only give them a chance.

If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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Vinnie Hates the Vet’s Office – How to Turn that House of Horrors into Disneyland for your Dog

You got the postcard reminding you that Vinnie is due for his annual check-up. Your heart sinks. You hate taking Vinnie to the vet because Vinnie really hates going. He may tell you this by shaking uncontrollably, panting excessively, shedding, drooling, crying, refusing to go into the office, or pacing in the waiting room. My dog was so scared that he barked continuously upon arrival, was hyper-vigilant (looking everywhere for a potential threat) and shaking. Even worse, my normally sweet, friendly terrier bared his teeth and tried to bite two techs and his vet! We had to muzzle him – it broke my heart to see him so upset.

With a bit of patience and practice, we can turn the scary vet’s office into a Disneyland-like outing for Vinnie. And all the vets I’ve discussed this with said they would LOVE to see more of their clients doing this simple exercise.

1. Drive Vinnie to the vet’s office and park, but don’t get out of the car. Sit there for 2-5 minutes while giving Vinnie small bites of his favorite treat every 2-5 seconds. For my terrier, it’s string cheese. After 2-5 minutes, start the car and leave. You can go home or you can take Vinnie for a pleasant outing. Repeat this as many times as necessary until Vinnie is clearly excited to park outside the vet’s office.

2. Now that Vinnie is excited to arrive, you’ll get out of the car. Start as far away from the office as needed to keep Vinnie calm – this may be right outside the door or across the parking lot. Whatever distance Vinnie is comfortable with, start there and work toward the office door while providing small bites of that favorite treat every 2-5 seconds. After 2-5 minutes, get back in the car and leave. Build on this exercise until you can walk past the office door without Vinnie getting upset. Practice stopping right outside the door, give treats and leave – don’t even touch the office door!

3. Once Vinnie is comfortable outside the office, you’ll open the door. But JUST open the door, give him several bites of treat and walk away (not inside). Do this several times until he is comfortable with the door opening. This may take multiple training sessions, or you may be able to move on in the same session.

4. Check in the lobby before you begin this exercise. Know where other animals are relative to the door. Ask people to relocate further from the door if your dog becomes snarky with sudden encounters with other animals. When Vinnie is comfortable in the open door, go in and directly to the scale. Weigh him, praise him and give him treats while he’s on the scale, then leave the office. Walk around for a couple minutes, then repeat the exercise. Three to five repetitions per training session.

5. Enter the lobby, weigh Vinnie (treat and praise) and sit in the lobby, treating and praising for 5-10 minutes and then leave. If the lobby is empty, while keeping Vinnie on his leash you can move with him, allowing Vinnie permission to wander around and investigate the smells in the space. Invite any available staff to greet Vinnie. They can say ‘hi’ without reaching out to pet him, and allow Vinnie to decide if he wishes to approach to sniff in greeting. The staff can offer him a treat or two.

6. If an exam room is available, and the staff agrees, allow Vinnie to go into the exam room and sniff around. Give him some treats in that space. If he’s relaxed, ask him for a couple of simple, known skills such as Sit or Paw. Hang out in the lobby for 5-30 minutes. If he’s relaxed enough, ask for skills in the lobby. Tricks are especially fun, so if he knows tricks, practice those. If he’s able to do them, be sure to give high praise and several treats. At this stage, space out those treats from 2-3 seconds to 30-60 seconds to every few minutes.

Our goal is to make the office a stress-free and fun place where Vinnie consistently gets treats and greetings. This is how we turn the vet’s office from a House of Horrors into Disneyland.

Finally – schedule Vinnie’s appointment at least 7-10 days out. Be sure to have at least 3 practice visits before the appointment and 2 more within a week after the appointment. This way, the actual exam is just a blip in the middle of lots of fun experiences.

At the actual appointment, have plenty of treats. Ask the vet and techs to take time to greet Vinnie before they try to examine him. Have them give him treats and allow him to get comfortable with them. For things that aren’t too scary, give him a treat as soon as that part of the exam is done (e.g. give him a treat after each ear is checked). For the scarier stuff, treat throughout the experience (if Vinnie will eat). For example, while the thermometer is in his rectum, feed the entire time. He’ll tell you which bits he finds scariest. If you’re a nervous pet parent, you may choose to step out of the exam room – or the vet may take Vinnie to another room. This is often the best way to calm Vinnie because he feels your anxiety and it ramps up his anxiety.

These training sessions don’t need to last long. You can do them on your way to or from other activities with your dog. Ideal training times are first thing in the morning, lunch time or the end of the day – when there are the fewest patients. Practicing during quiet times will help Vinnie feel safest. If you can only do one session per month, that’s OK; more frequent sessions will see faster results. Ideally, aim for a minimum of 3 times per week, but daily for a while is even better.

Finally, if Vinnie is still likely to react in fear (snap or bite) during an exam, the best thing to do is acclimate him to a basket muzzle at home and practice with the basket muzzle on during the above exercises. Helping Vinnie feel comfortable with the muzzle on avoids adding extra stress during the exam. And having the muzzle on will relax the staff so they can do their job more easily. A great video demonstration of how to acclimate a dog to a basket muzzle (by Domesticated Manners) can be found on You Tube at:

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When we load a Kong, we hope that it will take Otis at least 30 or 45 minutes to empty it, and ideally, we want him to keep coming back to see if there’s more to be found. There is an art to loading a Kong so that it takes a while…

There are many different ways to do this, but here is my basic recipe.

The first thing to do is take a large bit of food – a chunk of meat, a chunk of cheese, a hard dog cookie or something similar and lodge that sucker down at the very bottom of the Kong. This should be lodged in there well enough that it will require you to use a knife or spoon handle to dislodge it. This way, Otis has something smelly in there until you get home.

Now that we’ve got a tasty prize lodged into the bottom of the Kong, we need to fill it. I like a formula that breaks down like this: 85% is Otis’ regular kibble, 5% is tasty tidbits (either dog treats or dog-safe people food) and 10% is a dog-safe soft binder to hold it all together.

MULTIPLE DOG HOUSEHOLDS – Loaded Kongs are a very HIGH VALUE item. If any of the dogs in your house tend to resource guard, be sure to give these in separate locations
– either the dogs are in separate rooms with at least 2 closed doors
between them, or in separate crates. Be sure to pick up and put away all
Kongs before the dogs are allowed to be in the same space again.


Binders can be ANY dog-safe soft, spreadable food. The ones I use most often include: low fat cream cheese, low fat cottage cheese, low fat sour cream, nonfat plain yogurt, apple sauce, Beech Nut baby food (not Gerber as it has onion powder which is toxic to dogs), liverwurst, peanut butter, mashed potatoes (no garlic), mashed sweet potato, and pumpkin puree. You can also soak about half the kibbles in water or low sodium soup stock until it’s mush – chicken, beef or vegetable are all fine. Or you can use a high quality canned dog food (cut back on the total amount of kibble if you choose this option).

I like to use at least 2 different binding ingredients mixed together and I like to vary what I’m using. This keeps it interesting for Otis if he’s getting Kongs on a daily basis. Specifically, I’ll use something sticky (e.g. peanut butter) with something thinner (e.g. yogurt) so that when mixed together, they create a medium viscosity binder that has some sticky parts and some thinner parts. Once you’ve got all the ingredients together in a bowl, combine it thoroughly and then stuff that mixture into the Kong. It should fill every crevice and curve.

OTHER INGREDIENTS (note: all meats are cooked)

You can add other ingredients to make it interesting. Drizzle a bit of honey (a natural antimicrobial), throw in some slivered almonds or blue berries, melon chunks, bits of cheese, hot dog, chicken breast, ground beef, lamb, pork, bacon as a treat, dog treats, etc. As a special treat, you can put in ‘guilty pleasure stuff’ such as a crumbled tortilla chip or a broken up French fry – these are special treats and should not be regular parts of your dog’s meal.

NOTE: You will need to reduce the ration of Otis’ regular kibble to account for the calories of the binding ingredients so we don’t over feed.

NOTE: If you’re using a high-fat ingredient like liverwurst or peanut butter, be sure to cut it with something lighter such as apple sauce, pumpkin or nonfat yogurt so we avoid giving Otis a too-high fat diet as too much fat in his diet can cause pancreatitis which is excruciatingly painful and can be fatal if left untreated.

NOTE: When freezing, I make sure to fill the Kong to over flowing so there’s a nice blob on top for easy access to get the dog started.


If Otis seems to be having trouble with a super full Kong, you can start out making it easier for him. You can put just dry kibble in it so that it will just fall out as Otis moves it around. You can just put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese on the walls of the Kong and let Otis work at that for a while. You can fill the Kong with just a binding ingredient such as apple sauce, pumpkin or sweet potato and freeze that for an hour just to firm it up a bit and let Otis work that out. Then, you can fill the Kong perhaps only half full, or all the way to the top – but very loosely so that it’s easy for him to get the food out. As Otis builds his persistence with the Kong, you can stuff it more and more densely.

Many dogs will figure out that if they pick it up and drop the Kong, they can dislodge stuck bits. If there are stairs, some dogs will figure out that they can knock the Kong down the stairs or off a piece of furniture such as the couch or an ottoman to dislodge the goodies inside. If your dog is having a great deal of trouble, you can squeeze the Kong to change the shape of the stuck together food inside. Or you can pick up and drop the Kong or you can bang the Kong on the floor (or your hand) with the open end down to dislodge and move the food closer to the opening.


If you’ve left Otis with the Kong while you were out, then when you you come home, ask Otis to “get it” and when he brings you his Kong, you will pull out a spoon or a pen and dislodge that prize at the bottom. Ask for a nice Sit and reward his calm behavior with that prize he was unable to get on his own. This creates a nice greeting ritual that’s calm and polite, and helps Otis learn that you are the giver of awesome things, which avoids his becoming resource guard-y over his Kong toy.


If you feed a home-cooked meal, you can still do this with the Kong. Simply dice the various ingredients (meat, veg, etc) into kibble-sized bits and then bind them together with a combination of the above ingredients and continue as described. The idea is that we want bits and bites to get stuck along the walls of the Kong so that it’s difficult to empty.


Depending on the size of your dog and his meal portion, it can take anywhere from 2 – 4 Kongs to provide an entire meal’s ration. My boys (10 lbs and 35 lbs) get 2 Kongs per meal (10-lb dog gets Small Kongs and 35-lb dog gets Medium Kongs). You can provide one Kong at a time every couple hours to give your dog something to do over the course of the whole day. My boys get Kongs for dinner only, and so I give them one and when they empty it, I retrieve the second one of that meal. You can also provide 2 or 3 of 4 Kongs (the total needed for that meal) at once, so that if Otis does get stuck with one, he can turn his attention to another one, and then rotate as he gets frustrated.


MARROW BONES – you can do this same thing with marrow bones, the only difference is that you’ll lodge that prize treat at the narrowest part of the bone, which may not be right at one end. Then, you can load both sides of the bone.

I encourage having multiple Kongs in the house. You can prepare them ahead of time (fridge or freeze) and then just grab one (or more) as needed.

For in between meals, you can just smear a little peanut butter or cream cheese or even a bit of honey (something sticky this time) and stick just a few tid-bits along the inner wall, making sure some are quite deep. This can keep him busy for a time without over feeding him between meals.

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Healthy Dog Play

Many dog parents like to take their pups to the local dog park as a place
where Rufus can run around off leash and socialize with others. But it’s
important that we remember that the dog park is not a place for anti-social dogs to learn how to be
social. The dog park is a place for Social Dogs to Socialize.

Unpleasant experiences at the dog park can turn social
dogs into fearful and defensive dogs who no longer like meeting new dogs. The
best way to help Rufus get the most out of his dog park experience is for his
Person to be ‘fully present’ while visiting the park. This means that Rufus’
person pays attention to Rufus and the dogs with which he interacts. She’s
prepared to intervene if necessary to protect Rufus (or the other dogs). If we
know what we’re watching for, we can tell pretty quickly if what we’re seeing
is HEALTHY PLAY or an UNHEALTHY interaction that may flip to a fight in the
blink of an eye.

When dogs are playing, and enjoying themselves, they continuously
tell us and each other through their body language. Favorite doggie games
include Chase and Wrestle. Some dogs prefer to be the “chasee” while others
prefer to do the chasing, and still others prefer to take turns. This is true
also of wrestling, some prefer to take the bottom (on the ground), others
prefer to take the top position and many like to take turns. The key to knowing
if we’re watching HEALTHY or UNHEALTHY play is all in the body language…

In all play, we’re looking for a soft, wiggly body. Eyes
should be open and bright. Ears may be neutral or a bit forward or backward.
Mouth will be open, with soft lips covering the top teeth. The tongue is often
lolling out, covering the lower canines – though not always. Tail may be
slightly above Rufus’ back, parallel or slightly below his back, but it’s
neither straight up in the air nor pointed at the ground. That tail is usually
moving. If Rufus is extremely happy, that tail wag will begin at his rib cage
and his whole back end will be wagging.

HEALTHY CHASE: Rufus loves to chase Sophie. Sophie loves
being chased. When we watch this game, Sophie’s eyes are open and bright. Her
ears may be back as she runs at high speed, but her mouth is open, her lips are
soft and her tongue is probably hanging out of her mouth. Her tail is in line
with her back and acting like a rudder. Sophie
glances over her shoulder periodically to ensure that Rufus is still following
Her body is soft and her stride is long. Rufus looks very similar to
Sophie. His body is soft, his mouth is open, but his teeth are not visible.

UNHEALTHY CHASE: Sophie is chasing Rufus, but his ears
are pinned to his head, his mouth is closed and he may even have a grimace on
his face. His muscles, from face to rump, are rigid. He looks worried. His tail
is pointed at the ground or between his legs and his back is rounded, resulting
in a shortened gait. He NEVER looks
back to see if Sophie is behind him. Rufus is scared. He’s not having fun.
Sophie may be having fun and have ‘healthy play’ body language. Or, she may be
in full ‘hunting’ mode: Her ears may be pricked far forward or pinned back. Her
tail is straight behind her or sticking straight up and it’s still. Her mouth
is closed and she’s got a hard, slightly squinted stare as she chases Rufus.
Her intentions are not playful. INTERVENE if either the “chaser”
or the “chasee” is not playing.

HEALTHY WRESTLE: Milo is a 60-lb dog and Bailey is 30 lbs.
Milo handicaps himself by laying down to make himself less threatening to Bailey.
They wrestle by gently biting/chewing on each other’s neck, shoulders,
sometimes even ears. The bites are soft enough that nobody is feeling pain and
they’re not lingering. If you look closely, you’ll likely see that both dogs
are biting only with the front half of their teeth, no full mouth biting here.
They roll around together, but all body parts are soft and relaxed.

UNHEALTHY WRESTLE: Milo grabs hold of Bailey’s neck and
begins shaking it violently and/or doesn’t let go. This may be with his whole
mouth or just the front teeth. Either way, this is not playful. Bailey squeals
or screams. Either, or both, dogs have stiff/rigid muscles in their back and
legs. Ears may be pinned to the head; the dog on bottom may be averting his
gaze and trying to escape while the dog on top is ignoring these cries of
“uncle.” INTERVENE.

TIME-OUTS: These are crucial. In healthy play dogs take
frequent time-outs, sometimes lasting a fraction of a second, sometimes up to a
minute. Time-outs are any interruption to the play, and usually include a
reminder that all behaviors are “just in fun”. Time outs may include looking
away from each other, full body shakes (as if wet), yawning, sitting or lying
down, turning away from and then back to the other dog, sniffing some unseen
thing on the ground and, of course, play bows. You may see Rufus do one or more
of these behaviors while Sophie politely waits for him to resume the game, or
you may see Sophie mirror some of the behaviors. Time-outs tell us the dogs are
keeping themselves from becoming overly aroused. If Rufus is trying to time-out
and Sophie doesn’t respect that, INTERVENE. Help the dogs
maintain healthy play so that all park visits end just as happily as they started.

Whether your dog is enjoying an afternoon at the local dog park, or having a more private play date with known friends, these rules still apply. Even with new housemates, until you’ve seen clear evidence over the course of a few months, that both dogs respect each others’ communication and play by the rules, all interactions should be well supervised to avoid conflict and to help the dogs learn how to play nicely together.


Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, canine interactions, Socialization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Puppies Bite – What Can We Do About That?

Puppies bite. It’s a fact. It’s a normal and natural behavior. In fact, it’s a necessary part of puppy development. But is it something that we have to just accept? Do we just put up with it – taking all the nips, scrapes, actual blood – and just hope that Sadie grows out of it? Absolutely NOT.  Some dogs are more exuberant than others when playing and so may bite more and/or harder than other puppies. But all puppies bite both during play as well as at other times. It’s part of what puppies do. They are exploring the world around them with the only tool they have – their mouth. They do not yet have a clear understanding of their own strength and do not have an innate understanding of how to be gentle. It is up to those around Puppy to teach her how to be gentle.

Further, Sadie’s teeth are like little needles. Those teeth are razor sharp (Patricia McConnell declares that puppies have carpet knives in their mouths!) and it does not take much pressure for her to break the skin. This is nature’s way for Sadie to learn some self control and what we call “bite inhibition” – controlling, or inhibiting, the force of their bite.

Look closely at Sadie’s teeth compared to that of an adult and you’ll see that the adult’s teeth are larger and more rounded than Sadie’s. This means that the same bite force from an adult will be less painful and cause less physical damage than Sadie’s current set. Surprising, I know… but true.

Puppies lose their teeth usually between 4 and 6 months of age. During, and for a while after that time, you are likely to see an increase in biting/chewing behavior as Sadie loses her teeth and teethes while her adult teeth are coming in. Though she may have all her adult teeth by 7 months, it takes another 10-12 months for adult teeth to firmly set in the dog’s jaw. This means there’s a physiological need for heavy chewing/biting behavior which is likely to continue for the first 2 years of Sadie’s life. Some dogs will need to chew for a lifetime as it’s fun and comforting; others completely grow out of it. If you understand why Sadie is chewing/biting it can help you emotionally and make it easier to retain your patience as you guide her to the appropriate alternatives and help her learn what she can, and what she  cannot, bite. Keep in mind that Sadie is not trying to hurt you or irritate you. She’s only a puppy and doing what puppies do!

As I mentioned above, during the puppy stage Sadie learns what is called ‘bite inhibition.’ This is the process of learning how to control the force of her bite (inhibit the desire to bite down fully) so that it becomes ‘acceptable play’ and not aggressive or actually damaging to the recipient.  The very best way for Sadie to learn this is from other dogs. Dogs are significantly better at teaching what I call ‘Doggie Etiquette’ than humans. Those little needle teeth play a big role in learning bite inhibition because such little force is needed to cause pain. If Sadie bites a little too hard while wrestling with a litter mate, that puppy will yelp and cry and avoid interacting with Sadie for a while. While playing with older dogs, a too-hard bite from Sadie will result in the older dog correcting Sadie. Adults dogs are very aware of Sadie’s age. While she’s under 16 weeks, the adult is likely to tolerate A LOT from Sadie – biting and holding, bite/shake behavior, rude and pushy play behavior… Once Sadie is beyond 16 weeks, the patience of adult playmates will wane and they’ll start to give more corrections and teach her about polite dog behavior. These corrections may be a snarl, growl and (if necessary) a corrective nip (likely not even making physical contact, or if contact is made, it will be a very well inhibited bite meaning contact but no pressure) to teach Sadie to ease off. The more quality socialization Sadie can get the better. Play dates with similarly sized puppies and well socialized, fully vaccinated adult dogs are great! You must avoid dog parks (and really all strange grass) until Sadie is fully vaccinated to protect her health. There are also many Puppy Head Start group classes or Puppy Socialization classes you can join. Make sure that the class is held in an indoor space that can be properly cleaned and that they have rules in place that refuse entry of puppies who are showing any signs of not feeling well. Further, all puppies in these classes should be at least 10 days past their first set of vaccines.

Now, it is necessary to supervise play time and make sure things don’t get out of hand because if Sadie doesn’t heed the lesson, she may end up in a scrap that she didn’t want to be in. Scraps like that can be excellent lessons, but can also cause physical damage or emotional trauma to one or both dogs, so we have to find a balance of letting the dogs teach and learn with each other, but also ultimately supervising and intervening when necessary. If Sadie is being overzealous in her biting play with another dog then we may need to intervene. If Sadie is respecting the other dog’s request for space, but the other dog isn’t letting up on the correction, then we may need to intervene. (see my Healthy Play blog). My simple rules for healthy play are this: If Sadie is being too intense for Zoe’s liking, and Zoe says “Back off” Sadie must respect that. If Sadie doesn’t back off when Zoe tells her too, then we help Sadie heed Zoe’s request and redirect Sadie to another activity. On the other hand, if Zoe tells Sadie to “back off” and Sadie does heed the warning, but Zoe now won’t let it go and is chasing Sadie down and being ‘ugly’, then we must intervene. In this case, we redirect Zoe to another activity. It’s important that the respect goes both ways between the dogs. Zoe is entitled to tell Sadie she needs space (and vice versa). But once the point is made and the message received, it’s time for everyone to move on.

Dr. Ian Dunbar recommends “time outs” during play. This is exceedingly useful not only to help the dogs regain some self control and catch their breath when they’re overly excited, but also helps them learn how to actively control that over excitement. When I first teach a pair of dogs “time out”, I pick up one puppy (or gently move by harness or drag line leash) as I say “Time Out!” I move that dog just a couple feet or so away from the game and tell both dogs to Sit. After they’re Sitting with calm bodies (not vibrating),  I will say “GO PLAY!” and let go of the dog/leash. In the beginning this may require two people so each person can gently restrain one dog to avoid the ambush of the dog trying to cooperate with me. If either dog is immediately over excited again, I will immediately do another Time Out. If the play is not overly aroused and both dogs are taking time-outs on their own, then I allow the game to continue without my active help.

Time-outs between dogs usually involves one or both dogs stopping their physical movement, averting their gaze (looking away or turning head away), turning their body away from the other dog, doing a full body shake as if wet, lying down or sniffing the ground. They may walk away and then return, stretch or do a play-bow (elbows to the ground with bum in the air). They can do any of these or a combination of several. It may be Sadie will begin the time out and Zoe will mirror the behavior or do another of these behaviors. The time out may last only 1 second, or it may be a real break in the game lasting 30 seconds or longer. If the dogs are doing this on their own, then I just praise them for a “good time out”. If not, and the game is very high energy, Dr. Dunbar recommends time outs as frequently as every 10-15 seconds to help keep the dogs from becoming overly aroused. When dogs are that excited, it’s easy for the bite force to get just a little too hard and a game sudd
enly turns into a fight.

CAVEAT: If you interrupt an encounter or split up a scuffle out in public, it is hugely important that you DO NOT LEAVE the area immediately. If you leave on that sour note Sadie will end up associating the park (or wherever you are) with sour encounters and it will either make her hesitant to go again or she’ll be on guard from the moment of arrival and more likely to “get into it” with another dog at future visits. If there is a need to break up a fight, put her on her leash and walk around for a bit. Give her time to sniff things and enjoy being there again. Give yourself time to catch your breath and calm down. It’s important that the last moments of this visit are positive. If possible, try to encourage her to have a positive encounter with another dog before leaving – a polite greeting** – so that the parting moment for both Sadie and you is a positive one. That will help make everyone feel better about returning. Be honest with other owners and tell them you’re trying to socialize Sadie with POSITIVE EXPERIENCES while she’s still young so she can learn to be a polite dog and you’re doing your best to let the other dogs teach her – with your ultimate supervision – so that she learns the lessons well.

**Polite GreetingPolite greetings should be brief. Make sure that you and the other human are standing on opposite sides of the dogs in such a way that your leash is in a straight line between you and Sadie, and the other person’s leash is in a straight line between them and Zoe. NOTE – THE LEASH SHOULD BE LOOSE AND SLACK, NOT PULLED TIGHT. The dogs shouldn’t even notice they’ve got leashes attached to them. But you want to be sure that you and the other human do the same dance as the dogs so that the leashes don’t get tangled and so if you do need to separate the dogs quickly, an easy 2-step reverse on your part will move Sadie away from the greeting (the other owner doing the same thing).

Sadie and Zoe are likely to first go nose-to-nose for a moment and then they may do the greeting waltz as they walk in circles to sniff each other’s bums. The initial greeting should be 2-3 seconds only. A quick sniff of the face and then the humans should cheerfully say “Let’s go!” and trot a few feet away. Talk sweetly to Sadie, “Wasn’t that a nice puppy? Did you like her? Do you want to meet Zoe again???” Give Sadie a chance to take in the experience, then if both dogs are relaxed (not anxious/stiff/nervous), you can come together for a second greeting that lasts maybe 5-7 seconds. Repeat. If the first 2 greetings go well, then you can give them more time. But always watch for body postures of BOTH dogs. If one stiffens, suddenly stands tall, freezes, shows teeth… or if one cowers, tucks tail, shows teeth… then separate them quickly (but nicely) and give them some time to calm down.

Greetings do NOT have to result in play. Often just that 3-second sniff and walk away is plenty. They got to check each other out and nobody went on a power trip or got scared. Let’s celebrate that awesome greeting and move on!

All this Dog Etiquette socialization is great, but how do we get Puppy to stop biting US?!?!

As far as her interactions with humans, it is about a consistent response, which means all humans who interact with Sadie must respond the same way every time.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually want to teach Sadie to never put teeth on anyone. If she never has practice at appropriate mouth pressure, then she is FAR more likely to inflict damage if she’s startled, frightened or in pain. Instead, we want to teach her what acceptable mouthing is as this way, if she ever is startled and reflexively bites, she will be well practiced at inhibiting that bite and far less likely to cause damage as she makes her point. See below for details…

First, have a variety of toys handy to play with. Try to have toys that are BIG and allow you to hide your hands behind part of the toy so Sadie is grabbing at toy and not you. Try to have LONG toys so that there are 8-20 inches between Sadie’s end and yours. If Sadie likes to grab at hands/wrists, you can wear cycling gloves and long sleeves when playing to protect your skin. If Puppy is an ankle biter, make sure you’re wearing socks &/or long pants when playing. Make sure that even if you’re wearing protective gear, you react when you feel the pressure of teeth. It won’t actually hurt if you’re wearing gloves, but you still need to react like it is and respond the same every time.

Here’s what has worked for me:

1. Consistency in response: During play time, NO TEETH CONTACT AT ALL. If you feel teeth, the game ends immediately. Period. Drop the toy, pull your hands to your chest so Sadie can’t reach them and look away from her. If necessary, get up, turn your back or leave the room. Whether you just look away or leave the room, you will wait between 10 and 20 seconds, then return as if nothing happened and start a new game with Sadie – with a toy…

2. Redirect the behavior: Have a toy right there so that when Sadie bites, you can correct her (see #4)  and immediately redirect her to an appropriate alternative.

2a. Have a variety of toys – soft and plush, hard but rubbery so there is some give, hard Nylabone or plastic and even real marrow bone or antlers that can crunch and break if she works at it long enough.

3. Encourage gentle behavior: and praise, praise, praise when she is behaving politely.

4. Proper correction: If you feel teeth there is a series of things that will happen simultaneously. The verbal response should mimic that of Mommy dog. I know many suggest mimicking the puppy ‘yelp’ but I have found that this is usually more encouraging than discouraging. I have had excellent luck with Mom’s reaction instead. This makes sense because you are in the parental role and you’re educating your puppy. So, how does Mom respond? With irritation/annoyance. This is done in your normal volume voice. Women may need to lower their pitch to be effective. In my most irritated tone I’ll say “Owwww…. That hurt!”

As you speak this “Owwww!” command you will simultaneously pull your hand away from the dog’s face and ball your fingers into a fist. No, you are not threatening to strike Sadie. You’re removing targets from her space. Fingers are moving targets and they’re super fun to try to catch – like a gnat that flits around her face. By making a fist you remove all such targets. So at the same moment you are giving a firm, irritated correction you are also removing the target of Sadie’s efforts to make oral contact. After you have disengaged physically (including looking at her) for about 10-20 seconds, grab one of her toys and offer it up. In your sweetest, chirpiest, high-pitched, most playful tone (even a little baby-talkish) tell her, “Bite this instead.” You can even get into the game by saying, “Get-it, get-it, get-it!” The important thing in this is to make it exciting. Don’t just shove the toy in Sadie’s mouth. Move it around a few inches in front of her face; drag it along the floor so she can stalk it – make it a target for her to attack and encourage her to do so. Once she’s involved with it, you can play a little gentle tug (nothing wrong with that game – more later) or you can toss it and encourage her to chase it and pounce the toy. When she is making full mouth contact with the appropriate alternative (a toy), tell her what a good girl she is for playing with the right thing.

If she continues to go after you, rather than pick her up and put her in her crate (physically interacting with her more) for a “time out,” simply get up and walk out of the room. As you turn to leave, say “Finished” or “No more”. Close the door if necessary to keep Sadie from following you. Wait 10-30 secon
ds, then return and offer up a toy for a game. This is how to properly end a game when Sadie is not playing nice. You don’t want to increase your interaction with her when she bites, you want to end your physical and verbal interaction altogether and immediately. By consistently saying one “Finished” or something similar, she will quickly learn that this word/phrase means the end of the activity. But upon your return, you must act as though nothing happened. Dogs do not carry grudges and she will not understand why you are angry with her when you return. So act as though you’re just greeting her for the first time that day and you happen to have an awesome toy to play with. 

**Be aware that if you rip your hand out of Sadie’s mouth, you’re more likely to break your skin and bleed. In fact, puppy jaws are generally not strong enough to break the skin in a puncture. Instead, it is our reaction to pull our hands away that usually causes the laceration. So, if you find that this is happening to you, then do your best to HOLD YOUR HAND PERFECTLY STILL AS YOU SAY IN YOUR MOST IRRITATED VOICE, “OWWW!!!!! THAT HURTS!” Remember, it’s not volume here and loud only sounds like barking and may rile Sadie up. Instead, this is about tone of voice and intention. Your normal speaking volume is plenty loud enough for this process. And if you’re wearing gloves, it’ll be even easier to hold perfectly still while you do this because it just won’t hurt as much.

The Flip Side – Teaching a Soft Mouth…

The other half of this is teaching Sadie what gentle oral interaction is acceptable. During quiet time, when she’s cuddling in your lap, you can allow her to sniff and lick you. You can even allow your fingers to be in her mouth. So long as her nibbling is very soft, no pressure, you tell her that you like this gentle touch “Yes, we like gentle. Good girl.” But, if that gentle nibbling suddenly takes on any force at all, if she suddenly lingers in a bite/hold (even if it’s fairly gentle) or if she uses her whole mouth rather than just the front or just half of her mouth, remove your finger from her mouth, tell her “owww…” and offer her a toy instead. When this happens during quiet time, you want your volume and intensity to reflect the energy in that moment. In other words, if she’s quiet and relaxed, you don’t want to suddenly use a full volume response or you’re likely to not only startle Sadie, but also rile her up. Instead, if she’s half asleep or at least just quiet, then you want to use a softer voice to match that. You still should have a somewhat annoyed quality to the tone of your voice, but your volume should be quiet. This way you will be teaching her both what is unacceptable interaction and what is absolutely acceptable and appreciated interaction. You can decide if you do not want her to kiss your face or any other particular body part, simply by telling her “enough” and redirecting her to an acceptable location. Some people like to have their feet licked, but not their hands – or their hands but not their face. It’s up to you. The important thing is that for every “No/Don’t” you give her, you must also give her a “Yes.” Just like with human children, this is how Sadie will learn the boundaries and this is how she’ll learn to play gently.

So, during play, in the beginning, any tooth contact, even incidental grazing, will result in an interruption of the game. During quiet/snuggle time, you can encourage gentle mouthing to teach Sadie that a well controlled bite is appreciated. Once she’s got the hang of it, you can play gentle wrestle games where you encourage her to mouth you during play as this will allow you to test her bite inhibition. Don’t start this game until you feel confident that she’ll succeed. And if, during the game, she gets too excited and bites too hard, simply go by the rules: OWWWW!!!! and remove yourself from the game for 20-30 seconds, then try again.  This mouthing game has become my terrier’s favorite game and I even used this mouthing game as his reward for pottying in the right place instead of treats. But you first have to teach Sadie how to control that bite before you can start this game, otherwise you set her up for failure and yourself for serious frustration (and possible injury).

Regarding playing tug: Tug is an excellent game for both you and Sadie when played appropriately. It is good exercise for Sadie’s chest muscles and jaw muscles and is good eye-mouth coordination practice. It is a great way to bond with her. The rules, though, are important. Tug should never pull you off balance. If Sadie pulls harder than you’d like, simply drop the toy. After a brief pause, you can resume the game. If teeth make contact with your hand, the game ends – drop the toy as you say “Owww…”and walk away. Teeth-hand contact typically only happens out of zealousness for the game and Sadie’s effort to get a better or more complete grip on the toy, but you need to teach her boundaries – that they cannot get too close to your handhold during the game. It’s not only OK to let Sadie ‘win’ during the game, but necessary, because it will actually encourage her to come back to you to keep playing. If you’re disrupting the game because of teeth contact, it may seem very close to “winning” because you dropped the toy, but you’re also using our verbal indicator “Owwww”, turning your back on her or walking away and so the entire interaction ends. That’s not fun and this is how Sadie will learn the difference between “winning” during a game and “gone to far and game ended.”

You can also use Tug as an opportunity to practice impulse control. I use this game to practice Drop, auto-sit, auto-focus (eyes on my face), Wait, Get-it, Bring-it. I also use the word Tug to label the action the dog is doing during the play. This video demonstrates these exercises.

1. I had to teach each skill individually and then build them up together to practice in this game. The automatic Sit and Focus had to be guided until my boys understood the ‘rules’ of this game.
2. Although this video doesn’t show it, I do just randomly drop the toy during these games, allowing the dog to win at least 50% of the time. They will sometimes run around for a minute and “kill” the toy – shaking it and such – before returning to me, other times they simply shove the toy directly back into my hand because they are enjoying the Tug game. This is an important part of the game – letting the dog win a lot so that they’ll continue to want to play…

Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, canine interactions, human-dog interactions, Socialization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lunging Lucy & Growly Gus

Picture this: You and Polly are walking together in your
neighborhood. She’s showing off just how good her leash skills are. And then .
. . you see it. Down the street . . . another dog is coming. Suddenly your
Perfect Polly does a full-blown Jekyll & Hyde, and suddenly she’s a Lunging
Lucy! Barking, pulling, growling, snarling, and you’re at a loss for how to
stop it. After the strange dog disappears around the corner, Lucy does a big
shake, yawns and reverts to her Perfect-Polly self.

Does that sound familiar? Do you find yourself embarrassed
or frustrated by your dog’s unruly behavior in the presence of unfamiliar dogs
– or maybe it’s strangers or cars or motorcycles or children or people with hats/sunglasses
or, or, or…?

Take a moment to collect yourself and breathe a sigh of
relief, because there are several techniques that can be used to address this
most distressing of public doggie behaviors.

One common technique is a combination of Desensitization (increasing Polly’s tolerance
for the scary thing) and Counter
(changing Polly’s emotional response from “that thing is going
to kill me!!!!!” to “Oh goodie! Awesome things happen when that thing is
nearby!!”) To do this we usually use high-value treats (Polly tells us what is her
favorite) and pair the super scary thing (the trigger) with the super yummy
food. When you get the order and timing correct, you can help Polly learn that
the scary, strange dog reliably predicts hot dogs (or maybe she prefers

Another very useful technique that I use is called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) – a protocol created by Grisha Stewart. BAT takes into account that Polly is barking and growling for a
reason. BAT honors Polly as an individual
with likes and dislikes, fears and pleasures. Giving her more control and
confidence allows her to get over her fears. We never push her to go closer
than she’s comfortable going, and in fact we stop her going too close before
she’s ready. Keeping her below her threshold for reacting is
key to BAT.

We set up situations to give her time to take in as much
information about the trigger as she needs. When she’s ready to move on, she’ll
tell us by doing a behavior that indicates she’s done engaging (e.g. looking
away from the trigger, sniffing the ground, or checking in with the handler
among other things). When she gives one of these “cut-off” signals, we happily
trot away from the trigger. BAT training
allows Polly to be fully present and not always distracted by the sudden
presence of yummy food. It gives her a chance to process that she was able to
get her needs met – usually more distance, but not always – even without those
overt “get away from me!” behaviors she was doing before.

There are 3 different stages of BAT training that can be used, given the circumstances and what you
think Polly can handle in that moment:

Stage 1: When
you think Polly may react badly if you let her just look for a long time, try
this. Click the very moment that Polly sees the trigger and then immediately
retreat away from the trigger and TREAT (yes, super high value food is used in
this stage). Ideally you’re clicking before she has a chance to react to the
trigger in any way. But you do want to be sure she actually saw the
trigger (and not just you).

Stage 2: At
times when you are a little further away, you can use this stage to give her
more of a chance to take things in. Let Polly look at the trigger and wait for
her to offer one of those “cut-off” signals. Then CLICK the “cut-off” signal,
retreat away from the trigger and reinforce the retreat with super high value
food (yes, treats here too).

Stage 3: This
is for times when she has enough space to think before responding. Let Polly
look at the trigger and wait for her to offer one of those “cut-off” signals.
When she does, ask out loud if she’s ready to go with, “Done?” and trot
cheerfully away from the trigger. There’s no food here, though you are
encouraged to praise your dog for making such a polite behavior choice. This is
the ideal stage to be working in and the one where Polly learns the most
because she’s not distracted by the treats.

Stages 1 and 2 are best suited to the neighborhood walk when
you suddenly find yourself facing a trigger that’s too close. They are your
emergency escape to help Polly get through the situation without turning into Lunging
Lucy. But whenever possible (during training set-ups or if you see a trigger that’s
far enough away that Polly can look at it and still think clearly), you want to
use Stage 3 because it offers the clearest learning opportunity for her.

The result of this work? A dog who is much happier and who
can be close to things that used to be triggers for aggression. She’ll show an
increased confidence when confronted by former triggers. That means increased
curiosity and often an eagerness to engage when she used to want to avoid
interacting. Of course, Polly can always be startled or uncomfortable, even
after training. We always want to pay attention to what she’s telling us and respect
her if she’s saying she would rather not say ‘hello’ to another dog or a

With the help of a professional trainer, knowledgeable in a
technique such as BAT, you can help
your dog feel more comfortable and confident as they navigate this big, scary
world with you at their side – leash and all.

Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, canine interactions, Fears and Phobias, human-dog interactions, Socialization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When is it Time to Say Goodbye?

Making the commitment to owning a pet means recognizing that one day you will have to say goodbye. Sometimes (just like with our human loved ones) we do not have a choice or a say as to when this will happen. Other times it is on us to make the decision as to when that goodbye will happen. The most difficult decision a pet owner can make is the timing of that goodbye.

We don’t want to cut short the life of our best friend, but we don’t want our best friend to suffer either. So how do we know when it’s time to say goodbye? As painful as it is for us, it is so important that we put the needs of our pet first when we make this decision. As a pet professional, I have clients ask me periodically if they should put their pet to sleep – if
it’s time. It is never my decision and I try to make that clear to the pet parent that I cannot make that decision for them. But I can give them some guidance.

Here are some of the questions I ask my clients who are trying to make this most heartbreaking decision. These are the same questions I’m currently facing with my beautiful, 14 ½ year old best friend, Cashew.

1.  Does she still greet you at the door when you come home? If she doesn’t hear you come in due to hearing loss, does she still greet you with enthusiasm when she realizes that you’re home?

2.  Is she still interested in food? Does she eat her usual ration of food at each meal?

3.  Is she enthusiastic about eating? Does she go to her regular eating spot on her own, or do you have to bring the bowl to her now?

4.  Is she still excited by treats?

5.  Does she still engage family members (human or other animals) and seek love and affection?

6.  Does she still engage in play – either accepting the offer of another or initiating play on her own?

7.  Does she still enjoy outings – car rides, trips to the park (even if her actual activity level at the park is lower than it used to be)

8.  Is her potty training still good? Can she control her bladder and bowels and go to the right spot for elimination?

9.  Can she still groom herself – clean her genital region?

If you answered yes to these 9 questions, then your dog still has a good quality of life and is still clearly living.

1.  Does she fail to greet you when you get home – little more than acknowledge you with a lift of the head or a stilted wag of the tail?

2.  Has she lost interest in eating?

3.  Has she stopped coming when you call her for dinner?

4.  Does she seem depressed and lethargic?

5.  Is she sleeping significantly more (or increasingly more and more) than usual?

6. Is she sleeping more during the day and restless/pacing at night?

7.  Has she lost interest in treats?

8.  Has she lost interest in playing?

9.  Has she stopped actively seeking attention and affection?

10.  Has she lost interest in outings?

11.  Is she unable to control her bladder/bowels? Is she having accidents when she didn’t used to?

12.  Can she no longer groom her genital area?

13. Does she seem confused, panicked, does she vocalize frequently for “no reason”?

14.  Is she physically in pain?
a.  Has her mobility decreased? Is she limping, having trouble getting up,  managing stairs, walking on slick surfaces, etc?

       b.  Does she have other health ailments like cancer, heart disease, kidney disease?

If you answered yes to these 14 questions then quality of life is suffering or non-existent.

The likelihood is that you answered ‘yes’ to some questions on each list. And this is where we find the grey area. It is here that we need to weigh the individual answers and try to determine if our dog’s quality of life is suffering. To me, this is the key. When my Cashew’s quality of life is diminished to the point that she is getting no joy out of continuing on, I will be forced to say goodbye to my best friend of the last 14 years. And I have some ‘yeses’ on both lists. She still greets and engages in play and is excited by food and the concept of outings, but she also has a very painful pinched nerve and significant muscle atrophy that sometimes makes it impossible for her to put weight on her left hind leg. So far, I have managed this with medicine, acupuncture and carrying her up the stairs when necessary (all 60 lbs of her). But I’m aware of it and I’m watching it. So far, the ‘yeses’ on the first list outnumber and outweigh the ‘yeses’ on the second list.

When she can no longer groom herself… when she is no longer interested in food or seeking attention, I will know that we have reached the end of our journey. I will know
that the balance has shifted.  I dread that day, but by being realistic and responsible and putting Cashew’s needs ahead of my own, I feel that I am helping myself be as prepared as I can possibly be. I’ll never be ready to say goodbye, but I can be prepared by giving myself some clear guidelines by which to help me make that decision.

UPDATE: Cashew’s fecal incontinence began to increase in frequency, and her inability to manage stairs become more pronounced, such that I needed to help her down stairs every time, and nearly every time she wished to go upstairs. She still tried to play, and she continued to be very food motivated up to her very last hour. In the end, for me the deciding factor was looking at a birthday photo I’d taken with her. I saw such a vacancy in her expression, that it was suddenly clear beyond doubt that she was no longer in there. She was not the dog I’d loved for 14 years. She was still here, still living for me, not because she had any living left to do. And so, 5 days after looking at that photo, my family and I (including my other two dogs) helped Cashew pass peacefully to the Rainbow bridge in the comfort of our home. We kept her for a few hours so that the family (and the dogs) could process that Cashew was no longer with us (I’ll write a blog about that in the near future). I do not regret the timing of my decision. I don’t for a moment believe that I made her hang on longer than she wanted (causing her to suffer), nor do I feel that I cut her life short. I truly believe that I got the timing of this just right. I miss her every second of every day, but I believe she is at peace now and waiting my arrival to the rainbow bridge.

Cashew 11/1997 – 7/9/2012  A best friend, teacher, confidante, travel companion & inspiration. She taught me patience, forgiveness and unconditional love. She is the reason that I am now a teacher of canine obedience and behavior modification.

Cashew at 2 years and full of life


 Cashew at 14.5 yrs. This is the pic that made the decision for me…

Posted in Canine Health, Death & Dying, human-dog interactions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thunder Terrifes Teddy!

The forecast calls for scattered, severe thunderstorms with a great deal of cloud-to-ground lightning. Whether or not you personally like a good storm, you feel a lump in your throat knowing that Teddy is going to be very upset. Whenever the rains come, Teddy turns from his normal sweet, calm, well behaved pooch into an anxious, terrified dog who does things he would never ordinarily do.

As the storm approaches, Teddy begins to pace the house, pant and get very clingy to the humans that are around. He nearly trips his person as he tries to maintain himself right between her legs as she walks from room to room. If the human sits at a table or desk, Teddy is quick to try to squeeze under the desk and under his human’s legs. You may find he’s drooling excessively or digging at the floor, a rug or his bed like he’s trying to create a den he can crawl into. Or, you may suddenly realize that you haven’t seen Teddy in quite a while and search the house only to find him hiding: under furniture, in a closet, in the bathtub, in a room that he knows he is not allowed in. When he sees you, he looks at you with imploring eyes that seem to beg, “Make it stop. Make the Thunder Monster go away!!! Pleeeeeeaaaaase……..” He may begin to pant upon seeing you and then begin the clingy behavior described earlier.

All of these are classic anxiety/stress signals that dogs display when they have a fear of thunder or storms. Many people are surprised at the sudden onset of this fear in a dog they’ve had since puppyhood. A lot of puppies, mine included, seem to find storms interesting and even exciting for their first year, only to suddenly get the canine memo that they are supposed to be afraid of this natural wonder. Suddenly, they begin displaying all of these signs that you thought you might have avoided with this pup.

An extremely common issue that many, many dog owners have to face is “How do I deal with Teddy during a storm? My heart breaks to see him so scared. All I want to do is sit with him and reassure him and hold him and tell him it’s OK and it’ll all be over soon.” This instinct is certainly one option.

There is a school of thought that says you should NOT coddle fear because it will reinforce the fear. But, in my experience, and in the view of many of the finest canine behaviorists in the nation, it is actually NOT POSSIBLE to reinforce fear. The simple fact is: when you soothe and comfort a frightened individual (human or animal), the fear subsides because the individual feels safer. If the fear subsides, then you can’t reinforce it – it’s not there anymore. So, if you haven’t done any other training to help your dog feel comfortable during a storm, then comfort away. Make sure that you’re quiet and relaxed about it. Make sure that you aren’t scared yourself, as the dog will feel your calm, confident comfort and be reassured by it. If you’re also anxious – if you jump every time the thunder rolls through – then you may increase your dog’s anxiety at which point you’d be providing more to help your dog by having someone else comfort him. But if you’re comfortable and relaxed, this will help your dog feel better about it as well.

So how do we help Teddy overcome his fear so that he doesn’t need to be soothed because he’s actually not frightened?

There are a couple of things we can do, and a combination of both is the best way to manage his fear.

The first step is to desensitize Teddy to the noise of thunder. Thunder is loud and sporadic with no rhyme or reason as to when it will suddenly be there. Even the flashes of lightning only tell us it’s coming; it doesn’t tell us how quickly it will be here, nor how loud it will be.

Dogs may learn to associate changes in barometric pressure and ozone levels with impending storms. Unfortunately, we cannot easily address these issues in our homes. But we can address the noise of thunder itself.

To desensitize your dog to the noise of rain and thunder, you will need a CD player that has a continuous loop feature and one or two CDs of thunderstorms that run at least one hour. It’s important that the CDs do not have music overlapping the rain and thunder. These should be straight thunderstorms, preferably with a few really good, sudden, loud thunderclaps. Play a CD at the absolute lowest volume the CD player has. You should have to put your ear directly up to the speaker to hear the rain/thunder. Put the CD player somewhere fairly central to the house so that the dog can hear it from most anywhere. Put the CD player on continuous loop and allow it to play 2 or 3 times through each day for a couple days.

Each day you’ll play the CD for a couple hours – ideally at different times of the day so that Teddy doesn’t learn that every day when the sun is highest, this thing happens. Every 2nd or 3rd day (as Teddy demonstrates he’s ignoring the sounds of the storm) you will nudge the volume up a little. Perhaps only half a step if you are able. As long as Teddy is not reacting to it – completely ignoring it, you are doing great! If, after several days and several nudges in volume, you find that when you go, say, from volume level 4 to 5, Teddy begins to show signs of stress/anxiety at the noise, bring the volume back to level 3. That’s right, two full steps back. Leave it at this level for 3 – 5 days, until Teddy is clearly comfortable again, then try to increase the volume at a slower pace. Instead of going from 3 to 3 1/2, try going from 3 to just barely more than 3 – if your volume knob allows you to make such small adjustments. If you can’t be so finely tuned in volume adjustment, you may go from 3 to 4 and they lay a large folded towel over the speakers. Instead of nudging the volume up again, you can just unfold the towel one layer so it’s slightly less muffled, and continue this way until the towel is gone. Then when you’re ready to go from 4 to 5, you can bring the towel back to muffle the volume a bit if necessary. The goal is to get the CD playing at the top volume available on your player without any reaction from your dog.

You may want to switch the CD from day to day so that the dog doesn’t just learn the pattern that every hour or every 90 minutes there’s a loud noise and then it’s softer again for a while.

If your dog can live with the noise on the CD at full volume and not react to it, he will then be less likely to react to the natural noise of a real storm. It’s not a cure-all and there’s other work that will need to be done, but it’s one step in helping Teddy overcome his fear.

When you begin the desensitization with the CD, be sure to get in at least 5 minutes every day of training and 5 minutes every day of game play – in the house where he can hear the CD player (although you may need to work in a different room from the CD player). Use these opportunities to create happy, fun times with Teddy where he is getting a lot of positive attention and treats and praise. Training can be simple – going through his already learned commands, or more complex – teaching him new commands or tricks. so long as you and he both stay positive. Play should be his favorite games (in my house that’s catch/chase with a racquetball). You can even intermix the training with the game whereby you play the game for a couple minutes, and then tell Teddy to ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ Then you count to 10 and toss the toy, telling him “Teddy, go get it!” Provide big praise when he does his commands well and gets really involved in his game. Every moment that he’s focused on games, skills and earning treats/attention/affection, he is NOT focusing on the scary noise and this is a good thing!

If you have begun to learn the CD and can anticipate when a particularly loud thunderclap is going to happen, use this to your advantage. Put Teddy in a ‘sit/stay’ command just before the thunder and wait for it to hit. Then, when the noise starts, start the game again, or give him 5 or 6 treats one afte
r the other in quick succession so he can associate the scary noise with the awesome food.

You will do this same process during an actual storm. Use the lightning as your guide to when the thunder will come. The more focused Teddy is on obeying a command or on his favorite game during the noisy parts, the less he will react to the noise. Treat him and praise him when he does well. Be extremely proud of him when he shows no reaction to the storm.

What you are doing is distracting him from his fear and creating a new association for him. Up until now, Teddy has associated all the signs of a storm with fear and anxiety. He has associated all the parts of the storm with being afraid and so he becomes afraid every time there’s a storm. By distracting him, he is forgetting (even momentarily) to be afraid. Despite his best efforts, Teddy is actually having fun. This is the process of redirecting his behavior. We are creating a new association for Teddy that fun things happen when there is a storm overhead.

It will not be necessary to play/train for the entire duration of the storm. That could be exhausting. But, if you can do some play or training (or both) during the first 10 minutes of the storm, and then some reinforcing play/training say, every 60-90 minutes throughout the storm or during particularly heavy moments during the storm, you will be teaching Teddy that storms are things to be enjoyed because he has fun during a storm. You can also feed Teddy his meals during the storm so he associates happy events like mealtime with the rain and Thunder Monster.

In between training, you should provide him with something to soothe him like a Kong loaded with cream cheese or liverwurst or peanut butter (or a combination of these) mixed with yummy treats. You can also provide him with a marrow bone, bully stick or antler if these are things he enjoys. Chewing can help relieve anxiety for some dogs. Let him be wherever is most comfortable to him. If you don’t have the energy to train right through the storm (some storms last hours, so it’s just not practical), then you can offer up gentle stroking and speaking softly in between playing/training. Whatever helps him feel most secure is fine.

At bed times and quiet times (when there are no storms) play a CD that’s designed to soothe dogs. There are several out there. These CDs are usually of classical music pieces which have been chosen specifically for their pitch and rhythm. There have been some studies done that demonstrate that certain pitches, melodies and rhythms will calm a dog while others will agitate them. I have and use Through a Dog’s Ear. By listening to it at sleepy, relaxed times when there is no storm, it helps to create a very relaxed association for Teddy. Then, when there is a real storm, you can pop in this CD and play it loud enough to be heard over the thunder and it may help soothe Teddy during the storm.

I have also had excellent luck with the Thunder Shirt. This is about 80%-85% effective, meaning that roughly 80-85 out of every 100 dogs will show a decrease in anxiety while wearing it. The effect of the shirt only lasts about 30-90 minutes per wearing. But taking it off for a few hours and then putting it back on will re-establish the effect again. Again, I’d suggest having Teddy wear it for 10-60 minutes at a time several times per week even when no storms are happening. If the shirt only ever comes out after he’s frightened, then he may become frightened of the shirt itself. But if he has a chance to experience the comfort of the shirt when he’s calm, then he may actually see the shirt as extremely soothing during a storm. Of course, everything has its limits and if there is thunder close enough to make your windows rattle, the shirt may not keep Teddy from becoming nervous. Please see my blog Chewie’s New Thunder Shirt for an in depth review of my experience with this product (and links to the company’s site).

When trying to play games and do basic obedience commands to distract Teddy, take note of how comfortable he is taking treats. If he’s using his normal soft mouth to take treats from you, he’s doing great! If he becomes rather snappy in his efforts to get the treats, this is a sign that his anxiety is increasing. You may need to switch to a different activity, put on his Thunder Shirt if he’s not already wearing it, or turn on the CD if it’s not already on. Or you may just need to stop and soothe him with gentle stroking and sweet talk for a minute. If he actually refuses to take treats or seems unable to do very simple commands that you know he is expert at, then this is a sign that he’s in full panic mode. At this point your only goal should be to make him feel better. Try a higher value treat. If you’re using a crunchy dog treat, try hot dog or string cheese instead and see if he’ll focus for that. Or, just let him decide where he wants to be and go sit quietly with him. We had a very rare thunder storm in Southern California this last year and my sound sensitive dog, Chewie was very distraught by it. I put on his Thunder Shirt and hauled all 35 lbs of him up into my lap. He actually slept through about an hour of the storm this way, while I was busy on the computer. The combination of the shirt and my lap was enough to make him feel safe and secure enough to actually go to sleep. It was a great afternoon!

Since most places do not get thunderstorms year round, it will likely be necessary to do this retraining at the start of the season each year. But if you do both the desensitization and the Counter Conditioning exercises, Teddy will be much calmer overall throughout the season. It may never be a complete recovery and he may continue to startle when there is a particularly loud thunderclap, but that’s normal. Even I jump when it makes the windows rattle…

Hopefully with consistent practice, both you and Teddy will get to enjoy the wonder of a good thunderstorm.

Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, Canine Health, Fears and Phobias, human-dog interactions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments