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

Chewie’s New Thundershirt™

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There’s a product on the market called a Thundershirt™ . It’s been out for over a year but I only recently discovered it. When I first read about it and watched some video of dogs wearing it, I was skeptical. The video I saw was of a Boston terrier during a thunder storm. The poor little guy was shaking and trembling and just looked miserable. The next scene was the same dog wearing a Thundershirt™ , supposedly during a storm. He was calm and looked relaxed. His eyes were even heavy and he was starting to doze off. Of course, it was inside and not near a window so there was no way to really KNOW if it was actually during a thunder storm. I thought “Well, that seems too good to be true,” and I moved on.

 I didn’t understand the science behind the theory and to me, it didn’t seem like putting what looked essentially like a t-shirt with Velcro on a dog could calm it or help it in any significant way.

In October of this year I was able to attend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) annual conference. At the trade show there was a Thundershirt™ booth. I heard lots of other trainers and industry professionals raving about it and ordering 5, 10, 20 shirts to have on hand for use with their clients. I remained skeptical.


At this point, you might be wondering why I’m writing a blog about a product for which I seem so skeptical. Well, it’s because as part of this conference I participated in a hands-on workshop for some training techniques. Since we did not travel with our own dogs, we used local shelter dogs during the workshop. One dog, Gretchen, was so scared of all the people, other dogs and new environment that she was trembling from nose to tail and refused to come into the work space. Someone declared that a Thundershirt™ was needed and one was quickly made available. I thought, “Whatever. We’ll see if that really makes any bit of difference.” There was a second dog, Pong, with whom I was working. He was very friendly but very, very hyper. He was literally bouncing – and at roughly 50 lbs that’s a lot of dog to have bouncing at your face. He was in a constant state of motion trying to see and say hello to every other dog and every other person in the room. He sometimes glanced at my partners or me if we called his name, but would not give us his full attention. We could not lure him into a SIT with a treat. We could not even get him to focus on treats we were tossing on the floor right at his feet. Again, someone made a request for a Thundershirt™ and one magically appeared.

I watched as it was put on Pong. I stuck a finger under the shirt, against his body, to feel how loose/snug it was on him. He didn’t seem to really even notice that he was wearing it. I was not going to hold my breath for any great miracles.

In the meantime, I was paying attention to the wonderful women leading this great workshop and wishing I was working with a calmer dog so that I could practice some of the techniques they were teaching us. About 5 minutes later, I realized that Gretchen had not only stopped trembling, but she had led her handler into the room and while she was still near the door, she was focused and her handlers were working with her. I thought, “Wow. She really has calmed down. Maybe she just needed a few minutes. But that is a really big difference in her behavior.”

A few minutes after that, my team and I noticed that Pong had stopped bouncing. He was now sitting next to me. We started to work with him again and this time he looked us in the eye and sat when we asked him to. He was still very interested in everyone else, but we could distract him from all that and get him to focus on us. The four of us who were working with Pong were each able to ask him to SIT and get a positive response from him. We were able to play a round-robin game with him to focus on us each in turn, come when called and to ‘find it’ when we tossed treats behind him. I thought “Wow! Now this is a great dog. He could be trained really well and be a really great companion for someone! Is this the same too-hyper dog that I was trying to keep from jumping on my partner’s pregnant belly 10 minutes ago???”

With that I was impressed enough that I decided it would be worth trying this magical device on my own dog. Chewie will be 3 years old in December. He is very sound sensitive. He jumps and trembles with loud noises. We’re currently laying a new bamboo floor and so there is lots of sawing, hammering and general banging around by three big, strange men (Chewie’s description, not mine). So I stopped by the trade show booth and picked up a shirt for Chewie.

  Chewie sports his Thundershirt™  

When I showed it to my folks, they chuckled and said, “That’s supposed to make him feel better?” I said, “I know, it seems unlikely, but it works.” At least, the official Thundershirt™  comment is that it is 85% effective – meaning that roughly 85% of dogs will experience a decrease in anxiety when wearing the shirt.

So, when the flooring guys were next scheduled, I put Chewie’s shirt on and waited. I was still skeptical, but now at least open to the idea that this might really work for him. When the flooring guys arrived, he barked and barked. This was typical. I thought, “Great. My dog falls in the 15% category,” but I left the shirt on to see what would happen. Well, about 5 minutes after the guys arrived, I realized that Chewie was NOT upstairs in my bedroom – as far from the activity as he could get – sitting on the floor looking pathetic and trembling every time the hammer banged. He was in the room right next to where the guys were working. He was still very alert. His ears still twitched and his head cocked when the hammers went nuts, and when a guy appeared out of nowhere (from a hallway), he did still bark at them for a moment. But it was not nearly like before. He calmed down as soon as they spoke to him. He was not backing off or running away. He was allowing his curiosity to win out. I thought, “Hmmm….. interesting.”

The next few days, I repeated this exercise and it was the same. He would still announce that there were strange men in the house, but calm as soon as they spoke to him. He did not run away in terror, but hung out wherever I was, his body calm and relaxed. Well, this was definitely interesting for me. My little guy has spent most of his first 3 years hiding in my bedroom (whether I’m home or not) whenever anything “different” happens in the house that does not involve steadily handing him food.

I did another little test this past weekend. We were having part of the house measured for new carpet. I put Chewie’s Thundershirt™ on in anticipation of the arrival of this new strange man who would be wielding a tape measure that would be stretched to more than 20-feet long. When the carpet man arrived, Chewie announced it with his usual sense of urgency. The man came in and we all stood there a moment discussing where to start measuring. Chewie got quiet. He followed, at a distance, as we went from one room to another. The first time the tape measure was pulled out, he trotted up the stairs. But here’s the kicker – he stopped half way up the stairs and watched. He didn’t go hide in the bedroom. He gave himself enough distance to feel safe, but stuck around to see what was going on. Then he RETURNED TO THE ROOM!!! He stayed one step ahead of us – out of the way – but he was calm and quiet and not hiding in a closet. This was HUGE!!!!

This morning, the flooring guys were back, so Chewie was sporting his Thundershirt™. Something unexpected happened, but a little back story is necessary for your understanding. Chewie loves and worships my older dog, Cashew. But he’s also a little bit afraid of her. He readily submits whenever there is food nearby. He will back up several feet, sit and wait politely until Cashew has decided that she’s done getting treats. I usually make a point of offering treats simultaneously, but at a distance from each other. This morning I had indulged in a cup of chocolate milk. As a treat, I let the dogs enjoy the remnants of the milk. I wet the back of the spoon and let Chewie lick the spoon while Cashew gets the inside of the cup – then I switch so it’s fair. This morning, Chewie licked the spoon and then licked the outside of the cup while Cashew’s face was buried deep within, getting the last of the sugary milk. He did this three times – licking the cup and Cashew’s face in his efforts to get some too. In three years he has never dared get closer than 2 feet to Cashew while there’s any kind of yummy in the vicinity. But this morning, while wearing his Thundershirt™ , he was brave enough to get right in there actually touching her and the treat receptacle, requesting his share of the sweet remnants. Cashew was totally calm about it and Chewie acted like he does this every time there are treats to be had. I watched, quietly stunned.


So my official comment on the Thundershirt™ is this: If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, crate anxiety, thunder storm anxiety, fear of loud noises, car rides, new people, new places or changes in his environment, then you should absolutely try this product. I expect it is only 85% effective, as the company claims. I expect that it is not going to work with every single dog or in every single situation, but when 85 out of every 100 dogs do experience a benefit from wearing it, it’s certainly worth the time and money to try this product. If it does work, well, think about your dog’s emotional wellbeing; he will be so much calmer, more relaxed and in fact healthier. Yes, healthier. Anxiety releases adrenalin and cortisone into the system. If a dog (or person for that matter) is anxious a lot of the time, then that’s a lot of adrenalin and cortisone flowing through the body a lot of the time. That can lower the immune system leading to more frequent illnesses and it increases the chances of developing various cancers. So for your dog’s health, it’s best to help him be less anxious whenever possible.


And with a little research I learned how/why the shirt works. It is based on the same theory that recommends weighted vests for children with ADD, ADHD and autism. The concept of the weighted vest is based on the sensory integration (SI) therapy technique of deep pressure. Deep pressure is often used to assist children to self-calm and relax so that sensory stimuli can be processed. The use of a weighted vest provides the child with unconscious information from the muscles and joints. ( By this same theory of unconscious sensory input to the body, the Thundershirt™ provides gentle, consistent pressure around the dog’s core. By providing that subtle stimulus, it allows the dog to calm enough to process the more obvious environmental stimuli and thus not be totally overwhelmed by it.

I was very skeptical to start. I needed proof and I got it. In my case I saw 100% effectiveness in that all three dogs (my own included) that I witnessed wearing the shirt were able to calm down and be more relaxed in a highly stressful environment. I believe this is a valuable tool to be used with any dog that experiences anxiety or fear at sudden or loud noises (thunder, fireworks, hammers, etc.), being left alone, riding in cars, going to the vet’s or some other new environment, or any time that the dog seems overly anxious. We may not always know exactly what is causing the anxiety, but a product like this can certainly help to make your dog more comfortable until the scary thing has gone away.


We got a new puppy just before Thanksgiving. An adorable 7-week old Westie Mix. As all new puppies, he wanted to put his mouth on lots of things that he shouldn’t be chewing on. He also wanted to scratch at/dig at lots of things he shouldn’t. And then there’s potty training…. So in those first several weeks of new puppy ownership, there was frequent, sudden “No!” being spoken in a firm, somewhat loud voice by me – and frequently in the vicinity of Chewie. For Chewie, these reprimands were sudden, out of nowhere and quite disconcerting because it seemed he either didn’t understand that they were not directed at him, or just the sternness in my voice was unpleasant for him, no matter who it was directed at. Whichever the reason, Chewie’s potty training regressed and about a week after Hagrid (the puppy) joined the family, Chewie began peeing in the Family Room and the Entry Hall – on 6-month old, expensive area rugs, of course! Initially, it was just once, then a week later it happened again, then it became daily. Ugh!!!! After about 10 days of Chewie peeing in the house, it finally dawned on my to try the Thunder Shirt. I put it on him in the morning. Sometimes it just stayed on all day, even though I knew the effect had worn off after a couple hours. Mostly, I’d put it on for a few hours, take it off for a few hours then put it back on for a few more hours. He wore the Thunder Shirt every day for 3 weeks. From the day I put it on, he stopped peeing in the house! The effect was instant. I still had to correct Hagrid, but Chewie no longer peed in the house, and no longer vacated the room just because I’d reprimanded the puppy. After 3 weeks of daily wearing, I skipped a day and there was no inside pee! I had him wear it every few days for another couple weeks – just to be sure. But he had totally stopped peeing in the house, so it was just my own sense of precaution.

And, during that process, when the Thunder Shirt was off, it was usually sitting on the back of the couch or a chair for easy access. I found on at least 2 separate occasions, Chewie seemed to request to have it on. He’d approach the shirt, sniff it and look to the human near by. When we picked it up, he stood still and waited for it to go on. When ever I think he might need that emotional support (holiday gathering, workers coming to the house, etc.), I grab his Thunder Shirt. He will come to me and stand still while I put it on and then go about his day.

Cashew calmly laying on her bed while Chewie feels confident in his Thundershirt™

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Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, Canine Health, Fears and Phobias | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BOWSER’S BABY “BROTHER” – Preparing to bring a new baby home




Bowser has been your “child” since the day he arrived. You love him, cuddle him, dote on him… he’s the center of the world and has been for quite a while. Everyone is happy with this arrangement, especially Bowser. But…. you’re expecting a baby now and you want to make the transition from “only dog” to “big brother” as smooth as possible.

The first thing to do is to recognize that Bowser was not consulted about this massive change that’s about to occur. No one said, “Hey, Bowser, what do you think about the idea of bringing home a helpless little being that smells funny, cries, poops and will take pretty much all of my time, leaving virtually nothing left for you?” And if we did actually say that to Bowser, what do you think his response would be? I doubt he’d say, “Sure! You go ahead and do that. As long as the back door is opened a couple times per day and there’s food in my bowl, I don’t need any actual attention. I don’t need love and play and cuddle. I don’t mind being pushed out of the room all the time, watching from the doorway as everyone comes over and dotes on the new ‘little bundle of….’ ”

While this may sound a bit melodramatic, it’s important to recognize how the world is going to change for Bowser. You’re going to be exhausted (Mom and Dad), which means you’re going to be irritable and also so overwhelmed with love and fear of doing the “wrong” thing that you won’t know which way is up. You will be all consumed with taking care of baby (and eventually going back to work) and you really won’t have time for Bowser like you used to. And you will be telling Bowser “no” a lot more and shooing him away from places so that there’s room for baby. Put yourself in Bowser’s position – all of these not so pleasant things started right when that little creature moved in. Bad creature….. and then Bowser comes to resent baby.


But, there are some basic things you can do to help Bowser prepare for this major change in the family dynamic; that will make the newcomer a pleasant addition to Bowser’s world rather than a thorn in his side.

Preparation is key. You will want to start early – the earlier the better, but even if you’re just a week away from delivery, you can still do some things to help. Talking to Bowser and explaining to him what’s about to happen is clearly not going to work. What will work, though, is practicing. Getting the baby gear together and practicing with it so that Bowser has a chance to get used to as many of the changes as possible before the really huge change arrives.

Get the nursery set up ASAP and let Bowser spend time investigating the space. Let him sniff the crib and the Diaper Genie. Let him smell the stuffed animals (but don’t allow him to take the toys in his mouth). Sprinkle some baby powder on the changing table and let him sniff it. Get the stroller out and let him investigate it while it’s perfectly still and then when he’s clearly comfortable with it, slowly roll it around a bit so he can get used to how it moves, what its turning radius is, etc. Let him thoroughly investigate the car seat and high chair, the bassinet, the receiving blanket, etc, etc, etc.

Now, here’s where the fun begins. You will probably feel a little goofy doing the next steps, but KNOW that you are educating Bowser and helping him be as comfortable with all things ‘baby’ as he can be without actually meeting baby…

Invest in a life-like baby doll – realistic in size. Put some (as my 2-year-old nephew says) “butt cream” on the doll, a diaper and a onsie. Let Bowser sniff and investigate this so long as he’s calm about it. Encourage him and praise his calm interest. If he gets over stimulated, move the doll away while you tell Bowser, “Calm” or “Easy” or “Gentle” or “Settle” or whatever word feels right to you and your family. Wait for Bowser to calm himself and then offer him another chance to ‘meet’ the baby doll.

You’ll also want to invest in a CD of baby noises and some lullabies to help Bowser become accustomed to the various noises that babies make (some cute, many very annoying when left unchecked…). I’m sure there are multiple options out there, but the one I found recently is called Preparing Fido and seems to be a good compilation of appropriate vocalizations.

Get the baby monitors set up and here’s where the fun begins….

Carry the baby doll around with you frequently and gently create boundaries when baby is in your arm – Bowser is not allowed to jump, he’s not allowed to climb in your lap, he’s not allowed to be overly nosy, etc. Have the doll in the baby seat, in a bassinet, wherever you expect to have baby a lot. Have the boom box in the same room as the doll and at least 4 times per day you’ll turn on the CD and let it run for a while. Make sure that at least 50% of the time Bowser is NOT in the room when the noise starts. Also make sure that at least 30% of the time he IS in the room. We are trying to teach Bowser that the noise comes from the baby (hence the CD plays in the same room as the doll), but that crying does not start only when he’s present or only when he’s not. We want him to get used to it starting randomly and in many rooms of the house.  So sometimes you’ll put the doll in the crib and then 5- 20 minutes later, slip in and turn on the CD. Sometimes you’ll turn on the CD in the family room, the kitchen, your bedroom, etc. Bowser will hear the crying/cooing both from the room where it’s emanating, but also through the baby monitors. Respond the way you would in the real world – let the baby ‘cry’ for a couple minutes, and then go in and “soothe” the doll, turning off the CD a moment or two after picking up baby.. Sometimes let the CD just play as the crying does stop eventually when the track ends. Make sure that Bowser sees you interacting with the doll while the crying continues because, no matter how much we love our babies, sometimes they will not take comfort for a while and continue to cry no matter what we try. We want Bowser to learn that you will be responsible for baby, you are not hurting baby even if the crying doesn’t stop, and that he does not need to be responsible for baby at all.

NOTE: Start with the volume low – low enough that Bowser does not seem to really show any interest in it other than perhaps glancing in the direction of the noise when it starts. Keep it at this volume for several days or even a couple weeks. When Bowser is completely comfortable and shows no interest at all in the CD, then nudge up the volume by just one level (e.g. from level 3 to level 4). Keep it at the new volume for several days to a week or more, until Bowser seems completely unperturbed by the crying and various noises. Build up slowly, just one level (or even a half level) at a time until you are playing the CD at full volume as this will be the most realistic volume of baby’s cry.

Practice all aspects of baby’s life. Practice sitting and rocking or ‘nursing’ baby and ask Bowser to hang out near by, so long as he’s polite. Set some basic space boundaries such that when baby is in your arms, Bowser should be a polite 6-10 inches away at the nearest, unless you specifically invite him closer. If he’s on the couch next to you, make sure he’s respecting that space. If he’s being polite and relaxed, you can reach over and pet him, but DON’T LET HIM CLIMB IN YOUR LAP WHEN BABY IS IN YOUR ARMS.

Practice changing diapers (you can take off and put on the same diaper to save them before the real thing) so that Bowser can see the process. If you want to make a rule that Bowser isn’t allowed in the nursery, practice having him do a Stay just outside the door. This will probably take two of you so one can “change the baby” while the other is praising/treating or correcting Bowser (co
rrection involves a verbal “not it” and encouraging him back to the appropriate location, offering treats and verbal praise when he respects the boundary).

Practice putting baby in the stroller or car seat. Practice going for walks with baby and Bowser. Put the doll in the stroller and take Bowser for a walk. If people ask why you’re walking with a baby doll in a stroller, you can proudly tell them that you’re helping Bowser to get ready for his roll as ‘big brother’ and you want to make sure he’s prepared to join you on your walks because you don’t want him to be left out. Make sure that you DO NOT put the leash on the handle of the stroller. Safety first, after all. If Bowser spots a squirrel across the street and is compelled to give chase, you do not want him dragging the stroller (falling on its side, no doubt) behind him. Make sure that you are holding the leash in your hand. In the end, as scary as it sounds, it’s better to let go of Bowser’s leash and deal with the consequences of his running off than risk the safety of your baby or yourself.

The key to all the prep is taking the time to practice all of the activities that will occur regularly. Give Bowser as much opportunity as possible to watch and be part of, always encouraging and praising calm behavior and gently setting boundaries so that he learns early that he’s not allowed to lay on the blanket on the floor, he’s not allowed to play with the bottles, teething rings, stuffed animals, etc. Make sure that when you have these things out, you make a point of loving him, praising him, playing with him with his own toys, offering treats and generally just making his whole experience pleasant.

Also, practice Bowser’s activities with baby present. Hold the baby doll, or place it in a high chair while you feed Bowser (infants and children should NEVER be moving around a room when the dog is eating, no matter what). Have baby in the bassinet or in the arms of one parent while the other is playing with Bowser or training with Bowser all in the same room. Go for car rides with baby doll in the car seat and Bowser where he will sit. If Bowser has always been in the back seat, you will need to shift him to the front seat, or if you have a station wagon or SUV, you’ll need to shift him to the “way back” and put a barrier up so he can’t jump over the seat.


Our ultimate goal is to include Bowser in as much of baby’s life as possible. We want him to be calm and relaxed. We want to encourage quiet curiosity and interaction. It’s OK to let Bowser sniff the feet or bottom of baby doll. It’s OK to let him do this with the real thing as well, so long as it’s supervised. It’s OK to let him lick feet and hands, but discourage face licking by putting your hand between his face and baby’s and moving baby a bit further away.

If you are holding baby (the doll or the real thing) and Bowser is being too rambunctious or invading your personal space too much, you can turn your back or stand up and turn your back so that you are protecting baby and, with your body language, telling Bowser that you don’t like his current behavior. Once he settles, you can face him again and encourage calmer interaction.

There is a learning curve here and it will take time and practice for Bowser to learn what’s allowed and what’s polite. Babies are curious creatures with loads of interesting smells and worthy of much investigation. Some dogs fall immediately into a friend roll, some discover their inner caretaker and are extremely gentle and protective of baby. Other dogs are wary and become stressed by this strange little being that has moved in and taken over. No matter how much prep you do with Bowser, you will not really know how he’ll respond until the real baby is home and the actual routines begin to develop. By exposing him to everything ‘baby’ ahead of time, you can dramatically lower his level of stress because then it’s just the baby that’s new, but not all the noises, smells, gadgets, routines, etc.


Be prepared that Bowser may still “freak out” a bit when baby comes home from the hospital. This is normal. Everyone will be exhausted and there will be loads of people streaming in and out to meet the newest family member. Hormones will be raging from birth and nursing. Dad’s hormones may also be increased as his paternal instincts kick in, which means that Mom and Dad don’t smell quite right… Don’t force Bowser to be in the room with baby. If he chooses to leave the room, that’s OK. If he gets up and leaves every time baby cries, let him. He’s getting out of the way and giving you a chance to take care of it. If he comes from another room to see what’s going on, that’s OK too, just don’t allow him to get in the way of your tending to baby. Be gentle with Bowser, guiding him to appropriate behavior – don’t punish him if he gets too close or takes a baby toy. Simply redirect him and praise him for better choices. If we punish him or constantly exclude him, he will begin to resent baby and see baby’s presence as a cue that he will get punished. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Also, and this is important (thanks for hangin’ in ‘till the end) – as you practice all the baby activities, you will need to wean down the amount of direct attention that Bowser gets. He can still be in the room, but if he is used to being on your lap or snuggled right up to you from 8-11 every night as you watch TV, you will need to help him learn that he can be in the room still, but perhaps on the cushion next to you, or on the floor at your feet. This is a crucial part of the practice. If he continues to get all the attention he’s ever gotten and then baby comes home and you don’t interact with him (other than feeding and potty time) for a week, he will feel that. So, begin to spend less and less time offering him direct attention. You can cut it down by just 15 minutes every few days so that by the time baby comes, he’s only getting perhaps 50% of the physical love and cuddle time he was getting. This will go a long way toward smoothing out that transition.

In short, you want to set Bowser up for success so that he can be part of baby’s life as much as possible. So practice every aspect that you can in the weeks or months prior to baby’s arrival. You still won’t know exactly how he’ll respond to this change, but at least you will be confident that he was exposed to most of the baby stuff early and is at least somewhat familiar with it so it’s not all totally new and sudden.

Once baby does arrive, make sure that there is quality time set aside for Bowser. Make sure that each human spends at least 10 minutes per day alone with Bowser, loving him, playing with him, taking him for a private walk or a game in the back yard – without baby. Just as if Bowser were a human boy, you want to take the time to reassure him that he’s not being kicked out nor is he loved any less just because there’s a new member to the family. So, it may be that one day Dad takes Bowser for romp while Mom is home with baby and the next day Mom takes Bowser for a long walk while Dad is home with the baby. Just make sure that even though there is less time overall with Bowser, there is still designated quality time that is just for Bowser as well.


I HIGHLY recommend the book On Talking Terms with Dogs – Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas.

For those that like a visual lesson, you can also buy the book with a DVD that shows the signals and includes explanations and examples of how human body language directly affects the emotional state of the dog in question.


It’s a thin book and it describes many very subtle cues that dogs give when they are nervous/ anxious/ fearful and trying to calm themselves or others or defuse what they perceive as building tension in an effort to avoid conflict. I encourage about-to-be parents to read this book so that they can watch Bowser and be aware when his subtle body language is saying he’s uncertain or uncomfortable. If you know how to read your dog, you can quickly adjust activity to help him feel more comfortable. And as infants become toddlers, they often invade the space of dogs and this can be very unpleasant for the dog. If you’re lucky the dog will give off signals that you can read allowing you to support Bowser by moving baby away. If you’re not so lucky, disaster can happen.



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Jasper jumps. A lot. He jumps when you get home as he tries to greet you. He jumps when you have something interesting in your hand that he thinks he might like. He jumps on visitors as they enter the house, and even when they stand up from the couch. He jumps when he wants to play. He jumps when he wants to eat. He jumps every time he wants attention from you… All you want is for Jasper to PLEASE STOP JUMPING ALL THE TIME!!!!!!

There are some tricks and techniques we can use to help Jasper learn that jumping is not the right behavior (unless it’s by request). It takes time, practice, consistency and persistence – more persistence than Jasper has. You see, Jasper jumps because so far it has worked for him. When he jumps, you make direct eye contact with him, you touch him as you try to either push him off you, or in an effort to appease him so he’ll (hopefully) stop jumping, you talk to him or you hand him whatever is in your hand. So, up until now, whenever Jasper has jumped, he’s gotten what he’s looking for – attention.

The only way to change this behavior is to change the consequences for the behavior. This means that we need to stop giving him attention when he’s jumping. This can be really difficult to do for several reasons, not the least of which is that even though it’s annoying, at some level it’s sweet and kind of cute that he gets so darned excited to see us. It’s also very difficult because every human who interacts with Jasper from now on must be complicit in the training technique and MUST be consistent in the implementation of that technique.

Something  to keep in mind before I even begin to talk about how we will help Jasper find a new approach: We are going to try to extinguish Jasper’s jumping behavior. It’s really important to remember that whenever we try to extinguish a behavior, there will be something called an ‘extinction burst.’ This is a process by which Jasper will try even harder than usual, meaning that he’ll jump higher, more frequently and take longer to calm down.  This is NORMAL AND EXPECTED BEHAVIOR. The reason for the extinction burst is that up until now, jumping has been a successful way for Jasper to get attention. When jumping suddenly stops getting the attention he’s seeking, he will believe that he didn’t successfully jump (high enough, with enough force, enough times, etc.). He will try harder to get your attention. He will be very persistent in this effort because he expects it to work. It is crucial during that extinction burst that you are more persistent than Jasper. If you understand that his increased effort is actually a sign that your training technique is working, then you will hopefully find the will to wait him out.

Think of this example: You typically get in your car and turn the key to start the engine. One day, you go through your routine only the engine doesn’t kick into gear. Do you automatically understand that the car battery is dead? Not likely. First you will try turning the key again. When it doesn’t work the second time, you will likely try a third time, only this time you might pump the gas a bit and hold the key in that “ignite” position for a few seconds as you hope the engine will turn over. That is an extinction burst. Now, think about this: The third time you try (after pumping the gas and holding the key longer), the engine does turn over. SUCCESS! You worked harder and tried harder and got the car to start! Hurray! So, the next time the car doesn’t start, you will be prepared to try at least 3 times. If it doesn’t start after 3 tries, you will likely try one or two more times before you finally decide that perhaps it’s time to get a new battery, or take the bus…

Jasper’s jumping will work the same way. Jumping usually works. When it suddenly stops, he’ll try harder. If after 5 or 6 jumps, you give in and show him some attention, then he was successful. Now he’ll be prepared to jump 5 or 6 times to get your attention, and if it doesn’t work, he’ll add in a 7th and 8th attempt, and so goes the cycle of the dog whose jumping gets worse instead of better when the owners are trying to train the dog to stop jumping. So, YOU MUST BE PREPARED TO HOLD YOUR GROUND UNTIL HE STOPS JUMPING. If you are more persistent than Jasper, you will, in the end, successfully train him to stop jumping.



First we’ll talk about the real world things that you’ll need to do. Jasper must have a polite Sit command in his repertoire. You’ll want to be able to ask him to Sit before he begins to jump (it won’t always be successful in the beginning, but we need to give him an alternative to jumping).  So, if Jasper doesn’t know how to Sit on command – every time you ask him – then work on this first. Make sure that he has both a verbal command (Sit) and a visual cue (palm facing the sky and arm moves from parallel to the floor up to about 45 degrees).

Once Jasper will Sit on command, then there will be a couple things you’ll do in the real world. First, as Jasper approaches you, tell him to Sit. If you can see him through the door, tell him to Sit before you even enter the room. If you don’t think he can hear you well through the door/window, or to further drive the command home, use the visual cue. Many dogs respond much better to visual cues than verbal commands anyway. Tell him to Sit before you invite guests inside.

When he sits, tell him “Yes” to mark the behavior and then begin to enter the room. If his bottom pops up, step back and close the door immediately. (The first several times you do this, it may take you as much as 20 or 30 minutes just to get inside. But if you are consistent, Jasper will quickly learn the new rules at doorways and you will be able to come in without being “mauled” by love.) Once you’ve stepped back and the door is closed again, ask him to Sit and try to enter again. If you are able to get the door open, but as you step through, he gets up, then step back and close the door part way – ask him to Sit and try to enter again. If you can get through the door, but before it’s closed, his bottom comes up, step back outside and ask him to Sit. Continue this way until you can get all the way into the house and close the door. When you can get into the space, and close the door and Jasper is still sitting nicely, it’s time to greet him. Very calmly (we don’t want to get him all riled up now), come down to his level and give him some love and tell him how proud you are of him.

If, once you get in and close the door, he begins to jump, turn your back and take a step or two away. Do not speak to him, do not look at him, do not touch him. Take away ALL of your attention until he has stopped trying to jump. All four paws should be on the floor for between 20 and 30 seconds before you turn to try and greet again. As above, if when you turn back, he begins to jump again, simply turn again and take a step or two away. Repeat until you are able to have a nice greeting.

If turning your back is not sufficient deterrent, then leave the room. Do not speak to him, but you can act disgusted and appalled, with a heavy sigh, as you leave without even looking at him. Leave the room for between 20 and 30 seconds,* and then return as if it is the first time you’re trying to enter the room. Calmly try to greet him. If he jumps, repeat the departure and then try again, until you are able to enter the room and have a polite greeting.

*Timing is crucial. If you turn your back or leave the room for just 5 or 10 seconds, the lesson is not learned because you did not really take your attention away. On the flip side, if you leave the room (or turn your back) for more than 30 seconds ,the lesson is lost because you were gone so long the dog is no longer thinking about what just
happened and will find some other way to distract himself until your return.

Again, these exercises may require many, many repetitions during a single effort to enter the room, and may at first take as long as 30 minutes before you can get in and greet the dog politely. But, if you are diligent for the first couple weeks, Jasper will start to pick up on it, and you will start to find that what was taking perhaps 20 minutes is now only taking 10 minutes. That’s a huge improvement, so keep up the great work! And remember, every human who will be entering the space needs to be prepared to do this with Jasper. You may find that Jasper stops jumping on you almost immediately, but continues to jump on your partner, children or visitors. As Jasper learns the new rules, he will need to learn it with each human individually before he starts to generalize that this is the rule for every human. Don’t get discouraged if he’s taking longer with some people than others. It just means that that person needs to continue practicing with him.

Once he’s getting good at not jumping, you can ask him to stay calm with all four feet on the floor for a few seconds before the greeting. While we use the Sit command in the beginning because it’s useful to give him a specific behavior that is incompatible with the jumping behavior (if he’s sitting, he can’t also be jumping), it is not always going to be necessary for him to sit for every encounter. Once he’s clearly learning that jumping no longer gets the attention, you can accept him in a standing position, so long as all four feet remain on the floor. So, at this point, when you enter the room, count to 5 before interacting with him. Take the time to put your purse down, or slip off your shoes, or turn off the house alarm, etc. But don’t forget to greet him while he’s being polite. At first we’re just waiting about 5 seconds. If we wait longer, his frustration will grow and Jasper may try jumping again.

When he’ll comfortably stand by and wait for about 5 seconds, you can start to build up by 5-second increments until you reach a point that is convenient for you to do your normal “coming in” activity. If he will wait happily for 30 seconds, but if you try to push it to 40 seconds you find he tries to jump – first react as above and leave the room. Second, go back to only making him wait 20 or 25 seconds – a duration that we know he’s good at, and then build up more slowly. You can even add in a verbal greeting, or a glance at him to let him know you haven’t forgotten about him, and will be with him in a minute. A greeting such as, “Good waiting, Jasper. I’ll be right there…” works well.

Ideally, you will eventually be able to walk into the house, put down whatever is in your hand, turn off the house alarm, take off your shoes and call Jasper over to you for that greeting – all while he is happily trotting along after you, but keeping all four on the floor as he waits eagerly for your love and attention.



You can also set up formal training sessions to practice with Jasper. I use a Premier Easy Walk Harness for this. I like this harness specifically because the leash attaches at the chest of the dog, rather than on the back. This is useful for the exercise I’m going to describe. We also don’t want the leash on the collar during this exercise because we don’t want to irritate Jasper’s neck. Do not use face/halter type collars in this exercise.

You can do this exercise with a partner or you can use a sturdy object like a tree or the stair rail in your house if you’re working alone.

Once you’ve got the harness on and the leash attached, if you are working with a partner, you will want one person to stand on the leash such that Jasper has enough slack that he can easily take a couple of steps toward the arriving person, and so that he can sit comfortably without ANY tension on the leash. But, you want to make sure that there is only enough slack that if Jasper tries to jump, his front feet can’t get more than a few inches off the ground. It may require a bit of trial-and-error to find the right spot on the leash to step on, and once you figure out where that is, you should mark the leash for future reference (this can be tying a knot right there, or marking it with a Sharpie). We want the leash on the floor – we are not holding it, we are stepping on it.

The exercise looks like this: Jasper is near a person who is standing on his leash. Another person approaches to greet person and dog. Jasper steps forward and tries to jump, but the short leash and gravity immediately correct him and he’s pulled back to the floor before he can even jump high enough to land on the arriving person. Both humans will ignore him (no eye contact, speaking to him or touching him), as he may try to jump a couple more times before he accepts that he cannot jump at that moment. Then he will either stand calmly, or Sit by default. Once he has been calm (standing or sitting) for at least 30 seconds, then the arriving person will look to him and greet him calmly. The person will then turn and walk away. Wait 1-2 minutes and repeat the exercise. Repeat between 5 and 10 times in a single training session. If you see that after the second “arrival” Jasper just stops trying to jump, and instead sits down or just stands calmly, then you know he’s beginning to learn the new rule. Practice a few more times so that you have several positive trials, then end with a game that he loves.

As he gets good at this exercise, the partner who is standing on the leash will slowly start to give a bit more slack (perhaps an inch or so) at each training session. Make sure that the amount of leash available to Jasper remains constant for the entire session. If you think Jasper can handle a bit more freedom, wait until the next full session (not just the next trial of the current session). Build up slowly until the person can be standing nearby, but not actually on the leash. Then you can switch to a long leash (15 foot) and continue practicing until the ‘nearby’ person is actually several feet away (practice with the person in front of, next to but several feet away, and behind Jasper) and he’s still staying polite for the greeting.

If you are working alone, then you can tie the leash to something sturdy like a stair rail or piece of heavy furniture if you’re inside, or a tree or light pole if you’re outside. Then you will practice the greeting by approaching, but stopping so that you are far enough away that if Jasper jumps, he cannot reach you. Again, wait until he’s been calm and all four on the floor for at least 30 seconds before you greet, then turn and walk away for a minute or two so you can repeat the exercise. As he gets good and stops trying to jump, you will stop closer and closer (by an inch or so each session) until you can walk right up to him and greet him politely.

Remember, that even if he’s learned to greet you politely, that does not mean he will great everyone politely. You will need to help him generalize this rule by asking lots of people to approach (without making eye contact with Jasper), and to please just turn and walk away if Jasper starts to jump. Tell them that they will get the chance to meet Jasper before you’re done, but it’s really important and they are being such a great help if they will only get close and interact with him while he’s being polite. Start with friends and family and then work to the strangers who just want to love your dog. When you’re holding his leash and other people are approaching, ask him to Sit before they walk up, as this will help reinforce for him that he needs to be polite in order to get that attention.



So what do we do if he kept all four feet on the floor until we were petting him and loving him, and then while we
were doing that, Jasper started to jump???

This will happen. It’s normal. When it does, be prepared. There are two things you can do here. If you feel those front feet leave the floor, let go, stand up tall and walk away. Be disgusted. You’re body language will make your point for you. If you abruptly end the interaction the moment those feet leave the floor, and I mean THE MICROSECOND, he will figure it out pretty quick. If you linger and love him for 10 seconds before it registers with you that his feet are up, then it’s too late because he will not understand what caused the moment to end suddenly. So be diligent and be prepared to react.

You can help your dog avoid this mistake with simple hand placement during the greeting. Instead of putting your hands over his head or on his cheeks, put one hand on his back – between his shoulders, and the other hand on his chest just below his neck. If you are petting him like that, then with a simple, gentle squeeze (your hands sort of squeezing together), you can remind him to stay down. So here’s how this technique works. You have one hand on his back and one on his chest. You’re loving and petting and he’s wiggling and happy. You feel his body either push forward into the hand at his chest, or you feel the push against the hand on his back as he tries to jump. You are NOT going to create counter pressure; you are going to create a dead-stop. Your hand should be like a brick wall. So you stiffen that hand, and as he comes into it, you’re ready and holding that hand still. It becomes a force field off which his body will bounce. When all four feet are firmly on the floor again, tell him what a good boy he is. Then you can disengage.

Sounds easy enough, right? Lots of things about training dogs is easy on paper, but not quite so simple to really implement. Patience and consistency is the key. Try to end every training session (even the real world ones) on a positive note. While you are going to be “disgusted” when you interrupt the greeting to walk away, be sweet and happy with all of your interaction with Jasper. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a moment and a few deep breaths. Know that it is up to us to be patient and to teach him what we want. Dogs don’t come to us understanding that it’s not OK to do these things. The calmer and more relaxed we are while teaching, the quicker they will be to learn. If you’re already frustrated (bad day at work), don’t try to do any formal training until you feel you can really exude a positive, calm energy to your dog.

Good luck, stay focused on the grand prize and you will be met with success!

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

Happy Holidays! Here’s a Dog…

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. We’ve got lists of what the little ones want for Christmas (or Chanukah, or whatever your family may celebrate). We may even have a list of what we want for the holiday this year. At the top of many of those lists is, of course, a new puppy. Puppies are great fun. They are soooo cute and cuddly and just a joy to have around – for the most part. But how many people go out and buy a puppy without ever really thinking through the responsibility they just signed up for? How many parents, boyfriends, wives, grandparents, etc. adopt or purchase a puppy for that most special gift and never give a thought to who will actually be responsible for loving the little guy? Or cleaning up after it, or teaching it right from wrong or potty training it or feeding it or taking it to the vet or training it or….

Getting a dog, whether a puppy or an adult dog, is a huge responsibility and should not be taken lightly. There are several factors that go into choosing an appropriate dog for you or your family. This is not a decision to be made based solely on how cute a fluff-ball she is when she’s just 6 weeks old. That cute little fluff-ball will not be 6 weeks old forever. She will grow up and as she does, she’s going to destroy several pairs of shoes, a remote control or two, important papers, and likely eat something that will cause fear that surgery will be required. She will potty in the house multiple times, even after you believe that she has learned where her potty spot is. She will try to sneak under the covers to sleep with you, even though you’ve told her repeatedly that her bed is the pillow on the floor. She will chew furniture when you’re not looking and likely dig at a carpet or two causing enough damage that you need to replace the whole thing. And the hair! You will go on vacation 6 months after you get this precious new family member and when you unpack at the hotel, you will discover that while your dog is still at your house, you have brought pieces of her with you – specifically the hair. You will not ever truly be hair free again for as long as you own this sweet little angel. And remember – this sweet little angel will likely live to between 8 and 18 years of age. That’s a really long commitment!

I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting a dog. I think dogs are great! I had dogs my entire childhood and currently have 2 awesome dogs that I wouldn’t trade for the world. But, they are a commitment, each with their own unique personality. It’s important when we adopt a dog that we take into account that they are a unique individual. Dogs are not fashion accessories, as much as some starlets would like them to be. Dogs have emotional needs as well as physical needs. They require exercise – physical, yes, but also mental exercise to stay happy and healthy. Dogs can become depressed if they do not get enough socialization and mental stimulation and this can lead to destructive behavior. Different breeds require different life environments.

When choosing a dog, we must look past the cute factor and look at the needs of that dog and our own needs as a future pet parent. We must be honest with ourselves. Consider your lifestyle and what you want from a dog and then consider the breed of the dog and what they are most adept at. For example, if you are an avid hiker and go on heavy nature walks or hikes 3 times per week that average 8 or 10 miles per trip, and you want your dog to join you and enjoy this, then you probably don’t want to get a Pug. It doesn’t really matter if you think Pugs are the cutest dog on the planet. You would be torturing your dog by trying to make him join you on such activities. And I am serious when I say “torturing” because such a little dog with that brachycephalic (squished) face simply is not capable of such activity and you can cause physical harm to such a dog by insisting that they trek with you like that. On the flip side, if you are rather sedentary and want a dog to greet you at the door when you get home, and relax on the couch with you all evening while you watch TV, then you don’t want to get a Border Collie. That would be mental torture for this highly mentally active dog. Border Collies need lots of physical exercise, but they also need “jobs” to keep their mind stimulated. Border Collies, if not actually working/herding, need to have interactive games such as hide-and-seek of favorite toys or treats. They need puzzle toys that require some thought and problem solving skill to get the reward. A bored Border Collie is a potentially destructive dog and/or possibly going to develop compulsive behaviors that can be quite distressing to see and depressing for the dog if they do not get sufficient physical and mental exercise. Agility training, competitive obedience, fly ball or RALLY are all great ways to work out all the energy, keep the Border Collie mentally engaged and increase the bond between dog and owner. But these activities take a great time commitment to train and then attend the competitions. Great fun, but you have to want to do those activities too.

So, when choosing a dog, do some research on the breed/s. Take note as to how much exercise the dog requires, how much mental stimulation the dog needs, how much grooming will be involved – and be honest with yourself as to whether or not you are willing to do it. If you live in a studio apartment, you probably don’t want to get a Great Dane and you probably don’t want to leave a tea cup Chihuahua unattended for 9 hours in a 4,000 sq. ft house. Adoption is always my first choice and mix breeds tend to be healthier physically and more even tempered than many pure breeds. If you insist on getting a pure breed, do some research on the breeder and meet the dogs. Beware of Puppy Mill dogs – it’s a horrible industry that does horrible things to the dogs and the resulting behavioral issues can be extremely difficult to work through.

If you are getting a pet dog for a child, make sure that breed is comfortable with children and remember that it will be necessary to socialize the new dog to children (and the kids to the dog) in order to ensure that everyone is safe.


If you are thinking about getting a dog for an adult, the best way to do this is present the adult with a card telling them of your plan, and then have that adult go with you to pick a dog. It’s all about personality fit, not just physical attraction. We generally don’t pick our life mate based solely on how cute they are, but rather on how well we get along. The same should be true of our canine companions because that is a relationship that will last 8-18 years. Keep in mind, not everyone can deal with raising a puppy and there are loads of older dogs (1-10 years old) who make wonderful companions who need loving homes too.

So, now that you’ve chosen a new dog whose personality and physical needs are suitable to your lifestyle, it is crucial that you get training with that dog. Even if you have had dogs before and have trained dogs, it’s useful to go through a round of basic obedience in a group class. This allows your dog to have practice at socializing with other dogs and people – very important skills. It also allows you to get a refresher on how to work with your dog and provides an opportunity for you and your new dog to bond.

There are four skills that every dog should know – I call them The Four Life-Saving Commands because they can, and likely will, save your dog’s life some day. They are COME, STAY, DROP IT and LEAVE IT. Why these four? Simple: If your dog bolts out of your house, you want to be able to call him to you – COME – before he gets into the road. If he’s already across the street and a car is coming, you want to have a strong STAY command so that he doesn’t suddenly decide to come running back to you. In life your dog will discover interesting things on the ground that could be potentially dangerous to him. If he’s is investigating something that might be dangerous you want to be able to tell him LEAVE IT and know that he will stop investigating immediately. Similarly, if he already has something in his mouth, you want to be able to tell him DROP IT and feel confident that he won’t promptly swallow it.

Remember that training and socialization are not something taught when the puppy is 6 months old, and then you’re done. Training and socialization must continue for the entire life of the dog to keep them happy, healthy and well behaved. Happy holidays and enjoy your new family member!

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

Nikita’s Nutrition: How do I Know What to Feed my Dog?

Many pet owners have little or no idea what constitutes good nutrition for their dog. Most believe that if it’s sold at the store and says“complete nutrition” it must be fine, and so they will purchase the cheapest food they can find. After all, we want to be cost effective while doing what’s best for our dogs. In fact, most people that actually do pay attention to the food they give their four-legged friends do so only because the dog is either sensitive to or allergic to some food product and we, as the food provider, are suddenly forced to start reading labels on dog food. That’s how I learned about the major differences in feeding options. My older dog, it turns out, is very,VERY allergic to, of all things… corn. Who knew?!? I had no idea dogs could have allergies. But it turns out that just like people, dogs can be born with or develop allergies over time and those allergies (just as in people) can be outgrown or last a lifetime. In my dog’s case, she is severely allergic to corn and a little bit allergic to wheat, and has been since I’ve owned her – nearly13 years now. She’s also got some contact allergies to grass and even some seasonal allergies, but those are for a different blog post (My High-Maintenance Pooch…)

In this blog I will discuss the merit of a guaranteed analysis chart, what to make of the actual ingredient list and what some of those terms actually mean, how to determine how much to feed, how to determine if Nikita is at a healthy weight, and some thoughts on canned food.

What we feed our pets makes a huge difference. Not just because of potential allergies, but also because of overall health and nutrition. The higher the quality of food, the better your dog’s health. You will see the benefits of a high quality food over the long term in your pocketbook as well as your dog’s energy, coat, physical aroma, overall health and, yes, even in his poop. That’s right – what you put into your dog directly effects what comes out of your dog.

So, you want to feed Nikita the best food possible without breaking the bank. How do you determine which food will keep him healthy and happy? How can you discern the difference when studying the labels on the bag?Let’s say you’re comparing the guaranteed analysis on bags of food. One tells you it has a minimum crude protein of 21%, another has 24% crude protein and a third is 26%. Those are all pretty close. Is there really a difference? What does that percentage really mean, anyway? Which food is the best for Nikita? You may believe that the highest protein is the best choice for your dog because clearly that has the most nutritional bang for the buck. And when you look at the prices and see that the one with 26% is also the cheapest, you might think,“Score!” and head straight to the checkout with a 50-lb bag of food – that oughta hold you for a while…

In fact, there may be an enormous difference. The guaranteed analysis chart is a good place to start and can be quite useful if, for example, your dog is overweight and your vet recommends increasing the fiber content a bit. But, it is not enough to look just at the guaranteed analysis.In fact, that list may mean very little when it comes to certain things, like protein. 26% protein means that when the food is processed and analyzed in a lab 26% of the nutrient value was protein. But, the big question is: what kind of protein? Is it a protein that Nikita can actually digest and use, like meat?Or is it a protein that will pass right through him providing very little, if any benefit, like corn or wheat? So, while glancing at the analysis chart can help get you on the right road, you must determine what form those nutrients(protein, fat, fiber, etc) take in that particular food.

The first order of business when deciding which food to give your dog is reading the ingredient list. The most important ingredients are the first 5 ingredients. Why? Because, just as with people food, ingredients are listed from most prominent to least. That means that the first ingredient is the thing Nikita is eating most. Those first 5 make up the bulk of the diet. In those first 5 you want real meat or meat meal and healthy whole grains.

What’s meat meal? Meal is the end result after all the water has been compressed out of the ingredient. It’s a more concentrated form than the original product. So, for example let’s say you have a pound of chicken and you have a pound of chicken meal. The chicken is a pound of meat cut right off the bone. The chicken meal is a pound of meat that has been dehydrated of all its liquid. This means that there is more actual meat/protein in the pound of meal because there is no water there to make up a portion of the weight.

Let’s look at some ingredients and see what we see…

Food A: A good list of ingredients (crude protein is24%): Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Ground Brown Rice, Whole Ground Barley, Oatmeal, Chicken Fat (naturally preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Rye, Tomato Pomace (natural source of Lycopene), Natural Chicken Flavor, Whole Potatoes, Peas, Whole Carrots, Whole Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Flaxseed (natural source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Barley Grass, Dried Parsley, Garlic, Alfalfa Meal, Dried Kelp, Yucca Schidigera Extract, L-Carnitine, L-Lysine, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Turmeric, Sunflower Oil (natural source of Omega 6 Fatty Acids), Fish Oil (natural source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids), Dried Chicory Root, Oil of Rosemary, Beta Carotene, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin(Vitamin B2), Niacin(Vitamin B3), d-Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Biotin (Vitamin B7), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Ascorbate (source of Vitamin C), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Choline Chloride, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate, Salt, Caramel, Potassium Chloride, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus subtilis, Enterococcus faecium.

Note that the first five ingredients in this list include meat, a meat meal (concentrated protein) and good whole grains (ground brown rice, ground barley and oatmeal) that are all full of protein, vitamins and minerals. Keeping the grains whole maintains their nutritional integrity by not stripping away bits that contain some of those nutrients. Then, ingredient #6is chicken fat (some fat in moderation is not only OK, but necessary for proper cell structure and energy burning). The rest of the ingredients in this list are an assortment of healthy whole foods and vitamin/mineral supplements to ensure a truly balanced diet. There are no fillers, no extra or artificial preservatives and no enhancements such as food dyes.

Food B: Now let’s look at this ingredient list (crude protein is 21% – not so much different): Whole grain corn,poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved withmixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), meat and bone meal, brewers rice,soybean meal, whole grain wheat, egg and chicken flavor, animal digest, salt,calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, calcium phosphate, L-Lysinemonohydrochloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, added color (Yellow 6,Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 2), DL-Methionine, Vitamin E supplement, zincproteinate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, manganese proteinate, niacin,Vitamin A supplement, brewers dried yeast, copper sulfate, calciumpantothenate, copper proteinate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, VitaminB-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavinsupplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite

Note that the first ingredient is Corn. It is whole grain corn and that’s better than Corn meal or corn flour, but it’s still corn. The most abundant ingredient in this food is corn. That is roughly the equivalent of feeding your dog Frito’s Corn chips. A tasty snack, to be sure, but would you really want your entire diet to be corn chips? The second ingredient is poultry by-product meal. Poultry means that it can be any kind of feathered creature, don’t assume it’s chicken just because the front of the bag bag says Chicken on it. The ingredient list does not indicate that it is chicken. It could also be turkey, or duck or a combination of any of these. If Nikita is allergic to one of them, you have no way of knowing which is actually in this food, and it likely varies from batch to batch based on the market availability and price for the manufacturer. Further, it’s by-product.

BY-PRODUCT is something you definitely want to pay attention to. By-product is exactly what it sounds like. It is not the product itself. It’s what is left over when the usable product is used. In this case, it is poultry by-product, so we are talking about the head, beak, feet, feathers, combs and various other parts of the birds that are deemed not appropriate for human consumption. There is no nutritional value in by-product and it is little more than filler.

Then we see corn gluten meal. Corn does not naturally contain gluten (unlike wheat and rye).Corn gluten meal is misleading because many of us know that gluten (in wheat and rye, etc.) is the protein portion of the grain. But, corn gluten meal is a byproduct. It is residue left behind after processing corn for the flour andoil. It’s used often in pet food as well as being used as a lawn fertilizer and weed suppressant.

So in food choice number 2, the first three ingredients –the three most abundant ingredients in Nikita’s diet would be filler,by-product (filler) and filler. That doesn’t sound so healthy. And thisingredient list belongs to one of the most well known, most popular and least expensive brands available.

Food C: For one more comparison, let’s check out this ingredient list (crude protein is 26%):  Ground Whole Corn,Meat And Bone Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-product Meal, Animal Fat(preserved with BHA/BHT), Wheat Flour, Chicken, Rice, Dried Whole Peas, Dried Beet Pulp, Wheat Mill Run, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Carrot Powder, Caramel Color, Vegetable Oil (source of Linoleic Acid), Vitamins(Choline Chloride, Dl-alpha Tocopherol Acetate ,L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate , Vitamin B12 Supplement,D-calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement [VitaminB2], Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Salt,Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate,Manganese Proteinate, Potassium Iodide), Added FD&C and Lake Colors (Yellow6, Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5).

First 5 ingredients: Filler,decent protein, but what is it – it only says “meat” not what kind of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, etc) nor even if it is the muscle or organ meat…, filler,filler and fat (not so horrible, but would be better one or two ingredients further down the list). Again, we start with corn and within the top 5ingredients we also have corn gluten meal and chicken by-product meal. And thisfood, like the second list, contains 4 different food dyes – why? Does Nikita care what color his food is? There have been recent studies that suggest a correlation between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. Could there be a similar correlation for dogs? We don’t know, but why would you want to give that to your dog when it has no nutritional value and is utterly unnecessary for Nikita’s enjoyment of the food?

A quick note on the bone in the meat and bone meal in this list. Bone is actually not a bad thing in a Nikita’s diet. It is an excellent source of calcium and the marrow left in the bones during processing is an excellent source of iron.

At this point, we have looked at the guaranteed analysis and compared it to the actual ingredient list. Upon studying the ingredients,we see that the food with the highest protein seems to be junk food. How is that possible? Because many dog food companies will utilize the protein in wheat and corn to magnify the amount of protein found when the analysis is conducted. But grain proteins are not easily digested by dogs and so it ends up being little more than filler – which can cause gas, bloating, loose and stinky poop…

Now let’s take a look at feeding recommendations. Unless the bag of food tells you otherwise, a cup equals a standard 8 oz measuring cup and amounts are meant to be daily rations, not per-meal rations. In other words, if Nikita eats breakfast and dinner, then the amount listed on the bag should be split in two, and he gets half in the morning and half at night.

Food A (24%protein) recommends between 1 ½ -3 cups of food per day if Nikita weighs between 26 and 60 lbs. At the maximum weight (60lbs) and the maximum ration (3cups) that works out to .050 cups of kibble per pound of Nikita.

The feeding suggestions Food B food (21% protein) is between 1 1/3 – 2 1/3 cups per day for a dog between 21 – 50 lbs. At the maximum weight (50 lbs) and the maximum ration(2 1/3 cups), this works out to .0533 cups of kibble per pound of Nikita.

Food C described above (26% protein) recommends 2 ½ -3 ½ cups for a dog weighing 25-50lbs. The maximum weight (50 lbs) and the maximum ration (3 ½ cups) works out to.070 cups of kibble per pound of Nikita.

We can look at the minimum weight/ration as well:

Food A: 26 lbs and 1 ½ cups = .057 cups per pound of dog

Food B: 21 lbs and 1 1/3 cups = .060 cups per pound of dog

Food C: 25 lbs and 2 ½ cups = .10 cups per pound of dog

Why am I going into such detail? Because I want to show that the higher the quality of food, the less you have to feed your dog. It may not seem like much of a difference when I break it down to the amount of food you feed per pound of dog you have, but it definitely adds up. The point is that the higher the quality of food, the more nutritionally sound the meal, the more condensed the nutrition is per kibble and therefore the less you have to feed.

So not only do you feed less, and therefore over the life of the dog buy fewer bags of food, but this goes directly to what comes out of Nikita each day. The more filler there is in the food, the less usable nutrition, the less that gets absorbed by Nikita’s body, which means more waste to come out.Not only more waste potentially in frequency, but more aromatic (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and quite possibly more volume. The higher the quality the food, the more sound the nutrition. The more condensed the nutrition, the more that gets absorbed by Nikita’s body and therefore less waste. It tends to be less frequent (once or twice per day, rather than possibly 3 or 4 times per day). It also tends to be more compact and well formed (rather than loose and messy to clean up) and it tends to stink less.

I hate to acknowledge this, but I can spot an Alpo poop from 15 feet away. It has some very distinct qualities in size, texture and stink.

We’ve discussed in some detail now, the ingredients to look for and the ingredients to avoid. We’ve acknowledged that the guaranteed analysis doesn’t always tell the whole story and we’ve looked at the feeding recommendations on the three example foods.

It’s important to stick to those feeding guidelines with a caveat to the dog’s actual energy output. These guidelines are designed for an average dog with an average energy level. If your dog goes jogging 8 miles every day with you, or is a true working dog (hunting or herding) and is burning calories like there’s no tomorrow, then you’ll want to increase the ration by 20% – 50% accordingly. If your dog is very sedentary and sleeps most of the day, and only gets a walk once per week, you may need to decrease the ration by 20% – 30% to maintain a healthy body weight. If you’re dog is training, or just spoiled, and so getting loads of treats, definitely decrease the meal ration accordingly to offset the calories ingested at other times.

A note about protein. Too much protein in a Nikita’s diet can cause behavioral issues such as hyperactivity or increased aggression. Sometimes less is more. This does not mean you want to scrimp on the protein, but it does mean that the highest protein content isn’t necessarily the best for every dog.

Also, if your dog is a working dog and does need a much higher calorie and protein content, there are selections available for working dogs such as Blue Buffalo Wilderness –high protein formulas.

Is Nikita fat?

How do you know your dog is a healthy weight? By appearance and by feel. When you stand over Nikita so that you are looking down on him from a bird’s-eye perspective, you should see a clear nip at his waist.His chest/ribs should be broader than his waist and you should see his hips stick out a bit further than his stomach. From a profile eye-level view, his waist should tuck up. In other words, his chest just behind his elbows should be closer to the floor by at least an inch or two than his stomach just before his back legs. This will vary some based on breed, but every breed should see the stomach is further from the floor than the chest. When you feel your dog, you should be able to discern his ribs.You ought not to see the ribs clearly, but you should not need to press firmly or really feel around to find the ribs under a layer of fat. You should be able to feel the ribs when you go looking for them. See the chart below.

Why is Nikita’s weight of concern? Because dogs are equally as prone to weight related illnesses as humans. If Nikita is overweight, or obese, he can develop the same heart conditions that humans get:high blood pressure, high cholesterol, congestive heart failure, an increased likelihood of heart attack or stroke. Nikita can develop the same bone/joint issues as humans: arthritis, limited mobility, disc erosion, pinched nerves,general soreness and stiffness, exasperation of congenital joint issues such as hip displaysia. He can develop weight related diabetes and experience all of the conditions that go with that: need for regular insulin injections, need for seriously restricted diet, potential circulation issues that could lead to the need to amputate a limb, potential blindness, potential sugar shock or insulin overdose – which could lead to coma and death. Further, obesity in dogs has been correlated to the onset of various cancers as well. Allowing your dog to be overweight can decrease his lifespan by several years.

So, to sum up: read the ingredients, not just the guaranteed analysis. Avoid fillers and by-products. Try to make sure there is real meat and meat meals as well as whole grains in the top 5. Avoid unnecessary additives that are really only there for our human appeal, such as food dyes.

Take note that food that is more expensive per bag may be a better buy in the end for several reasons. You will likely feed a bit less because it’s a more nutritionally sound product. The clean-up from Nikita’s waste will be easier to deal with. Nikita’s overall health will likely be better and so his life-time vet bills will be lower. And most importantly, Nikita will be happier, healthier and with better energy because you took the time to feed him a quality product.

You might be wondering what brands I used for my example ingredient lists.

Food A is Blue Buffalo – Chicken and Brown Rice recipe.

Food B is Purina Dog Chow brand Dog Food Complete and Balanced.

Food C is Pedigree with Chicken, Rice and Vegetables.

I will follow this blog with a brief blog that discusses canned food. But for now, if you want to include canned food in Nikita’s diet,try to find one that uses stock (chicken, lamb, beef or vegetable) instead of water. Water is just water. Stocks provides the liquid while also seriously increasing the nutritional value of the product by adding protein and vitamins/minerals to that top 5.

Here’s to a happy meal time for you and Nikita.

Posted in Canine Health, Nutrition, Potty Training | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crating Casey

We’ve all heard that dogs are den animals – that they like to be in small spaces and this makes them feel safe and secure. So why is it that Casey freaks out every time you put her in her crate? She is supposed to be happy to go in and spend hours at a time there. But instead, she tries to slink away from it, puts on the brakes and refuses to go in. Once you have finally gotten her in (usually by lots of shoving and pushing) she barks, cries, howls, digs at the floor, scratches at the door, bites at the wire and has even injured herself in her efforts to escape. If she’s very determined, you may even find her greeting you at the front door and the crate partially destroyed when you get home from work. This certainly doesn’t sound like a dog that is happy to go to her “den.” What’s wrong with Casey????

In short, nothing is wrong with Casey. It is true that dogs are, by nature, den animals. In general they do like to find small spaces where they can sense the walls/ceiling near them. You may have noticed that your dog will often choose to relax under the kitchen table, or under a chair. She may take a nap in the bathtub or in the small space between the back of the recliner and the wall. But still, she refuses to get in her crate and stay there calmly. The difference: choice. Casey has chosen to get under or behind furniture. She chose to climb in the tub. These are small spaces that she feels are in the right place, of the right size and most importantly of her own choosing. The crate, on the other hand, may seem to her to be an arbitrary place that was brought into her home. It doesn’t smell like the rest of the house. It’s strange to her and doesn’t feel secure (even shaking and moving a little if she jumps around). She certainly didn’t choose it. And since we have, possibly for weeks, been physically insisting she go into it, we have unintentionally created a very unpleasant association for her, She is being forced into it – against her will – and that means it’s not a safe place. Now it’s a prison. A punishment. A place to be avoided at all costs.


First thing is first. Put the crate in the space with the door open. If you’re using the hard plastic cargo-type crate, you may even take the top off so it’s just the bottom of the crate. Put a favorite bed of Casey’s in there along with some dirty clothes of yours. You can toss in a few hard treats as well. We want to help the crate start to smell like the rest of the house. Once you’ve put the item/items in the crate, leave the crate door open and ignore the crate for a few days. Give Casey a chance to investigate the crate without you being involved. If you see her sniffing at the crate whisper some quiet encouragement: “Good girl, Casey. It’s not so scary.” Even if she is 10 feet away and just sniffing the air in that direction, praise her. If she is actually physically investigating the crate, even better. If she actually steps inside the crate – GREAT! If there are treats already in the crate, then she’ll get rewarded for going in on her own and you don’t have to even be in the room to see it.



After about 3 days of ignoring the crate altogether, you will begin the actual acclimation process.  Move Casey’s food bowl over near the crate. You may need to start several feet away or you may be able to start just a foot away. This will be determined by Casey. You must start this process with her food bowl far enough away that she is not distracted by the crate at all. We do not want her to have any tension or anxiety, so watch her body language. If she is relaxed in posture, ears or forward and erect or soft off to the sides, if tail seems relaxed and either still or wagging lazily just a little, then you are doing well. If, on the other hand, her body is stiff, if she is leaning way forward to reach her bowl, but seems scared to be right over it, if her ears are pulled back, if she is cowering (bent at the knees and elbows), if her tail is down, tucked between her legs or wagging in a quick, nervous fashion (yes tails wag when dogs are scared too), then the bowl is too close to the crate – so move it about a foot further away and see if she calms down.


What are we doing with the food bowl? We’re going to feed every meal near the crate. Put the bowl down at the distance that is as close as you can put it to the crate while still being far enough away from the crate that she is comfortable. Let her eat the meal and then remove the bowl. While she is eating with her normal body posture and energy, quietly praise her. After 5 or 6 meals, move the bowl about 6 inches closer to the crate. If this is too close, back up to the original location for another 4 or 5 meals and then try moving the bowl just 2 or 3 inches closer. Always remember BABY STEPS TO SUCCESS.


Every 5 or 6 or 8 meals you will inch the bowl a little closer to the crate – so long as she remains calm and comfortable. Each move will be based on how comfortable Casey is in the current location. The rule should be: when she completely ignores the crate and eats as normal, feed her there 3 more times before moving the bowl any closer. This will help to ensure her level of security before you push her a little further.


Eventually you will be feeding her with the bowl on the floor right up against the open crate door. GREAT! We have crossed the first major hurdle – getting her comfortable next to the crate. Now it’s on to the second (and much larger) hurdle. After at least 8 meals with the bowl on the floor right next to the open crate door, you will move the bowl just inside the crate door. Meal time may look like this: Bowl is just inside
the crate door. Casey will approach hesitantly (most likely), tentatively sniff at the food, eventually “dive” into the bowl to grab a mouthful of food, and then she will either step back or move to an entirely different area to eat that mouthful. There may be several meals that look like this before she decides that it’s actually safe to stand there and eat. BE PATIENT. HAVE AS MANY MEALS AS NECESSARY IN THAT SPOT UNTIL SHE WILL EAT CALMLY AND IN A RELAXED FASHION STANDING AT THE OPEN CRATE DOOR. Once she will eat calmly, standing at the open crate door, make sure there are at least 3 more meals in the spot before moving on to the next step.




The next step will be to move the bowl just one inch further into the crate. Now we are back to the 6 or 8 meals rule. The bowl should remain at each distance inside the crate for at least 6 or 8 meals (to her clear comfort, plus 3 more meals) before inching it further into the crate. Only move it one inch at a time in the crate. If you move it too far too fast, you may end up having to back up to the point that the bowl is outside the crate. Remember we are trying to help Casey overcome a fear – it’s not the same thing as just learning a new skill, so go slow and be patient with her.


The goal is to eventually have the bowl all the way at the back of the crate so that Casey must climb all the way into the crate in order to eat her food. Don’t forget to praise at each stage. Again, as she has to climb further into the crate to eat, she may take a mouthful of kibble and leave the crate to eat it. In the beginning that’s OK. Whenever you hear her munching while still in the crate, praise her. Stay silent if she takes the food out of the crate. Once she has eaten at least 5 meals staying in the crate the entire time, we will move on.


Once she’s eating in the crate without trying to leave repeatedly during the meal, you will close the crate door. Do not lock it closed at first. Simply stand there, holding the door closed. If she turns around, encourage her to “keep eating, Casey” in a sweet tone. Have some treats with you during this and you can even offer her a treat through the grate of the door – you can even try to toss one behind her so that she’ll turn around again to go get it. Encourage and praise while she remains calm and eats her food. As soon as she’s done eating, open the door so she can come out. After at least 8 meals like this, with no fretting from Casey, you can do the exact same thing, only this time you will actually lock the door closed. The difference in this experience is Casey hearing the spring of the door latch, or the slide if it’s that kind of closure. It just adds a little bit of the experience for her while we continue to associate it with a happy event – eating.


OK, so she’ll eat in the crate, but she still doesn’t want to spend time in the crate….




In between meals rotate between a couple of favorite toys, keeping one in the crate all the time. You may also toss a few tasty treats into the crate (halfway to all the way back). Use hard treats that will be OK sitting for a few days if left untouched. Leave the crate door open and unattended. You may find Casey occasionally checking out the crate to seek out a treat or get her toy. Always praise quietly if you see her interacting with the crate.


Play games that involve the crate. Sit with Casey near the crate. Play tug or fetch with her in the room for a bit, and then every now and then toss the toy toward the crate so she has to go near it while playing. In the beginning, you will not toss it into the crate, just near it. When you see that she has no fear or hesitation going toward the crate with you nearby, then you can start tossing the toy into the crate for her to retrieve. Just like the bowl, at first you will only toss it so far that she has to stick her head in to get it, then as she is comfortable, you can toss it further and further into the crate. Make sure you are sitting in a position that allows you this access, but that you are not sitting next to or directly in front of the crate. In fact, it may be necessary that your back is to the crate when you start these games so that Casey feels you are not going to suddenly lunge at the door just because she’s gone near the crate. Remember, up until now, you two have carried out an unfortunate ballet of push and resist and force to get her locked in that crate. So we want to make sure she feels safe and secure in the game.


Once she plays comfortably with you and the crate, you can start a game of tossing treats for her into the crate. Again, at first you won’t even touch the door. Just be super pleased every time she goes in after a treat. Never give her a treat when she is outside the crate. The treat is in the crate for her. If she turns around, but stays in the crate, treat her while all 4 paws are still in the crate. After a few rounds of this game where she does not hesitate to go after the treat every time you toss it for her, start incorporating the door. Toss the treat in, when she goes in to get it, close the door (do not latch it), wait for her to eat the treat and turn around. Give her a treat through the grate and then immediately open the door for her to leave. Do this many, many, many times. A
few dozen times at this level. Then do the same thing, only latching the door closed. You will still promptly let her out of the crate as soon as she takes the treat from you, but now she’s got the noise of the door latching. Do this several dozen times as well.


Once Casey is completely cool with this game, start asking her to stay in the crate for a little longer. Start slow. At first you will be leaving the crate latched closed for just 2 or 3 seconds. Build up very slowly: 3 seconds, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 60…. THE RULE IS THAT CASEY MUST REMAIN CALM AND QUIET THE ENTIRE TIME BEFORE THE CRATE DOOR OPENS AGAIN. If, at any time, she begins to vocalize or scratch at the door, tell her “quiet” or “eh-eh”. Wait until she stops and then open the crate door without a word. If Casey will play the game and stay calm and quiet for 45 seconds, but when you jump to 60 seconds, she starts to freak out before the time is up, back up to 40 seconds – a time at which you know she is successful. Then build up more slowly. Instead of jumping from 45 to 60, this time slow down a little and go from 40 to 45, 47, 50, 52, 55, 57, 60… REMEMBER BABY STEPS TO SUCCESS.


Our goal at this stage is for Casey to be in the crate for 2 full minutes without fussing. Once she can do this on at least 6 separate times, then we can start to really get down to business. That is having you leave her line of vision. Keep in mind, as soon as Casey can no longer see you, she may immediately regress and start to panic. So back up the time to zero. What that means is that you will get Casey in the crate during the game, close and latch the door, step out of her view and immediately return – literally just a fraction of a second of out-of-sight time. As soon as you return, give her a treat through the grate and open the door. Remember, she must be quiet this entire time. No enthusiastic greetings from either of you. Build up how long you are out of sight slowly just as you did before. Back up if necessary, just as before. This is the real training here. She must go into the crate willingly, and she must stay in the crate quietly until you let her out. If she begins to vocalize, scratch or otherwise panic, without coming into view, tell Casey, “Quiet” or “eh-eh” and then wait for her to be quiet for 2 seconds. Then return, do not treat, but let her out without a word – so long as she continues to be quiet. If, upon your return, she starts to vocalize or scratch, turn your back to her and wait until she is calm again. Then, without a word and without a treat, let her out of the crate.


THIS IS CRUCIAL – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER OPEN THE CRATE DOOR WHILE SHE IS CRYING OR SCRATCHING. If you ever open the door while she is crying or scratching, she will learn that crying and scratching are successful tools for getting what she wants. This will increase the vocalizing and digging/scratching/panicking behavior. Instead, ONLY EVER OPEN THE DOOR WHEN SHE IS QUIET AND CALM. This will teach her that calm and quiet behavior are the ONLY tactics that will achieve her desired goal – freedom from the crate.


You can have treats ready and offer her one through the crate door while she is calm, before opening it. Never give her a treat or immediate love upon her exit. A treat through the grate and a little calm sweet-talk “hello, Casey. Did you have a good day?” is fine while the door is closed, but do not get her riled up while she’s in the crate. When she is calm and you are ready to allow her out, open the crate door and walk away – ignoring her for at least 5 minutes. Then, as long as she is calm, invite her to you and give her all the lovin’ you want. This is a major part of training her to her crate. If she has the habit of getting very wound up immediately upon her exit from the crate, then she will begin to get worked up and start acting out her excitement before you open the crate. This will undermine all of the work you’ve been doing. So make sure that you wait anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes after letting her out before you interact with her. You may let her out immediately and take her to the yard for potty, then back in the house and continue to ignore her for a few minutes. You may even come home, put your stuff down, look through the mail, then let her out, then go check your email, make some food or a phone call, and then interact with her. By not always letting her out the second you walk in the house, you will also help her learn that your arrival does not necessarily mean immediate exit from the crate, and she must remain calm and quiet until you open the door. Just don’t sit down to watch a movie and forget to let her out…




1.Make sure Casey has had a potty break before going in and immediately upon coming out of the crate.


2. You might want to have particularly yummy treats that go in the crate when you leave so that she has something to occupy her – Kongs loaded with reduced fat peanut butter or low fat cream cheese are great. You can freeze these so that they last longer. (if you’re going to do this regularly, cut back on her regular food
by about 10% so that we don’t over feed). Real marrow bones are great, other long lasting chews such as Nylabone are good options as well. I try to avoid raw hide as they do not break down well in the digestive system and can cause intestinal blockages.


3. If the crate is in your bedroom, you might put Casey’s bedtime bed in there and encourage her to sleep in the crate – with the door open during all this training. Sleeping in there will go a long way toward her feeling it is a safe and comfortable place to hang out.


4. The ultimate goal is for her to be in the crate and you out of sight for 20-30 minutes. If she can do that, then she is much more likely to be able to stay in there for several hours while you are at work without feeling trapped.


Posted in Basic Dog Stuff, Basic Training Issues, Crating, Fears and Phobias, human-dog interactions, Socialization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Samson Suffers from Separation Anxiety

Many dogs experience stress and anxiety when their people leave them unattended at home. This is commonly referred to as separation anxiety. How do we know if Samson is suffering from such anxiety?  He may react to the stress in one or more ways. He may simply become depressed as you get ready to leave. He will become lethargic and just lay down, showing you his big sad brown eyes. He may cling to you more than usual as you move through the house getting ready to leave. He may begin to whine, cry or even bark. He may even try to start a game with you in the hopes you’ll stick around and play. Or he may not do any of these things before you leave. Samson may mess in the house shortly after you leave. Or he may be destructive – digging at and/or tearing up toys, paper and furniture – chewing on furniture or wood molding throughout the house. If he’s left in the back yard, he may be destructive out there – digging frantically, destroying patio furniture, jumping the fence or trying to dig out under the fence. If he’s crated, Samson may actually injure his mouth or paws as he frantically tries to chew or scratch his way out of the crate. Your neighbors may tell you that Samson was crying, barking or even howling for minutes, hours or possibly the entire time you were gone.

We need to be careful that we do not confuse boredom for separation anxiety.  Most separation anxiety behaviors will manifest within the first 10-15 minutes after you have left. If you are able to determine that Samson is fine for the first hour (or four) that you are gone, and then he begins to tear up the furniture or destroy your pile of bills, then we are looking at a dog who has become bored and is trying to entertain himself. This is not separation anxiety; rather it is an announcement that he needs to have more interesting toys and entertainment options available to him when you will be gone for long periods of time.

The most common separation anxiety issues I deal with are indoor potty while unattended and destructive behavior. I will address each in turn.


First, pick up Samson’s water about an hour before you need to leave, and make sure he has a supervised potty break prior to you leaving. This can be on-leash if necessary to keep it from turning into to play time. Be patient. Be encouraging. Be quiet. Take him to the correct spot, tell him your command to indicate that it’s potty time (“go potty”, “do your business”, etc). Wait quietly and patiently. Give him a chance to sniff around and find the right spot. The process of sniffing actually helps dogs to go. Once he starts to potty, whisper a praise, “Good potty, Samson.” When he’s done, make a fuss over him. Tell him what a good boy he is and how smart he is for pottying where you want him to. You can offer Samson a treat while you’re still standing right there at the potty spot, or you can remove his leash and let him run around for a minute. You can even toss a ball and play fetch for a minute or two. Then take him back inside.

If you are going to be gone for more than an hour, instead of leaving water down, put a bowl with a half dozen ice cubes in it. He can lick the ice directly, eat the ice, or lick up whatever melts. Any of these are fine. The idea is simply slowing down how much water he ingests at one time. Just like humans, if he takes it in slowly, the body has more time to absorb and use the water, rather than simply flushing it straight through his system. Think about this: if you slurp down a 32 oz soda in 20 minutes, you will very likely need to pee about an hour later. If, on the other hand, you nurse that 32 oz soda over the course of 6 or 8 hours, you might not need to potty at all during that entire time. The more slowly you ingest it, the more easily your body can absorb the liquid.

NOTE: Dogs retain a small amount of urine even after they “empty their bladder” for the purpose of marking, so it is still possible that Samson would be able to mark even immediately after you witness him potty outside. So, if his indoor urinating is more about marking territory or insecurity marking and less about separation anxiety, then there will still be work to be done.

In the meantime, anywhere that Samson has already pottied should be cleaned with a product such as Simple Solution. You are looking for a product that contains nonpathogenic (friendly) bacteria. I find this works much better than enzyme based cleaners as the living bacteria literally eats and digests the enzymes in the urine that make it smell like urine. Follow the instructions for application, and you may need to apply more than once for complete cleaning. If you are not certain of all the places where Samson has pottied, invest in a portable black light. You can conduct your own little CSI experiment. After sundown, turn off all the lights and run the black light about 6 inches above the surfaces. Urine will glow fluorescent yellow. After the cleaning product has worked, the area in question will glow either smaller, or not glow at all because it has been properly cleaned up. Note: some carpet fibers may continue to glow even after treatment.



First, I should point out that it’s not necessary to allow Samson the run of the whole house. Putting him in a single room where he has not been destructive before may be sufficient to curb this unwanted behavior. Many dogs feel it’s their job to protect and guard the house while you are gone. If we remember that a dog’s natural home (den) would be only large enough for him to comfortably lie down, then your 1200- 1500- 2500-square foot house can feel like an overwhelming amount of territory to guard all by himself. One bedroom, a single bathroom or even a decent sized laundry room may be as much space as he is comfortable with while alone in the house. Put in a nice bed for him, a couple of toys at a time (that get rotated every couple days with others to keep them interesting), a long lasting chew such as real marrow bone or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter (and frozen to make it last even longer), maybe even have a radio on your local NPR station for some quiet conversation.  All of these comforts and distractions, along with a much smaller space, may help him feel calmer and more secure, and therefore less destructive.


The first thing we need to do to help Samson feel better about our leaving is to desensitize him to the various steps of our departure ritual. So make a list of every step in your departure ritual, and note what Samson’s behavior is at each step.


Get out of bed (Samson gets up with me)

Get coffee and check email (Samson goes out doggie door to do his morning potty and then lays on his bed in the living room)

Shower (Samson lays on the bathmat outside the shower)

Get dressed (Samson chews his Bully Stick on my bed)

Brush teeth (Samson takes his Bully Stick to his bed in the living room)

Put on shoes (Samson remains on his living room bed)

Give Samson his breakfast Kong (Samson ignores his Kong)

Pick up keys (Samson watches me)

Leave the house and lock the door (Samson can be heard whining and begins howling as I walk to my car)

In the above example, Samson has learned that his breakfast Kong is the signal that his person is about to leave the house. He ignores a yummy food source and then focuses all his attention on watching his person get their keys and leave the house.

So, we need to desensitize Samson to some of these departure rituals – including his breakfast Kong. We do this by practicing those steps of the departure ritual many times per day until Samson no longer takes any notice of them because they so often do NOT mean that his person is leaving. Based on the above example, the owner would practice (at least 10 times each and every day) putting on their shoes. They may just put their shoes on and then sit down on the couch to watch TV or they might put their shoes on and promptly take them off again. The owner can put the shoes on, walk to the front door, take them off and return to their activity. You can do any number of things so long as you are putting your shoes on at least 10 times per day. The more you can do it, the better for Samson.

This owner would also practice handling their keys. Pick the keys up and promptly set them down. Pick the keys up and bring them to the desk while she checks email, then return the keys to where they normally live in the house. Pick the keys up and walk to the door, then promptly come back into the room. Bring the keys to the couch and at every commercial, play with the keys until the show comes back on, etc.

Samson should get his food-stuffed Kong for most meals – not just the departure activity. Have multiple Kongs in the house so you can prep several meals at once and then store them in the fridge or freezer. He should get Kongs while you’re home as well. My dogs get Kongs for dinner probably 10 out of every 20 days. Dinner happens with me home – sometimes in the room with them and sometimes in another room. They’ve had Kongs when I’m not home, but other people are as well. By giving Samson Kongs for dinner or breakfast (or even snack Kongs) several times per week when you are there, we reduce the idea in his head that the Kong is a signal that you’re about to leave the house.

But the process with the Kong also has another step here. Instead of giving him a Kong as your last activity before grabbing your keys and going, start giving him the Kong at various other steps of your departure ritual. One day you might give it to him just after he goes potty (while you’re checking email), another day, just before you get in the shower or just after you get out. Still another day, carry it out of the house with you, and then ‘remember’ that you have it and open the door to toss it back into the house for Samson (be sure you don’t hit him with it as that can be painful). By varying when in the departure ritual Samson gets the Kong (especially since he’s now getting it frequently when you’re home to watch him enjoy it), we will minimize the signal effect the Kong has that you’re about to leave him. In general, the Kong should be given to Samson anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes BEFORE you leave the house.

I’ve indicated that the desensitization exercises should be done a minimum of 10 times per day. You can put anywhere from 30 seconds up to several hours between each practice for each step. In other words, you could play with your keys every 30 seconds for 5 minutes (that’s 10 reps) or you can play with your keys once every hour over the course of the whole day. But, you will see much faster progress for Samson the more you interact with these objects. If you play with your keys every 2-5 minutes for an hour before work, then again when you get home and again later in the evening before bed, then you’re getting as much as 90 or 100 reps per day. If you’re playing with your keys 90-100 times per day, and only one time did you actually leave the house, then the rest of the time it didn’t indicate you were going anywhere, Samson will quickly come to dismiss the sound of the keys as a signal that you’re leaving. Ideally you will vary the amount of time between each handling session otherwise Samson will habituate to the duration, and not desensitize to the activity. In other words, if you handle the keys every 30 seconds, Samson will quickly learn that in that moment, you will make that noise every 30 seconds. But, if you handle them and then 30 seconds later you handle them again, then 5 minutes between, then 2 minutes between, 5 minutes between, then 10 seconds between… And, if we are doing these activities at random times of the day (not every day at noon), we set the stage so that Samson learns that your handling of the keys no matter when it occurs is no longer relevant.

If you’re working on desensitizing Samson to more than one step of your routine, make sure you practice each step individually, not simultaneously to the other steps. Once he’s showing no concern over each step on its own, then you can begin combining steps (e.g. putting on shoes and then picking up keys) and working 2, then 3 then 4 steps (etc) at a time until Samson shows no concern for the multiple steps occurring together.

One of the best ways to help Samson feel less concerned about your departure ritual is to rearrange the ritual istelf. Instead of always doing everything in the same order, mix it up. Perhaps one day, you’ll take your shower before you have coffee and check your email. Perhaps shower and get dressed, including your shoes, bring your stuff to your car and then come back inside to have coffee and check email so that you’ve completely changed the order of things. By randomly changing the order of your departure ritual, Samson will never be sure which step is really the last step and this may help him to calm down about all the steps.

You can use other interactive toys besides the Kong such as Bully Sticks, real marrow bone, Nylabones, etc. Make sure he gets to enjoy those objects in your presence regularly as well. But, don’t leave them out all the time. Instead, make them special treats for Samson to enjoy for 20-60 minutes at a time. Outside of the special time, these things should be put away. This helps to keep these things special so that when you give them to Samson to occupy him while you’re out, they’ll be more likely to hold his interest and attention for longer. Like with the Kong, make sure that you give them to him anywhere from 5-30 minutes before you leave – always at a different moment in your departure ritual so we help minimize the signaling effect the object will have that you’re getting ready to leave.


We need to practice actually leaving the house… To do this, you will first move to the door and then return to whatever activity you were doing. If Samson remains calm, you can tell him what a good boy he is. Low key petting or a medium value treat is also an option. If Samson shows any signs of anxiety as you head to the door, once you return into the space, do not engage him until he’s relaxed and is calm. If he’s jumping on you, turn your back to him. When all four are on the floor, you can have a low-key interaction as above.

Continue to practice approaching the door until Samson is no longer concerned about this. Then move on to the next step. Jiggle the handle of the door and return into the room. Respond as above and continue practicing this until you can consistently go jiggle the handle of the door and Samson shows no concern for 6 consecutive tries.

Then crack the door and promptly close it. Continue as above until Samson shows no concern about the door cracking and closing.

Then, open the door slightly and close. . . Repeat until Samson no longer shows concern.

Open the door wide enough for you to walk through and close the door. Repeat until Samson doesn’t care.

Open the door and stand there for 3-5 seconds. Repeat until Samson doesn’t care.

Open the door, step through and promptly return, closing the door. Continue responding to Samson as described above and practice until Samson no longer shows any concern that you’ve stepped through the door and back.

Open the door, step through and partially close the door behind you, return and close the door. Respond and continue as described above.

Open the door, step through, close the door and promptly come back inside. Continue as above until Samson shows no concern.

Now you’ll begin to build duration. Step through the door, close it and count to 3, return BEFORE Samson begins to vocalize. You may need to video these session so you can watch Samson and see if he’s showing any non-vocal signs of agitation. If you can do this for 3 seconds and Samson shows no signs of concern, then edge it up to 5 seconds.

The important thing is that you always return before Samson is showing signs of anxiety. He needs to know that you will come back even if he’s not feeling anxious about it.

Start building duration, but vary up and down how long you ask Samson to be alone. By varying the duration, we continue to offer Samson very easy trials even as we build the overall time. This variation might look something like this:

You’ve gone outside and closed the door: pause for 3 seconds before returning. Then 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 6 seconds, 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 8 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds, 15 seconds, 3 seconds, 20 seconds, 3 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds… Continue building duration until you can stand outside the door for 5 minutes and return and Samson is comfortable. Even as you’re able to do 4 or 5 minutes, continue to throw in the occasional 5-second or other low number duration to help give him some super easy wins.

Once you can do 5-minutes outside the door on 6 consecutive trials and Samson is not showing any concern, then step outside, walk away from the door and back. He can hear your footsteps as you go. So walk 10-20 steps away and promptly return. Build up to walking to your car. Once you can get to your car, you’ll add in getting in the car. Build up the duration so you can sit in the car for 15 minutes before walking back to the house. Then you’ll begin adding in turning on the engine, then promptly turning it off and then building up to turning on the engine and letting it idle for 2 minutes before you turn it off and return.

Then you’ll get in the car, back out of the drive and return. Get in the car, back out of the drive and go down the street and return. Get in the car, drive around the block and return. Then start building up your duration after driving away from 2 minutes to 5, 10, 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, 2 hours, etc.

Don’t jump from 30 minutes to 3 hours or Samson may start to panic later in the experience at your failure to return.

The important thing is that you always return before Samson is showing signs of anxiety. He needs to know that you will come back even if he’s not feeling anxious about it.

During the retraining process, you may need to lean on friends, trusted neighbors, pet sitters or professional dog walkers to visit with Samson if you need to be out longer than he’s able to manage at that stage. If he can comfortably be alone for 30 minutes, but you need to be out for 5 hours, you risk undermining all the great work you’ve done so far and that could result in having to start all over in the training process.



Thunder ShirtThis is an anxiety wrap that has proven to be quite helpful for a number of dogs. The comforting effect of the shirt will only last between 30-90 minutes (depending on the dog) and then Samson will habituate to it. Taking the shirt off for several hours and then putting it back on can reestablish the comforting effect for another 30-90 minutes.

I’ve had great success by having Samson where the shirt for 1-2 hours, twice per day during relaxing or fun activities as well as when he’ll be unattended. By having him wear it during meal times, play or cuddle time, when he gets his special chews (Kongs, Nylabone, marrow bone, etc), we help to reinforce the naturally comforting effect because the shirt’s been paired with pleasant things. Also, by having Samson wear the shirt during these times – and putting it on anywhere from 5-30 minutes before you leave – we help prevent accidentally “poisoning” the effect by turning the shirt into just another cue that you’re about to leave him alone.

DAP – Comfort Zone – Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This is a synthetic pheromone that supposedly mimics that of a nursing mama dog. Some people swear by it. It is meant to have a calming/soothing effect on Samson. If you’re using the diffuser, I encourage you to just plug it in about 20-30 minutes before you plan to leave the house and unplug it when you get home. Like the Thunder Shirt, Samson will habituate to the pheromone and any comforting effect will disappear after an hour or so of exposure. By removing it from the environment for a while (unplugging it), you can reestablish the effect the next time you plug it in.

If you’re using the DAP collar, put it on about 15-30 minutes before you leave and remove it when you return. If you’re using the spray, then spray Samson’s bedding or take his collar off and spray the collar, or spray the neck strap of his Thunder Shirt. If you’re spraying his collar or the Thunder Shirt, make sure you remove it from Samson before spraying it on as it’s in an alcohol base which can sting his eyes and is also very potent in odor. Give it 10-15 minutes for the alcohol to wear off before putting his collar or the Thunder Shirt back on.

Environmental Assist – many dogs are soothed by having soft music (classical) or the TV/radio left on. If you decide to leave the TV or radio on, choose something that is unlikely to have cartoons or loud, angry voices. Don’t choose a channel that will have Jerry Springer type shows or loud, arguing political pundits. I prefer NPR over AM talk radio because it tends to be less argumentative. I prefer something like C-SPAN or CNBC over CNN, MSNBC or Fox as the conversations tend to be much duller.

Pharmaceutical Aids – Some dogs with severe separation anxiety will benefit from using Clomicalm. This is a tricyclic antidepressant. It takes about 4 weeks to ramp up to a therapeutic dose in Samson’s system, and once he’s at a therapeutic dose, you cannot stop him cold-turkey. You must wean him off the drug. This drug is designed to be used in conjunction with the behavior modification as it can lower Samson’s stress enough that he’s able to learn new coping skills. It is not meant to be the “fix” by itself. Most dogs are on the drug for 4-10 months at a therapeutic dose until new skills are learned. Then many of those dogs can be successfully weaned off the drug and continue to show significant improvement in their separation anxiety.

Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication that can be given for specific events to help reduce stress and anxiety. If Samson is generally doing well unattended, but there’s construction happening next door and the noise is scaring Samson, we might give him a Xanax that day to help him through this exceptionally stressful experience.



So, to recap: For the stressed potty, pick up water an hour before you leave and make sure there is a properly supervised potty break prior to your departure. Leave ice cubes in a bowl for him if you’ll be gone more than an hour.

For the destructive behavior, confine Samson to a space smaller than the whole house (a bathroom, the kitchen, etc) rather than having the run of the whole house. Make sure he has a bed, a couple of regularly rotated interactive toys including long-lasting chew toys, and perhaps leave a radio quietly on a talk radio station so that he has voices to keep him company.

Use a Thunder Shirt or DAP if you find them helpful. Use prescription meds as directed by your vet.

In general, you should keep 10 or 12 toys in a place inaccessible to him and rotate just 2 or 3 toys every couple days to keep them new and interesting for Samson.

When you’re home, do the exercises described above to help desensitize him to the steps of your departure routine. You can fit the training in to the rest of your schedule by multitasking. During commercial breaks is a great time – instead of fast forwarding the DVR, simply let the 2 or 3 minutes of commercials run while you do a round of departure routine. While food is in the microwave or you’re waiting for the water to boil, do a round of training, etc.

Build his duration for being unattended, making sure to always come back to him BEFORE he becomes anxious.

Be patient. Separation anxiety will take some time to work through. If you remain calm, and patient, continue to work with him on the departure routines, and set him up for success with the methods described above, Samson will almost certainly learn that being alone for a little while is not the end of the world and that you will return.


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Tasty But Toxic: Part II – Plants and Miscellaneous Household Items



More than 700 varieties of plants have been identified as having the ability to cause toxic reactions in our pets. These toxic reactions can range from mild tummy upset to localized irritation of the mouth/throat (if ingested) to death. I am not going to even try to list all of them. This list has a dozen of the most common plants that may be found in homes. They are not in a particular order, so please read through the entire list.

** This list is geared toward dogs, but you can assume that if it is harmful to dogs it is likely to also be harmful to cats. In many cases, these plants are significantly more harmful to cats than they are to dogs. Please research any plants that your cat may have access to in order to ensure its safety.

If you have a plant in your home, garden or other area of your property that is not listed here, please check the following websites for further information.

This is the ASPCA website. Here you can look for plants that are toxic to dogs, cats and horses, or you can limit the search to a single animal. This site includes pictures of the plants for easy identification

This link is to Cornell University’s Department of Animal Science site for toxic plants. The list is broken down into categories such as household plants, garden vegetable plants, trees and shrubs, etc.


MARIJUANA:  I mention this one first because it is already very common, and with more states legalizing the medicinal use, its presence in pet-homes is growing. The toxin is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Pets are more likely to be affected by ingesting the plant than by inhaling the smoke from the plant, but it is not a good idea to try to give your pet a “contact high” as symptoms may develop from that as well. Symptoms can vary based on individual dog, dosage exposure and potency of product.  Symptoms begin 30-90 minutes after ingestion and include: dilated pupils, excessive drooling, disorientation, recumbency (leaning, not holding their own weight), incontinence, increase or decrease in heart rate, extreme sensitivity to touch/pain/other stimuli (hyperesthesia), lethargy, lack of coordination resulting in a wobbly or staggering gate (ataxia), tremors, seizure, depression, excessive sleep (somnolence) which can approach coma, slow or shallow breathing (respiratory depression) and potentially death. THC is stored in the fat cells, so symptoms may last up to 72 hours. Immediate attention from a veterinarian is appropriate if you suspect marijuana ingestion. Veterinarians are not obligated to report to the police, so do not let that stop you from seeking assistance if your dog (or other pet) has discovered your stash.

APPLES, APRICOTS, PLUMS, PEACHES, CHERRIES: Unless your dog has a particular allergy, small bits of the flesh of these fruits should not cause your dog harm. The stems, leaves and seeds of these fruits contain cyanide which can be toxic if eaten. Symptoms include: dilated pupils, breathing difficulty, panting, drooling, dark red mucous membranes, vomiting, lethargy and shock.

ALOE: As an ingredient in shampoos and the like it is not toxic. Ingesting aloe gel can cause diarrhea and vomiting in dogs. It may also cause loss of appetite, abdominal pain, swollen tongue, pale gums/tongue, muscle tremors or full convulsions.

ELEPHANT EARS (CALADIUMS): This common decorative plant can cause irritation to the lips and tongue, vomiting and difficult swallowing.

DEVIL’S IVY (GOLDEN POTHOS): This is the # 1 household plant, so if you have plants in your home, you probably have at least one of these leafy green guys. Ingesting some of this plant can cause your dog to experience vomiting, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing and localized irritation around the lips and tongue.

LILIES: While pretty, lilies should not be a treat of choice. Most varieties of lily are toxic to some degree to dogs and cats. Symptoms vary based on type of plant, but can include: diarrhea (possibly bloody), vomiting, difficulty swallowing and burning of the mouth and tongue. More serious symptoms may include a drop in blood pressure, arrhythmias (out-of-rhythm heart beat), tremors and convulsions, liver damage, kidney failure and even a suppression in the production of bone marrow.

CYCLAMEN: A very pretty pink or red flower, but it is potentially deadly to our dogs. Immediate veterinary treatment is necessary if your dog ingests any of this plant. Symptoms include vomiting and death.

GLADIOLAS: Often part of bouquets, these flowers can cause depression, excessive drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting (potentially bloody) as well as diarrhea – also potentially bloody.

AZALEA/RHODODENDRON: This is a highly toxic plant. Ingestion can cause a host of symptoms that begin within just a few hours of ingestion. Symptoms include acute digestive upset displaying as excessive drooling, loss of appetite, vomiting, incontinence (diarrhea or frequent bowel movements) and colic. You may also see depression, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination, leg paralysis, weakness), and recumbency (leaning against objects/humans). These symptoms can last for 2 or more days. There may be signs of recovery at that point, or the animal may slip into a coma and die.

DIEFFENBACHIA: This common house plant can cause difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, vomiting, and oral irritation including an intense burning of the mouth, tongue and lips.

DAISY: This very common garden plant can cause skin irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and lack of coordination.

DOG DAISY: While it has a name that we may like, ingesting this variety of daisy can cause skin irritation, diarrhea, vomiting and increased urination.

CALIFORNIA IVY: Found in the yards of many west coast homes, ingestion of this ivy can cause abdominal pain, excessive drooling, diarrhea and vomiting. In this case the leaves are more toxic than the berries, but neither should be ingested.


Next is a list of various other items that might be found in your home that could harm your pet. This list is far from exhaustive. If you are concerned that something your pet has eaten may be poisonous or in some other way potentially harmful, please contact your vet immediately. If it is after hours, please contact the animal poison control center at (888) 426-4435.

HUMAN VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS: These pills are dosed for humans and not dogs. Giving them without direct supervision by your pet’s veterinarian can cause damage to the liver and kidneys as well as direct damage to the lining of the stomach and intestines.

TYLENOL: Dog livers do not have the enzymes necessary to break down acetaminophen. Small dogs can have severe reactions to as little as two regular strength tablets. Symptoms include abdominal pain, excessive drooling and lethargy.Immediate intervention by a veterinarian is in order if ingestion occurs.

POTPOURRI: While the individual flower petals in a bowl of potpourri may not be toxic in and of themselves to your pet, the essential oils that are on the petals can be quite toxic. These essential oils can cause burns to the mouth, esophagus and tongue. These burns can be severe. Please keep potpourri and the oils used to refresh it well out of reach of your four-legged companions (this includes cats who can get up on higher shelves).

CITRUS OIL EXTRACTS: Can cause vomiting.

FERTILIZER: Ingesting fertilizer can cause severe damage to the digestive tract (esophagus, stomach, intestines) as well as gastrointestinal blockage that can be fatal. Do not allow your dogs to have access to an area that has just been fertilized. Check the instructions on the product to determine how long you must wait before allowing your dog to enter that area.

MOUSE/RAT POISON: If you need to use a mouse or rat poison at your home, be sure to keep your dog away from that area. This is one of the most toxic things your pet can come in contact with. There are three common types of poisons found in these products, all of them can be fatal to your pets. Bromethalins cause central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction while cholecalciferols can dramatically increase calcium levels – resulting in seizures prior to death. The most commonly found poisons in these rodenticides are anticoagulants. Anticoagulants reduce the production of blood clotting factors, allowing the animal that has ingested it to bleed to death. A general rule of thumb: if it can kill one type of small mammal, it can kill another – yours.

STRING/RIBBON/FLUFF: We may think of string and ribbon as a fairly innocuous item, but ingesting it can cause intestinal obstruction. This can be extremely serious and may require surgical intervention. This is true of the string fringe on rope toys and the stuffing from plush toys. This does not mean that your dog can never play with these toys. What it does mean is that they should be supervised toys so that you can remove the strings or fluff as they become separated from the toy. This way the dog can enjoy the toy and you can help to ensure that they do not ingest the bits that can harm them.

TOBACCO: Ingesting tobacco (eating a cigarette) can not only cause digestive upset, it can also have adverse affects on the nervous system. This can cause a rapid heartbeat, collapse, coma and potentially death.  Second hand smoke is not quite as toxic, but can have similar affects on our pets as it does on humans, including lung cancer and emphysema.

BATTERIES: Dogs will sometimes swallow the weirdest things. Batteries, from big D cell down to watch batteries and even hearing aid batteries are potentially deadly. Within 12 hours of swallowing a battery, the alkaline acids can cause a fatal ulceration of the stomach lining. If you fear your dog has swallowed any kind of battery, get them to a vet’s office immediately!

MOUTHWASH: It may taste good, but we don’t swallow it and neither should your dog. Drinking mouthwash can cause excessive drooling, vomiting, seizures and coma.

ANTIFREEZE: Antifreeze tastes sweet and is inviting to your pet to lick it up. But the main ingredient, ethylene glycol, is highly toxic. Symptoms of antifreeze toxicity include vomiting, lethargy, stumbling, seizures and kidney failure. Without immediate treatment, this can quickly become fatal.

MOTH BALLS: We may not think about mothballs as harmful, just a bit smelly. But they contain an insecticide. As mentioned with rat/mouse poisons, if it can kill one type of animal, it can have adverse  effects on another type as well. In this case, you will see central nervous system (CNS) excitation and seizures. If not treated immediately, your pet can experience liver failure. Unlike many toxic items your dog may get into, this is one case where you DO NOT WANT TO INDUCE VOMITING.

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Tasty But Toxic: Part I – FOODS


Dogs love to eat. Dogs love to investigate the world around them and they do most of their investigating first by smelling objects, then by tasting them. Oftentimes this is harmless, if annoying, behavior. Most of the things that dogs get into are not going to cause illness or possibly death, but there are some things out there that could. Many of these potentially deadly things are items found commonly in our homes. Many of these items are foods and medications that are perfectly safe for humans, but can cause devastating results if ingested by our four-legged friends.

I cannot speak to the toxicity of the following items in relation to cats, as my expertise is with dogs. But it is probably safe to say that if it is dangerous to a dog, it is probably also dangerous to a cat. Always check with your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns.

For more information and details on what to do if you fear your dog has been poisoned (gotten into something), please see the animal poison control website at:

This blog will list the potentially toxic item as well as the symptoms that can occur from ingesting it. It will be presented in two sections: The first blog will be Foods, while the second entry will address Medications, Plants, Miscellaneous other household items.

These are not in alphabetical order, but rather start with some of the more well known toxic foods, and then move through lesser known items.

CHOCOLATE/COFFEE (CAFFEINE): We know that caffeine is bad for dogs, but there’s more to it than just caffeine in chocolate and coffee that make it so dangerous to dogs. There are substances that are collectively called methylxanthines (theobromine and theophylline), which are found in cacao seeds. Symptoms of ingesting products with these substances can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting,excessive thirst/urination, abnormal heart rhythm, hyperactivity, tremors,seizures or death.

ALCOHOL (WINE, BEERS, HARD LIQUORS):As funny as it may seem to get your pup intoxicated, I do not recommend it. Giving your dog alcohol can do a lot more than just get him tipsy. It can also cause: vomiting, diarrhea, lack of coordination, depress the central nervous system (brain function and thus heart function), cause breathing difficulties, tremors, coma and even death.

BONES: Fish bones, chicken bones, other small bones.Bones can cause lacerations to the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Bones can also cause intestinal obstructions which, if left untreated, can cause death. Treatment for obstructions is surgical intervention.

FAT TRIMMINGS: Too much fat in the diet can cause pancreatitis – that is inflammation of the pancreas. This is an extraordinarily painful illness that can cause abdominal distention, lack of appetite,dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, yellow/greasy stool, depression, a hunched posture (holding the stomach) and fever. If the pancreatitis is severe, it can cause a body-wide infection known as sepsis, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), breathing difficulties, internal hemorrhages. If inflammation is severe enough, it can cause the pancreatic enzymes to release into the abdominal cavity causing the organs surrounding the pancreas to begin being digested by those enzymes. It is an extremely painful and extremely severe condition that can cause death if not caught quickly enough.

TABLE SCRAPS: Table scraps are not nutritionally balanced and can lead to obesity. We all want to give our pets a treat now and again, but table scraps should never be more than 5% of the daily diet. As a general rule, if it is a scrap – a trimming that you are not prepared to eat yourself – then do not feed it to your pets. Obesity and all the diseases related to it, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, pancreatitis, and cancer are all observed in dogs just as they are in humans.


CAT FOOD: Most cat foods are higher in fat and proteins than dog food and thus can cause health and obesity issues by including too much fat or protein in the dog’s diet.Too much protein in a dog’s diet can actually cause behavioral issues such as hyperactivity and aggression.

MOLDY, SPOILED FOOD/GARBAGE: Spoiled foods can contain all sorts of toxins, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and potentially affect other organs depending on the particular type of toxin.

ONIONS:  Raw,cooked, powdered… any way you slice it, onion in large quantities is bad for dogs. Onions, and to a lesser extent garlic, contain sulfoxides and disulfides,which can cause anemia (iron poor blood). This anemia can reach a critical level and cause death. Avoid onions altogether. Garlic is much less of an issue and the amounts typically found in dog foods and treats is not likely to cause any harm. But, do not offer your dog garlic directly, or foods that have been cooked with large quantities of garlic.

BABY FOOD: Baby foods often contain onion powder (see onions above). The formulation of baby food can also cause nutritional deficiencies if ingested in large quantities.

GRAPES/RAISINS: The toxin in grapes and raisins is still unknown, but there is clinical evidence to show that ingestion of grapes or raisins can cause kidney failure and death in dogs. Grapeseed extract does not seem to be correlated to any kidney issues.

MACADAMIA NUTS: The toxin in macadamia nuts is not yet known, but clinical evidence shows that ingestion can cause malfunction of the digestive system,nervous system and muscles.

PERSIMMONS, PEACH PITS, PLUM PITS: Persimmon seeds,and fruit pits can cause digestive obstructions. As mentioned earlier, obstructions typically require surgical intervention, and if left untreated can cause death.

LEAVES OF POTATO, RHUBARB AND TOMATO/STEMS OF POTATO AND TOMATO PLANTS: The leaves and stems of these vegetables contain oxalates.Oxalates affect several systems including the digestive, urinary and nervous system. This is likely only going to be an issue if you have an active garden that the dog can access or live on a working farm.

MUSHROOMS: Toxins in mushrooms can affect multiple body systems, cause shock and possibly even cause death.

RAW EGGS/RAW FISH: Both raw eggs and raw fish can cause B vitamin deficiencies. Raw eggs contain avidin, an enzyme that can decrease the absorption of biotin(a B vitamin). Raw eggs may also contain salmonella which can cause all the same symptoms in dogs as it does in humans. You may also see skin and hair coat problems with the consumption of raw eggs. Raw fish can cause a deficiency of thiamine (a different B vitamin). A lack of thiamine can bring about loss of appetite, seizures, and potentially death.

LIVER: Lots of liver can cause vitamin A toxicity, affecting muscles and bones.

MILK: Just like humans, some adult dogs lack the lactase enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar called lactose. Ingesting milk and dairy products by dogs who are lactose intolerant can result in diarrhea, stomach discomfort and flatulence.There are specifically lactose free products available for dogs. If you drink lactose free milk, small quantities would be acceptable.

AVOCADO: Every part of the avocado is dangerous to dogs (as well as birds and rodents). The plant’s leaves, the stone, the skin and the flesh of the fruit all contain something called Persin. Persin can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

RAW YEAST DOUGH: Yeast dough can continue to rise after ingestion by a dog. This can cause gas to accumulate in the digestive system and cause something called Bloat.Bloat is extremely painful and goes beyond just a distended feeling. It can actually cause the stomach or intestines to twist on itself or even rupture. This is potentially fatal.Once the dough has risen completely and been cooked, the risk goes down considerably. Small bits of bread are OK to offer your dog, but it should not constitute more than 5% of the dog’s daily diet.

SALT: Ingesting large quantities of salt can cause electrolyte imbalance and possibly even sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms include:excessive thirst/urination, vomiting,diarrhea, depression, tremors, fever, seizures and potentially death.

XYLITOL: This is a commonly used artificial sweetener found in many products including sugar free gum, toothpaste, candy as well as some baked goods. Xylitol causes insulin to be released by the pancreas. Excess insulin causes low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Symptoms include: vomiting, lethargy, lack of coordination.Eventually it can lead to recumbency (leaning against something for support,part of a lack of coordination/lethargy) and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be observed within just a few days of toxic exposure to xylitol.

SUGAR: Just like in humans, sugary foods can cause hyperactivity, dental issues, obesity and diabetes.

Part II will provide a list of other household items as well as miscellaneous stuff that dogs sometimes get into that could potentially cause health problems.

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