Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When teaching cute tricks backfire

I love Dr. Sophia Yin.  She's brilliant.  Here she is teaching her dog to fetch a tissue when she sneezes.  Cute!  But, I can see how this could backfire.  How?  When the dog doesn't realize this behavior is only good when it's requested, not offered.  This is crucial.  Otherwise, when her dog sees that she has something he wants, he'll resort to what all dogs resort to - trying all the tools in his toolbox to earn access to it, including fetching tissues.  That could be messy!

I had an unfortunate experience with a cute behavior recently.  I was in the process of teaching my dog Riis to push my baby daughter's swing.  However, I hadn't gotten to the point where we were putting it on cue yet.  So, one day, my husband had just spent 45 minutes getting our daughter to sleep, and placed her carefully in the swing so as not to wake her. What does Riis do?  He goes right over and bumps the swing with his nose, swinging it like a champ, and waking up the baby.  Needless to say, my husband did not think that trick was very cute.

You might have had this problem with teaching your dog "Paw" or "Shake."  Often they start to paw at you whenever they want your attention.  It is important not to reward this, and to reward only when you ask for it!  Not only will this get rid of the annoying unsolicited pawing, but it will teach your dog that she needs to take advantage of the opportunity to earn a treat when you ask her for something.  It will make her that much more attentive to you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dog-Human Translator??

Yesterday I came across this article about a device in beta that will translate your dog's thoughts into simple phrases that you can understand.  An EKG reads his brain waves and spits out phrases to reflect what he's feeling, like "This is splendid!" "Leave me alone." "I am so very weary." "Who are you?" "Em, why are you guys leaving?" "Is that really you?" "Night-time!" and "He must be a very nice animal."

I wonder what dog owners will think of this.  I, for one, am skeptical.  Not just because if it were to be successful, it could put trainers like me out of a job (!!) but because I honestly don't see how it could work.  For example, when my dog is confused, he gets frustrated.  Could a device like this translate that as anger, when the real issue is that he's confused?  I could see that creating a real communication breakdown instead of being an assistance.

On the other hand, the "Leave me alone" phrase could potentially be quite helpful.  Imagine how many dog bites would have been avoided if the dog could just say those three words.  Especially to children.  So, I suppose there could be some value to this.  But still, I'm more skeptical than not.  

What do you think?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nose Work for Dummies

Hide half your dog’s food in different places in your house.  He’ll tire himself out using his nose to find it!  Dogs are hardwired for hunting and enjoy doing what they do best.  So he’ll be satisfying a crucial part of his daily needs as well.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Doggies on Diets

Does your dog have to watch his figure?  Retire his food bowl for a while and use his food for training.  Feed it to him during his morning walk, for example, to reward loose leash walking.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's not magic... it's liverwurst

Having trouble keeping your dog’s attention?  Use better treats!  When in doubt... break out the liverwurst.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adopt, Don't Shop!

Adopting a dog from a shelter has benefits over buying a dog from a breeder, no matter how reputable.  There’s ups and downs to both options, but with 5-7 million pets being surrendered to shelters in the U.S. each year and 60% of them ending up euthanized, adopting is a much better idea.  Plus, there’s no better feeling than taking a dog out of a shelter for good!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What to Tell Kids

A great thing to tell kids is that when a dog is growling, playing too rough, or doing anything else that makes them uncomfortable, they should stand like a tree.  This means crossed arms, downward gaze, planted feet, and no noise or movement.  This is dog language for “Please go away.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tip of the Day: Dog Warnings

When a dog’s body goes stiff, that means she’s uncomfortable.  It’s a warning - in dog language, it means, “Don’t come any closer!  I don’t want to have to defend myself, but if I’m scared enough, I will do it!”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Look for Letters.

When evaluating a trainer, look for one with credentials.  And be wary of those who don’t use food!  Not using food in dog training is like having bad eyesight but refusing to wear glasses.  It’s a tool, use it right and you will have more success!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tip of the Day: Food is Food

There’s no difference between “human” food and “dog” food.  Dog food is made of the same things as human food!  Plus, dogs will never learn the difference.  They can learn that food on the table is not for them, but it’s not because they perceive the food as different from the food that they eat.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dogs Don't Lie

Dogs aren’t capable of deception.  If they’re doing something, they’re doing it for a reason.  Once you can identify how your dog is being rewarded for his behavior, you can use that information to change it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tip of the Day: Your dog can talk better than you think.

Pay attention to what you’re dog’s telling you.  That way you’ll figure out why he behaves the way he does.  This is crucial to finding a way to change any behavior that is not conducive to your lives together.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Consistency is Key

Consistency is key.  It’s better to let your dog pull on the leash all the time than let him pull only some of the time.  If he’s allowed to pull sometimes, the pulling behavior will actually become stronger than if he were to be always allowed to pull.  It’s like gambling - if you won every time, the excitement of the game would be diminished and it wouldn’t be as addictive.  Instead, it would be like a job.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tip of the Day: A Walking Quick-Fix

Make sure you’re using the right walking equipment for your dog.  The right harness or mantle can make all the difference in your dog’s leash behavior.

Why Real Trainers Don't Guarantee Results

You can never guarantee results of behavior modification if the behaviors you're trying to modify have an emotional cause, as all extreme behaviors do.  How silly would it be for a psychologist to guarantee results for a patient suffering from severe anxiety?  I think we could all safely say that psychologist is a quack.  The reason is that you can never know the boundaries and all the complex factors in a being's emotional makeup.  So how can we say we can pick out the ones that are effecting a certain behavior and address them effectively?  We can do our best and often have great success, and at the very least we hope to provide some comfort.  But we can never guarantee anything.  Professionalism prohibits us from being disingenuous, and guarantees are most certainly that.

So, no trainer who aims to address the actual emotional causes of a behavior (the only way to get lasting and healthy change), can guarantee results.  But here's the thing - some trainers CAN guarantee a change in behavior, because they DON'T address the root cause.  Instead, they use pain, fear or intimidation to change a surface behavior, exacerbating the underlying emotion that causes it.  Sure, a psychologist might be able to get a person to kick a drug habit by threatening his life.  But will they be able to stop that person from jumping off a bridge spurred by the underlying emotion which has probably been made worse because of the fear of pain or death at the hands of the psychologist?  This may sound extreme - but the fear of death is ultimately what trainers who use pain are tapping into with dogs.  Physical pain is life-threatening to them, and causes deep fear.  If your dog is stressed and pulling on the leash, put a prong collar on your dog and she'll stop pulling because she's afraid of the pain caused by the sharp metal edges digging into her neck.  She'll learn to suppress that behavior.  But she'll still be stressed.  And that stress WILL find an outlet in ANOTHER behavior.  And it will be a less predictable, more extreme behavior - often a much more dangerous one than pulling on the leash.  That's why even though it is tempting to go with a trainer that guarantees results, it's a huge, bright, waving red flag.  Opt for honesty and compassion and you'll be doing right by your dog and yourself.   

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tip of the Day: What are you telling her?

Be aware of your body language and tone of voice.  Your dog is watching you for signals - tension in your body and voice are signals to your dog to be afraid.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dog Park Blues

Taking your dog to the dog park might have the opposite effect you might expect.  Instead of tiring him out, it may rile him up.  Many dogs don’t enjoy dog parks - often there are many dogs confined in a relatively small space along with all their owners.  This can create a very stressful environment that will remain with the dog long after, which can manifest in stress-related behavior issues.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dog Bite Prevention PSA

Check out this cool (though somewhat scary) PSA to prevent dog bites:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tip of the Day: What should she DO?

You’ll have more success training your dog if you think in terms of what you DO want him to do as opposed to what you do NOT want him to do.  For example, what would you prefer he did instead of barking at the doorbell?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Reward your dog every time she sits without being asked.  Especially in front of doorways, her food bowl, or in front of a stranger with food! Sitting will then become her default behavior. She'll ask for things she wants by sitting, not jumping, counter-surfing, or barking!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tip of the Day: Leverage Prey Drive

If you’re having trouble getting your dog to come to you, try making a crazy sound and running in the other direction.  Sounds bizarre, but it’s a good bet in a pinch.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tip of the Day: When in doubt, switch treats!!!!

Switch the treats you use for training.  Keep it new and interesting for your dog and you’ll get better focused attention from him.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Thinking is exhausting...

Remember that for dogs, working their brains can be just as tiring as working their bodies.  Get some food-dispensing puzzles so that your dog has some good mental stimulation on a daily basis.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tip of the Day: Bones.

Ask your butcher if he’s discarding any bones that week.  Take them off his hands, freeze them, and give them to your dog when he’s bored.  He’ll love it!  Just make sure they are dog-safe - chicken bones, for example, are not.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tip of the Day: What to tell your kids

It’s not safe to instruct children to put their hands near a dog’s nose so he can sniff them.  Instead, ask them to make a fist and hold it down by their knees, and if the dog wants to engage with them he will approach.  Otherwise, it’s not safe to pet that dog.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tip of the Day: Signaling Calm

Tension in the leash translates to tension in your dog.  Keep the leash loose and remain calm - this way you’re not inadvertently signaling to your dot that something’s wrong.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tip of the Day: Your Dog is Good for Your Health

Petting your dog triggers a release of oxytocin in both you and your dog.  This is the same chemical reaction that happens in mothers in response to their babies.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tip of the Day: Tail Wagging - good or bad?

Not all tail-wagging means the same thing!  For example, loose, wide tail wags accompanied by a loose and relaxed body means happy.  Stiff body and fast, sharp tail wags means the opposite.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tip of the Day: Cats Are People Too.

Have CATS too?  Create perches at varying heights on your walls in the rooms where you spend the most time.  This way your cat can be together with the gang while not being in the middle of the action.  This can have a surprising effect on common behavior problems and histories of conflict between your cat and dog.  And it’s totally DIY!  You can use regular shelving with carpeting glued on top.  No one will know the difference between the perches and normal shelves.  (Just make sure the perches are long and wide enough so that your cat doesn’t feel like she’s going to fall off the end).  

Tip of the Day: Personal Space

Not all dogs are comfortable with strange dogs approaching them while they’re on leash.  Respect other dogs’ space and avoid possible altercations by looking at the other dog’s body language, and then always asking the owner if a greeting is permissible.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tip of the Day: Brushing for Calm

Brushing your dog isn’t just good for getting out knots in long hair.  Short hair or long, brushing with a soft-pronged brush or mitt will help distribute oils in your dogs skin while helping her relax.  Make sure you brush with long, slow strokes.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tip of the Day: Too Many Leftovers!

Don't know what to do with all your leftovers? Put them in a Kong, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, and freeze it.  Your dog will appreciate it!  Just make sure all the food is dog-safe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Puppy socialization: 5 reasons to socialize your dog... from a very vet-friendly dog trainer.

1. You can't go back in time.
This fact of life throws a wrench in a lot of otherwise great plans.  Sports betting, for example.  But I'm talking specifically about how the impossibility of time travel pertains to our dogs.  They have a certain window of time when they're young to be socialized to all kinds of different people, dogs, animals, objects, terrains, etc. that they will encounter in their lives.  If you miss this window, you'll probably find yourself in the land of counterconditioning and desensitization later on... which might hold you hostage for months on end.

2. It can be embarrassing when your dog is not well socialized.
Dogs are supposed to enrich out social lives.  Let them do that to their full potential.  Don't end up with a dog who freaks out every time you approach him with your puffy jacket on or has a heart-stopping reaction to the occasional encounter with a bearded man.  It can be pretty embarrassing, to say the least.

3. Dogs like it.
Puppies like stretching their little brains.  Socialization should always be pleasant and sub-threshold, never stressful, or you're giving your dog a reason to fear instead of relax, which is counterproductive.  Also, it's a great way to tire out a rowdy puppy so you can take a breather once in a while!

4. People like it.
Self-explanatory.  I doubt you'll have trouble finding any shape, size or color of person to greet your puppy.  If you do, they're just crazy.

5. Your life will be easier later on.
If you're going out of town for the weekend, you will have a better chance of being able to comfortably leave your dog with a friend if you don't have to warn them about her tendency to attack the strange humans on the street with the giant reflective eyeballs (sunglasses) or ask them to refrain from vacuuming as it may send your dog into shock.  That's a really unsettling situation.

The good news is.. these scenarios are often so easily avoidable!  Contact us for more info on what to do if you've just brought home a new puppy - and ask for clarification if you feel you're getting conflicting info from your vet.  Safety should always come first, but socialization is vital!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What is leadership when it comes to dog training?

What does it mean to be the leader of your pack?  What does it take to have your dog turn to you for direction with a thousand rabid squirrels running around him?  Here are a few ideas:

  • NOT physical force.  True leaders don't use physical force, because they don't have to.  When people see a dog who is extremely expressive, constantly jostling for status, and hypervigilant about the behaviors of other dogs, they often say, "Oh, that dog's an alpha."  Wrong!  The alpha is the one calmly laying down on the other side of the room.  No one's challenging her.  She has nothing to worry about.  Her authority is solid, and she has nothing to prove.  So when we are wondering how to earn our dogs' respect, we can channel that idea - lead like a true leader, not like someone who is worried about their position.  That is worthy of respect.
  • Protection.  When we take ownership of a dog, we not only take on legal responsibilities in society, but we also enter into a pact with our animal himself.  We promise to protect him.  If we're aware and willing to tell the rude dog charging head on down the block to NOT mug our considerably less playful one, we'll have shown ourselves to be valuable and capable protectors.  If we assume that role, regardless of the other owner's perception of rudeness on our part, we'll let our dog know that it's worth their while to look to us for direction in stressful situations instead of handling them themselves.  Usually meaning acting out, or even fighting.
  • Providing for basic needs.  This is something our dogs can't do for themselves.  In return, they'll give us unconditional love.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

DIY Healthy Dog Treats = Revolution in my kitchen.

Yours truly has just received in the mail a brand new food dehydrator.  I couldn't be more excited.  Now, I've been known to go above and beyond when it comes to treats for the many dogs in my life, but this is different.  I know everyone's not going to make fish brownies (see photo) or liver cakes (both recipes from the book How Many Dogs?! by positive trainer Debby McMullen).  Although if you do make them, your dogs and/or cat will thank you profusely.  (And any humans you live with will threaten to throw up all over the kitchen if you make them again).

Anyway, despite the fun that that activity inspired, there is an easier way!  BUY A FOOD DEHYDRATOR.  Dry meats from your nearest Halal butcher or fruits and veggies from the farmer's market.  They will last forever, they're cheap, and they are HEALTHY.  I highly recommend it.

Not only will this save you money, you'll be doing your dog a favor by avoiding preservatives and other junk that's in store bought treats.  If your dog has a weight problem but you still want to continue the fun training you've been doing, this is a solution.  If your dog has a sensitive stomach, this is a solution.  Hot dogs and cheese aren't the only way to feed your dog something she loves.

And now I have to go - getting ready to dehydrate some goodies for the lovely dogs at the Humane Society tomorrow.

A few days later:  I just came across this warning about various jerky treats being dangerous to your dog.