My dominant Dog

Ahhh! The wonderful world of dominance! I hear about it all the time. “My dog is trying to be dominant because he is always out front when walking!” – “My Buffy is dominant because she charges out the door and almost knocks me over!” – “I was told that Buford should not sleep with me in by bed anymore because he might become dominant?!”
Well, let me reveal my deep dark dog secrets concerning my own dogs. (-Which might make me a terrible trainer in some people’s eyes):
I have three dogs – one is too old for much walking by now but when we used to all go out, Socks is usually out front, Rusty is poking in the back and Mutley is limping along in the middle. It’s a bit like organized chaos but for the most part it works. My philosophy is simple: There are times (- like when I am jogging with Socks) where I expect my dog to be in heel position, but most the time, when we are just walking I could care less if you are in front, next to or behind me – as long as you don’t drag me down the road or make a jerk out for yourself. Let’s face it, I am not walking for myself, I walk to enrich my dogs’ lives. So we take things quite leisurely with lots of time to stop and sniff and smell the roses (-usually made of some unidentifiable stink pod on the side of the road)
Mutley, in his younger days, used to always try to bully his way in the door first. I am quite certain he was not thinking dominance. Actually I am pretty sure he was not thinking at all…he just wanted to go from A to B and I was in the way. So I did have to teach him that the door would not open until he sat, but not to show him who is in charge, but to teach him manners.
As far as the bed and the couch? For our household couch is “ by invitation only” – I don’t like self serving.
As far as the bed: Rusty has managed to attain sleeping rights (He does not snore or push). Mutley does both so sorry…..And Socks prefers to sleep in her crate.
Generally speaking, when it comes to sleeping in the bed, my philosophy is this: If you (-meaning all humans occupying the bed) are ok with it, if the dog likes it and if he does not exhibit any kind of annoying or territorial behavior – snooze on!
The bottom line is that dogs do not spend sleepless nights thinking on how they can gain the upper hand and dominate us. They are just dogs looking out for their best interest. (- Sorry dogs are not very altruistic).
You are in charge of the food, their sleeping arrangement, where they go and what they get to do. – Sounds to me like you are pretty dominant yourself.

How much do you charge?

The other day I stopped by a new vet’s office to buy some flea meds. While I was there I asked the office manager if I could leave some business cards. She replied that I certainly could and pointed me to a table in the corner that already had a plethora of cards and info.  After I had added my cards, almost as an afterthought she asked:

“And how much do you charge?”

The question caught me off guard – not that I was unwilling to answer, and I did so, but I had never been asked that as the first and only question.

As I drove away I realized that in some way this lady hit the nail unfortunately right on the head. Most veterinarian offices (and veterinarians) are so busy that they do not feel that they can take the time to fool with peripheral things like dog trainers.  Yes, they gladly refer and of course want their clients to have a good training experience at a reasonable cost, but beyond that the general consensus is that all trainers are pretty much the same, so what difference does it make?

But given the fact that the number one cause of death for dogs under the age of 2 is behavioral problems, it would seem in the vet’s best interest to refer their client’s dog to a trainer that they personally know has the knowledge to serve their client’s needs.

Just like in any profession, there are good and not so good trainers. Any good trainer will welcome the opportunity to be “grilled” by the veterinarians and their staff about how they train and what they know.

I have had a few (-sadly only a few) vets who took the time out of their busy schedule to sit down with me and talk to me about my training methods, background and philosophy.

I had one vet who gave me a list of behaviors that she encounters and quizzed me on how I would handle them. What a great idea!  That tells me that this vet is not only involved the physical wellbeing of her fur clients, but is also invested in their overall quality of life.

Is money one aspect of the equation? – Absolutely! But it should not stop there. Does the trainer you recommend truly have the credentials? Do they take continuing education or do they find that unnecessary? Can they offer several solutions for a particular problem?

So this is my advice: If you are a vet – take the time to pick a trainer that you feel good about referring to – your referral can be the difference between an owner surrender (and worse) and a long, sucessful human/canine relationship.

For the client: Before you pick up that card ask the staff if they actually know anything about this person’s training methods, or are they just a friendly face that comes by every once in a while, dropping off cards

Would you like another serving of mashed potatoes?

In my “travels” I run across many people who will tell me that they teach their puppy not to be possessive about their food bowl, by taking their food away while there are eating or sticking their hands in their food bowl while they are eating. (As seen on TV?)
I understand the concept, but would like to challenge the thinking. I don’t know about you, but I would not want someone to start sticking hands in my food or take their fork and steal my potato without my approval. (I guess that makes me food aggressive) – But all jesting aside, while it is nice to be able to know that your dog will surrender his resources (i.e. his food) to you – I would like to offer an alternative that might make more sense to your dog: Another helping!
Dogs are by nature resource guarders – they do not know that there is more food in the cabinet and a whole bunch more in the store, so in their minds there is a concern that they might run out of food – After all Nature did not program animals for All-You-Can-Eat Buffets.
With that in mind, which person do you think your dog likes more – the person that takes their food and sticks his fingers in it and returns the bowl, or the person that walks to their bowl and simply adds another wonderful morsel like a piece of chicken or hot dog to their dinner and then leaves them to finish their meal?
Your dog might handle the intruder messing with their food, but I bet that the “extra portion” person will be met with much more enthusiasm after he has learned that the approach of a person simply means more good stuff is on the way.
On the other hand, if you already have a dog that has food or other resource guarding issues, I recommend that you get professional help. The best resource for competent certified professional trainers in your area can be found on http://www.ccpdt.org
But if you are just dealing with a puppy and you simply want to prevent future problems:
Put the food bowl right in the middle of the floor where everyone lives and moves about and while he eats, go to his bowl, add something extra good and give him a light petting then leave him be. Before you know it he will be happily wagging his tail with anticipation…“Yes, I would like another helping of Mashed Potatoes!”

Does your dog need friends?

I quite often get called for consults to homes where the owner has trouble whenever they walk their dog and encounter another dog. The scenario goes usually something like this: Whenever Brutus sees another dog, he does ballistic: jumping and barking and lunging.
The poor owner feels embarrassed about their dog’s behavior: “ Why can’t he just be friends with the other dogs?”
The answers may be one of the following: Some dogs have not been exposed to the world and other dogs in their formative period and therefore lack the experience on how to properly greet other dogs, usually resulting in a burst of over the top excitement. Some are fearful of other dogs and things and have learned that making lots of noise makes the dogs and their owners go away. Very, very few dogs are just outright aggressive and just cannot be in the presence of other animals.
The majority of dogs that “make a fuss” are somewhere between the guy that rushes up to you at a party, gives you a bear hug and smooches you on the face – and you don’t even know the guy so depending on your temperament, you might reciprocate or slap him – or the shy guy in the corner that starts scrolling on his smart phone as soon as you move in his direction therefore telling you to get lost ( and since dogs don’t have phones they are left with the other “get lost” signals: bark, bark, lunge, lunge, growl)
In most cases a lot can be accomplished with behavior modification – teaching the dog more appropriate ways to greet another dog or teaching him that the presence of other dogs does not have to be scary but can be fun.
Having said that, one always has to keep the desires of your dog in mind. Not all dogs enjoy meeting other dogs face to face. I often ask my clients if they went to the mall or for a walk by themselves how inclined they would be to stop and talk to a total stranger, and needless to say most of us would not. Then I ask them why they changed their behavior simply because the person coming towards them is also attached to a leash…?
A lot of dogs do not want to meet another dog just as much as you don’t stop to say hello to every person you run into.
So focus on the majors:
In human terms: Don’t kiss a stranger, don’t punch people, say hello nicely, and for the most part mind your own business – and then teach your dog to do the same.

One good dog deserves another

Do you have or intend to have a multi-dog house hold?
I quite often get called for consultation because a new dog (puppy or rescue) was added to the household and what seemed to be a good idea at the time is just not working out all that well after all and the owners are becoming overwhelmed.
While there certainly are exceptions, I find that quite often the “old dogs” are in need of some refreshers in domestic manners themselves. For example Buster (the resident dog) is “ not all that good” at properly greeting visitors and tends to bark and lunge at the dachshund around the corner – and now the new dog is totally out of control barking at the dachshund, the cat across the street and just about anything that has fur – and he is totally flipped out whenever someone comes over.
The reality is that dogs learn from each other, and even if your new dog does not learn any bad behaviors from your old dog – are you using ( and are you able to use) your old dog as an example?
Years ago I was dog sitting for a friend for a week and I totally enjoyed watching my dogs teaching her dog “ How we do things around here”.
The perfect example was our habit of having to sit/stay and wait for dinner until released. Little Lola was used to just diving in. So the first evening I asked everyone to sit and put their bowls down. ( The “cousin dogs” were visiting too so we had five dogs plus Lola in the kitchen.)
Initially everyone sat – including Lola. I put the bowls down – everyone remained seated…Lola’s bowl was last – she sprang up in order to start eating ..I picked her bowl back up.
“ Ugh”, said Lola and tried again – bowl went down – dog got up.
By the forth attempt Lola had 10 angry eyes stare at her! She looked around at the others and stayed seated this time while I put the bowl down. After that she sat with the rest the whole time she was with us.
While not every learning experience will be that fast, dogs do learn by example – and that can be good or bad.
Do you already have a dog that is at times difficult to deal with? ( like reacting to other dogs and people ) – do not be surprised if the new dog – especially if he is a puppy – will pick up the same behavior.
I am not suggesting that you should not add to your household, but take a realistic assessment of your current situation. A lot of times just going back to basics with your current resident dogs goes a long way toward smooth sailing with the new acquisition. On the other hand sometimes adding to the pack might best be put on hold.
Dr.s Patricia McConnell and Karen London wrote a wonderful book called: “Feeling Outnumbered? – How to manage and enjoy your multi-dog household” which is full of good suggestions to help you enjoy your new canine addition.
So if you are thinking about adding to your household, my recommendation is to make an honest assessment of where everyone is at right now and maybe spend a little bit of time reminding all of the house rules to make the transition easier on you, the new dog and everyone else.

How to be a pet detective.

In my line of work I often have to deal with not just the fun side of dog training, but more often than not my clients are confused and frustrated about the behavior their dog is exhibiting – meaning that I get called for a consult because the dog needs to “stop doing…XYZ”.
Before you give me a call, there are a couple of things you might want to consider:
First of all, you will usually not be very successful if you just tell your dog to stop doing something, but give him no direction about what you want him to do instead. (Like sit instead of jumping up or settling on his bed instead of charging at the door). Dogs do not operate well in a vacuum, so if you leave it up to him to come up with a better idea, you might not like his second option any more than his first
But today I want to mainly focus on becoming a pet detective – meaning, to challenge you to find the dog’s motivation behind what he does and then outsmarting him by changing the scenario to come up with a better solution.
For example let’s take barking. To simply say “my dog barks all the time” is not good detective work. Since I am sure he has to eat, sleep and go potty, hence, he does not bark ALL the time. So this is where the detective work comes in: When exactly does he bark? Does he bark only when you are gone, and if so, for how long? Does he bark only at the window when he sees someone walk by? Does he bark and carry on when people like the mailman come to the door? Does he bark only outside when he sees things (and what kind of things make him bark?) How about noises? Is that the main culprit? Or is it a combination of the some of the above?
After months or years of frustration, people often resort to punishment, which might or might not work and can also have some very unpleasant side effect (if not for the people, then definitely for the dog).
What if your dog only barks when you leave? How long does he bark? Record him if you need to. If he only barks for a few minutes, then giving him a tasty chewy that takes a few minutes to eat like a frozen peanut butter stuffed Kong or a dog puzzle to play with might be enough to get him over the hump of you leaving. (My dogs love it when I leave, because the good stuff comes out when I go out.)
If on the other hand your dog barks and whines the whole time you are gone, he might very well suffer from separation anxiety, which, depending on severity you might have to get professional help for. You certainly would never want to punish that kind of barking by resorting to something like a bark collar, since the animal is already frightened and getting zapped is not going to alleviate his fear.
While I cannot go into every scenario, the gist of the message is: have a closer look at what your dog is doing. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as putting one way screening on the front window to block the view or having the radio or TV on during the prime noisy times outside.
Not everything needs to be trained – some things can just be managed by doing some simple adjustments, like putting up baby gates to give the cat an escape route when the dog gets too pesky, or using a Manners Minder remote trainer for the UPS guy.
Simply telling your dog “No”, with no other directions, or throwing things, yelling or punishment works just about as good with dogs as it does with children.
So put on your detective hat and delve into some animal research. Ask yourself the good detective questions Who, What, When, Where, Why and How the behavior is occurring.

The Law of Specificity

The Law of Specificity.
Actually I don’t think there is a law of Specificty…at least not when it comes to dogs, but I run to into it all the time.
Point in case: Currently my husband and I have the following routine – he walks the dogs in the morning, I in the evening. But the other day I had some time in the morning before I had to leave and since it was Sunday morning I decided to let my hubby sleep in and take the dogs. I quickly dressed in my work clothes, called the dogs and grabbed their leashes. Then as I opened the door, I thought “It is 6:00 am on a Sunday morning…no one is going to be on the road, so I think I’ll just let them run off leash till the end of our street.” I took my leashes with me but did not attach them and prompted them: “Let’s go!”
They both looked at me like I was daft. I prompted, called, patted my leg, and made kissy sounds. FINALLY they started moving….if one may call it that: Both of them creeped down the driveway like there was some great scary monster at the end. They kept looking at me with uncertain faces. “Come on, I promise you won’t fly off the planet.” They said they weren’t sure. I prompted some more, we continued to move at the amazing speed to one inch a year. What was intended to be a fun outing turned into a battle.
“Ok then you wretches, let’s go!” I slapped the leashes back on just to get some control over my slow pokes and voila` instant change! We were happy, we were peppy, we were walking, we were sniffing.
We took our walk-somewhat delayed by the upfront drama. On the way back when we got to our street I let them off leash as usual and lo and behold: No slinking, no worrying just happy walking. And that is when it was confirmed to me: the law of specificity had struck again!
If the dogs could have spoken, they would have said: what was that all about?! You sometimes walk us in the morning, but NEVER in your work clothes! And then to top it off, you NEVER walk us off leash on the beginning of the walk! Granted, you let us go off leash to the mailbox, but that is when you wear flip flops and shorts! This was just all messed up! We might have gotten injured or killed; flying off the planet was a real possibility without our safety harnesses on!
Now most of you will respond: This is not a problem for my dog, more likely I’ll let him off leash he will be off and running…. but my point is this:
Dogs have a really hard time generalizing. What seems like minor changes in environment or routine can really throw them off.
We all know that dogs are experts on watching every move we make. They know they are going for a walk long before you even pick up the leash:
2 cups of coffee plus sneakers plus no makeup equals one imminent walk, while 2 cups of coffee, leather shoes and makeup equals no walk, unless she picking up the bag with the water bowl and the poopie bags…then definitely an outing in the car! And no matter how sneaky you try to be, no dog can be found when it is time to take bath.
That same power of observation comes back to bite us, when we change parameters. You have trained your puppy to do his business on newspaper or a wee wee pad, and now you are asking her to go in the grass….you might run into problems. Your dog has learned to do his business alone outside in the backyard, and now you are walking up and down the potty area at his first hotel visit and he just won’t go, because he is on leash….
You have obedience trained your dog in a specific training facility and now you are taking your show on the road to the park and your dog is looking at you like it had heard “sit” for the very first time in his life….
This inability to generalize can work for you or against you. If you want to teach your dog a specific behavior you must practice it often and in many different areas. If you want to keep the dog off the furniture, but don’t mind I he sleeps on the old couch in the den, he will readily accept “his place” if you spend some time teaching him.
Bottom line is this: If you find your dog behaving weird and obstinate, you might want to look at the situation and ask yourself if you threw too many new variables at him.
Some dogs are more sensitive minor changes than others, so just because your former dog “Precious” easily blazed through new environments and circumstances that does not mean that “Buster” comes with the same set of coping skills. Accept him for what he is and give him some time to get his bearings.