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.


An Education Opens Doors

“An education opens doors!”

Most of us have heard this phrase or something similar from our parents. For our human children a higher education opens doors to greater job opportunities, and often a better life.

But the same is true for our canine “children”. Where your dog can go and what he is allowed to do, has a lot to do with the education that he has received. I grew up in Germany and till this day seeing dogs in public and in stores, riding the street car or running off leash in a public park is still common sight. Dogs are part of the German society and for the most part accepted as such. Assuming that German dogs are not any smarter than American dogs, there is still a general expectation of German dog owners to educate their dogs to a level that allows them to function effectively with in human society.

One the other side of the world due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances and whiplash legislatures, the American pet dog has been banished from society. But Fido is making a comeback. More and more parks, stores, hotels and restaurants are allowing dogs unto their premises.

In order for this trend to continue, you, as the guardian of your dog, has to do your part to educate your dog. Want to take your dog to a store? He will need to know to sit stay or down stay for when you pay at the register. He will need to know how to greet people without jumping on them. He will need to accept the petting of strangers…and children. Or at least you need to know your dog’s limitations in case he does not like certain people and keep everyone safe: “I am sorry little Susie, but Fido has a headache and does not want to be petted.”

Want to take him to an outdoor cafe? He needs to know how to settle quietly under a table.

Here is an example of that not to do:

The owner of a very nice local restaurant that used to allow dogs to dine with their owners on the outdoor patio which was adjacent to a river, changed to a “No dogs allowed policy” after several dog owners allowed their dogs to take a dip in the river, which was followed by a nice complementary shake-off onto some of the other patrons and their food…. Really?!

Thank you for ruining it for me and my dogs and other responsible owners who take the time to educate their dogs! Whether it is barking, jumping, lunging, or just being generally uncontrollable – the responsibility lies with you, not your dog.

Education starts in puppy hood. If you do not properly socialize your puppy and teach him boundaries and how to behave in public, you are behaving like a parent who allows their children to do whatever.

For kids the consequences may take a long time to be seen. The day of reckoning for dogs usually takes less than 2 years. The puppy with improper guidance, especially if he has the misfortune to grow up into large size dog, will often end up homeless in a shelter or banished to the back yard. Puppies who have been educated to “The Way of Man” will have a lifetime of trips to the park, shopping sprees, road trips and family vacations.

Is your dog older? Your dog can still join the “Adult Education Program” ….yes, even grandma Bella can go to college!

What are some of the educational programs out there for you and your dog?

The AKC (American Kennel Club) offers the Star Puppy program, the Canine Good Citizen Program, the AKC Community Canine Program. THE APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers) offers the Canine Life and Social Skills program with skill levels for Bachelors, Masters and PhD.

Two final thoughts:

First of all, just like a 6 week class in a foreign language, may at best teach you how to ask for the check and where the restroom is, so by the same token, your dog taking ESL (English as a Second Language – also known as Basic Obedience Class) will not learn all he needs to learn in a 6 week course in any setting. Becoming proficient at something takes time…and if you don’t use, you lose it!

And finally, make learning fun. Growing up, I had some awful teachers who left me discouraged and feeling stupid. Just like us, animals learn much better in an environment that is reward, rather than punishment based.

Happy Training, and see you out and about with your dog.


What’s in a name?

What’s in a Name?
Unbeknownst to most people, the dog training industry is not regulated by any agency and for all practical purposes, anyone can hang out a shingle and proclaim to be a dog trainer. Coming originally from a medical background (clinical microbiologist) I strongly believe in accreditation and continuing education. So I am proud to share with you the following press release from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers:

Press release
Local Dog trainer earns Certification as Certified Dog Trainer -Knowledge Assessed
Palm Bay, FL, (September 21, 2013) – local dog trainer, Christine Scott, CPDT-KA of Palm Bay, FL has earned certification through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Christine now joins over 2000 Certificants worldwide.
Until the creation of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in 2001, there was no true certification process for canine professionals. Many schools teach dog trainers and offer certifications for specific programs. These certificates, therefore, reflect the teachings and quality of a specific school. Other organizations offer take-home tests for “certification”. These canine professionals are not monitored to ensure that they are completing the test without any assistance or collaboration nor is the process standardized.
This unprecedented process was originally implemented by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest association of dog trainers in the world, founded by veterinarian, behaviorist and author Dr. Ian Dunbar. A task force of approximately 20 internationally known dog training professionals and behaviorists worked for three years to research and develop the first comprehensive examination. Professional Testing Corporation (PTC) was hired to ensure the process met professional testing standards. APDT then created a separate, independent council – The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers – to manage the accreditation and pursue future development.
Candidates who pass the exam earn the title Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed and may use the designation “CPDT-KA” after their names. All certified trainers must earn continuing education credits to maintain their designation or retake the examination again in three years.
If you want more information or to schedule an interview with a Board member, please contact the CCPDT Administrative Office by email at or by phone at 855-362-3784.
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
1350 Broadway, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10018

I’ll be home for Christmas

Getting a puppy for the kids for Christmas?  Wonderful!  A family dog can truly enrich the lives of children – or turn into more of a challenge than anyone expected.  So let’s go over some of the basics.  First off, while having a new puppy is very exciting for everyone, keep in mind that just like any human baby, puppies need rest, so make sure your new addition has plenty of downtime.

Secondly, unlike human children, puppies don’t have to wait for 2 or 3 years to be housebroken, but like human children some of the same principles apply:  Supervise, supervise, supervise! Your new pup does not intrinsically know where the toilet is, so be sure to take him to his potty spot ( no sending the dog outside by himself) and wait till he does his business, then praise him profusely ( treats are great to get the message across).  Do not let your puppy run free and unsupervised in the house any more that you would allow a 2 year old to have free range. Crate confinement helps with potty training since most dogs will naturally try to keep their area clean. But keep in mind that the general rule for how long a dog can ‘hold it’ is months of age plus one, so a 4 month old puppy can generally wait for 5 hours maximum.

What if accidents happen?  Clean them up, do not scold your dog or rub his nose in it. Instead work on your supervision.  Make a potty log. It will help you predict “prime time” occasions.

Thirdly, socialize your dog.  According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, your goal for your puppy is to meet 300 people by the time he is 3 months old.  The optimal socialization period for dogs is only about 3-4 months.  While most veterinarians still recommend three sets of vaccinations before allowing your puppy to “join the world”, there is still a lot that can be done in the meantime.  According to the American Veterinary Society for Behavior, the number one killer of dogs is not disease but behavior problems due to lack of early socialization. Have your puppy meet as many people as he can: children of all ages (screaming, running, crying, bouncing boys and girls), men ( beards and growly voices included), women ( hats, make-up, smelly perfume, the whole bit).  People with parts:  strollers, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.  People with removable parts:  (Hats, glasses, rain coats, costumes).  Weird things out there:  Grass, gavel, sidewalks, ballons, cats, dogs (older, fully vaccinated, friendly dogs can be great role models) , horses, chickens, playgrounds, cars, trucks, elevators, garbage cans, garbage trucks, mailmen, ….pretty much anything that your puppy might ever run into in his life.

Where can your puppy meet all these people? Invite the kids in your neighborhood to come see your puppy, invite your friends, go sit in front of some store like Walmart and see how many people can resists saying “hi” to you puppy….Hey if you still have a Christmas parade going on, take the dog!

Note of caution: forcing a fearful puppy into something that scares him will only traumatize him, not socialize him.  If you find your pup is scared of something, use patience, encouragement and lots of treats. If your puppy continues to be fearful, get professional help immediately.

One final note on puppy classes:  While puppy classes can be a great socialization tool, not all puppy classes are created equal.  Are you receiving some basic instructions about puppy care and training during the class or is it just a 30-45 minute free for all?  How does the instructor handle puppies that are somewhat fearful?  Is play that becomes too rough interrupted? Trust your instincts. If it does not feel right it probably is not right.

In conclusion I want to wish you all the best for your new family member.

Merry Christmas.

Watch out Fido – here come the relatives!

Watch out Fido – here come the relatives!

The holiday season is upon us again.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner and for many of us that means hosting friends and family for an evening or a few days.  While we are making plans, Fido, who is sleeping comfortably in his bed, is totally unaware that in a few days he will be overrun with 3 screaming, running, crying, mini-humans and that a canine invader named “Precious” will be eyeing his favorite chew toy!

So as we are making plans for the guests, I recommend that you also include your dog in the plans. Needless to say just like with family, there is no “one size fits all” plan, but here are a few things that you might want to consider:

How does your dog generally react to visitors?  Even if he loves people, too much of anything might not be good, so be sure that your dog has a place to retreat from the hustle and bustle where he won’t be bothered.  If he is not fond of visitors, letting him chill out in a crate or a low traffic room for a few hours might be the best alternative.  Even a doggie daycare visit might be better than everyone being stressed about an anxious dog.

Children always pose their own problems.  Some dogs like children, some don’t.  If your dog has never been around children do not assume that just because the initial meeting the kids went well that your dog will not get overwhelmed after a while.  Children should never be left unsupervised with a dog – and that means a responsible adult in the room at all times.  Being overcautious is better than finding out you underestimated the situation.  Nothing puts a damper on festivities like a dog bite!

Again make sure your dog can have “alone time”.  Also make sure that the kids know the house rules:  No bothering the dog when he is sleeping or eating or when he walks away and does not want to play.  A lot of dogs will just walk away or turn their backs to say “I’ve had enough!”  Don’t kiss the dog in the face!  In the dog world direct eye contact is very “rude” and can lead to a dog fight because it is interpreted as a challenge.  So, needless to say a child (especially a strange child) staring at a dog while moving in on his territory would in dog language not be sending friendly vibes.

Here are some indicators that your dog is feeling stressed and might need some ‘time-out’:

  • Turning his back to you or moving away
  • Yawning, even though not tired
  • Licking his chops, even though he has not eaten
  • Stiff body posture or moving in slow motion
  • Growling
  • Panting, even though he is not hot
  • Furrowed brows – “ stern look”
  • Pacing
  • Won’t accept food.



As far as those “canine visitors”:   It is best for dogs who have not met before to meet on neutral territory.  So, if you can, let them meet initially in a park, on the road, or at least in the front yard.  Having the visitor dog then check out the house before the resident dog re-enters seems to also help calm some of the excitement.  Be mindful that your dog might not share your view on “mi casa es su casa” – so be on the lookout for possible arguments over favorite sleeping spots or toys and bones, and if that proves to be a problem,  it might be best to just remove the “bone of contention” for a few days until the visitor goes home.

Bottom line – what makes holidays fun?  – Have a game plan, not just about the meal – turkey vs. ham- but about all the game players:  The cats, the dogs, the kids and Auntie Em.  Be watchful, have downtime, be safe, have fun!

Wanna go for a ride?

Ahh, the wind in my hair. The fresh smell in my nose…the bug in my eye! When I was a kid in Germany we used to ride the train at lot and I would always try to stick my head out of the window as the train was zipping along. My dad would always yell at me, since working for the Deutsche Bundesbahn he knew quite well that even a small spec of dirt flying at 100 miles an hour can severely damage an eye.
So when I see some happy Lab with his ears happily flapping in the breeze and at times him hanging of the car so far that one of his front paws is resting on the rearview mirror, I always think back to those days.
Lots of people stuck their heads out of the train windows and sometimes you would hear about an accidental decapitation, but most of the time things were just fun.
When we moved to the US in the late 70’s seatbelts were not yet mandatory in Florida and people moaned and groaned about its inconvenience: They were restricting, the kids whined in the back seat, they were so much hassle to put on. But we got used to them and now no one would consider driving little Susie to the store without first strapping her in. But yet, many of us still think that little Fido can happily bounce around the car and be safe.
A couple of years ago I was rear ended on I-95 by an exit. Fortunately I was the only one in the car and not seriously hurt, but everything that I had in my back seat ended up on my dashboard – including my Dachshund – sized mega purse, which fortunately did not hit me.
None of us want to have a deer go through the front of our windshield, but is a Golden Retriever flying from the back seat any better?
Having said all this to simply say: Please keep your pet and everyone safe in the car. Either crate him in a secured crate or use a seat belt. I personally prefer a seat belt. You can buy them at any pet store. Yes, you and your dog will have to get used to using it, but my general observation is that dogs make less of a fuss than children did back in the 70s. (Nowadays kid’s just don’t know any better, and puppies growing up with seatbelts won’t either)
You can still let your dog smell the outside – just don’t let them hang their heads out of the window, risking injury at a sudden stop or by a flying object. Trust me, if Buster can smell a dead possum from a mile away, he can still appreciate the outside smells by proxy.
If your dog is too small to look out, instead of putting him on your lap, risking being squished by a sudden impact, get a booster chair ( be sure to disable the air passenger air bag if he is riding shot gun).
Let me describe some of my “favorites” that I have seen:
Dog hanging up to his waist all the way out of a pick up side window steading himself on the rearview mirror.
Mom driving a pickup with small child in car seat behind mom (good) and large dog hanging out unrestrained in the back or the truck (not so good) and mom is texting (very un-good).
And my final favorite: dog sitting in passenger seat of car, “safely” secured with his choke chain attached to his leash which in turn is somehow tied to the side hook for the seatbelt….really?!
If you have been mentioned in this article, please do not think that I condemn you. The very fact that you are taking your dog on outings tells me that you care very much for you animal by providing him with some adventures and mental stimulation. You probably just never thought about it much – just like we never thought much about seat belts for people. But now that you did: For your’s and you dog’s sake buckle up.

Tell me what to do

Imagine living in a world of “Wrong”! You are just going about your business – hanging out on the couch or working in the yard and then someone comes up and yells at you: “Don’t do that!” I think after a while, that might get a bit frustrating and you might feel like yelling back: “Well, what DO you want me to do!”

Our dogs find themselves a lot of time in the same dilemma. Here are a few possible don’ts that they encounter on a daily basis:

  • Don’t bark at the fence
  • Don’t sit on the couch
  • Don’t dig up the yard
  • Don’t chew the kid’s toys
  • Don’t jump on them either

The problem that our dog encounters is that we do not teach him an alternative to the undesired behavior so he is left to his own devices to come up with something else, which is usually not better than his first activity. So instead of telling your dog what NOT to do, you might want to teach him WHAT to do instead.

For example, instead of barking at the fence, work on his “come” and whisk him off into the house for a treat or some other fun activity. Instead of telling him where not to sit, reward him with praise and treats if he is sitting on his doggie bed.
If he tears up your yard, you might want to give him his own “digging pit” made out of a kiddy pool.

Give him his own toys (make sure they don’t look like the children’s toys), teach him “leave it!” for when he gets confused , and reward him by playing with him with his own toys when he drops the undesired one.

And finally, teach him “Four on Floor” – meaning that he only gets attention, like petting when he has all four paws on the floor, sitting or standing politely.

So next time you find yourself saying “Don’t!”- replace it with a “Do!” instead.