Friday, December 9, 2011

Lex's Improvements

Since I last wrote, Lex has finally found his stride in his "new life." I finally realized that today. Having spent the last few months creating a routine for him and agonizing and stressing over his stress, I came to a point that I wasn't going to put anymore energy into having all my thoughts revolving around how guilty I felt about his life having changed. I think when I stopped doing that, I stopped being so stressed and agitated around him and he stopped feeling pressure from me.

Lex is a super sensitive dog and I strongly believe that he takes on a lot of stress due to my own behavior/feelings. While some things certainly have to do with the toddler, most of his stress was probably due to my own and the pressure I put on him.

I never had to try a prescription drug (in fact, my vet couldn't get what I wanted), but I do have him on an amino acid known for calming stressed dogs called L-Theanine.

We are finally in a happy zone where he knows what to expect most days and I am seeing my happy boy again. In the morning my husband takes him out and feeds him in his crate, then he hangs out in there for a little while and will usually come out and see my daughter and I in the living room after my husband has left for work. Then he usually takes a nap when he sees we aren't doing anything all that exciting and will go back to his crate or lay down behind her rocking chair in her room. We don't have the baby gate up anymore nor do we have to shut any doors. Once my daughter goes down for her noon nap that lasts two hours, he gets super excited and runs to the door because he knows we are going out in the yard to play. We play chuck-it or kick a soccer ball around till he is tired (usually 15 minutes of non-stop play), then go back inside. He drinks water and catches his breath while I do some chores. Then I give him a bone or stuffed kong to eat while I catch up on stuff or take a nap myself, since being 35 weeks pregnant entitles me to a nap! When my daughter wakes up and has a snack and some Elmo time, he usually sits with us then quietly disappears again to come out later when my husband gets home for the night unless we take a walk, pending how cold it is. He waits by the door as soon as he hears the garage and then greets/plays with my husband, goes potty and gets fed again. Once our daughter is asleep, he comes out for playing fetch down the hall or nose work games or just long cuddle and brushing sessions. He now sleeps in the living room cuddled up in a blanket on his bed due to my allergies of him scratching and creating dander all night in our room. He has adjusted quite well to sleeping alone and our relationship is better without me shushing him and telling him to stop scratching all night.

The darkness in our happy light is that life always changes and in about a month we will have a newborn as well. My husband will be home for a few weeks from work helping and Lex may go stay with a friend, but I will have to find a whole new schedule for taking care of his needs and those of two children!

Friday, November 18, 2011


I haven't written a post in a while due to lack of free time (that is what happens when you have a toddler!) and lack of inspiration. However, I have been inspired by the numerous questions from my puppy clients about nipping/mouthing behavior.

To start off, know that this behavior is a completely normal part of puppy development just as it is with baby humans that like to stick everything in their mouth! Problem is puppy teeth hurt and puppies can ingest a lot more dangerous things than human babies due to us not supervising them as well and due to their much faster growth rate.

Dogs don't have thumbs, they use their mouths for that function so to assume your puppy will just outgrow using his mouth on things he shouldn't have, is silly. We have to teach puppies/dogs what is appropriate and what is not. The behavior can't be "done away" with altogether as it is hardwired into the dog. The goal is to teach a puppy good bite inhibition and good impulse control.

Reasons why puppies mouth/nip
- Teething
- Hard wired behavior
- Exploring tastes and textures
- Playing
- Being aggressive

What NOT to do
- Grab pup's muzzle and hold shut: this will most likely cause the pup to be more aggressive with biting due to frustration or cause a shy pup to shut down and view hands as something scary.
- Yell "No biting!" (not very effective).
- Stick your hand down pup's throat: many vets have recommended this to clients of mine. I find this method cruel and unnecessary as well as teaching a dog to fear it's owner and hands.
- Hold the pup down: this is an "alpha roll" and is has been widely disproved by the positive training community to be an inappropriate method to teach a dog anything but to fear it's owner.
- Spray bitter spray in the pup's mouth: due to the fact that no one can possible grab the spray and use it fast enough makes this method not effective as the pup then has no clue why it is being punished.
- Push puppy away: this is seen as play and usually instigates more biting.

What TO do
If your pup/dog mouths or nips you in a playful way that is painful or too much in your opinion, go through the following steps in order;
1. Say "ouch!" in a high pitched voice as this is supposed to remind the dog of his litter mates and how it hurt when they bit too hard. You are trying to sound like a wounded puppy!
2. If the puppy comes right back at you, grab an appropriate toy or item and literally put it in the dogs mouth or line of vision to re-direct.
3. Coming at you again? Now it is time for a time-out. Time-outs should be no longer than 5 minutes and be in a place that is boring for the dog or puppy. A laundry room, bathroom, crate (only if there is already a positive association and crate training is well established), safe garage or patio area.
4. After time-out if puppy goes right back at it, straight back to time-out. Only go through all steps again if a significant amount of time has passed.

You only want to employee these steps when the puppy goes too far with biting. A little mouthing here and there from a 8-12 week old puppy if done gently, may be allowed as you do want to teach your dog good bite inhibition should the dog ever bite someone aggressively in the future. You can move your hand, just don't punish soft, soft mouthing. A puppy will grow out of that phase of exploring the taste of your hand.

Special Circumstances
There are times when a pup or adult dog is mouthing for a specific reason that needs to be met with a different solution. Examples may include a dog that bites at grooming devices or hands holding grooming devices, a dog that grabs pant legs of running children or a dog that bites when resources are being taken away.

If a young pup or dog is biting and mouthing when being handled for grooming, the owner has probably not counter conditioned the dog to like grooming procedures. As long as this isn't an aggression case, the best solution is to put some peanut butter on the bathtub, outside wall, fridge etc. and let the dog lick away while doing some very very light grooming and handling. You can also deliver small treats after each brush stroke or after initially presenting the brush or nail trimmers to help build a positive association with grooming.

Grabbing pant legs is usually a form of prey drive or herding. My older border collie did a lot of this as a puppy and adolescent. Best solution for me was to recognize she needed an outlet and provide her with one via re-direction to a tug toy. Of course, we practiced freeze games as well (I would freeze when she tried to herd me, then present the toy if she stopped). Getting her into dog sports curbed the behavior quite a bit as well.

A dog being mouthy at having things taken away (note: I am not talking about true resource guarding, just a bit of puppy frustration), needs to practice playing the trade-game with the owner of trading a treat or toy for the object the pup has in his mouth and eventually teaching a good drop-it cue.

Any questions about specifics? Please comment! Check out if you need a session or group class to help with your puppy or dog related issues.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lex's Week

We have been making lots of positive changes to reduce Lex's stress levels and be a happy dog again.

Sunday I got up with my daughter while Lex slept in with my husband. Then he got taken outside, fed breakfast and I took him with me to a private training where he relaxed in his crate in the car for about 40 minutes, then he assisted with the training for about 15 minutes. This consisted of doing tricks, barking, running for thrown treats as he was acting as a distraction for the dog I was working with. After that I drove him to the dog park but had to park a few blocks away due to a 5K race going on. We walked down to the dog park and played chuck-it for about 20 minutes then walked back to the car. Then I put him in the bedroom where he slept in his crate for a bit until my husband decided to take a nap and allow Lex to cuddle with him on the bed for an hour. When they woke up, my husband got ready to go out and we took our daughter, Lex and Lucy (picked her up) to Heather Farms, a nice park with a large pond, garden, trails, play structures etc. We walked with the dogs on leash for an hour on the trails around the ponds, then let our daughter play for a bit. Lex relaxed some more in the bedroom when we got home and I put his thundershirt on. Later in the evening I had to go to another private training and needed to borrow my sister's dog, so Lex stayed home. While home, my husband got out the RC car that Lex loves to chase (we haven't gotten it out in over a year), and he held our daughter and let her watch while he chased it. Then I brought dinner home, baby went to bed, Lex hung out with us in the living room while we ate and watched a movie, then we went to bed! Good day for all!

Let Lex sleep in, took him and a pet sitting dog on a short potty walk, then fed them both and put Lex back in the bedroom for about 1.5 hours until we got dressed and ready for a trail walk. Had him heel to the trail, then let him off. He ran and ran and ran after squirrels and what-not and did auto-check-ins to me while I pushed the baby in the stroller on the trail. Walk lasted about 20 minutes. On the way back he jumped into a creek and I threw a stick for him about 10 times for him to retrieve. Since he stunk, I then had to hose him down (which he loves), when we got back. Put him on the back patio where there is an extra crate and beds and blankets, to dry off. He then came back in and hung out with us for a bit then my daughter wanted to chase him so I put up the bedroom gate and gave him a bone to chew on. After that he jumped over by himself and we played laser with him a little bit, then I put baby down for a nap. During her nap he choose to go back behind the gate and finish his bone, then come hang out with me for an hour or so. Then we went to my mom's for an earlier dinner and he played outside with her dog and enjoyed the backyard. Back home he followed us around while I cleaned up, gave the baby a bath and put her to bed. Then he hung out with us and went to bed when we did.

Same morning routine. Loaded him and baby up to go to my mom's while I went to work. While there he got a 20 minute leash walk while my daughter rode her tricycle on the paved trails, he played with my mom's dog, played fetch for 15 minutes, got a bully stick and had a good time. Came home and he took a nap with my husband who stayed home sick. Took an evening walk off-leash on the trail and ran into a few other dogs he ran with and another owner threw a ball for him quite a few times. Normal evening and bedtime routine.

Normal morning routine. Hung out with Elsie and I a bit. Picked up Lucy and took both dogs and baby to a park in Clayton where they can play fetch in a large grassy field without other dogs and after, Elsie can play at a nearby playground. Lots of walking and running! Brought Lucy back with us and gave them both bully sticks after much needed water. Gave them both hose baths when Tyler got home and had an awkward moment with a neighbor that watched me bathe them with her screaming 2 year old in tow. Both dogs were stressed about the crying, but I technically was in a community area with off-leash dogs, so I didn't feel like I could say anything. Took both clean dogs to work at Petco where they helped with a few demonstrations and got to play a little after closing. Got home late, fed him a late meal and went straight to bed.

Normal morning stuff. Met with a friend and her BC male for a walk. They formerly hated each other, so we set out to fix that. After riding together (crated), and a little mouthing off, hot dogs and walking, they finally accepted each other. They ended up walking comfortably close to one and other, but I still would be hesitant to let them run loose with each other. Walked for at least an hour, then picked up lunch for us to-go and headed back to my place. Crated Lex and shut the bedroom door while her dog was loose. After she left, he did a lot of sniffing of our place and had renewed interest in toys that the other dog had touched! Husband got home early from a dentist appointment and Lex went to hang out with him while baby and I left for a while. Lex threw up while I was gone (maybe the hot dogs?), so we didn't do any further activity for the night.

Busy day for me and my daughter and we were gone till the afternoon. By then it was too hot to do much with Lex. He seemed happy and I didn't end up needing the baby gate till later in the evening. He chased a fly for a while, got a little obsessed with it and I had to re-direct him with a bone behind the gate. When he came out he had forgotten about the fly, that is, until my husband that had gotten home told him to "get the bug!" Picked up Lucy and took him and her to another group class I teach. He was a little stressed since it is as a vet office where he got a dental done and he still is never sure if I am leaving him there for medical treatment. I played some games with him and Lucy (treat tossing, puppy push-ups, side-by-side stays) and did some tricks then I put them in an adjacent unused room while I did a thorough cleaning of the room and then we went back to my dad's and I put his dog away so L&L could play together in his living room.

I went to work and Tyler attempted to do good by Lex and take him on the off-leash trail we like to walk on with the stroller. However, Lex did not come back when he called him (first time ever in his life!) and continued to run up the hill looking for squirrels. It was only after my husband reached the end of the trail to turn around that Lex did a check-in and he leashed him up. He assured me he didn't yell or say anything to him since he did actually come back on his own, but he didn't want to let him off again for a repeat performance. Apparently, the rest of their day was "normal." I had another class at the vet clinic after I returned home from work and took him and Lucy. Even though I provided him with a doggie bed in the adjacent room and he seemed more relaxed upon entry, he was not himself when I brought him out for a demo. He barked at one of the students (I am assuming since it was a tall african american man with a hat and Lex has zero history with other ethnic groups), he showed his teeth at a bumbling puppy and he did his "demo" with whale eye! Lucy was a gem and totally relaxed and did everything I needed her to do happily. Took her home and then had a quiet evening with Lex and went to bed early.

Normal morning stuff, except Lex was interested in the tug-a-jug, so I put his breakfast in there. He didn't eat it in his crate, so when the baby went down for an early nap I brought it out to the living room where he did eat it. Then we went to the zoo and Lex was home for the rest of the day alone. Bedtime routine was normal.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


It seems that the problems that crop up in relation to having a toddler and dog(s) never end! You may have read the saga of Lucy and my baby that led to Lucy being relocated to my dad's house. She is very happy there and we have worked out a good system so that she is still "my dog." What ultimately led me to relocating her was that her stress levels were so high, she became physically ill. I didn't think I had to worry about Lex since he has been in love with my daughter from the day we brought her home. Apparently, things change........

Now that my daughter is a full-fledged toddler, she does things that may seem odd to a dog. Her movement is unsteady, her mood is ever changing, she wants up, she wants down. She can climb and she can throw! She also enjoys chase games and "sharing" her food. Lex has taken most things in stride. He never stressed over crying or crawling or even toy throwing. What really gets him though is when Elsie starts to follow him around. It is quite harmless really. She wants to see him, she walks up to him and he licks her and she laughs and then he gets up because he is a gentleman and moves aside to let her pass. Except she doesn't want to pass him. She wants to hang out with him. So when he walks away, she follows him. Then he gets that stressed look on his face like "what is happening?" and she thinks they are playing a a great game and is just laughing, following him around. She isn't grabbing him or actually touching him at all. My dilemma starts in how to actually deal with this.

I can't let it just go, I can see that Lex needs me to intervene since this freaks him out. When I stop her physically or verbally, she throws a mini tantrum and then my sensitive dog high-tails it to his crate as if it were all his fault! If I try to re-direct him to our newly made safe-zone, he seems confused and thinks he is being banished/punished. If I get treats out to reiterate to him that he is not being punished, he doesn't seem to make the connection and simply takes the treats and either continues to look stressed OR goes into training mode and becomes an intense obsessive border collie that had no recollection that a toddler was chasing him!

I will say, we have made a little bit of progress. My goal is that when he feels insecure, that he seeks out the "safe-zone" on his own without prompting, and comes back when he wants to. The "safe-zone" is a baby gate in our bedroom doorway. In the bedroom is his open crate. The progress I have made in the last 48 hours is that he is now coming out of the room without prompting, but I still have to tell him to go over the gate when I see he is getting stressed. He seems to have chosen the spot behind the rocking chair in Elsie's room as his second "crate" which isn't what I want, since I am not going to gate my daughter out of her room. At least he is choosing to leave completely rather than just walking in circles and then I can intervene and redirect the baby.

It makes me a bit sad. Here I was naively thinking my toddler and dog were the best of friends, but in reality I don't think it is possible for a dog and toddler to be friends! To co-exist, yes, but to actually have a relationship in which both parties benefit, no. I have successfully taught her to be gentle, to not share her food, to not throw things, to be sweet to him and now I have to teach her to basically ignore him. This will not be an easy task! I will not re-home Lex. With Lucy, the cards just fell into place and her issue was much more severe. It is times like these that I think if I were not a dog trainer, I wouldn't even notice that he was displaying stress signals. How wonderful it must be to be ignorant of such things! Thankfully I am aware though, because I can prevent a potential bite to my child and keep my dog happy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Training Mechanics

There are plenty of people out there that never seek out professional training for their dog. Perhaps they have an "easy" dog, or maybe an older rescue with no issues, but I have a feeling that most people that don't at least take a basic obedience class with their dog, refuse to do so because they think they can do it themselves just fine at home. While I am not denying that there are those out there with wonderfully trained dogs that did it all themselves at home, I see many "home-trained" dogs that aren't very well behaved. The owners missed out what is really taught in classes; training mechanics.

Training class really isn't about how many things we can teach your dog to do, it is about teaching owners how to be effective teachers! There are plenty of bonuses that come with attending a group class; socialization to people, dogs and a new environment, learning new things, bonding, motivation to practice etc.

I can take a dog that isn't listening to his owner and get him to perform a new or known command for me. I know where to place my lure, when to be quiet and when to speak up, when to praise and when to redirect. My goal is to teach the owner to do all these things that come naturally to me from training so many dogs. This is why board and train does not work except for very specific circumstances!

Biggest training faux pas:
1. Repeating the command over and over.
2. Commanding the dog when she doesn't actually know the command.
3. Luring incorrectly.
4. Forcing the dog physically to perform the command.
5. Towering over the dog menacingly.
6. Using a harsh tone.
7. Not rewarding enough.
8. Not using a high enough value reward.
9. Expecting the dog to preform at too high a distraction level.
10. Giving mixed signals physically or verbally.

With that being said, how would I go about teaching a novice dog to sit?

Sit: novice dog would be on a 4 foot leash and I would be stepping on the very end of the leash. That way my hands are free and the dog isn't going anywhere, but isn't glued to me unable to move. In a class situation, I would be at least 6 feet away from other dogs, perhaps further, maybe even behind a visual barrier if novice dog was too distracted. I would have something very very yummy, like natural balance food roll in my treat bag and take a pea sized chunk and slowly place it almost on novice dog's nose while simultaneously moving it backwards toward his tail. If I move slowly enough and keep his interest, his bottom will touch the floor and I will say "good sit!" and pop the treat into his mouth. I am not commanding him to sit, nor am I pushing him or moving the food too fast or dancing it out of his reach. After doing this a few more times, if he is keen on it, I can start telling him to sit when it is highly likely he will do it and I can start introducing a hand signal and omit the lure and start giving him only hidden rewards. If he gets confused, I will go back a step and help him. After about 10 reps, he would probably need a break and we would move onto another exercise. If I was to use a clicker, the process would be slightly different, as I would mark his bottom touching the ground with a click versus a word marker "good" or "yes."

For a dog that already knows how to sit, but does not do so without multiple commands or help or forcing on the owner's part, the mechanics would look a little different.

I would tell average dog to sit and assuming he does not, I would get out a yummy morsel and show it to him, then ask him again. If he immediately sits, he would get the treat. That scenario tells me that average dog does not understand how to do a command without seeing the reward first and he needs some "fake-outs." Meaning I will show him a treat, tell him to sit, he sits, he gets it. Next rep I pretend I have a treat in my hand, he sits, he gets a hidden treat, and I go back and forth between fake-out treat and real treat until I am doing more fake-outs than real and eventually showing him my hands are empty and asking him to sit. After so many positive reps, he should sit with seeing empty hands and I will give him a big jack-pot of hidden treats! The trick with this is to not now go to empty hands all the time, but switch between visual treat and empty hands and slowly the dog will start to do a command without seeing a reward. It is also helpful to use life-rewards with a dog that does this. My post on Value is very helpful when it comes to this problem.

If average dog will sit without a treat but only on the second command and does so slowly, then a game is in order! I tell average dog to sit, he does not, I show him what morsel he missed out on and walk away for a second and come back. I tell him to sit again, he does. Jack-pot! Then we run around together and I stop, ask for a sit and if it is quick, he gets a goody, and if it is slow, I walk away and we try again. I am only rewarding what I want; quick sits on the first command and I am ignoring what I don't want and showing him that he missed out. Hopefully what I have is exciting enough that he wants to work for it.

If average dog will only sit if pushed into a sit, then he never was taught properly and must go through the novice dog steps.

Command Rules

1. Only say a command 2 times!
2. After the second time, help your dog! This means going back to baby steps and most likely luring your dog.
3. Assess if what your asking is too much.
4. Assess if your dog cannot preform due to too high a distraction.
5. Make sure you are using an even, nice tone of voice and aren't yelling at your dog.

Do you have a specific question on how to teach or clean up a certain command? Comments are always welcome! I teach classes and offer privates in the East Bay area of California.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Dog/Puppy

It doesn't matter if you are bringing home a brand new puppy or an adult dog, there are things that you will need to buy! I have to say that I find shopping for pet supplies super fun and unfortunately in the past, slightly addicting. However, buying baby supplies is even more fun and addicting so I guess I traded a habit for a habit!

The following is a general list that applies to every breed, size or age of dog in respect to the supplies you will need;
1. High quality food (read my post titled "Feeding your Dog" for more info on choosing a food).
2. 1 food dish (stainless steal or ceramic as plastic can harbor bacteria and be chewed).
3. 1 water dish of same material, yet slightly larger.
4. Crate (see "Crate Training" for more info on choosing a crate and using one properly).
5. Toys (choose only a few toys of various textures. I prefer a kong toy, a rope, a high quality plush and a ball to start with).
6. Bones/chews (see post "Bones" for more info).
7. Basic nylon or leather collar and 4 foot leash (hold off on pulling devices or read "Does your Dog Pull?").
8. Stain remover (you will need this no matter what! I love Simple Solution brand by far over the others).
9. ID tag for collar.
10. High quality shampoo (see "Grooming" for more info).

There are some things you can hold off on for a while or all together;
1. Poop bags: if you live in an apartment, this may be essential or you may find that you can use accumulated grocery bags or grab a few bags every time you pass a public dispenser.
2. Pooper scooper: really only helpful if you have a large yard and don't want to use a shovel or bags to pick-up.
3. Place mats for under food: I have never found these helpful, but my dogs aren't super messy.
4. Bed: only get a dog bed for the crate or outside the crate if you dog is not a chewer and is OVER a year old. Puppies will destroy beds and not only will you lose money, you could have a sick pup on your hands if he digested any stuffing and possibly need an expensive surgery.
5. Treats: get treats once you have committed to training so you aren't doling them out for "free." (see blog post "rewards" for ideas of proper treats).
6. Food bins: super helpful, there are not a must-have and are spendy. I have two myself and now after years, am not using them! I find my dog is picky and prefers to switch flavors often so I can't buy big economical bags anymore.
7. Flexi-leash: a lot of owners see these extendable leashes as must-haves, but honestly, they teach dogs to pull and are super dangerous in the hands of untrained dogs and untrained owners. I only use mine in open space areas when I cannot let my dogs loose and they need more freedom than a 4 foot lead allows.
8. Brush and nail trimmers: while you will need these later, most puppies don't start shedding till they get their adult coat and some owners may want to get the pup or dog professionally groomed and never deal with it at home. I do advise all owners to pet a new pup, put fingers in her mouth, touch her paws, play with her ears softly and generally desensitize her to grooming procedures.
9. Flea treatment: these have been marketed to us as preventatives but really should be used as treatments as we are now creating super bugs that are immune to the chemicals in these products due to consumer over-use.
10. Pens or gates: buy if needed for potty training and confinement.

You will want to make sure that you purchase all these things BEFORE you bring your new pet home because it is super stressful for a new dog to be drug into a pet store while you attempt to shop! Have the crate set-up in your main living space or bedroom (if you only bought one crate, you will probably be moving it back and forth for a while from living room to bedroom at night). Have the water bowl down where you would like it be and have all the gear put away and have a few toys out for your new friend.

For a new puppy: it is advisable to bring your pup straight home from the breeder/shelter/wherever and not make any stops to visit doting friends. Place your puppy in your backyard or front yard to eliminate before going inside then give him a tour of the house. Let him sniff his new home, but be close behind. If you have a slightly older puppy, you will probably want to have him on leash so he doesn't go terroring off in the house. Once he has explored his new digs you should assess his activity level. Does he need a nap? Is he frisky and wanting to play? Did he eat already today? Oblige with whatever he needs, but be sure to not leave him loose and make sure you start the crate training right away!

For a new dog: bring your new dog straight home as well, however, your new dog will have had all his shots and may want a little walk around the block to pee and get acquainted with new smells (provided the dog is not a fearful one). Once you bring your new dog in (on leash), let him explore the place and evaluate his needs. Start the crate training right away and don't be lax on your house rules because this is his first day. If you don't want him on the couch and he jumps on it, be sure to lure him off of it right away. If he starts going through the bathroom garbage, shut the door and redirect him to his toys. If he starts destroying your backyard, bring him in and make a mental note what you need to do to dog-proof your yard!

The next few days you will need to go about business as usual. I don't recommend anyone take excess time off when getting a new pet because we don't want to set-up any separation anxiety. After the first few days, consider starting training with a trainer either in your home or via a group class. If you are local (in the SF Bay Area), check out the training I offer, located on the "training" page at

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Living with dogs

As many of you may know, my mom runs a dog rescue group. She frequently gets update e-mails from adoptive owners and sends them to me as I am also involved in the rescue helping to find the dog's homes. A recent line in an e-mail stuck out to me. The new owner stated that the adopted dog was, "made to learn and not taught to learn," and that she hoped with time, the dog would become more "care-free" like her other dog and not obey commands immediately and have to be asked a few times, as the owner thought having to be asked multiple times was a sign that the dog was choosing to do as he/she pleased, and thus a sign of a happy dog that has choices.

Of course, as a trainer, I was slightly flabbergasted that someone would WANT their dogs to have to be told multiple times to take a command! However, everyone has a different standard to which they hold their dogs and how they choose to live with their dogs.

I find that training classes are not mutually exclusive to good dog house manners. This is due to the fact that how a dog acts in a group class is very different on how he acts at home. Owners also have a hard time transferring "commands" to "everyday living" with their dog. Everyone's lifestyle is different and what I do at home, may not work with another owner's schedule or their dog's personality.

Pre-baby, when I had both Lex and Lucy as adults in Oregon, we had two types of days; the days I worked and the days I didn't. I want to illustrate the commands used each and every day with my dogs and the house rules they abide by.
Work Days
- Get up early, take dogs out to potty (Wait and Release at the door).
- Feed dogs (Sit, Stay, Release for dish).
- Get ready for work while they hang out and play with each other and toys.
- Take them out again (Wait and Release at the door).
- Go to work and leave them loose, as this is an example of them as adult dogs.
- Come home after an 8-9 hour shift and take them out (Wait and Release at the door).
- Play with them one-one while one dog stays (Stays, Go-to Mat, Leave-its, Fetching, Dropping objects).
- Have them hang out while I unwind and clean or prepare dinner.
- Feed them dinner (Sit, Stay, Release for dish).
- Have them stay on their bed while we eat (Duration Stay, Go-to Mat).
- Relax with a show or internet time while dogs lay around or play fetch.
- Out before bed  (Wait and Release at the door).
- Bedtime.

Non-Work Days
- All morning activities and house activities similar.
- Go do an activity such as herding, agility, flyball, hike, dog park, long walk, swimming etc.
- While on leash: Heels, Release, Steady commands.
- All activities warrant special commands.
- Load-up and Wait and Release to get in and out of car crates.
- Leave-its and Watches when passing dogs or distractions.

Now that I have a child and Lucy is at my father's house, our days look quite different.

- Wait and Release at top of steps to go potty.
- Go-To Crate for feeding.
- Practice lots and lots of leave-its as the toddler tries to feed Lex her food or give him her toys!
- Absentmindedly play fetch throughout the day (Drop, Bring).
- Up and Off the couch when told.
- Heel, Release, Steady on walks, especially essential with a stroller!
- Trick time when baby is sleeping.
- Manners around the baby all day, and manners when out and about.

The idea is that training really is all the time. My dog(s) are no longer learning new obedience skills, but I do teach them new tricks and it is essential that their obedience skills are fresh not only because it makes living with them more of a joy, but because it makes having a toddler around a dog not a big issue. Just imagine if Lex stole food, ate baby toys, wasn't fully potty trained and couldn't be trusted off leash to go potty. His life would consist of being separate from the rest of the family, most likely crated or my child would have no toys or food! It would also be a huge chore to take him out potty on leash (we have no fence) with a toddler in tow and have to watch him like a hawk to be sure he didn't eliminate inside.

The general house rules I have, both dogs abide by with no issues.
1. No jumping on furniture or people unless told "up."
2. Get off furniture or people promptly when told "off."
3. Do not take food laying on the floor, or coffee table or any accessible area unless told "hover."
4. If offered food and told "leave-it," do not eat it!
5. Do not chew toys that aren't yours.
6. Don't de-stuff your toys, if you want to chew, grab a nylabone or bone.
7. If the front door is open, do not go through it unless told "release."
8. Sit is a polite way to say "please" for anything you want.
9. Stop barking when told "quiet."
10. Don't eliminate in the house.
11. Don't herd moving babies or people or animals (unless told to!).
12. Don't go in the kitchen.

To me, those sound pretty normal, but I am constantly surprised by pet sitting doggies that don't abide by nearly any of those rules!

If you feel like your dog(s) need help either learning essential commands, or actually learning house manners, please contact me. I offer group classes as well as private sessions.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Training Breakthroughs

I love training breakthroughs, especially when I have been working on a very difficult trick with my dog and we finally have reached the next step of the trick. It is so awesome to see those "light bulb" moments with dogs in class as well that are struggling with doing a complete down or getting into heel position. For a few weeks I have had my mind set on teaching Lex and Lucy (but more Lex) to high-step. At first I was completely perplexed on how to teach this, but got a few pointers from a friend that taught a freestyle
introduction seminar (see the post called Freestyle).

I started very sloppily with Lex trying to do a "wave" in a standing position, but he associated that cue with sitting, so he would sit each time I asked for a "wave." Then I cued him to stand and gave him a hand signal for high-five, which he did. So began the long road to the high-step!

I had to slowly phase my hand away so he was lifting his front leg and not slapping my hand, then put a cue to it for the one leg and start the process over for the other front leg.

As of this morning, his right leg was on a verbal cue, lift, and a hand-signal and his left leg still needed an assisted hand-signal that I wasn't going to continue to use AND I had to reward for each leg lift and couldn't string the two together.

Then came our breakthrough! With the help of one of his favorite foods, cheese, I got him to do "lift" and "other" in succession and only treated after he lifted both legs once. That is major progress because the next step is to get him to do a few reps of one leg at a time and put those reps on one cue like, "march" or "prance." Then I will need to get him to actually do the leg lifts while moving forward! I hope that once he gets good at them in place, the movement will come naturally. If not, then I will have to do some brain storming!

In the end, I will have 4 different brand new tricks. I will have each leg lift on a cue (already accomplished) and a stand in place march and a walking high-step.

Yes, trainers teach their dogs weird things lol.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Recently, I have had a handful of older dogs sign up for classes. By older, I mean over 10 years. This is quite new for me, as I have never had people interested in taking classes with their senior dog. While I commend the owners for seeking higher learning for their aging dogs, I don't think training is for all elderly dogs.

One of the dogs is a 10 year old small breed rescue that prior to class, knew zero obedience commands. His owner sought classes because she felt that even though he is a great dog, she would like him to know how to sit, come when called and walk nicely on a leash etc. Poor little guy has had a few road blocks that have made training more difficult. The biggest challenge is his allergies. His owner doesn't know what he is allergic to and he is on a strict diet which really limits what treats he can have. Unfortunately, the approved treats aren't to his liking and he rarely will eat them while in class. Another road block is that he has never had any prior training for 10 years! That is quite a long time to go without challenging the brain to learn something new. While I am sure he learned about his world and socialization etc, learning in a more structured way can be frustrating to some dogs that have never had to do a command when asked. Great thing is that he has been learning. He will be done with his 6 weeks next week and can now sit, stay, come, leave-it and is much better on the leash as well as interacting with other dogs. His progress was much slower than a younger dog as we had to utilize a training method called capturing, rather than relying on lure and reward. There were times I felt guilty that he wasn't progressing like the other dogs in class, though I never felt his owner held it against him. I had to frequently remind myself that his progress will be slower. Thank goodness I had this experience with him, because just last night another, even older dog, signed up for classes!

Dog #2 is an 11 year old maltese mix who has been with her owner since 8 weeks old, but never has had any training. The owner sought training due to some new behavior problems that surfaced from a stressful move (potty training issues, separation anxiety), and hoped that she could get some answers to her issues by signing up for a class. I gave her some guidance on her two top issues and we dove in with teaching her some obedience commands. Surprisingly, the dog picked up the new commands right away! She was thrilled to be learning and seemed to soak it all in like a sponge. The owner was likewise, surprised and so proud of her little old dog.

I realize that my own dog, Lucy, falls into the senior dog category. She will be 9 in December. She enjoys learning new things and learns at an insanely fast rate. I think a life-time of training has helped her love using her mind and even as she ages more, she will only be limited by her body.

When I remember Lucy's age, I feel slightly guilty about judging old dogs learning new tricks. Older dogs CAN learn new things and their past, their breed and their owner's skill level, are all going to be factors in how fast they learn and how well.

However, there are still some cases where an older dog shouldn't be subjected to training class. Thankfully I have only had to talk one person out of training class that fits this category. If your senior dog has trouble hearing or seeing, a class in a new environment probably isn't a good idea. If your elderly dog can't get around well or has medical issues, a class isn't a good idea. If your aging dog rarely leaves the house, is grouchy towards other dogs and strange people, he would be much happier at home. Teach him some new things within his comfort zone and take it slow. After all, it has been said that humans who keep their minds active live longer, so why not our dogs?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Positive Training All the Way!

I just read an article written by a fellow dog trainer with a call to arms to certify dog training and finally cast out those dominance based trainers and those who recommend them.

I fully applaud him for doing this. Happily, it seems that positive training is on the rise and I don't have to give the "please don't watch Ceasar Milan" speech nearly as much anymore. The handful of traditional trainers in my area attract a different category of people. Generally older people that have trained that way for a long time and are not open to change, people that I probably don't want to take on as clients that will challenge positive dog training and be closed to trying it.

While I am a proud preacher of positive training, there are people that have their heels so dug in, it is better not to stress myself with pushing them to change. The clients that have felt this way inevitably drop out of class and keep to their medieval ways. I honestly feel bad for their dogs.

Traditional trainers and those who seek them out aside, one of the truly sad things Michael mentions in his article is the animal advocates that recommend this type of training. I have seen far too many animal rescue groups suggest traditional trainers and insist that their dogs need a hard hand or need a leader to teach them respect. These are the same people that have rescued dogs from abusive or neglectful homes. These people have an intense love for dogs and doing right by them, yet they place choke chains on their neck and basically abuse them in the name of training.

I have heard of veterinarians, animal communicators, groomers etc also recommend traditional training from what I assume to be a misunderstanding of current dog training standards! Dog owners trust these professionals for advice and I am sure a great many are lead down the wrong path from seeking out the wrong trainer or methods.

Even those who choose not to use a trainer have ready access to traditional training books, videos, online literature etc. It is quite sickening and sad to think of all the dogs being mistreated in the name of training by well meaning owners and animal advocates that are simply misinformed.

I apologize for the rant, but this article really struck a chord for me. I hope people become more educated about training and realize the impact traditional training has on dogs and the bond they have with their owner.

If you would like to know more about the differences of positive training versus traditional, without the moral issue thrown in, take a look at my post titled, "Value." It has a basic definition of each with the differences.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


One of the topic requests I got recently was about dogs begging for food at the table. This has been a contentious issue in my household between my husband and I for a long time!

Begging is a learned behavior. Dogs beg only because we have shown them that it works. They look cute and linger about the table, and we feed them scraps. Funny to think how that is a major factor that played into dog domestication. Dogs lingered at the edges of villages/camps and scavenged for the leftovers. Humans learned that the dogs didn't pose much of a threat and actually offered protection and soon the dogs got more brave and came closer and closer to the humans and eventually became domesticated animals (in a nutshell).

I don't mind begging. Honestly, I think it is cute. My husband doesn't think it is so cute. I love it when Lucy puts her head on my lap and gazes up at me for a tidbit of my dinner and he doesn't even want a dog to look in his direction from across the room when he is eating!

Beggars can be reformed. There are a ton of options. First you can use the extinction method. Basically ignore your dog and don't give them anymore scraps. She will try harder at first (extinction burst), and then the behavior will slowly disappear. This method doesn't work for me. I may be able to resist feeding them when my husband is home, but I don't when he is not around and by intermittently rewarding, I made the begging behavior stronger!

The next method is you can teach the dog to do a behavior incompatible with begging (this is what we do). Teach your dog that he should be on his dog bed when you eat or laying down in another room. This method takes time because it is actually a duration stay with a food distraction.

You can also use simple management and crate your dog or relocate your dog to another room when food is being served to avoid begging. If we were to have a dinner party someday, I probably would relocate the dogs so I didn't have to wonder if they were holding their down-stay.

The last method is the one I hate the most, and the one my husband prefers to use. He taught the dogs (mainly Lucy) that the word "beggar" and a lifted fork is an aversive. When he says "beggar" in a "you are a naughty dog" tone, she slinks off. Same goes for if he points his fork at her. I personally hate this because I can see that it makes Lucy uncomfortable and it really doesn't work for long. She eventually sneaks back over to try again for a morsel. I suppose I don't have to worry about this anymore since Lucy is at my dad's and thankfully, he uses the down-stay method for Lucy and his dog, Harley. That is, when he cares that they are begging!

Bottom line is that begging is either something that bugs you, or something that doesn't. Unfortunately, if your household is split on this it can be hard on the dog receiving mixed signals. The best thing to do is work on a good down-stay so it can be used when the person who hates begging is around.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Last Thursday I was lucky enough to attend a meeting with a group I was invited to join, the East Bay Dog Trainers. The group is invite only and consists of positive trainers that train in the East Bay. While only a few were able to attend that meeting, it was great to meet some inspiring trainers.

The group decided to do something new to them and have group members teach a special training topic that not all of us may be aware of. The topic of that meeting was canine freestyle AKA doggie dancing.

I will admit, in the past I have been on the fence about freestyle. Half captivated and half embarrassed for the people, I never gave freestyle a chance. At one point I almost signed up Lucy and I for a class in Oregon with the express interest of teaching her the "moves" but not linking it to music, and certainly not dancing with her. Turns out there is a lot more to freestyle than fancy tricks and dancing around with your dog.

What I learned
Freestyle isn't about trick after trick, it is about moving with your dog and transitions (which are the tricks) and then more movement. The dogs that do freestyle are very well trained in heeling/moving with their owners and seem to heartily enjoy the sport and the attention that comes with it. Freestyle is about the bond between the owner and the dog. Watching freestyle done correctly, is like sneaking a peak on a private moment between owner and dog.

I also learned that music isn't randomly picked. The music should actually fit the dog's natural gait and movement. We did a little exercise of heeling/moving in a circle for each dog and handler while someone played a variety of music snippets until there was this "ah-ha" moment that that song was MEANT for that dog. Lucy's song was a lively Celtic song with a fast tempo almost difficult for me to keep up with! Then again, that has been the theme of every dog sport I do with Lucy. Her flying through agility courses while I struggle to spit out the next obstacle and her nearly pulling my arm off tugging during flyball, so much in fact that while pregnant with Elsie, I had to have someone else handle Lucy during flyball while I continued to handle Lex well up till my 8th month! For Lex, the music was a bit slower with less high notes and a more deep, powerful tone with some fun flares here and there. I have to say, that describes Lex. He can be very serious when working and is a very well grounded dog and powerful for sure when confident. There is also a goofy, silly side of Lex that periodically makes an appearance, depending on his mood.

The other thing that we learned was that handlers doing freestyle don't just walk about the ring in circles, they have a pattern in mind they are walking and it is really easy to pick a letter of the alphabet as your pattern to walk and do multiple letters for longer routines.

What is the point?
So what is the point of freestyle? It is another activity to do with your dog, but unlike agility, flyball, dock diving etc. the dog doesn't really need to be that athletic. With Lucy having been retired from hard sports, freestyle is a really good option for her. It can keep an older dog's mind and body fit without all the stress. Another great thing about freestyle is that YOU don't have to be athletic! In fact, there are several different organizations that put on the freestyle competitions and while one is focused on the owner fully participating in the dance, the other puts the focus on the dog, meaning you don't have to even be on the beat, just be helping and cuing your dog. I wish the lady I would have talked to about this years ago would have mentioned that to me! Freestyle is also wonderfully positive. Some obedience and rally competitors (another sport for the less athletic dogs and humans), use traditional training and can suck the fun out of the event. Not saying all are like that, but that is the core reason I have stayed away from obedience competitions.

Cool Stuff to Teach
After watching some freestyle videos and seeing a mini live performance by our presenter, I am once again fueled to teach my dogs some new things. Since Lucy doesn't live her anymore, that means my primary focus is on Lex. This is so great because Lucy has always been my go-to trick dog and even though I have taught Lex many of the same tricks, I always got frustrated with his different learning style and would abandon some tricks. I have learned that Lex is quite awesome at learning new things as long as I don't push him too fast and keep a level head. For some it may seem silly that I had to get inspired to teach something new, but honestly, my dogs know so many complex behaviors and tricks that I run out of ideas! Aside from all the obedience commands, I have taught my dogs to spin, roll-over, high-five, wave, dance on hind legs, open and close doors and drawers, blow bubbles in their water dish, open a suitcase and lay down and let it close, fetching specific objects, nose targeting, "talking," walking backwards, the list goes on.

The newest thing that I am working on with great results is a high step. Basically I want Lex to literally "march" and lift his front legs high like a high-stepping horse would. At first, I was very experimental in figuring out how the heck to teach this! There is nothing online or on youtube with any tips. I tried setting up obstacles for him to lift his legs over but he either walked normal, or jumped over it if I increased the height. Then I tried having him to walking high-fives. That worked, but it was only one paw and very exaggerated and my hand needed to be there. I actually e-mailed the presenter on tips for this behavior and turns out I guess right, that doing the high-five is a way to teach it, but of course, I had moved to fast (something I tend to have issues with training my own dogs). So I took a step back and have focused on getting either paw while he is in a stand. I had to start with my hand lowered and after 3 days of 1-2 short (meaning 5 minutes) sessions per day, he can now lift his right paw on cue (I say "lift") without me touching him. I created a hand signal that he will do it for as well. The left paw still needs more help, but that is fine. Once I get the left, my goal is to have him alternate them in a stand, then put it into motion. All of this was done with clicker training, so if you haven't tried clicker training, please do.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Potty Training

There are many different ways to potty train a puppy/dog. However, no matter what method you choose, having your puppy on a schedule, feeding your puppy a nutritious food and supervising your puppy are three very important aspects of successful potty training.

Dogs thrive on schedules! Your puppy/dog will need to go potty after sleeping, after meals and for young puppies, after play as well. What goes in on a schedule, will come out on a schedule, so keep meal times consistent. Dogs should eat 2x per day, and puppies under 6 month or small breed dogs can eat 3x per day. For a dog new to potty training, the water dish should be put away an hour or so before the last potty break before bed.

Sample schedule
- 7am: take puppy out
- 7-7:30am: puppy hangs out with you while you get ready for the day
- 7:30am: puppy gets breakfast then taken out for #2
- Put puppy in crate/pen while you leave for work/school/errands
- Get home, let puppy out, feed lunch
- Go back to work/school errands
- Get home, let puppy out
- Play time
- Puppy nap
- Walk (with potty break)
- Puppy nap
- Potty break
- Obedience training
- 7:30pm: dinner
- Potty break
- Playtime
- Last potty break
- Bedtime

Pretty monotonous, but dogs that are new to potty training need frequent opportunities to go out. How long can your puppy hold it? The rule of thumb is months old=hours able to hold it (double that number for at night [up to 8 hours]). Puppy is 8 weeks old? Then he can only “hold it” for about 2 hours tops during the day and 4 hours during the night.

If your dog is on a nutritious food without fillers and extra fiber, he should have a bowel movement about 2x per day. A dog on a mediocre food full of fiber and indigestible fillers will poop up to 4x per day! This makes potty training a lot more difficult. There are many foods to choose from at Petco (Avoderm, Merrick, Castor and Pollux, Blue Buffalo, Wellness). Be sure to measure your food carefully as to not over-feed your dog. Follow the feeding guidelines on the bag plus/minus a little depending on your dog’s energy needs.

Puppies need constant supervision (up till about a year depending on breed and destructiveness). Adult dogs that are not potty trained also need supervision to ensure they don’t have an accident. To keep your dog within view you can utilize baby gates, close off doors or use the “umbilical cord” method and use a leash clipped to the dog clipped to your belt loop or wrapped around furniture and eventually just drug around by the dog. When you can’t supervise your dog, he should be in a crate, pen or dog proofed yard/garage. I personally recommend crate training and utilizing pens. Most garages are not insulated and have hazardous chemicals in them. Leaving a dog unattended in a yard can lead to nuisance barking, hole digging, deck eating and sometimes even tragic endings when dogs escape or when malicious neighbors poison dogs.

Use the “rule of thumb” for how long your puppy can hold it to gage how long to leave him in the crate. Any time over that threshold means puppy goes in the pen with a *potty pad, toy, chew and crate attached to the pen.

If your dog has an accident it is important to clean it up with an enzyme based cleaner. Never punish a dog for having an accident in the house. This can lead to submissive urination, hiding their elimination, such as pottying behind furniture, and other fear problems. If you catch your dog in the act having an accident, you may clap loudly to startle him and scoop him up (if applicable) and rush outside so he can finish his business. In order to make going outside a positive experience you can couple pottying with treats or just use praise and a key potty word.

*A note about potty pads: while these are great if you need your puppy to be penned while at work, do not use these as a primary potty training area when you are home. Dogs that always use a potty pad do not learn to “hold it” or how to “tell” their owner they need to go as the pad is always accessible. The pad can also confuse a dog that going on discarded towels and clothes and even rugs is the same thing as a potty pad. As soon as my dog can "hold it" for the time period I am gone, or starts to eat the potty pads, I stop using them.

Q: "Can I just use a dog door?" A: No, because dog doors do not train your dog to use your yard as a potty space. Perhaps later when the dog is trained, you can use a dog door for convenience, but most situations where a dog door was used as a potty training method have failed miserably. The puppy/dog goes to the bathroom in and outside and is not getting proper praise for going outside. The other complication of a dog door is having your dog bring in foliage, trash and tracking in mud without you being there to clean him up before coming in.

Q: "Can I use a litter box?" A: Yes, you can successfully train a dog to use a litter box, but you will still need to employ all of the above recommendations and literally pen the dog with the litter box until she is successfully using it 100% of the time before allowing the dog more access to the home to ensure she will make the trek back to the litter box when she has to go.

Q: "When can my puppy have free access to my house?" A: Depends on your puppy. For most, around 6-7 months your puppy will no longer have accidents (if he is potty trained!) and be allowed to be supervised less while you are home. However, we can't forget about other things puppies do when unattended, such as chewing and destroying things. Even small non-destructive dogs can find a bit of floss or string and play with it/swallow it and need vet care.

Do you have specific questions pertaining to your situation? Comment or contact me. I do provide e-mail consults for a fee of $30 an hour if you don't need a private in home session for something like potty training troubles.

Check out my post on Crate Training for information on how to implement that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Second Chances

Some of you may know that my mom does dog rescue. This started as a side hobby where she would take in a needy dog here and there, then she began searching for dogs that needed "rescuing." While her intentions were noble, she wasn't exactly going about it right. She seemed to be attracted to the dogs on craigslist in horrible situations whoes owners would not let the dogs go without payment. Basically, she was buying dogs that needed help, then investing further money into their medical needs and finally, re-homing them for a fraction of what she had put into the dog.

I know of many people that have done this. Bought a dog from a pet shop or puppy mill situation or out of the paper because they couldn't possibly leave the dog in the situation it was in. However, the problem with this is that the money paying to save that one dog, is fueling the fire of that person to create/breed more dogs to abuse and live in deplorable condition to turn a profit because people are willing to pay! I think my mom finally realized that she "can't save them all," and that there is a much smarter way to rescue dogs in need, all be it a more complicated road at the beginning.

So began the creation of Sweet Dog Rescue, a 501c non-profit organization dedicated to saving dogs and giving them a second chance. My mom houses the dogs in her home and takes care of all their medical needs, spay/neuter, shots, chipping etc. She potty trains them, crate trains them and makes sure they find a good home. I can't take dogs into my home, but I help in other ways. I maintain the website and petfinder and craigslist accounts. I locate many of the dogs she ends up pulling from the shelter (no more buying dogs from people!), I offer training support to adopted dogs, I take pictures of the dogs and soon will be arranging for donation drives and other events.

This brings me to a rescue story near to my heart.

Charlie was a young scruffy terrier mix at the Martinez pound. In one of their last runs, down the many twists and turns of the hall, it was easy to miss him. With three other dogs, Charlie was matted and coated with feces. He still seemed jolly despite his condition and calmly walked up to the gate when approached. The other two little ones in his run yapped and baked away, fearful of a person watching them.

My mom has a soft spot for terriers. She has two terriers of her own, a Jack Russell rescue and a Wheaten Terrier. She couldn't leave Charlie there. So Charlie was paid for, at this point the full price of what the public pays as her 501c paper work was still in limbo with the IRS.

Charlie got neutered and the next day was available for pick-up. According to his paperwork, Charlie was a stray and approximately 1 year old.

He settled in quickly and it was hard to keep him mellow for a few days while he healed. Pretty soon he was scampering around the yard full of joy. He played with the other dogs, layed on dog beds, solicited human attention and was an overall good boy. He got a good clean up at the groomers to remove the matting and the feces as the pound does not do any cleaning prior to surgery, and the dogs have to wait a certain amount of time after surgery to get wet. It baffles me why they can't just give the dogs a quick bath to at least remove some of the filth. When asked about this, they adamantly say they have groomers on staff, but what do the groomers do?

Charlie was listed on the website, petfinder and craigslist. It wasn't long before a couple across the bay came to visit Charlie. It turned out to be a great match and he was adopted. It was then he was dubbed Chauncey and moved into a lovely home with caring owners.

Chauncey's owners take him to the beach, the dog park, and he goes on car-rides in his own custom booster seat! He was having some trouble adjusting at first to the husband, but with some e-mail training consults, the behavior is getting much better.

I am so happy for Chauncey to have gotten a second chance and to be living with such wonderful, dedicated owners and for the other 30 or so dogs to date that my mom has helped give a second chance to.

I will admit, I myself have never adopted a rescue dog (though I have only had 2 dogs of my own). I used to be of the mindset that rescue dogs were damaged and unpredictable. I am learning that rescue dogs come from all walks of life and that if one looks hard enough, there are many diamonds in the rough out there.

So give a shelter dog a chance. If you are local, check out my mom's website as she gets many different breeds of dogs, temperaments and ages.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I miss my dog

It has been one week since I took Lucy to live at my dad's. I miss her.

Since last Friday, I have visited her 3 times and picked her up for an outing to my place/work afterward. I can say that I feel validated that I made the right decision. The first visit I went over in the evening sans baby. She was happy to see me, but a little concerned/stressed that I was there. I think she may have wondered if I was coming to take her back. She spent most of my visit obsessing over my cat that was outside the window meowing at her.

She has a thing for cats. She likes to stalk them, herd them etc. But if the cat comes straight for her in a friendly, or not friendly manner, she freezes, throws out a ton of calming signals or leaves. She poses no threat to cats. My dad was a little surprised that for almost 2 hours she was staring and pacing at the door/window. He said normally she does that for 10 minutes or so, then stops, even if the cat is still there. I suppose I make my dog neurotic.

When I went to leave, she came outside with me, made an obvious choice to walk past my car, pee on the lawn and go back and sit on the porch. It was clear she did not want me to load her into my car.

A few days later I went to see her with the baby to pick her up to go to work with me later that night. She was happy to see me, and surprisingly, the baby as well. Even gave her a few kisses and played fetch with her. She reluctantly loaded into my car when it was time to go. When we got to my place things started to go downhill.

Lex was over the moon to see her. He was wagging and sniffing and eliciting play. She pretended he did not exist! He gave up after a short while and was very forlorn about it. Then Elsie began her evening whining and Lucy lost her mind. She was up on the couch, in my face, licking me, trying to get in my lap and as close as she possibly could. Lex began to also look concerned from Lucy's concern! Thank goodness my husband came home within an hour and I was able to take the two freaked border collies out and away from the house to go to work for a while.

At work, they both had a blast. They love showing off their obedience skills and are very comfortable with the safe environment I provide for them where they can see me, but not be bothered by other dogs or people. After the classes, they got to zoom around the empty store visiting the critters and employees as I shopped for some supplies. They both had huge grins on their faces when we went out to the car and happily got into their crates for the ride home.

At the last minute, I decided it might be best to take Lucy back to my dad's and not have her spend the night since she obviously had no desire to be at our place. She was very appreciative when I brought her back, greeting my dad and jumping up on HER ottoman!

I also visited her today with much better results. I had my daughter with me and we played fetch, did some tricks for treats and hung out for about an hour. When I left, she was exercised and satisfied. No signs of stress.

While I am happy that she is doing well, I do miss her. I miss strange things though. Having Lex here, means I do get to still have a dog around. There are just things that Lucy does better then Lex!

For example, I miss that Lucy is fluffy. I really liked scratching her fluffy neck! Lex is not so fluffy, and he doesn't like his neck scratched. He prefers his butt scratched lol.

I miss that she cleans up messes and plates really well. Lex is picky and he has such a lazy tongue. My floor is messier without Lucy here and my dishes need to be pre-washed before going into the dishwasher now.

I miss her greeting me at the door. Lex always seems to be napping when I come home, so his greeting is a bit delayed.

I miss her protectiveness. I have always felt very safe with Lucy around. I had no doubts in my mind that should I ever be in danger, Lucy would try her hardest to protect me. She has proved this several times. Once by saving me from some evil rams and once by fiercely growling at several homeless men that were converging upon me on a walk. Do I know if they were harmless or not? No, but I felt threatened and she didn't hesitate to step-up. Lex is the kind of dog who does a spooky bark and then hides behind me or takes off in the face of danger. I love him none the less and didn't raise my dogs to be watch dogs, but I still miss the security I felt with Lucy.

Good thing is, I still get to see her and scratch her neck and have her greet me when I go to my dad's place.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Quite often dog training clients get hung up on the usage of treats as rewards for their dog. They want to know why can't their dog just "do it" without a treat or when can they stop using the treats altogether. The answer isn't complicated, but it is a long explanation. After all, there are two questions here.

For simplicity's sake, I am going to categorize dog training into two camps: the traditional trainers/methods and the positive trainers/methods. In reality, it isn't that black and white because people tend to mix methodologies (which really isn't in the best interest of the dog) and attempt to do positive training with corrections rolled in (at that point is it really positive?).

Traditional dog training uses corrections when a dog does something wrong and nothing happens when the dog does a behavior correctly. The results range. Generally the dog is doing what you want out of fear of a correction. He is not sitting/staying because he loves you and you told him to do it. He knows that it is in his best interest to remain seated or something will happen that he doesn't like. A correction is going to be different for different people. It could be a sharp verbal correction or even a physical correction, such as a collar pop or even striking the dog. Let's take morals of out this. The list is long when it comes to the problem with corrections. For one, it can create a dog that shuts down and refuses to work. It can create a dog that has the life sucked out of him and works like a robot. For "hard" dogs, the human will have to keep stepping the corrections up as the dog gets desensitized and used to the correction and now requires something bigger for him to listen. Who really wants to be that owner? Who wants to yell and scream and harm their dog? I know I don't.

Positive training is based on rewarding the dog for desired behaviors and essentially ignoring or redirecting undesired behaviors or shaping those behaviors into something more positive. The awesome thing about positive training is that you can't "mess" your dog up. Positive training doesn't create dogs that shut down, or act like robots or make you feel awful about yourself. However, if done incorrectly, you may not end up with a dog that does what you want because there MIGHT be a reward, you will end up with a dog that doesn't perform unless he actually SEES the reward! I think this is where people doubt positive training. They see dogs that won't do what is asked of them unless there is a cookie in front of their face. To me, that means the owner just never moved onto the next phase from bribing/luring to actually rewarding and using other rewards aside from food.

Why do we use rewards?

Dogs will only do what we ask of them for two reasons; 1. They are avoiding a correction or 2. We have something they want. Since I choose the positive route, I use rewards to train my dogs. Therefore, my dog does what I ask because I covet something she wants. People often forget that dogs want other things in life other than treats. The list may be different for each dog, and the order of most desirable to least desirable may be different as well, but here is a general list.

1. Food/treats
2. Toys
3. Affection/praise (often this must be taught to the dog that this is a good thing)
4. Access to outside (to potty, to play, to explore)
5. Access to other dogs
6. Access to comfortable things (your furniture)
7. Interaction with other people

Food is usually number one, which is why we start with it in training. Food is also easy to use, easy to control and for most dogs, doesn't bring their energy level up as toys can do that sometimes.

Transitioning from luring to rewarding

Waving a treat in front of your dog's nose to get her to sit is a basic step when we teach a dog to sit, however, we need to quickly move to rewarding unless we want to get stuck in that trap of the dog only wanting to perform if the treat is visible. Last night I had a puppy in class brand new to training and didn't know any commands. The owners chose not to clicker train, so we used luring to get the puppy into a sit. After about 5 repetitions, I showed the pup that my hand was empty (no treat) and gave the hand signal I had been using (which comes natural to the lure to sit) and said sit, and she did it! I immediately rewarded her from my left hand that had a hidden treat in my fist at my side she wasn't aware of. I then had the owners do this with her a handful of times. Later during class after we had taught her several other new commands, her owners attempted a sit again and she didn't do it. Immediately they became concerned that she wasn't doing it because she didn't see the treat. My assessment was quite different. First off, the command was brand new to the pup and we had taught her quite a few new things in a new environment that I believe she may have forgot what the word meant. Second, the owner wasn't holding her hand in the correct position. When I stepped in and held my hand in the correct position (no treat) and calmly said sit and waited for a few seconds, she thought about it and did it! Reward! Now if she had not done it, I would have given her another shot, then got the treat out and did it the way I taught her. I want to make sure I follow through with a command, but at the same time not repeat it too many times. If I have to get the treat back out, so be it. The puppy only learned that command 50 minutes ago so I can hardly expect her to perform without assistance at times. With my own dogs, I would give them to shots to take a command and then if they didn't do it, wonder to myself (quickly!) why they aren't doing it and try to remedy the situation and ask for the sit again. Am I too close to something scary or distracting? If so, I need to move further away with the dog. Is my dog not feeling well? 99% of the time when Lucy would not take a known command it was because her back or joints were bothering her and if I asked her to lie-down on a bed or soft surface instead of the ground, she would promptly do it.

When to stop using treats

This new puppy owner mentioned above, were thrilled at how quickly their puppy was picking up commands and asked me when they can stop rewarding her for each command. Never. Never do you want to stop rewarding your dog. Does that mean she will get a treat for every command? No. They are just going to start substituting other rewards and having the dog perform many more commands before a desired reward. The first step to getting away from treating every time is using something called intermittent rewards. This means you randomly reward 2 out of 4 sits, or a random number out of however many times you practice a command. This strategy actually will make the behavior stronger. The dog doesn't know which time she gets the reward and can't anticipate which times she will and therefore (SHOULD), perform every time asked. This is very similar to why people gamble. People continue to put money in slot machines for a chance for a pay-out.

If this is done too fast, very often a command/behavior will diminish and you will have to go back to frequent rewarding.

The amount of rewarding is going to differ based on your location. Your dog is less distracted at home, and therefore more likely to listen than she is in class or at a park. Be prepared to reward more for desired behaviors for a longer period of time outside the home.

My dogs

My dogs are adults now, 5 and almost 9 years old. I don't give them treats for basic commands at home. They get life rewards. They do sit/stays at the top of their stairs to gain access to our yard to go potty. I will have them sit to get their leashes on. They need to do a trick for a bone. Sometimes during a game of fetch we randomly work on leave-it and recalls off the toy. We work on name discrimination and dropping the toy when asked. They do get treats when I bring them to work though. I want them to behave as close to perfect as they can and I can ensure that with treats. They aren't getting super high value treats, because it is unnecessary for them. If I were taking them to a new place to teach a class, then I would bring high value treats because I am competing with a new environment.

Becoming the value

The most important message I can send is that you need to become valuable in your dog's eyes. That means you are the gateway to all good things for him. Have him perform basic commands or even tricks to gain access to the things he finds rewarding. You can run with this as far as you need for your dog. If your dog is already well trained, you can obviously relax a little and not have him work for every ball toss and pet. If you have a dog that is having trouble following your directions and chooses to self-reward instead, then you will need to restrict more resources until your dog realizes that you are the key to the good stuff in his life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Early Spay/Neuter

Recently I have had quite a few large breed puppies in my classes. I am happy to say that ALL the owners  I have had in at least the last 6 months, have been responsible and spayed/neutered their dog. I am sad to say that not a single one (where applicable) took me seriously about choosing the appropriate time to alter their dog.

In the blog archives, I have a post titled "Altering your pet." I do strongly believe those not interested in breeding for the RIGHT reasons, get their pet altered. No one seems to be educating themselves on the proper time to alter their pet or the different variations of surgery and anesthesia offered. I don't know if it is due to the pet over-population that vets and other dog-professionals just push to have it done ASAP in fear that if an owner doesn't schedule it when they are actually talking to them that it won't ever happen, or what exactly is going on. Perhaps the vets here (in California) don't know about risks and considerations with early spay/neuter? Whatever the case, owners need to be educated about this.

I am going to be gathering most of my information from this article

There are other articles on this topic out there, but some are from journals that are not available to those not subscribed to the journal or enrolled at a university with a subscription. While studying animal science, I did read a variety of articles on the topic with the same conclusion. You will notice the above article has an excellent bibliography siting all of the sources and the author is a veterinarian! While the title focuses on canine athletes, this really is relevant to all dogs.

The article breaks down the "considerations" into several categories; orthopedic, cancer, behavioral and miscellaneous health. Early spay/neuter is anytime before 6 months of age.

Orthopedic Considerations

Dogs that are altered before puberty (which ranges depending on the breed as large breed dogs hit puberty later than small breed dogs), don't have the sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen) required by the body to close their growth plates. What this means is that those dogs tend to become overgrown. They have long legs, lighter bone structure, narrow chests and skulls. This can cause a higher incidence in bone-related and ligament related maladies. There is a significantly higher incidence of hip displaysia in dogs altered before 6 months! Also, there are higher rates of CCL ruptures. Hip displaysia is a horrible thing for an active dog to have. It can change their life significantly and cost the owner a lot of money if surgery is required. Wouldn't it be easier to hold of till the dog hit puberty to alter him/her to avoid this?


There is a 5 times (yes 5 times!) greater risk of cardiac cancer in spayed females versus intact females. 2.5 times greater risk on the male side. There is also a significantly higher incidence in bone cancer of dogs altered before 1.5 years of age. The idea that neutering prevents prostate cancer has also been disproved as having zero effect.


I have met many people that hold onto the idea that intact males are aggressive. I can tell you from personal experience, that this isn't so. Lex is a very sweet dog and while he doesn't like to "exchange numbers" with other intact males, he can most certainly tolerate other intact males at a park any day. The studies I have reference actually have evidence that it is neutered males that display the most aggression! It also points out that spayed females are more likely to have fear issues and noise phobias.

Other Health Considerations

Most people I know have however heard of female urinary incontinence resulting from an early spay. This means the dog now has problems holding urine. It is interesting to note that this can also happen to neutered males. An increase in hypothyroidism appears in spayed/neutered dogs as well as a much higher incidence of adverse vaccine reactions.

The article also points out at the end that there are other procedures we can do such as tubal ligation or vasectomies, where as in humans, the dogs still have their hormones, just are unable to reproduce. This is probably the most ideal scenario, but it is difficult to find a vet that can preform the procedure and it is probably more costly than just removing the uterus and ovaries/testicles as it requires a more delicate surgery.

So now you have the facts. I am in no way advocating that we all just leave our animals intact. Even responsible owners may end up with a whoops liter and contribute to that huge overpopulation issue we have in our nation. If I were to get another female dog, I personally wouldn't spay her until 15-18 months of age (if it were a medium to large breed). If I got a small breed dog, I would spay her at 9 months. If for some reason I got a male dog that I wanted to neuter (honestly, I don't think I will ever neuter a male again since I have had such a wonderful experience with Lex and I don't have to worry about heat cycles and puppies), I would neuter around 15 months.

Below are two more links/articles supporting the above data.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My dog hates me

I will start by saying that Lucy is doing so much better. In fact, I think I may have discovered the source of her ailment. Stress.

This last weekend my husband, daughter and I had to fly out to the memorial service mentioned in the last post. Since Lucy was still needing round the clock care, I left her at my dad's house where she "grew-up" for 2 years. She loves my dad, and his old dog. There are no kids there and there is plenty of room for her to gallivant and even a pool for her to swim in.

Within 12 hours of leaving my dad texted me that my dog was a pig and eating and drinking like crazy and must be "snowballing me" since this was not a sick, dying dog that he was seeing.

She had a fantastic weekend of fun and I was thrilled that she was feeling better. I told myself perhaps she had a bug that she got over and would have been fine regardless of if she was at my dad's or at home with us.

When I pulled up with my dad to his house to get her, he went in first while I moved our bags from his car to our car. Lucy and Harley were both in full fledged "I love you human!" greeting mode. Body wiggling, tail wagging, even some doggie noises all for my dad. Then she saw me and walked over with about half as much excitement to greet me. Then she saw me take our 1 year old out of the car and everything changed. She looked up, and walked away. I didn't exist anymore.

A light history on Lucy and the baby is in order here. Lucy has never had a fondness for our daughter Elsie. Lex loved her from the day she came home and is still enamored with her. Lucy chose to ignore her for about 4 months until Elsie became more independent of our arms and Lucy was forced to acknowledge her presence on the floor. She had a hard time learning to not run over the baby when playing with toys (Lex was always aware of her, even in play). She started leaving the room and hiding if Elsie was crying especially hard. When Elsie became a mobile crawler at 11 months (late, yes), Lucy seemed to develop a huge distrust with her. Moving and grumbling when the baby would simply go by her. Talking to another trainer, I would move Lucy behind a gate when this happened and give her something to chew on for being a good girl and not biting the baby! I prefer warning signs, such as grumbling any day.

Lucy got over the crawling novelty but just seemed to sink into a depression. I chalked this up to her being an older dog and needing to sleep more. Elsie is a very respectful baby with the dogs. She doesn't pull on their ears or appendages. She doesn't take things from them or holler at them. We are raising her to be a very dog savvy kid.

The light bulb really went off for me when we brought Lucy back to our place this week. I started keeping mental notes of her stress signals, how many she displays each day and when/why they happen. I noticed an alarming pattern. Anytime my daughter was too excited or upset, Lucy would immediately begin panting heavily, pacing, then finally removing herself to another room for 20 minutes to hours before returning. If I gave Elsie any warnings such as "don't touch that," or "that's a no-no," Lucy would display a behavior called splitting, where she would split me and Elsie and give me appeasement signals to try to "calm" me down. These signals for her are usually trying to get in my lap, lick the corner of my lips, give a wide pant/smile. If I comforted her, she really never stopped. So I would have to comfort her a bit, then tell her to go lie-down or get a ball etc. She would comply, but was not pleased about leaving my side.

My second light bulb moment was Tuesday night. I went to my dad's place to pick up some food and took Lucy and Elsie with me. My dad came home shortly after and Elsie scrapped her chin and was crying. As I tended to her, Lucy went through the whole appeasement scenario with my dad. My dad was shocked. He said that she was so happy the weekend she was there and didn't show any signs of stress. He asked me if she did this a lot at my house, to which I replied, "Unfortunately, yes." It was then that he made the offer of Lucy living at his house.

I have been thinking about it a lot. I have shed some tears over it as well. I have always been furious with people posting on craigslist about re-homing their dog because they have a baby and it just isn't going to work out. How can someone just give up their dog? Dogs and babies can co-exist just fine! While this situation doesn't mirror that, I can't help feeling as if I will be giving up if I choose to let her retire at my dad's house.

Wednesday and today, I made a huge effort to be fun doggie mommy again. I took the dogs to a grassy field for fetch both days, played hide the stuffed kong toy yesterday a few times, took them to work with me yesterday and today they had frozen broth treats, got to play with my mom's dogs and do some short training sessions. The results: Lex is in heaven. Lucy is only happy during each event, and lapses back into her other behaviors in between. In fact, I felt as if she literally hated me when I had to pick her up and load her into the car at my mom's as she was about 10 feet from the car avoiding eye contact and refusing to load.

As much as it hurts me, she is obviously unhappy here living with a baby. With another baby on the way, I can't imagine what her stress level will elevate to!

My dad only lives 15 minutes away. I have a key to his house and am welcome there any time to visit or steal my dog for an outing. He really impressed upon me that she will always be MY dog.

I have made the decision. I am going to let her be happy and stress-free and retire there. She deserves it. Now the question is when. I keep procrastinating taking her over there because it feels like good-bye. It feels like I am copping out. I keep making up excuses and trying to invent more things to do with her to make her happy being here again. Then I realize that since Elsie came along, she hasn't been truly happy. At now it is where it is affecting her health.

At this point, I keep going around in circles in my head. I am not sure what our relationship will look like with her living elsewhere, but I keep trying to remind myself that she is clearly stressed here and I shouldn't be selfish. Part of being a good dog owner is taking care of her needs.