Slice of Life is inspired by the desire and challenge of living our lives in the moment. Days go by, weeks go by, years... but we can still choose over and over again to look at our own lives in small installments. These installments (or slices of life) can be walks taken in the hills, naps or a glass of Rioja. For me, what makes my slices super meaningful is being able to share with others the moments of my day with dogs in play, training or napping where we're all piled up on the bed.

My slices of life are full of events and experiences that are meaningful to me. As a former professional photographer, I still “see” so many pictures (or vignettes) as I interact with my dogs and the world around me on a daily basis. Most of the time I am not capturing these moments with a camera anymore. Instead, I am just showing up... I must say, that I do miss having a register of events outside of my head so that at my leisure I can relish a past moment as I am transported by a visual or written recollection of days gone by.

With the immediacy of all things digital, perhaps I can have my cake and eat it too. I can continue to do my work as a dog trainer and also register here and there moments of living a life in the company of dogs. I hope you will occasionally take a peek, and that my slices of life transport you in a glee of YOUR own!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How obedient should a dog be?

I am reading an intake questionnaire from a new client and my internal alarm goes off. Reading a potential client’s intake form is very helpful in learning about what the present situation is like, as well as learning what the client’s goals and expectations of training are, and what their future life with their dog might look like. In this particular form, I noticed that for this client his dog being “obedient” is of the upmost importance.

I get that we all want and need our dogs to be “obedient,” but we must ask ourselves too: are we expecting too much from our dog? I think it merits defining what an “obedient” dog looks like.

The definition of “obedience” implies “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another's authority.” As defined it appears that most of us have had to comply with an order or request from someone else many times during our lives, so it makes sense that our dogs should also be taught to comply with our requests. The problem for me lies in the idea (I would go so far as to call it “a perverse illusion”) that our dog must ALWAYS be ready to respond to our request. But let’s stop and think for a minute: Is this fair? Realistic? Needed?

From my perspective, there should be a realistic and fair balance between compliance and our dogs having their very doggie needs met. Once this balance tips to the being compliant side, I am afraid for the quality of this dog’s life.


It is important that pet parents not only be realistic about what they want from their dogs, but that they also understand that the loftier the goals, the more training they need to do. And the more consistent they need to be in making sure they are following up with consequences for behavior they like and don’t want. This is never an easy task for most of us! Sigh.

Here is an example that beautifully illustrates the point:

 I am reading about a very prominent Ph.D. in nutrition and his school of thought when it comes what it takes to have a ripped set of abs. As he explains, one of his clients had reached success in losing the weight he set out to lose. His client mentions that he really wants to get a “six pack.” He wants to look like those gorgeous models. The nutritionist explains to his client that while he is now reaping the success of his many efforts in changing his most pressing and not-so-good eating habits, reaching this new goal of “ripped abs” will require SO much work that most folks are really not in for the effort. It is not, as he explains, that his client would need to just stop having the weekly dessert or cutting on his alcohol consumption here and there to reach this new plateau. Instead, it will require so many more additional changes and sacrifices. Way more sacrifices than what his client was able to take on.

As I read this I was left pondering about our human nature. We want fast and copious returns for little or small amount of effort or sacrifice. It is difficult, of course, to work against our very human nature; yet it is necessary for us to re-calibrate our thinking when we set lofty goals. Are we truly aware of what it will take to get there? Are we willing to make those sacrifices?

Having a compliant dog is no different! Now, there are other issues that concern me when the expectations from the pet parent towards the behavior of their dog are frankly not very realistic. Are we asking dogs to just be objects? To forfeit their animal ways for a chunk of meat and a comfy bed to lie on? This is when we need to spend some time learning about dogs. So how then can we reach a nice balance so that life with our pup is as stress free as possible fun and fair to everyone involved?
I have categorized some areas and behaviors that I feel all (pet) dogs should learn and the reasons why. Here it is:

Safety related behaviors:

  • Our dogs should learn to wait to go out the front door or any other dog that leads to a potential harm such as going into a veterinarian’s office where another dog might be coming out from the same door. We want to avoid a head to head encounter. Dogs need to learn to not jump off our cars unless invited to do so.
  • Dogs should be taught to come when called. To check in regularly, and for me, to be in view when walking off-leash. If a dog cannot do that, the dog should not be walked off-leash.
  • In my perfect world, dogs are never put into situations where they feel threatened with the possibility of aggression to ensue. But this will sadly never be so. However, in my view, our societal and personal goals should be for having pet dogs that are friendly to humans and other animals. This in itself is a paramount task and while of the upmost importance, I will not address it here. It goes without saying that we need to start with making sure our dog is capable of safely interacting with people and other animals.
  • Teaching the dog to surrender a valuable resource. Especially salient when what the dog wants to consume might be dangerous for consumption.
  • Moving away from danger. This could be a snake or any other type of wildlife. 

Necessary behaviors for a joyful existence: 
  •  Our dog has learned to lie down and can do so when asked to. One of the strongest behaviors in my dogs is that I can send them to go lie down on their beds (or else) when I need to get to the front door, or I am cooking and I don’t want them in the kitchen - not a safe place for a dog. I do not want my dogs begging when we are eating so they have learned that their beds in our kitchen have some kind of magic power that produces bits or the chance of licking a plate once we have concluded our meal. Walking on a loose leash for most of the walk and, if doable, for the entirety of the walk. I personally hate being dragged by a dog that is pulling on leash. Not only is this behavior obnoxious, but I have had many clients literally being dragged to the ground by their strong, boisterous dogs.
  • Teaching our dogs to alert us when someone is at the front door but being able to stop the barking when we re-direct them to do something else, such as to find a favorite toy or fetching a ball.
  • In multiple dog-households it is imperative that we teach our dogs to get along. This is a huge topic which I have addressed just recently in a previous post so I will just add it to the list. I get so much pleasure by witnessing how much my dogs enjoy each other. They are truly good friends and partners in “doggie crimes.”

Behaviors to teach for fun & mental stimulation:
  • This is where my list can grow and grow... I LOVE teaching stuff just to have fun with my dogs and to ensure that they are getting to do stuff that it is important to them. 
  •  How to play tug. VERY high on my list. All my dogs have been avid tug players. I also use the tug playing when I need my dogs to come to me -especially Deuce which then doubles as a safety behavior. 
  • How to SAFELY go after a Frisbee or a ball.
  • Some simple tricks that make dogs look hyper cute and adds to the repertoire of behaviors that I can put together on a behavior chain - where the previous behavior serves as a reinforcer for the next behavior. I have a couple of these chains and I just get a kick out of seeing how excited my dogs get when I ask them for behaviors they know well and love to perform in fast succession. We both end with smiles on our faces.
  • Play with toys. All sorts of games and interactions with toys, or quasi- toys like newspapers, boxes, etc.
  • Eating out of food-dispensing toys. There are so many options and I like to teach my pups to eat out of different ones - in efforts of doubling the fun and keeping their brains sharp.
  • Riding safely without excessive pulling, but not dragging behind next to a bike. We have attachments on our bikes that allow us to take our dogs on bike runs safely.
  • I truly enjoy fitness and athletics so pretty much any activity that entails this with my dogs I am game for. A note of caution: It is so easy to overdo some of the fast games or fitness activities with our dogs, so once again, we must analyze what we are asking the dog to do and to pay close attention as to how we are setting things up. Dogs, just like us, can get hurt from exertion; a too high a jump etc. They do need us to be mindful for them and to observe carefully as we plan to teach them flashy stuff such as leaping in the air for a Frisbee, go after a ball, shepherding or run an agility course.
  • Of course, your list of “must” and “just for fun” behaviors might be very different from mine, and that is okay. Then again, it behooves us to think hard as to why are we wanting our dog to do a behavior. Once we are more versed in the ethology of dogs, we can take a step back and contemplate if what we asking is fair to the dog - will this add to his quality of life, and how much work will it take. Again, we must assess with honesty if WE are up to the task.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Part 2, Strategies for Living in Harmony in a Multi-Dog Household

As I stated in the previous blog post, the dominance model does very little in really helping us understand dog social stratification. More importantly, it does not help us in keeping harmony in the home within our dog population or resolve problems when they arise.

Instead, consider the following suggestions to keep the peace at home and resolve conflicts between your dogs should these arise.  Keep in mind that dogs, like any other highly social species, will have some level of conflict at a given time.  The goal is to learn how to manage the dogs so that conflict is mostly absent from their relationship and if it arises you can swiftly resolve them.


1. Learn about dog body language so that you can differentiate between affiliative (friendly) behaviors and threats.  This website has tons of good information:

2. Think of your dogs as “dependents” that need some direction when it comes to following household rules. As the adult in the room, your job is to make sure your dogs understand the rules of the household. For this to happen you need consistency in implementing the rules and consequences for not following them.
By consequence I never recommend you use any form of intimidation of force with your dog.

A very crafty way of applying a consequence is to REMOVE whatever your dog wanted in the first place and which resulted in not following the now learned household rules.  For example:  You do not want your dogs rushing out the front door, you have taught a solid wait (do not move forward) behavior, one of your dog tries to muscle its way out, if you are positioned between the dog and the front door you can body-block the exit thus preventing your dog from rushing out.  You have defacto removed the opportunity to rush out the front door.

NOTE:  If your dog is guarding any object from you, the above recommendation of removing the coveted object does not stand.  You can, however; find one of my earlier post that speaks directly to how to handle this situation.

3. Treat your dogs equally while considering that they are individuals. In other words, do not play favorites or assume one is the “alpha” and as such deserves preferential treatment.  Nothing can disrupt good dog relations than thinking that the “alpha” needs to be given preferential treatment.

4. Control valuable resources: Watch closely and see if your dogs compete for food when eating a meal or if one of them is intimidating the other in order to get their food. If there is any tension around meal times, feed your dogs separately.  It is okay for dogs to explore an empty food bowl, but not to do so while the other dog is still eating its meal since your dog might tolerate this behavior now but not necessarily later and now you have a reason for their fights.  The same goes for chewies and toys.  When offering a chewy segregate the dogs to different areas of the home or crate them if they have been crate trained.  Remove any leftovers as to avoid a threat in the hopes of accessing the item.

It is important to clarify that a dog’s interest in another dog’s goods is normal dog behavior. Still it should be managed to make sure dogs learn to keep their paws off items that are not theirs.  You can help your pups by managing closely and re-direct as needed.

4. Ideally your dogs are really good friends (even though good friends also have issue here and there, right?). Your goal is to help your dog’s friendship grow. If it does, your life and theirs will be less stressful.  If your dogs are not BFFs- they do not play with each other, “hang out” together – in essence they do not enjoy each other’s company you must be extra vigilant that one of them is not intimidating the other.

Intimidation or bullying is best described as the bully trying to control the other dog’s movement, being extra forceful to get your attention or any other good. The bully’s target will probably not want to make things worse so it will sling away when in the presence of the bully, avoid him or her at all costs.

In my view, this is a situation that needs to be remedied ASAP.  It will NOT improve because we think, “they will work it out”. They won’t!  At some point this dynamic can change and as a result your dogs are fighting.  This is where you need to step in and be the adult in the room.

How to then to “discipline” this kind of behavior?  First off, nip it in the bud. Make sure that the one that aggressing understands that you are not happy with this behavior and that there will be consequences.  The best consequence for dealing with bullying is to isolate the infractor away from the family fun for a few minutes.  This might require having the dog drag a line so that it is easier to retrieve him/her that way instead of dragging the dog by the collar. Your dog should ONLY drag a line when being supervised. In addition, if one of the dogs is a bully, I strongly suggest dogs be separated at all times with the exception of when someone watching them.

At this point it is important to “repair” their relationship in hopes that all dogs learn not to be pushy when they want something. The easiest way to ensure your dogs are good buddies is to first prevent them from being rude to each other (excessive displays of aggression or some of the typical bullying behaviors described above). Friendships are formed when dogs get to do fun stuff together.

One of the most difficult cases I get to work on are those where dogs that lived together are fighting.  It is impossible to give really good advice via a blog post once things have gone south. The best course of action if you are in this situation is to work with someone who really understands dog ethology and is versed in reward-based training.  Remember that aggression begets aggression- just don’t go there or let anyone tell you that you need to dominate your dog(s) in order to set them straight. You do not.  This fallacy is not based on what we know about dog’s social interactions and structure.  It is at best a very watered down distortion.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Canine Social Structure- what we know

By now most everyone that lives with a pet has heard about the “dominance” theory also known in the popular literature as being the “alpha of the ‘pack’”- which frankly is very unfortunate.

Unfortunate because this watered-down premise does very little to advance our day- to-day relations with our pets and does much harm in submitting dogs to our every desire just because we can make them do what we want by exercising force or intimidation. Pathetic!  The problem with this approach is that it’s not based on what scientific studies describe on how a canine family relate to one another.

Any group of animal that lives in a group will have a complex social structure. Think of bees or an ant colony.

Dogs, of course, are no exception as they live in groups in their natural environment.  Ah, but you might say, what about a dog that lives with a family or one that does not belong to family but still keeps to isolation? This is where it gets interesting and why once again we MUST move away from the watered-down dominance theory in our daily relation with our dogs.

Dogs form loose associations.  They are not even considered pack animals because they do not hunt together which in essence is the definition of a “pack”. As I have written in past posts, even in the wild, wolves and other canine family members do have the flexibility to wander or forced to be on their own until they find another pack of wolves that will incorporate it.

It is worth noting that even today there is still disagreement as to the true nature of dog’s social stratification. Just to give you a taste of the complexity of the topic here, I will enlist below some of the models up for considerations as to how dogs related socially. Ready?

NOTE: The arrangements below are not listed in order of relevance.  It is also important to emphasize that because dogs have complex social structures, as previously stated, there is the de facto hierarchy that corresponds with some individuals being the “dominant” and others the “subordinates.” The dominant being the older & mating pair in other words the “parents” of the young pups. The young and non-mating pair taking the place of subordinate.

However, the fact is that these social markers are much more flexible and fluid than what the popular and simplified approach of being the alpha subscribes to.

What’s more, until now there is no clear evidence that the dogs that we call our pets do not consider us necessarily part of their “group” as they do other dogs.

Which boils down to dogs not trying to remove us from the top tier in our mutual relationship as the “Alpha” paradigm claims.

1. Linear Dominance:
    The order in the group is maintained by active display of dominance towards

2. Linear Subordinate:
     The order is maintained by active appeasement displays toward superiors.

3. Separate Sex Hierarchies:
    Each may be dominant or subordinate or other.

4. Dyadic “triangular” or non-transitive:  
    Fixed relationships between any two animals but not overall order.

5. Three Tier (trait) Model:
    Alpha, Alpha types & Beta types.

Is your head spinning now?

As you can see there are still many questions regarding the social stratifications of dogs. Even to this day with all that we do know about dogs, there is ample discussion between the pros studying the world of dogs as to what we know to hold as fact.  One of the most salient divisions is between folks that study wolves in their natural habitat and those that study them in captivity- where the packs are not necessarily a family of wolves: parents, related adolescent and mature wolves and the offspring’s of the alpha pair, but more so a bunch of wolves living together and not hunting!

Besides pure interest in learning more about dogs, what can we glean from this information that will make our lives with our pals more rewarding and conflict free?  
I will leave you with a couple of thoughts. This will be best observed, of course, if you have the pleasure of living with more than one dog.

Dominance and I will loosely define it here as to who is “pushing its weight around” to get or keep a coveted resource is in fact very fluid and context specific. Here is an example: Rufus cares more about chewies or Kongs than Fido, so Fido abandons its chewy once it has satisfied the need of chewing on its bone.  But Fido really cares about the sleeping spot in the sun or the one that permits access to seeing who is coming in and out the front door, since this is less important for Rufus, he just let’s Fido get that spot.   Of course, occasionally Fido might want this spot and Rufus is not ready to give up his bone so what happens then?

In most cases – especially so if dogs have not been previously reinforced for “pushy” behaviors, Fido and Rufus will give each other ample DISPLAYS of aggression in order to claim for themselves what is precious and “convince” the other competitor that the resource is not worth fighting for.  

Aggression is very ritualized in dogs because they much better not fight for a resource.  Fighting is really aversive (to most dogs- again, there are always exceptions to rules).  Fighting or getting injured has grave consequences in the wild with both instances having death as its consequence. This genetic predisposition is also hard-wire in our dogs.

Now that we have a better grasp as to why being the “alpha” of your “pack” is truly not needed we can begin to explore how our relationship with our dogs should be and how can we help our dogs say “please, may I?” and “thank you” to each other instead of opting for displaying aggression or a full-blown fight.

Next blog I will expand with practical advice as to how to manage more than one dog in a household and I promise you, that if you follow with this advice, you will be sipping Margaritas more often and less worried about your dogs’ interactions.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Stop Talking AT Me

As its ringing, I pick up the phone almost mindlessly only to hear a female voice speaking at a 1,000 miles an hour with little room for an intervention on my part. I try to interject now that I realize this is a telemarketing type of call by saying that I am not interested in this conversation as I ask her to not call again.  “The voice” just keeps talking and at this point I am wondering if it is a robot or a “real” person who has been coached through this process of selling, while being massively annoying.

I give up trying to be polite and reasonable and just hang up the phone.  For some reason this experience draws me to think as to how many times during the day we do this to our dogs. No. I am not talking about the many delightful “conversations” one can have with a dog.

Just last night I had one of these conversations with Rio as she approached me while reading and looking for some affection.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to know how her day had been.  I listed for her the fun activities of that day as I petted her gently wanting, of course, some sort of verbal response in telling me that she had fun doing such and such; but instead, she just made herself into a little ball and lied down on the remaining area of the sofa that my body was not occupying.  I was now satisfied with our “conversation” and returned to my book.

But what does talking AT your dog looks like?  Unfortunately for our dogs- who tend much more to our every movement and body language, our verbal speech is not something they often understand.   Talking at our dogs takes place when the pet parent assumes the dog understands verbal language or when there is the assumption that the dog has actually learned what we called the “verbal” cue. Of course, dogs can learn the meaning of our words – or at least some of them as we teach them what they mean in a way the dog can understand. But the problem lies that many a times there is the assumption or even worse, the expectation that our dogs, who are indeed not only from another “country” but another species, should understand our constant babbles and act accordingly.

I’ll give you an example of when I have a talk AT my dogs.  I have trained my dogs that when I say, “stop” they will stop moving.  I have also taught them that “enough” means stop barking, whining because you want to eat or harassing me because you want the ball thrown for 5,000th time this morning.  From my perspective, stop and enough are somewhat synonyms as to vacating of an activity; but from the canine perspective these two cues are NOT interchangeable.

It might sound like I am splitting hairs here, but believe me I am not.  When we understand that our dogs are again a different species we can appreciate that we must try and accommodate their learning abilities.

Another important advantage of our care in using exact phrases or words that our dogs have truly learned – and not just gotten right because of chance is that we will be able to better direct our dogs to what we want them or need them to do.

I am all for mindfulness because mindfulness not only means that I need to slow down enough to notice something, but also because slowing down implies that I consider the other I am interacting with - in this case my dog.

Being mindful on how we talk to our dogs will reap benefits for both parties.  Here is another example of talking AT our dogs and it has to do with the tone of voice.  We truly do not need to yell at our dogs, they are fine at hearing. Yelling at them can really impact them emotionally.  Once again, by being mindful of the tone of voice we use we can pretty much teach a dog to pay attention to our whispers.  And speaking about tone of voice. In relating fully to our dogs, we can also make use of the inflection of our voice to communicate with them more clearly.   High-pitched tones encourage mobility and action; deeper tones encourage the opposite - a more quiet effort.  I am over simplifying here because our tone is also context specific.   There is one specific tone modality that I wish my clients would learn to use with their dogs.  It is called the “jolly-routine”.  The jolly routine implies that our matter-of-fact and happy tone of voice, signals to a less than confident dog that there is no need to worry.  This works wonders when dogs meet one another.  If there is a potential for this meeting to go awry, pet parents can help their dogs relax by they themselves being relaxed in how they use their voices.  Good trainers know this and they can turn on the “happy” voice even if inside they are feeling less than joyful.  There is, of course, an added bonus for this happy talk and that is that it might even convince you that everything is indeed all right.

I encourage you to talk more to your dog instead of talking AT your dog. What’s more, when wanting your dog to do something, think critically if you are being as clear as possible in communicating with your pal. You too will reap the benefits (at least from my perspective) of being more present when acknowledging your dog’s learning bias. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Should I get a shelter dog or buy from a breeder?

I am having a phone conversation and this is the question that is being posed to me.  Well, I said: “I am bias to rescuing dogs versus getting a dog from a breeder.”

In my mind, the only exception to my bias is when for whatever reason a person is really keen on a particular breed that might not be easy to locate via a shelter.  However, sometimes even obscure breeds are represented by rescue groups specific to the breed, so there goes my one argument as to when I would consider getting a dog from a breeder.

Now, if we scratch the surface a little, I think a lot of folks shy away from getting a dog from a shelter or rescue group because they are afraid the dog might have a myriad of problems - be it behavioral issues or even health related ones.

I am writing this blog shortly after I finished playing with both of my lovely rescues - which are truly problem-free.  I sigh as I see them and I realize how lucky they got to being in a home and how lucky we got in having them.

I would argue that yes there are many dogs that come with some baggage. And by doggie baggage - I am talking here about poor socialization that can easily result in a dog that is afraid, anxious and resorts to displays of aggression is no picnic. So indeed, getting the “right” dog is imperative.

But what does it mean to get the “right dog”?  The “right dog” is a dog that truly matches the expectations of the new family.  A good match also involves the resources the family has.  Time and money are always considerations.  Pets are often expensive.  If the dog has health or behavioral issues the cost associated with resolving these can be high.

“Expenses” also come in the form of emotional drain.  Not everyone should adopt a dog that has behavioral or medical issues unless they are absolutely sure they are staying in for the game.  A game that might last very well for the length of the dog’s life. In other words, if someone would ask for my opinion about adopting what we call a “project” I will try hard to dissuade them.  Or at least I would try and impress on them the amount of patience, knowhow and dedication that working with a dog that had less than his fair share in life requires.

Then again, I see over and over again clients of mine that have a “project” dog and how they take to the task of helping their pup with such determination and love that urges me once again to consider revising my opinion.

While I do not agree that love conquers all, it sure helps when we are bonded to an animal. It is because of that bond that we are willing to walk through fire - sort of speak, for this dog. I toast all of these folks who are committed to staying the course in helping their dog become more well-adjusted, less anxious, and thrive.

In my personal and professional experience in working as a trainer in shelters, I can attest at the phenomenal dogs that are surrendered. These shelter dogs were just dogs. Dogs ready to go out and play, to find a warm spot on deck while taking in the view of the neighborhood while sunbathing.  I was amazed on a daily basis on their ability to learn, even those pups that had never had “formal training”.

I sure wish more people knew that shelter and rescue dogs are not necessarily broken. They are just deserving of a chance.  I would also share that I have worked with many “broken” pure bred dogs.

Dogs that, while bred, perhaps to the breed’s specifications did not receive the socialization that they should have from the breeder.  This really makes me upset.  Breeders are supposed to be professionals and as such, folks buying a pup from a breeder should get the best behavioral puppy one can muster.  Of course, there are also extraordinary breeders whom not only know their breed but that are truly doing a remarkable job in sending out their doors puppies that are well adjusted and healthy.

There are other considerations that are relevant. Most people when they get a dog form a breeder are getting a small puppy.  Just weeks old- with 8 weeks being the minimum age at which the puppy should be removed from the litter. In contrast, most people that adopt a shelter or rescue dog adopt a much older dog.

Even though there a few temperament tests out there that claim will tell the potential adopter something about the puppy’s future temperament, the results on this claim are paltry at best.   There is truly no bona fide way of knowing for certain how a young puppy will be in another completely different set of circumstances. Behavior is always context specific, change the context and now you are in unknown territory.

In the case of the adult dog, potential adopters will also see “one dog” at the shelter and then notice that the dog they selected is acting differently (sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse from their perspective) once they bring the dog home.  This process is called the honey-moon period and it can last for months as the dog continues to adjust and face novel situations.

Having said this, an adult dog past the age of two years of age and even three years of age for some of the Giant breeds has a more “stable” temperament. In other words, the adagio “what you see is what you get” is much more applicable when we are speaking of a fully mature animal.

Of course, there are advantages of getting a young puppy!  First off, can you think of anything more cute and fun than a young puppy? If the pet parent has done a good job of selecting a top notch breeder, they are off to a lot of work but an excellent start in the road to socializing this new puppy. Their efforts will determine how well adjusted their puppy turn out to be as an adult.  Yes, of course, genetics do play a part on this. But again, if the breeder is a reputable breeder who is NOT breeding fearful dogs and among other things -  then the chances of good genetics are strong.

Unfortunately, most folks that get a new puppy barely scratch the surface when it comes to the “education” of their young keep.  So, I am left wondering:  What is the point really of purchasing a young puppy if in indeed the puppy will not be socialized properly? And now, we have a dog that came from a breeder that had tons of possibility for being a behavioral healthy (adult) dog and has instead become a “project”.

As to my client asking these good questions, I told her to think through some of these options as she also evaluates in all honesty how much time, work and effort she is able to put into bringing either a young puppy or a “project” rescue dog.  Only the new pet-parent can make the right choice but hopefully they do so more informed as to the potential challenges that each choice brings. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Frosty Paws

It feels strange writing about activities with our dogs in the snow since, at least in the Southwest high dessert, we are seeing balmy temperatures and no snow in sight. We did have an opportunity to take the dogs for a fun walk in the snow a few days ago. This walk was definitively different for Deuce.

They both love the cold temperatures and walking in the snow, but Deuce gets snow stuck between his toes, and now he is not walking. Instead he has stopped and is trying to remove the sticky snow with his mouth. For this reason, we bought him some really nice booties.

There is always the risk that a dog will not take well to a new piece of “equipment” no matter how much we think it will make them more comfortable. I always recommend folks take the time to get their dog comfortable at least and at best loving wearing whatever piece of equipment they intend to use with their dog. The process can be lengthy but it is definitively worth pursuing. Also, think about this: many times we do things to dogs (just) because we can and this can be a slippery slope.

So, to clarify, ideally we make good decision for our dogs that will keep them safe and increase the quality of their life, and as such, we help them transition into new experiences with care.


In the case of Deuce and his new pair of flashy snow boots the process was relatively easy. First, we made sure we knew how the boots needed to fit him so that he was comfortable and not lose them. Then we worked in tandem. I fed Deuce treats and John slowly worked with the boots one foot at a time.

In the process, Deuce needed a break from holding a paw up and we gave him a few seconds to just chill. I then noticed that Deuce was not so interested in the treats so I began to throw the ball at him so that he could catch it in his mouth - a favorite game of his. A few minutes later we were all ready to head out the door.

Deuce took his first steps looking more like a penguin flopping a fin than a dog but once we were outside he realized he could walk and run just fine.

We had tried other boot models that did not work for Deuce, so I found a more expensive and better design pair of winter boots. Not only did they prove to be comfortable for Deuce but we came back from our hike without losing any of them!

These boots of course could be used not only in the snow but whenever there is rough terrain should a dog be sensitive in its paws. I would also suggest using boots for a dog that has severe allergies otherwise it might be a necessity to wipe the paws after every outing.

I do warn folks that using boots on hot climate might not be a good thing. Dogs do not have sweat glands like we do. They shed heat by panting and through their paws. Please talk to your vet beforehand.

If you are looking for some good boots for your dog, check out Neopaws.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Are we making our dogs fat by using food in training?

Okay the title is a trick question.  I would argue that yes some dogs are gaining too much weight because they are given too many treats, and perhaps high caloric treats in addition to their daily meals.  A dog that is even a few pounds overweight can be considered obese so it is really important that we do not end up with a very well trained pudgy dog.  Now, there are many dogs that are trained daily and are not fat.
So what is the secret then?  Follow the guidelines below so that you can continue to use treats in training while keeping your dog’s weight in check.

First off, let me explain why reward-based trainers use food so often in training.  Food is one of those things that any living being enjoys and needs.  If your dog is not food motivated as some people claim about their dogs it could be for several reasons, among them are:

1. Your dog has some stomach or GI upset (check with your vet).
2. You are overfeed your dog. Some dogs will actually leave food behind once they are satisfied – this might be your dog.
3. Your dog is really bored with the food you provide and thus eats only enough to keep going – sad
4. The food you give your dog might not agree with him or her.  See # 1.

So, I bet you that if you have your “not so motivated by food” dog skip a couple of meals you will find that now he is more interested in food. Dogs are opportunistic feeders as well as scavengers so in essence their genetic make-up leans more towards eating when you can, rather than having two square meals because they are lucky enough to live with us.

Food in training:  Food is considered really a TOP motivator.  There are others, of course, but in essence any thriving animal has an appetite so this is the main reason why most reward-based trainers use food when teaching new stuff.  Also, food is actually quite practical when it comes to offering a timely reward for behavior and timing is everything in training!

It is important though that when using food as a reinforcer (something your dog really wants or would work for) we keep in mind certain rules.

Rule # 1
You need to consider the amount of food used in training as part of your dog’s daily caloric intake and not in addition to.  In order to do this, you must know how much your dog is getting in treats. Use a measuring cup so that you know how many ounces are going into your training pouch before the session so at the end of the session, or outing you have an idea of how much food was dispensed.  Subtract that amount from your dog’s next meal.

Rule #2
Use your dog’s meals as part of their training chow.  There are a couple of caveats here: You cannot use your dog’s meal if you are feeding “raw” it is just too unpractical.  If you are using kibble (dry food) and your dog likes it you can use this in most trainings scenarios.  However, I would not recommend doing this if you are working on emotional issues such as fear, anxiety or aggression.   See below for more on this.  BTW, most kibble is actually not low in calories so check with your vet.

Besides putting in place rule #1, you can also use treats that are cut really small – the size of a pea. Some treats have only 3 calories per treat.   So, I am left thinking; why can’t we have tasty dessert with only 3 calories per bite????

Rule # 3
Choose your battles. Let me explain: If your dog has a stellar sit you do not need to pay your dog with a treat every time you ask and he sits.  Instead… you will ONLY pay for behaviors that your dog has learned well on occasion. We need to consider that when a dog has learned a behavior well- it can perform 9 out of 10 times in that setting. Now, the dog might not perform this same behavior that well in a new novel setting.  These things must be taken into consideration.  So in essence when your dog is acing behaviors just pay occasionally. NOTE: If you stop reinforcing your dog or the dog is not being reinforced in some way by the environment the behavior will cease to take place.  It will become extinct.

All things being equal when a dog is learning new stuff pay handsomely. You will pay for every correct repetition until the dog has reached proficiency in a given setting.  Also, follow #4…

Rule #4
This rule dependents on what you are working on what kind of food you’re are dolling out.  If I am working with a dog that has fear issues or aggression I am not showing up with kibble because I really want to make an impression on this dog.

Rule # 5
If a dog is not motivated to work we can’t train it. Period. It makes much more sense to work with food with a dog that is really hungry.  I suggest then, that when going to class, going for a long training session or when working on something really hard such as coming when called you do not feed your dog its meal.  Instead make sure your dog is hungry so that it is willing to work for you.  Remember: No motivation. No training.

Rule #6
Think beyond food for training. Ah, if only folks would play more with their dogs so that play could be used in training that would make me very happy.  Most people unfortunately, barely scratch the surface of playing games with their dogs that makes them both giddy which means this avenue is not available as readily as a reward in training.

However, with a little pre-thought and imagination, you can effectively use life rewards in addition to food in training.  It works like this: ANYTHING  your dog wants that is not dangerous to your dog can and should be used a reward in training.  Typical examples are: having the dog wait polity at the door without rushing out and then letting your dog out the door into the great out of doors.  Giving your dog his favorite toy that is kept out of reach, access to dog play for waiting to be released.  You get the picture, right?

Finally, a word about praise and petting. Yes, we humans love to talk and talk but guess what?  Our dogs are not really verbal.  We believe dogs get excited when we praise them because they have learned something good  (and better) is coming their way.  In essence praise is really second best to the use of food or other motivators big in your dog’s repertoire of favorite things in life. And the truth guys is that we humans think that our dogs cherish our praise because frankly we think it is all about us.   While your dog recognizes and gets excited about your praise do keep in mind that he is hoping for the cookie.