Pawsibilities NY

Year: 2014

Dogs and Cats: Overcoming the Myth

For me, there has only been a very short portion of my life when I did not have both cats and dogs living together in my home.  I can also say, I have never seen a dog attack a cat, in my own home.  I don’t think I am a magician or a “whisperer” I just think that the myth is quite a bit off…

First of all some dog breeds are more drive-y than others; they are bred and raised to chase and catch small, fast moving animals, and cats fit that description.  It isn’t often that a dog is specifically going for the other animal because it is a cat, but rather because it is a small, fast moving animal.  These breeds will of course make the relationship a bit more challenging, but it is still not impossible if you are committed to working on it!

When first introducing a dog and cat it can be a good idea to have the cat in a plastic crate where he is safe and can’t scratch through the bars.  We are trying to keep the cat and the dog safe, remember that cats can harm dogs too, it doesn’t only go one way!  Next I would say that it is unfair to test a declawed cat with a dog.  The cat has no way to defend itself and it also will have a harder time getting away, as jumping and grabbing onto things are much harder for declawed cats.  Of course I think that declawing is completely inhumane and unacceptable, if you happen to have a rescue who was declawed before you got him, it might be best to only have him around dogs who you know to be good with cats.

I also want to be sure there are plenty of places the cat can jump up to, to get away from the dog.  Depending on the size of the dog this will be more or less difficult; if you have small dog, having some high shelves, or a cat tree will work, but if you have a bigger, more agile dog, you might need to be sure there is higher ground that only the cat can get to.  you can do this by buying some shelves and lining them with carpet so the cat can jump up to them.

Another good tool for the introduction is a Thundershirt.  I find the Thundershirt to be very effective for dogs being introduced to new animals.  I also like Rescue Remedy and Pet Natural’s of Vermont Calming biscuits for both dogs and cats.  Don’t try to hold your cat because when he decides he wants to get away, he needs to be able to do so and he could scratch or harm you in the process.

Once you have gotten over the initial introduction, you will still want to make sure you supervise the dog and cat while they are together, and separate them when you leave.  I like to keep a pot of water handy because this will safely break up a fight if one should occur between the dog and cat, and while it might make your floor wet, it will do no other damage.  Another option is to have a Pet Corrector handy.  These are powerful air cans that make a loud and startling noise and can break up a fight.  Please do not point the Pet Corrector at your pets-ever.

If your dog is having trouble with your cat then I like to use a clicker to help the situation.  If your dog barks at or lunges at your cat then I would start by warming up the clicker (see: What Is Clicker Training?).

Next I would keep the dog and cat at a safe distance, even with a baby gate between them if you need it for safety.  You want your dog to be counter conditioned and desesnsitzed to your cat.  Desensitization happens by exposing the dog to the cat in very small, non threatening ways, so distance and gates, or even a leash can help with this.  Counter conditioning is the good following the bad; so for your dog the cat is the bad, choose her favorite treat to be the good, and anytime your dog looks at the cat and doesn’t lunge, bark or do something naughty, click and treat!  The tasty food treats should come quickly in the beginning.  Little by little you can allow the dog to look at the cat for longer periods before earning the click and treat.  If you happen to push it a little too far and your dog does react, then take a break and try again later.  We want the dog to learn that the presence of the cat earns her treats, but only if she behaves.

You could also teach your dog cues such as “leave it” and “stay” and then add the cat to these cues as a distraction.  We of course want to teach new behaviors with no distractions, and then slowly add them in, so work slowly up to being able to do these things with distractions, and eventually your cat.

Dogs often make their own decisions if not helped out with the process, and sometimes they make the wrong choices!  By teaching them what you actually want: a stay or a leave it, they can actually understand the behavior you are looking for, making it much more likely they will listen.  After all your dog can’t be expected to “stay” away from the cat, or “leave it” to the cat if she has never been taught these things!

I have never had problems with cats and dogs living in harmony together, and I truly don’t believe it is because I am special, I believe it because I take some time to understand both dogs and cats, and their needs, and I do my best to provide that.  Dogs need to be shown what we are looking for, otherwise they tend to bark, jump, lunge and play; they are dogs, it’s what they do and one of the reasons we love them!  But cats don’t love this sort of behavior, especially from an animal that tends to be much bigger than them.  Cats need to be provided with a safe and easy escape, because if they have the escape they will likely use it, but if they have to fight the dog, they will do so, and trust me, sometimes the dog is the one who needs a trip to the vet after these interactions!  If you simply teach your dog how to behave around your cats, and provide your cats with safety; you will likely see your dogs and cats can live harmoniously together.

“But It’s Working…”

“But It’s Working…”

I have found that a lot of dog owners try a lot of different things to get desired behaviors. Let’s face it, we all try to figure things out for ourselves, so we might turn to a friend who’s dog behaves in a manner more like what we had hoped for when we got a dog, or you might turn to the fun exciting world of the internet search. Either way you you will likely find answers that either don’t apply to your dog, or sound good to you, but in reality aren’t actually changing the behavior.

All dogs are different; and even if your good friend’s dog did once bark when guests came in, and he was able to correct this behavior; it does not mean the method used will work for your dog, or even if it does work, it could have negative side effects. You should be very weary of quick fixes and short cuts, as they might end up causing more undesirable behaviors in place of the old one.

It is important to consider that your dog is highly intelligent and if she is behaving in a way that seems unruly, dangerous or even just annoying to you, it is important to think about what result you would like to have if you confront the problem. Are you only looking to stop an unwanted behavior, or do you actually want to confront the reason the problem exists and change your dog’s feelings about it, so that her emotions behind the behavior can also change.

“Suppressed behavior is not changed behavior…” Victoria Stilwell

If your dog barks while you are not home, your goal might only be to make your dog be quiet while you are not home, you might not even consider the deeper anxiety that is causing this barking, and you might go to the pet store and buy a citronella collar, or other anti-bark device. In some cases you might even get the result you were looking for; you put the collar on your dog and go off to work, and you don’t hear any barking, and you don’t come home to any complaints. Unfortunately you have not dealt with the core of the behavior; the anxiety, and you have now added a tool that sprays or punishes your dog while you aren’t home, you are only adding to this anxiety. If you are lucky it might end here, and you might think that anti bark device or collar really works, and now you might become that neighbor or person who freely recommends these tools. But for a lot of people this is not where this will end. Because you are not addressing the issue, the anxiety could lead to far worse things. The two specific examples I see most often will be dogs who become so anxious from this that they simply cannot hold their bowels or bladder, and as soon as you leave they go to the bathroom all over the house, crate and/or safe area. The other example I see a lot will be a dog who looks for items to chew in place of the barking and to help ease the anxiety. These dogs not only cause great damage to household items, moldings and walls, but they are also at great risk to swallow foreign objects and have an obstruction that can end up needing surgery.

If your dog pulls on leash and you go into a pet store and pick up a big strong prong collar and think to yourself; “this will work!” Then you begin to walk your dog on the collar and every time she pulls you jerk that prong collar and like magic she seems to fall right back into place by your side… for a little while, maybe 3 steps before she is out in front again, and you jerk her back and think “this is working!” I encourage you to realize that if that collar were actually training your dog to walk by your side, you should only need to use it for a few days, but if it translates to a lifetime of wearing the prong collar, it is not changing your dog’s behavior and it is basically just harassment.

While training dogs people use one or more of the four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment. The first thing to learn is that the positive and negative in these quadrants don’t apply to good and bad, but instead to adding and taking away. Reinforcement is something likely to increase behavior, while the definition of punishment is to lessen behavior. If you are using the prong collar to stop your dog from pulling, you are trying to use the prong as punishment to lessen the behavior of pulling. If everyday you wake up and have to put that collar on that dog and jerk that leash back 5, 10, 15 times while on your walk, every walk; you are not lessening the behavior of pulling. Your punishment is not working, so you should seriously consider a different method. If you want to use punishment based methods with your dog, then at least understand them; understand that if it is working the punisher should be able to be faded and the behavior should cease; otherwise it is not working; plain and simple.

Another thing to consider about punishment is the negative fall out that can come with it. Even if you are still convinced your prong collar jerks are working, you have to be very careful about what those “corrections” might accompany, and how that might change the way your dog feels about certain things. If your dog gets jerked on the prong while a child approaches him on the street, it might only take two or three times before your dog thinks the child approaching is what causes the jerk on the prong collar, and thus she might no longer like children, she might even be afraid of children now if she is afraid of the pain of the prong being accompanied with their presence, and this could result in an aggressive outburst one day. Remember punishment lessens behavior, so if your dog happily runs up to a child and punished by your prong, she will stop happily approaching children.

If your dog is showing undesirable behaviors it is important first go see your vet, and explain the problems you have been seeing. Dogs can have pain, tooth aches, or even hypothyroidism which all can be contributing to their behavior. It isn’t fair to implement any training plan unless the dog is healthy!

It is also important to look at the big picture, if your dog is acting up, don’t just stop the behavior, but get to the core of the reason for the behavior, because if you do you can change the emotions behind the behavior so it doesn’t return or manifest is more difficult ways. If you find yourself using short cuts, or methods you have learned about from a friend of friend, and you think to yourself; “but it’s working…” I encourage you to strongly consider if it is actually working for your dog!

Know Your Dog’s Body Language, Know Your Dog!

It is so important to understand your dog’s body language; I can’t tell you how many people I have heard say that they have had dogs their entire life, and in the same breath say something about how the dog is wagging his tail so he must be happy.  How can you have an animal for so much of your life, and not even understand the basics of dog body language?  If you know and truly understand your dog’s body language, you will be able to help ensure the safety and well being of your dog, as well as the people around him, in all different situations.

Let’s start with the previous example; tail wagging.  When your dog wags his tail it is because of adrenaline.  Just like humans while adrenaline is coursing through your dog he can be feeling a lot of different emotions.  If we have a surge in our adrenaline it oculd be because we just won the big race, and we are feeling happy and accomplished, but we can also have this same surge if we are driving and the car in front of us slams on the breaks and we need to pull to the side to avoid an accident.  Even though it is the same adrenaline, the emotions we are feeling are very different, and this is the same for your dog while he wags his tail.  As Grisha Stewart points out on the very first page of her book The Official Ahimsa Training Manual:

“A wagging tail means that a dog is excited, that there is adrenaline coursing through the dog’s veins.  A wagging tail goes with both happy and unhappy emotions.”

Usually a spiraling tail is a happy dog, try to take note of your dog’s tail the next time you come from being gone all day; if it looks like a helicopter propeller that’s your dog’s happy tail!  A tail that is high and stiff and wagging fast, sometimes called flagging, this usually means your dog is aroused, or anxious.  Low and slow wagging can mean a weary dog, and of course a tucked non wagging tail is a scared dog.

Next I find that three of the most obvious behaviors your dog will do are often explained away by owners as being caused by something else.  Yawning, lip licking and shaking off are all three examples of appeasement behaviors, that can sometimes mean other things.  If your dog just woke up and she yawns, she probably isn’t stressed, but if a noisy scooter roars by and your dog yawns, this is likely a stress sign.  Same goes for licking her lips; if your dog is licking her lips while you prepare her dinner, probably just fine, but if she licks her lips when your little cousins give her hugs, then she is probably stressed about this.  Shaking off as if your dog were covered in water; completely normal when she is all wet, but not if is after a friend pets your dog.  You will often see your dog do the stress shake off after being examined by the vet.  I usually call it “getting the yuckies off.”  And it does exactly that; allows your dog to “shake off” some of the stress they are feeling.

If a situation is very different for your dog, a new vet, dog park or home, then it is a good idea to recognize your dog’s posture.  Is she standing confidently with her tail up?  Or she holding her body lower to the ground?  She might even be all out cowering, hold her head and over height very close to the ground.  If she is doing this, she is likely afraid and it best to try to remove her from this situation.

If your dog’s posture is fine, but you are still concerned she could be nervous, then next you should look at your dog’s face, eyes and brow.  Is she panting even though it is not hot?  Are her eye darting or avoiding you?  Is her brow furrowed and wrinkled?  All these signs may also mean your dog is feeling anxious.

Finally you should check for a piloerection which is when the hair along your dog’s spine, the hackles, stands up on end.  There are usually two levels of this, if the hair is only raised between the shoulder blades this usually means the dog is excited, and if the hair is raised all the way along the spine to the tail, the dog is likely nervous and becoming too aroused, if you see this in a dog park it is a good time to step in, or redirect your dog.

Dr. Sophia Yin has some great free downloads on her website including a poster displaying most body language signs in your dog.  I find it to be very useful tool.  You can download it here:

If you want to learn more about your dog’s body language, another great rsource is Sarah Kalnajs’ “The Language of Dogs” DVD.

It is important to know the signs that a situation might be too much for your dog, after feeling stress and anxiety is not fun for anyone, especially your dog.  Take note of how she reacts to different people and things, and something seems to cause stress for your dog, either do your best to avoid those situations or consult a local certified dog trainer to help your dog over come these anxieties.  Dogs communicate mostly through body language, so learn to be fluent in their language so that you can understand and provide your dog with what she needs.  Your dog will thank you for it with big circular tail wags!

The Importance of Choosing a Certified Dog Trainer

There are a lot of professions that exist with no formal training or certification required, and dog training is one of them.  There are several that surprise me; as a horseback rider I am often surprised there is no formal certification, or anything really, needed to call yourself a horseback riding coach, or trainer.  This profession may involve you putting someone’s 10 year old child onto a two-ton animal, and you could have no formal training or education what-so-ever.  It is a scary thought, but the same is true for therapists, and many other professions that could easily cause a great deal of emotional and physical harm and pain to the client, when mishandled.  I can’t say how often I encounter this in my own profession; dogs who have worked someone who is under-qualified and uneducated.  Not to mention, I hear of several trainers who are dishonest about their qualifications, and, consequently they have made behaviors much worse.

There are several certification boards for dog training, and the one or ones that should be important to you, depend on the kind of training you need or want.  There are also different affiliations trainers can have, that aren’t certifications, but instead show that a trainer has been accepted to participate with certain dog training groups and organizations.  These can also be helpful to let you know if a trainer keeps up with other current trainers, and education.

The first certification that is helpful to most dog owners seeking a trainer is the CCPDT; the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.  They do offer two certifications, the CPDT: Certified Pet Dog Trainer, and the CBCC: the Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine.  These each have two sub sets, the KA and the KSA the KA is the Knowledge Assessed, meaning to earn this you had to, among other things, take a written test.  The KSA is the Knowledge and Skills Assessed, meaning that you have completed the KA requirements, and also sent in videos of your dog training to be analyzed by a grading committee.

The next certification that is helpful if you are seeking training for behavior modification is the IAABC: The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants.  This certification requires a long application and essay testing portion.  This requires knowledge of the science of how dogs learn, and how best to modify behaviors such aggression, fear and anxiety.  The certification process require a certain amount of hours wokring specifically on behavioral cases, as well as 5 written case studies.  If you are looking to work on something a bit more serious than obedience; this is an important certification.

Another great option is the VSPDT: Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Dog Trainer.  This is a great certification because you can be sure you are working with a licensed, insured company that will only employ force-free, pain-free, positive methods.  Victoria’s certification requires proof of insurance, 8 references, training videos, and an interview with Victoria Stilwell.  There are are other reputable trainers who offer certifications for people who complete training work shops with them, and various other requirements.  Some of these include Karen Pryor training certifications, Pat Miller certifications, and even the SPCA of San Francisco has a very reputable program for dog trainers.   Some of these are very specific to a technique, such as grisha Stewart’s CBATI: Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor, which would be a very helpful certificaion if you are struggling with leash reactivity, or fear and anxiety issues.  All of these are a bit more specific, but show that the trainer is continue his or her education inna responsible manner!

Some of the group affiliations that can be helpful for your dog trainer to have include being an AKC CGC: American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, as well as the PPG: Pet Professionals Guild Professional Member.  These have less strong stipulations to join, as far as testing, but still show a dog trainer who is participating in the community and is likely to be more up to date on the newest training methods and learning theory.  PPG is very strict to only allow force free trainers into their group so it is a great resource to find trainers, groomers, vets and boarding.

APDT Professional Member: The APDT is the Association for Professional Dog Trainers, is a group that tries to bring professional dog trainers together.  Since there is no one required certification, there are so many others that are reputable, and responsible.  To be a professional member of the APDT one must hold his or her CPDT.  The APDT has also compiled this list of the different certifications:

Be Cautious of certifications that are given from dog training schools. It is important to look into the methods that are taught at these schools.  A certification could be given to a person for punishment, non-science based, old methods, and these are the exact certifications to avoid.  Most of the time a certification such as “Master Dog Trainer” is not a person who will employ the most up-to-date, force-free methods to train your dog, but instead will be a punishment-based trainer.  These are the people who often still believe that your sweet old King Charles Spaniel is sleeping on your couch because he is trying to dominate you, when really it is simply because there is no other comfortable spot!  We really do know better these days… well some of us do!  Certifications should have clickable links to follow so the trainer is easily showing you where that certification comes from.  If it says the trainer is certified in the bio, but there is no higher certification board listed, be very cautious of this!

So what does all this mean?  This means that if you choose a person from one of these many well respected certification boards, you are getting someone who is held to a higher standard.  These certifications all require continuing education units, so you know that the trainer you are working with is pursuing his or her education, knowledge and skills.  With something as serious and important as the well being and training of your dog, you shouldn’t trust just anyone.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone for his or her credentials before entrusting them with your beloved pet.  I hope this helps you to choose wisely!

Why Is Doing Nothing, So Difficult?

“Don’t worry, dogs love me!”  …Have you heard this before?  It really gets on my nerves when people say things like this.  First, to be completely candid, in my experience the people who say this are always the most clueless about dog behavior and body language, and second, because no one loves everyone, dogs included!

If your dog is fearful of people coming into your home, or new people on the street, some outsiders looking in might see this as abnormal dog behavior, but let’s face it; it’s not.  Especially today with how many people are rescuing dogs, which is wonderful, but it is simply unfair to expect these dogs will be friendly with everyone in all situations.  If you adopted your dog as adult, as I did, you really can’t be sure of what socialization she received, if any.  New people, places and things could be difficult, and when a nervous dog is faced with a know-it-all stranger, the situation can simply be too much.

As a dog trainer, I find myself telling the owners of these dogs that the best thing is to encourage guests to ignore the dog while they come in.  What I find is that people often think ignoring the dog means not to touch it, or maybe not to talk to it, but then the person still stares intensely at the dog, which can also set off a shy dog.  I find, trying to get people to do nothing, is much harder than trying to teach a dog to do something!  I have to say that it is harder to get people to follow this rule, than to teach an old dog a new trick!

If you are a guest going into someone else’s home, whether you have dogs, have had dogs your entire life, or feel that all dogs love you; if the home owner requests you ignore his dog, then please listen.  No one is going to tell you to ignore a perfectly friendly, happy and confident dog; the owner is asking you to do this for a reason and it is usually the well being of the dog, and you!  Do not walk into someone’s home and believe you will be the magic person who changes his dog’s behavior.  If it happens that the dog does love you and begs for your attention, then I am sure the owner will take note of this and give you new instructions.

If you are the owner of a dog who you think this could help, here are some pointers:

  1. Before a guest comes into your home, explain to them that your dog is nervous and in training.  I find it is best to tell your guests they can help with the training if they can follow a few quick rules: Take a brief moment to again explain this is for your guests’ safety and the well being of your dog.  Let your guests know that by complying they are really helping your training, and hard work, so thank them for cooperating, before you even enter your home.
    • Please do not touch my dog at all.
    • Please do not stare at, or talk to my dog.
    • If my dog comes up to you and begs for attention, by slipping her head under your hand, or nestling up next to you, you may begin to show her attention, but please completely ignore her until then.
  2. Do not allow them to come into your home until they acknowledge and verbally say that they agree to these rules.
  3. If for any reason there is a person who simply cannot follow the rules, a child for example, but you feel the situation could be safe for that child to enter your home; then either meet outside with your dog and go for a walk, and then have everyone enter your home together, or better yet, keep your dog behind a baby gate or on leash to ensure no one gets hurt.

If you are a person who truly feels he “gets” dogs, and a lot of dogs really like you; then you are truly the perfect person to help your friends’ dogs overcome this fear, but you must do so on the dog owner’s terms.  A dog who is fearful of guests will overcome this fear much more quickly if strangers don’t keep walking into her home and trying to be her best friend!  Let the dog come to you, and certainly don’t take offense to a dog who keeps her distance.  Remember dogs form their opinions based on bad experience, or no experience.  Perhaps you are a man with a beard and the dog was never socialized to men with beards; this is clearly nothing personal, so rather than getting upset, try to show the dog that men with beards aren’t threatening, or imposing on the dog’s space, but instead are completely calm and play hard to get.  All I can ask is that you give this a try; if you have a friend whose dog barks at you at a lot, and you have been asked to just ignore him, next time, try it!  Playing hard to get works with romance, and dogs too!  Make doing nothing easy, by just listening to the dog owner and leaving the dog alone.  I think you will find that even more dogs love you with this approach!

Should You Try Medication for Your Dog?

If you have a dog who is reactive, aggressive, anxious or fearful and you have met with a vet, trainer, or both, regarding this, then the matter of medication may have come up.  There are a lot of different medications out there today, similar to what humans take for these issues.  So how do you decide if it is worth trying one of these medications for your dog?

I have come up with 5 questions that I find are helpful to my clients while they are deciding whether or not to try medication for you their dogs:

1. Has your dog been cleared medically of any, and all, possible health concerns associated with these behavioral issues?  And is he healthy enough to take medication?

There are some health conditions that can cause behavior problems.  Hypothyroidism is one for example, but the best thing to do when you notice behavior changes in your dog is to bring him to the vet.  Don’t just let your vet do his normal check-up, but instead explain the behaviors you have seen, with as much detail as possible.  When did the behavior change, has it worsened, and are there other symptoms you are noticing such as loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements?

2. Are you working with a trainer who understands, and is certified in dog behavior, and are you committed to your training and behavior modification program?

Medication will not cure a behavior issue on it’s own especially if your dog has gotten the chance to practice and rehearse this behavior, even if it was started by anxiety, once you cure the anxiety, the issue may still be a habit for your dog.  The example I find is most easy to understand is that people can sometimes start biting their nails because they are nervous, but then after a while, they will bite their nails even when they are not nervous, simply out of habit.  Changing habits is hard!  You will need to be prepared to work to change your dog’s habits each and everyday he is on the medication, other wise it is really pointless.  It will also be important to be working with a trainer who works with science based methods, and is certified to handle behavior modification.  The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is a great organization that certifies animal behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and even birds.  If you are considering starting you dog on medication perhaps consider reaching out to one of the trainers in your area, you can search on their site.  (

3. Do you have support from a veterinarian who can prescribe behavioral meds?

You will of course want the support of a veterinarian.  Putting your dog on medication is not a small matter, and while it is sometimes necessary, it is vital to be sure you are checking your dog’s blood work regularly and making sure the medication is not adversely affecting his health.

4. Does the behavioral issue affect your life everyday, at least once?

Is the issue so bad that you see it everyday?  If it is lunging and barking at other dogs, does it happen on every walk?  Do you find you don’t want to walk your dog because of this?  If it is anxiety, does your dog deal with this anxiety daily?  Is he stressed when you leave, and you have to leave him 5 days a week to face this stress?  If this is the situation you are facing, then medication could really help both you and your dog to feel better.  If you are facing this problem every single day, then give your dog and yourself some relief!  Think about how quickly many people take a Xanax before getting on a plane, and barely even think twice about it.  If we can offer our dogs, and ourselves, some relief, then why not at least give it a try?

5. Have you received complaints from neighbors, your building, or other threats to your place of residence, due to your dog’s behavior?

If you are at risk of being evicted, or even fined for a noise complaint, than it is really a no brainer.  There is simply no reason not to give medication a try if it is going to make your living situation more pleasant and less at risk.  Especially if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 through 3, then you are set up well to give medication a try.

Just like people who truly need them, these medications really work.  Dogs are complex, highly intelligent creatures, and because of this they can also be highly sensitive.  Some dogs have complicated pasts, and we don’t even always know the extent, if we rescued the dog later in life.  Behavioral medications such as Prozac, Clomicalm, and Anipryl have all been proven to be affective in dogs when paired with a behavior modification program.  If you have been living with a dog who suffers from behavioral issues and you have felt like medication is not necessary, but you answered “yes” to at least 4 out of the 5 questions, then I hope you will reconsider.  There is no reason to feel badly, or responsible, a lot of dogs, and people need medication, if it will help improve your quality of life, it is well worth a try!  Please contact a certified trainer in your area if you need help with this.

What Is Science Based Dog Training?

When I say “science based” dog training I mean that the training is based on the study of the dog, it’s behaviors, and how it learns. Something can be considered scientific if it is directly observable. Directly observable means that we can see something happen with our own eyes, and recreate this scenario to see again and again. If you ever studied psychology, then a lot of the concepts below will sound familiar.

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov was the first person to say that classical conditioning applies to animals as well as humans. An unconditional stimulus produces an unconditional response, and a conditioned stimulus produces a conditioned response. The classic example of Pavlov’s dog; he experimented with dogs by pairing a bell with tasty meat powder. Since the meat powder would cause the dogs to salivate in anticipation of the meat, he would ring a bell just before the addition of the meat powder, and guess what? The dogs eventually salivated at the sound of the bell without the pairing of the good smelling meat powder. In the beginning it is easy to understand why the dog is salivating; meat powder tastes good! But it is a learned response for the dog to salivate at the sound of the bell. The pairing of a unconditioned or neutral stimuli (the bell) with something we already have a conditioned response to; food that smells good, so we salivate; we can teach the neutral stimuli to have the same response, the bell to cause us to salivate.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a concept that was developed by B.F. Skinner. As the father of operant conditioning, Skinner introduced the concept of reinforcement: a behavior that is reinforced increases in frequency, while a behavior that is not, decreases.

The Four Quadrants

The four quadrants of operant conditioning refers to Positive Reinforcement (+R), Negative Reinforcement (-R), Positive Punishment (+P), Negative Punishment (-P). The first important thing to understand is that the positive and negative do not refer to good and bad, but instead addition and subtraction, or removal. Reinforcement is something that is going to increase the likelihood of a behavior, while punishment will the decrease the likelihood of a behavior.

Positive Reinforcement is the addition of something that is likely to increase a desired behavior. A great example is feeding a treat if your dog sits; the addition of the food reward increases the likelihood that your dog will sit again.

Negative Reinforcement is the removal of something that will increase a desired behavior. A great example of negative reinforcement is the beeping seat belts in cars now; the beeping is removed, or stops, as soon as you buckle your seat belt, so you are more likely to buckle your seat belt increase in desired behavior) to subtract the annoying beeping.

Positive Punishment is the addition of something that will lessen an undesired behavior. If you shock a dog for barking, this is positive punishment; you are adding the shock to lessen the undesired behavior of barking.

Negative Punishment is the removal of something that will decrease a behavior. If your dog jumps up on you and you turn your back, this is negative punishment. You are removing yourself, and your attention to decrease the behavior of jumping.

We often use more than one quadrant. Even a lot of the above examples use more that one quadrant as the entire situation is playing out. The seat belt is a good example because at it’s onset: the moment the alarm begins to beep at you for not buckling your seat belt, this is positive punishment, as it continues to beep, the only way to stop it is by buckling your seat belt, it moves to negative reinforcement. A similar example is using a shock collar to train a dog to come when called; you call your dog to come, and if she does not, you begin to press the button on your remote which elicits a shock. The addition of the shock to lessen the behavior of not coming right away; positive punishment, but as your hold the button down, until your dog begins to come to you, this switches to negative reinforcement. The shock only stops, or is removed, when the behavior of coming to you is happening to increase the likelihood of this behavior. I have found that there are humane, non-painful or scary ways to use three out of the four quadrants; but I see no place for positive punishment!

Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning is used to change one’s condition response to a stimuli. By pairing stimuli that evoke opposite responses we can change the negative response to become positive. For example, if your dog hates having her nails clipped, and as soon as she sees the nail trimmer she runs and hides; then the nail trimmer already elicits a negative response. But if your dog absolutely LOVES roast beef, and anytime you even touch the roast beef bag in the fridge, she comes running as fast as she can, then roast beef elicits a positive response. If we remember the good follows the bad, we can help our dog to change their response. So if the good is roast beef and the bad is the nail trimmer, we want to show our dog the nail trimmer and then follow it with some tasty roast beef. If we can do this enough and with good enough timing we can teach our dog that the nail trimmer means we are going to go to the fridge and get roast beef, then we can change our dg’s response to the nail trimmer to be her response to roast beef!


The basic definition of desensitization is to make less sensitive. We can desensitize a dog to something by exposing her to a stimuli in a very non threatening manner. So perhaps we want to desensitize our dog to strollers. We might start byt having a toy stroller for a doll, very far away from the dog. We have made the stimuli smaller and farther away. Little by little as the dog gets used to the small stroller at a far distance, we might work to slowly move the stroller closer. We want to continue exposure as long a fear response is not triggered. Once the dog is used to the small doll stroller near her, we might try a larger stroller, but we would likely add the distance back and start with the large stroller far away. Again the idea is to avoid a fear response being triggered. Usually desensitization and counter conditioning are used together to help dogs overcome many fears and behavioral issues that result.

Primary vs. secondary Reinforcers

If you are going to understand the four quadrants, and understand that we apply at least one of the quadrants when we are working to change behaviors, it is important to understand the difference between primary and secondary reinforcers. Primary reinforcers are those things we need biologically; food, drink and sex. Secondary, or learned reinforcers through association, such as money and praise. If you are working to truly change a response and see the desired response only, you need to use primary reinforcers in your dog training. This means using food! Your praise and affection are wonderful, but they are secondary reinforcers and may not be strong enough when the behavior problem is deeply embedded. If you hope to make changes while counter conditioning you will also need to use primary reinforces.

I hope this has shown you that there is a lot of thought, study and preparation that goes along with science based dog training. It is not just a catchy phrase, but instead tells you that the trainer you have chosen, understands your dogs behavior in a way that has been studied, and tested. Science based dog trainers do not take their methods from TV shows, or because they “have had dogs their entire life…” It is a personal choice, and you should do what is best for you, but if you were facing a traumatic experience and you wanted to best recover, would you go to a life coach, or a psychiatrist?

Are Some Dogs Just Dumb?

Are Some Dogs Just Dumb?


Seriously, I hear this question a lot from clients, and friends who have dogs, and I am ready to weigh in with my opinion on “dumb dogs.”

If you ask people to name the smartest dog breeds they will often say a Border Collie, or an Australian Shepherd, and if I asked you to name the dumbest dogs you might say a Bassett Hound or an Afghan.  Right away can anyone tell some similarities between these answers?  The two “smartest” dogs are in the herding group, while the two “dumbest” breeds are hounds… Interesting…  I think we could be onto something here!

When we try to measure the intelligence of a dog, we can only do so by exposing them to exercises we have people do to test human intelligence.  We can only test how intelligent they are in relation to us.  Humans are pretty inept when it comes to scent tracking.  We don’t use smells to learn or to communicate; we do use words, gestures and body language.  Dogs have 44 times the amount of scent receptors that humans have.  That is an average dog, not even specifically a hound.

So what if we could more easily communicate, and even be more aware of scents?  Would we perhaps then find a Basset to be the smartest dog?  Have we ever stopped to think about the reason training might be failing?  Because to even waste a moment worrying the animal might just be dumb, is a complete waste of time.  Instead step away from the animal and look at yourself, and the training program.

Are you training a scent hound using visual and verbal cues only?  Perhaps if you step away and think of how to train the scent hound using his strengths; scent, you might get a lot further, a lot faster!

We even test humans to see what kind of “learners” we are, but yet we rarely stop to think of the type of learners our dogs are.  Since the communication barrier is already a bigger factor between humans and dogs, it would seem that trying to figure out what motivates your dog, and how he can most easily learn something, will greatly improve the training experience for you both.

Today we do have a tool to help us figure this out!  Dognition is a great website that offers brain games and exercises to help you to better understand the way your dog learns.

I grew up with a Corgi, I have mentioned him a lot before; he was certainly a reason I become a dog trainer.  If you ask me, he was simply brilliant.  One of the smartest dogs I have met to this day.  Max learned language (words) so easily, and he remebered them!  People’s names, places we were going and specific foods; he knew it all!  Now that I am a trainer I fully understand why he was a brilliant addition to our family; we’re talkers! -especially to our animals!  I am the chatterbox of the family, and I talked to Max a lot.  So he learned language, he was a herding dog, and it came a little easier to him, than some other breeds, but again all of this amounts to a family dog who we viewed as simply brilliant.

If people could easily emit smells, as communication just as we do words, then perhaps my Corgi would have seemed quite dumb, and we would have preferred the Afghan as our family pet, but it is just the way humans work.  We can’t easily create and present different smells, but we know lots of words!

In conclusion, I will again say that I do not believe there are dumb dogs, especially not specific breeds that are dumber.  I believe humans are limited in their ability to communicate and train dogs, and so some are more difficult for us, but this is no fault of the dog, and it certainly is not the sign of unintelligence.  If you are reading this thinking your dog is the exception, and he is truly dumb, then I challenge you!  Learn about your dog!  Understand his breed, if he is a mutt, then research several breeds that seem like they could make up your dog.  Find out what he was bred for, and what the breeds strengths are, and use them in your training.  Another great option is to join Dognition to help you learn more about your dog.  If you live in the New York City area, and want professional help with this, please feel free to contact us!

Safety Practices for Children and Dogs

As a dog owner, even if you don’t have children, it is important to understand how to ensure interactions with children are as safe and positive as possible, not only for the child, but for your dog as well!  If you live in New York City with your dog, you will likely encounter children who want to pet and greet your dog.  You, of course, have the right to avoid these situations or even excuse yourself and your dog if you don’t feel the situation is safe, but  if you would like your dog to interact with children there are some important things to remember.  If you have children as part of your life, these pointers will also help keep interactions safe and happy for everyone!

If you don’t have a dog yet, or you have a young puppy, you should begin bite inhibition training as soon as possible, or understand how to properly practice once you get your dog.  Train your puppy that human skin, hair and clothes are off limits for your dog’s mouth.  I like to do this two ways; first is the hand blocking method, while the second is the three-strikes game.

Hand Blocking

Practice by holding a toy and getting your dog interested in it, let her grab the toy and play with it, and even praise her while she does. Then cover most of the toy with your hand and offer it to her again. If she mouths on your hand, then hide the toy behind your back and ignore her for a moment. This can be a very short time, and then you can offer her the toy again, making it easier for her to get the toy and get it right this time, and praise her if she does. Sometimes it is best to stand up on your knees and turn your face away while you hold the toy behind your back, this way she can’t climb all over your lap or nip at your face. If she gets really rough or nips on you three times, then get up and walk away. It will be easiest to practice this with her tethered so it is easy to walk away for a moment.  Don’t ever leave her tethered while you are not home, or not close by!

The Three Strikes Game

While playing with your dog we want him to be tethered, or have someone holding the leash so that the person playing can walk away easily.  Give him three chances to redirect his mouthing to a proper toy and if he keeps coming for you, get up and walk away.  When you come back he only gets one chance, if he mouths on you, walk away immediately so he learns you leave when he nips.  Don’t worry about saying “no” or taking his toys with you, just show him that the direct result of mouthing on you, is you leave him.  You can leave for a short period, especially if he isn’t barking or begging for you to come back.  Also please be prepared: this will take several repetitions, but don’t give up, it is such an important lesson for all dogs!

If your dog is already an adult, or you are adopting an older dog, you can still use these training games to help him learn to have a softer mouth, but don’t let children practice these games until you fully know the strength of the dog’s mouth.  If and adult dog hurts you when he grabs for toys, it will be best to restrict playtime with children so there are no toys.  Sometimes teaching an adult dog to have a softer mouth will be a long, and sometimes futile, process, so if you have children and are adopting an adult dog, it is a good idea to test bite inhibition, and if you aren’t sure how to do this, hire a certified trainer to help you choose the right dog for you!  This can be the best way to ensure you don’t have to return a dog you have bonded with, because he simply wasn’t right for your family.

Following these do’s and don’ts will help promote child safety around dogs and prevent dog bites.  While some children, and adults alike don’t love following these rules, they WILL keep a child safe around an animal that can be potentially dangerous.  Better safe than sorry, is an expression that applies, but keep in mind that the “sorry” in this case could be a child with a bitten face, or a disfiguring scar, so the “safe” in this case, really makes the “sorry” not even worth considering!

  1. Do not hug a dog, put your face close to his face or lie on him. Do sit beside your dog, rub his chest or scratch him on the side of the neck.
  2. Do not play chase-me games with a dog. Do play hide and seek – where the dog has to find you or an object that you hide.
  3. Do not play tug-of-war games with a dog. Do play fetch with the dog – teach the dog to trade the object for a treat so he won’t try to tug.
  4. Do not lean over or step over a dog. Do respect a dog’s resting place – go around him or ask an adult to move the dog.
  5. Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, has a toy or bone, is hurt or has puppies. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.
  6. Do not dress a dog up in play clothes. Do dress up your stuffed animals.
  7. Do not hit a dog or poke him with a stick. Do be gentle with dogs.
  8. Do not pull a dog’s ears, tail or fur. Do scratch the dog’s chest or the side of her neck – most dogs enjoy this.
  9. Do not stick fingers or hands into the dog’s crate. Do ask an adult to let the dog out of the crate if you want to pet her.
  10. Do not play in the dog’s crate. Do play “in and out of the crate” with the dog – toss a treat in – dog goes in to get it – dog comes back out – toss another treat in etc (with adult supervision).
  11. If your dog does not welcome you with wagging and panting – leave him alone. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.
  12. If your dog gets too rough or excited, be a tree until he gets bored and goes away.
  13. Do not run and shout around a dog that is not in a crate. Do be calm around dogs; involve the dog in an activity such as chewing on a bone or playing fetch so he doesn’t feel that he needs to chase you to have fun.

Source: Doggone Safe!TM A non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention.

Finally please avoid taking pictures and video of your child alone with your dog.  If you have a third party who can stay in the shot, to be sure nothing happens-this is the only safe way to take pictures.  Especially when your baby is too young to move around well on his own; your baby could fall onto your dog, and a dog can bite 3 full times in one second.  The next time you want to leave your baby snuggled with your dog on the couch, to fumble for your phone to capture the moment; instead, time it.  Time how many seconds it take you to get your phone, turn on the camera and get ready to take the picture.  It will be at least 30 seconds, that is 90 punctures in the time you turned to grab your camera; I am sorry to be graphic, but I do just want to get this point across; the picture is just not worth it!

Please be safe, careful and attentive anytime your dog is around children, whether they be your own or not.  It doesn’t matter how good your dog is, we can all get stressed out and snap, and it doesn’t make us bad people; the same is true for your dog.  Even if your dog has been extremely tolerant her whole life, learn about body language signs ( and watch out for her!  Be sure your dog isn’t showing stress signs, while also ensuring any and all children around your dog follow the rules!  If you want to learn more, or schedule a Be A Tree Presentation ( please contact me, or visit

Let’s keep dogs and kids safe and happy together, because when they are, it is priceless!

How to Use CPR to Train Your Dog


Start in a quiet place where you dog has no distractions and when his motivation is high, like after a walk but before feeding times.

Try to make your timing consistent:

Say the cue,

if it takes 5 seconds for your dog to perform the behavior,

praise as soon as he does,

but wait 5 seconds to reward.

Now your dog wants to respond to your cues faster because he wants to earn the reward faster.

CPR works best with lure-reward based training.

This means you will have a food treat in your fingertips that creates a magical, invisible string that will allow you to “pull” your dog anywhere you want him to go.

We would never want to actually physically push or pull our dog to do something because they aren’t really learning anything when we do this.  Putting your hands on an animal is a privilege, not a right! Even when it is your dog.

With lure-reward training it is vital to get the food out of your fingertips as soon as your dog can respond without it.  This means you can still use your hand to help signal what you are looking for, but don’t get your dog used to you always having food in your hands because then your cues won’t work when the food isn’t there.


When training a brand new behavior, we want to leave off the C, or cue, at first, until we are sure we can get our dog to perform the task we are looking for.  We want to add the cue when we are certain we can get the behavior.  The cue can be any word you choose to define a behavior.  It can be a word that describes the actual behavior, or a word that means something to you.  For example, if we are training the behavior of our dog lowering his rump to the ground, we very often choose the word “sit” to be our cue, because this defines the act we are seeing.  If you are training your dog to come when called you may choose a word like “here” because this won’t be repeated in your dog’s daily life when he is not expected to come over.  Whereas “here” can remain a high value cue because your dog will only hear this cue when he is expected to come over.


Your praise is so important, so don’t skip the praise!  If your dog does what you are asking, you have to let her know she got it right!  If it took her a long time to respond to your cue, you can alway delay your reward, or even keep your praise low level.  It is good to control your praise so that it suits your training.  You can have two different kinds of praise: red light praise and green light praise.  Red light praise is when you praise your dog calmly and in a soft tone.  Red light praise is great to use during a stay cue so you don’t get your dog so excited that she breaks her stay because of your praise.  Green light praise is very happy excitable praise, usually in a high pitch, friendly voice.  Green light praise is great for your recall, or coming when called, because this praise usually gets your dog excited and if you have been doing your C P R correctly, she even should be expecting a reward after such green light praise.  This will keep her coming to you the entire way, even if she encounters some distractions like squirrels or other dogs.  If she hears your excitable praise and she knows what comes next, she will make sure she gets all the way back to you-and in a hurry!  You can also praise more calmly if you waited a longer time for the behavior.  If you ask your dog to sit and it takes her 10 seconds to sit, you still should praise as soon as her rump hits the floor but you can praise calmly as you might want your dog to respond faster than that.  You always want to mark the moment your dog does what you are asking with praise, regardless of how long it takes her to respond.  Your praise is the “click” in clicker training, so if you are using a clicker for C P R, you will click as you P or Praise.


The reward always comes at the end, that way it is the easiest thing to fade out of the equation, especially if it is food.  It is a good idea to figure out things your dog sees as real life rewards.  There are definitely things your dog looks forward to, and there is no reason not to use these things as part of your training.  Any higher ground is a reward; being on the couch, in bed or even in your arms are all examples of higher ground.  I will never say your dog can’t sleep in your bed, but I will say it is a privilege that he should lose if he misbehaves.  The best news is, you never need to stay mad at your dog!  Once he has moved on, so should you!  So if your dog is in bed, and he barks at you, then have him get out of bed.  If he sits quietly once he is out of bed, then you can allow him the reward of getting back into bed.  When practicing in training sessions you can count how long it takes for your dog to respond to the cue, and then you can reward your dog the same amount of time after your praise.  So if it takes your dog 10 seconds to sit, it can take you 10 seconds to deliver him the reward.  It is a good idea to make a list of real life things your dog sees as a rewards.  Below are a few examples, but feel free to add a few that are specifically for your dog:

  1. Going for a walk
  2. Belly Rubs
  3. Lowering the food bowl
  4. _______________
  5. _______________