Pawsibilities NY

Month: March 2014

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. _______________