Pawsibilities NY

Year: 2014

Tips for Good Dog Play

Whether you bring your dog to play in the dog park, or just have an occasional friend over with his dog to play with yours, it is important to recognize what is good dog play. I have heard a lot of definitions of the word “play” over the years, but my favorite one is that play is pretend fighting; especially when it comes to dogs, and little boys! So what are some things you can watch for to ensure your dog’s pretend fighting doesn’t turn into real fighting?

Rule number one of dog play is all dogs should be willing participants in the play. If you aren’t sure, then separate the dogs playing and check in by giving them a moment apart; then let them go, if they magnet right back to each other they are likely both willing participants. If one tries to use this moment to get away, but the other chases, then be sure to step in and give the dog who needs it a break. Whenever is separating dogs in play should try not to do so by pulling on their collars or harnesses. If the situations is not a fight, and you simply want to check in, it is best to restrain your dog from the front of his chest. Even if a fight breaks out-grabbing the collar is the wrong move!

Play between dogs should be equally matched and the dogs should take turns being the “top dog” meaning that no one dog should be the one who is constantly pinning and pushing around the others. Dogs often play in pairs, even at the dog park they tend to pair up, or engage in a large game of chase. Three can be a crowd in dog play; if there are three dogs playing, be sure to check in and be sure two aren’t ganging up on the third. Play should look very circular, and the dogs should take breaks and check in on their own. These can be very brief; a split second of the dogs freezing and saying to each other: “are we still playing?” “YUP!” “OK, Good!”

Some things to watch for are dogs who act like bullies. Either they charge right up and body slam into other dogs, or they do more subtle rude things such as paw overs, or chin overs. These are exactly how they sound; when one dog runs over to another and throws his chin or front paw right over the back of the other dog. This is usually a good time to step in and take a break. Humping can also be an annoying play behavior. While it can be completely normal, sometimes dogs get very upset when another dog attempts to hump them, while others just allow for this to happen. If your dog gives another dog a warning about humping, such as a little growl or snap, I would allow this because your dog will teach the lesson faster than you can. If your dog allows himself to be humped, then you need to step in and stop this each time the other dog tries. There is no reason to be rough about it, simply separate the two dogs. Sometimes it is best to let the other dog’s owner know.

If the dogs are standing on their hind legs and using their front legs to push off one another, they are height seeking and it is usually best to break this up. If your dog becomes very stiff or is hyper focus on something, it will be best to try to interrupt this, either call him over to you, or walk over and break his line of vision. Watch for your dog’s hackles to stand up, this is the hair that runs down his back, if it is standing up only between his shoulder blades, he is slightly aroused, while if it is standing up all the way to his tail, he is highly aroused. Call him over to you or move away from the other dog and give him a chance to settle down.

As opposed to the famous play bow, when your dog lowers his front end to look as though he is bowing. This is an invite for play, and a polite behavior. Also if your dog’s mouth is open, and relaxed this is a good sign, usually when dog’s close their mouths they are up to no good…

It will be important to be paying attention and able to step in any time your dog is off leash with other dogs. It is not a good idea to read a newspaper, or talk on your phone. Things can escalate quickly and you want to be able to step in, and end it without any injuries. Also it is vital that your dog know some cues and responds while off leash, otherwise it is probably not a good idea to allow him off leash. He should at least come when called, and sit on cue when asked. Play should be fun for your dog, and the dogs he is playing with. Be an active participant in your dog’s play, pay attention to what he likes, and doesn’t like, and signs that he wants to stop the play. If you watch for these common body language signs, and carefully supervise your dog’s play, there is no reason he can’t always have a safe and great time!

By in Training Philosophy 0

Why You Should Rescue a Dog!

There are several ways to get that dream dog that you have always been looking for. You could go to a breeder, a pet store, a rescue group or shelter. So what’s the difference, and how do you choose?

Breeders are just like any other business, some are really great and responsible, while others are completely negligent and unprofessional. There are some general rules to follow when choosing a breeder. The breeder should let you meet the pup’s mother or parents if possible, the breeder shouldn’t be eager to ship their puppy to you via plane, and they should be familiar with basic handling and socialization techniques for new born puppies. The truth is if you are set on getting your dog from a breeder; do your research! Don’t conform to a set of rules, that may or may not apply to your exact situation. Instead understand the breed you are buying, and the health issues the breed can have, and speak to people who have dogs from that breeder. Ask about the health issues, and if there have been behavioral issues. Talking to other owners will be the best way to find a good breeder, but this blog is about adopting!

You can of course walk into a pet store one day, and walk out with a puppy on the same day. This is probably the only circumstance that allows for this, which should be causing you to question why, right away. Pet stores are not a place to get a puppy. Breeders, or puppy mills who provide these puppies are not concerned with their long term health or behavior, they are breeding for sheer numbers. Also while you might end up with a happy and healthy dog from a pet store; you must stop to realize that your happy, healthy pup’s parents’ are stuck living in horrific conditions, and are forced to over breed while being given little or no exposure to sun, grass or anything of comfort. There really is no excuse for walking into a pet store and buying a dog, it supports an industry of abuse, mistreatment, and cruelty, plain and simple. Websites that sell puppies are also most often puppy mills. This is not to say if your breeder has a website she is breeding in this manner, but if you can directly purchase a puppy from a site with no background information, and only payment required; this is a puppy mill situation. If you can only bring yourself to get a dog from a pet store, then don’t get a dog!

Today there are so many dogs out there that need homes, I am not going to bore you with numbers and statistics, but no matter what state you live in, I can assure you that each and every day, dogs are euthanized simply for lack of space, and not due to health or behavioral issues. Pounds are over run with owner surrenders, and strays, and if a dog stays long enough, his time will eventually come. Many states have no-kill shelters, but a lot of these places cannot take owner surrenders so instead they are pulling dogs from the pounds, which means some dogs don’t make it from the pound to the no-kill shelter. These are the facts, and if you don’t believe me than you should google your local animal control center, and you will see.

Today people can adopt pretty much any dog from a shelter or rescue group. If you don’t set time constraints, and instead choose what you want in a dog, and spend time looking for it: you will find it! My biggest piece of advice is to not be in a rush! Think about how long it takes to have a baby, we don’t just go into a store one day and impulse buy a baby, so we shouldn’t do this with a dog.

I am tired of hearing that someone wants a purebred dog, or a puppy so they had to go to pet store. Worse than that, when people say they went to a pet store because their building doesn’t allow dogs-it won’t be long before this doesn’t work out, and this pet store pup become a pound pup. If you live in a building that doesn’t allow dogs, and you have to have a dog, then move, because this is the kind of sacrifice you need to be willing to make if you are going to properly care for and love a dog for his entire life.

If you spend the time looking you can find any dog, any breed, any age available for adoption, and while it might take longer, the pay off will be well worth it! If you need help finding a dog, reach out to some local dog trainers; a lot of us have options to help you find the right dog for you that are less expensive than full training lessons. Also there are several great websites out there that help compile all the local rescue dogs in your area. My husband and I found our dog on and she is the perfect addition to our family. Petfinder allows you to search for dogs in your area, and set the criteria you want as far as age, gender, size and breed.

If you can’t rescue a dog, there are often lots of ways to help shelters. Check your local shelters to see if they ever need volunteers, foster parents, or even transport drivers to take a dog from the shelter to his new home. In New York City there are several shelters that are part of The Mayor’s Alliance and they often need help will all sorts of different things, from book keeping to web site updating. I started out helping Manhattan’s Bideawee shelter with photographs for their website, and it took me all the way to becoming a dog trainer! There are a lot of dogs out there in need, so even if adopting is not right for you, there are likely many ways you can help these dogs.

If you are thinking about getting a dog and live in the New York City area, we offer dog and family pairing consultations as well as discounted training for all rescue dogs. If you are fostering a dog and need help with him, we also offer discounted training for foster parents, as well as Skype sessions for people in need out of state. Please contact us today for any help or advice!

All Dogs Resource Guard: Part 3, Owner Guarding

All dogs resource guard if we find something they designate as a resource.  Dogs will protect their resources, it is a natural behavior.  To better understand this please read parts 1 and 2 of this blog:

For this part 3 we will discuss specifically dogs who resource guard their owners.  This can be very challenging because it manifests in many ways.  Perhaps your dog becomes upset or aggressive when another dog comes towards you in the dog run, and this has kept you from going to to dog run all together.  Maybe your dog barks and makes a big fuss when anything he perceives as a threat comes near you.  This could be disruptive in your neighborhood and cause you to become an outcast.  Whatever the specifics are, you can handle this in similar ways.

First it is best to have another person who can help with the training, or a Treat & Train.  This person should be someone the dog is familiar and comfortable with who has plenty of high value treats available.  If you are using a Treat & Train then be sure the dog is tethered, with enough room that there is slack in the leash, and the dog is conditioned to understand the Treat & Train and has used it prior to this training session.

Next you want to have one or both of the of the owners, seated about 5 to 10 feet away from the dog.  The last piece of this equation is a helper dog, one who doesn’t mind if he is barked at or lunged at, but pretty much just keeps on going about his business.  Have the helper dog begin to approach the seated owner, the resource, and as soon as the helper dog begins approaching, the Treat & Train, or the person handling the dog, will begin feeding high value treats.  Next the helper dog will retreat away from the owner, and the treats will stop to the working dog, showing that when dogs approach his owner he receives treats while when they move away from his owner, the treats stop.  This will help to build a positive association with other dogs approaching his owner.

You will want to continue this process until the dog sees the helper dog approach and immediately looks to the Treat & Train or the other person for the treats.  This response will show that the dog is understanding the association between the approach of other dogs and the reward of high value treats.  This is counter conditioning at work, before the high value rewards the dog viewed people approaching his owner as a bad thing, now he views it as a time that he gets good treats, and good things happen to him!

If your dog barks when he perceives a threat coming near his owner or resource it can sometimes be helpful to try some abandonment training.  We will of course only do this to the lowest extent that we would need to, but if your dog barks when a car, stroller or other perceived threat approaches, then this may be the best way to handle this.  Work with a professional, and have her holding your dog on a long leash.  Then walk your dog on your normal leash with them following behind.  As soon as your dog begins to react, drop the leash and walk in the opposite direction as him.  If he calms quickly and stops barking and reacting, then you can rejoin him and pick up your leash and continue your walk.  As I always say, there is no reason to stay mad at your dog, as soon as they have moved onto good behavior, forgive them, and move on too!  (perhaps this is good advice for other relationships…)

The other good way to deal with this, if your neighbors can deal with it, is simply to ignore your dog if he begins barking at his triggers, wait for him to stop, and praise and reward him when he does.  Dogs repeat their successes so ignore the bad, and reward and reinforce the good.  This can also be good to do using a clicker.  For more on clicker training check out my blog:

You want to change your dog’s mind about other dogs’, or things, approaching you, because your dog views you as a resource, and these triggers as a threat to his resource.  This is not uncommon, and perhaps you even don’t think it is such a big deal, but again resource guarding of any kind is an anxiety based reflex, so if we can cure our dogs of anxieties, why wouldn’t we?  Work slowly with the above methods until your dog views the approach of another dog towards you as good thing.  As soon as he is turning to the person or Treat & Train to say: “I know that dog’s approach means that I am going to get something good!”  We have begun to change his mind and make him  realize that what he once resource guarded, is something well worth sharing!

3 Quick Fixes That Don’t Work

There are a lot of different tools out there that claim they will help you to train your dog, quickly and effectively.  Most products that boast such results are, unfortunately not only misleading, but also can be quite damaging to your dog.

The first example are sprays designed to stop your dog from chewing.  These sprays either are supposed to taste unpleasant, or smell so bad that your dog doesn’t want to go near them.  These sometimes can be effective in stopping your dog from chewing a specific item, shortly after it has been sprayed with the anti-chew spray.  The problem is, they wear off quickly, and don’t actually change your dog’s behavior of chewing inappropriate items.

When used as a management tool, along side positive reinforcement training, this can be somewhat effective, but I will warn that it can easily get onto your hands and clothes and can be quite bitter.  I will occasionally try using these sprays in circumstances with very hazardous things that cannot easily be moved, or removed, such as wires.  Treating wires with bitter spray can help stop your dog from chewing, but you better buy a lot of spray and get ready to spend a lot of time applying it, if you don’t pair it with training.

You can train your dog to have better chewing habits in many ways.  Redirecting your dog to appropriate chew toys, and feeding him from a food stuffed toy are two quick examples of ways you can actually train your dog to not chew inappropriate house hold items, and save yourself the trouble and money of using these sprays.  Another option is tin foil.  Wraping things like wires and chair legs with tin foil will make it unpleasant for your dog to bite into.  Just like with the sprays, the tin foil is not a quick fix, and should be paired with training.

The second example are all the different anti bark devices, including citronella and shock collars, and table top bark deterrents.  The collars are designed to sit directly on your dog’s vocal cords and the vibration of your dog barking sets off the spray of citronella, or the shock from a shock collar.  The table top devices are set to use high pitch sound emissions as punishment when the dog barks, they are set off by loud noises, so your dog might get punished for a siren roaring by, or the people in the apartment next door hanging pictures, and he won’t understand why.

The collars don’t ever teach your dog what you are looking for: quiet.  The dog just gets sprayed in the face, over and over, or shocked several times, every time he barks, and no other feedback is given.  Dog’s behavior will naturally mean they repeat successes and with these collars there is no success for the dog to repeat.  Think of what a confusing and unclear message the collar is sending, while not teaching your dog anything at all.  The shock stopping, or not getting sprayed by the citronella is not a reward for your dog, it is rather the lack of punishment.  The lack of punishment is not reinforcement; for a behavior to be reinforced, there must be something the dog can view as a reward.

Also it is important to take note that citronella is poison.  Any and all citronella collars will come with directions to wash your hands if your come into contact with the citronella, and to be very careful not to touch your eyes or face, and then we go ahead and put it around our dog’s neck and spray them right in the face with this poison!  Citronella is also very dangerous if there is a baby or children in the family; it can of course be highly toxic to them as well.

You would absolutely never want to use one of these on a dog who is barking out of anxiety.  If your dog only barks when he is alone then you MUST count these collars and devices out.  You simply cannot punish the fear out of your dog, and if you try you will make it worse, that will be a quick breakdown you can count on, instead of the quick fix you were hoping for.

Dogs are very clever animals they also learn very quickly when they are wearing the collar and when they are not.  They also learn to rub their neck against things to move the box and then they are off and barking again!  Finally dogs do desensitize to things, we count on this for some training, you can count on them desensitizing to these collars if you aren’t doing any training or positive reinforcement.

I like to use a clicker to stop dog’s from barking.  Check out my blog about clicker training if you are not familiar (see: What Is Clicker Training?).  Then I just let the dog bark all he wants, and as soon as he is quiet, I click and feed a treat.  After a few repetitions, be sure to vary the length of time your dog must demonstrate the quiet before he earns the click and treat.

Third and lastly I don’t like the use of prong collars or choke chains to stop dogs from pulling and/or teach obedience.  Some people believe it is the proper way to teach your dog to walk; slap on that prong or choke and anytime they get ahead or pull, jerk them back into heel position.  The problem is there is no teaching involved; this is entirely punishment.  Again it gives your dog no idea of the correct behavior and how best to repeat this.  So you will see time and time again your dog continues to trot out in front and needs to be jerked back.

Also using leash jerks to train a dog it’s cues or commands; saying “sit” to your dog and then jerking the leash if he doesn’t sit immediately does not encourage him to work faster for you, but instead it usually causes a period of shut down, where the dog is afraid to proceed with any behavior out of fear of being jerked.  This doesn’t encourage your dog to think or make proper decisions on his own, and is extremely difficult to fade, meaning that most people who use these tactics cannot get their dogs to respond when the prong or choke is not on.

It is much better to teach your dog the behavior you are looking for.  Teach your dog to walk by your side by holding a treat in front of his nose and keeping him right where you want him with the treat.  Every few steps reinforce him for being in the heel position by feeding him the treat.  You can also teach your obedience this way.  Your dog will respond to your obedience cues on and off leash because the leash isn’t involved in the training (or punishment really.)

Anytime you consider using punishment or harsh methods with your dog, remember that there is always the chance for very negative fall out.  Not only have prong collars been proven to cause brain damage, vision loss and skin conditions, they can also create negative associations for your dog with things he will encounter everyday such as other dogs and children.  It won’t take too many jerks on that prong or choke in the presence of other dogs or children before your dog thinks they could be the cause of his pain, and you will see your dog become more reactive and even seemingly aggressive towards these triggers.  Now the quick fix tool has left you with a complex problem to face, and you can count on a long road to fix the fall out from the “quick fix.”

It is an old saying, but a true saying; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Your dog is not a bike, or a car, you can’t just send him to the mechanic for a few days and he will come back fixed.  Dogs are complex animals, they are extremely intelligent and sensitive.  If taking the time to train your dog what you want, rather than just punishing him for making mistakes, is too overwhelming for you, then perhaps the commitment of a dog is not right for you either.  If you want to encourage a relationship of learning, patience and understanding, then the possibilities are endless for you and your dog!

By in Training Philosophy 0

Your Dog Is No Different!

Most of us have made mistakes in our lives. Most of us have broken the rules, either because we wanted to, or because we didn’t understand them. Who hasn’t become stressed and snapped at someone they love? And sometimes it is great to run into an old friend, but sometimes we all like to be left alone. We can all have moments when we are frustrated, tired, or just not the best versions of ourselves, and your dog is no different!

We expect our dogs to come into our world and be better behaved, happier, and friendlier than we ever could be. We expect them to never break the rules, without even being taught them. We expect that they never make mistakes, and if they do, we interpret it as dominance. We would likely view the person interpreting the rules in his own way as the class clown, rather than the “alpha male.” Your dog is no different.

Teach your dog the rules in your world! This means actual training; reinforcing certain behaviors, and pairing them with cues that are easy to remember and maintain. You don’t have to teach a bunch of tricks, but you should have some communication that your dog understands to help him do the right thing. It is really unfair to think of a prong collar or choke chain as a training tool; it is a punishment tool. Some of you might be offended by the use of the word punishment in these circumstances and you might want to replace it with something like “correction,” but scientifically if you are using the tool to lessen a behavior; it is punishment, PERIOD. If you use one of these tools and tighten the choke or prong when your dog does something wrong, it is like your dog is playing a game of hot and cold, but when his behavior is cold, he is punished with pain. Can you imagine playing that game as a child and walking in the wrong direction only to be shocked or pronged? I don’t think you would want to play the game very long! In fact you might sit down on the floor and not want to move: your dog is no different.

Imagine you are starting a new job, and you go in for your first day, and your boss completely ignores you. You might ask a few questions, but no answers or instructions are given. You decide you will turn on your computer. It boots, and you click on an internet browser window; your boss walks up behind you, and smacks you on the back of the head, and says “no!” She then returns to her seat and continues ignoring you. Next you open a text document and begin to type a list of questions for later. You type three questions out and begin to type the fourth when your boss is standing behind you again, and, smack! “NO!” She returns to what she was doing. What is your next move? Do you continue to try different things at your job that might result in another smack? Do you quit and walk out? Do you sit paralyzed at your desk for fear of what could happen next? All would be normal responses for a human: your dog is no different.

If you haven’t taught your dog to walk without pulling, but instead you let him begin to pull and then, BAM! You jerk him back with a prong or choke collar; it is the same as the boss in the above analogy. Your dog has no idea why this harsh correction happened, and depending on the dog his response could be to continue to try different behaviors, he could turn and snap at you so you drop the leash and he can run off, or he could just sit down and refuse to move out of fear of what could happen. It is not a constructive way for you to learn: your dog is no different.

If you would prefer that on your first day at a new job your boss shows you what is expected of you, and then rewards you with raises and promotions for your successes, and exceeding expectations; then teach your dog this way! Show your dog that you want him to walk beside you, and reward him for doing so. You will not only find that he learns what is expected of him quite quickly, but it will also build a stronger relationship of trust and understanding. We all know what it is like to work for someone we hate, but hopefully we also all know what it is like to work for someone we respect, and I think if you reflect on the boss you liked, you will remember a relationship of learning, trust and consistency: your dog is no different!

Dogs move into our homes and we behave in very inconsistent and unpredictable ways, and many dogs do just fine. We can punish them, jerk choke chains, pinch prong collars, shock them, smack them, lock them in bathrooms and crates for hours, and when you come home your dog will still wag his tail and be happy to see you. Your dog lives life to fullest, and loves with all his heart. Your dog forgives instantly, doesn’t judge you, or hold grudges. This is why dogs are different!