Pawsibilities NY


By in Training Philosophy 0

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. _______________

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!

By in Behavior Modification 1

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!

Could Your Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

I have been teaching classes with The Good Dog Foundation for almost a year now, and I have really found the work to be very fulfilling.  The Good Dog Foundation has quite a process for dogs, and owners, to become certified as therapy dog teams.  It seems to be an affective and thorough procedure.  The process starts with an evaluation, by a dog trainer, where the trainer can decide if the dog is suitable for one of two different level classes, or perhaps needs some more training.  It is very rare that a dog be completely turned away from trying the evaluation again, but certain aggression would cause this.  Then there are two different levels of class, some dogs can place out of the first, 6 week course, but everyone must complete all 5 weeks of the second level class.  Both the owner who wishes to bring the dog, or owners if there are more than one, must attend each class together, because teams are certified together, your dog is a therapy dog, and you are his therapy dog handler!  Once you complete all five classes, and all accompanying paperwork, you will also be observed on your first visit by a dog trainer.  Good Dog goes through this very thorough process to certify teams as therapy teams, rather than simply allowing people to register their dogs as therapy dogs, without any such process.

There is an important difference between registration and certification. Certification means that the organization has participated in the training of the dog, and the handler. Registration usually reflects a one-time screening, an organization that simply registers it’s teams does not certify that the team is trained to a certain level. Instead, the team is registered as having met minimum requirements.  Good Dog is the only organization in New York City that offers true therapy team certifications.

It is quite a long road, and a lot of work for the people who get through, but after I saw how much it means to the people we visit, I got it!  It is all worth it for the dogs who love this work.  That being said, you might have a wonderful dog, who loves you and anyone who comes into your home, man, woman, or child, but unfortunately outside of that comfort zone of your home, he actually does not enjoy strangers petting him and this even causes him anxiety.  This is always the hardest case, because I can see that the owner has worked hard with his dog, and I can even see how obedient and well mannered the dog is, and I completely believe the owner when he says he knows the dog would never hurt anyone.  Unfortunately sometimes this is just not enough to make a dog a therapy dog.  It is not because I am worried your dog will hurt anyone, it is more likely because I can see in body language and stress signals that the environments and situations this dog will encounter on therapy visits will definitely cause him stress.  There is no reason for this stress, and I cannot allow a stressed dog to move forward because it just isn’t fair.  Even if you have a small dog and you can pick him up and put him in people’s lap, but he is showing clear stress signals, he just knows he cannot get away; this is not fair to the dog, and it is best to just find something you and your dog can do together that does not cause either of you stress or anxiety.

Some stress signs that I will see dogs like this show include: a shake off, where it looks like your dog is shaking water off, but he is dry, yawning, especially audible yawns, cat-like yawns, panting, lip licking, trying to get away from me, or get out the door, urogenital check out, when your dog looks at his private area, whining, nervous urination, and avoiding eye contact.  One or two of these is not terrible, you will probably see your dog display some of these signs while at the vet, but if there are a lot of these, it really means the work will cause stress in your dog’s life that is simply not necessary.

I am looking for a dog who continues to pursue me, even when I act silly or try to mimic behaviors you may see in a therapy visit, the dog continues to come over to me freely and happily and shows a quiet but curious approach.  The behavior looks almost puppy like, but of course without the jumping, mouthing and humping that some puppies do!  A dog that is over excited and jumps all over or does get mouthy during play, also will not be a great fit.  You never know who you may encounter on a visit and it may not be appropriate for your dog to jump, large or small, on people who you come across while doing this work, and you dog certainly cannot put his mouth on people, even if it is a playful way.

It is important to realize that there will be a lot of stresses that you and your dog might encounter on a visit.  Shiny floors can be very stressful for some dogs, all the different smells certainly makes for your dog’s nose to work over time.  Some people may not like dogs and may even be afraid, so you have to be prepared for people who are not interested in meeting your dog, and you need to be able to manage your dog’s behavior in situations where this might occur.

Finally it is important to realize you are your dog’s partner in this work.  you will never hand your leash to anyone else while doing therapy work, it is you and your dog in it together.  It can be tiring for you too!  Therapy dogs cannot travel on public transportation, so getting to and from the visits can be difficult and even expensive.

The reward is huge.  I can honestly say, if you read everything above and you really feel your dog has the right temperament and would do this work happily and without stress, and you have plenty of time to do this work with him, then you will be rewarded with memories that I cannot even begin to do justice here in words.  If a non verbal child sees your dog week after week and one day you walk in and he says “dog!” it is better than winning a marathon!  When someone tells you that they look forward to you coming with your dog every week, it truly is a priceless gain!

All Dogs Resource Guard, Part 2

It is important to read part 1, so if you didn’t get the chance yet, you can read it by clicking the link below:

All Dogs Resources Guard, Part 1

In this part of our resource guarding discussion I will be offering techniques that can be used to desensitize your dog to your approach, and counter condition his feelings about your approach, if he has some bad feelings already, and has shown signs of resource guarding it is important to consult a professional for help because some of these techniques will be risky is you are not certain about your dog will respond.  If you have any fear that he might guard or snap, please contact a trainer, and don’t try these steps until you have.

If you have a dog who will chew his bone happily, but if you stand up from the couch he runs and takes the bone under the coffee table, you could help him to over come this fear of your approach and let him learn that, quite frankly if you are getting up off the couch, it isn’t to take his stinky bully stick, there are likely things you are far more interested in, in the kitchen!  So while you might not worry about this behavior, it is causing stress in your dog’s life, that is completely unnecessary, so let’s help him overcome it!

There are two parts to this training, and from there you could have many different stages that you must complete both steps to move forward.  The first part is desensitization, and the second part is counter conditioning.  You might have to desensitize and counter condition your dog to you leaning towards his bone, as a first stage, and actually touching or picking up his bone as a last stage, so there could be many stages in between.

The key to successful desensitization is not to push it!  I always say it is like gambling, quit while your ahead, don’t keep betting until you are broke!  So when I first start out with a dog that behaves the way I explained in the previous example, where he will take his bone and hide with it, I will start out with a behavior that will be the least threatening to him, so he is learning my approach is not a bad thing, and I might just turn and walk away.  So the very beginning of desensitizing your dog to your approach might look like a dance: you start a distance away that your dog accepts, meaning he does not continue to retreat and put distance between you.  Don’t corner him either, give him the option to run further away, but he chooses not to.  Let’s say 5 steps away, so stand 5 steps away from your dog, let him notice you, maybe count to three, and then turn and walk away.  Don’t rush it!  approach again and take 4 and a half steps toward your dog, and wait a few seconds and walk away.  If he retreats away from you, we have pushed it too far!

Here is a video of me practicing desensitization with a dog who is a low level resource guarder:

The next stage for this might be when i can get within 1 step of my dog, and I might just barely begin to reach for his bone.  If you are standing, don’t bend down and reach for his bone, these are two separate stages, so either bend down near him with his bone, or remain standing and reach for his bone from the standing position, so you don’t come very close to it at all.  Again if at any point he picks up his bone and runs away, you have pushed it too far, so have a seat, and take a break, but definitely do not get upset with your dog!  Just like it is in’t appropriate to punch the dealer in the face when we lose, we cannot get upset with our dog when we push the desensitization too far.  Just take a break, and start again, and learn your lesson!  Think on the bright side; in reality you didn’t lose any money!

For the second part of this training you want to counter condition your dog about his feeling about your approach.  Instead of being something that causes stress or anxiety, teach your dog that approach means really great things happen to him.  Sticking with our above example again, we could sometimes do our approach with some very tasty treats.  As you approach your dog toss him a treat that he can eat right where he is without having to walk away from his bone.  Teach him that when you approach, treats just start coming to him!

If you want to counter condition your dog to your arm reaching for his bone, the easiest way to do this is to have a treat in your hand, reach towards his bone, only enough to not send him running, and leave the treat behind.  Repeat this several times until your dog see your arm coming and he gets excited to see it because he knows it means rewards are coming, rather than his bone is leaving!  Again don’t push it.  Don’t practice a bunch of these and then just grab his bone to take it away.  If you work up to the point that you can put your hand right next to the bone, and leave a treat behind, then you can move onto to touching the bone and leaving a treat behind, or even picking it and putting it right back down with a treat.

Here is a video of me practicing counter conditioning with the same dog:

The key to success will be to work slowly and use management when you can’t train, so that you don’t run into issues where you are forced to take something from your dog.  In other words, if your dogs real trouble is with bully sticks, manage his environment and be sure he never gets a bully stick, unless you are ready to train, and I would suggest having three treats of different levels.  So maybe you have lamb lung as the lowest lever treat, meat log could be the next best thing, and finally boiled chicken could be the best treat option, just in case we need to up the ante!  If it isn’t bully sticks, but instead is something like tissues, that you don’t want you dog to ever have, it is best to work on a leave it command.

To be the most successful with this kind of training I like to lay it out on a piece of paper, I start on the far right and write down my end goal, maybe taking a bully stick from my dog.  I then go to the far left and write something very simple that I believe I will be able to do with my dog, like perhaps approach within 5 feet of my dog while he has Bully Stick.  And then I sit and write as many different stages as I can possibly think of in between.  The more the better!  It might feel like it is going to make more work for you, but it will be quite the opposite, you will have the most success by taking it slow!  So you might have 20 or more stages, and at first in your training sessions you might only get to three or four of them, but just take it slow.

If at any time your dog’s behavior makes you more nervous than you feel comfortable with, please stop this training and consult a professional.  Cetified professionals can be four at the following sites:

Join Us Tonight!  Our very first Blog Dog Walk of the season!  The weather is supposed to be perfect, so come on over to the great lawn at 9:00p.m. and discuss resource guarding, or just come for some good dog talking company!  We will meet near the basketball courts on the great lawn and we weill begin to stroll around the lawn for about an hour, so come at 9:00, or join up with us later.  All are welcome.