Pawsibilities NY

Dog Nutrition

The Importance of Feeding Your Pet on a Schedule

The Importance of Feeding Your Pet on a ScheduleI want to start by saying that the following does not apply if your veterinarian has given you other instructions based on your dog’s health, age and/or size. This article applies to the average, healthy, house-dog.

While you may have heard different things regarding feeding, I find it is very important to feed your dog on a set schedule, usually two feedings a day, and do not leave the food out for your dog to “free feed” or graze as she chooses. Some may tell you to feed your dog on a schedule to help prevent resource guarding, and to show that you bring the food, so you are the “boss,” or “in charge,” but the truth is those are not the best reasons for a feeding schedule.

The first reason most closely relates to my previous blog about Separation Anxiety. Again separation anxiety is probably the hardest behavioral problem to correct in dogs. Feeding on a schedule will allow you to know when your dog is most hungry. If your dog can eat all day and just eat three pieces of kibble here, and three pieces of kibble there, it will be much more difficult to pin point a time when she is hungry. If we know when our dog is hungry we can use this to our advantage in so many ways. For separation purposes we can feed our dog before we leave so she has something to look forward to, instead of something to worry about. If your dog free feeds she will likely just not eat while you are not home. Feed your dog her food, and leave your house for a little while; five minutes, and then come back in, and take the food away, even if your dog has not finished. This way she is learning that she should work on that food while you are gone, because it isn’t always around! This is a good activity for the weekends when owners tend to have more time, it is not necessary to leave each time you feed your dog.

If you are trying to house train your puppy or adult dog, having them eat on a schedule will make this process so much easier! Your dog will be on a more regular potty schedule if she is on a regular feeding schedule. Most dogs will got to the bathroom in a certain amount of time after they eat or drink, and if you are consistent with this, then your dog will be too!

When training your dog it is important to be reinforcing the training with rewards that your dog sees as high value. If your dog is eating on a schedule, you could delay the meal prior to a training session to ensure that food is an even higher reward. You can feed your dog dinner after the training is over.

If you plan to, or already have, young children, feeding on a schedule will also help during that “exploring” phase that most toddlers have. If you leave your dog’s food out all the time, then your crawling baby will likely find his way to the bowl at some point, and what he will do with it… well I won’t even try to think of all of the fun things a toddler could do with dog food, not to mention eating it—gross! If your dog eats on a schedule you can more easily monitor her while she eats so the food does not become a toy for your child.

If you have a dog that may be getting up there in years, skipping a meal can be a sign of a serious health issue, if you aren’t really sure when your dog eats, or even how much because there is always a full bowl, how will you know if she has stopped eating? It won’t be clear to you as quickly as a person who knows when their dog eats; this will make it easier to tell a vet exactly when the last time her appetite seemed normal. This could save your dog’s life! When a dog has an obstructions she often will stop eating because she is uncomfortable, and the sooner you realize this, the better the prognosis.

If you are already free feeding your dog I would recommend a gradual change over the course of a week. Choose the times you will be feeding your dog, and take away her kibble the night before you will begin. The next morning give your dog her food at the set time and let her have it for 10/15 minutes. After that time take the food away, but don’t throw it away yet. Put it somewhere she won’t smell it like the fridge. Wait another 5/10 minutes and give it back to her for 5/10 minutes. After this second try you can throw the food away. Your dog will eat when she is hungry, she may just need to build an appetite and get used to the new schedule. Repeat these steps for your dog’s second meal of the day, and as needed throughout the week.

I hope that I have convinced you, because just like it would not be good for us to eat all day long, it is not good for your dog, and feeding her on a schedule will help improve her house training, behavior and even health!

Dogs and Cats: Overcoming the Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is Doing Nothing, So Difficult?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

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!

Can I Comfort My Dog’s Fears?

As a fairly new dog trainer, doing this job for just over eight years now, I have already come across my first real opinion, and training style, change. For those of you who have met me, and know me, you know I tend not to be hard on dogs, but I did subscribe to the belief that an owner can reinforce his dog’s fears by trying to comfort his dog. I never told an owner to approach a fearful dog with the outlook of “too bad, get over it,” but I did tell owners not to say things like “it’s ok” when their dog shows fear signs.

I even followed this own thought with my horses while horseback riding. I have a somewhat “hot” horse, who tends to think things such as branches, tree routes, or snow piles, could all be a threat. He snorts and freezes and his head shoots straight up. Sometimes it is so bad that there is nothing I can do to get him to continue forward, and I can feel his heart beating in my legs. I certainly never tried using punishment, as I have a clear understanding that you cannot punish fear away, but I did just sit on his back and wait for him to get over it.

There have been several studies done by a lot of well respected dog behaviorist, and they have discovered that the idea of being able to comfort and reinforce your animal’s fear, is fairly inaccurate. The definition or reinforcement is to increase behavior, so if comforting your dog while he is afraid is reinforcing to him, he should become more afraid the next time he encounters the thing that caused that fear, and your comforting. The fear should increase if it is being reinforced. Anyone who has experienced fear while in the presence of a person who provides them with great comfort knows, this person can help us feel better.

In counter conditioning I teach the concept of the good follows the bad. So if your dog doesn’t like strollers, they are the bad, but he likely loves some tasty food, so this can be the good. Every time a stroller passes, your dog gets a treat, and eventually your dog isn’t worrying about the bad thing, but instead focused on the good that follows, this is like taking you child to the toy store if he is good at the doctor. If we apply this concept to a fear related response, the old thinking would tell us our dog should become more afraid of the stroller, as his fear is being rewarded with a treat and thus reinforced, but this isn’t what happens. The dog responds to the counter condition (when done properly) and becomes less fearful, therefore the reward is not reinforcing your dog’s fear because he does not become more afraid.

Your praise and comforting voice, is a reward for your dog too, especially if he isn’t new to you. This praise and comfort can be the good that follows the bad, especially when the bad is bad because of fear. The key to this working, I have found, is that your cannot be afraid of the things your dog is showing the fear of, because he will know your comfort isn’t real. If your dog spooks and get nervous about skate boards for example, it is probably easy for you to comfort your dog because you are not likely afraid of skate boards. When a skate board passes tell your dog “it’s ok, it’s just a skate board” in a comforting and stable voice. If the thing that makes your dog afraid, also makes you a bit afraid, then it will be best to just do what you can to get your dog out of that fear, and you too. If you have a little Maltese, and there is a big Shepherd in your neighborhood who makes you nervous, and your dog too, skip the comforting because you cannot comfort your dog while you are trying to comfort yourself.

I have been testing this very concept with my horse. Lately it hasn’t been difficult with all the changing snow piles, every time I go out to ride, there are different formations, that my horse is convinced are Polar Bears out to get him. I usually only get to go ride twice a week, and rarely two days in a row. But each time I have gone, for the last three weeks, I have tried comforting Saffron, my horse when he gets nervous about the snow piles. Before I started this, I would often deal with his fear by turning around, or waiting until he settled and could pass by, which could have taken up to 15 minutes in the past. Just this past weekend I went out to ride and after only 30 minutes I was able to walk my horse right up to the snow piles, and even through one big snow pile, without a flinch! His fear clearly has not only not gotten worse, but it has dissipated, even with my infrequent training sessions. Just imagine what you could do for your dog if you commit to two 5-minute sessions a day!

You should never flood your dog, or drop him into the deep end and see if he will learn to swim. Flooding is an ancient and inefficient way to try to deal with fears. Taking an animal and dropping him in the middle of his worst fears, will not only not work, it is cruel and can likely cause more problems. As I said you cannot punish fears out of you dog either. If your dog is anxious about being alone, so he barks and cries, you cannot use a “training” collar to correct this problem, because you are simply punishing your dog for saying he is afraid, this will not make him more comfortable and less anxious, it will do quite the opposite. Applying counter conditioning and desensitization needs to be done carefully, please consider consulting a professional if you feel your dog could benefit from a counter conditioning and desensitization protocol. At Pawsibilities we can help your dog to over come his fears with a humane and effective approach.

The Things You Shouldn’t Share with Your Dog

There are a lot of things in our environment that can be very hazardous to dogs. A lot of us have heard that chocolate is bad for dogs, but what else is on this list, and what can you do if your dog does ingest a poison? Hopefully this will help you to better understand those things that you need to keep far away from your dog, and what to do if your training and management fail.

It is a very good idea to teach your dog a formal “leave it” command. To me this means a command that teaches your dog the behavior of turning his head away, or backing away from an item that he will never get. This is not a parlor trick where you will release the “leave it” and allow your dog to “take” the item. If you have taught “leave it” this way, I would just teach the behavior the way I have described with a different command.

Human medications can be very hazardous to your dog. Ibuprofen, and antidepressants are just two examples of drugs that can be very dangerous. I find it is best to take any medications behind a closed door with your dog on the other side! Management is the safest way to deal with medications as your dog can dive for, and ingest a pill more quickly than a box of cookies.

Be very careful when applying your dog’s flea and tick prevention! If you have a small dog be very careful not to use a dose for a dog that is much larger, or be cautious not to use the entire vile if you are on the lower end of the suggested weight. Also be very careful about placement of the oil, use a fine tooth comb to separate the hair directly between your dog’s shoulder blades so you can get as close to the skin as possible. Be careful about petting the area, especially if you have children! Discard the empty vile by placing it a plastic bag, one of your dog’s poopy bags can be a good option, tying it tightly in a knot and bringing it directly to an outdoor trash. Don’t risk your dog getting into the garbage and eating this!

Some seemingly healthy foods are very dangerous for dogs. Avocados can be deadly, they contain persin which acts as a poison causing vomiting and diarrhea. Grapes, raisins, milk, onions, garlic cloves, and macadamia nuts are all to be avoided as well. When cooking with any of these foods, chocolate too, I find it best to block your dog out of your kitchen, or use your leash to tether him away from the area. This way if you drop something it will not cause him any harm. If he cries or begs then try a food stuffed toy, you can read more about food stuffed toys in my previous blog: The Kibble-Dispensing Toy Comparison. Some foods that aren’t too healthy for us can cause more problems for our dogs, such as alcohol, coffee, caffeine, and xylitol or artificial sweeteners, these are all to be avoided!

The products you use to clean your home can also be very hazardous to your dog. Some may seem obvious like nail polish remover, drain cleaner, and bleach, but others may be more surprising to you. PineSol and any pine cleaners are very bad for your dog. Laundry detergents can be very dangerous because they can have sweet smells that attract your dog, and can cause seizures if ingested. I would highly recommend cleaning your home while your dog is out, perhaps on a park run, or if nothing else, at least removed to another room. Also use caution when discarding and storing batteries, as a strong chewer could try to make toys of them and they are also poisonous! Finally human toothpaste can be deadly! Be careful with toothpaste, store it in a place your dog definitely cannot get to it, and throw it out directly outside when you have finished a tube! Only use pet approved tooth pastes when brushing your dog’s teeth.

You will also want to use caution when choosing flowers and plants for your home. Lilies, tulips, and azaleas can be dangerous for your dog. If you can’t place these plants out of your dog’s reach, then eliminating them from your home will be the safest way to deal with this. You can also teach you dogs to leave the plants alone, but it will be best to train this behavior with plants that are not poisonous, for obvious reasons!

Finally you want to use caution when choosing your dog’s food, treats, and toys. Keep an eye out for any recalls linked to your dog’s food as these happen. When choosing toys, don’t always choose the least expensive, even if your dog is very destructive. In fact the cheaper toys usually contain more sub par materials so when torn apart or ingested can be even worse for your dog. Tennis balls can cause problems for dogs for many reasons. Tennis balls and other toys that can be crushed or smushed, run the risk of reinflating in your dogs mouth or throat which can cause choking. Also a chewed up tennis ball is not made of good materials so remove it before your dog eats it! Be very cautious of treats made in China. Waggin’ Train Treats are also to be completely avoided, if you can find them, as the company has voluntary removed them from stores, but they have been responsible for many dog related deaths. Be cautious of other similar jerky type treats, such as Dogswell’s jerky treats. Always read the directions on your dog’s food and treats! Some treats will include an proper amount over a certain time, don’t over do it!

If you think your dog has ingested a poison, but you are not sure, you should contact a veterinarian immediately. The Animal Medical Center in New York City is open 24 hours:, and the ASPCA offers a poison control hotline: (888) 426-4435. There is a $65 consultation fee for this service. If you have seen your dog ingest a poison and can react fairly quickly to this, then you can give your dog 3% Hydrogen Peroxide. This will cause vomiting, and hopefully will cause your dog to vomit up the poison. I like to do this somewhere I don’t mind if my dog throws up and I begin to give him one capful of the peroxide until he begins to vomit. Be sure to give him plenty of water once he has thrown up.

The ASPCA’s center for poison control reports that their most common poison calls are for dogs who have ingested medications. Don’t let this be you! It is easy enough to shut a bathroom door, prepare a medication, take it and come out, so your dog has absolutely no chance of coming into contact with those medications. Take the time to manage your environment so you can keep your dog safe!