Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Retractable Leashes (Flexileads) -- good or bad?

Today I'm sharing some information from Dr. Mercoloa which which I heartily agree!

Retractable leashes are popular primarily because they aren't as confining as regular leashes, allowing dogs more freedom to sniff and poke around on walks. But unfortunately, there are many downsides to this type of leash.  Read more here:

10 Reasons Why You Should Not Use a Retractable Leash

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Training for a well mannered “café dog”

Would you like to have your dog calmly laying by your table at a sidewalk café, while you enjoy a coffee and good conversation with a friend?  You can train for this, and it does require training. 

While there are many restaurants with outside patios and tables where a dog would be allowed, in every case where the restaurant prohibits it, it is not because of the health codes (they’ll say it is because they don’t want to offend you).  It’s because dog owners who didn’t train their dogs ruined the dining experience for the other customers.  So let’s go on a campaign to create well mannered café dogs!

What is a well mannered café dog?  Let’s list the behaviors involved:


  1. Is calm and quiet in the presence of lots of distractions including:
    a.       Other dogs in the environment, including other dogs who are not well mannered.
    b.      Food servers walking up with trays of food that smell very tempting to the dog
    c.       Banging and crashing of dishes, glasses, plates
    d.      Food within reach and often under the table.
    e.      Food that is accidentally dropped on or near the dog.
2.       Able to “down stay” for long periods of time.

3.       Able to maneuver under a chair or the table—ie, willing to lay down where you want him to lay down, because as a polite customer you’re doing to make sure he is out of the foot traffic of other customers and the food servers.  This one takes a lot of special training and is very important.
4.      Able to stay in that position even as YOU carefully maneuver YOUR position.  You may scoot your chair out, move it a bit, etc.  None of this is a signal to your dog to get up.  

How would your dog do today against these criteria?  How would you set up a training plan to improve in these areas?  I’ll  address that in upcoming posts. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What's holding your training treats?

When you're training your dog, having your treats handy (and a variety of treats with different levels of value from the dog's perspective) is important.  The timing of your click is important, but the treat should follow quickly don't you don't want to have to be fumbling around for it. 

I'm constantly urging my students not to use ziplock baggies in their pockets for this-- it just creates too much fumbling and it creates an annoyance for them.  I just discovered this 4-pocket apron from a garage sale supply vendor that would be great for training.  It's rather girly, so would be better for women and girls, but I've also heard that Lowes and Home Depot sell "nail aprons" that accomplish the same thing for about a dollar.  This one here is about $3.

Check it out, and consider getting something like this if you're not already happy with your treat holder.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Getting your dog ready for houseguests

With the holidays coming up, I'm getting ready to have a house full of guests, including a 3 year old toddler.  So let's talk about what we dog owners need to do to make these visits relaxing and successful for the guests and the dogs.

I have 3 dogs, and by the time you add in 3 more adults, one toddler, and two more adults who aren't staying with us but who will be here at the house when they aren't sleeping at their hotel, that's a crowded situation.  With us, that's 7 adults and one toddler.  So the first thing is to be willing to confine the dogs a lot more than usual.

Recognize that having all of these people and all of this new stimulation is a very unusual situation for your dog, so don't expect the same level of obedience and attentiveness to you that you usually get.  And frankly, no one wants to hear you correcting or scolding your dogs, so lower the bar for them, and don't ask as much of them in this situation as you might be tempted to.  "Manage the environment" and confine them.

In our house, even though my dogs are good with kids and have never bitten anyone, we have a solid rule-- if there is a toddler about, the dogs are crated or kept out in the side porch unless we are specifically supervising.  We only bring in one at a time, on leash, and we personally supervise.  We tell the parent, "It's your job to supervise the child, and my job to supervise the dog".  I ask them to try to keep the child using "our quiet voice" and avoid screeching.  What do I look for?  I make sure we don't accidentally set up a situation where the toddler is approaching a dog whose back is facing a corner or a nearby wall (accidentally cornering the dog).  I give the dog room, an escape route if she's suddenly uncomfortable. I have the dog lie down, and let the toddler approach quietly.  I'm RIGHT THERE the whole time, watching my dog's body language to see any signs of stress or anxiety.  I have treats, and I am rewarding frequently.  I want my dogs to hope children will come around because when they do, the treats flow.

If the child is old enough to offer a treat, I show them how to "make a plate" with their hand, and "lower the plate so the dog can lick the treat off".  I demonstrate first, then I have the mom demonstrate.  This serves as a "warm up" for the dog, who by now knows what to expect from the child. 

Let's talk about leash handling.  I keep the dog on leash the whole time, and hold the leash about 12" from the collar, so the dog cannot bolt up (remember, the dog is on a "down" command).  I'm squatting.  Almost all dog bite incidents with children happen in the child's face, so you don't want to be standing up when the child's face and the dog are down by your knee. You have no control at that distance. Get right in there by your dog's head, so if the child suddenly gets super excited (as toddlers sometimes do!) and explodes into movement or thrilled squealing you are already at your dog's head and can provide calm reassurance and-- if necessary- grab a collar and prevent the dog from lunging at the child.  Children at that age have not yet mastered impulse control.  If the child bursts into motion that would be a good time for the mother to scoop her up into a hug-- ie, remove her from the dog who may be wondering what the heck just happened.  Sometimes, for example, a small child will be so thrilled after giving a dog a treat (and after feeling the dog's nose touch her hand as the dog takes the treat) that the child will squeal and start jumping up and down-- landing, perhaps, on a paw or a tail. So at the first sign of that, quick parental intervention is in order.  Talk about this kind of thing in advance with the parent so the two of you can work as a team. 

Do I sound overly cautious?  I should (though I try to exude calm and not convey any concern).  I want my family to know that I take the safety of their child very seriously, and while we don't go through this routine in other situations I want to err on the side of caution in order to make sure we never ever have a scary situation.  I don't ever want my family to be hesitant or reluctant to visit our home.  And I don't want my adorable niece to have a bad experience.  When she's older and more predictable, we'll lighten up, but at this age I want to give her fun, very controlled dog interactions.  Most people don't realize what kinds of situations result in a dog snapping at or biting a child, and most people are too casual about the interaction.  My dogs don't really know this child, so that makes it all the more important to provide what may seem like a ridiculous amount of supervision. 

When we have house guests we need to respect the fact that this is a situation that isn't trained for very frequently, so our dogs are not going to be fluent at handling it well.  If they are fluent at it, you can be pleasantly surprised but please don't expect it of them.

Dog bites with children often happen when the adults are distracted by something and the poor unsuspecting child does something innocently that makes the dog uncomfortable.  We don't have children so when you add in the other guests, our dogs are not used to having so much stimulation.  They might get crabby and might be inclined to complain about stuff that normally might not bother them.  Err on the side of caution.

This is the perfect occasion to crate your dogs and give them a break from all the activity.  If they do want to come in, use a secure indoor tether, and tether them out of the foot traffic (you don't want someone to trip on your dog).  If  your dog is not used to being tethered, the time to start this training is right now, way before the guests arrive.  My dogs enjoy being tethered in the room but only if I or my husband is within sight-- if we both leave the room and leave them with the other guests, they have worried looks when we return.  And again, I would not do this with a toddler in the house-- only with adults.

The truth is that no one loves your dogs like you do, and they are coming to visit you, not your dogs.  So be willing to make some special accommodations for your guests' benefit.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shaping a dog to play the piano

Dogs love to learn new things, and I took advantage of my Borzoi's tall height to "shape" her to play the piano. This was quick to do and it's now one of her favorite tricks. It's an example of "target training" (the target in this case is the piano). She got a click-treat for interacting in any way with the piano, and I soon changed the criteria for nose contact, then nose contact on the keys, then enough pressure to make a noise.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What we can learn from hurricane Sandy about disaster planning for pets

I’m watching the news from the east coast where hurricane Sandy is hitting. The mayor of Philadelphia said they have more than 360 people and 28 pets in their two shelters. Millions of people are without power.

So let’s have a serious talk about what you need to do now in order to be one of the few people who can navigate evacuations well with your pets (either from fire, from earthquake, or whatever may befall us on the west coast).

Let me start by saying that I firmly believe that every dog should be trained to be happy hanging out for a few hours in a comfortable crate. This is not something you should let lapse after your puppy housetraining is done. Having a crate-trained dog gives you much better options when it comes to evacuations.

My friend Nancy had to evacuate her home with her elderly Lab, Mozart. She had very little time, and in her haste she forgot her cellphone. Those of us who knew she was having to evacuate were trying to call her to offer her accommodations, but she didn’t get any of our messages. The small evacuation center that was provided for fire evacuees would not allow them to bring their dogs in. She had packed her SUV solid with her possessions, so she could not even recline her seats to sleep in the car. She ended up laying a blanket on the concrete in a parking lot, and trying to sleep like that with her dog leashed to her. It was miserable. And it was totally unnecessary.

Everyone should own a crate that folds up flat. In a hurry, you throw the crate into your car with your dog and other supplies, and you head for shelter. Because you have a crate trained dog, you have many more options than people with pets who aren’t used to being crated.

Don’t think you can impose a crate environment on your dog who isn’t used to being crated in the midst of the incredible stress and chaos of an evacuation center. Your dog may freak out, and will bark and panic and make the environment impossible for everyone else concerned. You need your dog to be cooperative, calm, and quiet.

This “call for crating” is especially relevant to healthcare workers or first responders who are obligated to drop everything and assist in emergencies, often for days at a time. It is a Joint Commission requirement that hospitals provide some kind of accommodation for the pets of their staff who are asked to come in and dedicate themselves to assisting for days at a time during a disaster (in these circumstances, the staff typically doesn’t go back and forth from home, and roads may in fact be impassable). People who report for duty with their well trained, crate trained dog will provide a much safer, calmer environment for their pet. The familiar bed and the familiar crate will help the dog remain calmer than it would otherwise. During a disaster, hospitals have enough to deal with without having to also try to handle out of control, unrestrained pets. Don’t let your pet be one of them.

In the rampant California fires a few years ago, I heard that county animal shelters were offering shelter for the pets of evacuees. How, I wondered, did they have the space to offer shelter, when we know their kennels are already full to the brim with dogs and cats who are hoping to be adopted? Were they suddenly euthanizing them? I would never want my dog’s need for shelter to possibly cause the euthanization of unadopted animals in the county shelters. And I can only imagine how stressful it would be for my dogs to be separated from me and put into a county shelter kennel, with other dogs who are panicking at being put there as well. Instead, my dogs will be safely crated with their own beds and water bowls, and I will reduce my impact on the emergency response system. I’ll have access to them, I can move them around as needed, and can retain much more control over their care and welfare.

Every dog—EVERY dog should be crate-trained. It makes it easier for your friends to take your dog in during an emergency. It makes it easier for you to travel and vacation with your dog. And it gives you a lot more control and options during a disaster.