Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are you smarter than a border collie?

There's "caterpillar," "decoy," "tentacle," "bouncy" and, of course, "ball." If Chaser made a dictionary filled with all the words she knows, it would have many times the number that the average dog understands. The 6-year-old border collie boasts an astonishing vocabulary, and knows the names of 1,022 toys that she has been taught over the past three years.

Allison Reid and John Pilley, two psychologists at South Carolina's Wofford College, worked with Chaser in an intensive training program that included introducing new toy names one by one.

According to New Scientist, they tested her regularly to make sure she had retained the words — and she consistently did well. In total, the dog completed 838 of these tests over three years and never got fewer than 18 names right out of 20. She can also categorize them according to function and shape, something children learn to do around the age of 3.

Before Chaser, the dog who knew the most number of words was Rico, who trained at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He had a "vocabulary" of 200.

"We wanted to see if there was a limit to the number of words a dog could understand, and if they could understand the name of an object rather than just respond to a command related to an object, such as fetch," Dr. Reid told the Daily Mail. "We're not saying this means dogs can learn language in the same way children do, but it does show they are capable of learning many more words than might have been thought."


Whenever I find something really good, I'll share it with you. Well all my trainer friends are going nuts over this toy from Premier Pets. You put kibbles in the plastic jug part (the bottom unscrews for this) and your dog plays at getting them out.

This is a HIGH VALUE toy and you can use this to assist your training. Let's say, for example, you've been working on the "come" command. Your dog is used to getting a click and a treat for coming when called, but if you mix up the reward a bit and introduce something amazingly wonderful, you can plan to pull THIS out from under your jacket and give it to your dog to play with for a few minutes. Dogs love surprises.

Remember, your dog should not have constant access to all its toys all the time. That creates boredom. Get some good ones and save them to use as a reward. In order to "rev up their value" in the dog's eyes, introduce them the first time to your dog fully loaded with kibbles and a few smelly soft treats (a few bits of cheddar cheese, for example, or -- and use this very sparingly-- a few pieces of turkey hot dog ). Hold the toy and show it to your dog like it's the most prized possesion you've ever had. Act playful and happy and pretend to eat and nibble at the toy. Get that, "Oh boy, look what I'VE got!" look on your face. Run around the room with it and then let your dog smell it. Play with it together a bit, then once your dog loves it too, bring out another treat and trade your dog for the new toy (don't say "come" though-- don't ever say "come" and take your dog's toy away-- that makes you a Grinch). Now whisk it away and bring it out again when you want to reward a behavior.

Another example of using this kind of toy would be to give it to your dog when you put him into his crate and have to leave him alone for awhile (these are sturdy but if your dog is large and strong and is in the super chewy-destructive stage, don't leave any toy with him while he's unattended. You could be paying a vet to fish plastic out of his intestines, if you do!). Those of you who have dogs who get anxious when you leave can hide a few of these in the yard for your dog to find and interact with in your absence. (Stuffing and freezing some Natural Balance semi-moist dog food into a Kong toy is good for that, too).

You can get these Tug-A-Jugs in all sizes at Centinela in Redondo Beach. Pet Foods Market in Lunada Bay doesn't carry them, I checked (rats, because I love that store and want to support it). Petco in Rolling Hills has one small and two mediums in stock right now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

116 Borzois had to be rescued

I encourage anyone interested in adopting a dog to check out these wonderful, sweet, beautiful Borzoi that were placed into the care of the National Borzoi Rescue Foundation.  I am especially in love with "Reba" and want to see her go to a great home ASAP.

My Borzoi, Bella, has been a complete joy and I encourage you to consider this elegant, gentle breed for your family.   These dogs are sort of like greyhounds with beautiful, soft fur (but not fur as long or difficult to groom as the Afghan Hound!).

This rescue borzoi has my heart-- now she just needs a home

I'm putting the spotlight on little Reba, a small female 2-3 yr old Borzoi who is in rescue and needs a home.  I'd take

Clicker Training in the Equine World: An Interview with Alexandra Kurland

I love this interview with author and horse trainer Alexandra Kurland about how she uses clicker training with horses. I know people who think the Parelli method of Natural Horsemanship is great, but when I viewed the training DVDs for it I saw inconsistencies in cueing and cues that were actually slightly aversive. It's not awful, but it's not as good as clicker training in my humble opinion. I beg anyone involved with horses and ponies to learn about clicker training. It's non-coercive, effective, and fun for the horse. That's my kind of training!

Clicker Training in the Equine World: An Interview with Alexandra Kurland

Monday, November 8, 2010

Clicker training-- keep it simple, silly...

Mary Hunter writes a wonderful blog about her experience clicker training a variety of animals (mostly horses and now, two new pet rats).  The principals of clicker training a horse or a rat or a whale or a fish are exactly the same as they are for clicker training a dog. 

Exactly the same.

So are you smarter than a 5th grader?  Is your dog smarter than a rat?  Your dog certainly has a larger and more complex brain than a rat (with all due respect to rats, which are fine creatures with a lot of intelligence). 

In this post on her blog, she gives some important reminders of how to set up your training sessions so your totally-novice student (the animal) can be most successful and can focus on the training session at hand.

1. Remove Distractions

2. Limit the environment
3. Use a high value treat
4. Plan for optimal food delivery
5. Keep sessions short

She has good stuff to say about each of these points.  Check it out.

Happy training!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

About the upcoming AKC–Eukanuba National Championship (Dec 4-5)

The AKC–Eukanuba National Championship is an invitational dog show held at the end of the year.  This year it's at the Long Beach Convention Center (for the last time, sadly-- the show is moving to Florida after this).  As an invitational, the show is only open to dogs who qualify and who are invited by the AKC to compete at this "cream of the crop" show.  For details on what qualifies a dog to be invited to this show, click here.  So everyone who's allowed in to this show has been invited and has entered (the entry deadline was Nov. 3).

The AKC–Eukanuba National Championship will again offer the largest cash prizes in dog show history.
More than $225,000 will be awarded to the winners of the show.  The breakdown of prize money is as follows:

Best in Show .....................................................$50,000
Best in Show Breeder ..........................................$15,000
Group I Winners ...................................................$1,500
Group II Winners ..................................................$1,000
Group III Winners ...................................................$750
Group IV Winners.....................................................$500
Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show.............................$15,000
Bred-by-Exhibitor Group I Winners ..........................$1,500
Bred-by-Exhibitor Group II Winners ........................$1,000
Bred-by-Exhibitor Group III Winners ..........................$750
Bred-by-Exhibitor Group IV Winners............................$500
Best of Breed/Variety Winners ...................................$200
Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Breed Winners .....................$200
Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed/Variety Winners ..$100

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dog food made from high quality grass-fed beef is now available.

I've been concerned about the genetically modified corn and soybeans fed to the cows in our country for a long time, because there has been absolutely no requirement to test the safety of those grains for animal or human consumption.  If the cows eat it and you eat that meat, it's in your food chain too.  And in your dog's.  Finally, there is a dog food made from grass-fed beef.  Even if it costs more than other premium dog foods, this is worth looking at.  I consider The Whole Dog Journal to be the ultimate source for my food recommendations, and I'm waiting to hear what they think about this food, how they rate it.

Here's the info about the new food:

First-Ever Pet Food Line Made From Organic, Grass-Fed Beef Provides a Host of Pet Health and Environmental Benefits

PR Newswire
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1, 2010

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- After decades of sitting, begging and playing dead; extensive lobbying efforts within the canine community have finally been rewarded – the quality meat people eat is finally available in a pet food. With the introduction of the Original Pet Food Company's complete line of dog and cat meals made from organic, grass-fed beef, the days of pets relying upon table scraps is over.

"With the sustainable, organic, grass-fed beef revolution well underway, we believe it's high time for the same quality meats to make their way from the dinner plate to the pet bowl," said Melissa McGinnis, the host of hit web series Greenopolis TV and founder of Original Pet Food Company. Melissa is on a mission to bring humane and sustainable agriculture practices to the $47 billion pet food industry(1). Pet food made from organic, grass-fed beef promotes better pet health, environmental responsibility and economic vitality.

Dogs and cats are no different from humans in the fact that their bodies were not designed to process all of the artificial hormones, preservatives and additives that entered the food supply in the past century. Organic, grass-fed beef is high in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), shown to reduce cardiovascular disease and the growth of cancerous tumors. By eating a diet low in saturated fat and free of additives, preservatives and fillers, pets will enjoy shinier coats, healthier skin and improved digestion.

Original Pet Food Company uses only the highest quality grass-fed beef from Uruguay. Their cattle graze on the Pampas, the fertile grasslands of Uruguay and are never confined to feedlots or factory farms. The cows are never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Slaughter is done with the highest humane standards. The meat is processed quickly and cooked only once for optimum flavor and nutrition. Synthetic colors or flavors are never added.

In addition to the numerous health benefits of grass-fed beef, there is also a positive environmental impact. More than 50% of all grain and corn grown in the U.S. is fed to livestock, adding to the buildup of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the soil and water. This diet is harmful to the health of cows, whose stomachs are specially designed to break down the cellulose in grass, leading to disease and an epidemic of antibiotic use. Grazing cattle on Pampas grasses, by contrast, is a natural feeding method that causes none of the pollution problems associated with feedlots and factory farms (including that of waste management). By supporting farms in Uruguay, the local economy is boosted, the biodiversity of the Pampas is preserved, and sustainable farming is encouraged throughout the country.

About Original Pet Food Company

Based in Los Angeles, California, Original Pet Food Company offers complete lines of canned dog and cat foods, featuring organic, grass-fed beef. Other flavors include chicken and fish that are also free of artificial hormones and fillers. These products are currently available at independent pet supply retailers in California and Nevada, with more states to be added in early 2011. To find a store and learn more about the company, visit:

(1) American Pet Products Association, 2010 Member Survey.

SOURCE Original Pet Food Company

Web Site:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting your dog ready for holiday photos

This year I'm determined to get Christmas cards out in December.  I've completely failed to do them at all the past two years, and my friends must think I don't care about them.  I do care about them!  I just wasn't organized.

So it's October and I am determined to get it all organized, photographed, and written this month.  (I know, I'd better hurry up).  So I thought I'd share some tips with you about including your dog in the holiday photo.

  1. Do include your dog, but don't exclude yourself.  Your friends and family want to see you in the photo.
  2. Figure out what you want the photo to look like.  And realize that you probably need to do some training sessions to prep your dog for photo session.
    1. If at all possible, enlist the help of a friend to be the photographer.
    2. If there are props involved, introduce them well in advance to your dog by bringing them out, and then clicking and treating (for no reason, just for the presence of the props).  After a few C/Ts, but the prop away and the party stops for 3 minutes.  Now bring the prop out and the party starts up again.  This is called "classical conditioning" and it creates a happy response in the dog when the prop is presented.
    3. Think through the new behaviors you'll have to train for the photo...."Take" and "hold" behaviors are required for a dog who's expected to hold the handles of a gift bag in the photo.  A dog who is expected to have a Christmas wreath around his neck must learn how to voluntarily put his head through the opening, and sit and stay with the prop on.  Create a training plan for any behaviors you need, and start training a few weeks before the photo session. 
  3. Ideas for photos:
    1. Your dog is on a table and holds a champagne glass in his mouth, looking at the camera, and you hold a glass, standing behind him.  The champagne bottle is on the table next to the dog.  You raise glass in toast 
    2. You stuff some Santa legs up your chimney, like Santa is coming out, and you and the dog stand at the fireplace looking up at the legs like you're wondering how to help. Or better yet, get your dog to pull/attack the legs while
    3. Your dog is on a table, and you're posed behind him (on the table, or behind it)... he's in a big wrapped box that's disheveled, like it's been popped open. He's in the midst of a bunch of tissue paper.  He's posing with his feet on the edge of the box (like he's sitting up, resting paws on the edge of box)
    4. Dog is on table, in front of a plate of cookies that say "For Santa".... he is obediently "leaving it" but looking at the cookies with great interest.  You're reaching for a cookie, with your other hand at your lip in the "shhhh" position...  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Repair the squeaker in your dog's toy

Once your dog eviscerates its toy and the squeaker is either pulled out and lost or punctured, you can get inexpensive replacements here

You can also make inexpensive dog toys with old socks-- put a few squeakers in the sock, and sew the top closed.  Don't use socks if your pup is young and is still learning what's legal to chew and what's not!  You can also sew a tube for this from an old towel.

If you make it the right size to insert an empty plastic water bottle, your dog will also enjoy crunching that flat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

News on Pet Airways (the pets-only airline)

I've been following the progress of Pet Airways, an ingenius business that provides air transportation for pets and only pets.  Located in small airports very close to major airports, the idea is that you'd fly on the main airline and your pet would fly on this side airline. They keep all the pets in crates in the cabin, not the cargo hold, making it much MUCH safer and more comfortable for the pets.  Major airlines will not even consider flying a pet during many months with high temperature risk, and I wouldn't consider it either. 

But Pet Airways solves that problem.  They've been adding flights and destinations.  They can operate economically because they don't have to have all the amenities that commercial consumer airlines have to have.  They DO have a staff person who rides in the cabin and checks on all the animals every 15 minutes. 

So I'm happy to see that the company is doing well.  Here is an analyst's enthusiastic report about them.  I didn't realize they had gone public, and I don't own stock in them but am watching them. 

This is one more reason all dogs should be crate trained!  Air travel will be less stressful for your dog is she's already accustomed to hanging out in a crate for awhile.  Crates = a safe place to hang out.

What are your thoughts about air travel and pets?  Share them in a comment below!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dressing up dogs for Halloween?

I have a confession to make.  I am not normally a Scrooge, but I'm very bah humbug when it comes to people dressing up their dogs in costumes.  I know everyone does it, but when they do I can't help but look at them and hope they get professional therapy for it. 

It's a free country, folks can do what they want.  I have a friend with a Chihuahua that she dresses in little outfits to match HER outfits.  She calls her dog a "Bling Chihuahua"-- her accessorizing him is the focal point of their relationship.  That poor dog.

Some major brand pet stores are now selling little outfits that look like infant clothing.  They're high-margin pet accessories for little dogs.  They're encouraging the madness.  I admit to having a few high-margin pet accessories of my own-- my Borzoi has a few really magnificent collars from Two Hounds Design.  She wears them all the time though, they're collars.  It's not a tutu or a bee costume with wings and antennae.

I'm not opposed to beauty.  I'm opposed to people thinking their dogs are little dolls to be dressed up for their own amusement.  It's gross.  Dogs are already beautiful.  They don't need to be made ridiculous.

Dogs may need a jacket for added warmth-- I'm OK with that, of course, and it can be beautiful.  But I'm not a fan of the dog costume thing.  I love a party opportunity to get people together for dog training games, but you won't see me dressing my dog in a costume.  It's just undignified.

I laughed the other day when I picked my dog up from the groomer and saw that the kennel offered an extra service to dogs boarded there (for a fee of course)-- they could have a bedtime story read to them.  A bedtime story read to them.  I laughed out loud.

I hope everyone has a very fun and happy Halloween, and that their dogs can get through it without being transformed into a Yoda, or a Zoro, or a hot dog, etc.   Teach your dog to hold the handle of a little plastic pumpkin for trick or treating and sit up and beg for a treat with it.  That's cute. 

Having said all this, though, I will leave this topic sharing a fun video from fellow trainer Emily Larlham, from San Diego.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Traveling with our dogs

We just got back from 5 days in San Luis Obispo, enjoying the annual plein air painting art festival.  We took all three dogs with us.  We stayed at a lovely vacation rental right in town that doesn't allow dogs, but that's OK, because our dogs never came inside it.  Because they're crate-trained and because they each have their own crate in the car, they happily slept there each night.

The first few days were quite hot so we took a great deal of care to ensure that they were always cool and safe.  We parked in open, covered parking garages, leaving windows wide open with a crate fan blowing on the door of each crate, to ensure a comfortable and constant air flow throughout the car. 

Because they travel so well we were able to zip out to the dog park each day, and let them play there for a bit and get some exercise.  But the biggest bonus was being able to take them to an area of the beach in Morro Bay where you can let them run off leash.  Bella, our Borzoi, ran like the wind and it was magnificently beautiful.  Our Lab convinced her to go into the water up to her knees, which was a first.  We all had a blast.  And you can tick off the behaviors that were previously trained to enable this: a solid recall, and great socialization skills.

We'd go out to dinner each night and then take a long walk through the little town with all three dogs, giving them another chance to stretch and get some exercise (skills:  loose-leash walking, heeling, "leave-it", and great socialization).  Other times we'd take one out for various activities and leave the other two in, rotating them so each got some one-on-one time (for example, while we were watching the artists create paintings in the mission plaza on Saturday morning, we traded the dogs off but never brought all 3 out at once).   At one point we both had some work to do on our laptops, and we set the dogs up on their beds (taken from their crates) on a beautiful wrap-around porch at the home we rented, and tethered each dog to the railing to keep them on their beds  (skills: "down").  We opened the french doors and let them hang out with us, meaning they could see us but they could not come in the house with us.  They enjoyed it an snoozed and were very relaxed.

We drove up to Cambria for a day and the dogs of course came along for the ride.  It was just a joy to have them with us and better yet, it was easy because they are so well trained.  I don't say that to brag, I say that to encourage you to do the same-- because it enables you to spend much more time with your dog in the long run.  They had much more fun than they would have if we had left them home with a dog sitter coming in to care for them.

Think about how you can increase your bond and your time with your dog by training him to be easy to travel with.  Share your experiences and comments with us here at the blog!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Traveling with your dog

We just got back from a wonderful vacation in San Luis Obispo, and we took our three dogs.  This article will share some of the techniques we've learned over the years to make it very enjoyable and easy to travel with our dogs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The CGC test is coming in October!

Years ago the American Kennel Club developed an objective standard of good canine public behavior called the Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) test and certificate, to help people assess their dog’s suitability to be out in public with them based on its behavior, not its breed(s).

I just learned last night that the Lomita Obedience Training Club (of which I am a member)will be offering the test in October.

In my opinion, the skill level required to pass the CGC is the minimum that every dog and owner should have. So I'm writing to encourage you to plan to take it. The test is only going to cost $5.00 to take, and if you pass you get a nice certificate from the AKC and you also get to send your dog's photo with a brief paragraph to me, to be included in the Canine Good Citizenship Hall of Fame at

The skills needed are intermediate level skills-- if you've successfully completed the entire curriculum for a beginning level class you'll only need a little more work to pass the CGC. (Examples of exercises in the test include walking up to another person who also has a dog on leash, and greeting him by shaking his hand, while your dog either sits or stands quietly at your side and does not reach over to sniff or interact with the other dog. Another example is having your dog stand quietly for an exam while a stranger brushes your dog and does some simple handling. So you can get an idea of the kind of practice and distraction training that your dog will need).

For more information about the CGC test, including a description of all the exercises, go to .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where to take your dog out in public (South Bay)

If you have taken enough dog training to be at the point where you are practicing many of your behaviors out in "more distracting settings", I can't emphasize enough how useful and important this is, and in order to encourage you in this effort I wanted to share with you some of the many places I go with my own dogs. Please see below. Keep in mind that your dog will never do as well in a new environment the first time as he or she will do on the second, third, and fourth visit. So go out often with your dog, and go to the same places over and over again. Each time you go, there will be new distractions but your dog will also be getting used to the environment and to that AMOUNT of stimulation all at once.

Don't forget to bring high value treats. Here are some places I like to go:

1) The "Promenade" or whatever they're calling it these days-- the shops below Peninsula Center, where the Equinox gym is. There's a ton of stuff you can work on here--

(a) going up and down stairs without your dog pulling (work on this the same way you work on "let's go"

(b) going into the elevator, asking your dog to sit, and going up to the upper floor (don't EVER take your dog on an escalator- I know of a

dog who became frightened, he layed down in fear, and his tail and penis got stuck in the moving parts. It's toooo dangerous)

(c) walking around and doing a series of short sits and downs near the fountain that squirts water up

(d) walk over to the window where you can see into the ice rink, and let your dog see that. Go to the toy store where kids ride some scooter toys out in front, and do some sits at a safe distance. Be prepared to gently and immediately intervene any time a child approaches you and your dog. If you have any qualms about the child's controllability, or your dog's comfort, act like you suddenly forgot your keys in the parking lot and turn and zoom off in that direction with your dog. You can hide the fact that you are avoiding the child. If you do want to interact, be prepared to hand the child a treat to give to your dog if your dog will take it gently. If your dog won't take it gently, let's work on that at home. Meanwhile, you can give the treat to the child, and then flatten your own hand like a plate, and say, "Give it to Fido by putting it in my hand" (and then you immediately let your dog take it from your hand), and then say, "Oh, he liked that, thank you for giving him a treat".

(e) I use the flat planter benches around a lot of the landscaping as a bit of agility practice, inviting my dog to hop up there, and using a treat to lure him along (so he stays on the flat part and doesn't fall off). I say "off" as he hops off. I say "jump" as he hops onto it. "Jump" means jump your whole body onto something (the grooming table, the sofa, the bench) and "up" means "put your front feet up on this surface" (the wall, my lap, etc).

(f) In these environments, keep your dog close to you-- don't use a flexi-lead, for example. Don't tie him up and go inside to order a Starbucks coffee (your dogs aren't ready for that yet). These environments ARE a good place to do the recall game at a relatively short distance (15 feet). If the Promenade is really quiet, you could do a longer distance, but do it quickly and discreetly-- the security guards get nervous when they see a dog on a longer leash, doing an exercise that takes up a lot of room. Out of courtesy, only do this when you won't be disrupting foot traffic or creating an uncontrolled situation. The security guards will make themselves seen and will quietly check you out. Show them that you're responsible and know what you're doing. They'll be relieved and will leave you alone.

(2) Terranea :Walk all over, and sit for a bit in one of the upholstered chairs outside, by the conference rooms, and practice having your dog lay by your feet and stay laying there. I hope I don’t need to tell you that it would be bad manners to let the dog up on the furniture there, ever. At Terranea there are a lot of people walking their dogs, especially little dogs, and many of those dogs are on flexi-leads and will be allowed by their owners to zoom over to you. Good practice for “leave it”, and making your dog walk away and stay focused on you. Please, no flexi-leads here either. This is an expensive resort, so take extra care about where you let your dog eliminate—as a courtesy, try to make it happen out of sight of the guests. If it’s the kind that needs picking up, as always, baggie it immediately and then look for a trash in a location that won’t create a nasty smell for the guests. Don’t deposit it by the pool, for example.

By the way, I’m not opposed to letting dogs sniff and interact, but I don’t feel obligated to do it with a every dog and person on the street—the opportunity is actually more valuable to me as a chance to practice “leave it” and focus. As long as your dog is getting lots of appropriate playtime with other dogs, he doesn’t NEED to stop and greet and sniff and interact with every dog on the street. I don’t want him to think that just because we see another dog or another dog is walking by it automatically means we’re going to greet them and interact. If you allow that, you create a dog that is unable to focus in the presence of another dog.

(3) Riviera Village: Catalina Avenue is a rich opportunity to practice walking calmly past café tables full of people and food (sometimes with a dog or two near the table as well). Pay close attention as you enter these situations—if there is a dog at the table and the owner is not paying attention, that dog may bolt and react when your dog approaches, which can scare your dog. So look to see if there is room to step away from the table as you pass if necessary—or is there a crowd of people standing there? Can you wait a moment until they move? If you see a dog at table reacting to other dogs, before you go by do the table a favor and walk around it the other way, giving them wide berth. When we dog owners show that kind of courtesy in doing what we can to avoid a barking spectacle (no matter whose dog is barking), everyone appreciates it. We like to walk all the way up one side of the street, down to the Esplanade along the upper part of the beach walk, and then back to Catalina Ave and down the other side of the street. (Note that you cannot take your dog down to the Strand along the beach in Redondo, sadly, but people walk along the upper sidewalk by the street).

(4) The grocery store: Keep your dog safely in your car (see my blog post about that) and after you shop and load your groceries into your car, take your dog out for a few minutes of loose leash walking and sits and stays in the parking lot and along the front of the store. The racket of the carts and the doors opening and the customers going in and out is great for distraction training.

(5) Del Amo mall (the outside section, where PF Chang’s is). Walk your dog around, practicing some basic behaviors. Great distractions from people walking, the dangling strings of lights above, the sounds bouncing off the buildings, water features, a large escalator, a staircase to work with, an elevator between floors. Do some backup-recalls and some down-stays.

Some stores don’t explicitly DISALLOW dogs but please don’t bring your dog into a store unless he is really ready for it and able to behave perfectly, and unless you are really able to focus on him. If you have a male, keep an extra eye on him to make sure he doesn’t mark a vertical surface—sometimes the unusual smells in a store can spark this behavior even in dogs who don’t normally do this. I’ve brought my dog into hardware stores, certain bookstores, a cosmetics store (Origins), and a few others.

If you discover that you’re the kind of person who wishes you lived in Europe where people are allowed to bring their dogs almost everywhere, please consider becoming a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, which breeds and trains service dogs to assist people with mobility impairments. I’ve done 7 puppies for them, and 3 for Guide Dogs of America. Please ask me about it if you’d like to learn more.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to cut up your Natural Balance into dog treats

What's the most efficient (and safe) way to cut up the large salami-shaped Natural Balance semi-moist dog food into little treats we can use in training?  This video shows you!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

10 etiquette tips for dogs at church

In honor of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, which is now welcoming “well behaved dogs” at all services, I’m offering this blog entry on the subject of what constitutes a well behaved dog in a church setting.  This is offered with a special thanks to the spiritual community that welcomed the service dog puppies (Nika and Glenna) we raised while members at this church.

1.  Does the dog lay down and stay down despite the presence of other dogs and people, for at least 20 minutes at a time, until signaled by you to get up?  Practicing a very long down that teaches your dog to withstand boredomis important (no offense to the sermon, but staying down for so long IS boring for a dog). You can put your foot on the leash, but make sure you leave about 12” of slack so you’re not putting constant pressure on your dog’s collar.

2.  Will your dog lay in a position that minimizes the space he takes up?  If the chairs are conducive to allowing a dog to lay under them, work at home to teach your dog to go under the chair. (I don’t believe the chairs at SGN are conducive to this, though, unless the dog is kind of small).  Otherwise, you can seek out a seat before the service at the end of the aisle so your dog is not blocking people’s ability to take a seat (ie, they don’t have to step over you and your dog).

3.  Can you exit discreetly if your dog is suddenly restless, which may be a signal that he has to eliminate?  Sitting at the end of an aisle is helpful for this.

4.  Bring great treats in a fanny pack, and quietly and periodically reinforce your dog for good, calm, quiet behavior.  Reward that, and you’ll get more of it over time.

5.  Keep your dog on a very short leash at all times.  In other words, if your dog is on a 6 foot leash, don’t allow him to zoom to the end of it to greet another dog or child or person or whatever.  You lose a lot of control that way, and take up a LOT of space.  Have your dog sit and stay at your side, and if you have to, step on the leash so your dog has to stay close to you (this allows you to relax a bit, by “parking” your dog like this).  Teach your dog quiet, polite greetings, and give people a treat to give to your dog.  If your dog is laying down, encourage people to offer the treat low, at the dog’s head level, so the dog doesn’t have to pop up to get it.  Obviously, teach your dog to take treats gently.

6.  Pay attention to what your dog is doing at all times.  Don’t take this for granted.  There is a lot of beautiful, valuable stuff at SGN (or anywhere you take your dog) and if you don’t pay attention accidents can happen.  I once saw a very well-trained service dog (not mine, thank goodness) lift its leg and pee on a library bookshelf.  The owner completely missed it, and I had to alert her.  Dogs are not perfect.  So be vigilent about what’s going on – if a toddler is approaching your dog, intervene to supervise the interaction.  If it’s a quiet time in the service (like the blessing around the table before communion), stand on the periphery, where the kids won’t be tempted to play with the dog rather than pay attention to the service.  If you see a kid honing in on you, feel free to discreetly move to a different spot to discourage the interaction at the moment.  In other words, the dogs aren’t there to turn church into a dog park—they’re intended to be quiet, well mannered companions to a spiritual experience. 

7.  Tape the tags on your dog’s collar so they won’t make noise as your dog moves and shifts during the service.  If your dog is boney and won’t be comfortable laying on the floor, bring a folded-up towel for him to lay on which will help reduce his need to shift around a lot.

8.  Potty your dog before you come, and don't use the beautiful garden in the front of the building to do it.  Bring an extra baggie with you in case your dog has to eliminate-- pick it up immediately and find an outside trash can for disposal.  If you see another dog owner who needs a baggie, offer one.  If your dog is new to being in crowded settings like a church service, he may have to pee again sooner than you would normally expect, so pay close attention to his body language, and if in doubt, zip outside discretely and take care of it.

9.  Train your dog using positive-reinforcement methods, and I especially recommend clicker training.  You can discreetly click with your tongue in a church setting and it won’t be noticed.

10. Be sure to thank the staff who has created this policy of welcoming well mannered dogs to church, which is a wonderful policy.  Let’s not blow it.  Let’s make sure all the dogs have very impressive manners, manners so wonderful that if there was more room on the Dancing Saints mural, your dog would be up there, too!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is your dog at risk for Ivermectin sensitivity?

If you know someone who has a herding breed or a dog who might have some herding breed mixed in (such as Australian shepherd, German shepherd, Sheltie, Corgi, Border collie, smooth or rough-coated collie, Bearded collie, etc) please tell them that there is an identified gene that causes an extreme toxic reaction to the drug used in the heartworm medication called Heartgard (the drug is called Ivermectin). 

This drug is used for a few issues, including some forms of mange.  If you think you may have some herding breed DNA in your dog (or if you want to make sure your dog doesn't have this gene) there is a DNA test you can order from the Univ. of Washington, online, and it costs $70.  Here is the url for it:

I have a blue merle Sheltie, and we know for sure that blue merle dogs of any kind should not be given Ivermectin (Heartguard).  So I'll use an alternate heartworm prevention medication for him.  I'm having my Borzoi tested as an extra precaution, since Borzois are known to be sensitive to certain medications (and way back in time, Borzois were created as a breed using-- among other breeds-- collies. Silken Windhounds are known to be one of the breeds at risk for Ivermectin sensitivity, though Borzois aren't on the list.  I'm getting her tested anyway).  I know my lab/golden mix is fine.

Ginger nearly died from Ivermectin toxicity
To read of the surprising experience of an owner of an Aussie-Golden mix, Ginger, click here

If you have a mixed breed dog adopted from a rescue group, you may not really know what your dog's DNA composition is.  It's good to know about Ivermectin sensitivity and the availability of this test.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vaccinating against kennel cough

We are fostering a rescue dog (adorable Finn-- check out his special blog with video and details here )and in order to protect my dogs from any viruses or bacteria he may have from the animal shelter, I should have vaccinated them against kennel cough a few weeks before we fostered him. But the series of events didn't happen that way, and I hadn't kept up with my dogs' bordatella (kennel cough) vaccinations so they are, in fact, vulnerable.  Here is a video of what kennel cough sounds like (and it can also sound worse than this):

But it's not a big deal. It's like being vulnerable to a cold. But the coughing that accompanies kennel cough can keep a light sleeper like me awake at night. So even though I'm late in doing this, I decided to catch up and get my dogs vaccinated.

I found out that many places around the South Bay offer vaccination clinics on Saturdays, but we didn't think of this till late Saturday night so we missed them. The cost for a bordatella vaccination is $20 per dog (and it lasts about 6 months).

I logged onto, and was able to order 6 doses (an entire year's worth) for all 3 dogs for $8 per dose (which includes the $23 overnight shipping charge). And they give you points for previous orders, so I even got a further discount. Ya gotta love that. I like the savings but the real perk here is that they'll have it to me by Tuesday at the latest, allowing me to vaccinate my dogs and not have to wait for a vaccination clinic next Saturday. The vaccine takes at least a week to kick in, so if my dogs have already been exposed to kennel cough from other dogs at the dog park, or from our rescue dog, it's too late to stop it. But as I said, it's not a big deal.

I also vaccinate my own dogs for distemper and parvo, using this same company (and they sell the syringes and needles too). I'm vaccinating no more than every 3 years for these, which is what the American Veterinary Association recommends. (I mention this because many boarding kennels still expect you to have your dog vaccinated for these once a year, and that's not in your dog's best interest).

For more info on kennel cough, watch this video:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Study: Driving under influence of pets is a danger

Safety experts have a new pet peeve related to distracted driving.

In addition to texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, lap dogs and other pets left unrestrained inside moving vehicles pose a major distraction that could be deadly, a new study released Wednesday warns motorists.

About two-thirds of dog owners surveyed by the AAA organization said they routinely drive while petting or playing with their dogs, sometimes even giving them food or water while maneuvering through traffic.

It has been a common sight for many years to see dogs hanging their heads out of open car windows with their ears flapping in the breeze. But in the cocoon that the automobile has become, more drivers are nonchalantly cradling their dogs atop their laps or perching the animals on their chests with the pet's front paws clutching the driver's neck or shoulders.
It's risky behavior for the driver and dangerous for the pets, too.

For the full article, click here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Leaving your dog in your car

Is it practical to expect that we would never leave our dogs in our cars? I don't think so. I'm an advocate of taking your dog with you during the day as much as you can, of getting her out in public as much as you can, and training her in as many different places as possible. If you recently adopted a dog, the first few weeks run the highest risk of your new dog escaping from your yard, and taking her with you in the car (in a crate) keeps her safe and gives you many more opportunities to interact and bond and train during those first few weeks.

This means then that there will be times when you need to leave your dog in the car while you're inside a place that doesn't allow dogs. Here's what you need to know:

1. It's not illegal to leave your dog in a car, despite what you may have heard. It IS illegal to leave your dog in unsafe conditions, like enclosed in a hot car, (even if the windows are down a bit-- if it's hot in there, it's not appropriate. I hope I don't have to tell you that!). Animal control officers will get called out by someone complaining about a dog "locked in a hot car" and it's their judgment call whether the situation is dangerous for the dog or not. (Often people will call without knowing if it's unsafe for the dog or not-- many people think it's illegal to have a dog left in a car at all). If the officers have any concern for the dog they are authorized to break into your car and take the dog. They don't do this lightly, don't worry. So have your cellphone number on the crate so if they have a concern they can call you. (They will also use your license plate number to look up who owns this car). Your strategy should be to make it obvious that the environment inside the car is not hot, and to make it easy for someone to contact you if they are concerned. Having a large thermometer showing the temperature in your car is not a bad idea. That way, anyone can look and know it's all OK. You can even post a card that says "this dog is comfortable and cool". If people realize you've gone to great lengths to ensure the dog's safety, they're less likely to think they're witnessing an unsafe situation.

2. There are tremendous advantages to having your dog ride in her own crate while in your car. I recommend having a a wire open-air crate, to be left in the car permanently.

3. When your dog is safely crated in your car, you can leave every window wide open while you run inside the store to provide adequate ventilation and comfort.

4. You can padlock the door so no one can steal your dog (and you can link a bike lock through the crate to attach to an inside part of your car, to prevent someone from lifting out the entire crate and stealing your dog).

5. Many people who are not well educated about dogs will become needlessly alarmed when they see a crated dog, and they're the people you need to be concerned about. They wrongly think that anyone who crates a dog must be a sadistic animal hater. Their heart is in the right place, but they can cause problems for you. This is why it's wise to lock your crate. In addition, it's wise to buy inexpensive "crate fans" for your crate, and make a label for it that says "cooling fan" so they'll know what it is. You can these excellent devices here.

6. Obviously, if you can park in the shade or in a covered parking spot, do so. Obviously, you must remove anything worth stealing from your car if you're going to leave the windows wide open.

7. Even when the windows are wide open, pay attention to the direction of the sun, and if it's hitting your dog crate directly, throw a cloth over that part of the crate to provide additional shade inside the car for your dog.

8. You can also provide some water in the crate for your dog with this kind of water dish which clamps onto the inside of the crate door. I keep a gallon bottle of water in my car to refill the water bowl as needed, and I bungee the bottle to the side of the crate so it won't spill over in the car.

9. If you ever have a car accident, your dog is infinitely safer being in a crate than being loose in your car, even with a "dog seat belt" on. It's helpful to have a small leash clipped to the crate so if there IS an accident and you're unconscious and are being helped by an ambulance, they can safely remove your dog from the car without having to manhandle her and panic her even more.

10. If you are out and about with your dog in the car and it's hot and you need to leave the car, you can leave it running with the air conditioner on, closed up and locked. If you also use one of those intimidating-looking steering wheel locks, it will help discourage someone from breaking your window and driving off with your car and your dog. There is always the remote chance that your A/C will fail or that your car will run out of gas, so if you do this, check on your dog frequently to make sure all is still well. (I always check on my dogs frequently when they're in my car).

11. When you have a dog that is happy hanging out in her crate in the car, it makes it really easy to go on vacation with her. You can stay at hotels that don't take pets, because during the day you can be out and about with your dog, and when it's time to go back to the room and sleep, your dog can happily sleep in her crate in the car. She'll snooze in her crate while you dine at a nice restaurant. We've done this in Carmel, and Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. It's great.

12. Dogs that are crated in the car are less anxious than dogs that are loose in the car (or confined to the back part of it with a barrier), and are less likely to bark aggressively when someone walks by the car.

We actually reconfigured our minivan to accommodate our dogs, taking out a row of seats (to make room for the crates) and building a little wooden platform for the crates with some storage space underneath. I hope these tips help you enjoy more time with your dog, and help you take her with you as much as possible! The more time your dog gets to spend with you and the more gentle exposure she has to the larger world, the happier she'll be.

What have you found that works well for you in this area? Please leave a comment and share your experiences too.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Canine Good Citizenship Test will be offered 9/11/10

All breeds of dogs are invited to test for the Canine Good Citizenship test in Santa Ana on Sept. 11, 2010 at a dog match sponsored by a few southern California specialty clubs.

For info contact Barbara Millman at 310-548-1919 or email her at

Monday, August 2, 2010

Video lesson: crate training a puppy

There is much to learn by watching this little video showing a puppy being crate trained. I am a strong advocate of crate training, and it's something I think we should continue even after housetraining, etc.  

Having an adult dog who is comfortable being crated for a few hours allows you to travel very easily  with your dog (we just got back from a wonderful trip to Santa Barbara and our 3 dogs slept in their crates in the car each night.  Other times, we've rented a ski cabin in Lake Tahoe that normally doesn't allow dogs, but the owners agreed to in our case because our dogs would be safely snoozing in their crates during the day while we skied, and the owners knew there would be no destruction to their second home. 

In the event of a disaster, having a crate-trained dog is essential.  It allows you to keep your dog with you, safely confined in a crate, sheltered from the chaos and instability of its physical surroundings. 

Lastly, it allows other people to care for your dog in your absence.  If your dog refuses to be crated, how do you expect your friend to care for it for a weekend and be sure it won't escape the yard trying to find you?  Staying home all weekend personally supervising the dog is just too much to ask.  The dog should be safely confined unless it's out of the crate on leash being walked, played with, and personally supervised.  This prevents dogs escaping due to confusion over where its owner went.

OK, so here's the video.  Notice how she points out what specific aspect of the behavior she is rewarding, and how the behavior is broken down into tiny steps. I also love how the crate is in her bedroom. Puppies need to sleep in crates in the bedroom. That way you can hear them if they have to go (for adult dogs, you can hear them if they have an upset stomach and suddenly need to go). I'm not a fan of dogs in the bed, but I am a fan of dogs in the bedroom.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Interact with your dog to increase your oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone that forms the unshakable bond between mothers and babies and is known to be the human stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust, and more (Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University has conducted a lot of research on it).  It's not the same thing as the pain-killer called oxycontin, that's totally different).

Now our friends at Fast Company magazine report on research from Japan showing that oxytocin levels rise in people who interact in an affectionate way with their dogs.  In other words, snuggling with your dog floods your system with the love drug.

But we already knew that, didn't we?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My favorite leash

We fell in love with "European leashes" some time ago because they have clips at each end and a few D-rings sewn into the leash that give you many things you can easily do with the leash that you can't easily do with "normal" leashes. For example, I can clip it to loop over my shoulder diagonally so I can walk my dog at my side, hands-free. I can clip the end around a post which is more secure than tying it. I can slip one clip through a D-ring and suddenly have a dual-dog leash.

If you've taken my classes and have seen my green nylon leash, this is it. We used to buy these leashes from a vendor at major dog shows, in beautiful leather, for about $50 each. They felt like a well-crafted piece of horse tack-- with that great leather smell. My dogs thought so, too, and eventually chewed up every one we had.

My husband discovered these MUCH less expensive nylon versions, and we have several in our house. They are GREAT and I am endorsing them as a raving fan (I get no compensation for this, don't worry). If you're looking for a good leash, this is the one I recommend. It's less than $10. Buy several of them. We do.  And you don't need them to be super-thick (super-thick, heavy leashes are a pain when using a Gentle Leader, and are hard to ladies to handle in our smaller hands).  A well trained dog does not need a gargantuan leash.  These leashes are stronger than I need and are easy to handle.  I love them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Good “café dog” manners

We just spent four magnificent days in Santa Barbara, and almost every meal was eaten outdoors at a lovely restaurant. The tables at these restaurants are very inviting to dog owners, and knowing that registration was open for my “Creating a Café Dog” intermediate training class, I was keen to notice examples of good and bad café dog behavior. Here’s what a I saw:

Owners clueless to their dog’s behavior
The owner was a young man very intent on his laptop screen, while his dog (on a flexi-lead no less!) was walking over to other tables and bothering the diners and their dogs. The owner was clueless to his dog’s location or behavior.

Dogs reacting in a loud and scary way to waiters or other dogs nearby
This dog barked so viciously that a child at a neighboring table started sobbing. The owner should have removed the dog immediately, but this was allowed to go on at least 3 times. This is a great way to get dogs banned from an outdoor restaurant. Sheesh.

Dogs getting wound around the chair and stepped on
Again, a clueless owner. This was a very small dog who looked terrified the whole time and got bumped and kicked around as chairs moved. If the dog is given enough leash to move around, and the owner is not paying attention, it can wind around the chair leg and as soon as the occupant of that chair scoots out, the dog is being dragged with the chair. This can actually be dangerous for a dog.

Dogs laying quietly, watching the action nearby
Yes, this is what we like to see. Non-reactive dogs who can chill out while Mom enjoys the best buckwheat blueberry pancakes this side of the Mississippi (at the East Beach Grill, on Cabrillo Ave., in Santa Barbara. OMG. To die for.)

Dogs positioned out of the traffic areas, under tables or chairs
I take credit for this one. In my class we’ll train our dogs to scoot under the chair (I had my Lab with me that morning) where they’re out of the way of the harried serving staff. As we got up to leave, the people at the table next to us gasped and said they had no idea we had a dog with us, she was so discreet.

Dogs who clearly get out in public a lot with their owners
This goes along with the good behaviors above—a dog has to get out in public a lot with its owner in order to develop the “ho hum, here we are again” attitude that makes a good café dog. The more your dog is out in public (assuming he’s not reactive) the better he’ll become at taking new and potentially scary or distracting things in stride. It’s like a behavior muscle that needs lots of repetitions. This became really evident as I was raising guide dogs and service dogs. Getting them exposed to the world and teaching them to behave appropriately in all kinds of public settings is extremely important and valuable. It’s a bit harder to do this with our own pet dogs but with some effort it’s very do-able.

My "Creating a Cafe Dog" training class will be offered again in the Fall. It's a series of 4 classes designed to create a dog with excellent manners in an outdoor cafe setting.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What you need to know about rattlesnakes biting your dog

Here is a great article for southern Californians about the risk of rattlesnake bites to our dogs.

This is of interest to me because I would not be able to carry my dog out if I were hiking with her and she were bitten. At the same time, I've been avoiding hiking with them because of the foxtails that are so rampant right now, so I've been able to avoid the issue. But if I were to go camping and wanted to hike with the dogs I'd probably get the vaccine a few months in advance.

Enjoy the article.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Exciting resource for my dog training students!

I'm excited! I'm always looking for great resources for my dog training students, because trying to absorb the information I'm giving them in the midst of a distracting class environment (with highly distracted dogs) can be really challenging. Being able to have a great resource at home to supplement what we're doing in class.

In the past I recommended Peggy Tillman's Clicking With Your Dog book. But I just finished reviewing a book + DVD package from Jean Donaldson that does the trick beautifully and is consistent with the way I teach. (Peggy's book contains many more behaviors, but doesn't contain a DVD, so I still think Peggy's book is great for my students too-- but if I had to recommend just one, this book/DVD set would be it).

It's called Train Your Dog Like a Pro by Jean Donaldson (who runs the Dog Training Academy at the San Francisco SPCA). The DVD is great, and provides a full 2 1/2 hours of training. Being able to SEE proper training modeled is extremely helpful, and I give this resource my mark of approval and will be recommending it to all of my students to augment my personal coaching that they receive in class.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crate training would have solved this problem.....

Today I received this email below from a desparate dog owner. Will those of you who are not crate-training your dogs please, do so immediately? If this dog had been properly crate-trained as a pup, her transition to a new home would be much smoother. Now, because she was not crate-trained, she may lose her new adoptive home.

I know you THINK you'll never need for your dog to be calm and accepting of snoozing comfortably in a crate for a few hours, but having a crate-trained dog makes it easy for other people to care for your dog. It makes it easy for you to travel with your dog. It is absolutely essential in the event of a disaster like a fire or an earthquake. Please, do it now. Crate-training is a fundamental skill that every dog should have.


We’re absolutely desperate. We adopted a kennel dog at the ____________ on 5/23/10. She is about 1-1/2 yr old Ibizan Hound mix and as sweet as she can be when we are with her. Our problem: crating. We’ve done everything we can to make her comfortable and praise her for going in and out. We’ve crated her while at home and tried to be unemotional outside of praise.

The first day we had to leave her alone, she busted out. Thankfully, she did not destroy anything at home. But after that, she did not enter as willingly and we had to start all over again. We worked hard over the long weekend to coax her back in, feeding and watering her there and only treating when she goes in.

As an alternative, because she is still so hesitant to go all the way in and because we didn’t want to force her in, we bought a gate and tried to gate her in the kitchen. My husband left momentarily and on his return found she had chewed some of our cabinetry near the gate and had reached the countertop and destroyed a cardboard sugar container.

We need help! We have to work and even though my husbands schedule is flexible, he has to leave for at least 4 hours at a time. Today, after finding the destruction in the kitchen, he had to force her in the crate. We both know the implications of that.

Plzzzzzzzzz call us with your recommendations, advice, training suggestions… anything. We so desperately want to keep her and have invested a lot to make her comfortable already. I just don’t know what to do or where to turn.

We are so, so very anxious to hear from you. Please call me on my cell at _______. Thanks a million.

(name and number withheld to protect privacy)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book review: Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding in dogs

Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding in dogs (by Jean Donaldson)

Jean Donaldson, if you didn’t know, is the director of the SF SPCA’s Dog Training Academy and has written a number of excellent books that address the kinds of behaviors that often land dogs in animal shelters. This book is not new, but it’s a gem and the used copies cost almost as much as the new ones—that’s dramatic market value!

The book is indeed valuable. It takes an objective look at all the various forms of resource guarding (including body handling issues) from a behaviorist perspective. Written for the professional dog trainer (not the common dog owner), the book is heavy on technical jargon but in her defense she defines every term she uses. But it’s not a light read. I’ve got two clients currently reading it, and am asking them to highlight any areas that are confusing to them so we can go over those together. I expect a lot of highlighting. But I still recommend the book because it’s very systematic and provides clear, achievable protocols for helping a dog become more reliable in situations that would normally elicit a very reactive response.

One of the most difficult parts of the equation, of course, is the denial or lack of commitment and compliance from the owner. One of the reasons I have some clients read this book is to break them out of the mind-set that they can find a quick fix to this kind of problem. The books talks a lot about managing the environment between training sessions (to prevent a dog from going over its threshold and becoming reactive), which is something that some owners seem reluctant to do. They don't want to reduce the dog's freedom, they just want the problem to go away. Denial. I can't help them until they break through that.

Jean covers all the basics of desensitization, counter-conditioning, developing a conditioned emotional response (CER), and teaching the dog an incompatible behavior to perform instead of the guarding response. She does not cover the basics of operant conditioning (and refers repeatedly to Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog) but she does a nice job of explaining the crucial nuances in the subtle timing of the presentation of the cue and the reward, and its subsequent impact on the guarding behavior. Getting this wrong can really derail your results.

I love the book, and I’m a big fan of Jean’s. Next I’ll compare it to Pat McConnell’s book on the same subject, Feisty Fido, which is written more to the average dog owner.

Monday, May 17, 2010

South Bay dog owners match up for doggie play dates

Now South Bay dog owners can easily find nearby dogs that are good matches for play-dates for their dogs. Membership is free, and people can join by simply sending an email to or by clicking here:

Messages to the group are moderated, which protects the group from spammers, so the messages go out about every other day.

Join us and let your dog get the socialization and exercise it craves!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Heartworm medicine just became more important for your dog

Folks, if you're not current on your monthly heartworm treatments for your dog, it is especially important to get back on the program. The risk just increased significantly (because if they found a surge of 300 you know there are many others they have not found yet...).

Rare Mosquito Species Threatens L.A. County Dogs
WEST COVINA, Calif. (AP) ― A surging population of rare western tree hole mosquitoes in the San Gabriel Valley threatens dogs.

A surging population of rare western tree hole mosquitoes in the San Gabriel Valley threatens dogs.

The San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District this season has trapped 300 western tree hole mosquitoes -- known as Aedes Sierrensis. The district has previously collected only 30 of the mosquitoes in the past 17 years.

The district covers neighborhoods from Altadena to Claremont and south to near the state Route 60.

Unlike other mosquito species, Los Angeles County health department Dr. Emily Beeler says the western tree hole frequently carries heartworm.

Worms fill up the heart of a dog and eventually kill the animal. Cats also get heartworms, but dogs are much more susceptible.

Monthly treatments can avoid heartworms.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Canine Companions for Independence opens Los Angeles office!

Canine Companions for Independence just opened a satellite office in Los Angeles! This is the first part of a campaign to increase CCI's presence in LA County.

CCI breeds and trains dogs to assist people with disabilities other than blindness (for example, people with mobility impairments from a stroke, or people who use a wheelchair. They also provide hearing dogs for the deaf.)

Dennis and I have volunteered for CCI since 1989, and have raised 10 assistance dog puppies in training. (Our wonderful Lab, Nika, is a pup we raised for the program but she was released as a "career change" dog because she alert-barks when people walk by the house. That's fine for a pet dog, but not OK for a service dog.)

CCI is in great need of more volunteer puppy raisers who receive a specially-bred 9-week old puppy and raise it and train it until it's about 18 months old. When it's time to give that pup back so it can go through advanced training, it's time to start a new one. If you would like more information about puppy raising, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teaching your dog not to jump on people at the door

I'm pleased to share with you this excellent video explaining how to use clicker training to teach your dog not to jump up on people at the door. Emily has posted a number of excellent videos, I encourage you to subscribe to her YouTube channel!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Announcing my new dog training classes in Rolling Hills

My new dog training classes in Rolling Hills start April 20th, going for 6 weeks ($100.00 fee), starting at 6:30pm. Drop by the Petco store at Peninsula Center to sign up for lots of clicker training fun!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What flea and tick control products are safe AND effective?

The article below shows that the very effective products we've been using to control fleas and ticks may not be as safe as we think. The problem is, they're REALLY effective. And I've never found the more natural products to be very effective at all-- and once you get a flea infestation, it is very hard to really get rid of it without exposing the whole family to an expensive and toxic extermination process.

So what I do is pay attention to the dosage-- if my dog is in the lower end of the weight range for a product that says 25-55 lbs, I don't use the whole dosage. And I don't use the products as often as they say you can use them.

My dogs can tell immediately when I apply this to their skin between their shoulders-- they lick their tongue like they just got a weird taste in their mouth. And they probably DID.

Take these products seriously and use them carefully. I remember when Frontline first came out it claimed to stay in the fat layer under the skin, and claimed that it did NOT enter the bloodstream. That was later proved to be untrue, and traces of it were found in the dogs' urine as well. So it IS systemic, it DOES invade the whole body.

My dogs still live to be about 14 years old, so I don't feel like Frontline is shaving years off of their health. But be aware that it IS toxic, and use it carefully.

More report pet injuries, even deaths, from flea and tick treatments
By Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
Posted: 03/18/2010 06:26:21 AM PDT

WASHINGTON - Products intended to treat cats and dogs for fleas and ticks kill hundreds of pets each year and injure tens of thousands, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday as it outlined plans to make the products safer.

The EPA said it will develop stricter testing and evaluation requirements for flea and tick treatments that are applied to a pet's skin. The agency also will begin reviewing labels to determine which ones need to say more clearly how to use the products.

The EPA's effort follows increasing complaints from pet owners that the "spot-on" products have triggered reactions in dogs and cats, ranging from skin irritation to neurological problems to deaths. Cats and small dogs appear particularly vulnerable, the EPA said, especially when given products intended for larger animals.

Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said new restrictions will be placed on flea and tick products, with additional changes for specific products likely - including possible changes in some product formulas.

"These are poisons," Owens said. "These are products designed to kill fleas and ticks - and they do their jobs."

The EPA is committed to better protecting the health and safety of pets and families, Owens said, but added that pet owners "need to carefully read and follow all labeling before exposing your pet to a pesticide."

The agency announced last

April it was increasing scrutiny of topical flea and tick products because of the growing number of bad reactions reported.
The EPA said it received 44,263 reports of harmful reactions associated with topical flea and tick products in 2008, up from 28,895 in 2007. Reactions ranged from skin irritations to vomiting to seizures to, in about 600 cases, death of an animal.

An EPA spokesman said he did not have a breakdown of how many deaths were dogs and how many cats.

Dog and cat owners say their pets have suffered burns and welts on their skin; started to drool excessively; begun to shake uncontrollably; lost control of their legs or experienced other neurological problems after using the flea and tick treatments.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is it necessary to "dominate" your dog?

Not really. Here is a great article about it, from the professional association for dog trainers, the APDT (of which I'm a full member, thank you).

Dominance and Dog Training

The use of dominance and pack theory in explaining dog behavior has come under a great deal of scrutiny as of late. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers wishes to inform the dog owning public about the ramifications of a reliance on dominance theory as it relates to understanding dogs, interpreting their behavior, and living harmoniously with our canine companions.

Theory and Misconceptions
Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an "Alpha Wolf" that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for "dominance." Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild; consequently wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack's ability to survive and flourish. While social hierarchies do exist (just as they do among human families) they are not related to aggression in the way it is commonly portrayed (incorrectly) in popular culture. As Senior Research Scientist L. David Mech recently wrote regarding his many years of study of wolves, we should "once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack." (Mech, 2008) In addition to our new understanding of wolf behavior, study into canine behavior has found that dogs, while sharing some traits with their wolf cousins, have many more significant differences. As a result, the idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain human behavior. Unfortunately, this idea that dogs are basically "domesticated wolves" living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior counselors, as well as breeders, owners, and the media.

One of the biggest misconceptions we find ourselves faced with is the definition of "dominance." Dogs are often described as being "dominant" which is an incorrect usage of the term. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dominance is "primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals." and moreover, "the use of the expression 'dominant dog' is meaningless, since "dominance" can apply only to a relationship between individuals. (Bradshaw et al., 2009) Dominance comes into play in a relationship between members of the same species when one individual wants to have the first pick of available resources such as food, beds, toys, bones, etc. Even between dogs, however, it is not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. In many households the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog when it comes to choice of resting places. Dogs that use aggression to "get what they want" are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners. Basing one's interaction with their dog on dominance is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.

Living with Dogs: What’s Important?
When it comes to living and working with dogs, the concept of dominance is largely irrelevant. This may come as a surprise to many dog owners. The truth is, when working with dogs that have a training or behavior issue, the goal of the dog professional is to develop a behavior modification or training plan that will address the problem at hand. This generally does not require understanding a dog’s motivation and emotional state, but rather focuses on what the dog is doing (behavior), and what we want the dog to “do,” helping the dog understand how to perform the desired behaviors and then rewarding him for doing so.

Far too many times dog owners have been given advice to “show the dog who’s boss” and “be the alpha.” The unfortunate side effect of this thinking is that it creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and their dog with the belief that the dog is somehow trying to control the home and the owner’s life. Such misinformation damages the owner-dog relationship, and may lead to fear, anxiety and /or aggressive behaviors from the dog. Dogs cannot speak our language and they can find themselves thrust into situations in our homes that they find difficult to comprehend, by owners trying to behave as they mistakenly believe “alpha” wolves do.

Rather than dominance, it is most often a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to behaviors we find troubling. It is the human’s responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward them when they do the things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show them which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does not lead to further anxiety on the dog's part.

Aggression is Not the Answer
Actions such as "alpha rolls" and "scruff shakes" have no basis in fact when studying wolf or dog behavior, and they only lead to creating unnecessary fear on our dog's part toward us, fear that ultimately can lead to aggression because the frightened dog knows of no other way to protect itself other than using its teeth. We all owe it to our dogs to see the world from their point of view in order to create a more harmonious relationship. Whether we are looking at a dog or a wolf, actions such as grabbing a dog and forcing it into a down, growling at the dog, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a "fight-or-flight" response where the animal fears for its life. In this situation, the dog will either freeze out of fear, flee far away from the threatening animal or person if an opportunity presents itself to get away, or, fight to save itself. When we engage in such behaviors toward our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are "boss," instead we are telling the dog we are dangerous creatures to be avoided or fought off. There is no "dominance" in these scenarios—only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.

If Not Dominance, Then What Do We Use?
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance. Some trainers refer to the term "leadership" or other similar terms that are less adversarial than "dominance" or "Alpha." What these trainers have in common is a desire to explain effective, non-confrontational and humane ways of living successfully with dogs. These educated approaches aim to strengthen the bond between the owner and the dog and teach owners more effective ways of communicating with another species. For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” which works along the principal that the dog must “do” something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.) These programs are effective because the dog is issued a structured set of rules that are consistently reinforced and the dog learns what he needs to do in order to get the things that he wants such as food, petting, playtime, etc. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety can result when they are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world without guidance that makes sense. Just like with people, we behave better and thrive in a world that “makes sense” to us and has a clear structure.

The myths that resonate in “dominance theory,” such as not allowing the dog to sleep on the bed, or eat first, or go through doorways first, have no bearing on whether or not the dog will look to the owner for guidance. The specific rules of the relationship are up to the owner and are based on what they want in their household. Humane, educated trainers should strive to teach owners to positively and gently influence and motivate their dogs to act in a manner that befits their own home and tailor the "rules" to each individual. There is no scientifically validated data to uphold the belief that you must eat before your dog, or keep them from sleeping on your bed, or walking in front of you, and owners should not be led to believe this and live in a state of fear and anxiety over their dog's possible takeover of their home. In fact, the vast majority of dogs and owners have wonderful, mutually-rewarding relationships—even if the dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, eats alongside the owner, and does many other things erroneously labeled “dominance.” To help illustrate some of the myths about dominance, we have prepared a related document, "Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities."

Final Thoughts
When choosing a trainer or behavior counselor to work with you and your dog, keep in mind that philosophies and methodologies among trainers varies. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends interviewing potential trainers to determine their beliefs regarding dominance and using physical force and intimidation to train a dog, whether for obedience or for behavior problems. An educated canine professional should be well-acquainted with the latest scientific understandings of dog behavior and be willing to openly discuss their training methodologies with you.

For further reading:
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2007. AVSAB Position Statement - Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals.
Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J., Casey R.A. 2009. Dominance in domestic dogs - useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, pp 135-144.

Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117, pp. 47-54.

Mech L.D. 2008. What ever happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf.

Yin S. 2009. Dominance vs. unruly behavior. The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Mar/Apr 2009, pp. 13-17.

Yin S. 2009. Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats. Cattledog Publishing. Davis,CA. For more information visit

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why "dominating your dog" is not the way we train anymore

Please watch this video and you'll understand why we don't like Cesar Milan the Dog Whisperer.... clicker training does not depend on dominating your dog in order to influence their behavior. It uses scientifically proven principals of operant conditioning. The "dominate your dog" method was replaced over 15 years ago (in 1994, actually) by clicker training. We know it works. Motivation works better than intimidation!

Please feel free to comment or leave questions.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dog or Puppy Play Date Etiquette

(A special welcome to new members of the South Bay Dog Play yahoogroup! You may be interested to know that my dog training classes start again at Petco in Rolling Hills on Tuesday June 5th, and registrations are being accepted now and until June 4th ($100 for six weeks). Class is at 6:30pm, and an overflow class is available at 8:00 pm if the 6:30 is full.)

Having a play date with one or more other dogs is a great idea, especially for puppies (though almost all dogs of all ages love them). Here are some tips to make it successful:

1. Pay attention to your dog at all times. This is harder than it sounds, because you’ll be chatting with the other people there. In this situation it is OK to suddenly interrupt the person talking to you and say, “Excuse me one sec” and attend to your dog. Remember, the purpose of this gathering is to have a positive dog-to-dog experience. That requires your vigilance and intervention in a number of situations:

a. Your dog is eliminating. If the play date is going to be at someone’s house, ask them in advance if there is an area where they prefer the dogs to eliminate. If so, take your dog over there first thing, and let her sniff around and get the message “this is where dogs go”. Later, as she’s playing vigorously, realize that this will stimulate her to have to go. Try to anticipate this, and lure her over to the potty area a few times with a treat and encourage her to go. If she doesn’t go in the right spot and squats on the patio or some other place, step in immediately with your baggie and ask if you can grab a hose to clean it off. It is bad manners to allow your dog to poop and not notice it. Your host may not notice it until after you leave, but it won’t leave a good impression. Pay attention to your dog.

b. Your dog is pestering another dog. This includes barking at it incessently, but watch the other dog’s body language—just because it’s annoying you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s annoying the other dog. If your dog is chomping on another dog trying to get it to run, and that other dog is trying to ignore her, give your dog a chance to get the message and stop (this is the value of these play dates, the dogs learn socialization skills and they have to learn the dog rules from other dogs). If she doesn’t “get it” relatively soon, go in with a treat, lure her over to you, and take her collar. Treating frequently, make her sit for a moment and see what the other dog does—does he seem relieved or does he come back into engage your dog in play? If he comes back in, let them off to play again. If he seems relieved, work with your dog for a minute on eye contact with you, treating frequently and generously. Then let her off again to go play. If she re-engages the same was as before and doesn’t get the “I’m ignoring you because I don’t want to play this way” hint, try to change up the game. Introduce a toy and let her chase it, and see if they can engage in tug of war or keep away. If none of that works, consider ending the session for now. The other dog may be done playing.

c. If your dog is being pestered by another dog, and the other owner is not proactively – and effectively—stepping in, you may need to, but be gracious about it. I find a lot of owners will try to correct their dog by verbally scolding them (as if that does anything). It’s just annoying and doesn’t work. If you are sure your dog is not having fun and wants to be rescued, take some treats and try to engage the other dog as we mention above—but rather than making them sit and do some commands (which the other owner may resent) try to engage them in coming to you by luring with a treat, and then introduce a new toy. If that’s not working, ask the other owner if you two can both put your dogs on leashes for a few minutes and give them a break, because you can sense that your dog is wanting a little break. If that doesn’t work, look at your watch and gasp that you did not realize how late it was and that you have to go. And go.

d. If your dog is jumping on furniture or into flower beds, correct immediately, and be physically close enough that you can do this without having to scream across the whole yard. Call your dog to you and reward generously, and say “uh uh” if it heads back into that area. Reward often and generously.

e. Your dog may grab something in its mouth it should not have and run off with it (one case that comes to mind is a pup who grabbed some peat and dirt plugs used for starting seedlings). In all cases, deal with it first, and quickly, and then do any apologizing to the host. They’ll really appreciate how on top of your dog you are. No one expects these dogs to be perfectly behaved, so as long as you’re catching it and correcting it quickly, you’ll stay in good graces. If your dog breaks anything, turn to the host and say sincerely that you insist on paying for that. There is no need to end the play date over something like that.

f. Continue to work on vocal signals with your dog such as “uh uh” (which means – if you teach her this meaning—“Stop what you’re doing”) and click and treat for reinforcement (for coming over to check in with you, for example). Don’t expect “uh uh” to have any effect on your dog if you have not worked in advance with it as a signal.

2. Come prepared with baggies and lots of treats, and a toy or two. These are all required props for the situations above.

3. Ask your host before giving her dog any treats—when you give a treat it will reinforce whatever behavior was happening right then, and depending on what your host is working on with her dog, she may or may not want to lose control over that.

4. Don’t forget to reward “laying calmly in the presence of another dog”. This is easier to do once the dogs are exhausted from playing! But if they do plop down on the floor for a break, go ahead and reward that. Being calm in the presence of other dogs is a very valuable behavior and we want to build that “muscle”.

5. Ask in advance how much time the host has for the playdate, or suggest an end-time yourself. In other words, don’t wear out your welcome. Once the pups are playing, it may be awkward for the host to suggest that you wrap it up if the pups are having a rollicking good time. Keep an eye on the clock and exit gracefully.

6. When it’s time to wrap it up, don’t call your dog to you. Take a treat to your dog, take her by the collar and reward her, and then pull out the leash you’re hiding in your coat pocket. Clip it on and give her another really good treat. Try to compensate for the disappointment that you are pulling her out of the party. Don’t call her to you, because if you do it will poison your recall command (we don’t want to call our dogs to us when we’re about to end all the fun – it makes them not want to obey us when we call them. After all, they’re not stupid!). Other times, by the way, you should go up to your dog, take her by the collar, reward her, and then free her to keep playing. Don’t let the “I’m going for your collar” movement be a signal that the party is over.

7. Take into account your dog’s size and energy level. We have one young dog in our group who is just too exhuberant for most other dogs’ taste, and although he’s the same age as some others in the group, he won’t let up and becomes annoying. We let him play with my dogs (who can handle him) but we don’t include him when we have other dogs over to play with our three. He would overwhelm and frighten a dog with a softer personality. So pick the dogs carefully who will play together.

This may all sound a little over the top, but a dog play date is much more about dog training and development than it is about people socializing. Go have coffee with your friends when you want to focus on them. When the dogs are playing, you need to be right in there—much more so than when children are playing. Much more so. Relax and have fun, but be super attentive.