Monday, February 21, 2011

Dominance and dog training

Many people I meet have read books by Cesar Milan or have watched his TV show, and he talks a lot about dogs trying to dominate their people.  Dog trainers who are actually educated in the behavioral sciences have a very different view of this.  I'd like to share a bit of that view with you in the form of a position statement on "dominance" from the Association of  Pet Dog Trainers, of which I am a professional member.

While dominance is a valid scientific concept, the term "dominance" itself is widely misunderstood, such as when it is used to describe the temperament of a particular dog. Dominance is not a personality trait but a description of a relationship between two or more animals and is related to which animal has access to valued resources such as food, mates, etc. It should not be used in any way to support the belief that dogs are out to "dominate" us, especially as that misunderstanding causes some people to respond with force and aggression. This only serves to create an adversarial relationship filled with miscommunication and even more misunderstanding. The unfortunate result is often anxiety, stress and fear in both dogs and humans towards each other. The use of techniques such as the "alpha roll" on dogs, which is based on these mistaken beliefs about dogs and wolves, has no place in modern dog training and behavior modification. Dogs often respond to this perceived threat with increased fear and aggression, which may serve to make a behavior problem worse and ruin the dog-owner relationship.     Read the whole statement (about a page long) here.

Tethering your dog indoors

While settling in a newly-adopted dog, or training a puppy, it can be tremendously helpful to utilize tethers in multiple locations in your home to give some structure to where your dog can go.  This is in addition to having a crate in the house.  But this way, you don't have to have a crate in every room.

When we adopted our Borzoi, she was 3 years old.  She had never lived in a house, and she is so tall that counter surfing would be very easy and very tempting for her.  So we drilled a small hole into the baseboard in a corner in the kitchen, where we wanted to park her on a regular basis.  We screwed in a small eye-bolt and then attached a light 5 foot nylon leash.  We put a comfy mat there for her.  Each time we'd enter the room, I'd immediately escort her to that spot (with treats already in my pocket), clip her to the leash, click, and drop the treat on her mat.  I'd lure her into a "down", and click and drop 5 treats on the mat between her feet.  I made being in that spot, and being on her mat, a very happy thing.  Now I was free to cook, have dinner, etc without having to try to control what my dog did and where she was.  By setting her up for success from the beginning, I completely avoided having to correct her a million times (which is annoying for everyone). 

She chewed through a few tethers, but that's OK-- they're cheap and quick to replace.  (These light leashes cost about $6 each).  This is a normal part of her dealing with a bit of confusion and a bit of frustration with not being able to follow me around the kitchen.  She could SEE me, but could not be underfoot.  Being underfoot in a kitchen is very dangerous for everyone, dog included.  I never got angry when she chewed through her tether, I just made sure it didn't pay off for her-- I quickly replaced it. I also made sure that, initially, every few minutes I would click and treat her for just being good, for calmly hanging out on her mat.

We also have a tether for her in the living room, again discreetly attached to an eyebolt in the baseboard.  It's next to a huge soft bed we put there, as her "spot".  "Spot" has become our cue to go to her mat (in the kitchen) or her bed in the living room (depending on which room we're in).  We don't bother saying "Go to your spot", we just say "spot" and she now knows what to do.  We didn't add that cue immediately, we actually waited until she would automatically go to that spot when we entered the room.  Then we added the cue. 

We are babysitting a 3 month old pup this week, and this morning I had my 3 dogs and this pup in the kitchen.  I could not tether her to Bella's spot, since Bella was IN her spot, so I took another leash and looped the handle around the leg of a HEAVY piece of furniture in the kitchen, and threaded the clip end through that to attach it to the furniture.  Voila-- now I had another tether in the right place.  I tethered the pup, gave everyone a chewy to enjoy, and had a peaceful time getting breakfast together.

I recommend using tethers through your home to give your dog/pup some structure until its training is sufficient to allow more freedom without mistakes.  Every doorknob is a potential tether-attachment-spot.  You can keep your dog on leash in the house with you and move it from room to room with you, attaching it to various tether-spots so you can get some work done but your dog can still be with you without requiring your 100% attention.

A few tips:
  1. Don't leave a young dog or a dog who is new to tethering unattended-- they may get up and get all tangled up, which will really upset them.  Worse, they could wrap the tether around their neck.  If you need to have your FULL attention on something else, crate your dog for a bit.
  2. If your dog chews through a light nylon leash tether, cut off the clip and save it for future use.  You can even make your own replacement tethers with some appropriate nylon webbing or ribbon.
  3. Obviously, don't tether your dog to something lightweight that will be knocked over if they pull.  They will pull at times, if they want to reach you.  
  4. Remember to reward often for good, calm, settled behavior.
  5. If your dog does get tangled, be calm, go in and unclip the leash, and while holding the dog's collar, gently untangle him.  Then reclip him.  Don't try to put his body through gyrations while you try to untangle him.  Remember, being tethered needs to be nontraumatic.
Share your experiences with this in our comments section.  Happy training!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reba the beautiful Borzoi still needs a home-- 3 yr old female

Age (approx): 2-3 years
Gender: Female

Child Safe?: Unknown
Small animal safe?: yes
Reba is a 2 to 3 year old spayed very small female who is heart worm negative, current on all vaccinations and is microchipped.  Reba is starting to take biscuits from her foster mom’s hand but really loves to be petted and loved on.  She is small dog safe and is currently being fostered in a home with pomeranians, salukis and borzoi without issues. 

This very sweet girl is looking for a home with a soft bed, warm heart, kind hands and lots of love.  If you are interested in adopting Reba, please fill out our adoption application and email it to Carol Backers at

Beautiful, purebred Borzoi needs a home (3 yrs old, female)

Age (approx): 3 years
Gender: Female
Special Needs:
Child Safe?: yes
Small animal safe?: yes
Delilah is a 3 year old spayed female who is heart worm negative, current on all vaccinations and is microchipped.  She is very out going, can be a bit stubborn when asked to do something she thinks she shouldn’t have to do but will do very well with a little bit of attention and work.  She has lived with small children, cats and small dogs and gets along with well with all.  She is an owner turn in due to financial issues within the household.  I will provide free coaching and training to anyone in the South Bay who adopts this beautiful dog.  As a Borzoi owner, I have a special place in my heart for this breed (and it's a wonderful breed).  She is currently being fostered out of state, but don't let that stop you.  We can work with that.

This very sweet girl is looking for a home with a soft bed, warm heart, kind hands, and lots of love.  If you are interested in adopting Delilah, please fill out our adoption application and email it to Carol Backers at