Wednesday, July 29, 2020

May I Pet Your Dog?

Two clients contacted me this week with concerns about their dogs' behavior when approached and petted by new people. For one dog, that person trying to pet him was met with a dog spinning and twirling away on his leash, chuffing and trying to avoid the contact.  The other dog was perfectly chill until he was approached and petted.  At that point, he growled. Both owners wanted to know why their dogs, who "love attention at home" didn't want attention from these new people they met. You know me.  I question everything.  Do those dogs REALLY enjoy all that attention at home as well, or are they just used to having to put up with it in order to get what they want?

First off, we all need to agree that animals are sentient beings.  That is we should "think of animals as conscious beings with whom we have relationships" as postulated by Kristin Andrews in her new book, "How to Study Animal Minds."  I don't think anyone I know would argue that our dogs aren't aware of the relationships they have with us, and like us, manipulate those relationships to further personal goals. So, what does this have to do with the two dogs who didn't want to be petted by strangers?

As conscious beings, dogs should be allowed to consent to being approached and petted by people.  This permission must be given whether the person petting is the owner, another family member, or a well-meaning stranger. Dogs most certainly can be petted when they ask for it, as many dogs do, but if they don't ask for and are avoiding the contact, humans must back off and refrain from pushing themselves onto the dog.  While many a dog puts up with unwanted contact in the form of ear ruffling, hard head patting, fur being rubbed the wrong way, etc., many draw the line at hugs and kisses.  Dogs are descended from wolves, and like all other canids, do not engage in touchy contact with anyone they don't know.  In fact, a hug is much like an assertion of dominance from a dog's point of view; much as one dog puts its neck across the neck of another dog, a hug limits a dog's options for response. While many of our dogs may at first appear to be consenting to this kind of attention, they often are not.  The dog turns its head away, leans away, licks its lips, or yawns.  All signs the dog is anxious about the unwanted contact but has learned to self-soothe to get through the experience. So, rather than viewing my clients' dogs' behavior as abnormal, I tried to get them to view it as normal and informative.  Their dogs did not give those strangers permission to pet them; they did not approach those people.  Instead, strangers came right at them, uninvited.  As a self-proclaimed introvert, I might have done the exact same thing as these dogs if someone I didn't know came right at me!

Rather than thinking we need to change how our dogs react to strangers, how about if we change how strangers treat our dogs?  When people ask, "May I pet your dog?" say "Sure, if he wants to."  Then wait and see if your dog approaches that person.  No outstretched hand for the dog to sniff.  Just stand there, or crouch down and see if the dog approaches you to sniff.  If they sniff and stay, then you can offer a brief chest rub in greeting.  If they sniff and move away, they've told you all you need to know.  They don't consent to any further interaction.  Even with our own dogs, consent is important.  Call the dog to you for attention, or wait for them to come to you.  Don't shove yourself onto them when they aren't interested.  Trust me.  They aren't playing hard to get.  They aren't in the mood.  And while some dogs learn to accept kissing and hugging as the price to be paid for living with humans, not all do.  Respect that.  Just because your previous dog "loved being hugged," doesn't mean your current one will.  Teach these rules of respect and consent to your kids as well.  If they call the dog over so they can pay attention to him, that's fine. If he doesn't come to them or walks away, they must respect that.  They can try getting a toy or a treat to see if that changes the dog's mind, but permission must be given.  And dogs must respect people's rights to give consent as well. Don't let your dogs run up to people, jumping up, licking hands or faces, sniffing crotches, etc.  Some people don't like dogs, are afraid of dogs, or simply don't like dogs they don't know.  Dogs need to be taught to respect that as well. A good relationship means both parties are interested in the interaction!

Because I've had clients ask me why I ignore their dogs when we meet, I now tell people before our appointments that they shouldn't be alarmed by my behavior and that it is for their dog's benefit.  Interestingly enough, my ignoring their dogs results in calmer owner behavior.  And, not surprisingly, less stressed out dogs. If a dog approaches me for attention, I am more than happy to pursue that relationship. If they don't approach, my feelings aren't hurt one bit.  Frankly, anyone who says they are a "dog person" and that "dogs always love me" then proceeds to push their way into an unfamiliar dog's space is no dog person.  I truly feel that people need to make themselves worthy of dogs.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie chose to jump up behind me on the couch as I sat on the floor writing this blog post.  He chose this position, I never moved.  I always feel grateful that he does stuff like this as he isn't a particularly touchy-feely dog.  You know when you've been accepted by Ozzie as he'll lay near you, offer his butt for scratches, and occasionally lick your nose or sniff your eyelashes. The face of consent indeed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Cookie Cutters are for Making Cookies Only, Not for Dog Training!

I spoke with a very frustrated new puppy owner yesterday.  She's read all the books on puppy training and felt confident that she had the tools she needed to get her 10-week old pup off to a great start! She didn't understand why almost nothing she'd read about crate training (her puppy hates the crate), feeding schedules (her puppy likes to graze), mouthing (her puppy grabs a hold of her arms and legs and won't let go), and socialization (her pup is terrified of the other puppies in her neighborhood), seemed to apply to the dog she had gotten.  She wanted to know if there was something wrong with her new puppy, or perhaps wrong with her? I assuaged her doubts by reminding her that all new pet parents, just like new human parents, experience feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and failure. In our effort to do everything right, we often forget that each pup (or child, for that matter) is an individual, with their own personality, learning style, and motivations. Dog training is not "one size fits all," hence my cookie-cutter reference in this blog's title; your training style needs to be tailored to the dog in front of you, not the one you saw in a picture or video, or the one described in a book. Let me give you an example.

Most of you are familiar with Ozzie, my now 5.5-year-old male collie who is a descendant of the original Lassie of film fame. As a Lassie descendant dog, Ozzie's intelligence is undisputed.  He is,  however, a creative thinker; my solutions to his problems are often not the ones he'd choose, or has ever chosen for himself.  Ozzie hated crates from the get-go, preferring to be tethered to me or near me, even at night.  Ozzie never liked to heel, preferring to walk from side to side either in front of me or behind me, as if I were a sheep, but he never wanders off.  Ozzie is quick to learn commands but will refuse those he simply doesn't feel like doing.  He often refuses those I want to videotape or demonstrate for observers...go figure. He will comply with requests such as "Be quiet!" but always has to get in the last bark first.  If I would have tried to rigidly adhere to Ian Dunbar's guidelines for raising a puppy, for example, Ozzie and I would have been epic failures.  Instead, I embraced Ozzie's quirks, found the humor in his obstinance, and found my own creative ways to teach Ozzie what he needed to know to survive and thrive in my household.  Being flexible is the key.

So, back to my client and her puppy.  This puppy was a singleton, so he didn't get a lot of experience with other puppies, though he did stay with his dam until coming to live with my client.  He had never been crated until he was crated and then driven more than 8 hours to my client's home. The breeder put a bowl of food in the pen with the dam and the puppy twice daily and they were allowed to eat, sleep, poop, and pee whenever and wherever they wanted in that pen. I suggested we start fresh with this puppy and tailor our training plan to him specifically.  Instead of using a crate, we reintroduced the pen.  We set up a schedule where food was offered four times daily for 20 minutes at a time. In between feedings, the food could be used as a reward during training.  Walks were done on leash in her yard to build confidence before we introduced one similarly aged puppy for a 10-minute play date there.  Once we got this puppy onto a set nap schedule, a lot of the biting subsided.  We used redirection and time outs for the residual biting.  I watched this puppy go from frustrated to fabulous once he figured out the rules and saw that his behavior had consequences that he could understand.  He's still a bit on the timid and shy side, but we can work on that more now that we've got the basics taken care of.  Even his house training has improved since we introduced some artificial turf into his pen area. My client is relieved and she's now using those dog training books for decorative purposes only in her home! LOL.

If you are frustrated with your puppy or feel like you are failing with your dog's training, please don't despair.  Ask for help.  That's what I'm here for.

Ozzie was a hardcore chewer as a puppy.  Puppy chew toys did nothing to satisfy his chewing desires and he would often try to chew on furniture instead.  I'd been told that giving real bones to puppies wasn't a good idea, however, when I introduced real bones anyway (with supervision, of course), he was the happiest puppy ever, choosing them over my chairs and limbs of family members!  He'd chew on a bone and then wear himself out and be ready for a nap.  Bliss!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Trick Training is for Everyone!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of evaluating a rescue Saint Bernard for her AKC Novice Trick title.  The owner, a retiree, had been working hard ever since she rescued this sweet, eager-to-please dog.  They'd been working on obedience and confidence building and had earned their CD (a title designating that this dog had completed the first level in obedience), but wanted to take their training in a different direction, hence the trick training.  While the AKC suggests certain tricks for each title, there is also room for a good deal of creativity.  Advanced titles can be set to music and choreographed, for example!

While the AKC does allow for dog owners seeking tricks titles to submit videos to evaluators for review, this owner asked if we could do the evaluation in person.  I told her that we could comfortably do this evaluation in person, if she had a large backyard where we could easily practice social distancing and wear our masks.  Her dog executed each of 10 trick behaviors two times, including tricks that involved fun props like a table, a balance beam, and even a jump! Watching a young Saint Bernard having so much fun working with her owner made my whole day, and reminded me, once again, how much dogs love tricks.  To them, tricks are just other behaviors that we ask them to do BUT they recognize that, for whatever reason, we find more joy in these behaviors than in others we might ask of them.  I know Ozzie sure loves his "flying touch," behavior where he is invited to jump as high as he can to reach my hand much more than practicing sits and downs, for example.  I know I enjoy his flying touch too.

You certainly don't need to work toward earning a tricks title for your dog unless you want to do so.  You can, however, teach your dogs tricks as a way to keep their minds engaged and challenged, particularly when we are all still spending a lot of time at home alone with them.  And don't forget about your senior dogs! While jumps may be too much, there are plenty of other tricks they can do which will help keep their aging brains active and stimulated.  It's never too late to earn a fun title!  If you are interested in getting one of those trick titles for your dog, visit and click on the link for trick dogs under the AKC Family Dog Program tab.  Don't forget I'm happy to evaluate your dogs for these trick dog titles virtually via video or Zoom, or in person, if you are in the area and willing to socially distance and mask up to do so.  It's always nice to see you, even if I can't hug you or stand closer than 10 feet away :)

As always, if you have questions about your dog's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and I practicing his flying touch!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Quick Fixes & Happy Clients!

Susan made my day.  Actually, I think Susan made my whole month, and it's only the beginning of July! We met last Saturday to work with one of her dogs, a sweet adult Terrier mix, Marty, who has become quite "short fused" with other dogs, particularly puppies who get in his face.   This behavior was concerning to the owner as Marty has always been quite easy going and good with other dogs.  When I explained to her that many adult dogs become intolerant of the antics of puppies, feeling the need to correct those puppies before they get too wound up, she did feel a bit relieved, but still wanted to work on improving his behavior.  You see, they have a new neighbor with a puppy and Susan wants them to all be able to walk in the neighborhood, and eventually do neighborhood activities together, and have the dogs all get along. This is why I adore Susan; she's ready to work on the issue before it becomes a real problem.  Susan is a creative soul, so she sent this to me like a story.  Best story ever!

A funny thing happened on the way to the pandemic… my sweet, gentle 23 lb. therapy dog terrier mix, Marty McFly, decided a few months ago – as the COVID shelter in place began – that he wanted to act aggressively toward neighborhood dogs. It wasn’t pretty, as he stood on his hind legs, pawing frantically in the air in the general direction of the dog as it passed. It was difficult to control him and impossible to calm him down. Then came a new puppy arrival a few houses down – Audrey the shepherd mix, who couldn’t be more docile and friendly. Marty wasn’t having any of Audrey, and Audrey wanted to be Marty’s best pal. So his frantic air pawing transitioned into snapping at Audrey, when all she wanted was a backyard play date.
I reached out to Julie, because I just knew she would have answers, tools and suggestions. Just like every other time I have needed Julie, she did not disappoint. One hour-long visit with Julie, Marty, Audrey and Audrey’s parents was a game-changer. I gained tools for redirecting Marty when Audrey got too close and rewarding him for making the right choice to turn away, and Audrey’s owners got tools for distracting her from wanting to be too close to Marty and rewarding her for ignoring him. Julie also gave me a game plan for calming Marty by holding him in a specific way, with my back to the dog or whatever is stimulating Marty’s aggression, until he relaxes. Miraculous.
Thank you, Julie!

It isn't always the case that an issue can be solved in one hour or one visit, but honestly, it does happen, particularly when you have a motivated dog owner who is ready and willing to help their pet move through this issue and away from the anxiety that led to the behavior in the first place. Some people wait to long to address problems, hoping, I suppose, that they will resolve on their own.  When it comes to anxiety-based behavior problems, they won't resolve on their own and they can get much worse.  By teaching Marty alternate behaviors to do when he feels anxious and showing him that we understand his frustration with puppies was the first step.  Teaching Audrey the puppy that the best way to get Marty's attention wasn't jumping on him, but just hanging out near him sniffing and rolling around was also part of the solution.  Both of these dogs are well-socialized and responsive to treats, praise and redirection.  I couldn't be happier with how this all worked out and I was thrilled to see Marty back to his usual happy self.  

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Marty McFly is back to enjoying his walks and the other dogs who share his neighborhood!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Safety First on the 4th of July

I always knew that Shadow was a special dog.  She just got me.  She loved going everywhere I went and was so unobtrusive, people often didn't even know she was there. She even seemed to enjoy big public gatherings with music and fireworks.  When we lived in Davis, CA, the firefighters would stage a lovely fireworks show for the entire community on the 4th of July and Shadow and I would always attend together.  I know this is not something that most dogs would enjoy doing. In fact, I know many people for whom events like this are anxiety-provoking. For many people, and for the majority of pets, the festivities associated with the 4th of July, particularly the fireworks which often begin several days before the 4th, are cause for vigilance and alarm.  The county I now live in allows fireworks and usually there is a big celebration at the county fairgrounds.  Because of COVID-19, there will be no big fireworks show this year, but people can still buy fireworks for their own use.  In the neighboring county, however, fireworks are illegal, but that doesn't seem to stop people from setting them off in their neighborhoods anyway.  I have one friend who actually books a hotel room out in the middle of nowhere with her dogs for a week right around the 4th of July because her anxiety, and her dogs', requires that she do so.  If your dog suffers around the 4th of July as well, there are a few things you can do to help ease their discomfort, even if you can't escape completely.

1.  Don't get angry or frustrated.  If your dog gets anxious, you frustration will just reinforce their anxiety.  Be kind, supportive, and proactive--get them out of the situation as gracefully and confidently as possible.  They need to see that you aren't anxious or upset as well; you will get them to safety without panicking.

2.  If you know your dog is noise sensitive, just assume that fireworks displays, even in the distance, will be too much for them.  Keep him indoors and use fans, TVs, stereos, white noise machines, etc. to help blot out the booming sounds.  Close drapes and windows as well.  Your dog will likely still be able to hear the fireworks, but they will be greatly muted by these actions that you can take.

3.  If your dog is really panicky, get them into a bathroom.  Bathrooms tend to be very well-insulated from sounds.  Turn on the bathroom fan and sit with your dog if you like. Bring a book and just hang out.

4.  Don't let your dog outside to go to the bathroom without wearing their collar, ID tags, and a leash.  If they panic and get away from you, you want that collar and tags on them so that you will be quickly contacted when they are found.  I've known more than one dog to panic and escape from their yard without ID on the 4th of July.

5.  While we only have a few days left until the 4th, you can also try some desensitization exercises with your dog to prepare them. This is particularly useful for new dog owners who have not gone through a holiday like the 4th of July with their pet previously.  Bring up the sound of fireworks on your computer, phone, or on the TV.  Start at a very low volume and gradually increase the volume, helping your dog to see that this is no big deal.  Keep in mind that real fireworks are about sound AND lights, so these exercises really only work on the sound component unless you are using your TV and your dog actually pays attention to it!

6.  You can certainly try a Thunder Shirt for your dog, although most people find that they have limited success with just using a Thunder Shirt by itself. You may need to speak with your veterinarian about an anti-anxiety medication just to get your dog through this holiday.  You will, however, want to stay away from any medication that makes your dog woozy as that will just increase their anxiety; you will want to work with your vet to pick a drug that actually makes them tired so that they will sleep peacefully through the holiday.  Keep in mind that you will need to contact your veterinarian today as most take a few days to fill prescriptions.

7.  Probably the most important thing you can do is talk to your neighbors.  Let them know that you have an anxious dog and enlist their help.  If your immediate neighbors can resist the urge to set off firecrackers, that will help your dog immensely.

8.  And finally, many people have had success giving their pets CBD based treats to reduce anxiety and promote calmness.  If you'd like to learn more about this holistic alternative, visit

I am very fortunate that Desi and Ozzie are not particularly noise sensitive.  In fact, we've recently had someone in our neighborhood setting off firecrackers several times in  the middle of the night, and I'm the only one who woke up!

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

While Westley is not a fan of garbage trucks and the sounds they make, he isn't particularly concerned about fireworks.  Good thing too as fireworks are allowed in several Orange County cities, though not in Irvine, where he lives with my daughter.