Tuesday, October 3, 2017

But Can He Read War And Peace?

I am a dog trainer, so it is common for me to get calls from dog owners who are having problems with their dogs. These can range from simple issues like dogs who are overly enthusiastic greeters to more severe problems like leash aggression. I usually ask people if they have done any training with the dog and the answer is often, “Yes, we took him to puppy class. But now he is (insert bad behavior here).”

So, if so many dogs who went to puppy class still end up with problem behaviors, what is wrong with puppy classes? Nothing, puppy classes, or any 6 week training classes are a great start in training your dog. But, they are just that, a great ‘start’. Just like Kindergarten is a great start for your child.

We would never think of sending a child to Kindergarten for several weeks and then turning them loose, thinking that they are trained. We understand that human learning is a process that takes time and consistency.  We understand that some concepts take more time to learn and that learning continues throughout our lives.

But, for some reason, many people think that after taking their dog to a 6 week class, and possibly not doing the homework themselves, that the dog should be trained and that they are done training. And, if after all that training the dog misbehaves, he is being stubborn, willful, or bad.

What’s the answer?  I suggest that people think about training their dog like teaching a child to read. While very young children can learn the alphabet quickly, there are a lot of steps between recognizing letters and reading War  And Peace. And there are a lot of steps between teaching a puppy to come on a six foot leash in a confined area (the alphabet), and having a dog who will come when called from 50 yards away in the presence of deer (War and Peace).

Think of training as an ongoing process for at least the first year of your dog’s life. I often suggest that people take a puppy class, then another class in a few months, then another a few months after that. This way, they can be training through several developmental phases and get help with any issues that these maturing phases can bring. They can hone their dog’s skills in the behaviors that are most important to them. If they really love to walk or hike with their dog, they can build leash walking skills. If they have a place where the dog can be off leash safely, they can build that recall. Not every dog needs to be trained to the War And Peace level. But if you expect it, then you need to realize that it will not happen in 6 weeks.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Anthropo - what? The American Heritage Dictionary defines Anthropomorphism as: “Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.” So, why do you need to know this?

People often anthropomorphize their dogs. This means that they use human terms to describe how they think the dog feels and thinks. I often hear owners tell me that their dog is spiteful or mad at them. Or that he knows when he’s bad because he looks guilty. Trainers have referred to anthropomorphism as the Walt Disney Syndrome. Old Walt was probably the first guy to cash in on anthropomorphism. All of the animals were essentially little people in fur coats. They talk and sign and cry and laugh.

While I am not dismissing the fact that dogs have feelings, it is important to remember that because they are dogs, their thought process in much different from ours. So, the dog with a guilty look is usually responding to changes in the owner’s demeanor, or reacting to the fact that when the owner gets home, he usually yells at the dog for something.

The spiteful dog who pees or poops in the house either is not completely housetrained, stressed because he has separation anxiety, or was simply bursting because he really had to go!

It’s OK to say that Fido is happy when he’s playing fetch with you, or going to play with his favorite doggie friend. There is research that supports the theory that dogs can grieve the loss of favorite people or other pets and that they do indeed have feelings. But, it can be dangerous for our dogs to attribute human thought processes or too much human emotion to our canine friends. They are after all dogs, with all their wonderful dogginess, not little people in fur coats.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chaining Dogs in Greenville County

Greenville County SC has been in the midst of a battle of sorts. There is a bill before the county council that would restrict the tethering or chaining of dogs. The new laws would only permit dogs to be tethered under supervision and then only with time limits. On the surface, this would seem to be a no brainer. You can't tie a dog out to a tree or dog house at the back of your property and leave them there 24-7 until they die.

Top Ten reasons that dogs should not live on a chain 24-7.

  1. Dogs are social animals, they crave companionship. Most chained dogs don't get much of that.
  2. Dogs are territorial animals. Chained dogs often become very protective of their small patch of ground.
  3. Chained dogs are more likely to become aggressive. Lack of socialization , territorial issues, or frustration because the neighbor kids tease or taunt the dog can all cause a dog to become aggressive
  4. Chained dogs bark more. They don't want to be alone, they are hungry, they are trying to defend their territory from the neighbor's cat or those darn squirrels..
  5. Dogs are smarted than most people realize. Being chained with nothing to do leads to dogs developing behavior problems.
  6. Out of sight-out of mind. If the dog lives outside, families often forget about the day to day care. Many chained dogs have severe health problems.
  7. Chained dogs are vulnerable. Females who may be in heat will almost always become pregnant. Male dogs, trying to defend their territory are hampered by a chain around their neck and are more likely to get hurt in a fight.
  8. If you want a dog for protection, chaining is counterproductive. A chained dog can not chase the bad guys away. And as he probably barks a lot because he's bored, so you wouldn't know the difference if he was barking at a real intruder.
  9. Chained dogs are “hyper.” DUH! They don't get any exercise or training!
  10. Chained dogs are just not real happy. If you want a dog, get a family pet. If you want a lawn ornament, get a statue of a dog.

Unfortunately, there are those diehards who think that there is nothing wrong with leaving a dog tied in the back yard until it dies. After all, it has been done since dogs were domesticated. Well, it used to be OK for children to work in mills and factories. It was accepted practice to whip children and wives for their transgressions. However, society has evolved, we now have laws that prohibit those acts.

Gandhi said, “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Let's step up and be great Greenville.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Are Two Better Than One?

I have, over the last year or so, had several clients who have taken on the ownership of two puppies. These pups are usually siblings. The reasons are either that the family had two or more children and thought that each child should have his or her own puppy, or they simply thought that two pups would “keep each other company.”

The few times that I am contacted before the decision is made, I try to discourage the practice of raising two puppies at a time. There are several reasons for this.

Two puppies, especially siblings, will usually bond up so tightly that they really don’t need people for much. It’s not that they don’t like their people, but they have another pup to play with and cuddle with, so other than putting down the food bowl on a regular basis, you aren’t quite as necessary to them.

This tight sibling bonding can cause problems later in life. If the pups are left together all of the time and are never separated, they can become very co-dependant. They will often bark, cry and otherwise carry on when separated, sometimes to the point of making themselves sick or hurting themselves trying to get to the other dog. If, heaven forbid, one dog dies, the other will often pine away, not eating and becoming depressed.

Two teething puppies can ruin your house in a heartbeat! Large sections of rugs can disappear in minutes, legs of chairs and tables may shrink at an alarming rate, and parts of TV remotes, cell phones and glasses will often appear in piles of puppy poop. All of this destruction can happen with one puppy, but having two just doubles the potential for ruin.

Housetraining two pups at once is also a bigger challenge. Seldom, in the first few months, will both puppy’s bowels and bladders be on exactly the same schedule. Even when you are diligent with scheduling and management, the prospect of finding “a present” on the floor is twice as great.

You will have to make twice as much time for teaching the pups basic manners. You should work with one pup at a time to teach sit, come, stay and leash walking, and don’t forget, twice the tuition for puppy classes.

And, of course, the obvious - two of everything, collars, toys, beds, crates, leashes, bowls and vet bills.

My advice has always been, get one puppy and raise it right. Once you get that pup to the “good dog” stage, get a second puppy. The younger one will learn a lot from the older one and you can concentrate on raising and enjoying one great puppy at a time.

If you are really determined to get two pups at once, put them in separate crates from the beginning, be prepared for “double trouble” and don’t forget to socialize and train them well. Just because they have each other doesn’t mean that they don’t need to learn how to get along in the world.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Being an Advocate for Your Dog

Our dogs depend on us for almost everything. Food, water, shelter and companionship all depend on our generosity. A dog’s safety and well being are also in our hands, and sometimes, we have to be an advocate for our dog to protect him or her.

The definition of advocate is “one that supports or promotes the interests of another” or “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc.”

As your dog’s advocate you work with your vet to insure that your dog has good health care. You choose healthy food and treats. You teach and train your dog so he/she can be a valued member of your family.

I want to talk about your role as an advocate when it comes to the last part - training. Over the years, there have been many cruel and hurtful things done to dogs in the name of training. With an awareness of how well positive methods work, many of those methods have fallen by the way. However, there are still a few die hard trainers who hang on to archaic and cruel methods because “they work.” Just because something works, doesn’t make it right.

And, just because you pay a person for their expertise, does not ensure that you will get good advice. There are a couple of instances that keep popping up in my experience that I want to talk about.

The first involves underground fence companies. I have heard one too many stories about cruel so-called training methods used on dogs by underground fence installers. I have heard about their so called trainers using multiple collars and putting collars on dog’s backs and private parts. The advice of some of these people has caused fear and pain to countless dogs.We trainers often see the fallout of this cruel "training". We are the ones who are called when the dog refuses to leave the porch or to even go into the yard at all. We are called when the normally nice Golden bites the neighbor child because he tried to follow little Jimmy home one day and got shocked. In my book, allowing a fence installer to "train" your dog is like asking your  yard man to tutor you kid in algebra.

The second involves trainers who counsel their clients to employ severe jerking on choke chains (corrections), picking dogs off the ground by the choke chain (hanging), and pinning or slamming the dog to the ground (the Alpha Roll) to establish dominance over him/her. At the very least, these methods will severely erode the relationship between dog and owner. And, in many instances, they will increase aggression and may lead to the dog being euthanized for “incurable aggression.” Sometimes using these methods will temporarily stop the behavior - growling or barking at another dog or a person - but they don't make the dog feel any better about why he's growling or barking. If you try to stop aggressive displays with punsihment, you are simply supressing the behavior. Sooner or later it will resurface - usually worse than before.

My advice is this; if at ANY TIME, you feel even a little uncomfortable with any method of training used on your dog, stop it immediately. Tell the person that you will not treat your dog that way, and that you will not permit them to do so either. You do not need to argue the merits of the methods. And remember that even though this person is supposed to be the expert, you, as your dog’s advocate have the final say about what happens to your animal. You have hired this person so they work for you. If you are not happy with the way they are treating your dog, fire them!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hyper Dogs

I often have people tell me that their dog is hyper. Usually, this is code for high energy and sometimes just normal young dog behavior. In any case, the prescription for hyper-dog is pretty much the same, more exercise and give him a job.

Dogs are a moving species. Most breeds were specifically bred to move over lots of ground for long periods of time. Think Border Collies, Retrievers and Setters, Huskies, and Hounds. Many of the popular pet breeds fall into one of these groups.

And, when you think of these breed groups, most of them were also bred to do a job. Herding, hunting, and pulling sleds required dogs that could keep moving for long periods of time, sometimes with short bursts of extreme speed.

If you have a dog whose ancestors were bred for a marathon job, do you really have to wonder why your dog is hyper when he only gets one or two thirty minute walks a day? And, do you really have to wonder why he eats your couch or digs up your yard when he is left alone without anything constructive to do for 8-10 hours while you are at work each day?

Your dog isn’t hyper, he is under-exercised and not mentally challenged. So, what’s a hyper dog owner to do? Well, luckily for you there are lots of things that you can do to make your dog happier and more relaxed.

Begin with training. Spend a little time each day working on basic obedience exercises. Using a clicker is a great way to stimulate your dog’s mind. Clicker training challenges your dog to think and thinking is tiring.

Do not EVER feed your hyper dog out of a bowl! There are lots of good toys that can hold treats and food. You can put your dog’s meals in them. You can even use empty, clear water bottles (take off the labels and any plastic cap rings), fill them with kibble and let Fido figure out how to get it out. Hide several small stashes of kibble around the yard for Fido to find and eat. Make a game out of mealtime.

Give him a tire to tire him out. Depending on the size of the dog, you can suspend a bicycle inner tube or a car tire from a sturdy branch for your pup to play tug with. Some dogs like to drag tires around the yard. That works too.

Give him a place to dig. Build a sandbox out of landscape timbers or use a plastic kiddie pool. Fill it with play sand and bury a few toys, bones or other treats. Encourage your dog to find his buried treasure.

In the summer freeze special treats like pieces of hotdog or cheese in ice cubes or several pieces in a margarine tub full of water.

The idea is the keep you dog occupied with interesting, fun things so your house and yard can stay intact.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Would Lassie be the same dog today?

I grew up watching Lassie on a black and white TV. Lassie and Timmy lived on a farm and spent most of their time running across the countryside getting into trouble. The only time Lassie was aggressive was to the bad guys and mountain lions.

I often wonder why dog aggression problems have become so common today? Is it just that the news media picks up on these stories, or are there simply a lot more aggressive dogs than there were years ago?

When I was a kid, back in the 50’s, many families had dogs. Most moms were stay at home moms, so there was someone around the house most of the day. There were no leash laws (for dogs or children) and kids roamed neighborhoods freely, running through back yards in packs from one house to another. The family dogs usually followed this pack of kids, becoming socialized to the noise, actions, and behavior of lots of children of all ages, and with the other family dogs. These dogs were outside running with the child-pack whenever the weather permitted. When evening came, they were happy to collapse and sleep under the kitchen table or in front of the fire in the winter.

Fast forward to today. Most dogs live in homes where the owners work full time. Consequently, puppies spend hours alone in crates or laundry rooms. Their exhausted owners come home from work and simply want a little down time. So, the puppy gets a cursory walk and comes back in the house. In a few hours, the pup is put back in his crate for the night. They may have a fenced yard but too often they spend the majority of their time in the yard alone. The children are busy with soccer, little league, music and karate lessons. When they get home they sit in front of the computer or the Wii, they have to do homework and go to bed.

This difference in lifestyle means that most puppies do not get the socialization that the neighborhood dogs of my childhood got. They do not get the exercise either. Many of the more popular breeds are descended from working dogs. The retrievers, collies and terriers were all originally bred to do a job. Few dogs today have jobs. So, we have an abundance of under-socialized, under-exercised, bored dogs. The frustration and fear that these dogs experience will often surface as aggression.

If Lassie lived on a cul-de-sac with an underground fence, and Timmy’s mom was a corporate executive, and Timmy played soccer, baseball and took flute lessons, I wonder if she would be the same dog? Besides, they would now have city water, so all that barking wouldn’t be to tell the family that Timmy fell in the well, it would just be annoying.