Three most important lessons in basic obedience…..

Basic obedience training is so important in so many ways that often it seems I am repeating myself when stressing this point. Besides the obvious benefits in your relationship with your dog, basic obedience provides safety. When I say safety, I mean your ability to protect your dog from the environment. In the absence of a leash, knowing that your dog will do what you ask is your best bet for keeping him safe.

*I will note here, though, how much it drives me crazy when people think that the leash on their dog is to protect other people and other dogs. The leash on your dog is to protect your dog. Period. Any dog can and will get spooked, and some of these places I see people walking their dogs off leash are just feet from a busy intersection or highway. If you have your dog on a leash, and someone else’s dog runs up and your dog reacts it is always the other person’s fault for having their dog off leash. It does not matter what breed of dog you have. No dog wants to be rushed on by another dog, especially when they are on a leash and have no means for  escape.


When I start a package of basic obedience training with the client, I stress the three following behaviors: staying in the spot I asked you to stay until I have said it’s okay to get up, no matter how long it takes or how far away I go. Coming every time I call you. And going to a spot that I point to.


As you know I don’t use the word ‘stay’. I expect the dog to sit in the spot I asked him to sit until I have given him a release command. If the dog just sits for reward and then stands up it is nothing more than a parlor trick. ‘Sit’ alone, if solid, would provide freedom from 50% of the problems that I get called for later on. A sitting dog can’t jump, a sitting dog can’t bolt out the door, a sitting dog can’t come to the table looking for food. A sitting dog stay sitting in the spot we asked him to sit.


The same goes for coming when called. If a dog always comes when called, then those moments when you might freak out and scream ‘no’ and run at the dog  (the opposite of what you should do) will disappear, and you will instinctively use the  calm, firm recall command that you have practiced. If the dog is in another room barking out the window, a simple recall command will break the dog’s concentration on whatever it is and bring the dog to you.


Going to a place and staying there is the third behavior I stress. The dog already understands how to stay in a spot, so now we just teach the dog how to go to the spot where they will stay. Again a dog that you have sent to his place, who knows to stay in his place, cannot both out the door or charge at the pizza delivery guy.


In another blog entry I will go into the benefits in relationship building through basic obedience. But I think that with these three simple behaviors, we will have been eliminating the majority of problems that might arise later on in life.

Some need some work………Rescue dog Chewey

About two months ago, I was walking my dogs and a trainee. I was passing by the park near my house when I saw a sad wet dog sitting on the steps that go up into the park. He definitely was a terrier mix, but it wasn’t until I got close to him and he took off running that I saw his distinctive tail and hind legs and realized he was a chow mix. He would not let me get close to him and so I took the other dogs home, grabbed a slip lead, and headed back to the park to get him.


Two days of me getting close enough to touch him and him hightailing it away from me was getting frustrating. I took a picture and put it on the email list for my neighborhood. I asked if anybody could wrangle him, please do so and I would pick him up. The next morning I was awake very early as I was going for a run. I saw the dog at 430 in the morning, stopped my car and tried to get him to jump in. But as soon as I got out of my car he recognized me and ran. By the time I was done with my run, I already had a text message saying that my neighbor had got him in his backyard and I could come and get him.


So once again after a vet check up, getting him neutered, and basic obedience training, I have a young man ready to be adopted. This is not to say he doesn’t have a couple issues. Neither of his issues are very difficult to deal with, and hopefully I have eliminated them or at least minimize them. The first issue was his manners. He would grab a paper towel right out of my hand and run away and shred it. He also liked to stand on his hind legs and see what was on the counter. With correction, those have gone away for the most part. I still listen for monkey business when he is in the kitchen by himself, but there have been no  thefts of chicken, cheese or the like. The other problem, which is being dealt with, is that he is mouthy. He does not bite but he mouths an awful lot. When he gets mouthy and I am giving him affection, I immediately stop petting him, turn away from him, and ignore him completely. This has been working very well. He understands now that his mouth will cause the attention to stop. The more difficult problem with his mouth is that he bites at my shoes as I put them on and will even nip at them when I am walking. I am using the same approach with this but it is taking a little bit longer for him to get it. He nips because he is excited, I believe, because me putting on my shoes signifies the beginning of a walk. So when he nips at my feet, I stop walking immediately, look straight ahead and completely ignore him. It is a little bit of pain because I might have to stop two or three times on the way out the door. But it is getting better.


Other than that, he is pretty much perfect. He comes when I call him, he sits when I ask him to, he stops his bad behavior with not much more than a stern word.   (Although he drives Fred my Basset hound insane)


And so I believe Chewey is ready to be adopted. His beautiful Benji-like face will be on my personal Facebook page, my business Facebook page, and on countless flyers around Houston. The boy is so full of love, he just needs a home.

Murphy’s Law of Dogs

IMG_2504Murphy’s Law seems to always kick in at some point with any dog during the training process. Usually it is right at the beginning, occurring when I arrive in the owner says “I don’t understand it, she jumps on everybody but she is not jumping on you.” or “Just five minutes ago, I couldn’t get him to stop barking and now he won’t start barking.” I don’t know if it’s just because I carry myself differently, or I can sense any kind of cue the dog is getting before a behavior, but usually it is because I give the dog no feedback at all. And as we all know, if it’s not working for the dog they stop doing it.


Such is the case with Angus, a big American bulldog that was rescued almost a year ago. When he was first rescued, I was volunteering for a local rescue helping to train dogs with the basics so that their adoption would be much more easy on prospective families. Angus came in through a different channel than usual, having been rescued by an individual as opposed to the rescue group itself. When I met Angus, he had a red card attached to his kennel which signified  ”do not handle”. I was told that he had tried to bite one of the volunteers. But he was gorgeous, and I did not see that aggression. What I did see was a dog that did not know how to calm himself down, jumping up against the door of the kennel when he thought he was getting out for some air. I think what happened is that in one of these jumping incidents he startled a volunteer who then reported it as an attempted bite. I felt he was rescuable.


The first few sessions were really about teaching him that he could calm himself down, and indeed would need to calm himself down if he wanted to go for a walk. It took some patience, but I got him to that point. Luckily the woman who had rescued him found another woman who was willing to take Angus in as a foster. She has her own dog, also a large male, more of a shepherd mix. He is a good dog. Due to Angus’ exuberance, she deemed him to be a bit too hyper to be loose with her dog Dudley when she was not around. So when ever she was gone, Dudley was loose and Angus was in his crate. He was getting exercise, but I think that being in the crate was causing him frustration.


I took him to a few adoption events last autumn, but unfortunately I got busy and was only able to go hang out with him about once a month. When the foster went on vacation, I brought Angus here. Again I knew nothing of his frustration because he was not kenneled here, he had the run of the house along with my dogs. I was careful, especially with Jolie my toy poodle, to be vigilant and look for any contention whatsoever. A small spat between Angus and my other dogs might cause some hurt feelings, but a spat between Angus and Jolie may prove fatal to my tiny one.


But Angus gained my trust. In the last three months I have seen Angus hanging out in his yard mainly, this is because my running route generally took me right past his foster’s home. At one point, while running with a friend, we stopped and I called Angus over and my friend watched nervously as this huge American bulldog ran up and started licking my face.


So I was surprised about two weeks ago when I received an email from the foster mom stating that she didn’t know if she could take care of Angus anymore. She said Angus had attacked Dudley  ”out of nowhere”, and that his behavior was becoming unsteady. As soon as I had dogs that I was training in-kennel go home, I went over and got Angus and brought him back here. I was nervous because of what the foster had said about aggression, so I started at the beginning keeping him separated when I couldn’t be watching them. Then when I left the house, I left him with Lucas my Briard and Fred my Basset hound. Then when I came home and all tales were wagging, I brought Jade my Gordon setter into the mix. And again coming home to wagging tails and stress free love I let all the dogs hang out together all the time.


I walk all the big dogs together because we go for long walks. There has been no leash frustration from Angus, there has been no fixation on other dogs we encounter, except for one large unneutered black lab that never gets exercise save running up to the gate screaming at every dog that walks by. So I do not fault Angus for that. He does stare at cats.


And now I have come to the point where I have to wonder is this just Murphy’s Law? How long do I have to observe to see if this is a deviation or the norm? I believe it’s the norm. But I’m going to keep him here for a little while longer just to make sure. I understand the risk – that every day I fall more in love with him than I already am and that he will join my pack. But I am hoping somebody who has an expanse of land sees my posts and falls in love with him as well. I can’t imagine anything that would make him happier than some acres to run on.


I will give Angus the chance to show me what I think I already know, and that is this is no case of Murphy’s Law. He actually is a big lovable smart athletic cuddler.  I just hope I find a home for him before I give him a home.

My Newest Rescue

About two weeks ago, I was driving out of my neighborhood and I was stopped at a stoplight at a very busy intersection. I heard screeching of tires and honking of horns. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little white flash, a tiny dog running through the intersection. I moved my car just off the road, threw it into park, and ran out to grab the little dog. It was completely freaked out and ran away from me directly under a minivan. My stomach went into my throat and I thought the worst. But like a miracle, the van passed over the little white dog, and there he was sitting in the middle of the road unharmed. I took my chance, ran over and snatched him up.


He didn’t try to bite me he just shook and shook and shook. I put them in my car and I turned around and drove back home. When I got home I gave him something to eat, gave him a quick bath to rinse off what looked like weeks of filth, and put him on a dog bed in a crate. I then got back in my car and ran to do the errands I was originally intending to do.


When I got home I took a better look at this dog. Young male, unneutered, very thin, most likely a Bichon or a Bichon/Poodle mix. He had dried and napped by this point, and so I brought him to the vet located just a mile away. When I got there I asked if they would scan for a chip and if they would do a quick fecal for anything like parvo or heartworm and the like. No chip, but at least he was heartworm negative and had no communicative diseases.


I brought him home and took some pictures of him. I figured because he was found so close to my home that any one of my neighbors would know of somebody who was missing this dog. So I put the photos on the neighborhood newsletter, asked that the photos be forwarded to the newsletter for the next neighborhood over, put the photos on my Facebook page as well. Then I started driving around. For three days I drove all over my neighborhood and the two neighborhoods closest to me, looking for any posted signs, looking for any signs at all that somebody was missing this dog. Nothing. Nada.


I gave him the temporary name of Grady, because I had always wanted to have a dog named Grady. But it never seems to really fit. My father suggested Murphy, and surprisingly it seemed like that must’ve been very similar to his name before because he answers to it.


So here we are a few weeks later I have had him neutered, I am putting some meat on his bones, I have started some basic obedience training, and I will teach him a few tricks. He will clean up beautifully, and I will have no problems finding a new family for Murphy. He is an absolute sweetheart, a delight. Whoever dumped him got rid of a diamond in the rough, because I think you will be as close to a perfect pet as there is.


So nothing about training in this blog entry, just a cute story about a great dog that will get a second chance. Keep your eyes open on the Facebook page, because I will post more updates.

Holidays with doggies

I know Thanksgiving is already over, but Christmas is coming up. Holidays don’t have to be a stressful for your dog as they are for you.


I want you to think about how the dog looks at the holidays. They mean nothing to him, nothing at all, except that there may be a lot of strangers in his house. Dogs love the familiar. Dogs love understanding their environment and having clarity about what is going on around them. So when 15 people the dog may or may not know come stampeding into your house it is clearly an unfamiliar  event.


Let your dog know that there is nothing to worry about. Try to carry yourself the same way you do every day and try to avoid the frantic behaviors that most of us exhibit during the holidays. A calm leader makes a calm follower. During Thanksgiving I was at my sister’s house in Chicago. She and her husband are new empty-nesters, and Gus their dog has filled a little bit of the void. (Another story completely is how my sister once told me she didn’t like the dog, but now every time I talk to her she is calling me from a walk with Gus. it is very clear by the way she talks to Gus that she loves him dearly).


With my five sisters my brother my parents the in-laws and all my nieces and nephews there were 35 people in my sister’s house. Gus went to an upstairs bedroom with the baby gate. He could hear everything that was going on downstairs. He stood on the other side of the baby gate staring out to the hallway, turning his head to one side with every new voice he heard. I think my sister was worried that this might be odd behavior, but Gus was just trying to figure out the situation. Once he realized that nothing bad was happening he was good to go.


By the end of the night, during the frantic part of the evening when somebody decides charades would be a good game to play, Gus was downstairs getting his ears scratched by whoever would scratch them, walking from person to person looking for a little attention.


Generally, if you can minimize the mania, if you can act as if nothing new is happening, then you won’t be giving your dog a cue that  there is a reason to be alert. This is not to say that a dog that has not learned to calm himself down will calm himself down, but at least you will not be contributing to any anxiety.


People are the same way. Some people know when a house plant  has been moved, books or CDs are out of order, and this may cause some consternation because these particular people love the familiar. Just be sensitive to the fact that dogs love the familiar the same way you would to any person. You don’t have to keep everything exactly as it is, just try not to make a scene out of what is not the same.

What makes you a leader for your dog?

What makes you a great leader for your dog? If you look at all the great leaders of history, there is one thing they all have in common. The people that follow them feel that this person provides the best chances for survival, success, and prosperity.


As we have already established that dogs will do whatever is in their best interest, we have to make it in the dog’s best interest to listen to our commands. Dogs are survivors. Dogs will do what they need to do to ensure their future. This is why dogs always look for a pack leader. Dog stay with the pack leader that will provide the best chances for survival. Sometimes dominant dogs are dominant because they see a lack of leadership. With the pack mentality, there must be a leader. Make that leader you, or your dog will feel the need to become the leader by default.


I believe that your dogs trust in you as a leader is based on this premise. All the dogs needs are met: physical exercise, mental stimulation, and clear communication. Of course the dogs biological needs are met as well as you feed the dog, take the dog for biological breaks, and give it a affection. But because every time the dog has followed your instructions either something good has happened or nothing bad has happened you will build trust with your dog. I let the dog make the decision to trust me. I asked the dog to do something and if the dog does do it I reward the dog. If the dog does not, he does not get rewarded, but I asked him to do the behavior again. In this way I build trust with my dog. Nothing bad happens to him if he decides not to follow my command but everything great happens to them if he does. And with consistency and repetition the dog just follows my commands because they’ve always served him best. My commands have become what is in his best interest.


I believe the relationship between dog and human should be that of benevolent dictator and subject. I know this sounds funny, but a benevolent dictator is truly concerned with the well-being of his/her subject.  there is an old expression ” if you treat your dog like a human, your dog will treat you like a dog”. You are the king or queen of your home and you deeply love your subjects. You know what is best for your subjects, and instead of imposing it without explanation you show your subjects why it is in their best interest.


Sometimes my relationship is that of superhero and sidekick, sometimes my relationship is that of teacher and student, sometimes friend and friend, but all the time I am the benevolent leader. My dogs love this security, because it has proven consistent.

The good news is…..

I love being able to say this to clients, because there is almost always good news. Most often I get to say it when people are and the end of their rope (or leash) trying to get their dogs to walk on a loose leash.

There definitely is a technique to it, and a professional can show you the techniques employed. It will take time, repetition, consistency and patience. But all things are possible, I feel.

What I can say in this short blog is something about your mindset. Almost every time I hold a sessions about walking, I can point out the tension on the leash. This is a response to the dog’s past behavior. People are SO ready for the dog to lunge toward whatever interest it,  that they are already prepared by having the leash pulled back with all their strength.

Just a few things to remember:

1. Whenever you pull a dog away from something, it creates frustration that manifests itself in the dog puller harder toward that thing.

2. When you allow your dog to walk on a loose leash, only correcting when they get to the end of that leash, then you are showing them the reward – which is a loose leash (i.e. a comfortable walk.) If the dog is always on a tight leash, he never learns how nice it is to be relaxed when walking.

3. As you are walking on a loose leash, and you subconsciously tense up the leash, you a giving your dog a cue that something is coming up and to be on the lookout.

4. When your dog walks nicely, PRAISE HIM. Every time! The event for him should be physical comfort associated with affection. It will be in his best interest to wak on a loose leash, why wouldn’t he? If he pulls he is getting corrected every single time. If he does’t pull, his neck feels great and his best friend is loving on him. Make it the easiest decision ion the world for him.

Of course, some dogs are physically stronger than others. Some dogs respond to a collar with a little pinch, some to regular flat collars. This, and the technique,  is where a professional can really help.

The good news is you can enjoy walks with your dog…..






Self control in dogs

I have learned that, like many other behaviors, dogs can learn to calm themselves down.  It takes patience and time, but positive reinforcement works – ‘when I am calm, something good happens.’

I use the method for some basics – a dog that jumps to get out of its run for example. I ask the dog to sit, dog sits (hopefully it knows this command otherwise its back to basics). I begin to open the gate, dog even budges the gate closes. I ask the dog to sit, begin to open the gate, dog even budges the gate closes. Eventually I can open the gate wider and wider before movement, and finally dog needs to sit until I get a leash on it.

Recently I was asked to work with a dog that a rescue organization said had dog aggression. I couldn’t get too much background, just that she was going after other dogs during an adoption event. I took her out to a local dog park, kept her on a loose leash.  There was no aggression at all, good manners. When I had some time, I did some more investigation. Turns out she was barking at the other dogs while in a crate at the event. Sitting next to her crate before the next even started, rewarding her for every time she calmed herself, she began to realize that barking meant no treat, calmness meant treat. By the time the event started she was good to go in the crate.

Trainer has to be calm and in control, the dog always needs to know that nothing bad will happen if I am around.  Build this trust, reward calmness and good things follow.



Basic dominance ‘by default’

What do we mean ‘dominance by default’? Dogs will automatically take charge if they feel there is no person or other dog in charge. That is why it is ‘by default’. The dog does not necessarily want to be in charge, but somebody has to be in charge.

So you see your dog barking at other dogs, then running behing you. Guarding you. Unless you want this particular behavior, you will need to take charge, and it is a fairly simple concept that deals with true leadership.

Your dog needs to know that you always have its back. If you are in a situation where you know your dog will be unsure around a person or another dog, step between the two and take charge. You are the leader and nothing will happen to your dog. Let your dog’s greeting of people and other dogs be your dog’s idea. If your dog is unsure, but you think that it will be a good thing for it to ‘meet’ other dogs and push them together, you are really only demonstrating that you are not protecting your dog. Dog thinks “Owner not protecting me, I guess its up to me to protect me.”

A good leader, in every sense, knows that a common best interest makes a great team. Sports – the team wants to win, work- the company wants to make money. Dogs want security and stability.   Your job as leader to provide it.

Once you have trust from your dog – trust that you will always watch out for its best interests, you will have gained a faithful member of your pack.