Friday, December 12, 2008

Aesop's Fables pt. 2

Well, I've written about the Aesop's Fable about The Tortoise & the Hare, and how it relates to dog training.

How about "The Little Boy who cried Wolf"?

We all know the story: The little shepherd boy wants attention, so he comes running into town, crying that there is a wolf threatening the flock. The townspeople respond by running into the hills to protect the sheep, only to find the boy didn't really mean it; he was playing a joke on them. After this happens several times, a real wolf comes along. This time when the little boy cries "Wolf!" no one in town believes him and the flock is killed.

Obviously, the human moral of this story is about being truthful. But what about the dog training moral? When applied to dog training, this lesson teaches us to say what we mean, and mean what we say to our dogs.

Very often, I see owners simply miscommunicating with their dogs. They say "come" to the dog, but don't really mean it each time.

Or they use different commands at different times. Believe me, 'sit' means something different than 'sit down' to your dog. 'Off!' means something other than 'Down!' Or at least they should. But if you mix up commands, your dog won't know what the heck you want.

Sometimes, owners are unable or unwilling to show the dog that when they say 'stay', they really DO mean it.

Dogs need true feedback to know what you want. They learn by feeling an instinct (or desire) - responding to the desire - experiencing a result of their actions - and judging whether they want to repeat that process or not. Keep that learning flow in mind when working with your dogs:

desire -> action -> consequence -> new desire based on consequence.

Are you lying to your dogs? Are you crying "wolf?"

If your dog gets a different result from you each time he does a behavior, it's unclear to him whether you like the behavior, don't care about the behavior, or don't like the behavior. Obviously, there are other factors besides how you feel about his behaviors coming into play, but if you are practicing good leadership and training methods, your dog DOES factor your responses into his next desire/action/consequence sequence.

When your dog does something, are you responding consistently, every time??? Owners sending mixed messages is the number one communication break down for dogs.

Unlike the little shepherd boy, most owners aren't doing this on purpose. But they are doing it. The end result is a confused dog and a frustrated owner.

So the next time you begin to get frustrated with a particular behavior your dog is doing, check and make sure you haven't been crying wolf...responding with so many different consequences that your dog doesn't know the truth - the truth of what you really expect. If it's you that has been inconsistent and unclear, you must go back, reteach the skill and be consistent with your feedback.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Questions? Comments? You can reach Jennifer Hime at

Friday, December 5, 2008

Choosing a Doggy Daycare

Anytime I get the same question from several different clients, I know it's time for a new blog entry!

So, how DO you choose a good Doggy Daycare? There's a lot to consider besides the obvious questions of location and cost. Remember, this is where you are planning on leaving your dog for the day or longer, if it's also a boarding kennel. Choosing a daycare that meets your needs and keeps your dog safe is as important as choosing a school for your children.

The best thing you can do is ask questions. Here are some basics (along with what the answers should sound like):

1. What is the human-to-dog ratio? (There should never be more than 11 dogs per 1 human at any one time, and there should always be at least 2 people on staff. If there is an emergency with a dog or a staff member, you need to be sure there will still be someone there with the rest of the dogs.)

2. Is there a limit to how many dogs can be in the facility at a time? (This seems obvious, but can be tricky at daycares that allow 'drop-ins.')

3. Where and how are the staff trained? (Think about this: you're going to leave your dog in the care of people other than yourself, and those people have not only your dog to worry about, but sometimes 30 or 40 other dogs, too. A facility that doesn't train or hire staff that are experienced in dog behavior is eventually going to have don't want those problems involving your dog! Daycare staff need to be more than just dog lovers, they need to be knowledgeable about canine CPR & first aid, canine social behaviors and how to introduce new dogs, how to break up fights, handle injured animals, etc.)

4. Do they have a webcam? (Most daycares have them these allows you to logon and watch how your dog is doing throughout the day. Not only does this give you warm fuzzies, it also allows you to make sure there is always someone with the dogs and that they are being treated appropriately.)

5. How do they screen their new clients? (They should require proof of vaccinations, as well as have a 'trial' day and introduction period in which they make sure each new dog is safe and acceptable in a daycare environment.)

6. Do they have an area for small, elderly, or 'mellow' dogs? (Not all dogs want to go go go go go go go play play play play play all day. Good facilities have mulitple areas where they can group dogs of similar temperaments and energy levels.)

7. Do they have an 'open door' policy? (You should be able to show up, unannounced and view the entire facility. If there are any 'off-limits' area, be suspicious. A good kennel or daycare is proud of its facility - including its staff, procedures and cleanliness.)

Last but not least, defer to your dog. If your dog is sullen, fearful, has other undesirable behavior changes after a day at daycare, it could mean several things - including that your dog just prefers to stay home. But it could mean there's a problem at that daycare. Be a good owner and work to find a daycare that works not only for you, your budget and your schedule...but for your dog.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Questions? Comments? You can reach Jennifer at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Safety Reminders

As the holidays approach, it's always a good idea to keep your pets' safety in mind.

Things to remember:

1. ALL cooked poultry bones are dangerous (can be fatal) for dogs and cats. Be sure to throw out bones in a container that your animals absolutely cannot get into.

2. If you're like me and already decorating for Christmas, choose your decorations wisely. Old-fashioned string tinsel can be dangerous (or fatal) for dogs and cats. Glass ornaments should be hung HIGH on the tree, so tails and wiggle-butts don't knock them down and break them.

3. Some dogs will think your Christmas tree is a new toilet, just for them. Be sure to supervise pets around the Christmas tree, and never leave them unattended with the tree/presents.

4. Poinsettias are the fake ones! You can use them again next year.

5. Be sure to keep lights and extensions cords not only out of tripping range, but also out of CHEWING range.

6. Watch out for small pieces from toys...a trip to the emergency room to remove collectible Luke Skywalker's mini light-saber from your dog's stomach doesn't make for a happy holiday!

7. Supervision is the best way to keep your pets safe around the Holidays.

Here's wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving!

That's it from this end of the leash.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aesop's Fables pt. 1

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare is obviously much faster than the tortoise, so he's guaranteed to win the race. Ah, but that rabbit is so sure of himself, he wastes most of his time dilly-dallying while the slow tortoise plods on methodically. Finally, the rabbit is so far behind he can never catch up. In the end, the patience and perseverence of the methodical tortoise win out.

So, what does it have to do with you and your dogs?

Actually, this classic fable applies to dog training quite a bit, as it turns out.

Too often, I hear owners asking how long it will take to train their dogs. Our world and our way of life have become full of short-cuts. We're always looking for the fast results. Our cars are faster, our computers are faster, even our fast-food is faster!

Unfortunately, the only fast way to train a dog is...
... as slowly as possible.

What do I mean by that? Well, dogs aren't computers or cars. They learn just like you and I - with practice and repetition. They often don't pick up on a new concept the first time you try it, or even the second, third, or tenth time! But with continued practice, they DO learn.

There are no shortcuts in good dog training. Now, I'll admit: There are types of training and equipment (bribery, e-collars) that may initially appear to make learning go faster, but even with these methods or new types of equipment, a good learning foundation must be established.

If you want lasting, reliable results, you have to set a clear goal and exercise consistency and discipline to reach that goal. All the fancy equipment or special treats in the world won't win the race in the long run.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Questions? Visit Jennifer at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lessons in walking multiple dogs

The whippets and I spent the weekend in Pueblo, CO at the Southern Colorado Kennel Club show. The weather held out okay for us, and the whips had a fabulous time running around in my parents' backyard. They thought crunching the leaves, and chasing squirrels was pretty cool.

This was the first time I've taken all four dogs at once to the same show. To say the least, it was a bit daunting. I felt a little like the 'Dog Whisperer' as I trotted 4 dogs at once into and out of the Sate Fair Grounds Events Center.

A lot of my clients have 2 or 3 dogs, and often express the troubles they have walking everyone together. Well, while I'm quite adept at walking 3 dogs at once, adding a fourth really changed the picture! The experience was a lesson in teaching 4 dogs to work together on cue.

This brought to my attention a few new tricks that I will be putting together for the 'Three Dog Night" classes I teach. The 'Three Dog Night' class is designed to help owners learn to work more than one dog at a time...and as I said, my experience with working FOUR whippets at once was quite new. It helped me to relate to issues you all may be having in the world when walking 2 or 3 dogs.

I also got the opportunity to reconnect with Paula Mitchell, my cousin and mentor in the dog training world. If it weren't for Paula, Front Range K9 Academy wouldn't exist today. Paula and her 9 year old son, Alex wrangled wippets ringside for me, and were on stand-by in case any of the dogs needed to enter the ring at the same time. Alex has picked up his mom's knack at dog handling, and he and Lizzie looked great doing down-and-backs and free-stacking.

In the show ring, we faired alright. There was a HUGE turnout of whippets - 35 in all - so this ended up being a pretty big show.

Here are our results:

Sat. 11/08/08:

Jet: 1st Place, Am. Bred Dogs
Penelope: 1st Place, Am Bred Bitches
Lizzie: 4th Place, Open Bitches

Sun. 11/09/08:

Timmy: 1st Place, Am. Bred Dogs
Lizzie: 1st Place, Am. Bred Bitches
Penelope: 4th Place, Open Bitches

Well, that's it from this end of the leash.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Personal Triumphs

I mostly want this blog to be about general dog training tips, ideas, and observations I make on a day-to-day basis as a dog trainer.

But once in a while, I have to share a personal triumph.

Siobhan the wonder collie accompanied me today on a 'real-world' training excursion. Because I was working primarily with a client's dog, she spent a good deal of time in the car...with my banana that is intended to be my dinner on my drive home...and with a 40 pound bag of dog food in the front seat...and with a baggie with dog treats on the dashboard.

Several times during the dog training visit, I was not only out of her sight range, but also out of her scent and hearing range...inside of several houses, one a block away from where she and the car were parked.

When the training was over and I was on my way back to the car, I realized I'd left a loose, very food-motivated dog alone for over 30 minutes in a car full of various foods. To say the least, I was expecting the worst.

She delivered the best. She was waiting patiently in the driver's seat (if you've never seen a collie sitting the driver's seat, looking like a chaffeur, you haven't seen anything). She hadn't touched the bag of fresh dog food. Or the banana. Or even the baggie with dog treats.

Any of you who knows how very much Siobhan looooooves food, understands that this was a great day in history.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Right Tools

Have you ever tried to go on a hike in the mountains wearing flip flops?

What about going swimming in a goose-down jacket, ski boots, and a snow suit?

I know, I've got it: Would you reach into a hot oven to remove a pizza with no mitts on???

By now, you're probably shaking your head and wondering what's gotten into me. Well, I want to talk about tools - dog training tools to be exact.

If you wouldn't go for a hike wearing flip-flops; wouldn't go for a swim in ski gear; wouldn't reach into an oven without mitts, WHY on earth would you try to train your dog without the proper equipment?

There are 3 issues to cover when it comes to good dog training equipment:
1. Relevance (which equipment fits the results you want)
2. Timing (when to use it)
3. Quality/Type (what to use)

Let's take a look at relevance. When I talk about equipment relevance, I'm talking about the training goal you have in mind, as well as the temperament of your dog.

When I'm training a toy poodle to be focused on me, I used a light long line and a slip collar. When I'm training a German shepherd to do protection work, I use muzzles and agitation gear, and my helper uses a bite sleeve or other protective equipment.

I'd no more put an agitation harness on the poodle, than I'd put my underwear on my head! Yet, time and time again I see owners trying to train their dogs with the wrong equipment. If you're not sure what to use, ASK a professional. And be sure you know how to use the equipment properly. Extreme physical and psychological damage can be done to a dog if you don't know how to use your equipment.

Let's talk about Timing next. Often, clients come to me with one idea in mind: "How soon can my dog be off-leash?" My mental response is: "How soon do you want to reach into that oven without your mitts?"

Well, if the oven is turned off and cool, you can reach in anytime. But if it's hot, you just might want to be proactive and put your mitts on first.

How does this apply to your dog? Simple. If under certain circumstances, your dog is "cool" then you can probably safely begin to work your basic obedience commands in those circumstances with a short training tab instead of a 6 ft. leash. But, if you're in a situation where you anticipate the dog will be "hot" (over-excited, unfocused, aggressive, fearful, dominant, etc.), then you need to put on your oven mitts (leash & collar) BEFORE encountering that situation. Your oven mitts do you no good if you put them on AFTER reaching in and grabbing the hot pizza pan.

This rule applies for the rest of the dog's life. Just like you will ALWAYS need your oven mitts to reach into a hot oven, you will ALWAYS need to use a leash and collar (or other training device) when first working your dog around 'hot' situations.

Does that mean 'hot' situations will always be 'hot' for the dog? Not necessarily. With time and good training techniques, a lot of the hot situations should turn into cool ones.

Ok, what about the Quality and Type of equipment? News Flash, Folks: Bigger doesn't always mean better. I see it all the time. Clients come in with double-ply, 2 inch wide nylon leashes when they first see me. These 'extra tough, extra thick' leashes usually offer absolutely no extra control over the dog. Instead, they are bulky and hard to hang onto, rough on the hands, and generally make leash work MORE DIFFICULT for the handler.

For most dogs, I recommend a 5/8" nylon or leather leash. Anything wider is too difficult to hold onto. If you are using a quality nylon or leather leash, the dog isn't going to break it, even if it's only 5/8" wide. The problem with the really tiny leashes, except on very small dogs, is that they also can cause problems with grip. So, unless you have a really small dog, a good 5/8" wide nylon or leather leash is best.

Leashes also need to be 6 ft long. Not 20 ft. Not 4 ft. They need to be 6 ft long. It's the ideal length to allow proper control on a working walk, as well as enough slack to keep the dog comfortable.

A short, thick leash might make YOU feel more secure, but it's making your dog more dependent on the constant tug of the leash...because it's so heavy and short, he can always feel it! If your goal is eventual off-leash obedience, get a 5/8" X 6' nylon or leather leash.

How about collars? I work most dogs on 2.5 or 3mm slip or 'choke' collars. The length totally depends on the size of the dog. Here again, quality is really important. Cheap choke chains break. It's as simple as that. And the last thing you want while working your dog is for your equipment to fail. Regardless of whether I'm using a choke collar or a prong collar, I recommend only the herm sprenger and titan brands. If you are looking for a training collar, don't settle for anything less.

Depending on a dog's needs, I may also recommend electronic equipment, head collars, muzzles, etc. Again, do your research on these different items. If you're not sure what to purchase, just ask me, I'll help out!

Here's a list of absolutely useless and/or dangerous dog training equipment:
- most walking harnesses
- all chain leashes
- all retractable leashes
- all retractable leashes
- did I mention retractable leashes
- oh, let's not forget: retractable leashes

And that's about it, from this end of the leash.

Questions? Visit me at

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Pet Safety

It's that time of year again, Folks.

Halloween can be a stressful, or even dangerous time for your dogs. Keep the following tips in mind this year to help keep them safe:

1. Make sure all chocolate (and really, other candy) is safely out of reach. A little chocolate might not hurt your dog, but a big enough dose can kill it.

2. Keep the dog leashed, crated, or in another room when answering the door to greet tick-or-treaters. A lot of dogs can become so worked up about the constant ringing of the doorbell, they become unpredictable. A loose dog is in danger of slipping out the door while you hand out candy. Worse yet, an aggressive dog may bite one of your Halloween visitors. Keep the dogs safely contained!!!

3. If dressing up your pet, make sure the costume is safe - no hanging strings for them to chew or get caught up in, a good fit, and never leave your dog unattended during halloween dress-up.

4. If taking your dog with you & the kids while trick-0r-treating, be sure the dog is safely leashed and well-behaved. There will be a lot of people out, and again, dogs can become highly agitated and unpredictable in new situations. If you're not sure how your dog will behave on a trick-or-treating excursion, it's probably best to leave the dog home.

Be safe, and have a happy Halloween!

That's it from this end of the leash.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Dog's Eyes

I don't know who wrote this originally, but it showed up in my email box again this year, as it usually does once or twice a year. And each time I get it, I stop to read it, and I pass it on...

I am your dog, and I have a little something I'd like to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise. It always seems like you are running here and running there, often much too fast, often never noticing the truly grand things in life.

Look down at me now, while you sit there at your computer. See the way my dark brown eyes look at yours? They are slightly cloudy now. That comes with age. The gray hairs are beginning to ring my soft muzzle. You smile at me; I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside, who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a simple moment of your time? That is all I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me.

So many times you have been saddened by the words you read on that screen, of others of my kind, passing. Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly, sometimes so suddenly it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes, we age so slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract clouded eyes. Still the love is always there, even when we must take that long sleep, to run free in a distant land. I may not be here tomorrow; I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes, that humans have when deep grief fills their souls, and you will be angry at yourself that you did not have just "one more day" with me.

Because I love you so, your sorrow touches my spirit and grieves me. We have NOW, together. So come, sit down here next to me on the floor, and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? If you look hard and deep enough we will talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come to me not as "alpha" or as "trainer" or even "Mom or Dad," come to me as a living soul and stroke my fur and let us look deep into one another's eyes and talk. I may tell you something about the fun of chasing a tennis ball, or I may tell you something profound about myself, or even life in general. You decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share such things with. Someone very different from you, and here I am.

I am a dog, but I am alive. I feel emotion, I feel physical senses, and I can revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a "Dog on two feet" -- I know what you are and who you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still. Now, come sit with me, on the floor. Enter my world, and let time slow down if only for 15 minutes. Look deep into my eyes, and whisper into my ears. Speak with your heart, with your joy, and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow, but we do have today, and life is oh so very short. So please--come sit with me now and let us share these precious moments we have together.

Love, on behalf of canines everywhere, Your Dog

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dog Food Choices

Lately alot of you have been asking me about different dog foods.

I'll admit it. I used to be a dog food snob. I sold dog food for a big box petstore, and I believed most of the hoopla the sales reps told us each week when they'd come in with the new promotions.

I was sure that Science Diet killed dogs. I was also sure the beet pulp in Iam's turned dogs' coats red (the good folks at each of these company's competitor's were sure to let us know these nasty trade secrets - most of which are completely BUNK!).

The short of the long is this: There are federal regulations for pet foods and there is some level of accountability that the companies that produce pet foods are held to. It may be a higher level of accountability than most companies that produce herbal supplements are held to, but that's a whole other story.

In essence, most premium foods are pretty good.

You need to find one that works for YOUR dog. I've seen dogs do beautifully on good ol' Purina Dog Chow. I've seen others that could only eat Elk and Sweet Potato diets that cost $65/bag.

I currently happen to feed Science Diet. I used to feed Nutromax. And for a stretch of about 3-4 years, I fed a raw diet that I prepared for the dogs.

Here's what I've learned:

1. If you find a good food, STICK with it.

2. If your dog isn't doing well on it's current food, and you're going to switch the food, do it SLOWLY - it should take about 10 to 14 days of mixing the old and new foods, gradually increasing the new and decreasing the old food.

3. If your dog is having anxiety or aggression issues, you may want to look at a lower protein percentage for that dog's diet. - Dr. Nicholas Dodman suggests 16 to 20 percent protein in his book "The Dog Who Loved Too Much", Bantam Books, 1996, p.68.

4. DO consider the needs of your aging dog, and talk to your veterinarian about switching to a senior diet if your dog is getting up there in years. Some of the new senior diets even help with cognitive fuction (helping to ward off confusion and senility) and most of them support the joints and other health systems of seniors.

5. If you have a large or giant breed puppy, consult your vet and don't overfeed - these breeds can be vastly affected by the food they get as young dogs. In fact, many breeders and veterinarians recommend feeding adult food to giant breed puppies.

Well, that's about it from this end of the leash.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bring Back the Muzzle!


Let's talk about muzzles.

Yes. You read that right. Ugghhh. The dreaded "M" word.

Because I specialize in aggression, I get to work with a lot of dogs who could benefit from muzzle training.'s the really juicy part: Often, their owners could benefit from muzzle training even more than the dogs. No, not because I'd like to put the muzzles on the owners. On the contrary, I'd like to free the owners from a lot of stress and liability issues, by making their dogs safe to be in public.

But there's a problem. Most people today have a pretty strong aversion to muzzling their dog. They will do all sorts of other things - from always leaving the dog locked up, to putting it in incredibly dangerous social situations - but they will not put a muzzle on the dog!

Let's think about this. When used properly, a muzzle is no different than any other training tool. The dog, when trained the right way, will accept the muzzle enthusiastically. Did you see that? Let me repeat it. When trained correctly, the dog will accept the muzzle enthusiastically.

The dog will regain the freedom to be out in public without the danger of it biting someone. This will automatically reduce the owner's liability and the stress associated with being in public with an aggressive dog. The owner's reduced stress will trickle down to the dog and the dog will relax even more...also reducing its chances of being a danger to anyone around it.

Further, most strangers - with or without dogs of their own - will be less inclined to come running up to a muzzled dog. Think about it - do you want to go pet 'Fuzzy' if he's wearing a basket muzzle, and looking for all the world like Hannibal Lector? By reducing strangers' need to fondle the dog, we have now gone a step further in ensuring that an aggressive, now safely muzzled dog will not be biting anyone.

After all, wouldn't you rather just have strangers leave you and your dog alone than have to be continually warning everyone, "He bites....he bites....he bites."

And I know how often the "He bites" statement is ignored by someone telling you they are a 'natural' with dogs and all dogs love them. These idiots...uh, strangers...are the ones who pose the biggest threat to you and your dog.

So please, if you own an aggressive dog, at least consider the advantages of muzzle training. And if you're interested in learning more on how to do this the right way, feel free to contact me!