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!