Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Puppy Socialization

It seems like in the last week I've heard the phrase "puppy socialization" a dozen times.

Trainers advertise it.

Veterinarians recommend it.

Bad dogs seem to be missing it.

And oh how owners love to tell me how much of it their dogs got as puppies.

But just what kind of puppy socialization did those dogs get? Does socialization mean you have to take your dog to a special class? Does it mean you take your puppy to the dog park every week? To doggy daycare? Puppy play dates?

It could mean all of those things. Or none of them.

Let's think about this from human terms. Which one of these statements seems a little strange?

1. Humans (much like dogs) are social animals with social rules.
2. Humans (much like dogs) learn how to 'behave' from other humans.
3. Humans (much like dogs) learn their best behavior from other humans at Chuck E. Cheese and in McDonald's McPlayPlace.

Hmmm. It does look like there is something wrong with that 3rd statement, doesn't it? And yet, the type of 'socialization' that a lot of dog owners are giving their dogs is the same as children running wild in the play tubes and ball pits of popular kiddie restaurants. (Yes, I'm picking on dog parks again - as the doggie equivalents of Chuck E. Cheese.)

So...Where did you learn to be polite? I bet you learned in lots of places, in lots of ways. Usually from older, well behaved adult humans. And I bet those teachers, pastors, parents, grandparents and other well behaved adults tried to steer you clear of 'bad influences' - whether the bad influences were adults or kids. They taught you that there was a time and a place for play, and a time and a place for manners - and usually, those times and places are very different!

Where does all of this leave us when it comes to dogs? In a pickle, I'm afraid. Because we have a lot of opportunities for dogs to get together and learn bad habits, but not a lot of opportunities for them to learn good ones.

You must even beware of those popular 'puppy socialization classes.' Too often they are really the same as the dog park - all rough-house play, no rules. Sure, dogs need to get out and have a good time. So do humans. But they still need to follow some basic rules of etiquette. And some (or most) of what proper dog socialization looks like might surprise you!

Here are the most common rules dogs & their owners break when it comes to canine socialization:

1. Greetings: Many, many dogs are guilty of being too intense when greeting new dogs. "Intense" can mean too playful, too dominant and pushy, too submissive, simply 'too much!' About the only thing a dog can't overdo when greeting another dog is be too aloof! Aloof dogs avoid a lot of trouble.

TIP: Polite dogs do not strain and pull to get to each other for face-to-face greetings. If your dog or puppy is doing this, get some training now! And please, for the love of Pete, when the other dog snaps at your dog don't say "It's the best thing that could have happened to my dog. He's so pushy with other dogs! He has to learn his lesson." Newsflash: It's not other people or other dogs' job to teach YOUR puppy manners. It is your job.

2. Play: Many dogs do alright with the initial greeting, but then their play actions get out of control.

TIP: Polite dogs do not always control the play. They know when enough is enough and take frequent breaks. They don't body slam other dogs. They keep 'four on the floor' - they keep all four feet on the floor when playing. They don't hump other dogs. Humping is NOT play - it is dominance.

3. At home: Sometimes even dogs who live in the same household are not being polite with each other. A lot of owners shrug at fights over toys, food, sleeping space, and human affection as "just being dogs." I say, not so! TIP: Polite dogs co-exist peacefully within their pack. All of the rules of appropriate play apply to dogs that share the same home. No mounting/humping behavior is allowed. The play should be balanced and not dominated by one dog. Play sessions should be short - 10 to 15 minutes at a time, with frequent breaks.

In a dog pack as puppies get older, play sessions should become less frequent and of shorter duration. This is enforced by the older dogs. But if you socialize your dog with older dogs that aren't polite, they will teach your puppy bad manners!

This is important to prevent problems later on. One of the most common stories I get from dog owners whose dogs are fighting each other is: "They used to play all the time, all day long...and just suddenly they've started fighting."

Dog are like kids - they need supervised play and it's all fun and games until someone gets tired and cranky. Your job as a responsible owner is to teach them how to have fun appropriately!

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

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy and Horsetooth Whippets Kennel. She can be reached at or 720-839-1102.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Close Encounters...

...of an unpleasant kind...

A client of mine just had one of those exceptionally annoying encounters with a fellow dog owner that I wanted to share:

Earlier this week I was working w/ my dog at the school on their playground. We were doing a long sit/stay…I was about 30 ft away.

I saw a guy w/ his small dog across the street outside the fence. Of course said dog was not on a leash…Soon they came into the school yard. I called to him and said I was working w/ my dog, and to please keep his dog away or put him on a leash. Of course it didn’t happen.

The guy and dog kept approaching us. My dog went into a down position. I moved closer to her and picked up her leather leash, as the other dog still keeps coming. The owner was not really making any effort to control his dog. Again, I asked him to please control his dog.

Finally the other dog comes up to my dog and starts the smelling routine. My dog’s still in a down position, not really liking it that this dog is not controlled. Luckily, it’s a smallish dog, who then jumps on me!!! So, unfortunately for the dog, he ran into my knee as I brought it up on his chest…hmmm…he bumped off and scampered away…I said, as I lifted my knee… "OFF!"

My dog was still not really engaged. The owner hustles to put a leash on his dog, giving me a scowl and saying, “You didn’t need to kick my dog” to which I replied, “ I didn’t, I kneed him.”

He got the dog and walked a little ways off, then turned around and came back toward me and said, “You’re not a very nice person.” To which I replied, “whatever…” and kept walking and working w/ my dog!

Maybe he thought I’d give him the knee in a certain part of HIS anatomy!!! Jeez, it is truly amazing to me how people who are absolutely in the WRONG think I’m wrong for protecting myself and my dog!! I do now carry the citronella spray in my pocket all the time…

I share this episode not because it's unfamiliar to most of us, but as a reminder to keep your eyes and ears peeled for dogs and owners who are not aware of proper canine etiquette. Luckily, in this story my client and her dog were able to avoid a serious confrontation. That is not always possible.

And my client is right - the world is full of people who 'own' dogs, but have no idea how to be a good dog owner.

The very best you can do is lead by example.

1. Teach your dog appropriate greeting methods (and no - intense sniffing and jumping on each other is NOT how polite dogs greet).

2. When you meet someone in the world whose dog is less than well-mannered, your first priority should be to keep your own dog relaxed and safe.

3. If possible, use the encounter to educate fellow-dog owners - as nicely as possible. Keep in mind, many of them just won't 'get it.'

4. If #3 is not an option, get your dog out of the situation as quickly as you can - even if you offend the other person.

Look at it this way: You will probably never see that person again, and you've spent less than 30 seconds of your life with them. By comparison, you'll spend at least 10 years with your dog. Which relationship REALLY matters? The one with the idiot stranger, or the one with your canine companion?

That's it from this end of the leash.Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at or 720-839-1102, or on the web at

Friday, April 17, 2009

April 17, 2009 Snow Day

From Left to Right: Jet, Lizzie, Penelope, Timmy, and Bella.

Now THAT is how you enjoy a snow day - asleep on the couch!

The whippets of Front Range K9 aren't bothered by today's storm at all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing a Dog

What's your favorite dog breed?

-Do you like long haired breeds? Short haired? Wire-haired?
-Do you like big dogs? Small dogs? Medium-sized dogs?
-Do you like purebreds? Good old-fashioned American Mutts? Designer Mixes?

Unfortunately the 3 sets of questions listed above are often the only questions people ask when they are looking for a new dog. Don't get me wrong, a lot of dog owners do spend time researching different dog breeds before getting a new dog.

But too often, people go for what they think looks pretty. Or what their neighbor has. Or what they had as a kid. Or what their spouse got them as a surprise present.

I'm not joking. I see hundreds of dogs every year that don't fit into their owners' lifestyles. These unfortunate dogs are too high-energy, too low-energy, too big, require too much grooming, don't play enough, play too much, are too needy, are too independent, too aggressive, too shy...ah, the list goes on and on.

Before you set out in search of your next dog, take time to really research the different groups - the AKC has some great information on selecting a dog at their website, First you need to determine whether you want a terrier, a toy, a herding dog, a hound, a working dog, a sporting breed, a non-sporting, or a 'miscellaneous' (no, these aren't mutts!) type of dog. Or maybe you want a Heinz 57 mix.

Keep in mind that a purebred dog will be more predictable - in size, coat type, exercise requirements and temperament. Purebreds were created for a purpose. Once you know what job or purpose your breed was created for, you can predict quite a bit about what kind of dog it will be.

That is not to say mixed breeds don't need homes just as bad as purebreds do! Local shelters and rescues are full of wonderful dogs that will make great pets. You simply might not be able to easily judge how big a mixed-breed puppy will get, or what it's personality will be as it grows up.

When adopting an adult dog (purebred or mixed) you often won't know the dog's emotional or physical history. This can present challenges, but many of these challenges can be overcome with training, respect, and time& patience for a rescued dog.

Ultimately, the dog breed that might always catch your eye just might not fit into your lifestyle. I absolutely LOVE how rough coated collies look, but I have not an ounce of patience for grooming. So, I got a smooth collie that requires much less coat care.

I also really like huge dogs. My last German shepherd weighed 110 lbs when he was healthy. I've also owned Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds - huge dogs! But in getting those breeds, I also was adopting a lot of health issues, shorter lifespans, and in the end - a lot of heartbreak. Having whippets gets me a similar personality to big dogs (LAZY!), but with a smaller, more manageable, healthier size....not to mention much less healthcare and feeding costs! Does this mean people shouldn't get giant breeds? Of course not! The point is that you should get a breed that fits what you like AND that fits into your lifestyle.

I still miss having giant breeds, but they don't fit into what works for me anymore (I ran out of room in the car).

So - do your research! Look into energy levels, personality types, exercise requirements, guarding habits, etc. Learn about special food requirements and diseases that run in certain breeds. Find out as much as you possibly can before getting a dog. Because if you're lucky, you'll spend the next 10 to 20 (yes, my mother just had a Yorkie live to be 19) years with that dog. It should be a wonderful 10 or so years for both of you!

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at or 720-839-1102, or on the web at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mental & Environmental Training Techniques

Food for thought:

There is no denying that there are a lot of different training techniques out there in the world. But when you come right down to it, you are really only working in two different mediums when you're trying to bring about a change in your dog's behavior.

You are either working with environmental management, or mental management - often both are used/needed at the same time.

Let's look at environmental management first.

Environmental management can be anything you use in your dog's environment that will change its natural behaviors. This includes leashes and collars. It also includes crates or other enclosures, muzzles, baby gates, and anything else used to curb or control a dog's natural responses to its world.

Environmental control is incredibly handy when training dogs. Leashes and collars keep them close to you when you're out in the world. Crates, dog runs, and fenced yards keep them home when they want to roam. Muzzles can prevent bites and chewing.

All of these pieces of equipment are extremely helpful in our day-to-day interactions with our dogs. However, there is a limit to how useful they can be.

By example, dogs can still pull with their leashes on (and leashes and collars can break or be pulled out of your hands). Crates, kennels, and gates can be left unlocked or dogs can jump or break out of them. Some dogs are very effective at getting out of their muzzles or head collars. Even electronic collars can fail.

This is where mental management of the dog comes into play.

Mental management is any measure of training you do to control a dog's responses to its world. This ranges from basic manners to distraction-proofing, obedience, agility, or trick training.

Any skill you teach the dog to do is a form of mental management. And mental management can be very important if your environmental controls happen to fail.

Again, by example:

If your leash happens to slip out of your hand and your dog has been properly distraction-proofed, your dog is not likely to go racing away from your side after any little distraction. You have time to regain your leash and get your dog's environment back into control.

How about if you're having a dinner party and your young niece opens your dog's crate? An owner with good mental management of his dog can simply give the dog a down-stay command and the situation is under control again.

However, we must keep in mind that dogs are individuals with their own personalities and the ability to make choices. Even in the best-trained dogs, sometimes mental management can fail. Dogs can choose not to obey.

Also, there are some instances when environmental management is simply easier than mental management: When leaving my dogs alone, it's just easier to make sure all the food and trashcans are securely out of the dogs' reach than to spend weeks and weeks teaching them to stay out of the trash by setting them up to think I'm gone and then charging back in to surprise the perpetrator whose head is buried 2 feet into the dumpster.

Don't get me wrong, setting the dog up and teaching it to stay out of the trashcans CAN be done, and for a lot of people this is a major goal. That's great. It's just not on my top ten, as it's a quick fix for me to shut the doors to the rooms where the trash is accessible.

In sum, a combination of both mental and environmental management is really your best bet. Spend time and think about what in your dog's environment and mental responses can be improved to keep you both happy and safe.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennfier Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at or 720-839-1102, or on the web at

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dog Parks...the good, the bad, and the ugly

As many of you know, I'm not a big fan of dog parks. Really, it's not that I don't like dog parks, or the idea of them. What I don't like is how dog parks are misused and can create a hazard for you and your dogs.

So let's look at it: The good, the bad, and the ugly of the dog park scene.

The Good - exercise, exercise, exercise

Many dog owners today live in apartments, condominiums, or town homes and their dogs don't have a large yard to run loose and play in. These dogs need exercise as much the next dog. Having a fenced enclosure with lots of room to run is a great idea place to get that much-needed exercise taken care of.

Even folks who have a large yard know that most dogs get bored in their own backyards, and would love to explore a new space once in awhile.

As a way to meet physical exercise requirements, dog parks meet a very real need.

The Bad - all muscle, no brains

While it is indisputable that all dogs need physical exercise, that is often the ONLY kind of exercise the dogs at the dog park get. If owners are taking their dogs to the dog park every day - just to tire the dog out physically - and offering no form of mental exercise (training, agility, even mental games), those owners are actually doing more harm than good.

If an owner is only building a dog's physical muscles, that owner is actually physically conditioning the dog to need more and more physical exercise to actually tire the dog out!

Just like humans, dogs need mental exercise as much as they need physical exercise. Dogs who engage in both physical AND mental exercise daily will benefit more and are calmer, more manageable dogs.

The Ugly - socialization issues

The biggest problem encountered at dog parks is related to canine socialization. Not all dogs are equal. Not all dogs like other dogs. Not all dogs ‘play nice.’

Worse yet, very few owners know what ‘good’ dog play looks like.

In fact, many of the behaviors that owners label ‘play’ is not play at all. Extremely rough wrestling, mounting behaviors, relentless chase games with one dog being a target for other dogs – NONE of this is ‘play.’

As puppies, dogs engage in many of the above behaviors and should learn the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable, and what is over-blown dominance. Unfortunately, most owners don’t know the difference, and don’t teach young dogs when enough is enough. So, we have a bunch of adult dogs at the dog park behaving like young puppies. That is socially weird.

It’s like you or I going to a McDonald’s Play Place and all the people running around on the slides and playing in the tunnels and ballpits are your own age…but they are still behaving like small children – that’s a little freaky, right? Same thing can happen for your dog at the dog park.

In a well-socialized dog pack, play – even rough play – does happen. But the rough play and/or dominance episodes are very short. By encouraging extended rough play sessions, owners are encouraging their dogs to practice dominant ANTI-SOCIAL behaviors.

Then these dogs get to the dog park and impose those anti-social behaviors on other dogs. At best, this leads to a cycle of multiple dogs playing inappropriately. At worst, it leads to fights, injuries, or in some cases - death. Yes, dogs do occasionally suffer fatal injuries at the dog park.

Basically, too many owners use the dog park as their dogs’ socialization playground – not understanding that not every dog plays nicely. And when you go to the dog park, you have NO control over what type of dogs your dog will encounter.

How do you avoid these problems?   Simple!  AVOID the dog park!

It only takes one really bad fight to ruin a dog socially, and any dog at any time can start a fight or be the victim of one!

Don't just take our word for it, check out these articles from highly respected trainers in the U.S. and Canada on how they see dog parks:

That’s it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy. She can be reached at