Bingley dreams of pronking.

Ever since Bingley was a puppy he has reminded me, at times, of a Springbok. When we are out for a hike in a meadow and the grass is especially tall, he will spring straight up in the air, presumably to survey his surroundings. He usually does it near the beginning of a walk, when he is at his utmost enthusiastic self, full of Flattie energy, and ready to run. I have always thought it was something he enjoyed, but that it was costly (energy-wise), so best used when one really needs it to see the lay of the land. I never knew there was a name for it until my daughter Emma sent me this link to a video of Springboks pronking (I have since learned that this vertical leap is also known as stotting or pronging). Thus, I now feel certain that Bingers is indeed part Springbok and that his imitation of a Harrier Jump Jet is probably as much for joy as it is for terrestrial surveillance!

So, without further ado, here is the video of the Springboks:


And, for even more pronking fun, here is one that Emma recently sent to me from the Facebook page of Tails and Trails of a group of dogs prancing (no music, but great pronking action!):


Rhodesian Ridgeback stotting for joy: (set to music!)


*This blog was originally posted in 2014, but do to some technical difficulties, I had to pull it down. But, those are resolved and I am re-posting it. Enjoy the joy!



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Summer fun in the sun and in the water!

IMG_1335Summer is here and that means fun in the sun and water for dogs and owners alike. In order for you and your dog to have a grand time, I recommend that you keep a few safety tips in mind:

Hot days!

  1. Dogs cannot sweat through their skin so they regulate their temperature by panting and by sweating through their paw pads. Panting is how dogs “circulate the necessary air through their bodies to cool down. If you’re near a body of water (like the beach), your dog can also regain her ‘cool’ by jumping in.” (Why do Dogs Pant?) While panting can also be sign of arousal or stress, pay close attention to your dog when he plays in hot weather. Make sure he takes plenty of breaks, has a cool place to relax, and plenty of water to rehydrate. Continued heavy panting can be a sign of Heatstroke which is an emergency situation. Familiarize yourself with the signs of heatstroke and what to do if you suspect your dog has it: Heatstroke.
  2. Hot pavement can burn paw pads. A quick way to decide if it’s too hot to walk is to place the back of your hand on the pavement or sidewalk. If you cannot hold your hand there for 5 seconds it is too hot for canine paws.
  3. Take a water bottle for you and one for Fido. I found a water bottle from In the Company of Dogs that fits easily into the cup holder of your car and has a bowl on the top. When you squeeze the bottle the bowl fills with water. Then, when you release the bottle, the water goes back into the bottle. What an easy, spill proof way to keep your dog hydrated!

Bingley enjoys his pool!

Wet Dogs Rule!

  1. Water is a great way for dogs to have fun and stay cool in the summer. An inexpensive plastic wading pool can provide instant relief from the heat for your water loving pooch.*
  2. Be careful of water intoxication, a rare but deadly condition whereby a dog (or person) takes in more water than it can handle. When excessive amounts of water are ingested the sodium levels outside cells are depleted and the body responds by increasing fluid intake in the cells. This causes organs, including the brain to swell. As the pressure in the brain increases, cells die off and “the dog may have difficulty breathing, develop seizures, and lose consciousness” (Whole Dog Journal, June 2014). Dogs can develop and die from water intoxication in the span of just a few hours. When playing with your dog in lakes, ponds, (or even with the hose), make sure he gets breaks from being in the water, pees frequently to get rid of excess water, and when your dog begins to tire, keep him out of the water for awhile as tired dogs tend to swim lower in the water and are at a higher risk of water ingestion.

Cool Treats!

  1. Most dogs enjoy frozen treats as much as we do. One easy treat is beef or chicken ice cubes. Freeze bouillon (onion and salt free) in ice cube trays and then serve up the frozen treat singly or throw several in your dog’s bowl as a treat while you take a moment to enjoy a book and a glass of lemonade.
  2. Frozen Kongs are another delight for most dogs, and the possibilities for stuffing them are endless! (See for Kong filler ideas). If you plug the small hole with peanut butter, then you can fill the kong with liquid, such as bouillon, to have a long lasting beefscicle. (Note:   A handy trick for freezing Kongs filled with liquid: stand them upright in a Solo cup! And, have your dog enjoy them outside so when they melt, your carpet doesn’t look and smell like bouilon!)
  3. Dr. Karen Becker has several frozen treat ideas and this one is my favorite (and judging by the look on the dogs’ faces, it’s theirs too!): I have just ordered my popsicle mold on Amazon (they have many styles to choose from) and plan on making doggie popsicles for Bingley and our guest dog who is arriving next week with his people. Not sure what I am serving the humans, but the dogs will be all set!

Here’s hoping you and your dog have as much fun this summer as my grand-dog Tex. His enthusiasm for balls, water, and life in general is boundless.


*From experience, I have found that the larger wading pools with a plug in the bottom are much easier to drain and refill than the smaller ones which require that you lift one side to drain. They also last longer as the sides do not bend and crack from being lifted. Also, if you have multiple dogs, they can all fit in the larger pool!

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Some from column A, all from column B…

It’s time, once again, for a hodgepodge of items that I have recently encountered. These tidbits are related by four components: 1) I like them, 2) they are all about positive approaches to training and interacting with your dog, 3) Reisner Vet likes them and, 4) I was not smart enough to write them first.

The first is the Freedom Harness Exchange Program.

The Harness Exchange Program is an advocacy program of Biggies Bullies that promotes the use of force-free pet equipment. We are asking pet guardians o swap out their choke, prong, and shock collars for a free harness! We want all pets and their parents to experience the huge advantages and long-lasting effectiveness of force-free training and pet care. When you mail us your choke, prong, or shock collar we will send you a free Freedom No Pull Harness. -Biggies Bullies Website.


Bingley in his first no-pull harness. Works for non-bully breeds too!

The page is filled with pictures of adorable “bully” breed dogs happily ensconced in their bright colored freedom harnesses. The beauty of any no-pull harness is that it works with your dog to stop pulling, rather than punish or hurt your dog for pulling. Choke chain collars can damage your dog’s thyroid, increase the pressure in his eyes (putting him at greater risk for glaucoma), and can cause damage to the trachea or esophagus. “Dogs walked on prongs are also constantly subjected to pain and discomfort, which creates fear, anxiety and aggression on walks.” (Biggies Bullies Website). Dogs corrected with shock collars may associate the pain and fear they experience with their owners and may respond by avoiding their owners, shutting down, or acting out aggressively.*

I have used the Freedom harness as well as other front buckling no pull harnesses and I highly recommend them. They are the most effective, however, when used in conjunction with positive reinforcement training to teach a dog loose leash walking.  I think this is a great program and if you want to support it, click here to donate.

Lili Chin Drawing

Lili Chin Drawing

Another article that I came across came from my old standard Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services is dated June 6th and has a wonderful graphic by Lili Chin, titled Calm and Relaxed? or Shut Down? What I love about this is that it points out how important it is to understand dog body language so you know what your dog is actually telling you! Dogs who are subdued when meeting new people, places, things, or other dogs, may not be calm and relaxed, but rather shut down and scared. Understanding how your dog is interpreting the situation will give you the information you need to best help him.**

Vet Behavior Team Early Stress

Lili Chin for Vet Behavior Team

While scrolling through Lili Chin’s website I found some graphics that she produced for the Vet Behavior Team about stress signals in dogs. Going to their website, I found several handouts that clearly and precisely illustrate the signals that dogs use to communicate to us that they are upset, stressed, hyper-vigilante, or just plain scared. Even if you know your dog’s stress signals, I recommend that you take a look at these handouts as they will help you recognize stress signals in other dogs. Knowing what other dogs are “feeling” will help you to keep your dog safe. I plan on using these handouts with all my clients!

I have written about dogs and kids before, but recently I came across this website: Family Paws Family Education which I really like. It has a lot of useful information for parents, parents-to-be, trainers, and veterinarians to help kids and dogs live together in harmony. The resource page has plenty of links to other valuable resources (such as Living with Kids and Dogs , Colleen Pelar’s website) as well as some terrific handouts with nice graphics about Dog and Baby safety, Dog and Toddler safety, what is supervision (and isn’t! This is a particularly eye-opening handout). I recommend to parents that they post the relevant ones on the frig so they are a ready reminder of how to have your expanding household live together positively and safely.


*See also the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSABposition paper on Punishment

**The article to which this graphic is attached is a detailed look at Cesar Milan and his television program concerning a Boston Terrier who attacked and killed pigs, and Mr. Milan’s approach to changing this behavior. I am no fan of Mr. Milan and the methods he employed here just about made me pass out and/or vomit. His outdated approach caused egregious harm to the health and mental well being of the dog as well as the pigs he employed. I cannot emphasize loud or long enough that bullying, hurting, or punishing your dog is not the humane, responsible way to change behavior, no matter how abhorrant that behavior may be. Every animal deserves to be cared for and handled with compassion and dignity. Period.

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AVSAB: good vets doing great things!

Hawk1The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. – AVSAB website


An understanding of animal behavior…”  One of the frustrations of every positive reinforcement trainer, vet, or behaviorist, is the lack of understanding about animal behavior that guides and mis-informs animal professionals as well as the general public. Additionally, many people do not understand the many differences between positive reinforcement and punishment based training methods and their respective consequences. I have written about the repercussions of punishment/aggressive training methods, but it bears repeating that punishment will, in the vast majority of cases, make the situation worse, not better, and will likely add another layer of issues to the existing problem.

According to the AVSAB’s position paper, Guidelines on the Use of Punishment for Dealing with Behavior Problems in Animals:

The adverse effects of punishment and the difficulties in administering punishment effectively have been well documented…For instance, electronic anti-bark collars can cause burn marks on dogs. Choke chains can damage the trachea, increase intraocular pressure in dogs thus potentially worsening or contributing to glaucoma in susceptible breeds, cause sudden collapse from non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema (water in the lungs) due to temporary upper airway obstruction, and cause nerve damage. The risk of damage is greater when the choke chain sits high on the dog’s neck.

24_dog_zombie run away2Problems can arise behaviorally as well when punishment is used to curb or correct an undesirable behavior:

Punishment can suppress aggressive and fearful behavior when used effectively, but it may not change the underlying cause of the behavior…As a result, if the animal faces a situation where it is extremely fearful, it may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs. In other words, it may now attack more aggressively or with no warning, making it much more dangerous.

This position paper on punishment based methods not only clarifies the consequences associated with punishment but provides clear definitions of terms, cites several studies, and provides further reading.  It is only one of several well written and informative position papers. The other papers are:

Position Statement Regarding Cruelty Investigation of Cesar Milan

198748_252858861398895_119922748025841_962621_1484376_nPosition Statement on Breed Specific Legislation

Position Statement on the Use of the Dominance Concept in Training

Position Statement on the Importance of Proper Socialization for Puppies 

All of these position statements serve to explain and inform the reader about the issue in understandable terms. Where needed, they also provide clear explanations of terms and resources for further reading.  The AVSAB website also has a search for “Behavior Consults Near You” so you can find an AVSAB member who is “an AVSAB member veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or PhD behaviorist who accepts animal behavior cases in your area.”

The purpose of AVSAB is to educate animal professionals and lay people alike, to provide the resources necessary to promote humane treatment, as well as being “committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” (AVSAB website).


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Loose Lead walking revisited, again, and again, and again…

I have a variety of posts about walking with the untamed beast who shares your home, as this is a subject that comes up frequently. Rare is the dog who, when you snap on the leash, says, “Cool! I’m tethered to my person so let’s stroll uptown for a brisk constitutional! I think that I will stick close to his side, walk in a straight line, and not bother to check the pee-mail from my buddies, notice the pesky squirrel next door, or the Golden Retriever two streets over, because we are out for exercise not socializing!”

Dogs’ amazing sense of smell makes it very hard to ignore the flood of information wafting up from trees, grass, fire hydrants, sidewalks, breezes, tires, cracks in the sidewalk, benches, sticks, rocks, fences, McDonald’s wrappers, mailboxes, and turtles to name a few. Asking your dog to ignore the literal essence of his being is like asking your bacon loving Cousin Joey to have one piece of dry white toast at the all-you-can-eat Golden Corral Breakfast buffet. It can be done, but at what price?

51_dog_lawyer and dog_colorHaving a successful outing where both parties are satisfied does not require that you enter into formal mediation:
Lawyer: “Mr. Jones, you agree to allow Sparky to sniff seven objects in one block segments for 10 blocks before asking for a sniff free zone, correct?”
Mr. Jones: “I do.”
Lawyer: “Sparky, you agree to not dart randomly back in forth in front of Mr. Jones, and that you will not pull him willy-nilly towards ‘imaginary’ squirrels, correct?”
Sparky: “Arf.”

It does, however, have to provide for the needs of both parties and you can set yourself up for greater success if you keep some important points in mind:

1) Read Stop, Look, and Listen!  again for start up tips such as: exercise your dog before walking, keep your walks short, and don’t dawdle.

Walk this way...

Walk this way…

2) Your dog is not a robot and will have good, bad, and better days at this. Do your best, end on a positive note, and try again another day.

3) Have a clear idea of what you want from your dog and what it looks like when your dog is loose lead walking. Then and only then you will be prepared to strategically reinforce that particular behavior (ie: only reinforce/reward when Sparky gives you the desired behavior).

A jackpot can be anything your dog loves, as long as it is wonderful and plentiful!

A jackpot can be anything your dog loves, as long as it is wonderful and plentiful!

4) Reward sustained loose lead walking, not when he first re-engages. That is, if Sparky veers off to sniff a tulip and you call him back to you, walk a few steps with him at your side before you give him a treat. We want to reward Sparky for staying with you, not just for quickly re-engaging with you.

5) Use Jackpots very deliberately to reinforce a particularly good session. For instance, imagine you are walking along a busy street and three noisy dogs come by. Sparky, instead of rushing over to join the fun, looks at you and continues walking. When you are a reasonable distance from the fray (i.e.: Sparky is far enough so that the canine distraction is not tempting), stop and reward him with a jackpot for a job well done, or a diversion well avoided. Jackpots can come in a couple of different forms. One is a fistful of treats given all at once from your hands or dropped in a heap between his front paws. Or, if you want to extend the experience, try giving him the fistful of treats rapid fire, one at a time while praising him for being the best dog ever. You can also use other things he loves. For Bingley I will sometimes throw an armful of never-been-dogified tennis balls into the air for him to chase and pounce upon.

Loose lead walking is a challenge for many dog owners, but patience, a sense of humor, and a clear vision of what and how to reward good walking skills will get you where you want to go.

Out and about!



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Crime and Punishment, part 2: Clicker training

“Click and give her a treat,” our trainer, Robin Bennett, said.
“That’s it?” I queried.
“Yes,” Robin replied, “to start with. Next you are going to ask her to do something, such as sit. Then when her bottom touches the ground, click and treat. She’ll learn that doing certain things brings rewards. Then, she’ll start doing those things more and more.”
     Thus started our introduction to clicker training* 16 years ago when we sought help for Molly, our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and her aggressiveness with other dogs. We saw first hand the power of the clicker and how quickly it can improve a dog’s behavior. Though were never able to completely cure Molly of her aggression, we were able to help her adjust as best she could and give her three years she would not have had otherwise.
You want us to sit? Show us the clicker...

You want us to sit? Show us the clicker…

From that first introduction to the clicker, we have used it with all of our dogs. Though each dog is unique in his personality, interests and skill level, each one has responded with gusto to the clicker and to positive reinforcement training. When we had Buckley, Bingley, and Hudson, and I would pull out the clicker, all of them would get excited and start throwing behaviors at me to see what would elicit a click. Buckley would immediately sit, Hudson would start “petting” Bingley, who would back up, spin, bow, whatever! They knew that something would bring a click and a treat and they were eager to figure out what it was. Bingley was so enthusiastic about training when he was younger that he would find a clicker and come to my office holding it between his front teeth. When I turned and looked, he would click it and run down the hall, instigating a grand game of chase. Apparently clicker training works on people too!

Bait bag, clicker, ready to roll!

Bait bag, clicker, ready to roll!

For me, the value of the clicker for training (or in the absence of a clicker, accurately marking the behavior with a distinctive word or phrase such as “Yessss!” or “Good Dog!!”) cannot be overstated. Clickers allow you to be very precise in marking desired behaviors. For example, If your dog is easily excited, use your clicker to click for a calm moment (even if it is only for an instant) and immediately give him a tasty morsel. The dog will soon figure out that calm gets him everything, noisy gets him nothing. The more you consistently reward good behavior (even if it is a flash in the pan!) the more you will see it. Likewise, if your dog regularly behaves well (sitting quietly or lying down peacefully, for example), mark the behavior (Click! or “Good dog!”) and reward, reward, reward, so that you are sure to see more of it!

Clicker training is very helpful if your pup is dog reactive. For example, if he looks at another dog and doesn’t react, click and treat! If he looks at another dog and then looks back at you, click and treat! Or he looks at a dog and sits, click and treat. Marking and rewarding these desirable responses will teach your dog that this exact response is how you ought to behave! Use food as a reward when first teaching a new behavior or trying to reward a calm moment to turbo charge your training and your dog’s interest in learning and behaving. Eventually, your dog will become more consistent in his response and you will not have to reward with food every time your dog behaves. But, in the beginning stages, clicks and tasty snacks really help him learn to be the best dog he can be.
For more information on the origin of clicker training see: And, check out my resource page,  as well as these books, Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor, and Click to Calm by Emma Parsons.

See this blog and more on reward based training at the Companion Animal Psychology Blog Party!




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Crime and punishment, Part 1: When does a reward become a punishment?

_CSG3316-EditWhen introducing my clients to positive reinforcement training in general, and clicker training in particular, I tell them that it’s important to reward the behavior you want in your dog and ignore or re-direct undesirable behavior. After all, behavior that is rewarded will increase in frequency, while behavior that is ignored will decrease.

He's turned his head away from me, indicating he's not interested in interacting with me right now.

He’s turned his head away from me, indicating he’s not interested in whatever I’m offering.

I also explain that rewards (or punishments) are always defined by the recipient, not the one doling them out. What may seem a reward to you, may not be all that reinforcing to your dog. One good way to tell if your dog really isn’t interested in your idea of a reinforcement is if he turns his head, walks away, or otherwise disengages from you. He is clearly telling you that this is not his cup of tea. For example, many people will greet or reward their dogs by patting them on the head, thinking that their dog loves petting. And, they are surprised when their dog moves away from them as they approach head on. The dog may well love being petted, but this is not petting, this is thunking your dog on the skull, and most dogs do not care for it.* Therefore, it is not a reward, but a punishment for Fido, and will not encourage him to come to you.

Rewards, by their very nature, should make your training easier. Ken Ramirez, the Head Trainer at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago states that if training a new behavior is taking longer than you think it should, is harder for the animal than it ought to be, or otherwise is not progressing as well as you think appropriate: Look at your reinforcers (rewards). They probably are not rewarding enough to motivate the animal to work for it. Make sure you are using things your dog actually loves, not what you think he loves!

Moreover, keep in mind that what you are offering may not be reinforcing enough for the particular circumstances. Using your dog’s food at home (where it isn’t so distracting) and giving several pieces in a row as reward when they do something wonderful, may be a perfect acceptable reinforcement for their behavior. But, if your dog is consistently distracted in new situations, ask yourself, “What’s in the bait bag?” Is this really rewarding to him, or do I just think it is? When you are outside and have to compete with pee-mail and other canine delights, bring a good assortment of small, soft, and stinky treats so he has a good reason to stay checked in with you. Quantity, quality, and variety is the spice of life for dogs, just as it is for people, and is the key to keeping Fido focused and eager to learn.

Ball anyone?

Ball anyone?

Determining what is motivating to your dog may also take some experimentation and creative thinking, and may include activities and toys as well as food. For example, I know that Bingley will do anything for access to a game of fetch**, and he adores banana bread (He even knocked Buckley, 50 pounds larger than him, out of the way to get a piece). My grand-dog Tex, adores roasted asparagus, carrots, and car rides. Make a list of five things your dog loves and post it on the refrigerator as a reminder of what is rewarding to your pup. Add things to it as you discover what makes your dog’s tail wave like a flag on the 4th of July.

food pig's ears car rides

food, pig’s ears, car rides…

You may find, as I do, that using a lot of food when beginning to train your dog (or when teaching a new behavior to your dog), is the easiest and most effective method of rewarding the right response.*** The time does come (sooner than you might think!) when you can reduce the amount of food and add in other reinforcers, such as toys, access to other dogs, car rides, etc., so that food becomes only one of many ways to reward your dog. This is one reason why I encourage you to keep a list of what your dog loves, so you can be creative in your rewards and more interesting to your pup.

Rewards and clicker training go hand in hand, so next time we explore how to use these rewards to get your dog to be the best behaved pup he can be.



*Ask yourself, how would you feel if someone charged up to you and thunk, thunk, thunked you on the top of the head? At best, dogs tolerate this behavior, and many dogs really loathe it. If you want to pet your dog, scratch him behind the ears, rub his shoulders or withers, approaching from the side, and I bet he will move into you rather than away from you.

** One winter we were walking the dogs at a local park and Bingley ran up to me holding something that looked, at a distance, like a frisbee. I’d brought tennis balls, not frisbees this day, so as he approached I looked closely at what he was holding and realized he had a half a frozen groundhog in his mouth. I had no intention of getting into a tug of war with him over the front end of a rodent, but I knew he loved his tennis balls and would likely relinquish the frozen furball for a game of fetch. I took out a ball, held it up and said, “Look at what I have Bingy! Do you want this? Huh? Do you?” That got his attention and as soon as he dropped the groundhog I threw his ball as hard as I could. He zoomed off, I picked up the rodent, tossed it to my husband (who threw it into the woods) and we ran off to meet him before he came back and looked for his frigid friend. Knowing what he loved, helped me to easily resolve a situation that had the potential to be very unpleasant.

***Food is easy, precise and it will build your relationship with your dog. (And, if you think about it, don’t we build relationships that way as well? “Let’s go out for coffee?” “Lunch anyone?”). I do add other rewards, but to learn to reinforce correctly, food is the easiest tool. And, by heavily reinforcing the dog in the beginning I am front end loading the training so that the dog will be more engaged in the process and understand quickly what is desirable behavior.



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