My bad is your good!

Walk this way…

Claire got her lab puppy because she wanted a happy dog who could be her steady companion on the long walks she loved to take. She envisioned strolling through the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, greeting friends, buying fresh bread, stopping for coffee on the way home, all the while, her steady Eddie at her side. What she never dreamed of was a dog-reactive maniac lunging at other canines as she desperately tried to restrain him.

Claire sought out a positive reinforcement trainer and learned how to help Eddie with his “issues” by using desensitization and counter-conditioning to the stimuli of another dog. Eddie improved, a lot, and they were able to go on walks again, but Claire remained very careful of the distance she allowed between Eddie and another dog. She noticed that the trainer was able to get Eddie closer to other dogs than she was and chalked it up to experience. She hoped she would get there someday. What she didn’t notice was how the trainer’s reaction to an approaching dog differed from her own. Claire’s reaction to the sight of another dog was to suck in her breath, tense up, and tighten her hold on the leash. It was not a reaction she consciously thought to do, it was simply her response to stress, just as Eddie had his response to stress. The problem was, her response triggered or exacerbated Eddie’s reaction to the presence of another dog.

So what’s an owner to do when his or her unconscious reaction causes the dog to over-react to something? First, be aware of your reaction to an approaching dog. If you tense up on the leash or suck in your breath quickly, then consciously put slack back into the lead, and take a breath. Now, say your dog’s name in a happy voice (smile when you say it, it will help you to sound happy and be more relaxed). When he looks at you, give him a treat. Repeat as needed to keep you both calm.  By teaching the dog that tensing up on the leash, a quick sucking in of air, or your general stiffening are actually signals for him to cue into you and relax, you will be able to have more successful close encounters!

One last note, if the idea of even trying this makes you terribly uncomfortable, then get a professional positive reinforcement trainer to help you through the process of desensitizing your dog to your reactions. A great place to look for a trainer in your area is the Trainer Search page on the Association of Professional Dog Trainers website. You can search by zip code and distance.



Loose Lead Walking Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

Of dogs and cows…

This week I decided to do veer off in a slightly different direction and share a news item of which pet owners should be advised.

Guilty as charged?

Guilty as charged?

Dog Owners Can Be Held Liable for Negligence:

According to a recent court decision, a couple walking their dog in Central park can be held liable for negligence for allowing their dog to cross a path in front of a bicyclist who subsequently “flew off his bike and landed on his face” when the dog bumped into him. This decision comes after considering the case for a second time and is, in part, the result of an incident involving a cow and a car six years ago.

In the case of the wandering bovine, in 2007, the cow had escaped from a fenced pasture and was then hit by a car.

Until very recently, the Court of Appeals had held that a person who is injured in an accident involving an animal can never have a claim for negligence against the animal’s owner. Only if it were shown that the owner knew the animal had vicious tendencies could he be held liable for the injury, but it would be without a finding of fault.

But ruling on the cow case in April 2012, the Court of Appeals carved out an exception for situations in which a landowner may be liable for negligence for allowing a farm animal to stray from his property. (see link below for full article)

Although this ruling did not explicitly include pets, it opened up an opportunity for the bicyclist to get “another shot in court” and for a law suit to be filed against the pet owners. The case has not gone to trial yet and the pet owners can appeal to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.

Here is the link to read more about this case:

For me, the question now is: What does this mean for the average pet owner? I am not a lawyer, but I am married to one, so I posed this question to my legal scholar husband, Brad Smith, and here is what he said:

For New Yorkers, an owner can be held liable for negligence if a pet causes an injury, either because the pet is not properly attended, or, as in this case, because it was doing what it was told by its owner. My guess is that this will be the trend nationally. Moreover, remember that you are liable for your dog and its behavior. If it causes harm to others – not merely by an aggressive act such as biting, but also by an innocent act, such as interfering with a cyclist on the biking trail, – the owner can be held liable. The moral here: Control your pets!

I caused how much trouble?

I caused how much trouble?

The best way to reduce your risk of negligence is to train your dog. Attending a basic obedience class can help you learn the best way to teach your dog to come, stay, and walk on a leash, as well as build a positive relationship with your canine buddy. Plus, it’s fun!


Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere

Rin Tin Tin wannabees…


Stranger Danger, or “I want my dog to be like Rin Tin Tin, and protect me!”

Ah yes, the “I want my dog to protect me from strangers, dangers, and things that go bump in the night. I want him to be like Lassie (or Rin Tin Tin, or Benji, or any other fictional heroic canine) and be able to recognize the bad guys and protect me.”  That’s great! Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, those dogs (or more precisely, the roles that they played) are fictional. They do not exist in the real world and to assume that you can train your dog to be protective only when necessary (and to determine the need on its own) is highly unrealistic for almost all dogs and their owners (including yours truly).  When I mention this to people wanting protection dogs, they often reply that Police dogs can tell the difference and only attack on cue. Exactly! They only attack on cue from their handlers. We do not have lone Police dogs (or even Police dog pairs) patrolling the streets of cities and towns assessing potential wrong doings and protecting the general public from odious characters. These highly trained dogs are always with their handlers and are trained to be very responsive to exact cues.
Therefore, when the subject of protection arises, I ask people to define, carefully, what they mean by protection, as this can be a very dangerous place to wander with your dog.  Ask yourself honestly: Do you really want your dog to be aggressive to strangers?  And, how is the dog suppose to know who is a good stranger and who is bad one, especially if you are not there? What if someone comes to your 24_dog_zombie run awayhome when you are not there and the dog is in your yard, or your back door is unlocked or left ajar by mistake? Perhaps it is a child whose ball was knocked into the yard, or an old friend stopping by spontaneously to say hi? Or a different UPS guy? Or a new neighbor coming over to introduce herself, or use your phone? These people are strangers to your dog. Do you honestly want  him to be aggressive and to take matters into his own paws to protect the homestead?
I propose that what you probably want is your dog to have a strong social drive to people. Why? Because the vast majority of people you meet will be people with whom you desire your dog to be friendly. Moreover, who wants to risk a dog biting someone who is not a threat? And, believe it or not, a well socialized dog is more likely to be able to react to real dangers or concerns. Because he 35_dog_adoringpublicknows what safe looks, feels, and acts like, he will be suspicious of those things which do not lie within his field of experience. The reaction may not be huge, but if you know your dog, you will know when he is uncomfortable or concerned, just as you know when all is well with him.
In the case of my sister’s condo associate who lives alone (see last week’s blog for Part 1 of this story) and wants a dog larger than the 30 pound limit, I think that she is probably motivated by two things: 1) she wants her dog to bark at the door when people arrive, and 2) she will feel safer walking at night with a large dog rather than with one that can be mistaken for a giant powdered sugar donut. I know that most persons of nefarious intent will go to another door rather than risk a barking dog alerting the owner or neighbors, and they do not want to risk being bitten. That said, a larger dog has a deeper bark and is more likely to cause someone to pause. My Bingley has a very deep bark that is kinda scary, and he has caused more than one person to re-consider coming to the door. A chihuahua, or Pomeranian is not as likely to scare someone off either at the door or keep someone at bay when walking out on the street (but it is probably better than no bark at all!). Therefore, in this instance, when you want a dog with a definite presence, you need a bigger dog. What you don’t need is a meaner dog.
Thus, the question remains: Can small dogs be protective as well as companionable? Yes. But how effective are they? It depends, again, on how you define protective. If you want a dog to bark, growl, snap at or intimidate strangers, get a small dog and do not socialize him to people, places, and things. This will create a “protective” dog who will react out of fear, and which people will avoid, but are unlikely to consider a serious threat (Which btw, is not smart. Small dogs can bite seriously, multiple times, and cause enough damage to require stitches, strong antibiotics and perhaps plastic surgery if the bite is to the face.) But I ask you, how happy is this dog and how happy will the owner be with a dog that hates/fears everyone? Far better to have a dog that likes people, and barks at appropriate times, such as at the door, or on cue. Small dogs can be very unpleasant and people may avoid them, but they seldom strike fear into the hearts of the masses.
So in summary, if you want a dog that will “protect” you or at least give the illusion of protection, bigger dogs are more likely to fill the bill. Dogs up to 60~75 pounds (most labs, goldens, setters, spaniels, other retrievers) would do well in a mulit-unit complex and are a size that most people can manage effectively, and which would provide a level of comfort (i.e. when walking at night these guys are large enough to cause someone pause) or protection to the owner. Remember however, that these dogs, like any dog, require good management, a strong relationship with their owner and training to make them successful members of society. Without those three things, the size of the dog does not matter, it will be a problem and/or nuisance to the owner and the neighbors.
11_dog_dino on watch

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere

Small is not necessarily better…

My sister lives in a condo complex that does not allow dogs larger than 30 pounds. A woman petitioned the condo board to have a larger dog as she lived alone and wanted a dog for protection. The board assumed that larger dogs were more difficult in a variety of ways, including destructiveness. My sister asked me for my opinion on a couple of issues and this is part one* of my response:


Common assumption #1 that people make which may or may not be true:

Big dogs are more destructive/messier than small dogs.

Messiness: It is true that big dogs leave big piles, but if they are cleaned up, then there isn’t an outdoor mess problem! Little dogs leave little piles, but if they aren’t cleaned up there is a problem!
Destructiveness: This has more to do with temperament than size. If you have a dog that suffers from separation anxiety, for example, it can be destructive of property, scratching up or chewing on door frames, floors, moldings, window frames etc. Small dogs as well as big dogs can cause significant property damage, especially if they are not fully housebroken (a common problem with toy dogs, which is why I recommend litter box training for toy breeds). Managing a dog with destructive tendencies should include:
  • – good food
  • – exercise
  • – space management (meaning the use of crates or baby gates to control access of the dog before it is housebroken or to keep it from mischief in other areas of the house), and
  • – addressing behavioral issues (such as separation anxiety with behavior modification and possibly anti-anxiety drugs) with a positive reinforcement trainer, behaviorist, and/or behavior savvy veterinarian who can help you to design a management program that includes a strategy to contain/control the behavior and addresses the underlying causes of the problem.

Good management should significantly control or abate most issues of destruction both inside and out.

Image 2Common assumption #2 that people make which may or may not be true:

 Small dogs are easier to manage when it comes to behavior problems.

Smaller is easier:  Not necessarily true…this is like assuming that big people will have more behavioral problems than small people. While big dogs can create big problems quickly (for example, it takes a Dane lot less time than a beagle to eat a couch), small dogs can also destroy property and deliver damaging bites (just ask anyone whose small dog has bitten them or a child on the face).  Barking is another issue of annoyance for any size dog, but can be helped with good management, training, and perhaps behavior modification to address the underlying reasons why the dog is barking. The bottom line is that dogs are individuals, and to judge them based solely on their physical size does not allow for the singularities that make each dog so very special. Perhaps the question should not be size of dog, but whether or not the dog and owner follow clear guidelines which define appropriate behavior for the dog and the owner. If the guidelines are not met, then the owner (and offending dog) would have to face the consequences.
44_dog_milk carton
 * Part two can be found here: Rin Tin Tin wannabees…

Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere

Yelp me!

IMG_0850Imagine, if you would, a moment in your life that you were anxious, upset, fearful or just leary of what was happening around you. What did you do? Did you bite your lip, lick your lips, or press them together? Perhaps you avoided eye contact with the person who made you uncomfortable, clenched your jaw, wrinkled your brow, or stiffened as the moment became increasingly distressing. Maybe you backed up, turned away, or started sweating. All these are natural responses to stress, fear, anxiety and all of them have corresponding behaviors in our dogs.



When faced with the unknown or the uncomfortable, our dogs will tell us in no uncertain terms that they are stressed. We just need to recognize the signals, both subtle and un, that our dogs display. For example, the puppy at the upper left is telling me that he is uncertain about something. I know this because his mouth is closed, his head is turned away, and I can see the whites of his eyes. The labrador to the right, does not like the camera and tells me this by looking away with wide eyes, ears tucked, a closed mouth, and a veins on the side of his face are enlarged.

Irish Lip licking



Another sign that your dog may be excited, stressed, or aroused (higher energy and awareness of his surroundings) is lip licking when no food is around, or yawning when he isn’t tired. (Left two pictures).



Interestingly, even as our dogs smile (as I mentioned last week) so do they also frown! Patricia McConnell, PhD, describes it in For the Love of A Dog,

When humans frown, we move the centers of our eyebrows down and toward each other. Dogs frown, too, and it’s another relatively easy signal to read once you learn to look for it. It’s clear that these are important signals in social communication – in both species the muscles above the eyes are accented, by hair (in our case) and coloration changes (in the case of most dogs).

329034_274672889217492_119922748025841_1041722_1158631897_oIn the case of Roxy (black dog to the right), this was one of the first times that her owners were away and she was getting to know me, as well as trying to figure out what I was doing! Her wrinkled brow tells me that she is not altogether certain that what I am doing, right then, is “okay”. (As an aside, I took her picture and then let her sniff my phone. A few treats also helped to assuage her!)

There are many signals that our dog use to communicate to us that they are uncomfortable, and I have illustrated just a few of the more common ones.  Some others include stiffening, sweaty paw pads, and leaning back or backing away from something. (We humans do these things as well when nervous or leary, though we generally do not sweat through the bottoms of our feet!) You can begin to recognize the way your dog communicates his or her feelings by watching what they do, and what their bodies and faces look like when you know they are experiencing particular emotions such as excitement, uncertainty, or fear. Knowing how to read  your dog’s body language will also help you to know when your dog is asking for your help to better manage the unexpected.





This picture is in response to the comment by Laura below and is Roxy (the dog immediately above) doing her round head look. In this instance she had not done anything wrong, but I think I might have shouted to one of the other dogs to come and she was right next to me when I raised my voice so the other dogs could hear me across the fenced-in area. She looks guilty (or pitiable) but I really think it was in response to me raising my voice, not anything she had done. It is, however, very cute and is sure to illicit a treat from me every time!


Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Stress: signals, management, & warning signs

Is my dog smiling at me?

1374879_10201231168880183_70258531_nDogs are experts at reading human body language. The question of the day is: do dogs’ facial expressions mean the same thing as ours? Do they smile when they are happy? Do they show concern, worry, or fear in the same way we do? Surprisingly, the answer to all of these is yes, with some considerations.

Patricia B. McConnell, PhD is a an adjunct associate professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She is a dog trainer, author, and national speaker on dogs and dog behavior. In her book, For the Love of  a Dog, Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, Dr. McConnell talks about smiling, “[r]etracting the corners of the mouth and raising them is what makes a smile a smile.” Smiles, unlike other facial expressions, are most common when we are with other people and facing them. That is to say, we direct smiles at others.HenryandGolden

Dr. McConnell continues: “Paying attention to the corners of another’s mouth isn’t unique to our species…[D]ogs move the corners of their mouths too, and just as in humans, the direction of the movement tells you a lot about how the dog is feeling inside.” A dog will move its commissures (corners of the mouth) back and up in “something that looks to some like a human smile, and to others like an aggressive baring of the teeth. Smiling dogs raise their upper lips, usually so much that the skin over the top of their muzzle becomes 59568_155969521087830_119922748025841_395974_4900345_nwrinkled.”  This exposes their shiny white teeth and can be alarming if you don’t take into consideration the overall demeanor of the dog. If a “smiling” dog approaches me with a thumping tail, wiggley body, goofy demeanor, and squinty eyes, then I am pretty confident that this dog harbors no ill will towards me, despite the fact that I can see his pearly whites. On the other hand, a smiley dog with a rigid body, cold or hard eyes, a forward lean to his stance, and a tail raised high and barely moving will cause me to pause and carefully assess the situation before I move closer or attempt to make physical contact with the dog.

She summarizes:

We don’t know exactly what emotion a “smiling” dog is expressing, but it doesn’t seem to be associated with anger or fear-related aggression. One good guess, my favorite at the moment, is that it’s an expression of a dog in an ambivalent state, with the primary emotion being one of submission or docility.  I think of it as the kind of goofy, nervous grin you’d see on the face of a shy adolescent guy when he picks up his date for the first time.


 Next week: Worried and fearful dogs and how similar their expressions are to ours!

Behavior or "What the heck?" Stress: signals, management, & warning signs

Fido’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday, early edition!

Do you want this year’s Holidays to be more fun than stressful for you and your favorite canine?

If you answered, “YES!!”, then think about preparing for the holidays now, before the chaos hits.  Use the following suggestions so that you and Fido will be primed and ready to have more fun than stress this holiday season!
  1. Sit! A dog that is sitting is not jumping on Grandma, chasing the grandkids, or running joyfully through the house announcing the visitors. Practice sit everywhere and at all times of the day or night. (50+ sits a day is not over doing it, really.) The more times and places your dog sits, the more it becomes his default behavior and one that he is likely to do when in doubt about the busyness around him.
  2. MerryXmasFireplace_ACD_Page_1Give Fido a happy place. I insist that each of my dogs have a place in the house that is his “Do Not Disturb” zone. Give your buddy a comfy place to curl up, a special treat to chew on, and perhaps some lavender oil on its blanket, in a quiet place in the house. If you need Fido to leave Nirvana, call him to you, and offer a tasty treat for his co-operation. Don’t drag Fido out of his comfort zone as it might lose its specialness and he will no longer have that safe place to re-group. Call me if you need help or other suggestions on setting up Fido’s happy place. 740-587-042936_kongs and candles
  3. When it is dinner time for people, prevent canine catastrophes at the table by feeding your dogs stuffed Kongs in their happy places. Kongs come in a variety of sizes and are readily available at most pet stores. Recipes for stuffing a Kong can be found at: Or, give me a call! I have a recipe book as well as lots of tasty Kong ideas! 740-587-0429. (And, be sure to check out my September 2nd blog, “Whoever said breakfast had to come in a bowl?” for more recommendations on intelligence toys.)
  4. Certain foods can cause serious problems in dogs, and if injested can require immediate veterinary care. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center number is: 888-426-4435 (Note: there is a charge for their services). Some of the foods you need to keep away from your dog:
  • Xylitol: an artificial sweetener, 5 sticks of sugar free gum can sicken a 44 lb dog
  • Grapes and raisins: can cause kidney failure, even in small amounts
  • Macadamia nuts: can cause paralysis
  • Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine (dark chocolate more toxic than milk chocolate)
  • Cooked bones: can perforate the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, or cause  impactions.
  • Safe only in small amounts: nutmeg, sage, onions and garlic.
Preparing now, while you have a few weeks before Halloween will give you and Fido the chance to get his sit perfected as well as establish a safe haven and a routine that will give you the best chance for the very Happiest Holiday Season yet!Happy Hollydogs_ACD_Page_1



Behavior or "What the heck?" Stress: signals, management, & warning signs