Santa Paws is coming to town!

76C_dog_cat_xmas-01Earlier this year (Sept. 23rd to be precise: I published “Fido’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday, early edition!” hoping to motivate people to start preparing sooner rather than later for the Holiday season. Now I have no way of knowing if anyone, or everyone took this advice, but I have to assume that some took it, and some did not. So, I decided that perhaps reiterating some of the advice (and adding in some new items, yay!) might be handy for those of you who perhaps had good intentions, but somewhat less than perfect execution.

1) When it is dinner time for people, prevent canine catastrophes at the table by feeding your dogs stuffed Kongs. Kongs come in a variety of sizes and are readily available at most pet stores. Recipes for stuffing a Kong can be found at: 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 you can use instead of Kongs.

MerryXmasFireplace_ACD_Page_12) Give 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. If Fido seems too excited or restless during the festivities, consider giving him that tasty Kong in his special spot or crate as a way to decompress and get himself re-oriented and ready to join the fun.

3) Careful of small toys! Your dog may decide that the replica of the Starship Enterprise, or Diagon Alley in Legos are chew toys. If your dog does swallow plastic do not immediately induce vomiting as sharp edges on chewed plastic can cause serious problems on the way back up. They can also cause gastrointestinal blockages, which can become quite serious quite quickly. (We lost a beloved dog to a blockage due to eating chicken bones he heisted from the trash. In 24 hours he was gone.) Please call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, and be prepared for an emergency vet visit.

4) Rich foods can cause tummy problems! I have posted a lot about toxic materials during the holidays (See Sept 23 and Dec. 75C_dog_thanksgiving-01, but many things that aren’t toxic, should be monitored so Fido does not get an upset tummy or diarrhea. Christmas Cookies, eggnog, candy canes, holiday breads, candy, turkey skins, or anything that he does not normally eat and is high in fat and/or calories can cause tummy upsets. I had a Shih Tzu once who LOVED chocolate. My sister-in-law failed to tell me one of the presents she sent was a two pound bag of M&M’s. Bilbo found it under the tree, ate the entire thing, and promptly threw up all of it on my white rug on Christmas Eve. Luckily he did not poison himself, and my neighbor loaned me her steam-vac, so it all ended well enough, but I certainly don’t wish that on any of you!

What I do wish is that you and your pets have a wonderful, safe Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I also hope that you all know how very grateful we at A Positive Connection for all of you and your delightful dogs. We look forward to serving you in 2014.Happy Hollydogs for website

Behavior or "What the heck?" Care and management or living together in harmony Stress: signals, management, & warning signs

Raisins are not a dog’s best friend…

Unlike our fairly picky grandchildren, Buckley, our Bernese Mountain Dog has a robust interest in all things edible. This includes manyKitchen Buckley things that are on the Doggie No-No list. On one occasion, I left the house for an hour to meet a client and upon my return, found a large box of raisins on the dining room floor, in the spot where Buckley retreats to eat stolen goods. The box, of course, had been nearly full and was now empty. The three dogs stared at me as I asked them in turn who had eaten 2+ cups of raisins. No confessions were forthcoming, and even when questioned in separate interrogations, no one rolled.

I had little choice but to call the National Pet Poison Control Hotline, 800-213-6680, (it was after regular vet office hours, of course) and ask for some advice. I knew the time frame, the weight of each dog, what the toxin was, the amount, and that it was ingested, which was important information for determining a course of action. I was instructed to induce vomiting in all the dogs as we didn’t know who the culprit was (Well, all evidence pointed to Buckley, but I wasn’t sure if he’d shared his bounty or kept it all to his lonesome).

So, out came the hydrogen peroxide and I started to induce vomiting in my dogs. While simple in theory, this is not easy in execution. I did get them to throw up some, but not nearly the quantity I knew had gone down. So, off to MedVet it was. The reason for this is because raisins are a tricky toxin. It isn’t known exactly what about raisins makes them toxic to some dogs, nor do we know the amount that will cause problems. (Though there is a ratio between mass of raisins and mass of dog above which your dog is more likely to have problems. Even with Buckley’s heft, 2 cups of raisins far exceeds this ratio). There is also no correlation between size, or type of dog and whether 1 raisin or 50 will make them ill. The danger in leaving it to nature’s course is that raisin poisoning affects the kidneys, and while the damage may not show up immediately, once done there is no remedy. Another reason I headed to MedVet was because inducing vomiting with Hydrogen peroxide only brings up about 70% of the stomach contents. Since we were way over the ratio (mentioned above), I knew we had to evacuate the entire stomach contents, probably give them some activated charcoal, and possibly hydrate them 71C_dog_park not vet-01through the skin to protect the kidneys.

Once at MedVet (where I wrangled three large dogs by myself as it is a universal maxim in our house that when accidents/crisis/mayhem hits, my husband is not at home), they acted quickly and induced vomiting in all the dogs and lo and behold, Buckley threw up ~2 cups of raisins and the other dogs nothing. They gave him activated charcoal and hydrated him through the skin so that he looked like a Camel-backed Berner. This is the point that Brad was able to join me and pay the $650 vet bill. At this point you would think that raisins would NEVER be allowed back in our house, but just 2 months later, a nearly full box was left on the kitchen table, just at Berner nose level. Once again I was out of the house for only a hour or so, but it was time enough for a certain large dog to eat the whole box. Needless to say, we were back at Medvet, but this time I only took Buckley. Since then, raisins have been a scarce commodity here at the Smith household, and when present are guarded more carefully than San Quentin prison.

Because I want you to have a stress-free/vet-free holiday, here is a short list of things that you may have around the house or encounter during the Christmas Season that you will want to keep away from your favorite canine. Included as well as are dosing instructions for Hydrogen peroxide and the number for the Pet Poison Control Hotline (there is a charge for their services, ~$65.) Be sure to keep this number and the number of your vet someplace you can find it easily. My list is on the front of my refrigerator and in my phone.

Common Holiday Items that are Toxic for your Pet:

  • cinnamon                       imported snow-globes (contain anti-freeze)
  • nutmeg                            garlic
  • fruitcakes                        tinsel
  • poinsettia                       star of Bethlehem
  • lilies                                 macadamia nuts
  • holly                                 liquid potpourri
  • mistletoe                         alcohol
  • grapes                              chocolate
  • raisins
  • currants

To induce vomiting:  3% hydrogen peroxide, 1 tsp per 10 lbs of dog, up to 3 Tbls.

If you suspect poisoning, call your vet or the Pet Poison Control Helpline immediately! 800-213-6680

We at A Positive Connection wish you a very Happy and Safe Christmas!

Brad + Buckley 4069

Care and management or living together in harmony Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. Informational or Doggie Demographics

Dr. Ian Dunbar: an inspiration to all truly dog-friendly trainers

Ian who? Dr. Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist. He has thoroughly studied socialization in puppies and is a tireless advocate of properly socializing your puppy so that you will have a happy, well adjusted adult dog. He is the author of “Before and After Getting Your Puppy” (available as one book or two separate ones), “How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks”, and many more. All his titles and DVDs are Unknown available on Amazon:

He is also the founder of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (, and has a wonderful website with an amazing amount of highly accessible and easy to implement dog training information. It is one of my go-to sites for all things dog. You need to sign up to get access, but they do not send you endless emails, offers, etc., so do not hesitate to join.

(One of my other go-to sites is Dr Sophia Yin’s:

His numerous credentials and achievements are reason enough to think highly of  Dr. Dunbar. But, the biggest reason I have so much respect for Dr. Dunbar is his ability to see the world from the canine perspective and to clearly communicate to people that vision. The following is his TED talk from 2007. Now I realize it is longer than most YouTube videos, but hang in there and  watch the whole thing as there are some real gems at various points in the talk. Also, if you train with me, or are thinking of training with me, this will give you a very clear idea of what I do and why. So without further ado, I present Dr. Ian Dunbar:


Blogs with book recommendations Informational or Doggie Demographics Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Dogs in our lives

small_heroic_bingleyThere are times that I try to look objectively at why I have dogs in my life. Though past results are no guarantee of future performance, experience indicates that they are not an economic investment sure to pay off after years of careful training and nurturing. Certainly my vet bills for three dogs last year confirms the lack of “return on initial investment”, though the raw numbers do indicate my own robust participation in stimulating the economy. Clearly, heavily investing in dog mania does nothing to establish me as a sound financial planner.

They do provide entertainment. They make me laugh every day, but then again so does “The Big Bang Theory”, and all that requires of me is sitting in my comfortable leather chair with a mug of tea for a half hour  or so each evening. Moreover, “The Big Bang Theory” does not jump on my lap, spill my tea, and thereby cause me to further stimulate the economy by needing the services of a carpet/furniture cleaner, and a dry cleaner.IMG_1456

They keep me active. True, but so does the the treadmill in the basement, and that does not have nearly the upkeep cost of one retriever, much less two, plus a Bernese Mountain Dog. In fact, I probably demand more of the treadmill than it does of me. I owe you buddy. Maybe you’ll get some routine maintenance for Christmas this year, just for being my steady eddie.

My dogs are mentally stimulating, thus preventing early onset dementia. They baffle me, they keep me guessing as to what the heck is going on in those canine skulls, and they challenge me to be creative. I am constantly trying new bowls, toys, training techniques, treats, etc., on them to see what does and does not work for the average canine. It is an educational experience (though admittedly an expensive learning opportunity, thus allowing me to further stimulate the sluggish economy) which keeps me from doing other things that might actually pay for themselves as well as provide mental stimulation.

But, let me tell you one story. On Thanksgiving I spent most of the day cooking and serving food. It was a busy, full day and I did not get a chance to sit down until about 6 pm. The dogs had been challenged all day by tantalizing smells and the squeals of 75C_dog_thanksgiving-01small people. When I sat down on the couch, Bingley came over, jumped up on the couch, curled up into a tight ball, rested his head on my lap, and sighed deeply. As I sunk my hands into his soft fur and massaged his ears, I knew in the very depths of my soul that the constant coating of dog hair on all surfaces, tripping over a thousand tennis balls, bandaging wounds, cleaning ears, and scooping mountains of poo, are extraordinarily small inconveniences when weighed against the companionship of a beloved dog.  Truly we are meant to love creation as God loves us, and are called to be stewards of those who have no other voice. If we are willing to answer that call, then the sigh of a contented soul is a gift freely given. Dogs ask for a tiny part of our hearts, give us all of theirs, and challenge us to rise to the better angels of our human nature. That alone is reason enough to welcome them to our hearths, if not our couches.

Dog days of summer



Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Every dog is a project dog.

_CSG5608When I am talking to fellow dog trainers and I mention “a project dog”, most trainers immediately understand that the particular dog to which I am referring has special needs. Perhaps it is a fearful dog, or is aggressive to other dogs, or has separation anxiety, or is a resource guarder. These are dogs that need training or behavior modification above and beyond basic obedience as well as an owner who truly understands that we are talking about progress, not perfection when it comes to overcoming the dog’s particular issues.

My daughter recently said to me, “In reality, every dog is a project dog.”  That is to say, if you decide to add a canine to your life, then training it to be a well mannered member of your family is fairly intensive on the front end. Think of it like building for your retirement, the more you can invest when you are young, the better and more stable will be your retirement. The same thing goes for dogs. The more training and reinforcing you do of good behaviors in your puppy (or new dog), the more stable, reliable, and well mannered your dog will be as an adult (or as he relaxes into his new home).

The details of this process vary trainer to trainer but, in a beginning obedience class it is common for positive reinforcement trainers to use a lot of treats in order to highly reinforce (reward) the behaviors we are teaching the dogs. Reinforcing heavily in the early stages sets a dog up for success, brings quicker and better results, and helps the dog to engage more fully in the training process. As the dog becomes more reliable with any given behavior, we will reduce the quantity, quality or type of the reward. We never eliminate reinforcement for desirable behaviors, but can use less intensive rewards as the behavior becomes a habit.

_CSG5629One of the wonderful benefits of using primarily positive reinforcement to train a dog is the relationship it fosters between owner and pet. I have found that the most successful owners are those who have positive goals to train towards and I encourage alI of my clients to think about what they want their dogs to do, instead of what they want them to stop doing. For example, if your dog jumps on guests, think about what you would prefer that he do. Perhaps it is sufficient that he have all four paws on the floor. Maybe you want him to sit to greet guests. Either solution works, in part, because you have a plan to achieve success together. It is no longer you against him, but you and your dog working in partnership. (And, it’s fun!)

Conversely, if you rely on punishment to train your dog, he will likely learn to associate you with things he dislikes. In her book, How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and a behaviorist describes one of the unintended consequences of using punishment based training:

Some animals are more resilient or forgiving when aversives are used; however, many others will never reach their potential or form the strongest possible relationships with the use of many adversives.

So, what’s the bottom line here? All dogs require training, and the more you train in the beginning, using primarily positive reinforcement techniques, the better behaved your dog will be in the long run, you will develop a genuine partnership with your dog, a deep and lasting relationship, and you will have fun doing it!


Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Decompression is not just for divers…

Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services is located in Pennsylvania and is headed up by Illana Reisner, a board certified Veterinary Animal Behaviorist. There are only 50 (or so) of this highly trained professionals in the nation and we are lucky to have one of them Dr. Meghan Herron at OSU. Dr. Herron studied under Illana Reisner for her post-graduate work. Dr. Reisner also spoke at the Midwestern Veterinary Conference in 2012 and her knowledge, compassion, and dedication to the health and well being of dogs (and cats) is deep, broad, and inspiring. I highly recommend that if you are on Facebook and interested in animal welfare and behavior (and want some great tips for successfully managing your pets), like Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services and look for their Tuesday’a Pearl posts as well as their Saturday’s Pet Peeve. You will become a better owner! Here is a recent example:

Tuesday’s Pearl: If you don’t know your dog well – if he was recently rescued, for example — don’t push his limits with uncomfortable (to him) interactions. Many behavior clients call about recently rescued adult dogs showing unexpected aggression towards them, and are surprised because the dog behaved appropriately when they first met.
          This is usually because a stressed and unattached dog in a noisy environment will act differently from one who’s lived in your home for a few months. It may take the dog a while to settle into the social rhythms of his new home and relationships. For a newly adopted adult dog, kissing, hugging and snuggling (especially while they are lying down) is confusing at best, and certainly not automatically positive.
           In fact, the dog probably wonders why his owner isn’t getting the message to stop – after all, he is looking away, licking lips, yawning,  even rolling on his back. When owners persist and rub that belly or hazard kissing it, the dog may bite – this is a common scenario with adult rescues who are bewildered by all of it. It is safest and least stressful for both dog and human to avoid “in-your-face” interactions with an adult rescue, and instead focus on walking, training and just hanging out near each other.
In other words, recognizing when your dog needs some space to decompress from events he finds stressful will help ensure the health and well being of everyone, human and canine.
Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

I caused how much trouble?

Avoiding eye contact = stressed

Yawning can be a displacement behavior and it is one way a dog tells you he is uncomfortable, stressed, or needs some space.

Yawning can be a displacement behavior and it is one way a dog tells you he is uncomfortable, stressed, or needs some space.

There are many other displacement or stress signals that your dog may be exhibiting. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior, then contact a positive reinforcement trainer who can help you to better read your dog’s body language and to interact with him in a healthy and positive way.

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

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?"