Beware of Cement Pigs!


When my dog Mr. Bingley was about 6 months old we walked past a neighbor’s house where a cement pig resides in the front yard. We’d passed this house many times, but for some reason, on this particular day, Bingley noticed the pig and froze, staring at it and puffing up like a bottle brush. He didn’t know what to make of this strange and apparently dangerous object!  To help Bingley overcome his seemingly irrational fear of concrete porkers, I kept his leash loose and gave him a treat as he looked at the pig. I stepped toward the pig and waited, offering him another tasty morsel if he took a step closer. He did. I repeated this procedure until he was able to sniff the offending swine and easily take a treat from the top of its head. This whole procedure took less than 10 minutes and from that day on Bingley has ignored the cement beast. Because he was able to approach and explore the object at his pace and he got rewarded for doing so, Bingley learned that there was nothing to fear.

In working with dogs, cats, and horses, I have noticed that they are most comfortable with new things when given the opportunity to explore novel items at their own pace. Temple Grandin describes this phenomenon nicely in her book Animals Make Us Human, “[N]ovelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it is presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don’t want new things shoved into their faces, and people don’t either.” Bingley and his encounter with the cement pig, is a classic example of this.

If you need to introduce your cat, goat, dog, guinea pig, horse, or bird to something novel, especially something that is going to be in the animal’s life for awhile, remember that forced novelty is frightening. Give your pet the time and space it needs to explore the item, reward it for its efforts to engage the object and you will likely have a happy and non-traumatic encounter.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs2 comments

What’s more exciting than pee on a pole?


I get a lot of questions from friends and clients and here is one that I got recently regarding something that I said about needing to be more interesting than the distractions your dog encounters:

Q: You said we’re supposed to be more interesting than a semi using jake brakes, more interesting than another dog or cat, and more interesting than pee on every pole. I was following you right up to the end. Now does this imply that we are NOT supposed to stop and examine pee on every pole? ‘Cause that really sounds like it takes the fun out of a walk (for a dog). We DO clip along sometimes and when necessary, but sometimes we stop and smell everything ….. surely that can’t be bad!!??? Help!

A: Allow me to clarify! What I meant was, IF you need to get your dog to refocus onto you, THEN you must be more exciting than pee on a pole. I let my dogs do all sorts of sniffing, but I get to be the one to control the amount of time we spend on each activity (if said dog is on lead). If said dog is off-lead, I am more flexible about time spent on olfactory activities, but ultimately I am the one who decides how long and where we go. Hence, a reliable recall (or Come!) is important to instill in your dog so that when it is time for the off-lead dog to move along, he does!  

But, moreover, I was thinking about indoor noise control. While it is difficult for the three canines in my life to believe this, I honestly do not need to have EVERY truck, leaf, bird, biker, insect, or cloud announced to me.  Therefore, I need to make checking in with me worth their while. Thus, I want the thought process to go something like this:

DOG:  “Oh, hey!, there is a shadow by the birdbath!!!  WOOF! Maybe Julie should know about this. I should warn her about the shadow. Maybe there will be a reward for warning her!” *trot trot trot, nudge, nudge, nudge* 
JULIE: “Hey booger head, what’s up? do you need something? Have a yummy chummie!”
DOG: “Hey food! *munch, munch, inhale, hack* Why did I come here? Maybe I should stick around…”
JULIE: “Hey good dog, why don’t you lie down here and chew your bone?”
DOG: “Hey, a bone! I should lie down and chew it!” *gnaw gnaw gnaw, snooze*…
Use what he loves to reward the behaviors you want in your dog! By providing our dogs with desirable things (food, treats, toys, play, ear scratches, belly rubs, etc) and making it interesting (and therefore rewarding) to check in with us, we can more easily manage the noisy behaviors that can make owning canines a challenge.


Loose Lead Walking Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"1 comment

A Facebook Favorite!

photohudson1One of my favorite Facebook pages is Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services. They have at least two posts a week (Tuesday’s Pearl and Saturday’s Pet Peeve) that are well worth checking out. The posts are helpful, interesting, and have easy to follow advice and fascinating information about how dogs (and cats) view and interact with their world. I highly recommend you “like” their page, or “like” my Facebook page ( as I share most of their posts.Here are a couple of examples of recent posts by Reisner: July 30 Tuesday’s Pearl: Being petted by strangers is *not* a positive experience for worried dogs. I hear from many people that they will first tell their barking, aroused dog to sit/down/stay and then invite the stranger to approach and pet the dog. This is daunting and unpleasant at best, and can result in a defensive bite at worst. Instead, keep strangers at a safe distance while *you* give him treats or reassurance. Your dog will be relieved and grateful!
August 4: Interesting study: Dogs raise their left eyebrow (left facial lateralization) when reuniting with the person they are attached to. Very cool! From a summary by Ken Pope, PhD: “Dogs show left facial lateralization upon reunion with their owners.” by  Nagasawa, Emi Kawai, Kazutaka Mogi, Takefumi Kikusui, of the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology, Azabu University, Kanagawa-ken, Japan.

In the study in which dogs from a dozen breeds participated, one of the findings was that when dogs see a person for just a glance (800 milliseconds), they raise their eyebrows a bit. If the person is someone for whom they feel love and affection (i.e., a beloved owner), the left eyebrow rises higher than the right; however, if the person is a stranger, both ears rise the same amount while the left ear moves back a bit in apprehension. A glance of a favorite toy elicits no response, but a quick glance at dreaded nail clippers caused their right ears to twitch.”


Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere0 comments

This is not the dog I wanted…

316073_288083711209743_119922748025841_1095669_199129324_nAll puppies should be interested in the happenings around them, and all should show some hesitation at new experiences. But sometimes puppies can exhibit behaviors that should cause concern in an owner. A sure sign that something is amiss is when an owner says, “This is not the dog I wanted.” It is especially important to realize that at risk behaviors are not likely to resolve themselves and need to be addressed before they develop into adult problems that could lead to aggression.
The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Indoor Pet Initiative lists these red flags in puppies (
Avoiding or hiding from people, places, or objects This may indicate fear that could escalate into aggression as an adult.

Alarm barking, lunging, putting “hackles” up in response to people or animalsThis is another indication of fear that could mean serious problems as an adult dog if not addressed while the dog is young.

Excessive mouthing specifically during physical handling. Puppies should use their mouths to explore the world, but hard biting, especially if accompanied by stiffening, growling, or snarling could indicate underlying fear or pain and should be evaluated.

Reluctance to “sit” or “down” during training.  Pain, especially in the hips or elbows, can cause non-compliance to basic commands. Have the puppy examined to determine if there is an organic cause to his non-compliance. Anxiety is another cause of dogs not “obeying” commands (and is often labeled as stubbornness), and needs to be addressed appropriately. 

Confinement problems.  If  the puppy will not eat while confined, has excessive vocalizations in his crate, and/or will not settle in his crate, he may be showing early signs of separation or confinement anxiety.
Repeated urination or bowel movements in appropriately-sized crate.  This can be an indication of urinary or gastrointestinal infection, inappropriate crate training prior to the owner getting him, or separation anxiety.
More detailed information about these warning signs can be found at The Indoor Pet Initiative as well as valuableinformation for dog owners in general. I strongly recommend that if you suspect a problem please contact me, your veterinarian or Dr. Megan Herron, a Veterinarian Animal Behaviorist at OSU ( We can help you decide on an appropriate course of action. Puppyhood last a very short time, problems can last a lifetime.


Behavior or "What the heck?" Informational or Doggie Demographics Stress: signals, management, & warning signs Your new dog or puppy0 comments

100,000 Stones

When training, one thing I feel is necessary for owners to fully understand is the importance of repetition in learning any behavior. I have told this story in my group classes, but I think it bears repeating. My favorite 2012 Winter Olympic moment happened during the Curling event when the British were at the point where they had to place the stone exactly right.* With only microns to spare the dude absolutely nailed it.  It was beautiful. At this point the announcer said, in response to another announcer’s amazement at how he did it, “Well, when you have thrown 100,000 stones, you can place it wherever you want it.” Let me repeat the pertinent part: when you have thrown 100,000 stones. (I wanted to kiss that announcer!)
     We, as owners, need to realize that it takes a lot of repetition to be able to do a specific command all the time, every time. Behaviorists will tell you that 10,000 reps are needed to proof a behavior. So I ask you, how many things have you done 1000 times? 10,000 times, 100,000? Have you asked your dog to sit in every possible place under every possible circumstance? Have you asked little Milton to sit 1000 times anywhere? Dogs learn quickly, but like any creature, they need to practice, and practice often, in a variety of settings in order to understand that sit, for example, means “put bottom on ground” no matter what is going on or where they are.
      I mention this not to discourage anyone, but instead to encourage an owner and to give him or her a bit of understanding (and patience) as to why Milton performs beautifully in the kitchen, but not in class or at the dog park.
      The kitchen is not full of new distractions and sit has been practiced there more than anywhere else in the house. Thus, it will be the easiest place for Milton to do a sit. In class, cute little Juliet is on the other side of the room, Bruiser’s owner just dropped a hand full of chicken on the floor and Milton has only been there twice and done 5 sits total in the room. The amazing thing should be that Milton sits on cue at all!
      So how does one get to 10,000 sits? The same way anything gets done: one sit at a time. Try to carve out 3-5 minutes, 3-5 times each day to work your dog. Choose a different location for each session and/or a different behavior to practice. For example, this could be one session: Take a handful of treats into the living room (that is if Milton is allowed in the living room). Click and treat 3-4 times. Do 3-4 Name Games, followed by 5 sits, 3 downs, 5 puppy pushups, and 4 sits at side. Throw a treat across the room, call Milton to you and reward with 3 treats and a game of tug or an ear scratch. Ta Da! One training session under your belt.
      One last note, be patient with yourself as well. Just as Milton is learning new things, so are you. You need repetition as well to get it right and to learn to be consistent in what and how you ask your dog to perform something. You don’t  have to be perfect, you can make mistakes, positive reinforcement training is very forgiving of mistakes! Moreover, remember that you have a lifetime of learning together. So, take a deep breath, grab some treats and a nearby canine, and have some fun practicing those skills that will set up both of you for success now and in the future.

The Norwegians’ Curling Pants!

* The other highlight of the Curling event was the Norwegian’s Curling pants seen in the photo at right. You too can own a pair, just click on the picture!

General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"2 comments

Why be positive, or what’s wrong with a “correction”?

3ballsbingley.jpg.w300h225Welcome to A Positive Connection and my first blog post. I hope to be writing each week on a variety of topics, so be sure to check back frequently! And, feel free to email me ( with suggestions of topics you might like to explore.

When my younger daughter was 8, she wanted a dog of her own. Our family Shih Tzu wasn’t making it as a frisbee dog, and she wanted something bigger and more athletic. After she earned/saved $100 we went to the local shelter and brought home Molly, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was about 1 year old.  We tried training her with some of the local groups but Molly’s fear of other dogs, learyness of strangers, and general distrust of the world became increasingly apparent. We decided to enroll her in a board and train program which used traditional methods (choke chains). After 3 1/2 weeks we went to pick her up, and she was obedient, but her aggression to other dogs was worsening. The trainer said to correct her when she started to act up around other dogs. It didn’t help, at all. When we moved to Virginia and Molly bit a boy visiting our house, I called All About Dogs for help.

We started over with Molly, using clicker training and positive reinforcement under the private tutorage of Robin Bennett. Molly began to improve. She was more relaxed with people and dogs, and we even started her in group classes for agility training. However, for whatever reason, though she improved with positive reinforcement, she never fully recovered from whatever happened to her in her first year and the punishment based training we started with. One day she killed our neighbor’s dog and we had to put her down. Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon a tale as I would like it to be, and the facts associated with punishment based training (read correction) show that punishment increases aggression in dogs. In other words, as we learned with Molly, violence begets violence.*

According to Gary Lansberg, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary animal behaviorist who spoke at the 2013 Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus OH, recent studies show that dogs that are punished show an increase in aggression, fear, and avoidance of people and dogs. They show more behavior problems and are less playful. Moreover “Hit/kick, alpha roll, dominance down, stare, grab, shake – increase aggression by 25%” And the alpha roll and yelling “NO!”  have the “highest [incidence] for owner aggression.”

Patricia McConnell (animal behaviorist , college professor, and Author of The Other End of the Leash) writes,

The most confrontational, and I would argue aggressive, behaviors on the part of the owners resulted in the highest levels of aggressive responses from the dogs. 43% of the dogs responded with aggression to being hit or kicked, 38% to have an owner grab their mouth and take an object forcefully…

She continues with more statistics, but you get the idea.

So, what’s an owner to do? I contend that finding a trainer whose primary approach to training is positive and uses lure/reward or clicker training as his or her starting point will: 1) help avoid future problems with your dog; 2) help you develop a relationship with your dog based on co-operation and trust; 3) increase the effectiveness of your management of the dog as he learns what is expected of him and; 4) it will more likely allow your dog to be the interactive, curious, creative and loyal friend that you want him to be.  If you start off choking, jerking, swatting, alpha rolling, or yelling, you are, in reality, instilling fear and distrust in your dog and may find that he would rather avoid you than come to you. Behavior problems can and do arise with dogs who are positively trained, but yelling at them is not the solution to the problem, it is more likely to exacerbate the issue. Why not use a method that is designed to work with your dog rather than on him?

*Nota bena: What happened with Molly and the kind and gracious help we received from Robin and all her trainers at All About Dogs is what inspired me to become a trainer. I wanted to support owners of dog with behavior issues and hopefully help them to avoid the pain and heartache we went through.

For more information on this topic see the following:

Companion Animal Psychology: What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

Why You Should Never Hit Your Dog:

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:  Position Paper on punishment based training:

Patricia McConnell’s website (with blog):

A great resource for all things dog training featuring my hero Dr. Ian Dunbar: Dog Star Daily:

Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"0 comments