Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Is A "Dexter"?

When we bring our dog Dexter out in public, at least one person is sure to ask, "What kind of dog is he?" Dexter is strikingly handsome, if I may say so, and I am certain it is his looks that spark their curiosity and not his antics at the end of his leash.

"Well...we think he is part Great Dane," we would respond, "but we don't know...blah blah blah...he could be a blah blah blah" and then the person might begin to speculate as well and soon we all ran out of speculations and everyone drifted apart, feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

One day, after the breed question was asked yet again, I laughingly replied, "He's a Dexter." To my surprise, the person nodded thoughtfully, and then shrugged, saying "Well! He's a big boy, isn't he! Have a nice day!" This then became our standard response. It was just easier to say "He's a Dexter!" and leave it at that and everyone is happy.

"Dexter" is also the name my husband and I give the breeds we come across that look like Dexter. You have seen a Dexter before, I am sure. We have all seen a Dexter. Big, black lab-ish dogs, usually with a blaze of white on their chest. You may even have a Dexter or know someone who does.

Truth is, we had no idea, nor did we especially care what our Dexter's breed make-up was. The only explanation to be found in the shelter documents that summed up Dexter's short past was the sad scrawl on the surrender form. It read, simply: "He is too much dog."

I had briefly considered investigating Dexter's heritage but what I had heard about canine DNA testing was not encouraging.

Completely inaccurate results!
A waste of money!
My chihuahua sized dog came back with St. Bernard in her profile-impossible!

I resigned myself to never knowing what  Dexter was made of, and truthfully it did not matter to me. I loved him for being what he was... a Dexter.

Along came Arlo

Arlo, for those of you new to my blog, was rescued from a caravan of trucks stacked with crates which were in turn stacked with dogs all headed for the meat trade in Asia. Now this dog's genetic soup interested me! Arlo looks like a puppy, but he is an adult dog. Anyone asked to speculate on his breed invariably tosses in a terrier or two. He is a medium sized dog, but on the smaller side of medium. His hair length ranges from short to shaggy to wispy. He is mostly reddish, but also blond, gray, and tan. In short, he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It was time to rethink my views on canine DNA testing.

As a naturally skeptical gal, I began to read and ask questions of people I trust. Here is the heart of what I found: The test is only as good as the number of breeds the testing company has in its database. I chose to go with the Wisdom Insight Panel at around $49. With over 185 breeds in their database, I felt I could get a pretty fair idea of what makes an Arlo, and if I was going to test Arlo, I might as well test Dexter at the same time. The test itself could not have been simpler. Two test sticks swabbed inside of each dog's mouth cheek, pop them into the prepaid addressed envelope, done.

"But my dog looks nothing like a -----!"

Phenotype-anything that is part of the observable structure, function or behavior of a living organism.
Genotype- the "internally coded, inheritable information" carried by all living organisms. 

My Great Grandmother
 had lovely Mediterranean skin
and dark hair and eyes

My blue-eyed daughter
 freckles, but also tans
Your tiny mutt may look nothing like a St Bernard, but that does not mean he does not carry the genes of one. Some phenotypes such as the typical flat face of a Bulldog may vanish after just one crossed generation. Take a look at the differences between generations in my own family. My great grandmother was a very tiny woman (maybe 5 feet tall?) who likely weighed a scant 95 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes with lovely Mediterranean skin. Me, I am 5'7" and let's just say I am over 95 pounds and leave it at that. My green-eyed black haired father could not tan. I have dark hair and eyes and tan easily (after burning first if I am not careful). My daughter, on the other hand, is blue eyed with reddish hair. She freckles in the sun but also tans, her father and paternal grandmother do not tan at all. She is also 5'7". My point? You just never know what cards you will be dealt in the gene shuffle.  

I tan easily but may burn first
I kept the dark hair and eyes
So...(drum roll) the results!

Dexter was found to be mostly lab. No surprise there. Despite my strong suspicion that he was part grasshopper, he is actually part... Rhodesian Ridgeback!? Wow.
The real Dexter is: (besides Devastatingly Handsome)

Mostly Labrador Retriever

With a good chunk of Rhodesian Ridgeback 

The other breeds that came up were:
Wire Haired Pointing Griffon (19%)

Welsh Terrier (12%)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (1%)

Keeshond (2%)
Beagle (less than 1%)
   Arlo's results

Turns out,  there is no terrier in Arlo's genetic recipe at all!
Here is the ingredient list for an "Arlo"

To make an Arlo: 

Take mostly Shiba Inu 
And Chow 

Add a smattering of:

Samoyed (12%)
German Shepherd Dog (8%)
Australian Kelpie (2%) and

Tibetan Spaniel (2%)
Have these results changed anything in our lives? Not really. I still treat the boys exactly as I did before.
Except now, if anyone asks "What's a Dexter?" I can tell them he is a "LabraRidgePointingWelshCavaBeagle!"

Happy Training!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Life With A Thai Street Dog-Week One (Or Do You REALLY Want A Smart Dog?)

One full week has passed since our little Thai street dog came to live with us.

Things I have learned:
Street dogs have obviously read the puppy socialization manuals regarding early exposure to all surface types. Wobbly, solid, slick, rough, icy-no problem. 
My little hipster (come on-Oregon is COLD!)

Street dogs have a strong working knowledge of how latches operate

Street dogs understand that garbage lids not only close, but more importantly, OPEN 

Street dogs understand that ex-pens, even ones that are five feet feet tall, have a giant exit point

Street dogs consider fences as a suggestion only

1st night:

I had hardly slept the night before, excitedly anticipating Arlo's arrival. Had I only known how important uninterrupted sleep would soon become!

His plane got in at six PM, so by the time we got home, gave him food and water and walked around the inside of the house a bit, it was time for bed. Because my husband must wake at the insane hour of  4 AM (a work thing), Arlo and I spent the night in the guest room. I had no idea how Arlo would react to being crated, given his past history and the fact that he had just spent the last 18 hours or so traveling here, most of it spent IN A CRATE. Nevertheless, sleep we must and so I placed him in a brand new crate, pulled right next to my bed. 

We then proceeded to spend one very long sleepless night -me placing my fingers in the crate and saying, "Shhhhh...shhhhhhh" as Arlo woke again and again, crying out through the night.  At around 1 AM,  in a sleep-deprived fog, I put him in bed with me, tethered to my waist with a leash (I had brought one up, just in case). I periodically heard Mark snoring peacefully in our room and was comforted by the knowledge that he, at least, could get a good night's sleep.

Day 2-
Introduced Dexter and Arlo through a baby gate. Dex has been through this drill many times and performed his job (sit and collect treats) perfectly. I watched Arlo closely for signs of fear and saw only curiosity and so I let them meet face to face. Both did a lot of polite sniffing and then Arlo stood on his hind legs, stiffly, growling as he tried to hook a paw over Dex’s neck. One quick squabble and it was back to circling and sniffing, then all was well. I had picked up all toys and closed doors to all rooms except the one we were in so that no one could abruptly meet in a small space. Took lots of small walks on leash. Too soon for off-leash. Tried the crate again and this time Arlo completely panicked-drooling, panting, scratching to get out. Back in bed with me. Heard Mark turning and yawning comfortably in our bed. Hmmm...interesting that he can sleep through this.

Day 3-
First on-leash walk with both Dexter and Arlo. 3.3 miles on the river trail. Everything was going as smooth as silk until a young couple approached on the trail, their collie mix straining at the end of her leash, head down and coming straight on at us. I pointedly moved OFF the trail to let them pass; the couple happily letting their dog follow; assuring me with a cheery, "Don't worry, she loves dogs!" at the exact moment I desperately called out: 

"PLEASE don't let your dog..." 

Too late. 

Dexter exploded as Arlo gamely jumped in to help by hopping up and down and releasing a volley of high-pitched dog curses in Thai. As I pulled my beasties away, I caught the retreating shocked expressions of the couple, each muttering and shaking their heads at my dog's "bad" behavior. I imagine this is a common event in their lives. They probably blissfully stroke their dog's head at night while thinking, "How did we get so lucky?" Oy. And okay, snarkiness notwithstanding, I "know" that they don't "know" and that's just the way it is right now with dogs and leashes and saying "hi"

Night 4
Big night-let Arlo run off leash with Dex. We are on almost seven fenced acres, so the boys could really stretch their legs. Dex runs like a cheetah-body stretched full out as he glides through the air on impossibly long legs; Arlo churning the earth as he tries to keep up. Brought ex-pen into guest room (five feet tall). Took Arlo less than three minutes to climb out like a monkey. Tethered again. Guest room again.  Heard Mark laughing as he watched a sitcom in bed in our room just next door. Gritted my teeth and suppressed a strong urge to smother him with a pillow as he slept.   

Present Time
Dexter's crate on the left, Arlo's on the right
Last night was Arlo's eighth night here. I put a lid (okay-it's chicken wire that I attached, myself) on the ex-pen and moved Dexter's crate  next to him. We are still in the guest room, but I actually slept through an entire night! own bed? A girl can always dream...!


My boys

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Long Journey Home

This story begins in the northeast of Thailand in a place called Nakhon Phanom. On August 13, 2011 Thai police infiltrated a group of dog smugglers carrying over a thousand dogs-some stolen, some strays, some taken in trade for cheap goods. The dogs had been crammed into small wire crates which were then stacked and loaded onto four trucks. Many of the dogs died during the transport and of those that survived the suffocating journey thus far, some of the unluckiest would die only moments before safety arrived as the smugglers desperately tossed crates from the truck bed in an effort to gain speed and avoid being captured.


While better off now than with the smugglers, the danger was not yet over. The remaining dogs, many unhealthy to begin with, now faced fast-spreading illnesses in the overcrowded conditions.

August 13, 2011
Excerpt from the Soi Dogs- Facebook :

"But although they have been saved from dog-trader gangs, no one can guarantee they will be safe and survive in their crowded cages while a shortage of food threatens their lives.
Some of the animals were reported dead or injured. The rest are at Nakhon Phanom Animal Quarantine Station.
They looked exhausted after they were moved from the small cages to be put in the station's only big cage. But that cage, which has a maximum capacity of 500 dogs, now has to house 1,800. They have inadequate food and water, as the station does not have the budget to feed such a huge crowd of dogs.
"Police believe all the dogs would have been transferred to a ship waiting in Ban Phaeng district of Nakhon Phanom before going across the Mekong River to be sold in Vietnam"

September 18, 2011
Soi Dogs-Facebook

John Dalley, Bee and others visited Nakon Pathom this weekend where the dogs seized from the dog meat smugglers are being held.
The dogs in this photo album are up for urgent adoption. There are around 800+ dogs there and it is critical that the most needing cases are adopted as soon as possible.
If you have ever considered adopting a dog the time is now to step up.
Logistics re: export etc. will be handled by Soi Dog Foundation as required.
Contact Bee her on Facebook at:
September 18, 2011
From: Jenn-Soi Dogs Volunteer
To: Chris Waggoner
Would the one sitting on the right be of interest?”

To: Jenn—Soi Dogs Volunteer
From: Chris Waggoner

To: Cindy-Soi Dogs
From: Chris Waggoner
Hi Guys,
Just wondering where things stand with the little pup. He was one of the dogs from up north.
Subject: Re: Dog
From: John-Soi Dogs
Date: Tue, October 18, 2011 10:12 pm
Doing well and desexed on Monday. Lovely dog.

The planning to get him to the US begins...
Date: Wed, October 19, 2011 7:59 pm
Subject: Re: Dog
From: Cindy-Soi Dogs
Hi Chris,
Are you definitely interested in adopting his little guy? Can you let me know, J-- is on his way to the UK at present. Whereabouts are you?
On 20 October 2011 10:41, <> wrote:
YES.  I am in Bend, Oregon. 900 miles from Los Angeles.
Subject: Re: Dog
From: Cindy-Soi Dogs
Date: Wed, October 19, 2011 10:28 pm
Hi again Chris
Have heard back from shelter. The little dog's name is Benji (male), he was sterilised on Tuesday.At this stage they think it may be too soon to transport him next week s he's still on treatment. However we will double check with our  vets this afternoon. I will let you know.
On 20 October 2011 11:43, Cindy-Soi Dogs wrote:
Chris-Flight volunteer has confirmed is wiling to take. Have just heard back.
Am still checking with shelter whether it will be possible. Cheers
On 21 October 2011 11:31, Cindy-Soi Dogs wrote:
It looks like we can get Benji on the same flight with our flight volunteer (Jacqui) who departs on October 26th. Her flight arrives in LAX at 6.55pm on 26th.
And yet another journey begins...this time home

HKT Airport, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand-loading into plane

Staying at the Sheraton-nice!
Jacqui (my flight volunteer angel) after a VERY long flight. Sophie is not sure what to make of Benji!

The final leg of Benji's journey is less than two hours away. At that time I will pick him up at the airport near my home and will give him his brand new name.

He will live with me, forever.

I hope you will follow his story as I continue to write about our days together. After all, we are all on a never ending journey. Who knows where life will take us next?

Happy Training,


For more information about Soi Dogs, please watch this documentary Soi Dogs, The Movie
To read about the rescue of Arlo and the other thousand dogs, click this link. Warning-graphic content.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good Things Come To Those Who Crate

Question: What is one of the most useful things you can teach your dog to like? If you answered "being in a crate” you get a big crunchy dog treat!
I love crates.  
Crates allow us to leave a young dog at home without having to worry that he is eating our electric cords (or cool red swivel chair) while unsupervised.
Crates allow us to house train a puppy (or an older dog) easily, clearly, and humanely.
Crates give our dogs a safe haven-a place to go without concern that another dog or the family cat will invade their space.
Crates are especially useful if you have a shy or timid dog; one that is afraid of visitors or children. Or perhaps for those times when Aunt Alice, who is not fond of dogs (and may actually secretly fear them) pops in for coffee. A crate is also a wonderful place to safely park a dog who is in training, to avoid his practicing undesired behaviors (jumping, charging the door when the bell rings, etc.)
But isn’t a crate a little cage-like? Won’t my dog feel claustrophobic?
If your dog has never seen a crate before, and you pop him into one with no warning, the answer is probably a resounding YES!
He needs time to adjust and learn that crates are good places to be in. This means that crates are never used as punishment and are never used to confine a dog all day long while you are at work. 
Don't get me wrong. I am a big believer in confining dogs to appropriate spaces-if you must confine your dog while you are at work there are other options, some of which I will get into later. The bottom line is, a dog who would otherwise panic when left home alone can sometimes tolerate this state if he is left in an appropriate space and not left to his own devices.
Consider this as well- your dog may one day need medical care. Overnight stays at the vet hospital guessed it... crating (where it is called something else yet again, but it is essentially crating)  
What is a crate? 
Plastic crate
Some are wire (my dog's personal preference) and some are a combination of hard plastic with a wire door. Some are made of fabric and are collapsible and portable. The fabric crates are for dogs who…well…let’s put it like this; my Stoli (a Siberian husky) once chewed his way through a fabric crate in just under five seconds. Know your dog before choosing the material for your crate. Some dogs prefer a darker space, some are better with the more open wire type of crate and some types are not appropriate for your dog at all (in our case, fabric crates)
Why do they work? 
Wild canids, as a rule, generally seek out dens.  A den provides a means to avoid predators and  provides a safe shelter (sound familiar?)
Think of this; if you grew up during the era that I did, it was not uncommon for homes with dogs to have a litter of pups from time to time. These dogs usually chose a closet or the dark quiet spot under a bed to give birth. After the pups were born, the nursing mother licked each puppy, stimulating it to eliminate (in fact, newborn pups must have this stimulation in order to eliminate-remember this if you are asked to bottle feed any orphaned puppies-of course, you are free to use a soft warm wet cloth for this purpose) the end product which she then consumes (you can skip this part as well!) The result: a clean "den". In fact, most dogs given a properly set up environment will not eliminate in their sleeping area, making a crate the perfect merge of natural canine behavior and house training.
A fox prepares to enter her den
Exceptions to this:
Puppies from pet stores, dogs left crated for too long, crates that are too large, or dogs with medical conditions.  
A pup and his makeshift "den"
Pet store pups have no choice but to eliminate in their cage (I use cage here because the purpose of the enclosure is to contain the dog on a full-time basis) sometimes making the transition to a crate difficult. The key to success with this type of dog is to crate for very small increments of time, taking the dog out to your preferred potty place at least 

once an hour during the day and at least every three hours at night.  With consistency, your dog’s natural dislike of  eliminating in his sleeping area will hopefully kick in.
Dogs should never be crated for more than four hours at a time (with the exception of night-time for adult dogs only)  Anything more than this is too much. Puppies are in a class of their own- they have not yet developed sufficient control over their bladder or sphincter to sleep all night in a crate without soiling. Yes, this means YOU getting out of bed in the wee hours to let your puppy out (try to keep in mind how cute and adorable your pup is and how soon this stage will pass as you stumble out of bed)
Crates that are too large will allow the dog to eliminate in a corner, defeating the purpose of crating (not soiling his sleeping area) The crate should be just large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in. Most crates come with inserts to use just for this purpose.
Of course, your first step in determining why your adult dog cannot hold his bladder/bowels is your veterinarian, right? Yes-it is.  Especially in the case of a dog who has a long history of perfect elimination habits. Do not let well-meaning people convince you that your dog is doing this out of spite. Dogs do not defecate/urinate out of spite. I don’t care what anyone tells you-they don’t. Period.
Wire crate
How to teach your dog that crates are awesome
Start with the crate on a non-wobbly surface (trust me-test this BEFORE your dog tries to enter) with the door open (remove the door, if possible) Lay some little treats around the exterior opening. Let your pup eat them. That’s it.
Lay a treat just inside. Let your pup sniff and explore and eat the treats. That’s it.
Toss a treat inside. Then out. Then in, then out until your pup is happily going IN. Add the word “In” as he goes in and “Out” as he goes out. That’s it.
Place his food in the crate. Let him go in and eat. Then come out.
Place his food in the crate and close the door. When he is finished, open the door.
In other words, make the transition gradual and reward him for staying inside. I am purposely not giving a timeline or formula because each dog is different. Go at your dog's pace. If he is uncomfortable, take a step back to where he was comfortable and stay there a bit. When he is okay with being in the crate with the door closed and alone, you may also add some soft background music, or a talk radio station playing quietly.
Rituals are good
I have a nighty-night ritual. Dogs who go into their crate get a nice cookie or yummy treat when they go “in” at bed time. If I must crate a dog during the day (and I do this periodically even when not necessary just to keep things fresh) they get a stuffed Kong or a special chewie to work on.

What can I use instead of a crate?
If your dog is small, you can use an ex-pen. Another option is to designate and dog-proof a room. You can supplement this by hiring a dog walker to come in during the day to give your dog a nice break.
Make good use of baby gates and place delicate items out of reach. Think child-proofing. You wouldn't say "Well, my toddler should know better and stay out of the cleaning products because I TOLD her to! Just who is in charge here?!"  right? Of course not. You would place latches on doors and baby-proof your home. Yes, you must do this for your dog, yes, even if the dog you had before this one never ever got into anything he was not supposed to unless you gave him permission to. You either got lucky or time has gently erased all of the adjustment period you had with that dog away.

Finally, keep in mind that being alone is not a natural state for a dog to be in. Some dogs can and do adjust to being alone-many others do not. Dogs are individuals, just like people are. My oldest son could be trusted to responsibly cross a street when he was 5. My daughter was 10 before I let her cross a street without a walkie-talkie (this was before 10 year olds had cell phones)
Finally, a dog who chews furniture, drywall, electric cords, and the like when left alone is simply trying to soothe himself. He may be bored, teething, anxious, or just plain having doggie fun. He is not "trying to get back at you for leaving him alone"
Dogs just do not have that brainpower and we should be grateful they don't. If they did, we would all be in BIG trouble.

Happy Training!

Crates made to look like furniture
Best variety
Example of a dog-proofed home
Kikopup's "Teach Your Small Dog To Love Going In A Purse" (same concepts used to teach crate training-for those visual learners out there!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sometimes...a cigar is just a cigar!

How did we become so unforgiving of dogs who growl? Where did this attitude come from? Is it a result of the mistaken belief that a growl is a sign of an attempt by the dog to "dominate" the household?

And a nip-as my east coast friends would say...fuggitaboutit!*

Just a couple of generations ago, a child who ran home crying because, "Rover BIT me!" would be met with a sharp, "Well, what did you expect? I told you to stay away from that dog!" instead of a lightening-fast call to a litigation attorney.

 A growl is information

Dogs are social creatures and most will not bite when a growl will do. The problem occurs when there is a blind assumption by us that all dogs can and should tolerate whatever we dish out, as unflinching as a robot.

What are you saying, Chris? That I should just ignore all growling?

The short answer is "no". Take the growl as an indication that something is making your dog very uncomfortable. Is the dog ill? In pain? Frightened?

Especially if this is a new behavior that comes on suddenly, the first stop should be your veterinarian. Hopefully your veterinarian is also a veterinary behaviorist or has access to one (most are happy to consult with your veterinarian- many times as a professional courtesy-as in free of charge) who will determine if this is a medical issue or one that can be solved with the help of a good trainer.

There are many good dog trainers who are well educated in canine behavior. There are also many who simply add the term "behaviorist" to their brochure because it is trendy (like the woman I met once who assured me in a hushed tone that dogs who are afraid of brooms were most certainly abused at some point in their lives).

Do your homework and ask questions! Where did they receive their education? There are some really good self-taught individuals out there-and also some that are not.

If your trainer suggests methods that merely suppress the behavior by using "corrections" (keywords to look out for are "alpha" "pack leader" "dominance" "red zone dogs") my advice is to keep looking. Most of the time, you must change the underlying behavior in order to solve the problem.

Aggression met with aggression results here to find out
Need a board certified veterinary behaviorist? click here to find one in your area

*Let's be clear-we are talking about a nip, not a serious, damaging bite. That I have to even make that distinction speaks volumes on how we view dogs who behave like...dogs.

Happy Training!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just Who Is In Control Here?

The scenario: New puppy comes to live in your home. You are vigilant about taking the puppy outside to his “potty spot”, praising him when he “goes” appropriately.  “Good puppy!” Then comes the day when you are preoccupied with some thing or another and the puppy trots off to the nice fluffy rug you have placed just in front of the kitchen sink and leaves you with a large pile of poop that has now dried.

“Bad dog” you say while glaring as you pick up the offending poop. The puppy begins to play bow and bark as you bend over and scrub at the spot on the rug, darting in to nip at the scrub brush you are furiously employing.

Okay-now it's your turn. Give me your interpretation of the above scenario.

  • The puppy was "talking back"
  • The puppy was trying to divert your attention from his misdeed by acting foolish
  • The puppy was mad at you for scolding him
  • None of the above

The answer is “none of the above” (see the end of the article for an explanation of this puppy’s behavior).

The REAL question is what is your perception of the event? And why does it matter?!?

Perception is Everything

“Parents who believe they have less control over their children’s behavior, and at the same time, believe that the children themselves have more control often demonstrate highly controlling behavior towards their children, especially under conditions of stress” ¹ The Parent Attribution Test (PAT) was developed to measure the level of perceived control these caregivers felt. 

And why is this important?

 In plain language, caregivers who scored as having a perception of low control believe that the child or infant is purposely defying them and even worse, secretly feels that the child is really the one in control. This increases the probability that the caregiver will overreact to any perceived act of “defiance” in order to take back some of that control or to alleviate their feeling of frustration. They, in effect, tend to “over control" which can be a red flag for potential child abuse.

Okay, Chris, but we’re not talking about a child here. We are taking about a DOG.

True. And if your dog is strictly used as a working dog, you are excused from this conversation and may go back to herding sheep.

The fact is, today, most of us choose to bring a dog into our homes as a companion and family member. Many also, sadly, believe that punishment and "showing the dog who's boss" are unavoidable requirements in order to have a well-behaved family pet ² (Hetts&Etsop 2011) 
Researchers wondered if the same low perception of control uncovered by the PAT test  given to caregivers of humans would also show a correlation between a proclivity to use harsh training methods when given to caregivers to animals.


437 participants were given a questionnaire featuring inquiries ranging from “I believe that animal training is very stressful to the animal being trained” to “It is appropriate to hit a dog with a newspaper when it does not listen to you”.  

And who were they, exactly?

Most of the participants were Caucasian, most were female (309 women/128 men), and most (85%)  had lived with a dog. All were undergrads with a median age of 19 years old.

In addition to the above mentioned questionnaire, the  participants were also given the Parental Perceived Control (PAT) test.  

The Good News

The vast majority of the participants did not endorse forms of training that they considered harmful (general physical punishment/withholding of food/whipping/use of electric shock) to animals. This is very good news indeed and demonstrates the changing attitudes toward pet dogs/animals in our care.

Also good news is that the majority strongly disagreed with statements like:

“If a dog does not comply to a command given it, you need to hit it to let the dog know who is boss”

“It is appropriate to whip a performance animal if it does not perform well”

“It is appropriate to use physical punishment/force if the animal does not comply with a training command”

The Even Better News
The study clearly showed that a lack of perceived control correlates with the willingness to use harsh methods when training an animal. Why is that good news?

Because the first step in solving a problem is identifying it.   

If you perceive yourself at a disadvantage relative to your dog you are more likely to pick up and use a shock collar. As a dog trainer who does not use shock collars and would prefer the sale of them be banned completely, that is good to know! With the right education, less people may be inclined to use those methods.

Some other interesting traits emerged from this study:

Those who scored as having low perceived control and more likely to use shock as a training tool were more often~

Higher education level

Those likely to turn to general punishment were~

Higher education level
Lower perceived control
Never taken their dog to any type of obedience training school.

It is very important to note that this test only showed the propensity to use these methods-whether or not the individual would actually drive to the store and purchase a shock collar and place it on the dog is anyone’s guess. There are plenty of things I have the propensity to do, given my interests (running off to Africa and studying primates, for example) but so far my passport sits quietly in a safe deposit box, free of stamps.

So, take from this study what you will. But use your knowledge to educate and effect change-not denigrate and alienate. Powerlessness works both ways-if you as a trainer feel powerless (and I GET that feeling!), please look at the ways you may be lashing out against other trainers! If so, is this a response to a feeling of powerlessness? If you ask for honesty from others, should you not be willing to give the same?

Happy Training!


Explanation of puppy behavior: The puppy in this scenario has no idea that the scolding correlates with his actions (defecating) because too much time has passed between the offense and the scolding. The scrub brushing has stimulated his curiosity and his response is a very puppy-like "I don't know if I should play with this, run from it, or bite it, but it's exciting!" The scolding is just "blah blah blah" words that have no meaning to a puppy. Scolded enough times, the puppy will likely attach emotional significance to the words and then react by displaying appeasement behavior not because "he understands he did something wrong" but because he is reacting to anger signals from his human.

¹ Parental Perceived Control over Caregiving and Its Relationship to Parent-Infant Interaction
Jacqueline R. Guzell and Lynne Vernon-Feagans
Child Development
Vol. 75, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 2004), pp. 134-146) 

² Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., CAAB & Dan Estep, Ph.D. CAAB e-newsletter “Pet Behavior One Piece at a Time,”, Littleton, , CO

Chin, M.G., Sims, V.K., Lum, H.C., & Richards, M. (2008) Relating low perceived control and attitudes toward animal training: An exploratory study. Anthozoos, 21(3), 257-269

Jacqueline R. Guzell and Lynne Vernon-Feagans
Child Development; Parental Perceived Control over Caregiving and Its Relationship to Parent-Infant Interaction Vol. 75, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 2004), pp. 134-146 


Friday, July 15, 2011

Do you want it done fast or do you want it done right?

Can you get fast and also permanent results at the same time? There are experts in the dog training field who advise trainers such as myself, "If you hope to compete with traditional trainers, you have to promise quick fixes, just like they do." I would agree...if we were plumbers and our goal was to unstop toilets or sinks. And really, when you get down to it, it's not even the training so much as the everyday interaction using that training that is the crucial part of having a nicely behaved dog, whatever training method you choose.

Dogs Come In Different Flavors

Take Dexter, for example. Dexter is a very high energy dog. I work with Dexter every day to help him cope with the world he lives in (mine). Barking and running and jumping and eating anything he finds at his eye level-all of these things are normal dog behaviors. However, if he is to live in my world, in my home, these behaviors allowed to flourish would soon grow quite tiresome. 

Just going for a simple walk requires constant attention from me. I reinforce what I like and prevent what I don't by limiting his opportunity to practice those behaviors. This takes diligence. I happen to enjoy the process of working with my dog. Some people don't. Then again, some parents of human children are unwilling to relinquish old habits or to change their lifestyle in order to provide a stable and consistent home life- Casey Anthony being the most current and extreme example.

List of acceptable behavior from Dexter during a walk (video of a typical walk here):

Marking bushes (where appropriate)

Not acceptable:
Lunging towards joggers or cars or fast moving bicycles
Chasing cars, birds, cats, bunnies
Snarking at other dogs
Pulling me

Now, could I cut to the chase and use something to STOP the unacceptable behaviors in their track? Yes. I could use a prong collar. I could use a shock collar. I could use a choke collar and leash yanks whenever Dexter even looked like he was going to Step Out Of Line. I could also nag-I could scold, spank, or even grab his muzzle and squeeze it while issuing a low warning through gritted teeth "You Will NOT Do That"...

But...will any of those fast fixes change the actual underlying behavior? Not likely. I suspect (but would never put this to the test) that even if I chose to use a quick-fix tool, Dexter would still need reminding again and again, not because he is "stubborn" but because it is his nature to be energetic and overcoming nature is not easy. It is who he is. Each dog, like each person, is different. I accept and work within those parameters.

Take a look at the tempting array of food to your right -->-->-->-->

Will eating these foods immediately stop your hunger? You bet. Do they fill your long-term nutritional needs? You tell me.

As with food choices, when teaching my dog, overall, I prefer an organic approach - one that respects the nature of the dog.

But Chris-I don't have time to train. Some people have to work all day, you know! Some people have lives!

Then darn it, you should not have a dog. Harsh? You bet. 

Before I became a full time dog trainer, my husband and I ran a small 501c3 Siberian husky rescue in Southern California. The reasons people gave for surrendering their dog held few surprises (an exception-one rescuer I know swears this is true-a woman wished to surrender her dog because she changed her carpeting and the dog no longer matched) Hands down, the vast majority of surrenders came from people who simply did not want to deal with their dog's bad habits, even after being offered free training (from yours truly).  I then had to agree with their decision to re-home the dog. This is a far better scenario, in my view, than the dog being left to languish in the back yard, or worse.

"I just don't have time for her. She has too much energy. She needs a home that can give her the attention she deserves-she's a great dog!"
"My husky keeps escaping the yard"
"My husky has torn up my (sofa, back yard, furniture, etc.) and I cannot afford to keep replacing it"

Sadder still were the calls from people who truly cared for their dog, but that dog had just bitten a family member. Conventional wisdom is quick to blame "permissive owners". This is what happens when a dog "thinks he is in charge", they say, shaking their heads.

The funny thing is, I never once found that dog who thought he was "in charge". I found dogs that were fearful, anxious, and on a hair trigger. I found dogs that had the growl punished out of them and so went straight to a bite.

I found dogs that guarded food and were challenged and made worse ("You must show the dog you are the pack leader-but don't try these methods at home!"...huh?) or the guarding behavior was ignored until the inevitable explosion occurred. In those cases, nine times out of ten it was a small child that unwittingly got too close to the dog and his food bowl. I would often hear "The dog just bit with no warning! It came out of the blue!"

Good things take time...
Well, not really.

After some conversation, the missed or ignored warning signs would emerge. "Well...she has always been a little jealous around her food bowl" or "He never really liked it when the baby pulled on his ears"

Why were these signs ignored or missed? I suspect that some hoped the behavior would somehow resolve itself. "We told her "no" each time she did it" and "We thought she would grow out of it" are statements I (and anyone in rescue-just ask) have heard more than once.

If I sound heartless and judgemental, please forgive me.

Can some things be trained quickly?
Of course. Just as not all food that is fast and easy is bad for you, some behaviors can be taught with lightning speed. To teach a  "sit" or a "down" is a piece of proverbial cake. To teach a different species to live peacefully in a home with us-not so easy.

Complex behaviors, such as changing dog to dog aggression, for example,  did not develop overnight and cannot be fixed overnight,
I don't care what the shock collar trainer tells you. And, let's be clear here- it is a shock-not a "tap" or a "tingle" that stops the behavior in its tracks or it wouldn't work. There is no magic about a shock collar and the ease in obtaining and using one is frightening to me.(If you are brave, you can watch this video of people using shock collars on themselves on YouTube for the errrr...shock value)

As long as the problem is solved, why should I care?

Because it probably isn't solved until the underlying behavior is addressed.  And that takes time.


Because you love your dog. Because there are other methods that may take longer, but are kinder. Because you have the bigger brain. Because you chose this dog. But most of all, because you are human.

Need help?
International Association of Behavior Consultants
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partners
Truly Dog Friendly
Articles and videos by veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin
Happy Training,

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We choose to bring a dog into our home. Therefore, we are obligated to teach in a manner which does no harm and is fair to the learner.


Of change or development, gradual and natural rather than sudden or forced
The ability to adapt, learn, and evolve
Emergent behavior or emergent properties
Made up of many different parts which contribute to the way in which 
the whole structure works
Instrumental; acting as instruments of nature or of art to a certain destined
function or end.

Organic Dog Training~

"We choose to develop a lifelong relationship with our dogs by nourishing their ability to learn, adapt, and evolve. We encourage desired behavior through steady growth, as opposed to instant change, by relying upon feedback from the dog, which we recognize as a sentient being " ~ Chris Waggoner

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Takin' It To The Streets

We love taking our dogs to new places. After all, aren't we supposed to expose our dogs to as many different people, places, and sounds as possible?

"My dog gets SO excited when we go places!" We interpret our dog’s obvious energy and excitement as evidence that he is not only learning how to operate amongst crowds, but is also enjoying the experience. But is he? What about the dog who becomes very still and quiet in public? Is he calm or so afraid that he is shut-down? Do you know how to gauge your dog's level of anxiety? Did you know that there is a simple test that can help you determine your dog's mental state? What should you do if your dog is overwhelmed by the crowd? Just what does "socialization" mean, anyway?

"If I take my dog everywhere, he will be well socialized!"

 When people say this, I think what they really mean is "My dog should be comfortable and friendly around strange people and dogs, well mannered and not too afraid when in public." However, this is not accomplished by merely wading into a crowd of people. In fact, one of the surest ways to make your dog afraid of crowds and people is to force him to interact while afraid. More importantly than just being exposed to people and crowds, he needs to feel safe when around them. 

Plan, plan, then plan some more

If there is a predictable behavior pattern to fall back on during unpredictable circumstances, you stand a much better chance of having a dog that not only behaves in a way that is acceptable to you, but has some coping skills and therefore a better chance of building his confidence around strange people and other dogs. 

See the event through your dog's eyes (and ears and nose)

We love social events (most of us, anyway). Dogs, while also social beings, might certainly enjoy being with you at public events. They do not, however, understand giant strolling bears or men on stilts or magicians walking through the crowd pulling large bouquets from their shirtsleeves. Hot, crowded venues with loud music may be particularly stressful for your dog - if the music is loud to us, what must it be like for our dogs? After all, they can hear a mouse rustling in his nest!

If I take my dog out enough times, he will get over it! Buck up, Pup!
 Maybe. Maybe not. If you live in an apartment right on a busy street, you may eventually stop "hearing" the cars whizzing by ("habituation" is the scientific term for this). On the other hand, if cars backfire sometimes, causing you to jump out of your skin, you may become so on-edge (" sensitization") that a less strong but similar noise may then cause a reaction as intense as the backfire from the car did (or, where I come from more colorfully described as " You're as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs!")

"My dog loves being at the Street Fair! (or Shakespearean Festival or Tree Lighting Ceremony...or...well, you get it)"

Are you certain? How can you tell? Here is an easy test:
  • Can your dog respond to simple cues? If he knows how to "sit" for example, can he do it now, here? If not, the environment may be too much for him.
  • Can he eat? If, under normal circumstances your dog snarfs treats happily, and now, here, only spits the treat out is a very reliable indication that the environment may be too much for him.
  • How is his mouth? If he is taking treats and eating them, is his mouth "harder" than usual? Is he taking the treats more roughly than what is normal for him?  If so, the environment may be too much for him!
Here's that planning thing again...Before you venture out into the world, decide what you want your dog to do (and have a back-up plan!)
  •     Is it okay to sniff every post in his path? How will you redirect him?
  •     How will you manage him when other dogs approach?
  •     How about greeting people? What would you like them to do, first?
  •     What will you do if the venue proves to be too much for your dog?
Be prepared to think on the go when you take your training on the road and always choose the course of action most likely to keep your dog under threshold. Do not let others dictate your choices. If you have decided you wish your dog to sit while being petted by people, be firm when explaining to them how to approach your dog. 

"Oh, I don't mind if he jumps on me, I love dogs!"  As well-meant as this is, you should respond with a smile yet remain firm. Why? If your dog prefers to greet humans by jumping on them and is reinforced for this behavior 'sometimes', you will have a very difficult time getting rid of it. There is nothing stronger than a variable schedule of reinforcement-just go to any casino and watch the slot players if you need more convincing.

"I'll just be a quick sec!"

When you use a leash to tie your dog out while you run inside a store "for just a second" or to enjoy a leisurely meal at a restaurant, it is extremely stressful for your dog. It leaves him vulnerable to strangers and also to strange dogs.

While you may have the most even-tempered dog known to mankind, he is still a dog! Under the right circumstances, any dog can bite or become panicked.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but this is a really BAD idea. Instead, choose an outdoor restaurant that allows pets, or ask someone to go into the store for you. 

Which is more important to you-that face or the venti-quad-iced-upside-down-Americano?
Hot Enough To Fry An Egg?

Even on cool days, black asphalt can heat quickly in the sun. Place your palm on the pavement. Can you hold it there for  10 seconds? If so, it’s probably safe for your dog to walk on. Check the temperature periodically if you are out for the entire day-your dog may have tough pads but they are still vulnerable to heat (and ice!)
Finally: Dogs and Pick-up Trucks

If you must transport your dog in the back of your truck, place him in a crate and secure it. Do this for me, if for nothing else. Your dog may be 100% reliable in the back of your truck, but seeing your dog pacing back and forth in the bed of your truck with the road whizzing by under him  makes me hyper-ventilate! So please, give a girl a break and secure that dog.

Give him protection from the elements as well. Come to think of it, if you are reading this article, you probably don’t need to be told most of these things! Okay, then go out and spread the word to those that do!

Happy Training!