Your Dog Should Defer to You

No, I don’t mean your dog should be submissive or any of that humbo-jumbo about being dominant. Please…you know me better than that! I mean fearful dogs needs to look to you when they are unsure. This will give them something to focus on every time they are scared. It will make them more confident and successful.

I will be writing a series of articles on how to train your dog to defer to you (meaning check in with you if they are scared). The first is very basic-having your dog look up at you (not your treats) when you say their name.

First things first. When you call your dog’s name-they should look at you. If they don’t you need some name training. Have some yummy treats ready and a clicker. Have your dog stand or sit in front of you. Call your dog’s name and when they look up at your eyes (not your treats), click then treat. *Now when I say look at your eyes I don’t mean you are staring at them, I just mean they look up at your face area. If your dog is having problems making eye contact, wait a few seconds and see if the dog finds your eyes. If they do, click and treat. If your dog is REALLY having trouble you can try holding the treat near your face to start, but fade it out-you don’t want your dog to focus on the treat-you want them to focus on you. After 80% accuracy with this (8 out of 10 times the dog looks at your eyes), move on to extending your arm straight out to the side with a treat in hand. Your dog will most likely look at the treat, call their name and when they look at you (your face) click and treat. It may be slower in the beginning, but eventually your dog will know once your arm goes out they need to look at your face before you even say anything! When you get to 80% try with the opposite arm, then treats in both hands. There are many possibilities-but this activity allows you and your dog to bong-and teaches them to look and focus on you, which will come in handy in frightful situations.

**News update: A neighbor’s dog was 2 doors down (condos) and I was giving Oreo a haircut. The other dog was small but was putting on a show growling and kicking up dirt behind it. Oreo looked, licked her lips, then focused on me and was fine-yay! Also-WE SOLD OUR CONDO!! Yay! We are out on the road today looking for homes, can’t wait for a yard for Oreo (and for growing vegetables!).

Medication Mania

dog-medicine-bottleA recent post by a friend on a social media site left me wondering…what do people think about dog medications? And why do many of them think they are more harmful than helpful?

Some people still seem to be stuck in the past, thinking dogs are just entertainment to have around. Medication? No way!! People frequently laugh, giggle, or give me weird looks if I tell them my dog is on medications for anxiety/fearfulness. I always get the saying, “Oh she’ll grow out of it” or “She’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” Well, I do worry about it…or rather I did, before we had a breakthrough with medication.

If you feel like your dog is fearful or has anxiety and you’ve tried training but hit a brick wall, there are other options. Medication is another option, but should be given after extensive training has been tried. It’s not something to be taken lightly, but it’s also not something to fear. It’s also not a magic pill.

With dogs that are seriously fearful and haven’t progressed with the help of a positive trainer, medication is something to talk about with your vet. There are many options for whom to talk to about this. The best person to consult is a veterinary behaviorist. They specialize in dog behavior issues (aggression, anxiety, etc) and medical issues. Many times an underlying medical issue contributes to a dog’s behavior. It is important to get your dog checked for medical issues before considering anxiety medication. Many times simple things such as hypothyroidism could be a cause of many different behaviors including aggression.

There are a variety of medications to treat fearfulness/anxiety. It is important you talk to someone knowledgable about them, as they are recommended for different things. For example, some are used to treat separation anxiety, while others are recommended for general anxiety, and other for aggression. Blood tests will also be taken to make sure your dog will be able to take medications and check ups for blood work may be needed later.

I am going to repeat this again-because it’s not a quick fix–first you must make sure you have tried everything you can with a positive trainer, make sure your dog has adequate exercise, and rule out any other medical problems before even considering medication. I don’t want you to think it’s a bad thing either-because it can help immensely.

For example, Oreo was getting exercise and training for a long time with a positive trainer, but her anxiety issues were getting worse. She had trouble with training activities and seemed like she “hit a brick wall” in training. We could only take her so far. We also found out she did have some medical issues, but those were being treated and she still wasn’t progressing. So we worked with the vet. We started her on a low dose of an anxiety medicine. We increased the dosage but saw no improvement (the medication does usually take weeks or a month to kick in). We decided to wean her off of it and try another. This medication helped her immensely. She was able to progress nicely in training and take walks again. It allowed her to get over that hurdle that was stopping her, the debilitating fear that everyone and everything was out to get her.

If you had anxiety and it was so bad you couldn’t live your daily life, I’m sure you would try seeing a therapist and seeking out medication if that didn’t work. The medicine would allow you to combat your fears, and one day you may be able to get off of the medication. However, not all people or dogs do well off of the medication either. Oreo is still on medicine and we aren’t sure if one day she will be able to handle life without it. Do I like that she is on medicine? No, I don’t like giving her pills, but now I’ve learned that she needs the medicine, just like a diabetes patient needs them. Without them, she couldn’t live her daily life and function. Medication is not something to be feared, but not taken lightly either. Do you homework and read up-but also don’t rule medication out. It helped Oreo’s quailty of life immensely.

Medication can be a lifeline for dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

For people with dogs that aren’t seriously anxious in only certain situations-there are many natural medicines or remedies for you. Look in chinese herb medicines, thundershirts, chamomile, and essential oils.

Common Sense…AKA Positive Reinforcement

Some people don’t have common sense. I haven’t always had it. It’s a new way of thinking…new age. Okay, I kid. People complain that their dogs whine and beg at the dinner table. Did that just happen magically? Well…NO!

If you give your dog food from the table while you are eating, generally they will want more of that good stuff while you are eating. If you save some for them and put it in their bowl later…they won’t beg at the table. If you reinforce their begging at the table by giving them more food…it will happen again. It’s called positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is giving a dog a reward for something you like (you want repeated). Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool in dog training. Positive reinforcement is used in any healthy type of dog training. If you want your dog to come, you teach them the concept with positive reinforcement (when they come to you, you give them a reward to tell them “good job” such as attention, toys, or treats). If you want your dog to learn any trick you use positive reinforcement. If you want to modify behavior such as jumping on people, fearful aggression, or even begging at the table…you can use positive reinforcement.

There is a pattern here…positive reinforcement works. Why? Because it’s the same thing your parents used to raise you and build a caring and loving relationship (hopefully). Dogs are family, not play things or replaceable (even though some people think so-it infuriates me!). Making a connection with them and building a trusting relationship is very important-believe me, I have learned it work very well in training, especially with fearful dogs.

If you yank a dogs leash, yell at them, swat them with paper or your hand, you can bet they will not trust you and your relationship with your pup will suffer. Traditional methods of training are outdated and cause dogs to follow you out of fear instead of wanting to follow you…just because they want to (they like you!). Positive reinforcement training allows dogs to be more confident and less fearful.

Next time a problem comes along I suggest positive reinforcement (also known as common sense). You reinforce behavior you want to keep. If you want your dog to beg at the table, then go ahead feed them that piece of steak off of your plate. However, if you want to use common sense, wait until later when they are laying around relaxing and reinforce that with a small piece of steak.

For those of you who want an example of positive reinforcement in action here you go:

Positive reinforcement can be used to reinforce everyday behavior you want to continue. For example, if you want to teach your dog to relax, give your dog a treat when you see them relaxing. If you want to reinforce paws staying on the floor when guests arrive, treat only when the dogs paws are on the floor.

Positive reinforcement can also be used to teach behaviors.

For example, if you want your dog to learn to look at you when you say his or her name you can easily use positive reinforcement. Call your dog’s name. When your dog looks at you, give them a treat (I would use a clicker and click, then treat to make sure the dog realizes you are giving them a treat for the moment they look at you.) Continue practicing this so that every time you say the dog name they continue to look. This should be repeated until they can at least look at you 80% of the time you call their name.

Additionally, positive reinforcement can be used to modify behavior.

Oreo is fearful. She gets scared when she sees other dogs on walks. Problem: she is so scared she starts to puff, growl, and lunge even when a dog is 50 feet away. She won’t turn around or move!

How can I solve this problem? Positive reinforcement! I can walk with Oreo at a distance a bit further than 50 feet away. I don’t want her to get very upset, so upset she can’t hear me or think. I want her to be far enough away from her “trigger” (what gets her upset), that I can work with her. So I try 55 feet away. I walk with Oreo and when we see another dog we start practicing turning around. I call her name and give her 5 seconds to turn around. If she does turn and look at me I click and treat (reinforcing the behavior of looking at me in the presence of another dog so she will do it again). If she doesn’t we need to start over (no reward, I don’t want her to ignore me, so I won’t reinforce it). Eventually with practice, she will turn around and walk the other way with me quickly.

These are just examples, and if you have a fearful dog like my dog Oreo, I suggest you seek a positive professional dog trainer to help you. There’s a lot more your dog needs to learn then just turns. Common sense right?

Instilling Inaction in Fearful Dog Parents


“She just needs more exercise…”
“She needs a backyard to run around in…”
“She’s still a puppy…”
“She’ll outgrow it…”
“She’ll be fine…”

These are some of the many excuses people will use to deny that their dog has a problem. In many cases these excuses are given to the parent of the dog to reassure them that “everything will be fine”. Most of the time these excuses cause more harm than help. Instead of encouraging action to help with training, they instill inaction.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these excuses:

“She just needs more exercise or a big backyard to run around in.”
This excuse is used quite frequently, especially by a certain tv trainer. Of course exercise helps. It has definitely helped Oreo calm down more. A hyper, agitated dog with little exercise will have some behavior problems. As many of you know, I have mixed feelings about the expression, “A tired dog is a good dog.” Each dog has a different personality and Oreo happens to have the grouchy personality if she is really tired. After spending a fun day running around, playing, and excercising…she can’t take it. She is very tired, but also a super grumpus. We noticed that since she was a puppy-don’t bother her when she sleeps and if she is VERY tired just ignore her completely. Exercise is essential to dogs, but it won’t solve all problems, especially ones where fear is the main concern.

If your child is afraid of monsters…just have them run around outside a while and when they go to bed the fear will be gone! That’s what it’s like. If you say your dog is afraid of people, does that mean if you get them very tired when they see a person they won’t be scared anymore?

If you are deathly afraid of spiders and I tell you to run around the block a few times until you are tired…will you be afraid when you get in the house and see a giant black spider on your wall? Of course you will. Exercise may help a person or dog forget their fears while they are exercising but definitely will not make them forget them.

“She’ll outgrow it…she’s still a puppy.”
One of the various excuses I’ve heard from my friends and family is that she’ll just outgrow the fear-that she’s still a puppy. At a young age you can tell if a dog is fearful. Being fearful could be from genetics, illness, or an upsetting event (especially during fear periods). You can tell when a puppy is fearful when it shows you…tells you. How does a dog tell you? Well, they shy away from you and other people’s hands. They may hide behind furniture or run when a person or dog is in sight. Perhaps they are afraid of only certain things like brushes, or maybe it’s more widespread like blowing flags, pens, unfamiliar people, dogs, and anything new. A dog’s fears may range from what some people consider “normal” (a bath), to fear of everything. When a dog shows fear early on in its’ life you must make the fearful thing a “good thing”. You can pair it with treats and make it a happy event. However, if you don’t make progress and you find your dog doing serious things like growling or snapping at you because of fear, then you need to find a professional trainer to get help. It’s not something a puppy will grow out of. Perhaps you can help them get over the fear, but the fear is not something that will go away if left unattended…it will only get worse.

Many times people use these excuses to try to make people feel better or make themselves feel better about their fearful dog and their behaviors. There is no excuse. If your dog is fearful take action. Find a positive trainer who is knowledgable and understands fearful dogs. Do not get a trainer who hits, yells, abuses, believes in “dominant” behavior or claims to take your dog for a weekend and they will be cured. Don’t just think “It’s okay…she’ll be fine” because she won’t. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes…filled with fear…and do something.


Commendable Coconut Oil


Coconut oil has made a splash lately. People love using it in their foods, to cook and for the many health benefits. Coconut oil is also very beneficial for dogs. However…it must be VIRGIN COCONUT OIL (or unrefined). Refined coconut oil loses all of the benefits and the nice smell too!

The best type of coconut oil for dogs and people alike is organic virgin coconut oil in a glass container rather than plastic. I use coconut oil with Oreo to help her allergies. When it’s around 70 degrees or higher, the coconut oil becomes a liquid. Otherwise, it is solid and easy to scoop out a teaspoon full onto her meal. You don’t even have to refrigerate it-just leave it next to your other medicine or dog food and add a small scoop. If your dog has not had coconut oil before, start with a small amount and build up to a teaspoon or so. If you start with large amounts too soon your dog with have digestive issues. Coconut oil has not been tested in a laboratory on dogs, but many people can’t stop talking about how it has changed their dogs’ life.

I have personally seen an itchy, flaky skinned dog with brittle lifeless fur, go to a dog who is more energetic with a nice shiny hydrated coat. Proponents of coconut oil have said it has helped with problems similar to Oreos’ problems and much more. They have said it’s helped with cuts, wounds. flea allergies, contact dermatitis, and ear problems. Coconut oil has been used to help heal cuts and sooth bee stings.

If you happen to have a smelly dog, many fans claim their dogs smell better when they eat coconut oil with meals. Applying it is easy…just put some on a cut, bump, or lump. If your dog has mouth sores feel free to put it on a tooth-brush or eye dropper (same thing for the ears). You can also apply it to cracked feet to help them ease their way to perfect paws! It’s worth a try before using antibiotics.

Don’t be worried that your dog won’t like it…they most likely will! My dog LOVES it… and she has a history of being very choosy. If you’re worried buy a small amount and if your dog doesn’t like it-use it for cooking!

Coconut oil can help treat or supplement many treatments for humans too:

  • head lice
  • help with losing weight
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • chronic fatigue
  • thyroid conditions

Cooking with coconut oil is encouraged, however, coconut oil eaten in large amounts has not been researched. So don’t eat it like ice cream!

The Most Dangerous Time of Year…For Your Pet

Dog_Christmas_cartoonAccording to vets, Christmas is the most dangerous time  of year for pets.

Whether you are celebrating at home or at a family member’s house, there are some things to remember to have a jolly jubilation:

  1. Holiday plants can be poisonous: holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia.
  2. If you have a real tree, don’t let your dog drink the water. You may think it’s okay or funny, but it’s not. The trees usually contain chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals go into the water and can poison your pet!
  3. Don’t let your dad, your favorite uncle, or even your child feed the dog too much fatty food. This food can cause to stomach upset. It could be a little bit of a problem where it’s bothersome, but could also turn out much worse.
  4. Decorations: If you have a christmas tree hang ornaments and lights higher, so your dog won’t chew them or think they’re a toy. Also watch out for broken ornaments, especially if they are glass. Tinsel and ribbon can cause LOTS of problems. I have a friend whose dog ate tinsel and had to get surgery to remove it from their intestines. **GROSS ALERT: If your dog happens to eat ribbon or tinsel and tries to poop it out, but it gets stuck-DO NOT PULL IT. This can cut slit the intestines open. The only reason I know this is because this is what happened to my friend’s pup.
  5. Hide your presents…from your dog. Don’t leave the house with presents around. Dogs can smell chocolates or other food or candy wrapped up. Countless dogs get rushed to the emergency vet due to “finding” chocolates and candy, eating them all, and some of the wrappers.
  6. Keep the routine-Don’t stress out your pet. If you are busy continue to feed, walk and play with your pet around the same times if possible. Stress can lead to many health problems or behavior issues. A bored dog might find those presents, or rip up and eat those decorations.
  7. Have an escape plan…for your dog. If you are planning on having a holiday party at your house or brining your dog to another house, have a plan. Your dog may become overwhelmed. You might think, “Oh he’ll/she’ll be okay,”  but it’s always important to have a place your dog can relax or escape to if they become nervous or tired. Many kids/adults/other dogs may not want to leave your dog alone-be prepared to stand up for them. But really-if you think your dog may have a problem..DON’T even take them. Flooding them with too much at a time can create lifelong lasting problems…trust me.

There are many other things to think about such as keeping your tree anchored, keeping tree needles out of your dogs paws, not using flashing lights if your dog is scared, and keeping your dog away from loud noises.

As always avoid giving your dog foods they are allergic too and make sure no one else does. Avoid common foods that are toxic to them such as alcohol, chocolate, onions, grapes, coffee, caffeine, avocado, raisins, xylitol (sweetener used in gum, candy, baked goods, and toothpaste) and large amounts of salt.

Most of these things are commonsense to many people, but it’s always important to refresh your memory during such a busy time. Enjoy your holidays, keep your pup calm and happy and enjoy the time with your furry friends!


                                                                              Oreo and I wish you a happy holiday!574765_10150698253903348_1034283633_n


3 Years Old!!

Happy Birthday to Oreo! She is officially 3 years old (or so we think)!

Oreo when we got her.

Oreo when we got her.

Oreo was adopted from another couple at what we think was 8 weeks old-they couldn’t keep her. Although the people were polite, they claimed she was a king charles spaniel/west highland terrier mix adopted from a breeder. However, she is neither of those. When we picked her up she had no collar, no leash, no bed or toys, and was eating adult dog food. She always loved to sleep, even when we picked her up she was cuddled up to a heater in the house. However, she was also fearful, even as a puppy. We noticed as we put on her frontline tick medicine she hated it. She hated it so much it was horrible trying to get it onto her. She would back into a corner and snarl at us. We figured out she is reactive. She reacts to things she is scared of instead of running away.

She has made wonderful progress. She is still scared of new things and will never be comfortable with strangers in the house, but loves her family and friends intensely. She has learned to take things in stride, enjoy chewing on her bone, playing with close family & friends, and has finally learned the “Art of Relaxing”. Thanks to Ali Brown for wonderful reactive dog classes and my family and friends for being so patient and helpful. It’s not always about changing the dog, it’s more about changing your attitude, your outlook, and building a relationship with your dog. As I type this she is cuddling with her new stuffed gingerbread toy (or should I say unstuffed), laying against my legs napping. There was a time where we couldn’t even pet her she was so fearful.

I got her a new toy, which she gingerly tore apart, and filled her kong with extra yummy treats this morning. In the past I’ve taken her to places she loves like parks and my parents house to romp around. What do you do for your doggie’s birthday?

Nobody Really Knows

Nobody really knows what it’s like to have a reactive dog unless you have had one. It feels lonely sometimes, like you are the only one paddling in a boat with no sign of any shorelines. On your journey people may have passed you in boats telling you that you need to force the current to go with you, you must push the water to do your bidding. You decide to try pushing the water with all of your will, yet you make no progress. In fact it seems as if you fall back further than where you started.  Instead you don’t force the water because you realize nothing can be forced in life, water has a life of its own. You paddle making progress, yet you have setbacks when storms arise. When you decide to set goals and take the time to get there when the water is ready to work with you, instead of endlessly paddling in a panic against the currents, you realize there is a shoreline in the distance. You open your eyes and realize you aren’t alone and that there are more people out in the water with you. Instead of passing you, the people seem to be on the same journey as you…working with the water to one day get to the shoreline. You share strategies on paddling and working with the current and suddenly it’s like a weight lifts off of your shoulders. You no longer feel alone, you no longer feel hopeless. You will get to the shoreline. If it’s not the shoreline with the beautiful pink sand, at least it can be the shoreline with the palm trees.

Never give up helping your reactive dog. Find a way you can work together, instead of forcing them to do what you want. You are not alone, find others-trainers, behaviorists, online groups, blogs, etc. Nobody really knows what it’s like to be a reactive dog mom or dad, but you don’t have to paddle alone.



Conquering the Mighty Vacuum

Is your dog afraid of the BIG BAD….VACUUM? Mine is, always has been, always WON’T be! Ever since we rescued her around 8 weeks old (we think), she has been terrified of the vacuum and noises that sound similar to a vacuum (blowdryers, electric razors, etc.). At around 3 months old my mother turned on the hair dryer and she peed. The pattern continued every time someone turned on the vacuum. We knew that vacuuming with the dog in the house was not an option. Her fear progressed to “attacking” the vacuum and barking at it. Her fear has lessened over time and she’s okay having a vacuum (not on) in the same room, and fine with hair dryers and electric razors as long as she’s not the victim of them.

Dogs can have many fears, little and big. There are many things Oreo and I still need to work on, but I’m hoping that conquering her fear of the vacuum is one that can be attained in a shorter amount of time. If she never does, I can live with management, but why not make her feel more confident and comfortable? Hey, it would also help us so we can vacuum more often without one of us taking her outside.

I have recently been reviewing books about training. One book is called “Do Over Dogs Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life” by Pat Miller. This book is very helpful to people looking to adopt a dog with issues and give it another chance at life as Pat Miller says. It discusses finding a dog, testing a dog, figuring out how many issues you want/can work with, and gives tips on training your “Do-Over dog.” It is a quick read that ends with inspirational stories of dogs with happy endings.

I am using the counter-conditioning and desensitization plan mentioned in the book.

Before I started: Determine distance that dog is alert but not extremely fearful towards the vacuum (threshold distance). Oreo is okay being next to the vacuum without it moving or running, so I am using that as my starting point.

Step 1: When I take the vacuum out (not moving, not on) I instantly start feeding her yummy treats (steak yummm).  The best thing is to have a helper to put the vacuum in view, then put it away, while you have the dog on a leash.

Step 2: After a few seconds I put the vacuum back and stop feeding the dog treats. Seeing the vacuum=great things (yummy treats)

Step 3: I will keep repeating steps 1 & 2 until the vacuum causes my dog to look at me happily for treats. Pat says this is called a “conditioned emotional response” the dog’s association with the vacuum (non-running not moving) at that distance is positive instead of negative.

Step 4: Next, I would increase the intensity. This time I would give her more distance while moving the vacuum (obviously I need a helper). Instead, I will repeat steps 1 & 2, but this time with the vacuum moving, but not on. The distance gives her space to feel more comfortable.

Step 5: I will continue doing steps 1  & 2 with the moving vacuum (not on) and decrease the distance over time when she is happy at the current distance, until she is happily looking at me for treats and not anxious.

Step 6: When the dog is happy to have the moving vacuum right next to her (not on), then it’s time for the next steps of having the vacuum on. Now I will move her back to a further distance, with no movement, and have a helper turn the vacuum on for a few seconds (or just one depending on your dog), and treat her continually until the vacuum is off.

Step 7: Now I will increase the amount of time with the vacuum on (but not moving) and continue treating Oreo.

Step 8: When Oreo is happy to have it on continuously, it’s time to decrease the distance in small increments while repeating steps 1 & 2 but with a vacuum that is on and not moving.

Step 9: When Oreo is happy to have the running, stationary vacuum next to her I’m ready for the final step. This time, I will move her back to a further distance, and have the running vacuum move, and eventually decrease the distance and so forth (you get the hang of it). Then eventually she will be happy to have a running vacuum on.

Some people may think this is broken down into TOO many steps, but if you have a fearful dog, this is what you NEED to do. You need to break it down into small steps that your dog can handle. I hope to increase her confidence by having her comfortable around the vacuum (hey, it wouldn’t be too bad for me either!). I have many things that may take months or years for her to get over (her fear of other dogs for example), if she ever gets over it at all. Hey, if I was attacked out of the blue by someone on a walk in my neighborhood, I wouldn’t feel safe walking around with strangers nearby either. I am going to take some time to conquer other fears that might be more attainable in a shorter amount of time to help her feel more successful as well as me. I started her training with the vacuum today and will update you all on our progress!