Dog Training – To Treat Or Not To Treat – That is the Question

There are really only two paths to take in dog training:  compulsion training (hands on shaping the dog’s body to sit or down) or inducement training.  I train using both methods.  It all depends on the dog and if some dogs will not work for food.  I say, if the end result is the same, who cares?

Feeding Your Dog

Feeding Your Dog

Without getting into extended sits, downs, stays or “proofing” your dog around distractions, here’s my take on treat training:

Many trainers say that using food treats (inducement) is not good because you always have to carry around food treats to get your dog to perform.  What they don’t tell you is what they don’t know!  That is simply, treat training is a process of teaching with food at first, then weaning the dog off food treats so that he is performing for you without the treats!

The trick which most people are not taught is the “weaning off” part of treat training.  They get stuck with a dog that will only work for food.  Once your dog is successfully performing a sit, start treating every other time, then every third time and begin to get 4 and 5 sits in a row and only treat after the second, third, fourth of fifth time – then off food treats.  This is called variable treating.

The other key is to not have food treats in your hand.  Dogs burn an image or picture in their mind that the activity of “sits or downs” is something they do with you when you have a food treat in your hand.  Dogs can also learn the same concept with you without a food treat in your hand. 

Help them with this concept by leaving the treats in your treat bag, zip lock bag or on the counter.

In summary:  1.  REWARD with treats each time you shape a new behavior.  2.  ONCE you can anticipate the behavior, introduce a verbal command and hand signal and 3.  THIS IS THE KEY:  start variable treating with no food treats in your hand.

Simple really.   Nikki going to place  Here’s a video of me training alternating treats

Aggression In Your Dog

Dog Problems – Denial or Procrastination

To this day, I will never understand why people will wait until dog problems get to a point of frustration, panic or pain (emotion or physical) to seek help on understanding and fixing the problem.  Some people it seems, at least from my experience, stay in denial or put up with a myriad of dog issues that cause unnecessary stress in their lives.  Waiting longer to address problems, in many cases, means it takes longer to fix problems.  Unless an owner is 100% committed to the task at hand, the fix can be extremely frustrating.

Aggression In Your Dog

That’s why so many dogs and pups get sent back to the breeder, the shelter or the ultimate final alternative!

I counseled a client with a 4 month old male pup that was already growling and biting at the owner’s hand when the owner tried to remove him from the couch and he also snaps when touched on his backside.

Now since they have had dogs before, they are insisting he will not become aggressive.  Is it denial?

Guess we’ll see as the pup continues to mature.


When Dogs Attack Walkers, Runners, Bicyclists

I received an email from a lady asking me about helping with training walkers, runners and bikes in deterring dog attacks effectively and safely.  Interesting request.


The actual activities of walking, running and biking (motion activities) all tend to elicit the prey drive in dogs.  While avoidance is the best cure for the problem, it doesn’t take into consideration the seemingly “out of nowhere” surprise appearance of dogs, taking you completely off guard.  And, to complicate things even worse, you don’t know the intentions of the dog.

You can break it down into two categories:  Over friendly and aggressive.  Of course the over friendly may still chase after you and nip at your heels or legs, BUT the aggressive dog is different.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t make direct hard eye contact.  Body language counts
  • Turn sideways, giving a calming signal.  DO NOT RUN.
  • Keep your arms and hands down and tight by your side

The following defensive tools may work on some dogs:

  • Air horn
  • Where legal, pepper spray
  • Direct Stop is a Citronella spray (available at PetSmart and PetCo
  • Defendabrella – a small tote umbrella to suddenly pop open to scare the dog
  • Having a “sacraficial” garment (old shirt, sweater) around your waist to offer up to the dog instead of you.
  • Always carry your cell phone and call for help if you can.

The safest is to avoid routes where dogs are known to be loose.  Change routes.  Plan you activities on routes where there are a lot of people.  The safety in numbers idea.  Have loose dogs picked up by the local dog catcher.  Make irresponsible people aware of leash laws and in Texas, Lillian’s Law  – 1st and 2nd degree felonies for owners who’s dogs attack when unprovoked.

My Dog Will Not Listen

Problems walking on a leash

In the last week, I’ve been with 3 different clients whose common complaint was dog aggression.  One dog was a female lab mix, another was a male golden and the last was a female Corgi.  The female lab was definitely territorial and lacked proper socialization.  But, the Golden and the Corgi’s behaviors could clearly be defined as being caused by “BOHS”, or Bad Owner Handling Skills.  All of them were having problems walking on a leash. The owners clearly and consistently communicated incorrectly to their dogs by keeping their leashes tight when they encountered other dogs.  The Owner’s anxiety traveled down the leash to the dog – and the dog reacted.

So, what did I do?  With each, not knowing what to expect, I initially muzzled the dogs in each lesson, put them on a flat buckle collar and a 12-15 foot “SLACK” line.  I had taken two of my dogs with me to the lessons to use as distraction.  One at a time I approached one of my dogs with the owner’s dog.  Always from behind (a non-aggressive move in dog language) for a friendly butt sniff.  When neither dog reacted, I then removed the muzzle from each respective dog.

The interesting thing was that both dogs showed absolutely no signs of aggression at all with or without the muzzle on.  I then proceed to “mix up” my approaches with pass-bys and frontal approaches.  All again, with no signs of aggression from the client’s dogs.  I had each owner do many practice runs with my supervision, showing them how to let their dogs approach another dog.

Key:  To avoid problems walking on a leash, learn to walk your dog on a slack leash and try to check your anxiety at your front door before the walk.  Be confident in your handling skills and read your dog – also always control every training exercise so no one and no dogs are injured.

So, what’s your definition of an aggressive dog?  One who barks at other dogs, one who snarls at other dogs, one who pulls on leash when they see other dogs?   Aggression means different things to everyone.


Which Breed of Dog is Best ?

Which breed of dog is best? This question always amazes me.  For some reason most folks think that within a specific breed all dogs born of that breed will have the same characteristics.  Everyone thinks that goldens are perfect and couldn’t possibly have any behaviorial issues.  Along those same lines, most everyone thinks that Rottweilers and Dobermans are mean and prone to aggression.


Dogs within a breed are all different.  There are some common traits carried on within breeds, such as Border Collies have very strong herding instincts,  Beagles have a strong scent drive.  What you have to realize is that even within a single litter, each puppy has its own personality and its own genetic makeup.  And as importantly, how they act within their litter is not always how they will act when you get them home.  When you get a new puppy home, that’s his new pack and he will very quickly determine, based on the level of your leadership, where he fits in the pecking order and he/she will act accordingly.

If you choose to get a rescue dog then you probably won’t know exactly what breed(s) the dog is.  But the same principle applies, good leadership, obedience training are sure fire ways to have a peaceful, rewarding relationship with your dog.

I’ve included a link to an Animal Plant site that has some really good questions you need to ask yourself before you go looking for a dog.   Remember – train now, avoid problems later.  OPPORTUNITY BARKS!

When Dogs Growl at Children

One of the most common reasons dogs get sent to shelters, or worse, put down, is for their behavior with children.  Dogs and children – it is a 2 way street.  Yes, dogs need to understand how to behave with children, yet many parents neglect teaching their children how to behave with the dog—and the dog ends up on the short end of the stick.

Angry Chihuahua growling, 2 years old, in front of white backgro

Dogs growl for many reasons. Last month I had a dog training lesson with a client whose 3 year old dog,  would  growl at her 7 year old child.  As I began to evaluate the relationship between the owner, the dog and the child, I began to discover that there was not much structure in the dog’s life.  The dog had not been taught any obedience commands and free feeding seemed to be the order of the day.  This lack of structure for the dog had heightened the dog’s anxiety.

Throughout  the lesson there were continuous loud vocal reprimands from the mother to the child about the child’s unrulyness.  When a parent frequently scolds a child in front of the dog, the dog can begin to get very uncomfortable and anxious when the child approaches.  If the  mother scolds the dog using the same emotional energy,  the child then learns to interact with the dog the same way as the mother and again the dog growls and the cycle is reinforced.

Here are comparative behaviors between what the child will do to the dog and the possible dog’s reaction:

Child pulls ears, tail hair, sticks fingers in ears or eyes, hits with hands or objects, scolds and punishes.  The dog’s response can be:  growling, snapping, biting, submissive wetting in pups.

Child teases with toys, food, stares at dog, wrestles to the point of anger or rage.  The dog’s response can be:  biting and viciousness

Child encourages aggressesiveness towards outsiders and/or other dogs.  The dog’s response can be biting, viciousness, chasing, dog-fighting, cat killing, bird killing, escaping, barking.

Child teases dog with tidbits of food.  The dog’s response can be begging, over-protectiveness of food, food stealing.

Child plays tug-of-war with dog.  The dog’s response can be biting, stealing things, chewing.

Child screams and runs.  The dog’s response can be biting, jumping chasing (especially in the herding breeds such as border collies, australian shepherds etc.)

The child is constantly unruly.  The dog’s response is to mimic and also be unruly.

Child does inter-child fighting.  The dog’s response can be aggressiveness, biting, over excitability.

Child pets the dog too much.  The dog’s response can be mounting, aggressiveness, males urinating in house, biting other children.

It is up to us, as responsible dogs owners, to make sure we are not setting our dogs up to fail, because we fail to teach our children.

It makes sense to me.  What do you think?


Choosing Your Family Dog

Thinking about getting a new dog or puppy? Generally it’s better to plan an adoption from a shelter or the purchase of a pure bred dog. But, you never know when you will happen upon a stray that tugs on your heart strings. I was surprised once. I said I would never have a new puppy again — not at my age. And then it happened.found dog

Discarded and left under a car at a nearby auto dealership, a little eight-week-old Black Labrador puppy entered our lives last August. Who could turn away this little cutie? Certainly not my wife! We named him “Sammy.” Now it was time, once again, to practice what I had preached all these years. You know, the midnight and two o’clock a.m. potty walks, those razor-sharp puppy teeth, and the list goes on. All of this is, of course, very manageable with proper instructions on training and raising a puppy.

A dog is hard work, there’s no getting around it — pure breed or otherwise. Make sure you don’t get a dog for the kids, your wife or the family, without remembering the old saying, “Dogs are not just for Christmas, Dogs are for a lifetime.” A dog is a living, breathing being that needs as much love, care, attention and training as a child. You can’t just put a new puppy out in the back yard while you are at work all day. Getting a new puppy or dog requires much thought and should include the whole family, not only in picking out that new dog or puppy, but also in the responsibilities of raising this new family pet.

And deciding to get a dog congers up all kinds of questions. Should I get a puppy or an older dog? What breed will fit into my or my family’s lifestyle? Should I get a male or female? And where should I get my dog?

Let’s explore these questions regarding choosing your family dog.

Puppy or older dog?

Puppies are cute, highly demanding of your time with house training, not biting, chewing on proper chew items and more. It’s probably not wise to choose a puppy with children under the age of five. Adult dogs on the other hand are often housetrained and out of that “intense” chewing stage that puppies go through. Sometimes, however, they come with unknown or questionable behavioral history. But don’t rule them out. You can teach an older dog new tricks, and they will fit in with their new family as well and sometimes better than a puppy.

Which breed is best?

Breeds have been created by man for the express purpose of accomplishing certain tasks, whether it’s a sporting breed to retrieve game or a working class for specific tasks, such as herding. It’s generally better to get a dog that has been bred to work closely with man and not a breed that has been bred for their fighting and aggressive proficiency. I personally have had golden retrievers, while my wife has enjoyed the company of retired racing greyhounds. But Boston Terriers, King Charles Spaniels, Beagles, Dachshunds and Poodles, just to mention a few, are great dogs as well. Other things to consider are care and maintenance. The Greyhound has minimum coat care, while the Poodle (standard or otherwise) requires maximum coat care. Poodles, however, don’t shed, are extremely intelligent and great for people with allergies. As a matter of fact, Poodles are now regularly being bred with Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers to produce “Goldendoodles” and “Labradoodles” that are also great for those with allergies.

Should I chose a male or female?

I have owned and loved both. Whatever the gender of your dog, have him neutered, or have her spayed. They stay healthier and live longer. And whether male or female, all dogs are individuals with their own temperaments, which can range from very docile or submissive to extremely dominant.

Where do I go to get a dog?

Reputable Breeder: If you want a pure-bred dog, go to a reputable breeder. The breeder I got my Golden Retriever from required that I return the dog if it doesn’t work out (whatever the reason). Their best interest is for the dog. And to the extent that they can at that young age, good breeders will guarantee eyes, heart and hips (if a large breed). Of course, their guarantee is that if the pup does develop an eye, heart or hip problem, they will exchange it for another one. I personally have never been able to just “trade in” a dog to which I have bonded for another. But at least the willingness to do so is indicative of a good breeder. Our Black Lab developed hip dysplasia in both hips. The day we decided to take him home with us he was ours and our responsibility — in sickness and in health. So we had him fixed up and we go on down the road.

Pure-Breed Rescue Groups: These are dedicated individuals that have banded together to help foster and care for dogs of their particular breed of choice. They often times have an established web site and have set up a not-for-profit organization to raise funds for medical expenses, so that you will adopt a healthy, disease-free dog.

Animal shelters: Great dogs can be found in your local shelter. Here in Houston we have the BARC, SPCA, CAPS and the Humane Society. A example of a great shelter dog is “Radar” the weather dog on KPRC-TV. Radar was adopted from the Humane Society. The folks at the shelters are more than willing to lend a hand in helping you to determine which dog is right for you. They care for them every day and know each dog.

Word of Mouth: Sometimes people have changes in their lifestyle and professional status and can no longer care for their pet. Knowing that their pet will go to a loving home that will give them as much love and care as they did can be comforting for all concerned. Often folks will notify their veterinarian, groomer, trainer or boarding facility of their need to re-home their beloved pet. So it pays to network as much as possible.