Who’s To Blame Owner, Victim or Dogs?

I just read in a Google Alert on dog training, that in the case of Marjorie Knoller, her murder verdict has been reinstated.  I’m sure most of you remember this case in San Francisco back in 2001.

Ms. Knoller and her husband Robert Noel owned 2 Presa Canario guard dogs in San Francisco and lived in an apartment building.  One of their neighbors, Diane Whipple was innocently coming out of the door of her apartment at the same time Ms. Knoller was returning from walking her dogs on the roof.  The 2 dogs attacked Ms. Whipple and mauled her to death.

There was a lot of debate and upheaval in San Francisco over that case because Knoller and Noel were blaming Whipple for not going back into her apartment stating that’s what made the dogs attack.

Here’s the thing.  It is my true belief that when you have a dog, you, the owner are solely responsible for the actions of the dog.  Yes true, certain breeds have a propensity for being guard dogs and somewhat more assertive than others.  But it all comes down to owner responsiblity. 

Red flag #1 – My belief is that Knoller and Noel were aware that the dogs they bought had been specifically bred to be aggressive.  The breeder was a racist convict who was starting a line of Presa Canario guard dogs he was going to call Dog-O-War.  Red flag # 2  Ms. Knoller did not take the time to properly obedience train her dogs and exercise those two large guard dogs.   Red flag # 3  The last mistake is that she was bringing both dogs down a hallway of an apartment (close quarters) and sadly Ms. Whipple probably startled the dogs when she opened her door.

When you own a dog it is your responsibility to make sure the dog receives proper dog obedience training starting as a puppy, it is your responsiblity to see the dog gets regular structured exercise to release its energy in a positive way,  it is your responsibility to know the temperament and behavior of your dog around people and places and things. 

A dog is a dog is a dog.  I would never tell anyone that any dog is not capable of biting.  The upsetting thing is  when a dog is set up to fail because of lack of responsibility on the owner’s part and someone gets hurt or killed because of their unwillingness or laziness to train their dog.  Here’s the link to the story

Please, be responsible pet owners.  www.petiquettedog.com

Dog Training and Cats?

I received a call last month from a client with a new dog that was terrorizing her cats.  It was at the point where the dog was going to have to go if he couldn’t learn to live with the cats.  She asked me if dog training could fix her dog’s behavior? 

It reminded me of when my wife and I got married and she brought 2 greyhounds and a cat named Petie into the marriage.  First time my dog Boo laid eyes on Petie, all he saw was the blue plate special!  He lunged through the air, mouth wide open and stomach growling.  How embarrasing was that?  Here I am, the dog trainer and my dog’s behavior is deplorable 🙂

My wife looked at me and sweetly said, “Fix It!”  So I did, and here’s how.  Each day, as many times as possible, the behavior modification process was put into place.  We would take Petie, an awesome Persin/Tabby mix who knows no fear, and place him in a wire dog crate in the den.  I had Boo on a leash and I had a clicker and some food treats to use during the dog training session.  Boo and I were about 5 feet from the crate.  Each time Boo exhibited inappropriate dog behavior by pulling or lunging toward the crate he was firmly told NO, leah tug, required to sit.  As he sat and exhibited good dog behavior, which at that early stage was simply not lunging at Petie, I clicked and treated. 

We kept doing this dog behavior modification training each day.  Each day Boo and I got a little closer to the crate and each time Boo was required to give me a sit, down, appropriate dog behavior.  Also, during this time I made him maintain that good dog behavior longer and longer before he was treated. 

It took about 2 weeks, but Boo learned that his inappropriate dog behavior got a stern NO, while his good dog behavior, sitting quietly and not bothering the cat, got him a GOOD BOY! and a treat.  Now as many of you know, I am adamant about weaning off food treats (see my blog post on To Treat or Not to Treat, that is the Question).  By the end of the two weeks, a simple Good Boy was the reward for Boo.

Now in all fairness, part of the equation of this dog behavior modification exercise, is the fact that Petie is not the type of cat who darts through the house and is skittish.  Nope, in fact, when Petie comes in the house, he uses the dog door, strolls through the den while all the dogs are on their beds and just like in Stuart LIttle, simply says “Tell It to the Butt!”  Petie rules, Petie IS ALPHA!

Today, on any given morning, you can find Petie curled up next to Boo on Boo’s dog bed.  It took work, persistence in working on the dog behavior modification and good obedience training, but all is well in the Burwell animal kingdom.

Question on Blog Post of Problems Walking On a Leash

This past week, I received a comment from Sandy regarding my blog on Problems Walking on a Leash.  Sandy’s question was:  What is the best way to be prepared when you’re not sure if the dog will react badly to another dog even if the leash is slack.

Here’s my response:  Sandy:  you may find my answer more generic rather than specific, only because I do not have any information on your dog i.e. age of your dog, temperament of your dog, socialization history, amount of training not to mention all of the above on the “other dog” etc….but here goes.

Your statement brings up a couple of concerns:

  1. Have you not had your dog in social situations enough to really know how your dog will react?  You should/must know how your dog will react.
  2. You may not know how to read dog body language enough to discern play from aggression – some dogs do play rough.

Interpretation of the situation is a key ingredient here unless it is very obvious that your dog is dog aggressive.  If you are walking your dog on leash, the situation is controllable, at the very least, by taking your dog out of the situation (turn around and walk away, move to the other side of the street etc.) unless, of course, the other dog in not on a leash.

With so many unknowns about your hypothetical scenario, the bottom line is:  dog training, dog training, dog training!

IF  your dog is well trained on walking on leash around other dogs, people etc. you could:

  1. Ask the other dog owner if their dog is friendly and if so, let them interact.
  2. Keep on walking and pass the dog by.
  3. Put your dog in the obedience command of a sit/stay at a far enough distance while the other dog passes.
  4. Take the opportunity to train your dog around other dogs (assuming that the environment was controlled with no dogs or people in harms way).
  5. You could begin to reward your dog for neutral or positive behavior around other dogs.  Anything short of good behavior requires a stern “OFF”, call your dog to you, get a sit, then send your dog back to interact once more.
  6. Repetition is the key.  If your dog won’t come or sit around other dogs or distractions, see a positive reinforcement trainer in your area and work on distraction training.

There is a book on the market by Emma Parsons entitled “Click to Calm” relating her aggressive dog experience where her dog immediately pulls towards other dogs at first sighting.  Knowing that under this stressful situation she would not be able to control her big dog, she taught her dog to stop, sit and make eye contact with her and wait for another command at the first sense of the leash going tight.

You might find this helpful.  Thanks for reading my blog and asking questions, that’s why I’m here.



Dog Bites – A potentially serious threat

A 7 month old Rottie was doing some serious resource guarding of food bowls, couches, dog toys etc.  The owners, who got him at 8 weeks felt that apparently since birth this dog had been very assertive.

With no structure for the dog in the home for 7 months straight, both the dog and the family were headed down the wrong path of life with the potential for some serous harm. 

What finally had them call me is that when the wife tried to remove a bone from his space, the dog bit her.

So, how did we fix it?

  • Structure:  We put the dog on what I call the “learn-to-earn” program.  The dog was required to do the obedience commands of sit and down for everything he got i.e. food, articles of play, space and most importantly, love and affection.
  • Dog behavior modification for guarding:  We began a gradual desensitization of the dog to allow family members and other people to come around his food bowl, his chew bones and his space.  He was rewarded for acting appropriately.
  • Dog behavior modification at the front door: We taught him the obedience command “go to your place”.  We then expanded this obedience command to become “go to your place” when he heard the doorbell ring.  This fixed the charging of the front door.

The key to our success?  The owner’s 110% commitment to working their dog on the behavior modification program and dog obedience commands.  I am always so proud of my clients who recognize that only a serious commitment to working the dog behavior plan will turn their dog around – and it has!

Trust me on this.  Consistency and repetition will begin to breed habit in your dog, so keeping structure in his life and your expectations of his behavior high, will be the key.

Tell me what you think!

Dog Training Using the Gentle Leader

What I’ve experienced in my years of dog training, is that the Gentle Leader is a great dog training tool when you need to control large unruly dogs and/or aggressive dogs – regardless of size.

The key to using the Gentle Leader in dog training is persistence – desensitizing your dog to wearing the Gentle Leader.

In dog training, the Gentle Leader can significantly reduce arousal and anxiety in many dogs.  I’ve noticed that about 50% of dogs who use a Gentle Leader, accept it.  However, in the other 50% of the dogs, there is a wide range of non-acceptance and in some dogs there can be a high agitation factor.

When training your dog on the Gentle Leader, associate positive things like food treats with the Gentle Leader.  When you’re training your dog, require your dog to wear the Gentle Leader when eating meals.

If used correctly in the course of your dog training, the Gentle Leader can provide you with pleasurable walks once again.  I always recommend purchasing the product in the case that comes with a very informative DVD.


Your dog's not stupid

The other day I had a training session with a client and her Beagle.  He is a highly distracted dog with his nose always to the ground and she was having difficulty getting a reliable recall or “come” command.

I remember someone asking me one time, “Why do some dogs do better in obedience than others?”  Here is something to think about.  Some breeds are just easier to train.  The traits for which dogs were originally bred influence the ease or difficulty of training, how readily the training will generalize and how often a command has to be reinforced.

For example, it may be easier to teach a retriever to come when called in comparison to a scent hound whose natural trait is to keep their nose to the ground.  Just because a dog has a difficult time learning an exercise, does not mean he is stupid.  The ease or difficulty of training your dog on some commands is determind by the extent to which the task is in harmony or disharmony with his natural born instincts.


Tug Of War

Tug of War With Your Dog – Good or Bad—depends

Is playing tug of war a good game to engage in with your dog?  It depends on who does it, and how the game is played.

Tug Of War

Every dog has, to a greater or lesser degree, predatory instincts or prey drive.  Prey drive includes such behaviors as:  running, chasing, biting and chewing.

Before you start it will also be important to teach your dog to: sit, take it and drop it, to make sure the game goes as planned.  Your leadership is consistently being reinforced as you work on these commands.

There are advantages to playing this game with your puppy or dog.  Playing tug helps your puppy or dog burn energy similar to natural activities, like running or walking.  A good time to play tug is right before you crate or leave your puppy or dog for a period of time.  Winning the game also helps to teach your dog respect of your leadership, if played in the proper way.

How you play the game is important.  When not playing, always keep the interactive toys up and away from your pup or dog.  This helps them to understand that you control the toys.  Require a sit first.  Then say “Take it!”  Then play the game.  When it’s time to stop, say “Sit”, then “Drop It” and take the toy and put it away until the next game time.

Who gets to play the game is also important.  Only those who can always win the game should be allowed to play.

Most importantly, have fun, teach and train your puppy or dog every day and continuously set boundaries and expectation.

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. http://www.dogbitelaw.com/PAGES/Texas.htm

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.