Dog Behavior: Dogs Fighting Again?

Dog fights amongst canine housemates continue to be a serious concern to peaceable owners. Today I just returned from a lesson with two cute female pit/mix pups – both just under 12 months of age. The initial call was that they had gotten into a fight causing a trip to the vet with punctures. This was the first of a couple of serious fights. Unfortunately the owner did not see it start and is not certain who started the fight and over what they were fighting.

Last week I completed another lesson with two somewhat recently adopted, older, more mature female dogs who had not previously lived together. When the larger of the dogs attacked the smaller one, I got a call from the new owners to sort things out and help them to understand root causes and how to proceed to fix the problem.

Here’s the commonality with the two households:

  1. No structure, therefore no leadership
  2. No consistent training, therefore no commands to which to redirect
  3. No consistent walking for exercise and leadership – constructive management of energy while also reinforcing leadership
  4. Constant dog-initiated petting and doting – all unearned
  5. Both dogs in each household were females
  6. A detailed evaluation of relationships between the dogs starting the fights and their respective owners revealed more attention to the larger dog than the smaller dog who received the brunt of the fight.
  7. A recommended test done in both homes mentioned above, indicated that when the “doting owner” in both households was not at home and the dogs were allowed to be free in the homes while the other owner was present, no fighting occurred. In fact, all got along peaceably.
  8. When the doting owners returned to their respective homes, the competition and the games began again. Fights reoccurred.

So, what’s the message here? Many fights between canine housemates happen in the presence of the owner – and sometimes guarding the owner as a resource. What’s the answer? Put structure back into your relationship with your dogs – you probably both need it and can benefit immeasurably from it. If you are not sure how to go about doing this, give me a call. Keep your dogs separated until you can put a program into effect – and during the program as well.

Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

What’s your dog training problem?
Ask me a question in the comments below!

Puppy Training: 5 Big Mistakes People Make When House Training

Everyone loves puppies and especially that wonderful puppy breath. But did you know that most new owners do almost everything wrong when beginning to house train their puppy?

People tend to think that a new puppy will think like a mature dog but they do not – they are simply puppies. Puppies have certain needs – not only be obedience trained, but also needs related to their food which must be high quality and needs related to their ability to understand where to go potty.

Up until the time you get your new puppy, their entire world pretty much consisted of their litter mates and the area where they were kept by the breeder.

The first thing an owner needs to do of course is to potty train their puppy. As easy as this can be, people tend to over complicate things and make it difficult on them and their new puppy.

There seems to be a common thought process amongst new puppy owners about the problems of potty training that complicates an otherwise easy process, because this thought pattern confuses the new puppy.

Here’s what new owners think about their new puppy as it relates to house training:

  1. Having accidents every day in their home is part of the potty training process – it’s just what they do.
  2. Leaving the puppy in the back yard to potty is good potty training and easy for the owner.
  3. The new puppy should be able to give them a sign or a signal when it needs to go potty.
  4. Hitting a puppy with a rolled up newspaper or magazine for potty accidents is how best to correct your new puppy.
  5. Leaving the puppy’s food and water down all day for it to eat and drink is easier for them.

These thoughts can not be further from the truth. Whether you are at your wit’s end with your new puppy, or just beginning your puppy training efforts, you must understand immediately what you need to do to help your puppy be successful now and in the future.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

Jim’s  Nose to Tail Puppy Training is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your puppy understands what you expect of him because you know how to teach him.  You empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.  The result – one awesome puppy and one happy family.

House Breaking Older Dog Teaches Young Couple Valuable Canine Life Lessons

I’ve been working on housebreaking issues with a couple who own a 5 year old female English Bull Dog. After evaluating their dog and their relationship with their dog on the first lesson, I found very little structure or walks with their dog. With no structure, it is not uncommon for dogs that are insecure in their sense of place to house soil or mark territory in an effort to feel more secure. Additionally, their dog was spending way too much time in the crate due to their long work hours. This also created a lot of stress and anxiety in their dog.

I got them started on providing structure in their dog’s life, getting their dog out for walks and working on obedience training 3 times daily for just two minutes. While this is not a lot of obedience training (just 6 minutes daily), it began to give their dog a sense of working for leadership rather than feeling responsible for it himself. If these obedience exercises are repeated consistently, it can provide a serious “jump start” on their leadership and structure. We also did frequent sits on walks and added a come command followed by a sit – then released to a walk again. Food treats were necessary to keep him focused at first but he was weaned off food treats after a few days of frequent sits on walks.

Meanwhile, back inside. I made a recommendation to “upgrade” their dog’s accommodations during the day to “first class” and consider hiring a dog walker mid-day. We got a pressure gate – complete with a door for their extra large kitchen. Here’s how their email updates to me went:

Day one after the first lesson: “Everything went well today. No accidents. Once we got home and took him outside, we went out to the grocery store after work and he was fine while we were gone.”

Day 2: “No accidents again today.”

Day 3: “Hey Jim, no accidents again today!”

Day 4: “He was alone all day today again and still no accidents!”

Day 5: “Unbelievable! No accidents again today! We even went out for a bite to eat and a musical and no accidents then either! Wow! This is the longest ever.”

On our first lesson and evaluation I also discovered that they were over-feeding their dog with an inexpensive dry dog food with lots of cheap carbohydrate fillers on a once-a-day feeding schedule. We changed the food out over a four day period to a high quality dog food, cut back on their dog’s intake amount and began to feed twice daily with walks before and after feeding. They had to get up a little earlier to accommodate the new schedule but it was well worth it for them. Dogs that eat only one meal a day run the risk of developing hunger tension from having no food in their system for half of the day. This could exacerbate things and possibly cause other behavioral issues as a result of the hunger tension.

Given the age of the dog (5 years – old enough to hold his business) it was time to begin giving their dog more space but for shorter, controlled periods of time after work and on weekends while keeping up the leadership, exercise and training program permanently in place as his “new structure” or routine with them. This meant short trips like “pick up the dry cleaning” and “gas up the car” kind of trips then gradually increasing them to longer periods of time out like grocery shopping, dinner out or even dinner and a movie while there dog has free run of the kitchen and den. Later as things really progress, they can open up their house again just as before but free of any house soiling issues.

They have since reported including their dog in more of their activities like visiting Starbucks Sunday mornings and enjoying a latte and they are now looking into renting a “dog friendly” beach house for the weekend with early, cool morning walks.

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

Puppy Training: 15 Minutes A Day Can Avoid Adult Dog Problems

Have you ever asked “what could I have done differently with my puppy when he was a new puppy that could have made him a better dog so I wouldn’t have these adult dog behavior problems?”

Most seasoned dog trainers would agree that the earlier you begin training your puppy, the stronger the training foundation is that will provide you with that better mannered dog in their adult years.

This now brings us to the question, “How soon can I start training my new puppy to avoid potential dog problems?”
Puppies can be trained at any age – even 8 weeks. Reward-based training or positive reinforcement training is best and, if you can condition your puppy to a clicker that’s even better. There are a number of benefits to “clicker training” your new puppy. Here are a couple of good reasons:

  • • The clicker provides a consistent sound to your puppy no matter who uses it. Remember, consistency and repetition is needed in good puppy training.
  • • Unlike your voice, the clicker is a sharp, crisp non emotional sound that provides your puppy with a special and unique way to identify behaviors he performs (like sits and downs) that produces a food treat. For example, when your puppy sits, click then treat.

Follow these basic rules to keep training fun for your puppy:

  1. Be consistent in your training. Train simple come, sit and down three times daily for no longer than 2 minutes and do it the same way every single time. It doesn’t really take much time out of your schedule. Setting aside 2 minutes three times daily 2 minutes is a great start. Puppies have a short attention span and will tire and get bored quickly. That’s why we keep it short.
  2. Never, ever punish your puppy in any way, shape or form. If your puppy does not obey a command simply say wrong in a neutral tone of voice and start again. It’s really that simple.
  3. Keep your expectations in line with reality. Do not expect a young, 8 week old puppy to be able to hold a sit or a down for more than a few seconds.
  4. Be consistent with your command each time. Pick one word and stick to it. Speaking in sentences or multiple words will not be as easy for your new puppy to learn. One behavior – one command word.
  5. Begin to train around relevant distractions. For example, if you always have a house full of kids, begin training your puppy around kids once he’s learned to obey his commands only with you.
  6. As your puppy begins to learn and perform his come, sit and down commands each and every time when asked, wean him off food treats by giving him a treat every other time and then even less frequently after that. Always click when your puppy performs a behavior properly. Your clicker will eventually be replaced with praise.
  7. For those of you that do not want to use a clicker, simply use your voice by saying, “Yes!” or “Good!” followed by a food treat when your puppy performs a command.

There is a lot to learn in training a puppy. If done correctly, it can be a process filled with fun – and obedience. This begins to set that strong foundation you will need to rely on when your new puppy becomes an adult dog. The one message to take away is “consistently” set aside time every single day as described above to work your puppy.

These are just some of the basics that will help you get started on the right foot with your puppy. Puppies are very smart and learn quickly, especially when they are taught from an early age.

Jim’s  Nose to Tail Puppy Training is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your puppy understands what you expect of him because you know how to teach him.  You empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.  The result – one awesome puppy and one happy family. 

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”


(C) Jim Burwell 2010
What’s your dog training question?
Use the comments below to ask me.

Dog Walking: Dog Owners Can Create Dog Behavior Problems

dog walkingThis past Sunday I participated in the pre-game annual Dog Day Afternoon event sponsored by the Astros (they played Cincinnati.)

I was amazed at the number of “good dogs” walking calmly by their owner’s side through the maze of people as if they had done this a 1,000 times or more.

I was more amazed at the number of dogs pulling their owners through the crowd tangling people with the leash or jumping on kids who were trying to walk  and  eat a hot dog (fondly remembered as Dome Dogs).

I’ve been on a number of lessons in the past where dog walking issues was the complaint – more specifically, pulling on leash and sometimes it ended in the dog becoming reactive or aggressive towards other dogs.    One was a Border Collie that turned out to have fear aggression resulting from a lack of socialization.

Another was a 24 month old male golden who, on observation, had always been in charge of the walk.   The owner had the road rash to prove it. The owner seemed to think her dog might be aggressive towards other dogs but really didn’t know because she was afraid to ever let him near dogs.

I immediately recognized the symptom: “BOHS” or Bad Owner Handling Skills. The owner clearly over time kept communicating wrong information to the dog by keeping the leash tight. And, as the dog was consistently corrected for pulling, over time he began to think, My   owner doesn’t want me to go near other dogs.”

Additionally, opposite reflex action – owner pulling back – causes dogs to naturally pull against the leash pressure when owners “honk down” on the leash. And of course, the dog was pulling in the direction of the other dog.  Owner anxiety travels down the leash to the dog and further exacerbates the problem.   Clearly this dog would never get a good butt sniff much less a good playtime with other dogs – unless we could resolve this issue.

In my lesson with the golden, I was not sure what to expect meeting other dogs so I brought two of my dogs. I muzzled the golden, put him on a flat buckle collar and a15’ long line to make sure there was no leash tension and proceeded to approached my two dogs – one at a time (from behind for a good butt sniff).

The golden showed no signs of aggression at all either on muzzle or off muzzle.  I finally mixed up the approaches with pass-bys and frontal approaches and still no issues.   Over the weeks we concentrated on correct owner/dog practice on how to walk their dog on a slack leash around other neighborhood dogs and this eliminated any of my concerns with territorial aggression or aggression to protect the owner.

Key: Learn how to correctly walk your dog on a slack leash and try to check your anxiety at the door before the walk.  Structure your walk with your dog so that he looks to your leadership.

Control most of the walk – but do give your dog his unstructured time to pee, poop, sniff and explore with his nose. It is also a good idea to have your dog sit before allowing your dog to leave your side for his flex time. Build your confidence in your handling skills with practice and time. Remember, the window of socialization and desensitization for most puppies closes by 5 months of age.

Socialize your puppy well and keep it up through the life of your dog. Learn how to walk your dog on a loose leash as this will lead to many more satisfying walks for both you and your dog.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children.  And remember:  “Opportunity Barks!”

Your Dog Training Questions: Where Should I Socialize My Puppy?

If you have been reading my blog for a while, (or if you haven’t, hello new readers!) you know that I preach the virtues of puppy “socialization.” So what is socialization and where does it happen? It is the process of exposing your puppy to people, places, sounds, sights and smells when they are young. The idea is that this exposure, combined with consistent puppy training, will help create a confident, friendly dog that can follow your directions in a variety of settings. I have written about this subject in several blog posts, which led to one reader to ask the following:

Your Question:


You have mentioned before how important it is to socialize young puppies by taking them to different places to experience people, smells, etc. But you have also said to not take puppies to dog parks. Isn’t this contradictory?

My Answer:

No, it’s not contradictory. Puppies are not fully vaccinated till about 4 months of age. A puppy owner must always keep in mind where their puppy is on their vaccination schedule in relation to where they take their puppy. Dog parks can have dogs there that are not vaccinated, there can be in-tact males etc. There are many other places for puppies and dogs to experience new sights, sounds, smells, noises rather than dog parks. Even for older dogs there are other places besides dog parks to get them used to all those things. There are puppy day camps and other pet resorts where vaccinations are required. There is doggie day camp, and much more.

I would simply say that owners must inspect and be comfortable with where you are sending your dog for the day just as parents would inspect and be comfortable with where they send their children. Kids can get hurt playing and so can dogs. A good day camp facility has a specific # of dogs per counselor and those counselors must be vigilant when the dogs are playing. Do not be afraid to ask questions about this and request a tour.

Also not ALL dogs are of the right temperament for day camp. Some are too shy or low energy. Each dog should be temperament tested prior to joining a day camp and the pet owner’s job is make sure you take your dog or puppy to a reputable day camp facility.

Jim’s  Nose to Tail Puppy Training is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your puppy understands what you expect of him because you know how to teach him.  You empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.  The result – one awesome puppy and one happy family.

Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

What’s YOUR dog training question?
Use the comments below to ask me.

House Training vs. House Breaking: The Difference For Puppy Training Basics

When teaching puppy potty training to new puppy owners, some professionals use the term house training and some refer to it as house breaking. So which is it? While this can seem to be confusing, it’s really not because both terms refer to the same thing: Teaching your new puppy when and where to go to the bathroom. I prefer using the term house training because it puts a kinder, softer description to the process – and more importantly, nothing gets broken – there is no breakage.

As you start the house training process it’s important to understand what exactly your new puppy needs and doesn’t need. If your puppy could speak, here is his “need list” for you:

• Consistency and repetition
• Patience and understanding
• Food treats and your love and affection
• Your undivided attention during the entire process

And, as aptly as your new puppy communicated his needs, the following would be his list of things he does not want:

• A whack on the butt with a rolled up newspaper or anything else for that matter
• A face full of his pee or poop
• Yelling and screaming

Current trends in puppy training and puppy house training teach positive methods in house training your new puppy leaving the old training methods of verbal and physical punishment behind in the dust where they belong. Be consistent with taking your puppy out for much needed potty breaks throughout the day as needed. Provide him with lots of praise and treats for going in the designated potty area. Your undivided attention to where your puppy is and what he’s doing, while in the house will allow you to catch mistakes before they happen. This, if done consistently, will begin to set him up to succeed!

Another tool to use in house training a puppy is a crate. However, some new puppy owners think this is cruel and that their puppy will think it’s being punished. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Crate training puppies has long been known to be a great way to accelerate the house training process because puppies don’t like to soil in their den. In addition to greatly assisting in the house training process, crating your puppy also helps to protect your stuff from becoming chew toys and it helps to build puppy confidence in being alone.

Puppies often take up a favorite spot under a desk or table where they can feel safe away from the hustle and bustle of a busy household. They will take up refuge there with their back to the wall so they can keep an eye out on all things going on. Dogs have been doing this for years – creating a safe den-like place away from predators. While our little fluffy domesticated puppies don’t have to worry about predators, the instincts are still there. “Denning” is an instinct which lends to make crate training easier if you start when your new puppy first gets home.

Jim’s  Nose to Tail Puppy Training is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your puppy understands what you expect of him because you know how to teach him.  You empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.  The result – one awesome puppy and one happy family. 

(C) Jim Burwell 2010
What’s your dog training question?
Use the comments below to ask me.

Your Dog Training Questions: My Dog Digs, Digs, Digs

If your dog is digging in the backyard, it can ruin your lawn and wear on your nerves. The problem may be as simple as boredom, now find out what may be the solution.

Your Question:


Do you have any tips for a dog that contunally digs? My family and I recently took in a rescue pup (Sheprador) recently and her only bad habit is digging. We’ve worked with using a leash and praising her when she doesn’t dig (when given the opportunity).

She is walked 2-3 times a day for at least 30 minutes per walk. We’re very hesitant to leave her inside (new house) all day as she is a bigger dog. Our small dog (mini Schnauzer) doesn’t seem to have the same issue.

I’ve thought about making her/them a doggy sandbox but, it seems a little hokey.

My Answer:

I’m happy to see you are walking her 2-3 times day for 30 minutes per walk. However, when a dog is left outside all day, just like an unsupervised child, they will get bored and find “something” to do to counteract the boredom and no one is outside to redirect that behavior.

Building a doggie sandbox truly is not hokey at all. If gives her an acceptable place to dig, but I would also encourage you to do some training INSIDE with your dog so she CAN stay inside while you are gone all day.

In addition, it is way too hot to leave a dog outside all day in the summer. You might want to consider joining a group class either with us or somewhere else where you do will learn to listen to you and perform basic commands. As I always say, set your dog up to suceed NOT fail. Good luck with your training!

I also recommend reading a previous blog post about digging in the backyard, it has some helpful tips for working with your dog.


(C) Jim Burwell 2010
What’s YOUR dog training question?
Use the comments below to ask me.

Your Dog Training Questions: Running After Other Dogs While On Walks

Walks are extremely important for both your dog’s good health and good behavior. Daily walks let your dog expend energy in a positive, healthy way. But sometimes dogs act up while they are on the leash. Here’s a question from a reader about her dog’s habit of chasing other dogs.

Your Question:


We are working on the problem of pulling on the leash with our 9 month old rottie pup. He is not aggressive, but he wants to play with other dogs while we are out walking.

This is what I’ve been doing so far: I put him in a “down,” which he usually holds until they pass. But after the other dogs pass, I have to be careful because he often bolts after them. What is the best way to teach him to remain in the sit or down position until I release him?

We are in obedience classes now. But, I worry that we will frighten other pet owners who might not know he really is friendly.

You’ve said before not to set him up to fail, so am I wrong placing him in the down while we are out on walks? Should I change directions to avoid the other dogs until he has mastered the “down” command? Right now, I am working diligently on having him focus on me rather than the distraction of other dogs. Can you give me any more advice?

My Answer:

You first must get him to do a “proofed” down inside with no distractions. By “proofed” I mean a down that he will maintain until released. Be prepared, because this will take lots of practice. Once he has it, you can gradually add one more distraction to the training. Ask a friend to help. Once he can do that, add another distraction, or change the environment. It will take patience, but it will pay off.

Also, it is generally easier for a dog to hold a “down” rather than a “sit” in a highly charged distraction setting. Go at your dog’s pace. You are on the right track if you are setting him up to succeed, not fail.

Use the “down” like this: put him in a “down” at a distance far enough away from the other dog that he will not become reactive. Praise that behavior so he understands that there is a desireable alternative to running after other dogs. Keep up the good work!

(C) Jim Burwell 2010
What’s YOUR dog training question?
Use the comments below to ask me.

Dog Training: Train Like A Pro

It always gives me a great sense of satisfaction when, after a series of puppy training sessions, clients feel good about the training we did with their puppy.

Moreover, they are impressed enough with the results they also want to give me a testimonial about the improvements for our website to share with our readers.

You’ve heard the cliché, “Make my day!” I think it was in one of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” series. As you might guess, we’ve recently added a testimonial to our website about a dog named Mimosa that is about 4-6 months of age and looks like a lab/Catahoula mix – cute and sweet.

Well her Mom really made my day with another “email success story” follow-up after her testimonial that I had to share with you. Once Mimosa’s Mom found out how to relax and have fun with training – well, I’ll let you be the judge of the following success entitled in an email story to me, “Mimosa, my Genius Dog.:)” Can you imagine going from “Crazy Puppy” to “Mimosa my Genius Dog?” in just a few weeks???

Setting the stage: Mimosa had already been taught to sit, down, stay, come when called AND go to “place” – all inside the house and outside on the back patio.

Practicing around relevant distractions was going to be the key to their success with Mimosa – as with any dog. Practice going to “place” had been done daily and now it was time to try “the real thing” – as in two house cleaners and two carpet installation guys.

The following story excerpt tells it the best in Mom’s own words.

“Then, I tried the same concept inside (Jim’s method of teaching “place”). We had a maid service today with several cleaners making noise and running vacuums, followed by a stair carpet installer who is currently hammering and nailing.

Just a week or two ago, these people would have upset her, causing lots of barking and out of control running and nervous jumping. Mosa is now able to handle these distractions and, for the most part, able to keep focus on her commands, staying on her mat (place) instead of barking at or jumping on these people.

Oh, my gosh! This is a much more relaxing life for Mosa and me!! I won’t say she scored 100 with all the distractions, but she definitely scored an A! And I’m a tough grader:) Thanks for all your help,”  Jane Wagner

Mimosa is much less stressed and anxious with a clear-cut agenda on what is expected of her when these distractions  come along. Just be prepared and work your dog on leash at first. Oh yeah, don’t forget to have a good time training using positive reinforcement methods.

Nothing more than her flat buckle collar and her leash was used to accomplish this and make Mom very happy!

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”