Staaaaayyyyyy….

When asked about what is important for a dog to learn, I often list four items that I consider to be “life or death commands.” These are: Leave it, Drop it, Come when called, and Stay. These cues can make an important safety difference for a family dog, and they become particularly crucial at busy times of the year such as the holiday season. While most people expect dogs to come when called and leave or drop things that they should not have, people often underestimate the value of a solid “Stay”.

During the holidays, there are numerous uses for a good “stay” in place. Suppose you have guests visit, and they are nervous around dogs; a solid “stay” across the room could go a long way to easing their anxiety. And how about when the front door is open and you don’t want your dog to run off? A variation of “stay”, where a dog “stays at his place” on his bed or mat can also be tremendously beneficial during a holiday dinner, or while you are preparing for a gathering, to keep your pooch out from underfoot.

 

Stay Dogs

A Solid “Stay” x4
Photo courtesy Tonya Jensen

The most common mistake that I see people make in teaching the stay is to increase the difficulty level too quickly. To begin, have your dog sit or down and tell him “stay”, then very quickly reward and then release him from the stay. Initially, the stay should be no more than a second or two (even less for young puppies) and without moving away from the dog at all. The release can be a simple “OK” or a less commonly used word such as “release”, but should always follow the stay command and the reward in order to assure that the dog does not learn to just get up from stay whenever he wants.

To teach a truly reliable stay, it’s important to have patience and remember the variables or “4 D’s” of stay: Duration (how long he stays), Distance (how far away you are), Distraction (anything that distracts your dog), and Direction (where you are relative to your dog, including out of sight). Work on only one D variable at a time at first. Then, gradually add D’s together, one at a time. So, when adding distance, reduce duration. Then add distractions, and reduce distance and duration. As each D becomes stronger, try mixing and matching them, first 2 at a time, then 3 at a time, until your dog is able to handle all 4 D’s together. Always take baby steps with each new D, whether you are just starting to teach it, or adding it to other D’s.

Another common mistake that I see with “stay” is what many people refer to as “Einstein’s definition of insanity“: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you have asked your dog to stay and he breaks the stay, do not re-try it with the same parameters! Instead, change at least one variable before trying again.

The first variable to work on should be Duration. Very gradually build up from a short, 1-2 second stay, to 30 seconds, 1 minute and longer, without moving away from your dog. Next, work on the distance stay by itself, stepping back from the dog after giving the stay command, with minimal duration. Once the duration and distance have been built up individually, you can begin to add them together, reducing both at first.

It can be really tempting to say, “I wonder if he can do this?” and push him past his limit. Remember not to “go insane”, as this can be counterproductive, and may result in a much longer learning curve. Instead, be sure to reward then release before he breaks each time, and you will achieve a much faster learning process. Strive for success, rather than pushing the dog to the point of breaking the stay each time. The best way to get successful stays is to get successful stays and reward them, then build upon them.

With patience and perseverance, you can teach your dog to have a really solid and reliable stay regardless of the location and distractions present.

Don’t Touch That Turkey!

Image

While most people teach their dogs to sit, down, stay and come, some may overlook two of the most important commands that assure a dog’s safety and well being: the “leave it” and “drop it” commands. Both of these gain particular importance during the holiday season, when we not only have all kinds of particularly yummy food out, but also guests who may take our attention away from more closely supervising our pooches.

Shadow is tempted

Seriously… don’t touch that turkey!

First, it’s important to note that Leave it and Drop it are different, not just in application, but in the way they are perceived by the dog. For this reason, I like to use different cues for them, and teach them somewhat differently.

Leave It: The dog has not yet taken possession of the item. This means that he is looking at something and thinking about approaching or taking it. “Leave it” means he should forget about it and look back to his owner. Note that Leave It may also be used to call a dog off of items that will not be taken by mouth, including other dogs, cats, and even people who may not want the dog to bother them.

Drop It: This is more difficult because the dog is to let go of something that is already in his mouth. This is often called “give”. The important thing about “drop it” is that the meaning for a dog is different: he ­already has possession so, in his mind, he already owns it. If you try to take it from him, he may growl, bite or run away to defend something that his instinct tells him is rightfully his. This makes “drop it” more complicated to teach, but just as important. What if he’s picked up something that is going to make him sick like that box of homemade fudge or walnut brownies?

When teaching the Drop it command, it is important NOT to force a dog to give something up (i.e. pry it from his jaws) as this could actually increase the likelihood of the dog “resource guarding” and becoming more unwilling to give the item up. (Of course, in an emergency, you may be tempted to force it, but bear in mind that you may be bitten!) Remember that resource guarding is not about rank or status, but about defending what they believe to be rightfully theirs – it is a basic survival instinct.

For dogs who already have resource guarding issues, I recommend taking it one step back, and teaching the word “drop it” without anything in the dog’s mouth. Simply say “drop it”, and then toss treats to the floor, pointing out the treats. Over time, you will work up to the dog having things in his mouth, starting with very low value items, and very gradually working up to higher value items. For a detailed demonstration of the process, described by noted trainer, Chirag Patel, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTiVOCNY4M

With both Leave it and Drop it, it is important to reward the dog in order to make leaving or dropping an item worthwhile. Simply taking something from a dog or forcing him to leave it by pulling on a leash may work with low value items, or when he’s on a leash, but often not otherwise. By trading for yummier treats, in both cases, the dog will learn that it’s worth obeying the commands.

If you have any problems in teaching these commands, particularly if your dog is exhibiting any amount of aggression, contact a qualified dog behavior counselor for additional advice.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season with your pooches!

Time to Retire

Soul dogs – or “heart dogs” as many people call them – are few and far between, even among those of us who surround ourselves with dogs. I have been fortunate to have two of them, both working champions, best friends, constant companions…

Sebboh, my first heart-dog, was adopted when I graduated from college. A shepherd-lab mix with a touch of husky, she was my constant companion, traveling with me everywhere I went between my home in Santa Barbara and my friends and family, dispersed across California. She was the dog that led me to discover agility and flyball in 1992, and brought me into the world of professional dog training that same year. I even traveled with her to South America for a year, to live in Chile on a work assignment. Without her I’m certain that I would not have made all the wonderful friends I still have in Chile as well as throughout California. In addition to agility and flyball, Sebboh and I worked with an organization offering pet assisted therapy, and she enriched many more lives as we visited nursing homes and hospitals across Santa Barbara.

After I lost Sebboh at the ripe age of 12 years, I thought I’d never have another such dog and promised myself that I’d never love another dog as much. Boy was I mistaken! Along came Claire, a lovely blue merle border collie pup, in the year after losing Sebboh. Claire is very different from Sebboh, yet in many ways, much the same.  A much higher energy and faster dog, Claire forced me to actually learn how to handle a dog in agility! No longer would it suffice to just be the runner that I am to keep up with my dog along a course! I had to learn to front cross, rear cross, threadle… not to mention manage to do all of these things ON TIME! It was a challenge, but we managed it together.

Clearing a tire jump in agility

Claire was a fantastic flyball dog as well. Earning her FGDCh (Grand Champion) she anchored many teams and loved to run fast just for the sake of running. Many a time in her early career, she would re-run herself even if we didn’t have an early pass, just because she loved it so much. Over the years, she became more consistent and continued to love it.

Running over hurdles

Flyball fun

Like Sebboh, Claire is a fantastic running partner, too. I’ve been a runner since I was 12 years old, and have always loved running with my dogs.

Claire is nearly 13 years old now, so I understand that she is getting up there in age, but we have continued to practice flyball and agility, and only recently did I decide to start running her at lower jump heights in the preferred category in agility to make things easier for her. She was still enjoying all the sports.

Herding

At our first herding trial

Unfortunately, last week, as we were preparing for our morning run, I suddenly noticed that Claire was having a hard time standing and keeping her balance. An emergency veterinary visit resulted in a diagnosis of Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome. We are very fortunate that it’s an extremely mild case, manifesting as mild dizziness and ataxia. The prognosis is very good for a complete or mostly complete recovery. But it is doubtful that she will return to actually competing in sports. That is the most difficult part for me to come to terms with: losing what may be the best sports and working partner that I’ve ever had.

Just before our first herding trial

The Soul Dog’s Kiss

Retirement should be fun and happy, but for a working dog, this can be challenging. She will need things to do in order to remain sane, so I’ll bring her back to agility classes to keep her mind working. I also hope to be able to start running with her again at some point, but we’ll see how that goes. I will miss having her by my side as much as I do, but I will do all that I can to help her retirement be as enjoyable as it could possibly be. I think that my friend/student said it best in an email note:

“Her sporting legacy carries on in all the people & dogs she’s been a role model for in your classes!”

I continue to give thanks that her prognosis is good, and in spite of her forced retirement, I look forward to several more great and fun years with my “curly girl” Claire.

That Ever Elusive “Reliable Recall”

Does your dog ignore you when you call him to you? Or does he have selective hearing, only coming when he knows you have a cookie, or if there is nothing more interesting going on? A solid “recall”, or come on cue, is one of the most important things that your dog can know, both for safety and convenience. And yet, it seems to be one of the most challenging of the cues to really master.

To teach a reliable recall, the first thing to keep in mind is that dogs do what works for them. If a behavior results in something pleasant, they’ll repeat the action; if it results in something unpleasant or boring, they’re unlikely to repeat it. Thus, if you call your dog to reprimand him – regardless of what he did prior to your calling – he won’t want to come running the next time you call. By contrast, if you call and reward him with a treat, you’ll improve the likelihood of him come running the next time.

Calling Claire

The recall is a key element in many dog sports, including flyball.

The best way to teach a dog to come reliably is to practice often, beginning with very low levels of distractions. Start in your living room or backyard, with nothing else going on, and call your dog’s name. When he turns toward you, give him a delicious tidbit. As he becomes more consistent, gradually increase the distraction level, rewarding each time.

As the level of difficulty and distractions increases, you will need to increase your level of rewards. When working in your living room or backyard, for instance, without distractions, you may use kibble or simple dog biscuits; at a local park, your dog is unlikely to respond to anything less than cheese, cooked meat, or smelly soft treats. And when your dog manages a very challenging recall away from a high distraction, consider giving a “jackpot”: this is 5-10 small treats in a row, given one by one just like the coins from a casino jackpot.

Once your dog is becoming reliable around lower level distractions, practice calling him in a variety of tones of voice, similar to the different situations you may encounter in real life. Be sure to tell him how good he is as soon as he turns toward you, and then reward profusely as soon as he gets to you.

When practicing the recall, keep in mind the following rules:

  1. Always reward the dog when he comes when called, whether it’s with a yummy treat or a scratch behind the ear. The reward should increase with the level of difficulty. There are a variety of ways of increasing a reward for your dog, including offering a jackpot of treats, offering a better treat (i.e. hot dog instead of kibble) or offering the treat with more enthusiasm.
  2. Never call your dog from a situation that you know he won’t come away from if you are not able to enforce it. For example, if your dog has chased a squirrel up a tree and he’s off leash, it’s better to go get him than to try to call him in vain. Otherwise, he will learn that hearing his name does not have that much importance.
  3. Never reprimand your dog when he comes to you. Whether you called him or not, if he approaches you and you reprimand him, he may not want to approach you next time. So, if he is in trouble, go to him to reprimand – don’t call him. And actually, nothing bad should ever happen when you have called your dog to you and he has come. This includes such things as nail trimmings (which most dogs hate) and other such unpleasant things. And remember that leaving a park can also be considered “bad” if the dog was still having fun! So if you frequent dog parks or other types of parks, be sure to call your dog often to reward him, then call him and divert his attention with a play session prior to actually leaving the park.

Practicing often and rewarding a lot are the best ways to build a reliable recall in your dog.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to take him everywhere, confident that he’ll come when called instead of running off.

Exercising Your Dog

We all know that exercise is important for all dogs, regardless of breed or temperament. I’ve also explained that, for many dogs, mental stimulation is also necessary to prevent them from going “stir crazy” around the house.

A fun play session

Even with a large yard to run around, an intelligent dog may require more mental stimulation in order to calm down in the evening. While a simple walk may not do, a walk around the neighborhood, combined with obedience exercises, could calm such a dog both mentally and physically.

Highly active dogs such as the working breeds often require even more than this. There are many options available today to work out a dog, including dog sports such as agility, flyball, and disc dogs, as well as breed-specific sports, such as herding and hunting.  If you’re not sure which sport to choose for your particular dog, your dog trainer could offer some suggestions.

Of course, time can often be a limiting factor in the exercise that our dogs get.  If this is your situation, due to work, travel, illness, or whatever the reason, there are many services available to support you in your endeavor to have a healthy and fit dog that can settle down around the house.

Doggy day care is a modern service where you drop off your dog for a day and he is allowed to play with other dogs in a supervised environment. Dogs are tested in advance for temperament and must be fully vaccinated.

<a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_3525356_dog-walker.html'>katemichaela / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Dog walkers often take groups of dogs out together

An alternative to day care is a dog walking service. Advantages to these services include controlled socialization to people and other dogs, better health, and the opportunity to take care of their “business” away from home, where the dog walker will dutifully scoop it up. Dog walkers can also offer basic obedience training to keep your dog sharp, as well as covering daily feedings and light medications if you are not able to be home during the day.

As the Romans said, “Mens sana in corpore sano”, that is “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” It applies to dogs as well as people!

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Last week I gave you a short run-down of canine body language, and how to respond to certain canine cues and signals. But, why is it important to understand your dog, or other people’s dogs, for that matter?

Of course, safety is the number one reason, and for this reason, several organizations have cropped up to explain canine body language in order to reduce dog bites to people, and particularly to children. In addition to safety, there is also the responsibility to your own dog to keep him safe and comfortable – what I call “respecting your dog”. In other words, beyond simply training your dog to understand and respond to your cues, actually allowing your dog the opportunity to communicate back to you is also important.

Respecting your dog means remembering that, in many cases, behavior that many consider “stubborn” may actually be a true lack of understanding of the cue being given; behavior that may be considered “insolent” could actually be a result of fear or pain; behavior that some consider “naughty” may actually be an attempt to communicate discomfort.

Years ago, in the days when leaving a dog on a “down-stay” outside a store was perfectly safe, I used to walk with my German shepherd dog, Nick, to the grocery store on errands for my mother. One summer day, he decided to stop walking nicely and tried to pull me across the parking lot; I grew frustrated as he forged ahead, insisting that he heel next to me and wondering what was going on with him. Days later, I was headed back to the store with him, only this time, I was barefoot. I took one step onto that pavement and immediately understood what my poor dog had tried to communicate to me – it was BURNING HOT. I had ignored my dog previously when I should have “listened” to him, and I felt terrible in that realization.

I often see clients with nervous or fearful dogs who tell me that their dog won’t stay on the “correct” side of them in certain parts of a neighborhood, or that the dog will pull on leash to pass certain houses (with resident barking dogs.) Instead of allowing their dog to switch sides, or speeding up the pace to allow their dog to get past that scary barker, they insist that their dogs are just being difficult. I’ve also witnessed unwitting owners reprimanding their tiny, frightened dogs for growling at the huge dog who suddenly stuck his face into their space. Recognizing your dog’s challenges and working with them instead of against them, this is respect!

In addition to being able to understand and respect your own dog, understanding canine body language can be tremendously beneficial in keeping you safe in encounters with strange dogs. Many a time I’ve had people tell me that they were frightened of dogs, and that all dogs hated them. I’m convinced that it’s not coincidental. When you take into account a fearful person’s response of eyes wide open and staring directly at the object of their fear, it is no wonder dogs respond poorly. In dog language, direct, face-on eye contact is usually considered a threat display, and many dogs will respond accordingly if a person looks at them this way. Dogs, on the other hand, turn their faces away from the thing they fear, while keeping their eyes on it sideways. This often results in the whites of the eyes showing, or what is known as “whale eye.”

Most of us want the best possible relationship with our dogs. Understanding our dogs’ body language and opening the door for two-way communication with them is a great first step toward taking our relationships to the next level.

Say What?

Among the many discussions that have been the buzz among dog trainers and behaviorists recently, a common theme is the topic of understanding dog body language. As professionals working with dogs, not understanding what a dog is trying to communicate to us can lead to serious injury, as we have recently seen happen to a popular television personality.

While many people understand the basic communications of dogs such as growling and happy tail wagging, there is so much more to dog communication. Although dogs do vocalize in a variety of ways to communicate, the majority of their communications are non-verbal. And just as tears and crying do not always signify sadness in humans, a wagging tail does not always mean a friendly or happy dog, and a growl does not always signal aggression. (There are “play growls” as well!)

How can you know just what a dog is trying to say to you? If you want the complete story, watch its entire body. Following are some basic tips for ‘reading’ a dog. By putting different cues together, you may get a better idea of what your dog (or your neighbor’s dog) is trying to tell you.

Ears – there are a variety of ear types and some are easier to read than others, but their general positions are similar. If the dog is communicating deference, the ears will typically be pulled back, or at half-mast in some dogs.  A curious dog will have its ears forward, possibly combined with a head-tilt. If the ears are far forward and the dog is standing tall and leaning forward, that could be a sign of a potentially aggressive attitude.

Eyes – Windows to the soul, this applies to dogs as well.  If you have an affectionate dog at home, you are, no doubt, familiar with the ‘soft eyes’ of the polite, loving dog.  ‘Hard eyes’ that stare directly can be a challenge, while averted eyes, often coupled with a head-turn, mean that the dog does not wish to interact.  This is averted head is commonly seen when a young, rambunctious dog approaches an older dog that does not want to play.

Lips/Mouth – Most people understand that raised lips in a snarl are an aggressive display. However, many dogs also raise their lips in a canine submissive grin. The difference is that the lips are pulled back for the grin instead of forward, and the eyes remain soft or sometimes even closed completely. Again, it’s important to see what the rest of the dog is doing to determine what is really being communicated.

Tail – The movement of the tail is less important than the position. Keeping in mind that some dogs have naturally high or naturally low tail carriages, a very high tail indicates more confidence, while a lowered tail indicates respect or nervousness. A truly happy dog will have its tail at a neutral level – straight out – and wagging widely. And most of us have seen the dogs whose entire bodies wag in the unmistakable sign of joy.Fearful Dog Body Language

When we put it all together, it’s most important to take things in context. Just as “your dog is the best” can be construed in many ways, depending on the person’s facial expression and which word is most emphasized, so is canine body language. One of the easiest ways to learn is to observe your own dog in situations with which you are familiar. Note the tail, ears, eyes, etc and remember what the overall dog is doing. Thus, when placed in an unfamiliar situation, it will be much easier to understand exactly what your dog is trying to communicate.

Watching other dogs play and interact can also be helpful. Once we understand our dogs’ signals and attempts to communicate, how then should we respond? Of course, the happy dog has an easy answer: pet him or play with him! With the fearful and angry dogs, things are not so simple.

While many people feel compelled to try to help a frightened animal “feel better” by talking in a soothing tone and continuing to approach, this could lead to serious injury for both of you! Frightened animals often lash out in attempts to defend themselves from perceived threats. If a dog appears afraid it is wise to keep your distance. If the dog is unfamiliar, consider calling in an expert such as an animal control officer to handle it. If you are stuck in a small space with such an animal, do not make direct eye contact. If it’s your own dog and he needs help (i.e. he’s injured), you might try covering him completely with a blanket, though he may still bite.

And what if the dog that you are approaching growls? Growling is an often misunderstood signal. While many people view the aggression and feel the need to “prove” to the dog that they are not frightened, or feel that they must remain “dominant”, a growl is an important warning signal. For this reason, modern trainers with the top credentials now recommend never to punish your own dog for growling, and to heed the growl and back off.

I’ll stop here to elaborate on the growl. Consider two people with guns: the first yells at you as you approach, saying “I have a gun, please leave”, while the second person surprises you and shoots you unexpectedly. Which person would you prefer to face? I personally would prefer the person who warns me and gives me the opportunity to leave. This is the person who does not wish to shoot me, but fears that they may have to. So it is with a growl. But if a dog is repeatedly punished for growling, then his warning signal (“back off please”) is eliminated, and he will be forced to bite without warning when his threshold has been breached.

So, what should you do if your dog is growling? In such a case you will be better suited to determine his reasons for growling, and spend some time teaching him that growling it is not necessary. Of course, when in doubt, call in a professional to help you to resolve the issue, and make certain that the methods used do not escalate your dog’s issues.

With other people’s dogs, avoid confrontation in order to avoid injury; step slowly away, keeping your head turned so as not to make direct eye contact. If the dog is on a leash in the control of another person, do not approach that person as it could make it more difficult for them to control the dog.

If you have additional questions about canine body language or how to respond to dogs’ signals, I highly recommend the book, “Canine Body Language” by Brenda Aloff, as well as websites such as Dr. Sophia Yin’s website and other similar sites.

Surf’s Up!

I often get updates on the dogs with which I have worked, telling me how well they are doing or showcasing some special talent. Few things give me more satisfaction in my job than to see a dog that has grown into a focused athlete or performance dog. Seeing a former student perform an amazing Canine Freestyle routine, or run a clean and fast agility course, or finish a successful flyball race. Although most dog sports are considered “individual events”, I consider them all team sports, as the dog and handler must work in close communication in order to succeed.

Of all of the dog-handler teams that I have coached, Abbie and Michael are among those that make me the most proud.

Abbie poses with surfboard

Michael, Abbie and C

Among other things, Abbie is a Guinness World Record holding surfing dog. I met Abbie and Michael years ago, when they showed up in my basic training class. Abbie was a young Kelpie, and Michael’s first dog, adopted from the Humane Society Silicon Valley. She had been found near death along the side of the road and taken to the shelter. Being drawn to high drive dogs, I saw the potential in her right away, and set my mind to encourage Michael to get involved in dog sports or other activities. My thought was to keep Abbie’s busy mind as occupied as possible so that she would not become a problem for him. He picked up the proverbial ball, and ran with it, moving through my series of classes into sports preparation. What I loved about Michael was his desire to learn as much as he could about working with his high energy dog. He would frequently call me with questions, or asking for training suggestions on certain topics.

When he announced that they were moving to San Diego, I was sad at not getting to see them, but wished them well and asked Michael to keep in touch. As with many clients, though, I did not really expect to hear from him. I was pleasantly surprised to continue to get notices from him about the various activities that he was doing with Abbie, including achieving her Canine Good Citizen certificate and Junior Herding Dog title.

But the really exciting news started coming when Michael introduced Abbie Girl to surfing! Unlike many dogs who are trained very gradually, Michael put Abbie on a board just as a way to rest when they were out swimming in the ocean. Abbie took to it right away, and has been a surfing fanatic ever since.

Abbie catches a wave at Surf Dog competition

As I always emphasize in my classes and with my clients, dog training, particularly in sports, is all about relationship. And when people have nervous dogs, as Abbie was when she was young, I tell them that they must do all that they can to convince their dogs to trust them completely. One of the keys to the relationship that Michael has with Abbie is what he now calls “Trust, Not Training”. This does not mean that he does not train Abbie, but it does mean that he won’t convince her to do something that is against her nature or frightening for her. Instead, he has taught her to trust him completely, and she happily and willing does things for him – and with him – because her trust in him is exceptional.

With this philosophy, Michael has accomplished with Abbie what many people wouldn’t dream of, and he takes her with him on all kinds of excursions from hiking and mountain biking to surfing and paragliding. His work with her has landed them commercial spots, including a segment on the Dogs 101 TV program, as well as a lovely piece for the San Diego tourism board.

Michael continues to promote Abbie’s accomplishments and has since landed spots for her in movies, including the 2010 feature film, Marmaduke. Through the bond that they share together, Abbie and Michael can accomplish anything, and I consider them role models for anyone who loves dogs and truly wants a relationship with a dog that is beyond just “master and dog”.

If you are interested in following Abbie Girl in her continuing adventures, check out her Facebook Page and Website (coming soon).

How Much Is That Doggy In the Window?

Choosing a New Canine Companion for Your Household

 While most of you reading this already have dogs, you may be considering getting another dog, either now or in the future. When first considering this, most people think in general terms: “I want… a big dog; or a dog that doesn’t shed; or a dog that needs little exercise”.

While these are valid questions, they are the tip of the iceberg. Whether you want a purebred dog or a mixed breed, a rescue or from a breeder, there are many more questions that you should ask yourself and your family prior to bringing home a new canine companion.

If you have a dog already at home, the first question to ask is, “does my dog need or want a sibling?” Some dogs simply don’t do well with other dogs at home, even if they enjoy playing with other dogs outside the home. If this is the case, you may find yourself with more problems than solutions. It’s also important to keep in mind that, similar to people, dogs have different personalities, and most cannot be expected to get along perfectly with every other dog they meet. (Do you know of any adult human who has never had an argument?) When considering another dog, consider your current dog’s personality. Is he pushy? Overly shy? Is she rambunctious and playful? Ideally, it’s a good idea to take your dog to meet the potential sibling in a neutral place to be sure they are going to be compatible.

Once you’ve decided on the ideal companion type for your current dog, ask yourself and your family the following:

  • How much time do we have to spend with a new dog?
  • Do we want an active dog or a sedate dog?
  • What do we want to do with our dog? Dog sports? Family outings? Quiet time in front of the TV?
  • Do we have space for an active dog? A small yard? Or do I want to run daily with my dog?
  • What size of a dog do we have the space for at home?
Kovu Jumps

If you’re seeking a high-energy, smart and affectionate boy, Kovu may be your ideal companion.

Keep in mind that space and size are not always directly related. A large, quiet dog might easily live in an apartment, while a smaller, but highly active dog may need a much larger yard – unless someone will run with him regularly. And some homeowners associations and apartment complexes have size restrictions as well.

Additional considerations include the size of your family; ages of the children; how often you have visitors; the general activity level of the household; and other pets who may need to be considered, such as cats or other small animals. A high energy dog with a strong prey drive may not be a good choice if you have a cat, for instance.

Adidas runs on the beach

If a smaller sports dog is more to your liking, consider Adidas, a terrier mix.

Once you’ve decided on the size, activity level, and temperament of the dog you want, your work is not finished. Consider doing more research on your chosen breed(s) or mix. Google, talk to breeders and enthusiasts, go see them at shows and ask lots of questions.

Finally, the decision of whether to get a puppy or an adult dog is also important and there are advantages to each. With a puppy, you can start “from scratch”, training it up exactly as you want. With an adult dog, the potty training and destructiveness are often completed, but it may be difficult to know what he’s been through, and there may be some re-training required.

If you are considering a dog for dog sports, consider checking out our High Drive Dogs Listing Service. And check out your local shelters. The ideal sports dog often has a preference for humans over other dogs and takes direction easily. If the dog you are considering is in foster care, ask whether he or she is able to focus on tasks or whether he gets easily distracted by the environment.

Whether you choose a puppy or adult dog, do your research and consider carefully. Picking a dog or puppy because it’s really cute, or is the color you like, can have disastrous consequences if the temperament is not a good match for your family. Given the choice between looks and temperament, I will choose the right temperament every time, and I strongly recommend this tactic.

Resource Guarding – The Misunderstood Problem

What is wrong with my dog?

Recently, there has been much discussion about resource guarding, particularly since a certain famous self-proclaimed dog trainer incited a dog to bite him while guarding her food dish. There are many misconceptions about what dog experts call “resource guarding”, that is, the act of guarding something that a dog considers of value. This could include food, treats, toys and even people and other companion animals. The most common type of resource guarding, and the most misunderstood, is that involving food.

While there are various ideas among dog lovers as to why a dog might guard his food, the main reason is simply instinct. Guarding of resources is an innate survival impulse.  According to the natural law of animals, “what is in my mouth or between my paws is mine.” There is no disputing this. If you try to take something from the dog that he doesn’t wish to part with, he will often feel that it is his “right” to guard it. This has nothing to do with status seeking; instinct tells animals that if they don’t guard their food, they may starve to death. Can you imagine a non-resource guarding dog in the wild? It would not survive.

For a more human perspective, think about U.S. law: it states that a search without a warrant is unlawful. If the police show up without one and you lock your doors, you are not defying authority; you are exercising your rights under the law as you understand it. So it is with dogs. A dog that guards food or toys is not defying your authority. He is simply asserting his rights under his perception of the natural law.

This is MINE… stay away!

One of the reasons that many people have a hard time understanding this is that we have bred the resource guarding instinct out of a lot of dogs over the centuries, so they simply won’t do it. Think of the majority of Labradors and Golden Retrievers – not only have they lost their instinct to resource guard, but they and many other dogs actively seek to bring you things!

So, how do you teach your dog to give up a cherished resource?  If you are fortunate enough to begin with a puppy, teaching a “drop it” command is an easy first step. Start by giving the pup a toy that he considers low in value.  When it’s firmly in his mouth, tell him “drop it” as you wave a tasty treat in front of his nose. As soon as he lets go of the toy, give him the treat. Then return the toy to him.  By receiving the toy back, the pup will learn that responding to “drop it” is always worthwhile.  Otherwise, a smart pup may actually begin to weigh options: “do I prefer this or that?” As the “drop it” response improves, work with gradually higher value items, until you can tell him to drop a meaty bone, give him a treat, and return the bone to him.

With a puppy at the food bowl, walk nearby while he’s eating. As you go by, toss a yummier morsel into the bowl, such as a piece of hotdog or cheese.  As the pup becomes comfortable with your being closer, slowly work up to picking up the bowl, dropping in the treat, and setting it back down. This teaches the pup that good things come when someone takes your food bowl. Eventually, the pup will be happy to have you nearby when he’s eating.

Hand-feeding is also easy to incorporate into your puppy’s routine – there is no rule that meals must be served in a bowl. By hand-feeding your dog, you have the opportunity to further improve your relationship, remind him that you are the source of good things, and emphasize that having you around while he is eating is a positive thing. This is particularly beneficial with puppies, but can be incorporated with adult dogs as well.

What if you have an adult dog that is already resource guarding? The process in this case must proceed much more slowly. You can start by simply teaching the dog that “drop it” means there are tidbits of food on the floor, as in the video by Domesticated Manners. Over time, you can eventually move to the point where the dog will actively drop items in his mouth when he hears the words “drop it.”

If your dog is a serious resource guarder, to the point of being dangerous, or if he displays resource guarding around people or companion animals, talk to a professional behavior counselor or trainer for assistance, and make sure they are using the most modern methods. Note the completely different techniques and vastly superior results in this video from my colleague, Lisa Mullinax, as she teaches a dog not to guard a food bowl.

Most importantly, remember the natural law and try not to break it outright. With patience and consistency, you can teach your dog that it is to his benefit to give up the things that you ask for and thus he won’t feel the need to guard them from you.