Where will Fido stay?

Choosing a Kennel or Dog Sitter for the Holidays

I hate to admit this, but it is time to be preparing for the holidays. While many of us will be off to visit family and friends across the country or abroad, some of us will not be able to take our dogs (and other pets) along with us. The question for pet lovers is “what do we do with our pets while we’re away?”

Of course, a luxury resort would be great!

While bringing pets – particularly dogs – on a trip can be fun, it’s not always practical and, may not really be in the best interest of the pet. Before deciding to bring Fido or Fluffy along, consider what his accommodations will be and how much time can be devoted to him. Will he be left alone for long periods while you’re off doing family things? And just as importantly, will your high energy pet be welcome if he gets stressed out and starts to destroy things, or bark or whine excessively? If these are concerns for your dog, then leaving him home may be less stressful for everyone.

Once that decision is made, the next question is “who should care for him?” Many people opt to have a neighbor watch over the home. This is a good option if you have a dependable, caring neighbor who knows and loves your pets. Unfortunately, during the holidays, neighbors may also be traveling or busy with their own families, so they may not even be available.

The next best thing to being home with your pets is to have a home service care for them while you’re away. Look for a reliable service and ask for references.  There are services in most communities that will watch over your pets and take care of other household needs such as bringing in mail, putting out the trash, and watering plants. There are many advantages to this type of service, but the most important is that your pets won’t have the added stress of being away from their home. For many dogs and cats, this is far less stressful than a kennel environment.

If an in-home service is not for you, the next option is to kennel your pets. The advantage of this is that your pets may get more supervision than in your own home. If your dog is sociable with other dogs and with people, there may also be doggie day care and boarding options available in your area. Keep in mind that the quality doggie day care providers all require pre-admission evaluations, and most require at least a few day visits prior to any overnight stay to reduce the likelihood of the dog becoming overly stressed during his stay. So get in touch well before your departure date in order to be ready in time.

We’ll make sure Santa is well received in your absence!

Remember that most pet care providers book up well in advance of the holidays. Don’t wait until the last minute to make arrangements or you may be left with few options. If you’re in doubt as to what would be best for your particular pet, your local trainer or behavior counselor may be able to provide advice as well as referrals to the best options in your area.


I’m OK. Are you OK?

The little dog, some kind of terrier mix, nervously paced back and forth in the shopping cart at the pet store where I was in between class sessions. I had been called up by the cashier to talk to them about their dog’s behavior problems at home, where he was destructive and had house soiling challenges, though he’d been previously housebroken. As I began to talk with the couple, I could already sense the hostility between them. Then, like a volcano, it erupted. At the tops of their voices, they shouted at one another. Shoppers heading to the cash registers turned 180 degrees to find other things to buy rather than continue to approach. I was stuck there, looking down at the now trembling little dog, desperately wishing to send him a telepathic apology, “I wish I could help you, but I can’t”. What this couple needed was a marriage therapist, not a dog trainer.

While this true account is an extreme example, the gist of the problem is not unique in the work of a dog trainer or dog behavior counselor. Periodically, I work with families trying to draw me into their disagreements, with comments such as “can you tell (a family member) that she has to (fill in the blank)”. On other occasions, I’ve arrived at sessions that were supposed to include all family members only to have someone blatantly missing from the meeting, or clearly annoyed by my presence. This is the least enjoyable part of my work, and at such times I wish I could just hand them the business card of a local Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist to contact instead.

Anthropologist, Brian Hare, recently demonstrated in studies that dogs are masters at reading human social cues. While many of us who grew up with dogs already knew this, it is nice when someone does a scientific study that validates what we know in our hearts. While there are many benefits of this, including the ease of training and the connections that this allows us to make with our canine companions, there are pitfalls as well. Specifically, dogs that have close connections with their humans will be affected by their emotions, whether positive or negative.

When I was in high school, my German Shepherd Dog, Nick, was particularly attuned to my ever-changing adolescent moods. One day, when I was sad about who knows what, I took him for a walk in the park. Once off-leash, he ran full speed toward a puddle of water. The puddle turned out to be deeper than he’d thought, resulting in his stumbling and getting his entire face wet. When I giggled lightly, he stopped, looked at me, and then proceeded to repeat this behavior several times until I was heartily laughing out loud. Laughing is good, sad is bad. Any dog with a close human relation understands this.

Smile and the world will smile with you...

This being the case, we have to consider that our dogs may be affected by our other emotions as well. My Border Collie, Claire, leaves the room whenever there is football on TV, because in her 12-1/2 years of life, my San Francisco 49ers have unfortunately had more bad years than good years. She doesn’t like it when I yell, even if it’s at the TV.

But what is there to do? We can’t change what we feel, or suppress our emotions just for the sake of our dogs, right? Of course not, but I do recommend doing what you can not to have loud screaming fights in the presence of your dog if you can avoid it. More importantly, try to be aware of how your behavior and routine affects that of your dog. A change as seemingly minor as a job change, which we may think is transparent to our dogs (we still get up, go to work, etc.) can actually affect our dogs if they sense that our mood has changed.

If you are having problems with your dog’s behavior and you think that it may be at least partly due to challenges you are facing yourself, consider the possibility that a personal counselor or a life coach may be as worthwhile an investment as a professional dog trainer. In less stressful times, try to remain diligent about continuing your dog’s physical and mental exercise routines to reduce his or her stress level. Playing games can be mutually beneficial, whether it is a nice game of ball retrieving, a hearty tug of war with a favorite toy, or your favorite dog sport.

I read a reminder recently that, in a plane going down, it’s important to first make sure that your own oxygen mask is securely in place before you can effectively assist others. Using the same principal with regard to your dog can go a long way to keeping everyone’s stress levels at bay. Do what you can to improve your mental and emotional stability, and your dog’s behavior should reflect this positive change.

Dog Scouts of America

If you are looking for something interesting and fun to do with your dog, but the popular dog sports are not your thing, why not consider Dog Scouts?  This non-profit organization was founded in 1995 by Lonnie Olson, whose original goal was to do as many different things as she could with her dogs. Per the Dog Scouts website:

If you believe that dogs really enjoy learning new things and spending time with their owners, you’re our kind of dog person.  Dogs were not meant to be “furniture.”  Working dogs want to work.  Without having an acceptable activity in which to use up all of that energy that comes “built-in” with a dog, our canine companions often get into trouble. By better understanding how your dog thinks, how he learns, and what drives his behavior, and by participating in a variety of dog sports and activities, you will become a more responsible dog owner. We hope to prevent misunderstandings, communication failures and behavioral problems which often lead to dogs being given up as a ‘lost cause.’

While, due to my involvement in several dog sports, I’ve not had the time to get very involved with our local troop here in the Silicon Valley, I am in close contact with several people who are, and have had the opportunity to offer some learning lectures to them as well as attending several meetings.

“Our dog’s lives are much shorter than ours- let’s help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can.” — Dog Scout Owner’s Motto, from the DSA Website, www.dogscouts.org

After filling out an application of several pages, the new dog scouts members are welcomed to train with the local troop. They learn about training, proper socialization, and how to be good canine citizens. They then take a number of tests which must be videotaped and sent to the dog scouts headquarters. After passing these tests, they get to be official dog scouts. Then they go on to merit badges! Badges range in a wide variety of areas, including many dog sports and activities such as hiking, kayaking, and community services such as therapy dog work.

Troop 198 at Humane Society Silicon Valley

In the Silicon Valley, Troop 198 meets at the Humane Society Silicon Valley on a monthly basis. They work together to achieve official membership and merit badges, in addition to offering interesting meeting topics and guest presenters such as police dog handlers.

The DSA mission is “To improve the lives of dogs, their owners, and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement.” If this resonates with you and you are interested in expanding your dog’s world, consider looking into – or starting – a Dog Scouts troop near you.

Quiet Please!

Many people live with and around dogs that bark too much. If you have a high drive dog, then barking could be particularly challenging. Barking can be a nuisance.  And if a neighbor complains it can also become a legal issue. But before your dog’s – or your neighbor’s dog’s – barking issues can be addressed, it helps to understand why he or she is barking. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Following is a list of possible triggers, and how they might be handled:

Barking for attention

A bored dog may not have anything more interesting to do than to bark.  Yelling at him to be quiet will typically only make matters worse, as he’ll consider this attention, and thus rewarding. Just like children, bad attention is better than no attention at all. If your dog is bored, he needs an outlet for his energy. Consider getting up earlier to walk or play ball with him, and give him more mental exercise. Additionally, giving him toys or chew treats may keep him occupied while you’re away.

Barking at prey animals

If a dog is prey driven – as so many are – he may not be able to resist chasing critters that run by. In this case, teaching the dog to re-direct attention to a toy or game is helpful when you are around to reinforce the new behavior. When you are away, keep the dog separated from areas where squirrels play. As an alternative, a motion detector sprinkler can be a great way to keep small animals away from the yard.

Barking at perceived intruders

Known as alarm barking, most people want their dogs to bark at intruders this way. It’s their job!  However, excessive barking can be a problem. Here again, yelling at the dog to be quiet seldom works.  Instead, first acknowledge the “intruder” by looking directly at him/her/it and then praising the dog. (“Good watch dog.”)  Next, tell the dog “quiet now” and lure him away with a treat. Tell him to sit, down or some other trick and give him the treat. If he attempts to go back to barking at the “intruder”, call him away with an “ah-ah” and ask for additional tricks in exchange for treats.  Over time, the long process won’t be necessary and a simple “Good watch dog, quiet now” will suffice to quiet him down. If your dog is a persistent barker, you may add a “time out” – 30 seconds to 2 minutes of isolation – whenever he goes back to bark at something after you have praised him and called him away the first time.

Barking when left alone

Some dogs bark when left alone for extended periods of time. If your dog does this, it could be due to boredom or it could potentially be separation anxiety. If your dog is bored, then increasing his mental stimulation, as described under “attention barking” above, could help to alleviate this. However, if your dog has separation anxiety, then it is important to treat this very challenging condition with the help of a professional behavior counselor and/or veterinary behaviorist. Some helpful management tactics include doggy day care, or getting a sitter to spend time with your dog during the day. Please note that separation anxiety is also best diagnosed by a professional, so when in doubt, consider calling one.

If you have a serious barking dog challenge, contact your local dog trainer. He or she can help you to teach your dog to be more polite. Telling your neighbors that you are working with the trainer for the barking can also go a long way to build rapport and keep them from taking legal action against you.

Crate Rest and the High Drive Dog

Some years ago, Claire, my Border collie, was injured and required to “crate rest” for 10 days. As I was leaving the vet office, I told my vet that she was a working dog, to which he answered “it’s time for a vacation.” Clearly, he didn’t understand about working dogs!

If you have a high drive dog, and find yourself in this unenviable position of having to keep her quiet due to some sort of injury or illness, you know how challenging it can be. Following are some options for keeping your pooch mentally stimulated while limiting physical activity. In this manner, your dog may be (at least somewhat) less restless during convalescence.

Poor poor Buzz hurt his foot

NOTE: Not all of these exercises may be suitable for all dogs. Please consult with your veterinarian to determine which exercises would be best suited for working around your dog’s specific malady.

Find it: Start with teaching a simple “find it” by tossing kibble or treats to the ground where your dog can easily see them land then move to eat them. As she starts to understand, proceed to dropping a treat while she’s looking in another direction, and then tell her to find it. Once she is proficient at doing this, then you can take the treats and roll them into folds of a towel or old blanket. Put the blanket into your dog’s crate and encourage her to “find it” using her nose and digging into the blanket.

A related game is to hide the treats under cups.  Set out three cups, with a treat under one of them. Ask your dog to “find it”, and see how long it takes her to choose the correct cup. When she finds it, give her a jackpot of additional treats. As she gets better at choosing the appropriate cup, start to reward her extra only when she chooses the correct cup on the second try or better, then eventually only give her extra treats when she chooses the correct cup on the first try.

Object discrimination: This is learning to distinguish between the names of different objects, usually toys. Start with a single toy, and ask your dog to take it, i.e. “take the ball”. Proceed to hand her the toy. If your dog doesn’t like to take things in her mouth, you can simply accept a nose touch to the item. Reward with a treat, and repeat. When she is readily taking the ball on cue, switch to another toy, i.e. “take the bone”. (Be sure the words you use are sufficiently different! Note that words like Phone and Bone may not be distinguishable to some dogs.) Use only the bone for a few days. Once your dog is proficient at taking the bone, try with both items – one in each hand – and tell her to take one specifically. At first, say the cue then move the correct item toward her a little bit to give her the hint. Be sure to move the item AFTER saying the cue so she doesn’t ignore the verbal cue and just take what you hand to her. Soon, you may stop moving and let her choose the toy. If she chooses correctly, she either gets the toy to play, or a treat. If she chooses incorrectly, take both toys away and just say “oops”. If she is incorrect, return to giving her the hint by moving the correct item toward her after giving the cue.

Puzzle Toys: Interactive puzzle toys are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog without quite so much work, for those days when additional training time is just not part of your schedule. These work by allowing your dog to use her brain to solve puzzles in order to find the food and/or treats hidden within. Most of these do require a bit of training at first to help the dog determine what is to be done, but once they learn the process, then they will go on to puzzle solving on their own, and you can take the puzzles to a higher level of difficulty. Find many puzzle toys at the Clicker Training Store online.

Tricks: There are a wide variety of stationary tricks that may be taught to a crate-resting dog. Here are just a few.

Left and Right turns – useful in a variety of sports, left and right turns are also a very easy, in-position trick to teach a dog.  Start by facing toward your dog, remembering that your right is her left and vice versa. Practice left and right turns separately (i.e. left turns in one session, right turns in another session) by tossing treats for your dog to see. Ask for a “watch me” and then release the dog with a “right” or “left” cue followed by your release or “take it” cue. As the dog starts to understand the directions, begin dropping the treat while the dog is looking in another direction, then release with the directional cue.  Remember to only practice one direction in any given practice session for at least the first several days, until the dog is consistently turning in the correct direction.

If your dog is severely restricted in terms of movement, this exercise can be practiced in place, with the dog lying down, and setting the treats to the side of the dog instead of tossing them. NOTE: the left and right turns are simply head turns of approximately 90 degrees. Once the dog understands turns, then her body will naturally follow where her head is looking once she is in motion.

Left paw / right paw – This is simply a paw shake with either paw. Many people call this “Paw” and “Other Paw”. If your dog already knows it, it can be practiced from lying down as simply a forward extension of her paw. At first, make it easy by putting your hand near the paw that you are requesting. Over time, ask for the paw without the physical cue, but give her the hint if she don’t get it on the verbal cue.

Shake head yes/no – Easily lured (side-to-side or up-and-down) these can also be shaped using clicker training. The cues could be “say yes” and “say no”, or you could choose clever questions to which your dog could respond, such as “do you want a cookie” (nod yes) and “how about a bath” (nod no).

Touch body parts – if your dog is able to move physically, but just not allowed to jump and play, then this could be another good option.  If you have clicker trained your dog, you can free-shape this with simple head turns. If not, you can lure her to touch certain body parts with her nose. For example, to touch her tail, lure her nose to her tail, then mark and reward. When she is readily moving her nose to her tail, you can start to put the cue of “tail” (or “find your tail”) before guiding her to touching her tail. Once she is proficient at this trick, you can add more body parts that are easily accessible to your dog’s nose, such as her hips, front and rear feet, etc.

Crate rest is no fun

Like people, most dogs need mental as well as physical exercise on a regular basis to remain well-adjusted and content. High energy, intelligent dogs, can become particularly distressed when they are not able to work at all. Giving them at least some mental exercise on a daily basis may substantially reduce their stress, and thus improve the healing process.

Weekend Warriors

The Olympics are over, but I can’t stop thinking about the elite athletes, and how inspired and moved I always am by their dedication. They train every single day, not just practicing their specific sports, but also strength building, stretching, and all manner of conditioning exercises to achieve optimum fitness. This is why they are the best in the world, but it also reduces their likelihood of injuries.

We’ve all heard of the “Weekend Warriors”. Most of us have at least one or two friends who are such athletes, competing in their chosen sports once per week as their only regular exercise. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to exercise more, but many of them are so busy during the week that they just don’t have the time. Unfortunately, the term “weekend warrior” is also commonly heard along with the word “injury.” According to some authorities, Weekend Warriors are more likely to incur injuries than athletes who train more consistently.

So why should dogs be any different?  I have colleagues and friends for whose dogs the weekend training sessions are most of the exercise that they get for the week. These dogs might go for a walk or two during the week, but otherwise spend most of their time inside their homes or apartments with little physical exercise. Now I’m not remotely suggesting that they have bad lives – they get to sleep on beds, hang out on the couch with their owners, and play nice games of tug or fetch down hallways – but they are not getting the exercise needed to maintain the fitness levels to safely compete in some of the high-octane sports that they do.

Swimming is another good form of exercise if your dog likes water.

They are Weekend Warriors. And like their human counterparts, I see them injured more often than their fitter friends. Injuries appear to occur suddenly, and often surface at practice or in class, when the dog is running drills or otherwise exerting itself.

If one is going to compete in a high-exertion sport, particularly one that involves jumping or turning, such as agility, then fitness really should be a priority. In addition to training sessions within the given sport, athletes should get several days per week of solid cardiovascular exercise. I recognize that not everyone is a runner, or can afford a training treadmill for their dogs, but there are other options, such as a solid retrieving session, or a good romp with a playmate. If your dog is not well-suited to a dog park, then a play date might be in order with a dog whose company he does enjoy. Other options for exercising dogs include cycling with them (I recommend the use of a rear-axle fitted device) or hiring a dog walker who may be able to take your dog out for longer jaunts. And some dogs, given a bit of playful encouragement, may even go into “zoomies” on their own.

Regardless of the type of fitness exercise that you choose for your dog, be sure to check with your veterinarian to confirm that he or she is healthy enough to embark on a conditioning program. For further information about canine fitness, check out the work of Christine Zink, DVM, who specializes in canine fitness and sports.

Now, get off the couch and get some exercise!

Though sometimes, a nap is well-deserved!

World’s best running partner

With the Olympics in full swing, my favorite events are now televised: the track and field events. I have been a runner pretty much my entire life,. In the early days I would sometimes be asked by naive passersby if I needed a ride somewhere. My running attire included jeans or jean shorts, and whatever sneakers I happened to have on. Luckily for me, by the time I entered Middle School, I had a coach, and was able to get some proper attire. I started running with Nick, my German shepherd dog, right about that time as well.

Most dogs already know the joy of running

Over the years, I continued to run, throughout high school and then on a track scholarship in college. And in spite of the wonderful friends that I have made in the lanes and on the trails, my favorite running partners have always been my dogs. The don’t complain about rain or cold or having to get up too early, and I have never been stood up for a morning run by a dog who had been out too late the night before. Not surprisingly, my daughter is already learning the joy of a dog as a running partner as well.

Yet, running with a dog entails more than just putting on the leash and heading out the door. Like people, dogs must be in suitable condition to run, and in spite of their lack of complaining, weather and other factors can absolutely affect them.

First, there is basic conditioning – just like people, dogs must take the time to gain conditioning. If you are already a runner, as I am, I recommend taking your dog on a short warm up of your run at first, running a short loop, then dropping him off at home before completing the rest of your run without him. In this manner, you can feel that you’ve had your full run without pushing the dog beyond his capabilities.

Our daily runs also keep us in shape for flyball and other sports.

If you have a young dog, be sure to consult with your veterinarian, and don’t start running him for extended distances until his growth plates are mostly closed. I start training my medium-sized dogs (border collies) at about 9 or 10 months, and don’t run them at full distances until over a year of age. With the larger breeds, I’d wait longer than that. Note that the breed and size of the dog may be determining factors in maximum running distances. I’m a middle distance runner, so it’s never been a problem, but if you are an ultra-runner, consider your dog’s breed and condition before taking him along on your longer runs.

It’s important to understand that a dog will often not tell you if he’s had too much until it’s too late, so be aware of the signs of overheating in a dog which include a darkened tongue, labored breathing, stiffness of gait, and hyper-salivation (excessive drooling). Dogs also tend to overheat at more moderate temperatures than many humans, so don’t take your dog out if the weather is particularly warm. I have cut short runs with my dogs when I was raring to go on, but I realized that the heat would not be good for them. Brachycephalic dogs (with flat noses such as boxers and bulldogs) can overheat even more quickly, so must be monitored even more closely.

As to training, while I allow my dogs to wander to the ends of their leashes on walks, I insist on heel at my side while running. This is more for safety than anything else, as a wandering dog may get underfoot, tripping you and potentially injuring itself. I recommend against taking a dog running until he knows at least the basics of leash manners, and does not have reactivity issues on leash. If you are fortunate enough to find off-leash places to run with your dog, then a solid recall is a must, as well as a really good leave it command. And even in off-leash settings, a good heel at your side is useful for those times when you need your dog close in order to keep him out of trouble.

Running with your dog can be a most relaxing and enjoyable bonding experience, as well as a great way to stay in shape together with your best friend. Just be sure not to overdo it, and let your dog determine how far is far enough. And if you are unsure as to whether your dog is well-suited to running with you, consult with your veterinarian first to assure that it will be OK for him to do.

Still More Fun and Games: Dog Sports Part 2

Some weeks ago, I offered a run-down of some of the most popular dog sports available in the U.S. today. Of course, the list was nowhere near comprehensive, and even with this installment, I know that there will be others left to cover. Nevertheless, here are descriptions of a few more of the popular (or should I say “pupular”?) dog sports available today.

Traditional Obedience is perhaps one of the oldest competition activities available for dogs in the U.S. While the foundation includes heeling, stays and recalls, in the more advanced levels, retrieves are included, as well as finding scent articles and jumping over hurdles. Originally only open to purebred dogs, the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry changed all this in the late 1980s. More recently, the AKC opened up all of their performance competitions (not conformation) to mixed breeds, allowing anyone to compete via their Canine Partners program.

Down-Stay is an important cue in many sports (photo by Tonya Jensen)

Carting is another option that can now be enjoyed by virtually any healthy dog. Carting competitions include pulling the carts through obstacle courses that include gates as well as requiring the dog to back up, stay and move forward with the cart attached. Sometimes called “dryland mushing”, carting is also used to keep sled dogs in shape during the warmer months.

Skijoring, is like sledding without the sled! While most popular in colder climates, it can also be enjoyed anywhere there is snow during the winter. Skijoring is a sport where dogs pull their humans, who are on cross-country skis. Typically, a person will have between 1-3 dogs pulling them. The beauty of this sport is that both human and dog(s) get a great deal of exercise. Most skijoring competitions are between 3 and 12 miles long, though there is one race of nearly 100 miles held in the Yukon every year.

Another high-octane sport that originally only allowed specific breeds is lure coursing. While the AKC competitions are open only to sight hound breeds such as greyhounds and whippets, many local clubs have opened up fun runs to other breeds in recent years. In lure coursing, the dogs follow a lure – often a plastic bag – that is moved along the ground on a zip-line of sorts. For any dog that loves running and chasing (and what dog doesn’t!) this is a great option for exercise and fun.

If you are interested in some more intense training, there is the century-old sport of Schutzhund, and its relative, French Ring Sport. Both of these sports combine obedience with protection work, and in both cases, the dogs must first pass tests of sound temperament prior to being eligible to compete at any level.. Schutzhund was originally developed in Germany in the early 1900s, and literally means “protection dog.” Modern Schutzhund dogs are tested for their abilities in tracking, obedience and protection. In French Ring Sport, the dogs must pass a variety of tests including obedience commands, finding, holding and barking at a decoy (hidden person) and other aspects of protection work.

Regardless of the sport that you choose, it is important to take into account not only your dog’s temperament and aptitudes, but your enjoyment as well. For, whatever sport you choose, if you are enjoying the work, your dog will be much more likely to be enjoying it as well!

Household Rules for the High Drive Dog

I often hear people tell me that they just want their “dogs to be dogs”, doing what they want when they want to. But while most cats may be perfectly well-adjusted without ever being given tasks to do while getting whatever they want when they want it, dogs do not fare so well in such settings.

In their wilder days, dogs’ ancestors lived in packs with complex social structures and numerous rules of social etiquette and behavior. Today, they live in our homes, as members of human families. Over the years, we have bred them for specific jobs, and today’s working dog wants some kind of direction from us so that they may know how to be a good dog. And unfortunately, without some kind of structure in their lives, dogs can run amuck, confused as to what their “responsibilities” within the household really are.

Mancha waits politely at the door

Following are some rules to help your high drive dog to be a polite member of your family:

  • Wait at all doorways – while common lore suggests that this may help dogs understand their rank, there is a much more important reason for this rule, and that is safety. A dog that waits at doorways is far less likely to bolt out into the street, or to rush visitors outside on a porch, causing you problems with friends or delivery personnel, or your mail carrier.
  • Go to your Place – this wonderful cue is ideal for keeping your dog out from underfoot when you have other things to get done. It can also be used to help your guests to feel more comfortable in your home, and so you don’t have to compete with your dog for their attention.
  • Get off the furniture – While it may be easiest not to allow him on furniture at all, if you do allow it, make certain he’ll move over when asked. An “off” cue is vital here. The easiest way to teach this is to say your cue (“off”) and then lure your dog off the furniture and to the floor, rewarding when he is off. If your dog guards the space he is in, seek professional assistance with this, as simply forcing a growling dog off of furniture could prove dangerous.
  • Work for everything – This not only establishes the habit of responding to your cues, it also adds value to your commands; when you ask your dog to do something, good things happen, therefore it behooves him to respond appropriately. Work could simply be a “sit” and “wait” for food or a “down” prior to being petted or let out into the yard.  This is a sort of “please and thank you” for a dog.

Most likely, you will have more rules for your dog, such as not jumping on counters and not begging for food at the table.  Remember that, like children, dogs need rules in order not to cause trouble.  If you are having difficulty enforcing rules, contact your local trainer for assistance before things get out of control.

Stubborn or insufficiently motivated?

Or is your dog actually uncomfortable?

In my work with high-energy dogs, I teach a lot of dog sports, with a strong emphasis in focus work. I stress the importance of teaching dogs to focus on their owners instead of the exciting world around them. Yet many people misunderstand what is focus, and more importantly, what is motivation.

Noted competition dog trainer, Denise Fenzi teaches courses specifically on the topic of training dogs to have high motivation for sports and work. She understands what drives dogs, and how to get them to focus. And she also notes that in many situations where a dog is not focused on his handler, there are often good reasons.

When anyone tells me that they have a “stubborn” dog, I am quick to say that their dog is probably just “insufficiently motivated”. This is really what is at the root of many training challenges, regardless of the methods that are being employed. It may be that the dog is more interested in something other than the handler, it could be that he is nervous or distracted due to an overly stimulating or new environment, or there could be other, more serious reasons such as fear, discomfort, or even pain, that may cause a dog not to respond to a handler’s cues.

Ready for the next cue!

In the most extreme example, I had a student with a lovely German Shepherd mix that bit a veterinarian who pushed down his behind for refusing to sit on cue because, she said, he was just being stubborn. After a switch to a different veterinarian, the owners learned that he had severe hip dysplasia. Thus, he was not being stubborn when refusing to sit on cue, but he was refusing because it actually hurt to sit!

With my own dogs, I keep a close eye on their comfort levels when we are training, or even just out and about. If, for example, I have asked one of them to“heel” and she spontaneously switches sides on me, rather than reprimanding and forcing her to go back to my left side, I instead look to my left and invariably find the object of her discomfort – often a large barking dog or frighteningly loud garbage truck or some such thing. By allowing my dog to switch sides, I am not only respecting her feelings (i.e. fear) but also giving her the option to take refuge behind me.

Respect for your dog is about recognizing that, often, a misbehaving dog is doing so due to misunderstanding or even discomfort rather than actual stubbornness. As world renowned trainer, Kay Laurence, insists, even jumping up on you could be a call for help or approval, and not just a rude plea for attention. My own dogs know not to jump up on me uninvited, yet I  will not reprimand them for jumping up on me when I recognize signs of stress..

So the next time your dog refuses to respond to your cue, rather than assuming him to be stubborn, consider what else may be going on. Then change your tactic; increase your motivator, change your cue, or give your dog a break if he needs it.