1. When Tough Love Isn’t Tough at All…

    September 10, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Do you have a dog who is fearful around strangers, children, or other dogs? If you believe in the tough love approach, you may introduce your dog repeatedly to strange people or to children — even if your dog continues to back away, try to avoid them, or display fearful body language. Perhaps you keep going back to the dog park, determined to socialize your dog no matter what. No wimpy dogs allowed!

    Forcing a dog to confront her fears over and over again is called flooding. “Flooding exposes a dog to a trigger in a way that immerses her, as she is simultaneously prevented from escaping.” Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde. Flooding can sometimes cause sensitization, an increase in fear. Do you remember the snake scene from Indiana Jones’ Raiders of the Lost Ark? The character of Indiana Jones is famously afraid of snakes, but becoming trapped in a pit of snakes doesn’t do much to improve his opinion of them! It’s a great example of flooding…

    There is, thankfully, a better way. There is a way to help our dogs overcome their fears without worsening those fears, increasing anxiety, or even destroying their trust in us. That way is called counterconditioning and desensitization. To quote Help for Your Fearful Dog

    “Desensitization exposes a dog to a fear trigger in a gradual, incremental manner. The process begins at a level low enough to avoid a fearful response, and builds incrementally to the level that originally frightened the dog… Counterconditioning seeks to change an unpleasant emotional response to a trigger into a pleasant one. Once the dog’s underlying emotional response changes, her reaction toward the trigger will change as well. Counterconditioning is accomplished by pairing a trigger with something the dog perceives as wonderful.”

    To create your own program for desensitization and counterconditioning, follow these steps:

    Determine specifically what frightens your dog. Is it men with hats, teenagers on skateboards, children under the age of six, large dogs over 60# but not small dogs? It’s important to be as specific as possible.

    Make a list of reinforcers that really motivate your dog. It might be food, but it could also be a tennis ball or squeaky toy — or perhaps play or interaction with you. If food is high on your dog’s list, go with highly palatable food such as chicken, cheese, hotdogs, freeze-dried liver, or ham in tiny pea-sized pieces.

    Find your dog’s threshold. The threshold is the distance at which your dog is aware of the trigger (stranger, child, dog, etc) but is not concerned or showing signs of fear.

    Locate great training spots. Sometimes it’s best to start outside of your neighborhood. At home, your dog may be bracing for the neighbor’s dog to race out to the edge of his invisible fence, or scan constantly for cyclists or joggers. A new location can be a beautiful blank slate! Make sure that your training sites give you lots of space — helpful if you need to increase distance to keep your dog under threshold.

    Get started by paying close attention to your dog. As soon as your dog sees the trigger, feed treats quickly, one after another. It doesn’t hurt to speak in a happy tone of voice simultaneously as well! And when the trigger disappears, you guessed it, the treats and happy talk stop too. For more information about this process, check out The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell.


    At the end of the day, we all want our dogs to be comfortable and to feel safe. We want them to enjoy being dogs and to enjoy being out in the world. Carefully choosing our training methods can help us to build confidence rather than breaking it down. Thank you so much for reading and have a great weekend!

  2. Alfresco Dining and Your Dog

    August 13, 2017 by Susan Marett


    Summer is in full swing… a great time to grab a meal or drink with family and friends. Add our sunny weather and your dog and it’s just about perfect! What can make it less than perfect? Your dog acting rowdy or rude on the restaurant patio. So what does your dog need to be a great mealtime companion?

    – A terrific sit stay A great “sit stay” is a cure-all for many problems. Would you prefer your dog to sit instead of jumping on the waiter or waitress, hang out patiently before you’re seated at a table, or wait calmly for you to find your phone and car keys? Train a sit stay and these problems (and more) are solved. Sit stay is the command to accomplish all of those goals, and a great way to calmly transition your dog from one activity to another.

    – An understanding of the “place” cue “Place” is a terrific command for settling your dog in one spot. Bringing along a bed or mat, and laying it out at your feet or near your table, clearly defines where you’d like your pup to chill out — and helps you to relax as well! Video here.

    – The ability to “leave it” Ohhh yes… Eyeing that nacho as it moves from plate to mouth, snuffling under your table for the french fry that dropped? “Leave it” cues your dog to back off, to cease and desist, and just generally to forget about cleaning off your plate.

    – Friendliness and steadiness Basic friendliness and a calm demeanor is super important for dining out. Your dog may want to be with you, but may not want lots of activity, loud music, children running by your table, or car traffic in close proximity. Be realistic, and if your dog is already steady in that type of environment — make that reservation! If not, work towards your goal by starting with quieter cafes and restaurants at their slowest times. Read more here.

    – A comfortable spot Your dog needs shade, water, and enough space to lie down comfortably. When you sit down to chow down, make sure that your dog will be comfortable and cool for the entire meal. If your dog is a puppy or a young adult, consider a walk before hitting the restaurant — taking the ‘edge’ off will help him to settle faster. Bringing a stuffed Kong or chew bone along can help too… just like a coloring book for a child.

    Thanks for reading and bon appetit!

  3. Dogs and Cats Living Together!?!

    August 3, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Do you remember how Bill Murray described the world coming to an end in Ghostbusters (circa 1984)? “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” As always, Bill Murray delivers the line with perfect comedic timing, but is it that unlikely that dogs and cats can live together? Are you more likely to see a ghoul or zombie than to see your dog and cat snuggle up or at least coexist? Help is on the way!

    Socialization isn’t just dog to dog. If at all possible, socialize your puppy with cats and kittens. “If you want a dog who will be trustworthy around other small animal species, you’re generally better off starting with a pup and raising him to know only appropriate behavior around other animals.” Pat Miller writing in Whole Dog Journal.

    Find the right playmate or companion. If you have a dog, and are adding a cat to your household, find a cat who is already good with dogs. Visit one of our local animal shelters and talk to staff and volunteers about finding a cat who is tolerant — and not fearful — of dogs. Look for a cat whose temperament is calm, confident, and mellow. Here’s a list of 10 Cat Breeds Who Like to Play with Dogs. There are rescue groups devoted to specific cat breeds too!

    … If you have a cat, and are adding a dog, get cozy with shelter staff and find a dog who has been evaluated around cats and/or has history of living with cats. There will be a dog who is the right fit for your home!

    Management Whether the new (or old) pair is mature cat/puppy, mature dog/kitten, mature dog/mature cat, use management so that both parties have a chance to acclimate. Management means that YOU are in charge of how and when the dog and cat see each other, and how close they get to each other. You’re in the driver’s seat with your own training plan and timetable. Use baby gates to create separate safe spaces, set-up high areas that provide your cat or kitten with an escape route, leash or tether your dog to control proximity, and utilize crates when you need reliable containment.

    Management also keeps everyone safe. Prey drive is #real, and there are certain breeds that may be more likely to chase or injure a cat (or worse). We’re generalizing, but can we say terrier? And some retired racing Greyhounds are not a good fit for households with cats either. Having more than one dog also increases the likelihood that a cat will be chased — as dogs may ‘feed off each other’ when excited.

    Last, cats can hurt dogs. Dogs’ eyes are vulnerable, particularly dogs categorized as brachycephalic. Some of the dogs in this group include Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Brachycephalic dogs typically have shallow eye sockets and somewhat bulging eyes that are easily injured by a cat’s claws.

    Work to Counter-Condition a different response. Let’s say you’ve done a great job managing your cat and dog’s space, but your dog still goes to crazy town if he and the cat get close. Use counter-conditioning to change his response. Begin at a distance at which your dog sees the cat and is alert but not reactive (barking, lunging, jumping), and feed him tiny treats continuously until the cat disappears. When your dog begins looking at you happily when the cat appears, reduce the distance between them by only a foot or two and repeat. Soon you’ll be working ‘up close and personal’ with both!

    Count on Training! Reliable skills always help! If your dog can respond to come, sit, down, stay, and leave it, you’ll be much more likely to have a peaceful household!

    By Susan Marett








  4. Are Dog Parks Right for Your Dog?

    July 27, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Thinking about taking your new puppy or just adopted adult dog to the dog park? Already visiting dog parks on the regular? Here are some tips for keeping the dog park safe, fun, and beneficial for your dog when it’s a good fit, and when to pack it up and go home.

    Consider the Age of Your Puppy

    • Go to the dog park first without your puppy so that you know what to expect!
    • Introduce your puppy to other puppies and adult dogs, one on one and/or in small playgroups, before visiting a dog park…
    • Complete all puppy vaccinations before visiting a dog park so that your puppy is protected from disease.
    • Avoid a visit during the weekend; instead, go at an ‘off’ time so that your puppy can relax and explore.
    • You are your puppy’s leader! Remember that a traumatic event can make a permanent impression upon your puppy. It’s up to you to protect your puppy and not allow other dogs to frighten or scare him.
    • Other dog owners may encourage you to ignore your puppy’s fear or discomfort, but this isn’t a time to worry about what other people think. When a puppy runs away from a dog, this can grab other dogs’ attention as well and cause an ugly chase game. If this happens, pack it up and go home!

    Assess Your Adult Dog

    • Does your dog prefer to play ball or frisbee with you, and is typically disinterested in playing with other dogs? If so, take a pass on the dog park.
    • Is your newly adopted dog undersocialized or unsocialized? If so, find calm and friendly dogs for him to interact with one one one. He’ll gain confidence and learn how to communicate with other dogs!
    • Is your dog an adult? A mature adult? Dogs become more selective as they age, and are less inclined to play with every dog they meet. Dog parks are great for youngsters, but not so great for mature adults (who are not so tolerant of junior’s shenanigans!).
    • Is your dog geriatric? See above. Since dog parks typically attract young adolescent dogs who need more exercise and tend to have fewer physical boundaries with each other, it’s not a good situation for your elderly dog. Best to avoid getting jumped on and bounced around like a bumper car.
    • Does your dog have any obedience training? Obedience training helps you communicate more effectively with your dog and keeps him safe.

    Evaluate Your Dog’s Temperament

    • Is your dog a wallflower, a shrinking violet, an introvert? Does he want to hide once he’s inside the dog park? If so, take a pass. Finding your dog a small group of besties [away from the park] will give him an opportunity to ‘be a dog’ and to keep social skills sharp without the overwhelm.
    • Is your dog a bully? Does you dog ram, roll, and pin other dogs? Is his style more like professional wrestling than loose and relaxed play? Opt out. Not good for him to practice that style of play over and over again, and not good for the other dogs either.
    • Does your dog guard resources such as toys, balls, treats, or you?!? Since you can’t control what other people bring into the park, or how other dogs interact with you, smarter to find other activities for your dog until you can incorporate training and behavior modification into your lifestyle.


    Remember… there’s no shame in making a decision to avoid dog parks or even dog day cares or beaches if your dog doesn’t enjoy off-leash play with new dogs. At the end of the day, it’s likely that your dog, most of all, wants to spend time with you. Most dogs do want and need interactions with other dogs, but you get to decide how and when that should happen!

    By Susan Marett

  5. How to Safely Expose Your Dog to Children

    July 22, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Hope that you’re at the beginning of a terrific weekend, and in the middle of a wonderful summer! Your puppy or dog may be interacting with more people than usual including kids this time of year. Keep reading for dog and kid training suggestions!

    Support Your Dog!

    Safely Expose Your Puppy or Dog to Children…

    – As soon as your puppy has appropriate vaccinations for field trips, you can begin exposing him to children. Scout locations out ahead of time so that you have a plan! When you arrive, stay out of the center of activity so that you have more control over how many children interact with your pup.

    – Do bring along treats so that you can deliver them as your puppy interacts with children (helps to keep his mouth and sharp puppy teeth occupied as well as making the experience more positive!). You can also have kids drop treats on the ground, helping to keep your puppy grounded rather than jumping up. Teaching hand targeting i.e. the “touch” command is also terrific for polite greetings.

    – Negative or poor experiences have the potential to create fear or anxiety, so if there are too many children, and your puppy seems overwhelmed, pack it up and go home! If your puppy is becoming overly excited, or if you feel that a particular child is too enthusiastic, you may want to wrap it up or at least take a break.

    – Don’t force your puppy or dog to interact with a child, or allow a child to hug, pick up, or pet your puppy in an overbearing way. And if he growls or snaps, don’t punish, but instead find a qualified trainer or veterinary behaviorist to help!

    – Remember that puppies need socialization until they’re approximately 2 years of age. Dogs who are 2 and up need socialization maintenance!

    Learn to Read Your Dog

    In Robin Bennett’s article, Why Supervising Kids and Dogs Don’t Work, she discusses the need for education on what constitutes good body language and what constitutes an emergency between a dog and child.

    – Watch for loose body language. Your puppy or dog’s body should be loose and wiggly, even curvy. All good! What’s all bad? A stiff and tight body, and/or a closed mouth because panting has stopped. Calmly interrupt the interaction.

    – Look for stress signals… Some basic signs of stress are yawning, lip licking, and half-moon eye. Half-moon eye, also called whale eye, occurs when a dog turns his head slightly away but his eye remains turned to the side. When this happens, the sclera (white part of the eye) appears as a crescent shape. Dogs showing half-moon eye are stressed and need immediate intervention and separation from a child. Note the stress signs in the dog pictured!

    – Observe your puppy or dog when a child approaches. Does he turn away, move away, or back up? We all want our dogs to enjoy interacting with children, but if your dog chooses to remove himself when he feels uncomfortable, this is a WIN. Your dog is making a great choice! Just be sure to prevent the child from following your dog.


    Support Your Child

    How to Coach Your Child to Greet a Strange Dog…

    – Coach your child to always ask if he can pet a dog before approaching the dog. Remind him not to lean over the dog close to the dog’s face.

    – Show your child how to approach, then stand still, to allow the dog to sniff him. Remind him not to run up to the dog!

    – If the dog is interested in being petted, your child can pet the dog under his chin or on his chest, or on his back. Remind him not to pet the dog on top of his head.

    – If your child becomes excited, and squeals or shouts, remind him to use a quiet voice.

    – If your child moves to hug or kiss the dog, intervene!

    By Susan Marett