Tag Archives: Dogs

Frosty Paws

It feels strange writing about activities with our dogs in the snow since, at least in the Southwest high dessert, we are seeing balmy temperatures and no snow in sight. We did have an opportunity to take the dogs for a fun walk in the snow a few days ago. This walk was definitively different for Deuce.

They both love the cold temperatures and walking in the snow, but Deuce gets snow stuck between his toes, and now he is not walking. Instead he has stopped and is trying to remove the sticky snow with his mouth. For this reason, we bought him some really nice booties.

There is always the risk that a dog will not take well to a new piece of “equipment” no matter how much we think it will make them more comfortable. I always recommend folks take the time to get their dog comfortable at least and at best loving wearing whatever piece of equipment they intend to use with their dog. The process can be lengthy but it is definitively worth pursuing. Also, think about this: many times we do things to dogs (just) because we can and this can be a slippery slope.

So, to clarify, ideally we make good decision for our dogs that will keep them safe and increase the quality of their life, and as such, we help them transition into new experiences with care.



In the case of Deuce and his new pair of flashy snow boots the process was relatively easy. First, we made sure we knew how the boots needed to fit him so that he was comfortable and not lose them. Then we worked in tandem.

I fed Deuce treats and John slowly worked with the boots one foot at a time. In the process, Deuce needed a break from holding a paw up and we gave him a few seconds to just chill. I then noticed that Deuce was not so interested in the treats so I began to throw the ball at him so that he could catch it in his mouth – a favorite game of his. A few minutes later we were all ready to head out the door.

Deuce took his first steps looking more like a penguin flopping a fin than a dog but once we were outside he realized he could walk and run just fine.

We had tried other boot models that did not work for Deuce, so I found a more expensive and better design pair of winter boots. Not only did they prove to be comfortable for Deuce but we came back from our hike without losing any of them!

These boots of course could be used not only in the snow but whenever there is rough terrain should a dog be sensitive in its paws. I would also suggest using boots for a dog that has severe allergies otherwise it might be a necessity to wipe the paws after every outing.

I do warn folks that using boots on hot climate might not be a good thing. Dogs do not have sweat glands like we do. They shed heat by panting and through their paws. Please talk to your vet beforehand.

If you are looking for some good boots for your dog, check out Neopaws. www.neopaws.com

Trouble in paradise

We are at the vet’s office having Rio’s bandage changed when an acquaintance walks through the doors with her dog.  Her dog appears somewhat shaken-up and has a bloody injury close to his eye.  “What happened?” I inquired.  They tell me that this is the fifth time their dog has been attacked by their other male dog.

Yes, these dogs are also “friendly”; they play together, snooze together and then the attacks occur. The level of injury is quite severe. The other dog never gets injured so it is one dog that is always damaging the other dog.

Clearly the owners are very distraught, and knowing this cannot continue as it has been.  They tell me that as young dogs, the dogs did not get into fights, but suddenly the series of fights took place.  What makes it worse is that according to them the fights are becoming more damaging.  We continue to talk as they try to piece together the events as neither one of them was at home when the fight took place.

So far they have not been able to identify the triggers for the fights. What is clear is that they have decided that they cannot subscribe to the super tight management (perhaps through the lives of these dogs). I don’t blame them.  This kind of management is really brutal and never 100% foolproof. My heart goes out to them because they love both dogs, but they are painfully aware that having one of their dogs constantly having fear of being attacked and getting attacked is more than anyone can handle.

Now they are on the phone trying to find out who can help them out while they find a permanent home for the one that is creating the injuries. It is, of course, possible that they might find an appropriate home where this dog can be an only dog.  But the reality is that unfortunately there are too many dogs and not enough homes.  Sad indeed.

I tell them that I have worked with several cases like this where household dogs are fighting.  These cases are some of the most challenging to resolve.  Many times, the answer is rehoming or euthanasia.

I’ve come to bear the understanding that wolves -the genetic past of our dogs very seldom will take in a lonely wolf that is looking to join another pack.  Wolves, while living tight-knit, sometimes go solo in search of another pack that he can join. On occasion, this lonely wolf is admitted into the pack, but that is not the norm.

Clearly our dogs are not wolves, but they still share some genetic wiring of their wild past; wiring that comes to bear in their social relations.

The fact that we choose which dogs we like and which dogs we want to share our lives with is really immaterial to our dogs being able to co-exists.  Simply put:  it is really not “normal” for canids to just get along because someone said you have to.

Even when dogs are well matched to live together close observation and management in the form of having some rules the dogs have learned and implemented can go a long way in keeping harmony in the household. Most folks either are not aware of the underlining conflict between their dogs, and as such respond when the relationship has gone sour.

My concern, of course, is for the dog that is constantly being harassed, intimidated and physically injured in his own home. Can you imagine how stressful this must be?  How detrimental to the well-being of the dog?

Just this morning Deuce walks towards Rio who is totally engage with a Kong and demands in his doggie manner for some of what she is having. I immediately called him away so that he stops bugging Rio and re-directed him to his own crate where his own goodie awaits.

The thing is that if we start on the right foot, the chances of having dogs that do not push their weight around or that choose to not escalate the conflict, but instead diffuse when things are not going their way is quite doable. But as stated -unfortunately most people do not consider the “wild” side of their furry companions when they decide to add one more dog to the mix.  In addition, dogs that initially got along well while young might find themselves as ferocious adversaries once maturity is reached.

My recommendations to those folks that want to bring another dog into their family or that have more than one dog in the midst is to begin to pay attention for any signs of conflict between the dogs such as one dog trying to manage the other dog’s movement by blocking its movement, any posturing with a stiff body or any other displays of aggression such as growls (when this is not in the context of play) sneering, etc. when competing for any coveted resource.

If the dogs are already fighting, owners must find a way to stop the fights by separating the dogs.  In addition, the dogs need to learn alternative ways of expressing desires for things they want such as food, toys, attention and the like. Tight constant management as well as behavior modification must be implemented if we want to stand a chance at a possible reconciliation between the dogs.

Ideally also people get dogs of different sex.  While this is not always possible it might help with the overall relationship and to keep fights at bay as most fights take place between dogs of the same sex.

Size might also be a consideration.  Of course, the smallest dog as a norm, has less than a fighting chance when being confronted by a larger stronger dog.

The initial introduction is also really important. Planning how to go about this can again aid in making sure the relationship gets started right.  Next week, I will give you some ideas on how to manage this important step.

Excessive Anything

As I have previously written, we are smack in the middle of Rio’s recovery.  She needs to wear a cast for 4 for more weeks. She cannot lick, or worse, chew on it at all. The recommendations are for her to wear a really cumbersome Elizabethan collar all the time to prevent her from doing the above. Frankly this part is the most taxing for both of us.

When I am watching her, she gets to take a break and we both breath happily. This morning I gave her a Kong with a hard-boiled egg for breakfast.  I watched her as she diligently licks and licks the toy to extract every bit of the egg.  Once she is done with the Kong, I notice that she is less active and most definitively not wanting to lick her cast-bound leg.  Now she is snoozing. Aww she looks so content and relaxed that I don’t even want to take her just yet for her daily car ride, which she loves.

I have seen this before, but now I am reminded of it close at home.  When dogs are stressed or anxious for whatever reason Kongs or any other food dispensing toy- especially the ones where dogs need to use their mouths rigorously to extract the food, satisfy a pretty basic need in them.

IMG_3159So many of my clients have dogs that are dedicated barkers, lick themselves, chase skateboards or cars with gusto only as an obsessed dog can muster. As part of our training and modification plan, I strongly suggest they feed their dogs out of these toys.

When they are motivated enough to do it, they readily notice the benefit the chewing and licking – in short, the positive effect it has on their dog’s overall demeanor and behavior. I have never heard anything different.

They might be, of course, important physiological reasons behind the high return in behavior from such a simple activity. For now, I will stick to observation and experience on how we can help ourselves by helping our dogs when we provide outlets like this which pay big dividends.

I get that most people feel really taxed with a myriad of daily chores. However, this “chore” is like anything else we choose to subscribe to in our day to day lives, be it meditation, fitness, eating well or else.  All of these activities require our commitment, and we commit to them because we find them valuable. What we can do for our dogs should not be any different.

Of course, I am not saying that your dog eating out of these toys will resolve all behavior problems. But I am saying that doing so will be a very solid foundation to help with whatever emotional or behavioral problem you need to work through with your dog.

If I can keep that collar on Rio for less time, it makes total sense to bite the bullet and spend a few more minutes every morning serving her meal this way. Below you’ll find a training plan to help your novice dog learn how to eat this way. If your dog has had more experience you can look at my suggestions as well so that your pup gets as well a nice dose of mental challenge.

Teaching Level

  • Fill a size – appropriate KONG® for your dog with kibble or your dog’s food.
  • Give the toy to your dog for her to experiment getting the food out of it by rotating it, pawing it, etc.
  • Feed your dog her whole meal out of KONGS once she is adept at getting all the food out and appears to enjoy the activity.
  • At this level, it’s okay to encourage your dog or even help her a bit by rotating the KONG® yourself so food comes out.

Beginner’s Level

  • Make the extracting of the food a bit harder by stuffing the KONG and then placing a harder item such as a piece of jerky, dry liver, frozen banana chip, etc. in between the kibble.

Advanced Level 1

  • Increase the level of difficult by wetting the kibble ahead of time so that it swells and becomes a “mush.” You can wet with water or something special such as chicken broth, etc.
  • Serve to your dog.

Advance Level 2 / During Warmer Months:

  • Prepare KONG® as you did for previous levels but freeze overnight or for a few hours.
  • Allow KONG® to thaw for about 1 hour before serving.
  • Best to serve in a crate or outside to avoid a possible mess.

Recipe Examples Courtesy of Jean Donaldson, From The Academy For Dog Trainers

Tight Version (more advanced) Stuffing

  • Layer 1 (deepest): roasted unsalted cashews, mild cheese chunks, freeze dried liver bits
  • Layer 2: dog kibble, cookies or Liver Biscotti, Cheerios, sugar-free/salt-free peanut butter, dried banana chips
  • Layer 3: baby carrot stick(s), turkey and/or leftover ravioli or tortellini, dried apples, dried apricots

Pack as tightly as possible. The last item in should be a dried apricot or piece of ravioli, presenting a smooth “finish” under the main hole.

“Lite” Version:

  • For cashews, substitute crumbled rice cake; for freeze-dried liver, substitute Caesar croutons; for peanut butter substitute fat-free cream cheese.

The goal is to feed your dog at least one of his daily meals via a food dispensing toy.

One of your dogs is injured, but you have two (or more) dogs. How are you going to handle this?

As I am writing this I am sitting next to my two dogs. They are both lying down, but Rio unfortunately is wearing one of those very cumbersome Elizabethan collars.  She just underwent surgery a week ago and we are looking at to 8 -10 weeks of lying low with little in the form of physical activity and lots and lots of management.  On the other hand, Deuce is not recuperating, and as such, he is ready to do what we do every morning – chasing after the ball or hiking.

Yep, sometimes I am overwhelmed.  I am constantly having to plan when and how to go from one activity to the next while working with clients as I try to keep my sanity. I guess this is a good example where I need to really dial up my “Zen”.  Zen in taking some time to take stock in how to move Rio safely from one spot to the other, in remembering to wrap her cast when it’s wet outside and she needs to go pee in a hurry.

Having systems in place is very helpful.  My systems include ways by which I can keep all the medication times and dosages straight. The same goes in planning what to do with her when I am outside exercising Deuce. Instead of throwing it all in at the last minute, I establish new routines. Simple things such as Rio not being able to eat out of her customary food bowl, can really wreak havoc on the list of do’s & don’ts that we need to follow for her recuperation.

Besides deciding what kind of activities she can still do so that she gets some mental stimulation, and as best as possible keeping her life as intact as possible, I also make sure I follow the household routines for Deuce.

Yes, there is also the emotional component:  it is hard to go play with your healthy dog (s) while the other one rests in her crate. When I feel a bit down I quickly remind myself of our ultimate goal behind the surgery:  Rio will be able to do all the activities she loves to do, but with being pain free. I even tell her (more for my benefit, mind you, than hers) that this is not her new life, just her new life for right now and that we will get through this together by focusing on what needs to happen and keeping the eye on the big picture: no (more) pain and back to lots of fun as we did before.

It is also important to take stock of activities that both dogs can enjoy such as chewing a tasty bone, getting some one-on-one training or even getting brushed for tasty treats.

I cannot say this enough, slowing down has been tremendously helpful in keeping my sanity as well as rolling with the punches. Of course, it helps when John can then dedicate some one-on-one attention to both dogs.

A solution, of course, is one can also hire competent help when the need arises. Perhaps someone that can stop by and give Rio a break from the plastic (hideous) cone and take her out to eliminate.  Or what about having a favorite person read a story to her, while Deuce and I go sheepherding?  Or having someone come to take Deuce for a walk?

It is important too to not underestimate physical touch and closeness. In my case, one of my dogs wants it because she is not feeling totally “normal” and the other is stressed due to thunder in the vicinity. I take a big sigh and relax into my role of caregiver as I gravitate like a tired planet around the sun between the two dogs, delivering words of encouragement as well as some TTouches.

Should your dog wear a head-halter?

Head halters are quite useful tools.  It helps with dogs that are large and strong that pull on leash. But most importantly head-halters are a must for those dogs that for whatever reason lunge and pull towards other dogs or people.

I am amazed to see how, when used correctly, head-halters can become the difference between being able to walk a dog that is too strong and with big displays of aggression and not being able to walk the dog at all.

The way this piece of equipment works is similarly to how a horse halter works on a horse.  Wherever the head of the dog goes, the rest follows.

Case in point:

I am working with a client who has a large dog that at times can lunge at people should a person approach them. This happened while we were working together. I saw my very keen client stop the dog in its tracks and literally prevent him from lunging towards the person- instead the dog sat!

Later that afternoon, I am working with a couple with their dog who has similar displays as the one in the morning. This particular dog was new to the head-halter and part of the training was teaching the dog that wearing it means he gets to go for a fun walk.   During this same session, I see how my clients can readily redirect their dog effortlessly.  They are amazed at the difference in influencing where the dog is looking and even walking.

There is a bit of a learning curve for people working with their dog and a head-halter.  Because the leash is attached to the piece of equipment that rides high behind the dog’s head it is absolutely crucial that people are gentle and avoid jerking the dog around. It is also important to avoid putting pressure on the front of the halter.  This can be easily achieved by being mindful that the clip of the leash should hang below the dog’s chin instead of pulling on the dog with the clip parallel to the ground.

If you are struggling with your dog pulling on the leash, teaching your dog to wear a head-halter can be very helpful. Do keep in mind that your dog will not learn not to pull, but it will make it a lot easier for you to walk him by how you can influence the direction the dog is walking. If your dog engages in lunging and hard pulling as a result of being afraid, the head-halter is frankly the only way I would recommend walking the dog.

Below is a simple training plan that can help your dog become comfortable with the head-halter.  In addition, make sure to follow the instructions for fitting the halter.  There are quite a few brands out there and each one of them fits a bit differently.  A correct fit is indispensable to ensure your dog is comfortable with the halter and that it works as it should.

Introducing the head-halter:

To make your dog associate the halter with good things, get out the yummiest treats you can think of, and follow the steps below. The steps can be done in one session or over several, depending on your dog’s comfort level.

Step 1. Reach through and treat.

• Hold the halter up by the nose loop with one hand so your dog notices it.

• Reach through the nose loop with your other hand to give your dog a treat.

• Repeat until your dog is asking for the treat by sticking his nose through the nose loop.

• From now on, every time your dog sees the halter, treat him. When the halter goes away, stop treating.

Step 2. Nose loop on and treat.

• Again, put the nose loop on, then treat, and remove the halter. But now begin to leave the nose loop on for a few seconds longer each time before you present the treat.

• When your dog is eagerly pushing his nose through the loop as soon as you present it, leave the loop on while you feed him several treats in quick succession.

• Slowly build the duration until your dog happily wears the loop for 5-10 seconds.

Step 3. Nose loop on, buckle and treat.

• Ask your dog to put his nose through the loop. Then hold one neck strap behind his neck so he feels a light pressure. Treat. Take off the halter, stop treating.

• Repeat this until your dog gets only one or two treats and is still comfortable. (Over please)

• Now add the second strap. Don’t close the buckle yet, just hold the two straps. Apply light pressure and treat. Remove the halter and stop treating.

• Repeat this until your dog gets only one or two treats and is still comfortable.

• Close the buckle and immediately offer a small avalanche of treats. Praise lavishly. Keep it short—after a few seconds remove the halter and stop treating.

• Repeat until your dog can comfortably wear the halter for 10 seconds.

Step 4: Wearing the head-halter and treat.

• Put the head halter on your dog and immediately feed him his dinner. (Have his dinner ready beforehand.)

• When he is done, clip on the leash and immediately go for a lovely walk. Take some treats and treat him throughout the walk. (Have your shoes on and be ready to go.)rtdftytdf

What can we learn from lateral (right or left) tail wagging in our dogs?

Perhaps you have read somewhere about a few studies conducted regarding what is called laterality which is defined as the predominance of one side of the body over the other. Laterality has been observed in many species among them in dogs.  Dogs do have preference as to which side of their body they use in certain circumstance, for example, when using their paws, gazing at people and sniffing.

Is laterality also present in how dogs wag their tails?  There were a couple of studies that looked into this:

Interpretations of Quaranta et al. 2007 “Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli” Current Biology, 17, R199-201. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2007.02.008 and Siniscalchi et al. 2013 

“Seeing Left- or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs.” Current Biology, 23, 2279–2282. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.09.027.

The Quadrant et al study, which was the first, concluded that there is asymmetrical tail wagging in dogs. They interpreted this data by claiming that right wags expressed positive emotions as in the dog being “happy” such as when the dog saw the owner.  Tail wags to the left meant, according to researchers, that the dog was afraid or in fear thus representing negative emotions.

The second study, consisted of showing the study’s dog videos or the silhouette of dogs wagging their tails. In this study researchers wanted to verify if dogs experienced different emotions depending on which side the dog they were viewing wag its tail.

Some questions that come to mind as a result of these studies findings:

1. Does the data (and methodology) used in the study support the observations of laterality and their intrinsic emotions?

2. How should we interpret the rest of the dog’s body and its communication when presented with these different stimuli?

3. Was there a clear consensus as to what the researchers meant by “lateral movement of the tail- the sway of the tail?”  What about dogs that lift their tails first and then sway one side or the other?

4. As you can appreciate, reaching a conclusion from observing a dog’s reaction to a particular stimulus such as a tail wag to the right or left to “knowing” what the dog is actually feeling: happy or positive emotions or sad or fearful hence negative emotions is a big leap of faith.

While most of us are “dying” to know more about dogs we must still tread very carefully when either formulating studies or interpreting the data from such studies.

I am left wondering if a simplistic claim or finding as in: right wag = happy, left wag= sad can really shed some light in understanding really complex issues such as how dogs relate (and feel) towards other dogs as well as other species: feline and humans?  What about establishing some co-relation with these two sets of emotions with complex neurological/brain functions?

As students of canine ethology and behavior, should we not also take a closer look as to the methodology employed and the findings of studies before we begin to jump with excitement at the possibility of having learned something new about our subject of interest?

Should your dog attend doggy daycare

The rave these days is for dogs to have about the same amount of extra-curriculum activities as kids of  affluent families.  Don’t get me wrong, providing engagement to our dog is a very good thing. However, this is where one size does not fit all.

I am discussing with some folks their dog’s daily schedule.  They tell me that both their dogs are sent to daycare daily for the whole day.  Wow, I tell them, let’s start by looking at that.

You see, stimulation is not all the same.  I can be very happy and appropriately stimulated after reading a good article, working out, chatting with a friend etc.  Or I can be really stimulated in a way that does not conduce to well-being and growth.  An example that comes to mind is being in a car accident.   Talk about the wrong kind of stimulation! This is a type of stimulation we don’t want.

Doggy daycare can be really a fantastic alternative to leaving Fido at home for long stretches of time.  Especially so, if the dog truly enjoys the company of other friendly dogs in a fast-paced environment.  Now, can you count the qualifiers above?  That is my point exactly.

While most dogs are really social, not all are.  When they are, their level of desire for off-the charts stimulation is an important consideration. I would argue that the dogs that fall under the” I Luuuvvv other dogs” and LOTS of stimulation are dogs that have been exquisitely socialized to other dogs and people etc. Also to consider is the age of the dog. Most of the dogs that thrive in day cares are adolescent.  That is between the ages of 5 months to 2 years of age- when for most breeds adulthood begins. See, already we have a very narrow number of candidates for doggie-daycare.

Of course there are always exceptions.  However, if your dog visits daycare daily you must ask yourself if the stimulation is way too much!  Okay, I am going to let you in in a little (dark) secret:  Some folks think of daycare as the solution to dealing with behavior problems.  Out of mind out of sight- not my problem!

When this is the case, the problems are really not being resolved. Instead, folks end up with a dog that is barely behaving at all because he is so tired of the ongoing stimulation. Dogs like this are so exhausted that he/she comes home and crash until next day…. And around and around we go…

The other qualifier has to do with the fact that some dogs are dropped at daycare when they truly could not care less about other dogs or worse they are afraid of them.  Yes, I have seen this too.

Perhaps added reasons behind this trend is that trainers have done a really good job in telling folks that their dogs need something to do each day.  Point for the trainers!  But wait! Now, what we lack is imagination. Yes, daycare can be a really good alternative but it is for sure not the only one.

Ideally your over-the-top friendly pup gets to go to daycare once or twice a week and hopefully not for all day- just a couple of hours at the most.  Think about how lovely it is to have overnight guests. But oh, much more lovely when they leave (LOL). Not that we are not social or love our friends or family but just plain and simple too much stimulation that does not feel good anymore and our wanting to get back to our routines etc.

This post then is an invitation:  An invitation in really assessing if we are doing good on the dog,  your dog.

It is also an invitation to look outside the one option for engagement. A good option is for sure a walk!  A walk that doubles as sniffing as much as possible- for the dog, in combination with much needed basic obedience drills such as sit, sit/stays, down, down/stays, walking on a loose leash and add a trick or two for good measure.  Not only will your dog be appropriately stimulated from engaging in the world- with all its variety but also because of the extra attention you give your dog during your walk.

I have seen this over and over again.  A few minutes of mindful training (that is training with a plan, not just willy-nilly) will really tire your dog.  I see this with my dogs everyday! I am referring here to 1 or 2, 3 minutes of training (once you have gathered all you need for the training and have a plan in mind) a day!

Another great alternative: Provide daily chewies to your dog!  Chewing is such a doggie-activity and for good reason.  Dogs use their mouth a lot for a variety of purposes but one of them is enjoyment. Test-drive what your dog prefers and then commit to making this part of a daily dose of excellent stimulation.  One of my favorites activities for dogs: a working to eat program. Again, two important components for dogs here:  eating (who does not like to eat?  Raise your hand?) And the search component stimulating their predatory brains.

If your dog is friendly enough and has a stellar recall (he comes when you call him) hiking is another awesome way to spend some time with your pup.  Perhaps this activity will occupy you both during the weekend or whenever you have the time off.

When you are at work and thus unable to engage with your pup to mentally stimulate him follow the steps below:

1.    Make a daily schedule for your dog:  Answer the following: What? Where? With whom?

2.    Follow your schedule. Make necessary arrangements.

3.    Think combos:  For example: A pro walker will come and give your dog a break mid-morning so that your dog has some company, elimination time and some engagement.  However, before you left for work, you did a 3-min. training session with your pup AND before you left, you left his breakfast in puzzle toys.  As you are getting ready to step of the front door, your dog is beaming with glee. He now has some precious time to do something really fun and eat his meal.  Then comes snooze time and then… the walk!

4.    Think variety but always checking for too much of one type or too much stimulation. If your dog is good candidate for daycare (the: I LUVs dogs and hanging around lots of them) send him to daycare.

5.    If option 4 is a good match for you and your guy (or gal), make sure the daycare is a reputable one (I have written about this so go back to the archives and look for that post).  Also, make sure your dog gets to spend some time alone (in a crate, an office etc.) with a chew toy or just snoozing away from all activity at the daycare.  If you hear that that is not needed or not possible, look for another place where the establishment will help you with your goals for your dog.

Consider the following:  There are many reasons why people choose to live with a dog.  I would argue that one of them is because of how much fun, relaxation and just happy stuff they bring to us.  But why are we not spending more time with them in equally fun activities?  The choice is ours to make.

When is resource guarding between dogs not a good thing

Resource guarding of anything that a dog considers valuable is normal dog behavior. It goes back to- you guess it, evolution. Dogs are opportunistic feeders and scavengers.  In other words, in the wild, dogs do not know when their next meal will appear so they eat when food becomes available. In addition, they are scavengers which means they can feed off of other’s left overs.  This is, by the way, one of the main traits that apparently got dogs and people together in the first place.

For our modern-day dogs, or better said, for dogs that live life as pets in the comfort of someone’s world with pretty much meals around the clock, guarding might be not that relevant. But try to tell that to the dog that covets food, toys, bones or any other item such as a bed, and even a person. Yes, indeed, dogs are complex beings. Besides genetics, dogs are learning all the time so it is possible that the guarding is a result of learning.

Say, for example, that a dog learned that when he is enjoying chewing on something of interest someone comes by and forcefully removes the item.  Now, the dog decides that what is his is his and he will fight for it because otherwise it will be taken away from him.  What a slippery slope!

When it comes to dog & dog guarding the scenario is very similar to the above.  Sure, dogs often want different things at different times; after all they are individuals.  But what happens when more than one wants the same stuff?  Here is where problems might arise.

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 4.56.21 PM

Ideally dogs have not been reinforced either by a person or by the environment itself for guarding to the point of escalating displays of aggression or full fledge aggression. Also, ideally dogs learn to diffuse conflict instead of going all out because they want something now!  If you have dogs that jump the gun at any provocation, you are in for a lot of fighting, my friend!

The trick, of course, is to know when the guarding is “appropriate” that is; no-one is getting injured physically or even bullied emotionally- in the case of another dog and when it needs to stop before things get very ugly.

There are several things people can do to make sure their dogs or their dog and a visiting pal don’t get into trouble.

1. Manage the heck of resources that are typically desirable. This includes: anything edible and toys.

2. Make sure there is ample to go around.  So, that the message the dog gets is that he too will get the goodie thus no need for competition.

3. Teach your dog manners!  You have no idea how long this strategy will go! Dogs need to learn that pushing their weight around is not the way to get what they want. You will be surprised how quickly they can learn this if you are consistent in delivering consequences for poor behavior such as bullying another.

4. Supervise around coveted stuff until you learn if there are any such items that the dogs will compete over. If so, just deliver these individually.  Good news is the time alone with a favorite toy or chewy is an excellent way for your pups to spend some “alone” quite time.

Some dogs are quite good at sharing certain things as in the case of my two dogs.  However, things can change quite rapidly so it is important to keep this in mind and make any necessary changes to keep the peace at home. Sigh.

When it comes to dog guarding a location, say a sofa, or your bed, you could just teach the dog (in short sessions used for this purpose) to get off the furniture on verbal cue.  Again, I urge you not to physically force your dog off stuff.  Adversarial approaches do have consequences and most of them are exactly what we do not want. Instead teach this in the form of a game by tossing treats on the floor that your dog gets to have when you say off and he complies.  Also, this can double for a nice round of cardio when the weather is not nice to go play outside!  “Up, off, up, off, up, off”… you get the picture. So, whenever your dog guards a location you ask your dog to get off as he just lost the privilege of a comfy place.

Paying attention to how your dogs relate around resources are one of the most salient and easy things you can do to avoid most fights in your home.  If your dog is already a compulsive guarder do not label your dog as a “bad”, dominant or even a stubborn dog because he is just responding as a dog. Instead, pay attention to the items that are at the center of the problem and teach your dog (s) that waiting politely for goods is the best way to access them.

If the guarding or even posturing continues, c-a-l-m-l-y escort your dog outside.  The goal here is to teach your dog consistently yet gently that manners matter and that if he cannot be polite he misses out. That is all.  One of the best kept secrets about dogs is that they do what works. Period. They are savvy creatures that have perfected – if you will, the art of staying alive and thriving. If you teach your dogs what you want them to do in order to access resources you will see your dogs following your lead.

Finally, if your pups are already fighting over resources, please get professional help. Find someone that has experienced with aggression and behavior modification.  Equally important- avoid, avoid at all costs harsh methods to “fix” the problem or you just made the situation much worse for everyone involved.

Living with dogs raises consciousness (or it can!)

Deuce and I are at our weekly sheepherding lesson, something we have done for the past five years.  Yes, it has been five years and we are still learning, getting frustrated and reassessing (okay, I am re-assessing) how to make improvements.

Sheepherding is a lot like signing in that having talent really makes things easier but neither signing well or sheepherding are easy endeavors.

People are familiar with herding dogs- especially with Border collies; but what people don’t know is how very difficult is to achieve success in herding be it at a trial for a ribbon or as a way of life.  Sure, the talent of the dog is really important and it will definitively make a difference in achieving really high marks but there is much more.

For example, get this:  The dog who is the one with the “natural” instinct to herd must at times forgoes his natural abilities and listen to what the handler is asking him to do. Wow! Right?

The dog also must be brave and confident – yet not pushy in order to move the herd (some species are more “flighty” than others so again another variant) yet, not so pushy that the herd will split in different directions – and now we have a problem. Instead, we must aim to keep the herd together and moving in the desired direction, be it a pen, a pasture etc.

For the past three weeks Deuce and I are working diligently in quite “approaches” as we are “driving” the sheep in a straight line. During the same session, we change the chore to gathering the sheep; that is the dog brings the entire herd to the handler. Our efforts are paying off.  This boy and I appear to be in sync. I cannot contain my appreciation and pride as a big smile flashes across my face.  Good lad, Deuce, good lad!

Today, is a different story. We begin well. Quite approaches that allows the herd to settle and it allows me to set up other opportunities to practice.

As I sent Deuce to gather the sheep, Deuce is either unable or unwilling to really open up (think of flaring out while running) thus keeping all the sheep together instead of going directly at them and splitting them.

We lose the sheep as we are working in an open field. I report to Mary, the person I have been working with all these years, that Deuce “is not covering” meaning he is not “flaring out” to include all the sheep but is “slicing” and splitting them apart. We try this same routine a few more times once I have thought of a better plan to help Deuce.

We end our session working on a large pen where we cannot lose the sheep as Mary and I try to assess if potentially Deuce is having some physical difficulty.

Sometimes a dog might be able to work with no problem clockwise say, but not counterclockwise.  I can promise you it is NEVER because the dog is stubborn.

However, there are many other reasons why this might happen. Sometimes the dog is sore, in pain or has some other physical disability such as blindness in one eye.  Of course, he would favor the healthy side!

It is only 10:00 am and already very hot.  Deuce does not do well with heat so I wrap up our efforts- time to pack it in and get in the car.  Deuce refuses.  Instead, he wants to lay in the shade provided by a parked car.  I usher him as best as I can and now he is in the comfort of car that has been in the shade.  He jumps in effortlessly (yeah!) and now he is taking big gulps of fresh water- still panting.

I get a bit somber. Is there something “wrong” with Deuce?  How can I help him?

Back at the wheel I start thinking of the importance of stepping back from situations like this and observe.  What can I learn by observing how Deuce moves? What he gravitates towards? Has he stopped doing some activity that he used to enjoy?  This is just simple questioning in the physical/athletic realm but wait! There is more… There is always something we can glean by observing and assessing. By asking the right question, different questions. By coming back again and again when we are not getting the results that we think are important.

So, let me ask you – such as I asked myself as I was driving back home from our lesson:

When was the last time that you took the time to finish a magazine article and completely enjoyed the process of reading while also grasping the content of the material?  When was the last time that you laid down on your back and slowed racing thoughts?

Exactly! This is the “more” peace that I am talking about. I don’t know about you, but for me one of my life/daily goal is to PAY MORE ATTENTION.

I want to show up to my life.  I want to show up over and over again to the relationships I treasure in my life.  And my dogs are among these precious relationships.

So, it begs the question: Can I slow down to observe more?  To know more about how my dogs are doing?  To enjoy them?  To share with them? Can I slow enough to make good decisions for them?  What a gift this is!  What a choice too, no?

Being the keeper of my dogs presents an opportunity for caring. For slowing all the things that appear so important and urgent. This opportunity is not only good for my dogs, it is also a pathway for being aware of my surroundings.   A pathway for being present in my life.

Our dogs are super chill

There is something called “learned irrelevance” and if you live with dogs you have experienced this my friends.  You have also experienced the opposite: your dog realizing that what is happening at the moment is frankly quite relevant to them.

Learned irrelevance refers to our dogs becoming keen observers of circumstance that mean nothing relevant from their perspective.  For example:  you turn the TV on after a long day at work and your dog has learned that when the TV is on he won’t be going for walkies -no tossing of the favorite ball either.

On the other hand, we have all experienced and even smiled at the fact that our dogs respond with exquisite punctuality to us putting our “walking-the-dog shoes” or in my case, the locking of my closet or just the sound of my leg going thru my pants as I get ready to go “outside”.  One of the biggest joy I experience is seeing my dogs getting super excited as we utter the phrase: Does anybody here want to go outside?????  or the short form: “Let’s go outsiiiiiideeee”. We know what the answer will be: YES, YES, YES!  We always want to go outside.


If you think about this, irrelevant or non-irrelevant circumstances are sort of a great thing. It allow our dogs to relax – as it is the case of my two hounds lying on their beds just after their breakfast as we I give them a rest so they can  digest their food before we go on a hike or toss the ball around.

Repetition and keen observation has taught them that when “mom” sits at the computer, nothing fun really happens, instead they can take a snooze.  But the moment I get off my chair I have a couple of dogs watching my every move and ones that are excited following me into my bedroom in hopes of witnessing the moment they have patiently waited for…. me putting my shoes on.

You see, this relevant/irrelevant scenario is actually part of a bigger picture phenomena.  This phenomenon has at least a couple of ethological facts:

1.    Dogs are always assessing their surroundings for safe/unsafe clues. In other words, they are constantly assessing if a scenario falls under “friend” or “foe”. All evolutionary irrelevant stuff.

2.    Dogs are always looking out for number one.  That is themselves. Ah, you got to love these amazing creatures who never miss a beat when it comes to them making sure that they remain safe and that they get the best bone, bed, scratch, etc. in the house.

Some folks resent dogs when they are just taking care of business; that is their business.  Instead, they much rather have a dog that wants to please them. Ah, come on people!  Why? Why do we insist of making a caricature of real dogs?  Why can we just appreciate the fact that they MUST look out for themselves as they assess daily what’s in it for them?  Don’t we just do the same??????

Why then the double standard?  The answer, I am afraid, lies in the sad but very powerful fact that humans, or at least most humans, subscribe to the idea that any other being except for the “precious” human race was put on earth to either entertain, fulfill our ego’s desires and expectations or work for our benefit.

But isn’t time that we begin to acknowledge that our dogs deserve to live lives that resonate with their own nature?  Isn’t time that we STOP engaging in infantile requests of our dogs and instead we begin to CELEBRATE their dogness?