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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In My Opinion, The Georgia Hartsfield Show 10_14_12

I appeared on the talk show "In My opinion" with Georgia Hartsfield on 10_14_12. The radio station is REV 89, Colorado State University, Pueblo Colorado. Enjoy the show.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dogs & Kids: Best of Friends?

  Bringing a dog into a family with small children is sometimes no easy task. I think that sometimes people have the wrong idea about the interactions between dogs and kids. On one hand, introducing a dog to children will help a child develop empathy, sense of responsibility, patience, and compassion. On the other hand it can turn into an accident waiting to happen.
  One of the practices I absolutely hate the most is giving puppies at Christmas time. This is a real bad idea on a number of levels. One is that you are showing the child that the dog is an object or a plaything and you really have to show the child that this is a living, breathing being. Secondly, most kids will become infatuated with the dog for about the first two weeks. Then, you guessed it, it becomes your dog. Oh sure kids are all gun ho at first, but after the novelty wears off, be prepared to take on all the chores and responsibilities yourself.
  Never mind training the dog, you have to train your kids on how to treat the dog, how to play with the dog and how to respect the dog. The kids have to learn that this is not just another stuffed toy.
  Not every dog is right for some kids and not every kid is right for some dogs. I say this over and over; you have to get a breed that fits in well with your family and your lifestyle. I would consult a canine professional for this. I would also invest in training both the dog and your kids. Do it together as a family. And you should adopt a “zero” tolerance policy for aggression of any kind. Whether it is directed at the dog from your kids or vice versa. Kids have to be taught, not to look directly into a dogs eyes. I recently did some work for a breeder and spoke to their client before they received the puppy. It was a very cute little puppy. I asked if there was a small child at home. I gave them a complete rundown on how they should interact. Of course they didn’t listen to a work I said. When they picked up the dog from the airport and brought it home, the 6 year old grabbed the dog right out of the crate (having just completed a 3 hour plane flight) and held it right up in his face. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, you guessed it; the little puppy nipped his nose. The mother thought she just brought home Cujo. It was actually kind of funny.
  Also, you should probably look into a “low maintenance” breed of dog. Simply because taking care of kids is a full time job in itself. Adding a dog to the mix doesn’t make life any easier.
  When done correctly, bringing a puppy into a family can be a very rewarding experience. Just take your time, consult a canine professional and done correctly this can provide memories to your child that will last a life time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Rocky Road to Go

  Recently I have received several inquiries about a fairly common problem. A common problem that can prove to be fatal. I know first-hand of this. When Fritz, my miniature Dachshund was about a year old, he ate part of a rubber toy and got a blockage, requiring surgery. I almost lost him.
  The common problem of which I speak is eating rocks. That’s right rocks. Many dogs do this. Many dogs require surgery to remove them. Some don’t make it. Why do dogs do it? Like most behaviors there is a variety of reasons. Experts refer to this behavior as “pica”. Eating non-food items. The exact cause has never really been proven, but speculation points to several things. Boredom, anxiety, vitamin deficiencies, digestive tract abnormalities, attention getting, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  If you notice your dog vomiting, losing weight or having diarrhea bring him into your vet at once for x rays and evaluation. Also eating rocks can damage teeth, breaking and chipping them. Sharp rocks can cause bleeding in the mouth as well as throat and digestive tract damage.
  How can you prevent this? And how can you cure it, if your dog already has started this behavior? I hate to harp on this, but obedience training is always a starting point for many reasons. It builds confidence in the animal therefore reducing nervousness and anxiety. It also identifies who the leader in the pack is. My German Shepherd, Heidi, has been “Poison Proofed”. She will not take anything from strangers or anything she finds on the ground. I did this because she is my personal protection dog. She will only take rewards from me and if the food is in her dish.
  Another way is diversion. Set the dog up. Put out some rocks that they like and be careful the dog doesn’t get to any of them. When you see the dog start to go to eat a rock, give them something else like a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or some other kind of chew toy that they fancy.
  There are many chew toys out there. Be sure they are not too hard, or they will create excessive wear on their teeth. Rule of thumb, if you can drive a nail with it, it’s too hard. Kongs are great. Nyla bones come in many different harnesses. Make sure you pick the one that suits your dog the best.
  Teach the “leave-it” command. This can be helpful in many other areas as well as this one.
  Exercise. Nothing replaces good, longs walks. It’s good for them and it’s good for you. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog. When on your walk, bring along a favorite chew treat. If the dog goes to pick something up, give a good sharp “no”, show them the toy and then divert them to it, breaking their train of thought.
  Last but not least, consult with a good canine professional. Someone who is a trainer and behaviorist, to guild you through this time. If your dog does this, and you’re not sure how to deal with this, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to help.

The language of dogs

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

5 Fun Tricks you can teach your Dog

Ever see dogs on TV do some really cool tricks and wonder that your dog could never do them. Think again, it’s easier than you think and I’m going to show you how.
  Teaching dogs tricks, serves several purposes. First of all, it’s fun. Second of all, it stimulates their mind. And lastly it elevates your rank in a positive sort of way.
  I teach new behaviors exclusively with a clicker (operant conditioning). It’s the same way trainers at Sea World train Dolphins. If you are not sure on how to use one properly, drop me a line and I’ll show you.
  Let’s start with “beg”. First your dog should be fluent with the sit. Once the dog is sitting, take a piece of food and hold it just above the dog’s head out of reach. Once the dog starts to get up to get the food, click and treat and say “beg”. Assigning a word to the behavior now identifies to the dog, what you want him to do. And clicking “marks” the behavior. What I did with my German Shepherd, Heidi, was after I got her fluent in “begging” I then took it to a higher level. Once she was begging I then said “higher” and held the reward even higher. The behavior has now morphed into standing on her hind legs.
  The next really cool trick to teach your dog is “shame”. You know when the dog covers its nose with its paw. First of all we start with the sitting position. Then take a piece of tape rolled over to where you join both ends to form a loop. Stick it to the top of their nose. When the dog uses its paw to knock the tape off, click and treat and say “shame”. Start to form a behavior.
  How about, “high five”. This is relatively easy and most behaviors start as something else then morph into a finished product. Again, start with sit. Then “paw”. If your dog doesn’t know “paw” than drop me a line and I’ll be glad to get you started. Gradually, hold your hand higher and higher, making the dog reach to place its paw in your hand. Then, turn your hand over as if to “high five”, click, treat, and identify the behavior with “high five”.
  Here’s a good one, “shake”. My dachshund, Fritz mastered that one. Look at everyday behaviors as “training opportunities”.  I learned that when I would brush Fritz’s ears, he would shake his head after that. So I would brush his ears, he would shake and I would assign the word “shake”, click and treat. And after much repletion, he figured it out.
  Next on the hit parade is “roll over”. The baseline for this is the down. Put your dog in a down. Then, with a treat in hand, make a circular motion in front of the dog and say “over”. You may have to physically start to roll them over while you’re doing this. Once more, even if they only go half way, click treat and say “over”. Keep this up until they make a complete revolution. Fritz is a master at this and even will go the other way when I tell him.
  There are an infinite amount of behaviors you can teach your dog. Remember, patience, repetition and reward is key. Always teach your dog to seek reward rather than to avoid correction. Remember this stuff should be fun. Dogs live to play. We humans should take a lesson. How cool is it when friends come over, to go through a routine of trick with your dog. I guarantee they will be impressed.  Maybe someday your dog and you will end up on TV. All it takes is practice.

Homemade Sweet Potato Treats

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Power of Training with Food and Markers

  In the world of dog training there are trainers (or people who call themselves trainers) and there are trainers. The latter of the two I’m refereeing to actually basis their methodology in science. And this is the topic of discussion for today.
  Have you ever heard of “clicker” training? It has been around for quite some time. One book “Don’t Shoot The Dog” by Karen Pryor was copywrited in 2002 chronicles it. What we are talking about hear is “operant conditioning”. Simply put we introduce consequence into the equation of “classic” Pavlovian conditioning. Karen Pryor was a marine biologist and realized that not only Dolphins can learn this way but dogs as well. Let’s put this in a simple equation: give a command, sit; the dog does a behavior and sits; mark the behavior with a “click”; then reward with a primary reinforce. The dog will ALWAYS remember exactly what he was doing right before the “click”. That’s the 5 minute tour.
  Food rewards. Find out what your dog’s currency is. For my German Shepherd “Heidi” it’s her rubber ball. She goes crazy for it. For my Dachshund “Fritz” it is food. He is a chow hound. If you have treats of any kind, he is your new best friend. Some dogs like cookies others like certain types of toys. Find out what turns them on then use it to your advantage and exploit it. Learn to “condition” a behavior.
  Some people believe that you teach a dog a new behavior through compulsion. Studies have shown that dogs that learn through compulsion and force get the requested behavior right less than 50% of the time. Dogs that learn through operant conditioning get behavior right a higher percentage of the time because they become “fluent” in the behavior and understand what you want them to do.
  Here is another little trick of mine I use to teach true attention. When a mother wolf goes on a hunt, she leaves the pups in the den to wait for her to return. She perhaps kills a deer and gorges herself on it. Returning to the pups, she goes to them one by one, regurgitating the food and feeding each one directly out of her mouth. It is very clear to the pups exactly where the source of their food comes from. When I want to get true attention from a dog I get the dog’s food bowl, kneel down in front of the dog, make the dog sit. And tell it to “watch”. The exact moment that the dog’s eyes meet mine I say “ok” in a high pitched voice and give them the food. I hold the bowl while they eat. My hands are on both sides of the dish. I become part of the feeding ritual. While they are eating they are smelling my scent and I become part of the food and the direct source. Also they learn that by looking in my eyes, that is the behavior that gets them the food. So in essence every time they look in my eyes something good and positive happens. WOW, powerful stuff.
  Now some of you are wondering if you always have to “bribe” your dog. The answer is “NO”. Once the animal becomes fluent in a behavior than you can ween them off the reward system and treat less frequently until the reward goes away or is at least non-consistent.
  Some good, healthy treats to use are: Turkey Hot dogs, sliced smoke turkey, green beans, sliced cheese, apple slices (cored and skinned no pits) and celery sticks to name a few. Remember, you need to find your dog’s currency. High value treats. Remember you are going to work one way for 10$ an hour and another for 100$ and hour. Find out what really make him get up and notice and you’ll find dog training to be a pleasure.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Choosing the Right Trainer is just a Matter of Doing your Homework

  Would you let just anyone watch or teach your kids? I should think not. Most people investigate who will take care of their children and teach them in their absence. The same should go for your dog when you hire someone to train them. I have been a professional trainer for a very long time. And I hope some of you will consider me as the trainer of your choice. If not, then read on for some insights into the world of professional dog training.
  Dogs learn only 2 ways. That’s it. Period the end. I have spoken. Don’t let anyone tell you different. They learn through “classic” Pavlovian conditioning. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Where a “conditioned response” is created and the dogs salivated when he rang a bell thinking they were getting a steak. Then there is “operant” conditioning. Which is very similar to “classic” conditioning, only we now introduce “consequence” to the equation. In other words we force the dog to make a decision. Choose door letter “a” you get the treat and door letter “b” you get nothing. My idea of punishment for getting the command wrong is lack of reward. I teach dogs to seek reward rather than avoid corrections.
  Which brings me to my next point. Trainers who use harsh corrections. I recently had a client who had a 10 month old German Shepherd. He passed a remark to me that it seemed that lately all he was doing was giving his dog corrections with a leash and choke chain. I replied, “how’s it workin’ for ya?” The problem here was that he was using another trainer that all he knew was to give the dog corrections to get the dog to do anything. The dog had no idea of what the trainer wanted. So to avoid the correction, he did what he thought the trainer wanted. He really was not fluent in the behavior. So he got it right  only about half the time. This method is called “avoidance and escape training”. This method has been around for a very long time and was started around the early 1900’s by Colonel Konrad Most, a colonel in the Prussian army. His book, “Training Dogs” was really the only book we had up until around 20 years ago.
  Another method that is used, is training with electric collars. Like most tools, everything has its place. And this method puts a new face on an old method. That’s right, you guessed it, avoidance and escape training. Like I said, there are places for this method however you do not teach behaviors with an electric collar.
  There are plenty of good trainers, (yours truly included) and allot of bad ones. But how to decide. Check their credentials. How long have they been doing it? Did they go to a school? How did they learn? Check their references. Usually if your veterinarian recommends somebody they are probably good because your vet would never associate with someone who is a problem. What methods do they use? If they use “yank and crank” (avoidance and escape training) run the other way.
  Investing in professional training for your dog will strengthen the bonds between the two of you. This will also keep them out of a shelter. This stuff should be fun, not a second job. You will both enjoy a better relationship and have allot of fun doing it. That’s what it’s all about.

Responsible Dog Ownership Is Good For All of Us

Most of you who know me by now have heard me say time and time again, that the single biggest problem most dog owners face is that they get the wrong breed of dog. There are many, many reasons why people get dogs. Whether it’s the way they look, or it’s the same dog in a popular TV show, protection or service work. The reasons why are endless.
  People follow trends. What’s ever “in style” at the time. Currently the AKC (American Kennel Club) recognizes over 400 different breed of dogs. That’s allot to choose from. And certainly, somewhere in there is a dog that fits your lifestyle and needs. Which leads me to my next point? Why is the Pit Bull breed so very popular?
  Let’s get this straight right from the beginning, the author IS NOT anti-pit bull. Actually I am very indifferent to the breed. I have trained many pits over the course of 30 years. I have found them to be fairly good students and very likeable. But they are a “strong breed”. And not for everyone. Certainly if you don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. Here comes the problem.
  There is a big word out there that describes a part of the problem: anthropomorphic, which means that you assign human qualities to an animal. These dogs are not little children that you can talk to and they understand. It doesn’t work that way. All dogs especially “strong breeds” ( German Shepherds, Rottweiler, Dobermans, to name a few) need a certain level of training. After all, when you adopt a dog, essentially you are putting an animal into a human world and he may have a hard time relating. And now comes a problem. The animal won’t know how to handle a given situation and when they don’t, it usually ends up in a bite. And these dogs are serious.
  I have a neighbor who has 2 pits. He and his wife are very responsible dog owners. They make sure their dogs are secured in there pen and when they walk them they take precautions to ensure the safety of others. One dog is animal aggressive, but they take all the necessary steps so their problem doesn’t become anyone else’s. I applaud them.
  On the other hand, I have a client that has a Pit that is getting unruly. He just turned 2 and he is starting to come of age. Problem is that she has 6 Pits all together, none of them are trained and they have formed a pack. She has absolutely no control over them and is in way over her head. This is an accident waiting to happen. I am attempting to help her but she has to cut them back to no more than 2 dogs at most. She just can’t handle any more.
  One more example. Back east I had a client with s 190 pound, St. Bernard. Very nice dog. He had a girlfriend who weighed about 110 pounds. Not that much of a problem, so far. I was teaching her to walk the dog. The boyfriend and I stayed about 10 feet behind them to observe and coach her. Meanwhile across the street, a woman pushing a baby carriage was walking. She also had he young daughter besides her walking a little white Maltese. All of a sudden, the St. Bernard bolted across the street. The girlfriend panicked and just plain let go of the leash. Both I and the boyfriend ran across the street, he securing his dog and I calming the situation down. Needless to say, we all had a long talk after that incident.
  Which leads to my next point. If people continue to act irresponsibly with these kinds of dogs, they will force the hand of government to step in. And we all know how that ends up. Case in point. Recently the Maryland legislative leaders want to impose a ban on pit bulls labeling them “inherently dangerous”. “This decision will have profound effects on dogs, dog owners, property owners, tenants and landlords,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Cavert) wrote in a letter to Gov. Matin O’Malley (D). “Therefore, we are appointing a Joint Task Force to study the court decision and make possible recommendations.” These things start trends. First one community than another. And in the end the dogs are the ones who pay.
  I love “strong breed” dogs. I own one. But before you get one whether it be a pit, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman or anything else, please, please consult a canine professional with credentials who can evaluate your abilities to responsibly own such an animal. Owning such an animal can be a truly great and rewarding experience. Or it can turn into a nightmare that will affect both you and others for the rest of your lives.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chinese Food Products-Here’s what’s in the chicken jerky that’s poisoning our pets

Grieving After a Dog's Death Is a Necessary Process

  As a professional dog trainer, more often than not, the relationships I have with my clients and their dogs goes way beyond client and trainer. After all these are like their children. And in some cases, more special. After I complete training, my relationship with the client usually continues for many years thereafter.
  I put off writing this piece because of the memories it brings back to me of my own experiences and loss. I have had dogs all my life. I have experienced the heartbreak of losing a dog. Several times.
  I recently had a client back east lose a dog suddenly. He wasn’t quite 3 years old. He was very healthy. He was a Rottweiler. I trained both him and another Rottie they had, a younger one. He went to sleep one night as he always did. He never woke up. He died in his sleep of a heart attack. Suddenly, with no warning. It happens. It happens to people as well. No warning signs, no nothing.
  This person was devastated. Heart broken. This was her special boy. I tried my best to console her and try to make sense of the whole thing. The other dog was feeling it as well. When a member of the pack goes missing, the remaining members will set out searching for it. After a while if they don’t find it they will give up and move on. They will grieve, but they will move on. I told her it’s going to take time. There is a process, and you have to go through it. Both she and the other dog are doing better. It’s been a while now and it will take more time.
  I don’t think you ever really “get over it”. Both of my previous dogs Rocky, a GSD I got from a shelter when I was 19, and Wrecks, a Keeshond a friend of mine got me are both buried at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY. Rocky I put down in ’92 and Wrecks in ’99. Before I moved out here to Colorado I visited their graves. I cried like a baby, even after all this time. You never forget.
  On that final journey, if you have the misfortune of having to put them to sleep, be with them. Don’t let them go through this alone. You owe that to them. You will also have more closure when you do this. They will tell you when it’s time.  I’m not saying any of this is easy, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do.
  Owning a dog can give you years of happiness and joy. And it almost seems that in a moment you have to give it all back. But you don’t. I’m sure if your dog could talk to you from beyond they would tell you not to forget them but to move on until you can be reunited. There is a poem called “The Rainbows Bridge” and it goes like this:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. 

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. 
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. 
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. 

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. 
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. 

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. 

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. 

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... 

Author unknown... 
  Now I have a very good friend of mine in Oregon. She is a psychic/pet communicator and she is spot on. If any of you have lost a pet and need answers she may be able to shed some light on your situation. Feel free to contact me for her info. She does phone sessions and is very reasonably priced.
  No doubt this is a very difficult subject to discuss. Your pets may not be with you any longer, but they always will remain in your hearts.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Canine Dentistry: For a Great Smile

   Ever see that commercial on tv for the doggie treats that promotes good teeth and healthy gums that show the dogs with “doggie dentures”? I think it’s pretty funny, but not really. Truth is, this is a very serious matter that affects the overall health of the dog, affecting their longevity, and affecting the pocket books of the owner.
  My German Shepherd dog, “Heidi” is having an issue right now. She is a registered therapy dog. She has competed in the sport of Schutzhund. She is also a very “high drive” dog. As a matter of fact, when she bites, she bites so hard, and with such enthusiasm, that she chipped the tops off her canine teeth.  One exposed the root and it got infected. She has to get a root canal. The whole procedure, soup to nuts is costing me a whopping 1600.00$ !!! Thank you MasterCard.
  Both of my dogs get their teeth brushed at least 3 times weekly. There are many kits on the market that make it easier for the average person to do this. Just go into any pet department store. They usually come with a brush, toothpaste (for dogs) and a finger brush. You always should start with the finger brush to get them used to you being in there mouths.
  There is a new process out there called Dental Scaling without the use of anesthesia. Most of the time it is, let’s say, less than truthful. Some dogs are tolerant to you being in their mouth. But when you put a sharp instrument in there and start scraping and probing, that’s not going to go far. In addition, there is no way to get behind the teeth and into the gums. The best way to maintain your pet’s teeth is to have a canine dental professional give them a good cleaning. And that is going to mean anesthesia. Veterinarians who perform these procedures have made anesthesia safer than ever before. And if performed correctly, dogs of over 15 years of age can be treated successfully.
  Let’s briefly touch upon chew toys. As a rule of thumb, if you can drive a nail with it, it’s too hard. Some dogs are very heavy chewers. Rope toys and softer bone type toys are best. Also there should be some crunchy stuff in their food as well.
  If you start to see discoloring, bad odor, a red line along the gums, or bleeding gums, then you dog is probably a good candidate for a professional cleaning. Brushing only removes soft plaque. And doesn’t go below the gum line. Brushing along with regular checkups is key. Kinda sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
  So the key points here are: brush your dog’s teeth regularly, see a Canine Dental Specialist regularly, make sure the chew toys you give them are not too hard and give them a balanced diet. After all, you never know when you dog may get discovered for a movie role and have to flash their pearly whites.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dominance & Aggression

Here is my latest article published in the Sunday April 21st 2012 Colorado Springs Gazette

this is an edited version of my previous post

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Service Dog: Truly Man’s Best Friend

  More and more, dogs are playing a bigger role in our society. We have more dogs in the military for a variety of tasks. Also they are playing a bigger role in law enforcement, whether it is in bite work, search and rescue, scent work (drug sniffing and bomb detection) and criminal apprehension.
  But in the civilian realm things take a turn in a different direction. In the direction of the service dog. Now don’t confuse a service dog with a therapy dog. Typically a therapy dog is brought to hospitals and nursing homes, to provide “therapy” for the patients.  Service dogs perform a variety of tasks to aid a patient with a particular ailment. Take for instance a Seeing Eye dog. They help the blind. Some dogs can be trained to detect seizures by “smelling” a seizure before it happens. I’m training a service dog right now for an elderly couple. He had a stroke. His wife had 3. The dog is for companionship as well as picking up objects she can’t reach. She has a problem bending down, so I am training the dog to pick up objects on command.
  Many different dogs can be used for service dogs depending on the tasks they have to complete. I once trained a very large German Shepherd for a lady who had severe spinal damage. The dog had to be able to assist her in going up and down stairs as well as be able to assist her in getting up if she fell down. So I used a large breed that could handle the weight of a 160 pound person. I made the dog wear a harness like you would for a Seeing Eye dog. It had a large handle the lady could hold on to. I carefully researched the dog I used. A made sure the parents were both docile and submissive.
  Let’s say you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). You would train a dog to maybe carry a small oxygen tank for you. The dog would sense you are having a problem breathing and assist you in finding a place to sit and take some oxygen. Also the dog can be a motivator to exercise and get out of the house. Too often, because of the nature of the disease, it is easy to become lethargic.
  One of the best “all around” breeds for service work is the Golden Retriever. They are submissive and loyal partners. Easy to train, and generally healthy dogs. It is best to do your homework and find a breeder that suites your needs. Meet the dog’s parents. That should give you a fairly good idea of what you’re getting. Check references. Make sure the breeder has a good reputation. Some other examples are the Papillion, German Shepherd, Golden Doodle , Standard Poodle, and Border Collie.
  Next you will need a trainer. Currently, trained service dogs can cost from $7500 to $15,000 and up. Again, do your homework. There are allot of good trainers out there. There are allot of bad ones. The elderly couple I am working with saw a trainer before me that tried to rope them into some kind of contact for almost $8,000. These people are of modest means. I decided to help them for an hourly rate, which is a fraction of the cost the other trainers wanted to charge. I take people on a case-by-case basis. I love what I do and if I can do a good deed in the process and help someone who is on a fixed income, all the better.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dominant & Aggressive Dogs

  Let me first start off by saying that this is an intensely complicated subject, that to even touch upon it in this venue is very difficult. Volumes have been written about it.  And many people who read this will have varying opinions. And I would welcome the feedback. You can go to my website and email me from there.
  In the dog community there are many terms that are circulated frequently. One is dominance, the other is aggression. Most of the time, both of these terms are misused.
  Much of the time, both dominance and aggression are nurtured. Sometimes it is genetic. Almost all the time, neither is treated correctly, if at all. First let’s talk about temperament. That is the personality of the dog. I like to put dogs into 2 categories: hard dogs and soft dogs. A hard dog, is a dog that if you gave him a strong correction with a prong collar, he would turn around and look at you as if to say “is that the best you can do”? And a soft dog, is a dog like my Dachshund, that if you yell at him too harshly, he will just roll over as if to say “you win, I give up”. If you have a soft dog, generally no problem. But if you have a hard dog, than listen up.
  I have said this on several occasions. Many people get the wrong dogs. They get a dog for a variety of reasons. They either like the way the dog looks or its coat or some other superficial reason. Take my German Shepherd. She is a dominant dog. She is a personal protection dog that has competed in protection sports. Yet she is also a certified therapy dog that has been in hospitals and nursing homes making many people happy. How does this happen. How do you go from one to another? Yes she is dominant, and I allow her to be. But I’m more dominant, and she takes her orders from me. That’s my dog. Not my boss. We have to keep it all in perspective. I am ALWAYS in control. Now let’s take Fritz my Dachshund. I hate to say it, but he can get away with murder. Why. Because I love him, he is not a danger to anyone, and I don’t go through life like a drill sergeant.
  A very high percentage of a dogs DNA is wolf. Now before some people out there start hootin’ and hollerin’ about the “alpha” theory and how flawed it is, lest I remind you, it is just that, a “theory”. That being said, in a wolf pack the “Alpha” is usually a female. And rank is a big deal. In your home, if you have a dominant dog, that dog should be the lowest ranking member of your pack. That doesn’t mean you have to mistreat the animal. But what it does mean is that, the dog has to have boundaries. And rules it has to abide by. It cannot go on the couch or bed unless you invite it. It doesn’t get away with stealing food off the counter. It doesn’t get away with eliminating in the house. You get the picture, right? And as for toys. All the toys belong to you. And you let the dog play with them, as you see fit. Then they go back to you. There is an order here. Once more, you don’t have to go through life like a drill Sargent, but you have to have control. If you are not willing to or can’t step up to the plate and take charge over this animal, than re-homing the dog may be a viable option.
  Crating. That’s the next thing. For the first two years of a dog’s life, if not under your direct supervision, they’re in a crate. This is for several reasons. I am a positive trainer. Almost all interaction with you must be a positive experience. If your dog has the run of the house, and tears something up, you HAVE to address it. Usually this is going to be a negative encounter. So if you limit negative encounters, and save them from themselves, you are going to have a better relationship with your dog.
  Puppy biting is a frequently brought up topic. Puppies experience all the new things in the world through their mouth. They don’t have hands, so there mouth takes over. Little nipping and biting is typical “puppy stuff” and dogs will grow out of it. What you should never do is to get the puppy worked up into a frenzy, even though it may be cute, where the puppy is growling and biting something. You’re starting to teach the dog that they can control their world through aggressive behavior. Playing tug is a whole other subject and I’ll briefly touch upon it. There is a major component to playing tug. And that’s the “out”. Teaching the dog that releasing something doesn’t mean losing it. World champion Ivan Balabanov demonstrated this superbly in his training series “Obedience without conflict” video series.
  Dog on dog aggression comes in many forms. One form is “T ing” off. That is when one dog, gets on another’s back, crossways (like a “T”). This is a demonstration of dominance and should be discouraged. Watch body English. If a dog sees another dog, starts to stare, stiffens up, tail is raised over the back, hackles come up (hair over the back right after the neck, called a pilo erection), you’re looking at the beginnings of a dog fight. I’ve split up a few in my day and I’ll tell you, it aint fun. The way to split up two dogs is to grab each by their hind legs and pull them apart. When they are in this heightened state, they can easily turn on you through re-directed aggression, and bite their handlers. Also this throws them off balance and it is easier to separate them.
  Dogs have several “drives” in them. One is prey, the other is defense. If a dog has weak nerves, it will not be confident, little things can set them off, and they will always be “on guard”. Sometimes they have a hair trigger, and they learn to control their environment by displays of aggression.
  One of the most incredibly “stupid” things I have ever seen done on TV is the “alpha role”. This is where you role the dog over on its side to dominate it. Dogs don’t do this to each other. The dog can react to this one of two ways. Submit to you in fear or bite you in the face thinking you are trying to kill it. DON’T DO THIS!
  Dominance and aggression are topics that we can speak about all day. If you think you dog has problems with either, consult a qualified trainer/behaviorist. Do your homework, get references and address this issue before it bites you, you know where.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is It Possible to Raise a “Perfect” Dog……….YES!!! And here’s how

Think you can’t raise a perfect dog, think again. I have two. A female German Shepherd named Heidi and her friend, a miniature long haired Dachshund male named Fritz. I love them dearly. We are a pack. And it is very clear; I am the leader of the pack. There are many factors in canine development. But if you follow these simple rules, you too can have the dog you always dreamed of.
1.      Genetics: If your budget allows, find a reputable breeder. Do your homework. There are people out there that produce puppies and call themselves breeders. I think not. There is much to successful breeding. If you can, meet the parents and you should be able to get a reasonable idea of what you’re getting. If you get a dog from a shelter, make sure to spend some time with the dog or hire a canine professional to assist you in your choice.
2.      Training: Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish. Hire a trainer. Again, do your homework. There are allot of good trainers out there, and allot of bad ones too.
3.      Exercise: There are two forms of exercise: mental and physical. Your dog is a social animal and needs to interact with you. A good game of fetch, once a day, is worth its weight in gold.
4.      Management: For the first two years of a dog’s life, their home should be a crate. If you’re not supervising the dog, they are in a crate. Reason is you have to save them from themselves. If a dog tears something up in your home, than he/she has to be reprimanded. That is a negative. If all his interaction with you is on a positive note, than you will have a better relationship with the dog.
5.      Food: There are allot of dog foods out there that are junk. Again, do your homework. There are many web sites out there that rate dog food. Once more, don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish. Also educate yourself in canine nutrition. Dogs are omnivores. That means they can eat anything. I feed my dogs a varied diet of kibble, fruits and vegetables as well as ground turkey, chicken and beef.
6.      Patience: Some people think that when a dog is 6 months old it is grown up. Wrong. Depending on the dog it can take up to 2 years for a dog to mature. Don’t expect adult behavior from a puppy, you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy them while they are young.
  There is so much more to dog ownership. This should be fun. A dog should be an enhancement to your life and not a second job. But if you follow these rules, you too can have a perfect dog.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Not For Everybody

This is from an article I published in the Pueblo Chieftain Sunday March 11, 2012

  This is in response to Christine Luceros comment on pit bulls. I have been an animal behaviorist for over 30 years. The truth about pit bulls and any “strong breed” dog is that they are not for everybody. I find in my experience that people get dogs for many reasons. In some cases they neither have the experience nor the knowledge to own certain animals. Yet our laws allow them to purchase any dog they want. Many people are very irresponsible when it comes to dog ownership. I wouldn’t even consider getting a Tiger for a pet. They are beautiful animals but I know nothing about them and I would be in way over my head. This is a great article Gary Wilkes wrote on pits: He is a world redound behaviorist.
  You have a double sided problem here: on one hand you have pit bull owners trying to convince the world, pit bulls get a “bad rap”. And on the other hand you have some people pushing the issue that Pit bulls are “bad dogs”. Neither are correct. I have trained probably in excess of 50 pits in my day. They basically train pretty easy, in my opinion not the smartest dogs I have ever worked with but not bad. Do a majority have an animal aggression problem, yes. But if you get a well-bred pit, and engage in very heavy socialization from 8 weeks on, and obedience training, there should be no problem. If anyone has any comments or concerns they can contact me via my website.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Language of Dogs

  Did you know that more than 80% of human to human communication is non-verbal? It's even higher in canines. Sarah Kalnaj has a great video on the subject. Dogs have a hard time with the concept of language, this is a human thing. However dogs can learn individual words. Depending on the dog, by the time a dog is between 3 and 5 years of age, they can learn between 100 and 300 English words.
  Here are some tips:

Turning the head away: Peaceful intentions. Avoiding possible conflict. Prevents eye contact, which most dogs find threatening.
Lip licking: Peaceful intentions. Calms a social group, eases tension. But it also may precede a bite from a fearful dog.
Yawning: Stress reducer. Commonly observed at the veterinarian’s office or at the groomer.
Tail positions: Up means confidence. Down signals a relaxed or submissive state. Between legs means fear. Wagging with entire body signals joy. Wagging without the body indicates stress, interest or excitement.
Raised hackles: The dog feels threatened or is overstimulated.
Shivering: Fear, tension or overstimulated.
Paw lift: Forward weight distribution signals a friendly state or begging. Rear weight distribution could indicate fear or distrust.
Closed mouth: Precedes bite. Helps gain scent, conveys seriousness. 
Open mouth: Relaxed.
Grimace: Tense jaw muscles with mouth pulled back at corners exposing canines or all teeth signals fear, excitement or aggression.
Whale eye (whites of eyes visible, dilated pupils): Conveys fear or aggression.
Presenting stomach: Laying squarely on back with paws over center of chest signals submission or trust. On side, lifting one hind leg indicates fear, apprehension or fearful submission.
Sneeze: During or after enjoyable activity signals happiness. 
Bowing: Means the dog is playful.
Breathing: Through stomach signals a relaxed state. Through chest indicates excitment or stress.
Sniffing ground: This is a calming signal that shows peaceful intent, relief of stress or an attempt to gain a scent.
Freezing: Signals the dog is contemplating a fight or flight.
Drooling: During the presence of food means the dog is hungry. During stressful situations signals fear and, for dogs that suffer car-sickness, often precedes vomiting.
  So the next time your dog tries to talk to you, listen!

Man’s Best Friend, Really

  I often heard this saying. Ever since I was a kid. I got my first dog when I was about 6 years old, actually it was my grandparent’s dog, but they lived in the apartment right below us. He was a Beagle and they named him “Prince”. He and I were best friends. He actually bit many people, but I wasn’t one of them.
  I also have heard that “dogs really want to please you”. In my studies, I have read that that wasn’t really true and dogs really want to please themselves. I can see that in some cases. And though my training techniques are based in science, I can’t help being anthropomorphic (that word means to “humanize”) and believing they really do want to please me.
  Dogs live to play. Weather they are puppies or 12 years old. Dogs are social animals. It is important for them to socialize with other dogs as well as their human counterparts. They love interaction. As a matter of fact, when you see a dog waging its tail, it doesn’t always mean it’s happy, but merely it wants to “engage’ you.
  Dogs serve a myriad of roles in our society. Some are trained to use their noses to sniff out bombs and drugs. Others detect seizure in some patients. Some serve as service dogs. Others  as therapy dogs. Some work in police and military roles providing protection. Some are Seeing Eye dogs. Whatever the role, they are usually eager to step up to the plate and, pardon the pun, work their tails off.
  I have a miniature Dachshund named “Fritz” and a German shepherd named “Heidi”. They are my world. We are a pack. Sometimes I don’t know how I would get through a day without the both of them. I recently re-located to Colorado from NY. Being all alone out here isn’t easy. But when I look at them and they look at me, everything is alright.
  Anyone who owns a dog knows what I am talking about, and anyone who don’t, if your lifestyle permits, should try it. For all they do for us, they really are man’s best friend.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Choosing The Wrong Dog

  This is a very common problem I am faced with. Many times people get the “wrong breed” for their lifestyle. The reasons for getting the dog people get are as varied as the owners. Very rarely people consult a canine professional BEFORE they get the dog, to see which breed is best for them. I had a case one time of a woman in her late 30’s. She had an aspiring career as a school teacher. She also took some evening classes. On top of that, she needed to “have a life”. She went to the local shelter and adopted a Jack Russell Terrier. She kept it crated all day. She came home, fed it, let it out, then back in the crate. She wondered why the dog had aggression issues. When I first met the dog and had him on the leash, he was so aggressive, and flipping around, I thought I had a blue fish on the line. After about 45 minutes he was my best friend and didn’t want me to leave. We were playing and having allot of fun. Something he never experienced before. The moral of the story here is that this woman should have gotten a gold fish as a pet. When I asked her what inspired her to get a “Jack” she said she wanted a dog like the one in a popular TV show. She couldn’t tell me why, she just wanted one.
  Adopting older dogs is a good alternative, if high energy and time is an issue. Most older dogs “know the game”, are house broken already, and all they do is eat, sleep, go out and love you. This is great for someone “on-the-go” or an older person looking for companionship.
  If you have a young, high energy family with children, you may want to consider one of America’s favorite breeds, the Golden Retriever. They are even tempered, great with kids, love high energy activities, and are easy to train.
  Here is a good one. Some people get “strong breeds’. The reasons here are varied. Some people who acquire these breeds (pit bulls, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman Pinchers, to name a few) have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They all start out great as puppies, but they grow up. And get big. And can get aggressive. And if you’re not qualified to deal with this or have not hired a qualified trainer, you’re in trouble. Or should I say your both in trouble, you and the dog. Because if the dog bites someone and hurts them, you get sued and he gets euthanized.
  Remember, when you get a dog, you are starting a RELATIONSHIP. A dog is not like a stick of furniture. It is a living thing that has both physical and emotional needs. Dogs are social animals and require interaction with their owners. Don’t forget that.
  Education is the key here. BEFORE you decide to get a dog, consult a canine professional. Someone with good credentials in the dog community. There are allot of good trainers out there (yours truly) and there are allot of bad ones as well. Do your homework. You’ll be glad you did. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dog on Dog aggression

  It never ceases to amaze me how people interact with their dogs. Many people I encounter have absolutely NO control over their pets whatsoever. That is why when I take either of my dogs for a walk down the street, I carry pepper spray and a big stick. I thought that moving out west would be better than living in NY, but I was wrong.
  You MUST protect your dog. If your dog gets attacked, just once, he can become dog aggressive. Most people out there are totally clueless on even how to break up a dog fight. It’s a pretty scary thing.
  Many people get the wrong dog. I see it all the time. I haven’t been able to figure out the motivation behind getting the dog they have. One common reason is looks. They like the look of the dog.
  Now here is a million dollar question: why don’t local laws allow you to keep a Tiger in your back yard? You guessed it, because if it gets loose it can kill somebody. Now I don’t mean to be facetious, but common sense isn’t so common anymore. Here is a good article about that:

  Now I hate to come off sarcastic but this is a subject close to my heart. Dog on dog aggression does occur, but far too often, and is, in most cases, preventable. In NJ there is a trainer/behaviorist Karen Fazio. She has just written an article that I think is one of the best I have ever read on the subject:
  Read this. If you have a dog that is a potential threat, get involved with a good behaviorist and nip it in the bud. You and all around you will be glad you did.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Business of the Dog Business

  Being a professional dog trainer isn’t easy. Everyone assumes that it’s a “dream job”. Little do they know, you work twice as hard for half as much as anyone else. All the schools out there tell you all the money you’re going to make so they get you to sign up as a student. You watch all the TV personality dog trainers and think: “look at all the money they’re making”. Yea right.
  Truth is, most of the time you’re not a dog trainer at all. You’re in the marketing business. And it has been said that you don’t have to be good, just a good marketer. That’s one of the problems. This economy is the pits. And if stupid was a crime, we would need allot more jails.
  I just recently moved to south eastern Colorado. It is a very different world from New York. The things I see out here in the dog world are unreal. Some people out here buy a dog or get one from the shelter. They get him a dog house in the yard, and that’s it. And that’s where he stays. People here and all over are not very knowledgeable to dog training and what they think its worth. Truth is that it’s worth more than they think.
  There are allot of good dog trainers out there. There are also allot of bad ones. If you’re a good, educated, certified behaviorist, what’s that worth per hour? Some people assume that you just love working with animals so much you should do it for free. Sure, that’s how my rent gets paid. My landlord loves me so much he lets me live there for free. The business has been diluted with amateurs that are just looking to take people’s money. Also, many big corporate stores ,really are in the pet supply business and use cheap training as a clever way of bringing clients into their stores. They hire young, underpaid, minimally skilled people to train dogs. They save the really hard, aggressive dogs for guys like me. Because they don’t have the skill or guts to take on that task. And they call themselves dog trainers. They just want to work with cute little puppies that couldn’t hurt a fly and call themselves dog trainers. Give me a break.
  The general public needs to be educated. Some people think that their dog is just another child in their home and it will just learn on its own. Again, yea right. But maybe I’m asking too much. After all look at how people treat each other. Why should they care about treating a dog better? Or being considerate enough to pay a decent wage to a qualified dog trainer. I guess I’ll never understand. But in the meantime I’ll keep fighting the good fight to educate people on why they should have a good, qualified dog trainer to help them train their dogs.