Leashes On! To Greet or Not to Greet?


Is it ok to let your dog greet another dog while on leash? You see it happening everywhere. Everyone does it, from neighbors to complete strangers in the park. It looks easy and fun, and it is considered a very social thing to do, for both people and dogs. With leash laws and dogs that aren’t trained to reliably come when called, how else can you let them socialize with members of their own kind?


The truth is, allowing dogs to greet on leash can be tricky and even risky. Leashes can increase tension between dogs when they greet because they are so close to each other and have a limited escape. This inability to flee can make dogs uncomfortable and cause them to react inappropriately. Combine that with dogs that may not be friendly and the average human’s inability to correctly interpret the nuances of dog body language, and things can go bad very quickly.


The issue of leash greetings is often debated among dog trainers. Should people be encouraged to avoid leash greetings or be taught to do it properly? Many trainers go the ‘no-greeting-on-leash’ route and in the past, I did too. I instructed my students accordingly and warned them in class about the problems that can occur.


Understandably, I would see these same people eventually relent at outdoor events where they were surrounded by routine leash greetings by nearly everyone. For the most part, those greetings were done without reservation, and sometimes without problems. However, there were an equal number of situations that did not go well. Often disregarding that advice, got the people and their dogs into bad situations that they regretted and could have avoided.


Not long ago, a former client contacted me via email to tell me about an on-leash greeting he allowed that went horribly wrong. While walking his older female dog, he encountered another man walking his dog. Now, this client is a very friendly person, as is his current dog. His previous dog had been quite reactive to other dogs and would fight. But now, assuming that since his current dog was friendly everything would be fine, he approached. Within seconds the other dog had attacked the old female dog and caused several severe wounds to her face. After hospitalization and much care, she survived. The client found out later that the dog had been adopted by this man only two hours prior to the incident.


So, what is the right thing to do? Avoiding on-leash greetings entirely is pretty much impossible. Pressure from other people or unanticipated greetings can challenge the best of intentions. It is best to train for the event so you will be prepared. Leash greetings are something that should be worked toward and practiced, like any behavior. To put it simply, if you can’t do it right then don’t do it.



There are some rules to follow before you allow your dog to greet another:


  1. The dog you are about to let your dog greet should be known to you. Take a lesson from the client in the previous story, never allow your dog to greet an unknown dog. It is ok to refuse a greeting.
  2. Neither dog should be allowed to greet if either of them is pulling. From a training perspective, successfully pulling to get something that they want will reinforce pulling. Definitely not something you want! Additionally, the pulling gets the dog too excited for the greeting to be done calmly or correctly. This frenetic greeting can easily escalate to aggression if either dog is frustrated or easily offended.
  3. During the greeting, the leashes must be loose. Most people keep the leashes tight because it makes them feel as though they have control. However, the tight leash makes the dog feel forced and out of control. Loose leashes allow the dogs to move about freely and get away if necessary. Additionally, a slight tug on a tight leash can cause an eruption and fight. It is important though, to ensure that the leashes don’t get tangled.
  4. Make sure that you have enough room for the dogs to greet properly. Dogs often circle around each other when they sniff and they need room to do that. Tight spaces make dogs uncomfortable, so no greetings in hallways or other tight spots.
  5. Both dogs should be under control and relaxed. It can help to get your dog to focus on you. Focus is an excellent tool to have and it is super important for greetings. It will take some practice, but if you have your dog’s attention and focus, everything else you do will be easy!
  6. Your dog should have a good response to his or her name. When you say your dog’s name, does he immediately turn and look at you? No matter what else may be going on? A fast response to their name can help you diffuse a situation that may not be going well. Good name recognition can also help dogs that don’t like other dogs in their faces. You can allow a quick sniff and then call your dog away.
  7. Always ask permission before greeting and be understanding, leash greetings are not for every dog. Not every dog will like another dog getting up close and personal. Like people, dogs can have space issues, some prefer not to have anyone near their face and some don’t like to get sniffed. Additionally, different dogs greet differently. Sometimes this can be categorized by breed, but not always. Some dogs prefer a very ritualistic and reserved greeting, while others will bound up and bounce all around. I think of this as similar to cultural differences for humans. A very hearty handshake and shoulder slap vs. a polite bow is very different and using the wrong greeting can offend the other person.
  8. Give your dog permission to greet the other dog. Do this like you would give your dog permission to eat a treat. They should look for permission to greet.
  9. If you encounter a dog unexpectedly, relax, loosen the leash and speak calmly to both dogs.


Loose leash greetings can be successful, but they require training and preparation. You can practice approaching another dog in a controlled setting, BEFORE actually allowing any greeting. This is best accomplished by enlisting the aid of another dog and handler who are either proficient at, or working on, the same skill and are also motivated to have successful on-leash greetings.


Start with the dogs at a distance from each other where they can each easily pay attention to their handlers. Begin your approach while keeping your dog’s attention. As you get close, and before they start to pull, quickly call your dog and retreat. You should be reinforcing attention and their response to their name. Gradually, with each successful approach, decrease the distance between the two dogs (and the point at which you call their names).


When you can get a little more than arm’s length away from the other dog/handler team and both dogs are more interested in the handlers than the other dog, ask for a sit. You can then reward the sit. In this way you are teaching approach a dog and handler and sit. When you can easily walk up to the other team and get a sit, you can then allow the greeting!


This can actually a fun game and is a great way to teach your dog to attend to you despite distractions. Even easy-going, laid-back dogs can benefit from increased attention and the rules for on-leash greetings. Young, enthusiastic dogs can be a real challenge so it is ok to put off greetings until they have had a some practice with impulse control and set-up approaches. Have fun!



IMG_9734 (1)After a long cold winter, the warmer weather is finally here! As soon as it is warm enough, my first reaction is “let’s open the windows”! It is wonderful to be able to let the fresh air in but sometimes noise, like the sounds of dogs barking, filters in as well. This is the time of year when people suddenly become aware of their dog’s barking. Either because the warm weather is providing more opportunities and things to bark at or because the neighbors are complaining. Either way, it is a problem.


It is a familiar request. “Can you please help me to stop my dog from barking?” Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as the question. There are many different ways to deal with unwanted barking but how respond to it depends largely on why they are doing it in the first place.


Barking is a form of communication and not all barks are the same. It is meant to relay information. Here are a variety of reasons that your dog may be barking.


The boredom bark. Dogs need mental stimulation and physical exercise just like they need food, water and shelter. These things are not luxuries like they are for us, they are basic needs. A dog left unattended in the yard all day or even for an extended period will find things to do to occupy his mind. That can include a variety of taboo behaviors but barking is top on the list. Barking at passersby, barking at squirrels, barking because another dog barked, or simply boo-hooing his solitude results in unwanted noise. The same is true for dogs left in the house all day without much to think about. This type of barking can be helped by an enrichment program along with an exercise program that helps stimulate the dog.


The “I’m alone” bark. Barking and vocalizing (i.e., howling, whining) can be an indication that the dog is experiencing discomfort or anxiety at being left alone. Barking in itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is experiencing separation anxiety but it can be an indication that something is amiss and should be evaluated further by a canine behavior specialist.


The “I’m scared” bark. Dogs often bark at things that make them nervous. It may be in an attempt to drive the scary thing away or as an attempt to let you know some ‘foreign monster-like thing’ has just appeared. Reprimanding this behavior or forcing the dog to ‘get over it’ can exacerbate the problem. Care must be taken to ensure that the dog feels safe as he learns to gradually habituate to the scary thing.


The attention bark. Barking is a great way for dogs to get attention from humans, even though it may not be our preferred method. Think of barking as your dog’s way of saying, “Hey! Here I am! Look at me!! Hey!” This is a hard one for most people because the natural reaction is to attend to the dog to determine the source of the problem. That is after all what Timmy did when Lassie barked, right? The problem is that for the dog, his barking worked in that it produced the desired effect, attention. This type of barking is best fixed by ignoring the dog completely until all is quiet.


The demand bark. Like certain people, some dogs can be demanding and are not shy about letting you know about it. “You aren’t fixing dinner fast enough! I want a cookie! Let me out! I want to say ‘Hi’! Pet me now!” Whatever the item demanded, the message is conveyed loudly. The best consequence to this type of barking is a complete removal of whatever the dog is demanding.


The frustration bark. The frustration bark occurs when the dog is prevented from getting something that he wants. It may occur from behind a fence, inside a car or house, or at the end of a leash. In any case, there is something that is restricting the dog and they let you know. Impulse control training is important to help the dog deal with frustrating situations and respond in an appropriate way.


The warning bark. This is the bark that is easiest for owners to accept. This bark lets everyone know that something is amiss. It can be comforting to know that our personal sentry is on duty and alerting us to potential danger. Certainly this is a good thing, except that what is perceived as a potential danger is subject to opinion and your dog’s idea of a threat may be different from yours. This type of barking shouldn’t be discouraged but with training it can be controlled with a “Thank you, now quiet!” cue.


The “I like to bark because if feels good” bark. Some dogs bark just because. Perhaps it feels good to them but it seems as if the barking is not producing anything that we can determine is externally rewarding for the dog. With no external reinforcement we can only guess that the reinforcement is intrinsic. Fixing this requires a focus on teaching the dog when barking is ok and when to be quiet. Harder than it sounds, training this requires a bit of skill.


Barks vary in pitch, repetitiveness, speed and intensity. Generally the lower the pitch the greater the threat.  Although some astute owners can tell by the sound of the bark what their dog means, sometimes the reason is obscure. As you can imagine, with all these reasons for and types of barking, there is not a simple answer on how to fix it. Seeing a qualified behavior specialist can help you to define the cause of the barking and prepare a tailored training plan to regain the sounds of silence in your home.

Talking Dogs!

We’ve all heard the expression, “There’s an App for that!” It must be true because recently,I saw that someone had designed a smart phone application that translated ‘dog’ into English. Of course, they are just for fun and don’t really translate, but it was fun to think about. The truth is, you really don’t need an app to understand your dog. All you need is a bit of knowledge and some observational skills to receive and understand the message they are sending.


Dogs communicate in a variety of ways. Scent, vocalizations and body postures all convey information to other dogs. Scent is form of communication that we currently don’t know much about. Considering the amount of time and effort put into sniffing, it is probably one of the most important communication tools for dogs. According to Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities, “A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only 5 million.”


Vocalizations, while limited in comparison to our own ability to speak, still convey a great deal of information. Several studies have confirmed that barks have different functions in different contexts and are able to be differentiated by both human and canine listeners. There is much work left to be done in this area.

Body postures or visual signals, such as tail wagging and lip curling, are the focus of this article and are usually easy for most people to identify. The meaning of each of these signals can be interpreted simply by watching the reaction of the dog on the receiving end of the message. Of course, the meaning can also be derived through trial and consequence. The latter is not a good strategy to avoid a bite however!

Most people recognize the tail wagging as friendly and consider the lip curl as aggressive. I see clients worried about growling and snarling everyday. I don’t want to make light of snarling, growling or snapping behaviors, because these are real warnings that something is wrong and the dog is uncomfortable. But, and this is the big one, they are not behaviors that should be punished or stopped. 


The behaviors of barking, growling, lunging, snarling or snapping are types of communication that are considered warning signs. These behaviors alone are not “aggression.” Aggression can be differentiated from warnings by understanding the underlying intent. When a dog threatens, it is intended as a warning to stop a particular interaction or cause someone or something to move away. The purpose or function of those behaviors is to avoid aggression and not to cause harm.


A dog that doesn’t want to be bothered by another dog when enjoying a yummy bone might snarl. A female may object to being sniffed a bit too long by a potential suitor by snapping. A dog who is cornered by an approaching dog might growl. The message is “stop and give me more space.” The wise dog heeds the warnings and moves away, certain to be more polite in the future.


When we don’t want to engage or when something exceeds what we are capable of tolerating, we are able to articulate our feelings. We can say, “please stop that,” “not now,” or even “knock it off!” The only way dogs can convey this message is with the signals we have discussed.


So, when are these warning behaviors a problem? They are a problem when the message is disregarded, not taken seriously or even suppressed. That is where the trouble begins. If the dog’s warning is not heeded and the situation is not diffused, it can escalate and eventually turn into a bite. When a dog intends to do harm, it is an aggressive act.


Punishing warning signs will only suppress those particular warning behaviors. However, the result is a dog who has no way of communicating that he is uncomfortable with a situation. That leaves only two options, tolerate the situation that he finds intolerable or escalate to biting.


Don’t feel affronted if your dog growls, snaps or snarls. It is very common for people to attribute those behaviors to dominance. Humans hang on to this term very tightly. I think we do because humans are more likely to view life in the context of a power struggle. These signals aren’t personal and they aren’t dominant, they are communication.


What you should do is be like the wise dog and back off. This is not a weak approach, it is not ‘giving in’, it is smart, safe and respectful of the species that was sending the message. Once the situation has been diffused, analyze it. Why was the dog uncomfortable? How can it be made easier for the dog if there is a next time?


If you are experiencing threatening behaviors from your dog, it is recommended that  you secure an appointment with a professional skilled in canine behavior using positive methods. They can help you determine the cause of the behaviors and craft a plan that will gradually make the situation more tolerable to the dog. Additionally, they will teach the dog behavioral responses that are incompatible with the threatening ones.


Either way, you will have heard your dog’s message loud and clear. He’ll thank you for it!


Oh No You Didn’t!

The first thing most people think about when they bring a dog home is how to stop bad behaviors. Stopping them is important but even more important is preventing bad behaviors from occurring in the first place. Prevention not only keeps bad behaviors from becoming habits, it also stops the dog from finding out how much fun those bad behaviors can be! Behaviors that are fun for the dog will get repeated with greater frequency.


Imagine the dog who likes toilet paper. At his first opportunity, he enters the bathroom grabs a mouthful and runs! This gets the nearby human to immediately chase him in what he considers to be a great game of pursuit. Young dogs are explorers, so when you bring one into your home, look at the house from the dog’s perspective. Everything is chew toy fun. It doesn’t matter if it is a sofa cushion, your favorite book or a squeeky toy. All those items can get torn up in much the same way, so your dog sees them as the same.


By implementing mistake-free learning, you remove all items that could be considered a chew toy to your dog. After he has been with you awhile and adopted appropriate habits, you can begin to reintroduce the things that would  have been problematic before. He will ignore them because he now has established appropriate behaviors.


Because it is nearly impossible to remove everything that your dog might get into trouble with, you also have to use supervision. This means that when your dog is not in his crate, you are carefully watching him. You will watch for signs of behaviors that you like, so you can quickly

reward them, and for signs of unwanted behavior so that you can discourage them.


Discouraging Unwanted Behavior


So, let’s say when you got home you forgot to put your leather gloves away. You also got very busy and forgot that you should have been supervising your dog. Now, you have just discovered  that he is happily chewing on your gloves. What do you do now?


First and foremost, do not resort to any type of physical punishment (i.e., shaking cans of pennies, squirt bottles, rolled up newspapers or smacking). Confrontational tactics and strong discipline will create a fearful dog that distrusts you. You want your dog to see you as the person to whom he/she can go for comfort, friendship and kindness. If your hands dispense scary or painful things, your relationship with your dog will be one that is based on fear and avoidance.


If your dog does do something you don’t like, you can convey your displeasure by:


Ignoring the dog – Avoid making eye contact with your dog, turn your back or even leave the room.  This method works best on attention seeking behaviors like barking at you or pestering.


Interrupting and redirecting – Calmly interrupt the inappropriate behavior with a short sharp noise like Eh-Eh, then direct her to what she should be doing. Provide her with a bone to chew instead. This works for potty accidents, destructive behaviors like chewing or even counter surfing.


Time-out – Put her in her crate for 30 seconds. Do this calmly and without emotion. This is the canine equivalent of being sent to your room. Using the crate as a means of removing the dog from a behavior you don’t like won’t ruin the crate as a safe place. At other times continue to use the crate for other good things, like eating and sleeping.


Lastly, Remove an expected reward – Take away something the dog wants as a direct result of inappropriate behavior.  For example: barking for food makes me put the food away; being pushy around the door makes me close it; and jumping at the leash makes me put it down.


It is important to remember that after the fact reprimands don’t work. If you did not see the dog perform the behavior, just pick up the pieces and move on. It isn’t that dogs don’t have good memories, it is just difficult for them to understand what behavior caused the problem when dogs don’t understand human language.


So the keys to getting rid of bad behavior are: 1. prevention, 2. mistake free learning, 3. supervision, 4. rewarding good behavior, and 5. discouraging unwanted behaviors with ignoring, interrupting/redirecting, time-out and removing an expected reward.


Most common behavior problems can be solved with the tools listed above and a little preparation. If you are thinking that a great deal of getting good behavior from your dog is the responsibility of the human, you are right!

The Risks of Being Social

Unknown-1A social dog is one that is comfortable in new situations, with a variety of other dogs, people and things. Having a social dog means that you are able to take them with you anywhere that dogs are allowed to go, without any drama. Socialized dogs don’t bark excessively, lunge or misbehave. They aren’t skittish or anxious, they adjust quickly to new situations and relax.

I have had lived with under-socialized dogs that required management and special care and I have had the privilege of owning social dogs that were easy going, friendly and confident. These dogs are a joy to live with everyday and I can include them in almost every aspect of my life. I would want it no other way.

Getting to ‘social’ requires effort. You must get your dog out and about for positive experiences with a variety of new things, places, sights, sounds, people, dogs and other animals from an early age. Then, you must continue this adventure you are both on, well-beyond their adolescence (i.e., two years). The benefits will pay off when you are enjoying the companionship of your best buddy and showing him off to boot. I love hiking with my dogs in the woods, taking them swimming in lakes, watching them play with friends and form new friendships. We enjoy going to the beach where children want to pet them and other dogs are curious. Thankfully, we sail through these encounters with nothing but pleasant memories.

The Risks

This type of socialization comes with some risks however. Hiking in the woods can result in getting a tick or two. There are tick preventatives of course, but as everyone knows, they don’t always work and Lyme disease vaccinations are only approximately 75% effective in preventing disease. Swimming in lakes can be problematic for ear and skin infections, hot spots, or ingested toxins. Going to dog parks can result in injuries. Walking your dog on the street can increase the likelihood of contracting parasites. Chewing on bones can cause broken teeth. Visiting Petsmart or even the Vet’s office can expose your dog to illnesses, like Kennel Cough, Ringworm, and Canine Papilloma Virus. A well-managed day care, the ultimate in social interaction for your dog, is no different.

What We Do

At Coventry Day Camp, we are proud of the social dogs that we have helped to nurture over the years. We provide a safe environment for the dogs to play and supervise and guide  them to help them learn good social skills. But, no matter how safe we try to make things (i.e., rubber mats, rounded equipment, gates that open in, etc.), injuries can still occur. A jubilant adolescent who is happily being chased and running at breakneck speed, doesn’t see that 10 ft. piece of play equipment in front of him and WHAM! A scrape or sprain occurs! Have you heard the saying, ‘its all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone’? We screen all day camp applicants to ensure that they are friendly and good with dogs, but even under the best circumstances, with the friendliest of dogs, arguments occur.

The same is true for some illnesses. We require vaccinations of all dogs and check them regularly. Some would say that we can even be a bit nagging about keeping them current. We don’t allow dogs that have been recently adopted to even enter the building for a day camp evaluation until they have been known to be clear of diseases for a minimum of two weeks. We scrub the walls, floors, crates and equipment daily with the same disinfectant products used by Vets. But still, dogs can catch airborne diseases.

What You Can Do 

Choosing to have your dog attend day camp to enhance his sociability is the perfect option for people who love dogs but have limited time due to their work schedules. Knowing the risks, what you choose to do will depend on what you want for your dog’s life with you. There are as many responses as there are owners. Some owners may decide to err on the side of caution and eliminate risks by limiting their dog’s activities to the back yard with little or no contact with the outside world. Others may choose to accept some risk while avoiding others. Some opt to accept the risks while doing their best to minimize whatever risks are within their control. At the end of the day, you get a tired, satisfied, socially active dog.

With some proactive steps on your part, you can minimize illness risk. Vaccinations are an important first step but not the only answer. Bordatella is the vaccination for kennel cough, the doggie equivalent of a cold. However, like human flu vaccines it isn’t effective against every strain and despite being immunized the dog can still get the virus. Additionally, there is no vaccination for Canine Papilloma Virus more commonly known as oral warts. The best alternative is to keep your dog healthy by supporting his immune system with natural dietary supplements. Like an ‘apple a day’ keeps the Doctor away,’ some additions to your dog’s meal might keep illnesses away too.

Here is a list of some suggested supplements to give your dogs that can keep them healthier and enjoying a full social life at the same time!

Salmon Oil – (Grizzly Oil or Nordic Naturals)

Aunt Jenis All Systems Go

Animal Essentials-Herbal Multi-Vitamin

Wholistic Pet –Canine Complete

Herbsmith Support Immunity


Missing Link


Fireworks and Frantic Fidos




It is almost the 4th of July and the fireworks are about to begin! This is a time for great excitement and family fun! Unfortunately, it can also be utterly terrifying for your dog.

The loud sounds that fireworks make, along with the bright flashes of light, are foreign to your dog. They have no idea what these things are; I imagine that they probably perceive them as some sort of cataclysmic natural event.

A scared dog, or any animal for that matter, can run blindly from the thing that frightens them. After the 4th of July, shelters are inundated with dogs that have fled their yards, homes and slipped their collars because of the fear that fireworks instill. The lucky ones end up in the shelter, some dogs never make it that far.

While fireworks seem pretty commonplace to us, this kind of experience is traumatic for the dog and result in increased fear at the next event. Worse, it can generalize to other sounds, like thunder and even big trucks.

The best solution is to prevent a problem from occurring. Here are some tips to help minimize the stress for your dog:

  1. Keep your dog sheltered inside the house. Even a fenced yard won’t be able to contain a completely terrified dog.
  2. Don’t try to ‘socialize’ him to fireworks by taking him to the event. He doesn’t want to see them, trust me.
  3. Close the shades, curtains or blinds to minimize the flashes and burst of light. You can even opt for the basement if you have one.
  4. Turn on air conditioning, music or the television to try and muffle the sounds.
  5. Have a doggie party! Remember all those left over BBQ hot dogs and burgers? Cut them up and celebrate the 4th with your dog by tossing around the bits for him to find.  This is also a good time for the yummiest Kong ever!
  6. Check to ensure that your pet’s identification tags are on their collar and up to date, just in case.

If your dog is already afraid of loud sounds, you can help them through it by using a “Thundershirt”. This pressure garment can help dogs relax. It is available everywhere. You can also use Comfort Zone D.A.P. This diffuser contains a synthetically produced pheromone that mimics the one secreted by lactating females.

If despite your best efforts, your dog becomes afraid, by all means, comfort them. Too many ill-informed sources advise that “babying” your dog will ‘reinforce their fear’. That couldn’t be further from the truth. You can not reinforce an emotion the same way you reinforce a behavior. You can however, help change their emotional state by giving them or doing things that they enjoy. Here is a link to a very fine explanation of this by Patricia McConnell: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/you-cant-reinforce-fear-dogs-and-thunderstorms

Good luck and enjoy the summer!!!


Mounting: What is it and why?

This past week I was asked about mounting behavior (i.e., ’humping’) and why it occurs. Since this is a frequent question, I thought that a blog about it might be a good idea.

This is the one behavior that seems to really freak people out. Most people erroneously attribute it to dominance. It is important to remember that dominance is NOT a personality trait. It is a term used to describe the outcome of a confrontation over a desired resource. The one that walks away with the resource, is dominant, in that moment. The next confrontation may have an entirely different result.

So let’s get to it, dogs mount for several reasons:

1. Excitement – anything that excites your dog can elicit mounting behavior. A favorite person arriving, the potential for a game or even their favorite snack may cause a mounting session.

2. Play – Dogs mount to entice another dog to interact with them. Occasionally, when two dogs are playing, a third will try to get in on it by mounting one of the players. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

3. Stress/anxiety relief – Some dogs aren’t sure what to do in certain social situations or are so nervous they resort to a comforting behavior, think of nail biting.

4. Social behavior – Dogs sometimes use mounting as a means of controlling another dog.

5. Sex – Yes, sometimes, it is about sex.

Mounting is not an exclusively male behavior. Females often engage in the activity as well. Additionally, the behavior is often directed at members of the same sex. When used in the context of play, excitement or anxiety, the sex of the “mountee” is not important.

So is it ok if they are mounting? The answer lies in the other dog. Does the other dog mind? In other words, are they growling or snapping or trying to get away? Do they turn to play and then take turns mounting? If it happens occasionally during a play session or once in awhile when your dog is very excited, it is no big deal. If it is your dog’s only behavior upon meeting other dogs or people, then you may want to determine what about the situation is either overstimulating or scary.

Will neutering stop mounting? Unfortunately, no. Some of the most dedicated mounters are neutered. There is no scientific evidence to support that neutering will change mounting behavior. If you would like to read more about mounting (and dominance) check out the link below:


Dominance and the Pet Dog

Dominance in the pet dog has become a common topic of discussion in just about every training session I conduct. Nervous and fearful owners confide in me “My dog is dominant” and then they timidly ask: “How do I dominate my dog?”. The more confident few even ask: “How do I teach my dog that my child is dominant?”.

Over the years I have heard just about every behavior you can think of attributed to dominance. From unruly behavior like jumping up on people or eating poop, to mounting, dominance is thought to be the root of all bad behavior. Just Google dominance in dogs and you will find a treasure trove of misguided information on the subject. I found one site that listed 28 behaviors that were attributed to dominance. The most disturbing reference I saw was on a popular TV dog training program. The trainer was working with a dog who obsessively chased a laser light. His explanation? The dog was trying to dominate the light!

Unfortunately, these ‘explanations’ are offered to the general public by animal professionals who should know better. Most of this I believe, is that the use of the word dominance, although misconstrued, has been in use for so long, people take it as fact. They have not taken the time to fully research canine behavior and as a result continue to perpetuate false and potentially harmful information.

Dominance is a broad term that has many vague definitions, as you will find out if you research it. Biologists, Ethologists and Animal Behaviorists however, refer to dominance as a competitive series of encounters, that use force, intimidation or aggression to gain access to a priority resource (food, space, opposite sex). Through these series of encounters, the individual who triumphs most frequently can be considered dominant at that time. However, that role can change quickly depending on the fitness level or motivation of the individuals involved. It is not a constant state. In reality, the outcomes will vary greatly over time.

It is important to point out that dominance is not a personality trait. It is instead, the attribute of a relationship. When someone is told that their dog is dominant, an adversarial relationship is immediately formed. In response the owner attempts to control the dog with physical force or intimidation.

Equally important is that aggression does not equal dominance. Although dominance aggression, where the dog challenges his owners over resources, does exist, it is in fact, extremely rare. Most behavior cases have nothing at all to do with dominance and the dogs that are frequently labeled as dominant, are reacting out of fear. Dogs that are afraid will act defensive in an attempt to try and scare a potential threat away. It is not hard to recognize that major problems will arise when a fearful animal is treated like a dominant one. Using forceful methods to make him ‘submit’ will only make fear-based behaviors worse. This is the saddest fact and the one that troubles me most.
Dogs that are unruly, misbehave or are unmanageable are not trying to dominate their owners by attempting to control a situation, they are simply untrained. You needn’t walk out of the door before your dog to prove that you are ‘dominant’. However, teaching your dog to wait at the door until released will make life more pleasant for both of you, not to mention safer. Many of the behaviors that are commonly attributed to ‘dominance’ are normal dog behaviors that have been inadvertently reinforced by well-meaning humans.

The issue is of such importance that The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior issued a position statement on the use of dominance theory for behavior modification of animals. They emphasize that Veterinarians specializing in behavior should not use dominance theory as a general guide for behavior modification. Additionally, they recommend that Veterinarians “refer clients only to trainers and behavior consultants who understand the principles of learning theory and who focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors and removing the reinforcement for undesirable behaviors.”

The truth, for all the dog owners who want to ask about dominance, is that you don’t have to dominate your dog. Dogs don’t know what humans think is acceptable behavior. Only through training can dogs learn what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. Dogs do need consistent and clear rules, mental stimulation and physical exercise to be able to learn well and adapt to a human world. All this is accomplished by being an effective teacher for your dog. Teachers can choose to use force and intimidation or motivation and reward. By using positive reinforcement methods, you will avoid the pitfalls of force-based techniques and build a bond that will last a lifetime with your dog.

So, what’s in a name?

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed over the years in training dogs is how the names of dogs have changed. I remember when dogs used to be named Buddy and Bowser, Rex and Rover or even names that focused on their appearance like Rags and Patches. In the last 10 years however, there has been a shift away from those traditional names. Now my class roster is full of names like Chloe, Abby, Allison, Oliver, Harry, and Charlie! And those aren’t the owner’s names either!

This is a wonderful trend and one that I think can be attributed to the fact the people are considering dogs as members of the family. Things can only improve for dogs as their status changes from family ‘pet’, to ‘family’.

Whatever you name your dog, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost your dog’s name should always mean that you need their attention. Just like when we call out to our human friends, the polite response should be a turn to look and make eye contact. A name simply means, ‘I need your attention’. It doesn’t mean ‘come’. In fact, using it to mean come can actually be dangerous. Imagine your dog has gotten away from you. You see him across the street and say his name. He hears it and dashes across the street! Yikes! If the name just means look at me, he will look up and then you can ask for a ‘sit’ or even a ‘down’ to keep him in place until you can reach him.

Your dog’s name should always have a positive connotation. As humans, we tend to use dog’s names when we are exasperated with their behavior. ‘Jake! Get your head out of the trash!’. After a few of these, your dog will start to cringe when you call his name and even stop responding altogether. That won’t be helpful when you want him to do something you ask. Instead, say his name sweetly and when he makes eye contact, follow it up with something he really likes, a toss of his favorite toy, a trip to the cookie jar, a belly rub or some sweet talk.

It is important to remember not to overuse the name either. It is not necessary to repeat your dog’s name before every command if you already have his attention. Remember, the name means ‘look at me’ so if he is already attentive, there is no need to belabor the point. If you say your dog’s name and he doesn’t look at you, don’t continue to repeat the name endlessly that will just turn his name into white noise! Instead, wait for him to look at you while at the same time preventing him from doing anything else such as walking away or sniffing at something on the ground.

The most important thing to remember is to reward the free attention your dog gives you! There will be many times when your dog will look to you in a ‘did you see that?’ way. Use that to your advantage! Be aware when you are with your dog and reward/praise when he looks to you for direction. You can never have too much attention!

A good name response is the foundation for everything else that you will ever train your dog to do! You must be able to get your dog’s attention before he can respond to your direction. Once you have a dog who attends to your call, training will most definitely be easier!

The Economics of Energy

All dogs have energy but adolescent dogs have TONS!  I bet you already knew this!

Dogs must burn off all that energy either physically or mentally, specifically through their feet, mouths or brains.  When a dog isn’t stimulated in each of these areas daily and in an appropriate way, the energy will be expended in inappropriate ways.  It is a simple case of supply and demand.  Here are some suggestions on how to provide creative ‘demand’ for your dog’s seemingly endless supplies of energy!

  1. Feet (physical) – They need to RUN!  Walking, no matter how long or how far, just won’t cut it.  They really need some good cardio activity where they can burn off steam! Play fetch! Play chase! Get them swimming! Practice long-distance recalls! When their physical energy isn’t expended properly, your dog will move to the next form of physical exercise – using his mouth.  If your dog is gnawing on you or your furniture, it is a safe bet that they haven’t had enough exercise.
  2. Mouths (physical) – They need to CHEW!!!  Giving your dog appropriate chew toys like Kongs, bones, food puzzle toys, and the opportunity to play tug will help to direct their excess energy to an appropriate activity. Yes, I said ‘tug’.  This is a natural activity for dogs and gives them something to use their mouths on.  If your dog doesn’t get enough of the right things to use his mouth on, he will use it on you and on your stuff!
  3. Brains (mental) – Dogs have ‘INQUIRING MINDS’!  They like to figure things out.  Training (not just repetitive drilling but training that requires them to really think), playing (both with you and other dogs), exploring and hunting are things that keep dogs fascinated. Dogs that aren’t using their brains will make up games to keep themselves entertained, like ripping up sofa cushions, peeling paper off walls, or chewing the flooring! (For further ideas, see the blog entitled,‘Think About It’.)

So, if your dog is mouthy with you or your things, or ‘creatively’ keeping himself busy, then you must consider whether you have a balanced economic plan.  Exercise and mental stimulation are as essential to a healthy dog as food or water. Show your dog how to expend his energy appropriately and you will end his behavior problems!