How to be a Blind Dogs Best Friend

For most of our clients, “in home” visits are what they are looking for.  There are, though, a few pups in our care that cannot be left alone for long stretches of time.  As long as the dogs our rigorous screening process (screening process = don’t bite any of my 2 or 4-legged kids!), I invite them to stay in my home.  While they physically outside their element, both pet and parent alike can relax knowing that myself, my mom, or my husband is usually around about 22 hours out of the day.  Surprisingly, we have never had any issues with having house guests.  Well, not until recently…

A few weeks ago, one of our “regular” house guests came to stay.  He is a sweet Pomeranian who is adored by my 3 year old and greatly ignored by Buffy & Amigo.  (As you dog lovers know – total disregard is the dog equivalent of BFF.)  And while this sweet man has stayed with us many times before – he recently had to have an eye removed. Then just months after that, he went blind in his other eye.  He is now completely blind.


I’m not going to lie to you – I was a bit nervous!  Dogs are smart, and I assumed something about my house would be familiar to him (the smell of our dogs, my voice, etc.), but I work with dogs enough to know you should NEVER assume ANYTHING!  (I think that’s true when dealing with us humans as well.)  By using common sense, though, we all actually enjoyed our tiny furry roommate.  Here are a few things to consider when dealing with a visually impaired pup:

Make sure everyone is aware of the situation – Obviously, my husband knew the dog was blind.  Informing and then explaining the circumstances to my 3 year old proved to be challenging…but he actually caught on pretty quickly.  Making sure everyone who came into contact with Mr. Pomeranian knew about his vision situation was imperative.  Not only so all humans were looking out for him…they were careful not to assume he would move from underfoot, be able to walk about the door for a potty break, etc.

Talk…a lot – This one is not hard for me.  I would literally narrate everything I was doing, trying to use familiar words (“crate”, “water”, “treat”).  Obviously, the dog didn’t understand what I was saying, but at least he some vague idea what was coming.  It also made it easier for him to keep tabs on where I was in the room.  Every time…and I do mean EVERY time I went to pick him up, I would say “I’m going to pick you up now!” I can’t imagine not being able to see and all of a sudden being lifted off the ground.   That goes right into my third point….

Put yourself in their shoes paws – So often when working with dogs, I find myself using those rules I was taught in kindergarten.  “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”  If you were in a foreign place with your eyes shut…would you appreciate a loud movie with lots of dramatic explosions?  Someone rubbing on you when you were sound asleep?  NO!  By visualizing myself in Mr. Pomeranian’s paws…I hopefully was able to make things a little less scary for him.

Obviously, our house guest was only staying for a few weeks, so we didn’t run into the same obstacles we would if we were dealing with vision 24/7.  While the first day or two was a little rough on our little friend (I was unsuccessful in persuading my 4 month old to give up the crying…and Mr.Pomeranian had never been around a newborn.  I wonder what he thought was going on!), overall we all managed to co-exist in harmony.  I did do my homework, though, and learned some new facts about blind dogs:

Halo***Rugs are a great way to alert your dogs where doors, furniture, and other obstacles are located.

***Give them their own personal space.  (I heard some behaviorist refer to this as a “home base.”)  Basically – this is where all their stuff will live: crate, bowl, toys, bed. Decide on a layout and stick to it.  This way they can always come back to this familiar corner and reorientate themselves.

***Blind dogs can map out their surroundings in as little as one day!  (I was amazed to learn this!)  Try to avoid picking them up while they are playing mental cartographer.  A few bumps never hurt anyone!  (Obviously after ensuring stairs or any other dangers blocked.)

***Dog Halos!  (Muffin’s Halo is pictured above) Do you know about these?  They are so simple and so ingenuous at the same time.  Check them out here.  Basically a “halo” around the dog’s head to warn them when they are getting too close to bumping into something.  I love it!

Any readers with blind dogs…I would LOVE to hear from you!

Prince 2


Seeing Red – What to do If Your Dog’s in a Fight

Last week I was walking 3 brothers that I walk every day.  As we rounded a corner, 2 large off leash dogs approached (not in a polite manner, I might add) and one started acting aggressively.  It only took about 5 seconds for a serious fight to break out between one of the off leash dogs and one of the dogs I was walking.  With 5 dogs in the mix (3 on leashes held by me!) – things could have escalated to insanity pretty quickly.

It doesn’t really matter the back story…your dog is in a fight with another dog.  What do you do?

Leash Clip Art

Step 1 – Don’t panic (or fake it ’til you make it)

“Panicking” doesn’t necessarily mean running around in circles, screaming like a lunatic, waving your hands above your head.  “Panicking” in this context is any behavior out of the ordinary that your dog will take notice of.  For us gals…this often means raising our voices an octave and getting that squeaky, desperate quality.  It could also mean shifting our weight back and forth or trying to run.  It could really be anything that your dog is going to pick up on and interpret as danger! this other dog means us harm.  

You must stay calm.  Your dog is already “in the red” and is not thinking normally.  If your thoughts start to go all wonky – no one is thinking properly.  And when no one is thinking properly – that’s when the situation will spiral out of control.

(“Fake it ’til you make it” is hard…but not as hard as “Don’t panic”.  It is just a reminder that while on the inside your heart might be racing and you seriously feel like you are about to loose your lunch – the most important this is that you project that calm energy that Cesar Millan is always talking about.  The dogs won’t know the difference!)

Step 2 – Trust no one (no dog)

I know. I know.  This is a really horrible thing to say.  Let me explain – in this situation, your dog is 99% wild animal and 1% sweet creature that you know and love.  Your dog’s brain has undergone a change and your dog is literally not your dog.  (Haven’t we all seen sibling dogs that get along perfectly well snap at each other when worked up?)

DO NOT put any part of your body in-between fighting dogs (unless you are prepared to have that body part sustain a dog bite.)  DO NOT think that your dog will recognize that it is your hand/leg/torso and refrain from biting you.  In this aggravated state – your dog cannot determine friend from foe.  While you still think of your dog as a friend…at this point EVERYONE is the enemy to your dog.  By not trusting your dog in this situation – you will avoid blood and heartache.  (Feelings tend to get hurt when your own dog bites you.)

Step 3 – Give direction (to humans )

The whole reason I am writing this post is because of this step.  Reread the situation I described at the beginning of this post, or here is a recap: a dog fight has erupted between my dog (on leash) and neighbor dog (off leash).  Now, I have broken up many a dog fight – even sustaining a few bites in my day protecting dogs (yeah, I’m kinda a bad ass) – so I will admit I’m a little more trained in the corect way to act in this situation than the average dog lover.  As I was doing everything I could to slow this quickly spiraling-out-of-control situation, I took a half a second to glance up at the owner of the other dogs.  He was standing about 10 feet off.  Watching.  Doing nothing.

Now, when I retold this story to friends and family they all had different reactions.  “Maybe he was scared and didn’t want to put himself in harms way by getting closer to a dog fight?”  “Maybe he was stunned?”  “Maybe he didn’t realize how serious the situation was?”  In the moment, though, all I was thinking is WHY ISN’T THIS GUY HELPING ME?  (Him – large man, standing at a safe distance.  Me – little lady in the middle of 5 dogs (4 big, 1 little…2 free, 3 tethered…3 I know like my own, 2 I don’t know at all.)

In my calmest – but firmest – voice, I instructed the man on what to do.  I am not kidding.  As I’m physically trying to keep our dogs from ripping each other apart, I have to stop to state the obvious to this man (who thankfully did exactly what he was told.) “YOU NEED TO COME GET YOUR DOG!”  “You need to physically come over here and help me separate these two.”  “Now please back up.”  Seriously.

leashHonestly, I think this man (like many who find themselves in this situation) didn’t believe that his dog would ever get in a real fight.  Your dog could be of the “sweet as pie, wouldn’t hurt a fly, gentle around kids, doesn’t mind cats” variety…but certain situations can bring about reactions from your dog that you might never understand.  (Isn’t that the same with humans??)

When you find yourself with a dog who has crossed over to the “red zone” the most important thing to do is diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.  If you can remain calm, remember these are animals, and take control by giving others direction – you will be able to walk away as if it was a regular day at the park.  (Surprisingly dogs can do just that….while it might take a few minutes for your heart to stop pounding!)

Your Dog Loves You (It’s a Scientific Fact)



Did you hear?  It is a scientific fact that your dog loves you!

How can that be proven?  Before we get into that, let me refresh your memory on what oxytocin is.  Oxytocin is known as the love hormone….it is basically what makes you happy, relieves your stress, and causes you to care about other people.  It is also associated with nurturing and caring for your own children.  When you are being social, your oxytocin levels increase somewhere between 10%-50% depending on whether you are interacting with a stranger or your own son.


Good to know the feeling is mutual!

I’m sure you (you dog lover, you!) will not be surprised to learn that when you are petting your believed pup (or kitty cat!) your oxytocin levels increase.  I don’t think you need an official laboratory study to know that you think of your pets as children…but the fact your body biologically reacts with that same oxytocin rush whether you and loving on your human child or your canine one scientifically proves it!   This is easily tested by taking a blood sample, playing with a dog, taking another blood sample…and then comparing the different levels of oxytocin in the two separate samples.  (Technology today!)

With me so far?  Ok – here is where it gets really cool.  Paul Zak wanted to see if the same thing happened in “cross-species animals”.  So he found this dog who had a goat for a friend. (Seriously, I would love to read an article just on that!)  Anyway….he did the same tests that he had done on humans – take blood samples, let the two friends play, and then take more blood.

The pooch had a 48% increase in oxytocin – scientifically proving that the goat and dog were indeed friends.  The goat had a 210% increase!  This scientifically proves that the goat was, in fact, in love with the dog!  I love it!

While this may not sound like a big deal – it TOTALLY is.  I personally am sick and tired of people telling me that dogs do not feel emotions like we do.  I don’t care what scientific jargon you spew at me – I will never believe this!  Maybe Buffy doesn’t feel “guilt” like I feel “guilt”….but I do not believe that she is incapable of complex feelings.  If scientists have used the presents of oxytocin in humans to explain things like love (it helps couples feel intimacy and encourages attachment), motherhood (it helps moms bond with new babies), and generosity (it helps us feel compassion and the need to help other people)…they cannot deny that the presences of this same molecule in our canine counterparts proves dogs (any domesticated animal, really)  have a deeper feelings when they look at us humans. 

So the next time you tell someone your dog loves you, and they give you some snarky comeback like “He loves that you feed him every night” or “Those treats that you give her…that’s what she REALLY loves”…you can condescendingly roll your eyes as you chuckle and explain that they must not have read the most recently scientific studies pertaining to oxytocin levels in cross-species interactions.

“My dog loves me.  It’s a scientific fact.”


I don’t need a scientific study of molecules to tell me Amigo loves his dad!


Read Paul Zak’s article in The Atlantic here.  Read about another study involving dogs and oxytocin here.


My Advice for Traveling with your Dog



For those of us who consider dogs full fledged members of the family, it seems only logical they would accompany us on vacation.  It’s an adventure!  A change of scene! A slower pace!  All the things we crazy humans love about “getting away” can potentially be frightening for our pets…but with a little pre-planning and a lot of patience, an enjoyable time can be had by all.

Pre-planning needs to be so much more than packing a favorite toy and buying extra yummy treats.  Crates can be vacation-savers, and I encourage almost all of my clients to use them when they travel.  Even free roaming dogs will appreciate a quiet, familiar area they can escape to if the human fun gets to be too much. The key to utilizing a crate is making sure your pooch is comfortable in it long before the vacation.  An unfamiliar hotel room is not the place to introduce a foreign pen!  The process should start months before. (Here is where that pre-planning comes in!)  In fact, there should be NOTHING new introduced while you are away from home.  This means no new crates, new treats, or even something as simple as a new collar or leash.  For pups: familiarity breeds calm…and isn’t calm what your vacation is all about?

Patience is another key to getting to that calm, happy place faster. (And when I say patience – I mean YOUR patience!)  There are hundreds books written about dog behavior and what goes on in the canine brain.  All you need to know while you’re on holiday: you don’t know what your dog is really thinking.  Take a breath…and try to put yourself in their shoes.  Stay calm and allow your dog an extra moment to get comfortable.  This might mean waiting for your dog jump out of the car before you resort to pulling him out for a quick potty break…or might mean letting your dog bark at unfamiliar things without immediately becoming frustrated and yelling for him to stop.  Just give him a moment to adjust.

But maybe the most important tip I have for those dog-lovin’ world travelers is this: NEVER force your dog to do something they don’t want too. This can apply to forcing a dog onto a boat because you know “they will love it if they just tried it!”….but more likely will pertain to interaction with well-intentioned people. The general public assumes it is OK to enter your dog’s personal space and talk crazy baby talk to them. While some dogs genuinely love this and will eat up the extra attention, many dog will not appreciate a stranger in their face after a 6 hour car ride. (Honestly, I wouldn’t either!) Whether it be the chirpy front desk clerk at your hotel or your sweet Aunt Mabel – dogs should never be forced to be on the receiving end of unwanted affection. Have a response at the ready – “Oh my gosh! Buffy was just in the car for HOURS. Better give her some space!” or “I bet Buffy would like to walk around this place. We are going to go explore. See you later!” Not forcing your dog into potentially sticky situations will guarantee a drama free trip (at least when it comes to your pooch!)

With a little thinking ahead and a lot of deep breaths a vacation with your dog can can strengthen your bond, help your dog learn to adapt to new situations, and…who am I kidding?! Dog-filled vacations are better because everything is better with a dog.


Book Review: Child-Proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

I am a firm believer in books.  What can’t be learned from a trip to a bookstore or library?!  While there are a multitude of pregnancy/baby books out there… and probably almost as many dog books…I was surprised to find very little published on preparing dogs for babies.  And when I say “very little”, I mean literally one book.

Childproofing Your DogSome Googling and a few searches on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble’s website led me to Child-Proofing your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Child in Your Life by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.  The title sounded perfect!  This had to be exactly what I was looking for!

Overall, though, this book was a disappointment.  That’s not to say that I would recommend expectant parents to read it (only a short 88 pages, so you wouldn’t be wasting much of your time); it’s just that most of the information was more common sense than the expert advice I was expecting.  There were, however, a few very insightful hints and suggestions sprinkled in…along with a few points that I completely disagree with.

The underlying theme of the book was spot on – most of the problems that you have with your dog (baby or not) are simply a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication.   Kilcommons and Wilson do a wonderful job of explaining a growl.  “A growl is due largely to confusion…”  and does not mean your dog wants to harm your child.  It probably means that crazy kid is doing something that your dog hasn’t seen you do and can’t quite make sense of it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a Cujo on your hands.

Another point that they repeat over and over, throughout the book, in almost every chapter (which I think is a point worth repeating!) is you should Dog and BabyNEVER leave a dog along with a baby/child.  It doesn’t matter how wonderfully fabulous your dog is or how angelic your perfect child is…things happen.  (Not necessarily bites!) Do not…even for 5 seconds…go in the other room and leave a baby and a dog alone.  Just don’t do it!  Just don’t!

Now, the biggest issue I have with this book is how it discusses getting rid of your dog (this topic is actually brought up multiple times) and euthanizing your dog if he or she is not getting along with your bundle of joy.  Do I believe that in the HISTORY of ALL dogs and babies there has NEVER been a dog so aggressive that they cannot live around children?  Of course I don’t!  But I DO believe that these instances are so unbelievably rare it is not worth mentioning (again, MULTIPLE TIMES) in an 88 page book for the general public.  The fact that putting a dog down is even touched upon is ludicrous.

That being said…there were some “Wow!  I never even though of that!” moments that I had while reading the book.  Once I read them, they seemed like such common sense, but I honestly hadn’t thought of them before.  Expectant parents too busy to read this whole book – consider this the Cliff’s Notes:

  • Never play aggressive games – Luckily, this has always been a rule in my house!  Never ever EVER play tug-of-war or wrestling games with a dog.  (In general, you never want them to think they can challenge you physically.)  When you need to take something out of a dog’s mouth, you don’t want them to pull at it and think you are trying to have fun.  (Anyone who has tried to retrieve a favorite sock out of their dog’s mouth can attest to that!)  You never want a dog to mistake a child’s hug or rough handling is an attempt to start a wrestling match.
  • Do not call the baby a nickname you have assigned your dog – I had honestly never thought of this one!  My husband and I have taken to calling Amigo “baby boy.”  “Oh, our little baby boy!” we will coo when he is doing something especially adorable.  Well, the book warns, don’t be surprised if you are cooing “My little baby boy!” over your new son and your dog jumps right in.  The pup thought you were calling him!
  • Watch the toys you buy – My husband and I recently cracked up when registering at Target – they had a baby toy that looks EXACTLY like the “Buffy ball”.  We of course realized that we wouldn’t be putting that toy on our wish list.  Kilcommons and Wilson also suggest a “which toy is yours?” game where you place dog and baby toys side by side on the floor…and give praise and treats when your pups brings you the correct toy when asked.  So simple…but genius!
  • Be a baby yourself – From what I hear, kids and babies are pretty loud and unpredictable.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even know the proper way to pet a dog!  Of course, teaching your toddler to be respectful and gentle with animals will be your responsibility, but until they understand all that your poor pooch (just like you!) is going to have to learn to live with some unpleasant feelings and sounds.  So, go ahead and practice pokes, ear pulls, hugs, loud noises, etc.  (of course without hurting the dog!  Remember, baby isn’t going to have much muscle behind all those motions.)  Always let your dog retreat (whether practicing or when baby is home.)  Never force interaction between 2-legged and 4-legged child…you don’t want your dog to ever feel trapped.

Dog and Baby 2

Overall, Childproofing You Dog reminds us our dogs have the instincts of an animal…but the personalities of one of us crazy humans.  You’ve had 9 months to mentally prepare yourself, but their world is going to be turned upside down when you walk in with your new child.  Maybe Kilcommons and Wilson have the right idea about oversimplifying things and relying on common sense – all you really need to do is put yourself in their shoes paws.

If you have any other suggested reading on the subject of preparing dogs for the arrival of a new baby…please share!  

Book Review: Do Dogs Dream? by Stanley Coren

As a general rule, I love to hate books about dogs.  Surprising, huh?  I enjoy them, but find most of them fall into three categories: (1) Ridiculously oversimplified (2) Mind numbingly complex (3) Just plain wrong.

When I picked up a copy of Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know, I was sceptical.  I mean – who is this guy to tell me what MY dogs wants ME to know, right?  With just a quick flip through the pages, though, I could tell this book would be different.  Instead of long chapters with graphs, diagrams, and lengthy explanations filled with scientific jargon, each chapter started with a question (examples: “What are dogs trying to say when they bark?” “Compared to other animals, how smart are  dogs?” “Why do dogs love bones?“)  and then Stanley Coren answered the question…and, lo and behold, the “conversational Q&A format” actually worked.

The reason this book “works” is because of Coren himself.  I was surprised to learn that while he has published numerous dog books (some of which I’ve heard of but never picked up) he started his career in regular-ol’ people psychology.  All of the information I found on him described him as a “prolific researcher.”  This guy published over 300 works (and we are talking The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature….not Dog Fancy!)  Late in his career, he switched to studying and researching dogs.  So…this is basically some super-smart guy that loves dogs.  I love it!

Coren divided this book of questions into six parts (example: “Part 3 – How do dogs communicate?“) and then managed to thoroughly answer each sub-question in about 3 pages.  That in itself is amazing!  In 3 pages, he explained why we (the reader) would ask that question, sited scientific studies/research relevant to the question, gave his own personal opinion/anecdote, and answered the question.  It was easy and fun to read…and dispite the dozens and dozens of dog books/papers/blogs/research I have read, I found myself learning more than a few new things.

The most amazing part of the book was how Coren manages to explain scientific experiments (not surprising after learning about his first-hand work in psychological research.) Never have I so easily been able to understand the details of psychological experiments/research from start to finish.  (And I’m embarrassed to say I’ve taken many a psychology class over the course of my life.)

My favorite question answered would have to be “What signs indicate that a dog is aggressive?”  The chapter began with explaining the evolutionary process of dogs as hunters to dogs as snuggle buddies, and then (as one would expect) went into a list of signals that indicate you are dealing with an aggressive dog.  Coren doesn’t stop there, though, but makes an easy transition into dog bite stats.  Then he explains how difficult it is to obtain accurate dog bite statistics – and that in today’s media no one wants to publish happy stories.  “Do you think the headline ‘Dog Makes Owner Smile and Feel Good’ would sell papers?”  If you didn’t love this guy by page 62, you do now!

So…if you couldn’t tell…I would highly recommend this book.  It’s a fun read for those who have already read every dog book they can get their hands on (I guarantee you will learn something new) and a great, easy-to-understand book for those who need a beginners course on canines.

Oh, and the drawings are AWESOME.

Book Review: Dogs by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

Enter any book store or library, and you are sure to find no shortage of dog books. My problem with many of these books is that they are long, drawn out, and extremely oversimplified. They spend page after page spelling out information that you could have just as easily gotten from a 5 minute Google session. Look for something more in depth, though, and you might soon find yourself reading behavioral or biological studies on the present day dog…using vocabulary that has you frustrated, confused, and reaching for that Cutest Puppies picture book instead.

Dogs, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, is the perfect middle ground. This book had me hooked by the time I finished the introduction. By using scientific terminology and referencing evolutionary theories, I felt like I was actually learning something. The authors’ casual writing style and simple explanations kept me from getting confused. Raymond and Lorna go into details about how a dog’s brain works – how it grows, how it learns, how it is wired. They also spend many pages analyzing exactly what kind of relationships we have with dogs. Who is benefiting who….and why we probably should not consider ourselves dog’s best friend.

In the book, dogs are broken into five different categories – modern household dogs, village dogs, livestock-guarding dogs, sled dogs, and herding dogs. The reader is then given a comprehensive look on the physical and mental aspects of each of these categories. As someone who deals exclusively with household dogs, I have somewhat limited knowledge of “working” dogs…and virtually no knowledge at all of sled dogs.  I was blown away at the details given – everything from how sled dogs are raised, to why certain breeds do (or don’t) make good sled dogs, to the physics of how dogs are harnessed to maximize their speed.  It was truly fascinating while not being so detailed that I lost interest.

Ray & Lorna Coppinger

The Coppingers also have strong feelings about purebred dogs – feelings that I completely agree with.  “I believe the modern household dog is bred to satisfy human psychological needs, with little or not consideration of the consequence for the dog.”  Some modern household dog breeds, they explain, have been bred for their aesthetic looks alone – and have become unhealthy, almost cartoonish versions of their ancestors.  (They – like many people today – cite the bulldog as the number one example of this.) I also agree with the authors in their opinion that working dogs should never be pets.  People love the way these dogs look…but have no idea how ingrained these dogs’ “working” behavior actually is.

The most fascinating part of this book, though, is the chapter devoted to the dogs of Pemba.  In a quest to discover just how wolves evolved into dogs…and the relationship humans and dogs had during this evolution, the authors studied the people and pups on this fairly primitive island.  The island’s residents live in villages and are hunters and gatherers.  The dogs are isolated enough so that there aren’t  new genes being introduced each generation.  This chapter was AMAZING.  Reading about how people benefit dogs (living with dogs in their midst, but not as pets) and how the dogs live as “wild” animals….it was just an incredibly captivating read.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I loved the book and highly recommend it to every dog lover – whether you are looking for something to help you better understand your own pooches origin and thought process or you have a more scientific brain and really want some detailed biological research.

And don’t worry….scattered amid the science mumbo-jumbo are the quite a few of those cute puppy pics!

How to NOT Get Bit in the Face

Recently, I have been doing a lot of reading, researching, and blogging about the origin of dogs and their evolution from wolves to four-legged family members.  While domesticated dogs are certainly not the wild animals their ancestors were, we humans should not forget they are still animals.

Last week, one of the dogs I visit every day bit a woman in the face. (Thankfully not on my watch.)  When I first started walking “Spot” (the pup’s name has been changed to protect his identity), he was not very pleased with a stranger coming into his house.  His mother had been honest – the reason I was called in was because Spot had just bitten a man (a stranger), and the man had to get stitches.  Spot’s mom was hoping that introducing me would kill two birds with one stone – Spot would get use to interacting socially with a human AND burn off some energy which would help him be calmer and more balanced overall.  Being extremely experienced with “difficult” dogs, I was up to the challenge.  And a challenge it was!

Spot (who weighs about 120 pounds) growled, snarled…and basically did everything a dog can do to say “get the hell away from me!”  It was easy for me to see right off the bat, though, that he was really just a big baby.  He was terrified of anything new or unknown.  I took it slow.  First, just getting close enough to his crate without him getting agitated.  Second, getting him comfortable with me touching him enough to get his harness on.  Finally, gaining his trust so that he could relax and we could both enjoy our walks together. (Again – he was scared of anything foreign…and too a dog this can be a squirrel, mailman, or kid on a bike.)

Over a year later, Spot was a changed man.  This dog is filled with puppy-like excitement when I come in.  He even gives me kisses…something I wasn’t sure he could ever be calm or gentle enough to do.  He is so relaxed on our walks – no cat, dog, yard worker, or screaming child can rile him up.  I was so  proud of his progress.

But back to the bite.

Spot’s mom was entertaining a friend in her apartment.  This friend had been warned that Spot was aggressive, and that he should not be touched.  So, what does this woman do?  This woman approaches Spot, puts her face in his face, and tries to give him a kiss.  SERIOUSLY?!!?

Now, I know some people think that I should not be standing up for a large, aggressive dog that bit a woman in the face…but is the dog really to blame here?  When a friend introduces you to someone for the first time, do you chit-chat for a few minutes and then try to KISS THEM?  Why would anyone think that this is the appropriate way to deal with any dog (or human!) especially an aggressive one!  Yes, 98% of dogs are go-with-the-flow, happy-go-lucky balls of fur that will not bite you…even if you have no manners.  That still doesn’t mean you should not abide by doggy etiquette.  (Rule #1: Don’t get in my face!  Especially if I don’t know you!)

Something that was so easily avoidable is now causing so much pain.  The woman who got bit is (understandably) very upset.  Spot’s mom is worried about her dog and her injured friend.  Spot is now working with a dog behaviorist…but of course that is a stressful, mentally draining endeavor for a poor, already fearful dog.  And I am just plain mad!  All our (me and Spot’s) hard work….gone!  Just because someone thought that they were “the One.”  “The One” the dog would instantly love and connect with.  “The One” that would break through his tough exterior and prove how much of a “dog person” she was by kissing that gentle giant right on the mouth.

So, to answer the question “How do I NOT get bit in the face?”: 

  • Show dogs the same respect that you would like.
  • Remember, just because other dogs love you does not mean ALL dogs will love you.  
  • Put yourself in their paws – physically (you are taller and therefore seen as trying to dominate) and mentally (stranger danger!!!)
  • Always ask if it’s ok to pet a dog BEFORE you touch.  If someone tells you not to touch – DON’T TOUCH!

Training 101 – Repeat Repeat Repeat

I’ve never tried to learn Japanese, but I can imagine how hard it is.  Spanish is so similar to English – even those of us whose study of the language ended in high school Spanish II can usually at least get the drift of what Spanish speakers are saying.  But Japanese!  You are dealing with different  inflections, grammatical structure, and sounds!  This is what makes training your pup so difficult.  Not because your puppy speaks Japanese, but because you two are speaking entirely different languages. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to learn, it is that she literally has NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! 

I care for a dog….let’s call him Buddy…who has some major aggression problems.  Buddy’s mom loves him dearly, but she refuses to train him or correct any of his bad behavior.  (This has resulted in Buddy biting and drawing blood on more than one occasion.)  I consider myself pretty fearless when it comes to those on four legs, but this guy is big and has been known to get me a bit rattled.  His mom prefers him to be walked with a harness, but of course Buddy HATES having his paws/legs touched.  He likes me well enough, so usually he is pretty tolerant of me gently lifting his paws.  Usually.  One morning, when Buddy was in a particularly cranky mood (yes, dogs can have bad days too) he tried to bite my face when I lifted his paw.  (I say “tried to bite” but I don’t believe he was actually aiming to take my nose off.  He absolutely could have…but he didn’t.  I believe this was his way of putting me in my place by trying to scare the bejesus out of me…aka a “correction bite.”)  (P.S. It worked!  I had the bejesus scared out of me!!)  Of course, walking Buddy every day is part of my job, so I couldn’t let a little thing like teeth to the face scare me away. 

I came up with a plan.  I would say and do the EXACT same thing before every walk.  EXACTLY the same thing.  I would stand by the door, instruct Buddy to sit (this included waiting until he did…no matter how long it took!), slip the harness over his head, and say “paw” when I was going to touch his paw and lift it into the harness.  By going through these steps every day, in the exact same order, Buddy knew exactly what was going to happen.  Better yet – he knew that nothing bad was going to happen to him.  Wouldn’t you know…after only a few days of “sticking to the script” Buddy lifted his paw every time I said “paw.”  By simply repeating the EXACT same thing, he learned what to do all on his own. 

I have done this same thing to increase my own pup’s vocabulary.  I don’t actively try to teach her words, but if I pick up something, I will say what it is.  The key to this is NOT to include the word in a sentence.  Just say the word.  For example – to teach her what the TV remote was, I simply said “remote.”  I did not (at least not in the beginning) say “Bring me the remote.” or “This is a remote.”  I did not sometimes say “tv remote” and sometimes “remote control.”  I just said “remote.”  It didn’t take long before she caught on.  Now, when I sit down to watch tv and the remote is out of arm’s reach, I simply say “Bring me the remote.” (she is already familiar with “bring me the ___”) I don’t even have to get up!  She’ll bring it right too me. 

This is why so many people have trouble training their pooches.  To your furbaby, “sit” and “sit down” are completely different things.  If you teach your dog “down” (as in laying down on the ground) you cannot also say “down” as a command to get off the furniture.  It seems like such a basic thing, but listen to yourself next time you are training or instructing your dog to do something.  Also, make sure that everyone taking to your dog is using the same vocabulary.  If your dog is jumping up to get his paws on the counter – are you saying “down” while your wife is saying “off.”  If so, your dog either (1) thinks you two are nuts or (2) will never learn what the heck you are trying to say.

Training and vocabulary work are great ways to keep your dogs mind sharp and to intensify the bond between you two.  Make it a point to work on new objects every week.  In an amazingly short amount of time, it will be like you are both speaking Japanese! Your pup will be happy….and you’ll never have to get up to get the TV remote again!

Why does my dog look like a punk rocker? (What does that mohawk mean?)

Every dog has a trigger.  For some pups, it’s a large man coming into their personal space. (P.S. That get’s me going too!)  For others, it’s an unfamiliar sound.  For my dog, it’s kids on bikes…she just can’t figure out what the heck they are!  All these different things can cause a dog to feel threatened, but the reaction is often the same – MOHAWK!  Well, the technical term is piloerector reflex, but (personally) “mohawk” is the only term that seems to fit.

Believe it or not, this is your dog’s way of looking bigger.  (My dog gets maybe and extra inch of height if she is lucky, so this seems extremely comical to me.)  It is not an offensive behavior: in other words, your pup is not looking to start a fight.  Rather, a dog with a mohawk thinks he or she is being threatened and is trying to look as intimidating as possible.  Most commonly seen on a dog’s hackles, it can also be seen down the spine all the way to the base of the tail.

Surprisingly, this reaction works similar in our own species.  Our piloerector muscles are smooth muscle fibers that connect hair follicles to the dermis, and they rely on the autonomic nervous system to function. ” What the heck does that mean?” you might be asking yourself.  Well…it means that when something scares you (like when you are watching that horror flick) your piloerector muscles are what make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  They are also what give us goosebumps.  Want to know something really interesting?  While goosebumps now seem like the most pointless thing in the world, back when we (humans, that is)  were much less evolved (and much more hairy), our piloerector muscles did the same thing that your pup’s are doing now!  They made our hair stand up and made us look much more intimidating to predators.  Through the beauty of evolution, though, we have lost that thick layer of hair covering our bodies (thank goodness!) and are left to gaze upon those annoying, ugly bumps on our skin.

But this blog isn’t about humans, is it? 

While it may be true that mohawk doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is ready to fight, it does mean that he or she is alarmed and agitated.  Most dogs will accompany a piloerector reflex with a growl or a bark or, if you are my Buffy, tearing around like a crazy woman running from window to window.  Some dogs, though, skip the dramatic performance and internalize their discomfort – the silent raising of their hair the only sign of a problem.  When I worked in a large dog daycare facility, this is one of the first things I learned when supervising play.  It’s all fun and games….until someone gets a mohawk.  This means, though your human eyes might not have detected anything, the mood of playtime has somehow shifted.  Sometimes this can easily be corrected by stepping in and calling a dog’s name.  (“Ok, guys!  Remember this is just play and we are all having fun!”) Sometimes dogs need to be separated.  As always – a dog that feels threatened is more likely to snap….it is up to you to intervene! 

…or maybe your dog just wants to rock out to the Ramones.