Category Archives: dogs

New Puppy – Great Beginings

IMG_6813Three months ago I got a new puppy. I named him Signal, Siggy … Freud … Sig and he’s great! Fast learner. Active. Agile. Motion attraction. Amazing bounce … and likes pretty much everything.

Would he be a good choice for everybody? For sure not, probably too fast a learner, too active, too agile, too likely to chase things and too much bounce.

What kind of criteria do you have for choosing a new pup? How well have you followed it in practice? Do you have certain things you plan on doing with your dog? How have your last dogs been? What didn’t work for you? These are all questions worth answering before getting a new pup.a

Just like in training or planning anything I had my ‘have to haves’ and my ‘likes, but not necessary.’ My needs included a medium large dog (aiming for 50-65#), people and dog social (before I have had more aloof dogs and they suit me, but maybe not my dog training class atmosphere). Excellent conformation, score well on puppy temperament test and I had a handful of breeds that would be likely good choices. The parents should be excellent examples of their breed and consistent with what I was wanting. I preferred a non-black dog … but only because I do photos and videos and black is hard to see details, expressions or even body parts sometimes.

IMG_6834abSo he’s all black. Rich, very black, black. He’s a doodle, which hits the people and dog social, and size range. I’ve known his mom, an AKC registered, 45#, standard poodle named Ruby, since she was a couple of months old.

Five months, the age where most people think … “whew, potty trained, better start doing some other training.” If you’re in that group I do have a dog basic obedience class coming up in January. Sig will be going … he’ll be my demo pup. Reportedly the other pups in his litter are kinda wild. I’m not surprised since active, quick and agile pups tend to get that way if they aren’t handled skillfully. We were visiting the vet clinic yesterday afternoon to put up flyers and practice puppy skills and Sig is the calmest one they’ve seen.

Which is nice to hear about ‘the dog trainer’s pup.’

But, you know, that’s not really true. What’s true is he’s had practice and knows what is expected and so he can be calm. Clarity produces confidence. He’s still very much a puppy. His mask of self-assurance and self-control can crumble if over-faced.

He has been in puppy kindergarten, he goes weekly to agility as a ring-side spectator, we do errand runs to town and practice what he knows in all sorts of parking lots and I do training sessions with him a minimum of three times daily (three meals … three opportunities to train). Yesterday I started the process of going inside dog friendly establishments because the more practice he gets, the better he’ll be. The other reason I was waiting to enter public buildings is he has nervous or submissive urination and I wanted to be sure we had that under control before stressing him.

I’ve come to the conclusion that nervous pee-ers are a lot like scared pups. Oh, body language is very different, but they need less eye contact, less verbal interaction, and no, or minimal, touch from unknown people.

Sig is cute and waggy. He looks very inviting and people want to come up and grab both sides of his face and cuddle. That’s way too much! Even if I tell them just one hand, just brief … they don’t seem able to listen.

So I just say no and block them. I don’t need random strangers creating bad rehearsals for my pup. I want good rehearsals. This temporary problem isn’t going to become a lifelong habit.

Both places we went into yesterday … were great.  Dry floors.  Of course, I did potty breaks before entering (an empty bladder is less likely to leak under stress). And anyone longingly staring, we just moved on and ignored.

Even the best choices of puppy are going to come with issues … I didn’t mention that we’re working on stopping the mouthing, and the jumping and the picking up everything reachable and…IMG_6881



Barking Help

Lot’s of you probably have had problems with your dog barking and the neighbors not being very generous about tolerating it. My daughter has just moved and her dog has decided, now in his second week there, he doesn’t like the situation very well. She, of course, has to work and so leaves him inside in his crate. She rents and has a fairly intolerant ‘pet agreement.’ So the situation is worrisome. Your situation will be different so different parts of this will be more important for you. Things that she is already using: Treat and Train remote reward and DAP collar. This is the email I sent to her.

Thinking about you and Obie…

For him to be quiet and content; he needs to be comfortable, he needs to accept confinement and not expect that any vocalizations or actions will get him attention and there needs to be a cost of behavior penalty.
1. Food, Water, bathroom and exercise  (timing of main food so that potty breaks are needed at right times)
2. Value for being in crate (crate games). Rewards for quiet. No excited greetings or prolonged leaving.
3. Avoid back-chaining = “I bark complain, then be quiet, then get attention” — you know when this is happening as this would grow problem rather than decrease it — it’s a timing and a level of reward/attention issue
4. Multiple strategies to inform him of the cost of his behavior – penalties = no eye contact, freezing or turning away, not entering building if he’s barking, covering crate partially/completely, uncovering when he’s settled (note you don’t have to be stuck outside if you enter – don’t look, don’t talk and immediately cover crate and wait for a good settle) just like at the cottage.
5. Change exit strategy to avoid triggers or/and desensitize triggers (put on shoes, pick up stuff, run out to car at times random)

From what I saw when you were here and Obie did something you didn’t actually want repeated … your preferred response is early and somewhat excessive reward for initial small increment of desired behavior repeated multiple times (so the reward back chained to all the pieces). The first cycle of this is fine (mostly I would expect more and reward with lower key approval), the second cycle and subsequent cycles should wait for more and better and if you aren’t getting that add space but don’t lower the criteria and don’t over reward. He can/should improve at a much faster rate.

What we practiced was calmness, greater expectations and low-key reward (no or low verbals) when changing from undesired behavior to desired – because we don’t want excitement attached to the undesired actions.

My thoughts are that the problems you’re encountering now are mostly: #1 food/potty #3 back chaining



Easy Dog training is not so easy

CGCclass 023a
American Bulldog/Mastiff cross offering behavior – leash loose and handler ready to reward. Note observer (Bella), she’s the neighbor’s dog and she likes to watch classes. Photo by D. Renzoni

Easy and quick dog training is an oxymoron.

Quick knowledge, fast solution and nobody needs to learn anything, but the dog. Try it, what harm can it cause? Who cares about research?  Neighbor said it or multiple studies confirmed it… who wins? Well of course, the neighbor/cousin/friend does, in their random ‘expert’ mode. Science … what science?

Why? Science is all about theories and creating a study and checking. Neighbor/cousin/friend is all about absolute testimonial on a very limited scale (one dog, two dogs, an imaginary dog or a dog seen on video). But somehow people believe testimonials more and are willing to do and allow punishment as a first line of action. I do find that incredibly ugly.


CGCclass 014
These guys are making great progress! But in general, we often miss the chances to reward the behaviors we like best, by being unobservant or preoccupied. Dogs learn how to get what they want  – jumping up, grabbing … stealing things because it works for them.

What does the science (lots of science) say … ‘Every living thing learns to improve its condition.’ Reward ensures that a behavior will be done more frequently in the future.  Yummy stuff in the garbage – tip it out and eat it (ding, ding, ding – big reward! Behavior will be repeated). Punishment will/can suppress/reduce a behavior. Punishment never creates new behavior (but it can increase fear, increase the punished behavior, anxiety, aggression, apathy and slow learning). Yell NO at dog as he grabs child’s Barbie doll, and dog may drop it and decide not to grab it in the future or… think that grabbing Barbie is one of the most exciting games ever. Other common event: puppy barks or bites and is sprayed with mouth freshener spray, and dog may stop and/or… become afraid of hands or spray sounds or certain scents or…

Learning is a complex topic, which probably is why so many are so confused about how to approach training, and which is also why so many end up training the opposite of what they wanted and then blaming the dog for being uncooperative or stupid and/or … blame themselves for being a bad dog trainer or lacking enough time to have a dog ….

The relationship between the person and their dog is a constant learning process. Given that this process, at least on the part of the person, takes place mostly at an unconscious level, the resulting picture is rarely how you imagine it.

If we think about, for example, walking on a leash it becomes quickly clear that reward and punishment are consistently connected. If the dog doesn’t react, starts sniffing, lunges forward, then most handlers will try pulling him forward or backward (this is positive , +, or aversive punishment). Hence not going forward or going forward too much is what is punished. If the dog walks better, then jerking or pulling are no longer used. This is a negative reward (rewarded by taking the pressure away).

What happens if the leash just stays tight? The dog is not rewarded, but punishment continues for his hard work when he feels pulling pressure on his neck. In this way the dog will become more and more numb to collar pressure, he is being punished continuously through the never-ending use of leash control.  Another confounding factor is the oppositional reflex (you pull, then I pull also, like tug-of-war). Then it is usually a case of ‘He likes to pull’ and so ‘has to have’ a prong collar or choke collar or harder jerks or a harness to save his neck.

Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc.
Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc. Fear of reactivity increases tension in the handler … a closed circle of events.
CGCclass 021
Loose leash, attentive and relaxed dog … nice pair. Reactivity becomes unlikely.

This ignorance by handlers of the dog’s most basic learning behavior is what creates one of the greatest problems in having a dog and using a leash. Based on excessive attention given to hanging on to their dog, it is possible to overlook what is actually being told to the dog when walking on a leash.  The removal of pressure has everything to do with training and learning. The giving of a reward when the dog is in the position you want them to be has everything to do with learning.

People have such a hard time releasing pressure, that I often would rather not let them have a leash at all or use a hands-free leash, so they can’t pull on it while they are trying to train their dog where they want them to walk. It comes down to the human handler creating a habit for herself/himself and the dog. Sticking strictly to the rules so the learned behavior becomes the norm.

The flow of info between a dog and person is called communication. Most dogs are totally confused or begin to switch off, because they are getting contradictory signals. In the house these rules apply … sometimes, in the yard these rules apply … sometimes and the rules change daily. Recently a person told me she wanted to have a rule where her pup didn’t go into the kitchen, but currently his food/water are in the kitchen, and his gate keeps him in the kitchen when she leaves, hmm?

Dogs quit trying when there is no way to know what is expected. Symptoms of ‘switching off’ include; sniffing, zoomies, turning away, quickly leaving, not listening/’selective deafness’, no eye contact by the dog … etc.

To avoid this trap we must get used to handling our dog in a consistent way and build up our dog’s trust in our ability to control/offer rewards.

Only if you have a clear picture in your head can you decide whether a behavior is the one you want or not.

Imagine that you are learning something new and you are punished for every mistake you make … you will quickly give up trying to find out how to do it.  Goal:  No punishment when learning.

This game is 'can you put your feet on this?' Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the important stuff.
This game is ‘can you put your feet on this?’ Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the future important stuff.

Emotion memory. During training a dog doesn’t only learn the proper cues/commands, but he also memorizes the emotions connected with them. If you are using a lot of punishing actions/sounds, the dog will always recall these negative impressions when you signal or say these cues. From this point of view, its easy to see why many dogs have no motivation to work or learn new things from you. FYI video yourself training something new to check it out – most people use a lot of punishing actions or sounds (no, oh oh, disappointed tones and dog’s name …).

As far as possible, ignore the wrong answers and praise the right ones so that the “cues/commands” are not poisoned at an early stage with bad emotions. If you are having trouble with a cue like come or sit or the dog paying attention when you say his/her name, it is likely you have poisoned the cue – change to a new one and don’t poison this one.

When a dog does not recognize what you want he will try everything to find a solution … set it up so the right solution is likely to happen and wait …   Goal: Set it up and wait.

Divide the movement into small steps and your dog will learn more easily. These small learning steps will also help you to figure out any questions for your dog as simply as possible. Take time to think about it from your dog’s point of view.  Train individual cues one by one if possible (example a good retrieve includes a sit, stay, cued release, run out, pick up/solid hold, tight turn, speedy return at speed equal to the go out, release of item on cue from preferred position).

Easy dog training is not so easy. It takes thought and learned habits. If your neighbor/friend or even veterinarian suggests do ________  to your puppy because he barks or bites or doesn’t want to be restrained. Consider the situation from your pup’s point of view – has he been rewarded often for the preferred behavior? What is he likely to do if you follow the suggestion? Will he trust you more afterwords? In other words, will your relationship improve? What will you do if their suggestion makes the behavior worse because now your pup is more afraid, more anxious, more aggressive and less willing to learn things from you?


**note the details of learning are simplified for this blog … the theme of learning is a complex topic which includes significant terminology and concepts with various definitions.  See  for more


Thinking about getting a puppy?

The following are some things I think everyone should probably know before getting a pup.  First know who you’re dealing with, especially if you’re paying significant money for this pup. Even if you aren’t, remember this pup will be a family member so prepare to choose well. I expect you to keep the pup you chose for their whole life. Most of the dogs in shelters were free or low-cost dogs – unfortunately price makes a difference in how we think.

This is advice I’d give a friend. But actually the best advice is to take someone along who really knows dogs, and have all the pieces ready (crate, kennel, gates, training plan and clear idea of what you want). Do not make this choice an impetuous decision.

Who am I to talk? I was a breeder of Airedale terriers, registered, championship pedigree, active in competitions in conformation and obedience, titled, healthy dogs back in the 80s and early 90s when it was still great and quite acceptable to breed purebred dogs.

Hickory was Best of Winners, I'm handling this home-bred, owner handled airedale. He was a great dog!
Hickory was Best of Winners, I’m handling this home-bred, owner handled Airedale. He was a great dog!

Why did I breed puppies? I was aiming for the next champion, next titled versatile Airedale and it helped pay for the cost of showing, being active in dog competitions, and doing stuff with the dogs. It was a hobby, a sport and a passion for dogs. I did the daily handling, early training, environmental enrichment for the puppies, but still my main focus was not the production of family, stay-at-home pets. I wanted smart, healthy, temperamentally sound dogs and they were, but maybe too much dog for the average family.

Sage looking a bit worried about kendra's show stacking abilities.
Sage looking a bit worried about Kendra’s show stacking abilities.

And depending on the breed, being too intense and purpose driven is probably true of lots of dogs from competitive purebred breeders (at least most of sporting, working, herding, hound and terrier categories). Why? Because these dogs were bred with a purpose in mind and most families don’t buy them with the idea of using them for that purpose, because, dog people do or they have a reasonable replacement activity for the dogs.

Dan successfully competing in obedience,  circa 1980, with Whiskey. He also did a lot of bird hunting with this Airedale.   Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Dan successfully competing in obedience, circa 1980, with Whiskey. He also did a lot of bird hunting with this Airedale. Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Why did I stop breeding? Several reasons: the most abrupt was my next star puppy female got hit and killed by a car and I didn’t have the heart to try for another, I was working more away from home and raising dogs takes being there, and finally several of the pups I had placed had bad ends.

As a breeder, people know they can call and cry, it’s sad – sad for them, sad for me. The more years, the more dogs placed, the more deaths – several hit by cars, one died of an aggressive cancer, one had liver failure (probably poison), one the owner put through all sorts of stuff because they were sure it had allergies (despite my telling them it was very unlikely) before they found a vet who took it off the meds – voila no more skin problems, and one ended up with a psychotic woman who bought high-end pups and turned them over to shelters to be euthanized (made me wonder about my ability to read people).

The negatives weighed heavily despite the many happy photo Christmas cards with Airedales in Santa hats or bows I received annually. The tide was turning against breeding dogs too and so many of the very good small breeders got out.

Those things decided my path. I still had adults, my last homegrown dog died at the age of 14 in 2006.

Simba, our last Airedale in his later years, canoeing. He was a good boat dog.
Simba, our last Airedale in his later years, canoeing. He was a good boat dog. Photo by Dan Renzoni

And that was the end of my Airedale  breeding saga. In 1996 I got a Bouvier de Flanders pup – lovely dog and one of the easiest dogs to live with I’ve ever had – it was like she was pre-trained. I temperament tested the litter and she fit my expectations probably too well, I like more challenge.

Bouvier de Flanders pup, Raven, at 9 weeks. She was amazing, social, wonderful with other dogs. She did demonstrations at nursing homes. But she was a big girl - 94 pounds as an adult and was willing to eat anything yucky..
Bouvier de Flanders pup, Raven, at 9 weeks. She was amazing, social, wonderful with other dogs. She did demonstrations at nursing homes. But she was a big girl – 94 pounds as an adult and was willing to eat anything yucky (occasionally a big flaw)..

Adopting (aka buying) from a shelter Then in 2006 I began  a search to acquire a dog from a shelter,  mostly because many of the people and dogs I trained were dealing with different shelter-dog problems. I wanted to see what the differences were and how the experience was.

I wasn’t happy in the process. I filled out the forms (after the first one it’s easy), I did the visits, I was treated as if I was a potential dog abuser and the staff apparently knew very little about the dogs they housed. Oh well, I still got a great dog (after visiting multiple times) – but of course he had problems. Problems I would have avoided had I had him as a youngster.

Max jumping on a ?
Max jumping on a ?

I tend to believe in only choosing adults at shelters because of the lack of being able to forecast traits and physical capabilities when looking at pups – my dogs do major physical activity. This isn’t much of an issue because pups at shelters are fairly rare and young adults are quite common. I also don’t like early neutering because of the changes in body conformation it seems to cause, so that also makes choosing a young adult my best option. Puppies at shelters are in high demand, I guess people are gambling on mixtures providing a mild temperament and healthy body – I’m not that much of a gambler.

For someone else the above requisites may not be important, early neutering may be seen as a benefit, many dogs never get to run free, nor do they do much physical activity. Choose based on your real activity traits, real living situation and real likelihood of providing training.

What else do I think people looking for a pup should generally know?

Two pups we purchased in Washington state back in 1981. The one on the left (Brillo) had a successful show career, the one on the right  (Aztec) died from a reaction to anesthesia at 1 year old.  Photo by Dan Renzoni
Two pups we purchased in Washington state back in 1981.  Note I’d never get two at the same time again, but Dan and I split the training between us. The one on the left (Brillo) had a successful show career, the one on the right (Aztec) died from a reaction to anesthesia at 1-year-old.                             Photo by Dan Renzoni

Know yourself and your family. It is up to you, the buyer, to know what is best for you – how much exercise and activity you will actually do with a dog, how much grooming, how much training, how much time, and how much money. The dog breeder loves the breed they have, but they don’t know you and they don’t really know why you want the breed or whether you can handle it. Only you know that. The breeder can tell you how active, how driven and how much training his dogs need. The breeder provides those activities for their dogs as a matter of course. They can’t know if you will actually give it. (There are several sites that offer dog breed selector quizzes – search dog breed selector quiz –  and these are worth taking with your family, such as: , or , which I like because of the clarity of the questions.  Try more than one version and then do your homework on the breeds it suggests – has pretty good resources, but includes some errors which you’ll notice from their written accounts disagreeing with some of the things said on their videos, AKC is more accurate but doesn’t have the negatives about breeds included, DK dog encyclopedias have it all and are usually available at your library).

Despite the rhetoric people who breed dogs for competition, hunting, companionship and some money are just like everybody else – some great, some good, some mediocre and some bad. It’s wrong-headed to think people who like/love dogs are more special or conversely more evil than any other group. You need to have done your homework so you can ask good questions. The answers you get, the stuff you see, the dogs themselves will tell you in what group to classify the breeding operation you’re visiting.

Deal only with people you feel you can trust and then trust them. This is one reason why bringing an expert or at least longtime dog owner along is a good idea.
*Wisconsin law states that pups cannot be sold/separated from their dam (mom) before 7 weeks. Why? The mother dog and litter-mates offer key socialization experiences creating a pup that better understands doggy social structure/language. Litter owners who don’t know this also don’t know other important things about early puppy socialization.

Craig’s list seems to be the most active dog selling site on the web. It is a mix of honest people, dog flippers and scams, so beware and when going to see a dog/pup take care (and a friend). Dog breeders are not supposed to use this list as a selling outlet, but some do, and then they are flagged off – often fairly quickly. So if this is your choice you’ll have to check it often and write down the information (as it may not be there the next time you look).

eBay classified has dogs and pups for sale by region/city. Usually these are higher priced than those listed on Craig’s list. Generally this is a slower paced system which is better for thoughtful purchasing.

Breeders websites (do a web search based on breed and state) these sites give the most information, but remember the information may be fantasy … get referrals from breed clubs, AKC site or someone you know. Usually you will need to fill out a form similar to the shelter sites in order to be put on a list to get a puppy.

Back to more like Craig’s list: There are other listing sites: pupsnow, nextdaypets, etc. but they are inconsistent, seem not well used, and seem to mostly show pictures of very young pups, which tell you nothing. AKC has a breeder listing. Oodles has brief, uninformative listings that may or may not be current.

Newspapers, which used to be a common way to sell pups, now hardly have any, but occasionally do. In our area these are limited in breed selections – labs,  goldens, border collies, heelers, shepherds and some crosses and mixes.

Dog Magazine Dog Fancy Magazine, now Dogster, still has breeder listings in the back pages of the magazine.

The first cost of a pup is one of the least expensive things about owning a dog. Yes, I do consider cost, but health, is more important and knowing the pup’s background gives me a better chance of forecasting life expectancy and physical wellness.

*People selling mixed breeds or cross-bred pups (this includes shelters) have no breed standards, no breed clubs, no competitions, no health testing for genetic problems … this doesn’t mean their pups are healthier, genetically free of problems or  lesser dogs.  Frequently there is no history, no research, no pedigree .. . so then what would I be paying for? This is why, traditionally, low value was assessed for these dogs.

People selling pure bred dogs, but who don’t do any breed specific activity/sport means, for many of them, achieving more net profit for less effort. What are their values? Why would these dogs be a good choice? Do they have testimonials of satisfied customers? Prior litter examples of success? They may have healthy dogs with wonderful temperament, which is just what you want or not.

Expect good business standards. Dog selling is a business (both for profit – breeders, and non-profit, shelters).

Crosses are a mix of two breeds, if both breeds are likely to have a genetic disease, the pups are likely to also. For example: both Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles are at risk for hip dysplasia, so crosses – Goldendoodles – are at risk and so the parents should be OFA  ranked. (Note the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has information on common problems with certain breeds so it is a resource).

Mixes (3 or more breeds) tend to have greater genetic variety, so the gamble is this will lessen the chance of an inherited problem. Mixes may be less intense dogs, because they were not bred with a purpose in mind (like hunting or herding or killing vermin or guarding). This lower level of intensity is a good thing for indoor, less active families or for newbie dog owners.

*Note there have been registries popping up to offer papers with the pups, kind of like a mail-order degree. Registries that have breed standards and competitions to prove the dogs can do what they were intended to do are American Kennel Club (AKC), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) are the most common ones in this area.  But just being AKC or KC or …. registered is not a guarantee of quality, it just indicates the parents were also registered.  Even if it’s not a championship pedigree, the pedigree can give you clues to the type of breeding in the pup’s history – how much in-breeding, how many out-crosses. So you want to see a multi-generational pedigree (not just 3 generations) because the more in-breeding the higher the chance of recessive genetic problems.

*If a person is a knowledgeable dog breeder they will not be advertising ISO stud dog for my female in heat. They will have done the research, gone to the competitions, looked at pedigrees and done the health testing for their breed’s most likely genetic problems. So a question about why they chose the stud dog they chose is a valid one and why their female was a good choice is even more important.

*Even if the health testing and research has been done it is better to get a pup from an older, healthy bitch and stud dog. Why? because soundness produces soundness. By 5 or 6 years old, if a dog was going to have an early onset health problem it would be there. The breeder/seller should offer some sort of guarantee.

*Look at,  pet/interact with,  the pup’s parents first before the puppies. If you wouldn’t want the pup’s mother as your dog, don’t buy one of her babies. (Remember, she just had pups so saggy belly/teats, somewhat skinny, coat looking a bit scruffy is not unexpected). The father (stud) should look great – andshould be the kind of dog you wantto be yours (note the stud often is from an outside breeder, so you may only be able to see photos or video).

Airedale pups in outside enclosure – grass, cement and gravel. Toys and obstacles to play around. Circa 1988.

*Puppies, when awake, should be clear-eyed, round, bouncy, inquisitive and appear healthy. Only buy a healthy appearing pup from a healthy litter. Always be willing to leave without a pup, if you’re not willing, then you’re not making rational choices.

*Puppy area should have varied play items, varied surfaces/obstacles and be reasonably clean. It is great if potty training has already started and pups can go out to go and keep inside potty-free. (or have an inside potty area).

*Clean water, clean equipment, clean bedding. The pups will have started solid foods back in their 4th week and by week 7, some kind of puppy chow is their mainstay.

*The mother dog should have access to the puppy area, but also have a way to escape the pups as she wishes. By 7 weeks most mother dogs have weaned their pups, but some will still let them suckle briefly. But the mom dog’s interventions are important information for the pups.

*Knowledgeable breeders (a breeder is anyone who has a litter of pups – planned, unplanned, pure bred or mixed) will have a puppy handling and socialization schedule to show you what’s been done already to help create the well-rounded, appropriately social dog you would want. Raised with kids, doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good experience for the pups. Pups born in or transferred to a shelter situation have/are in a very stressful environment – excessive stress is not a good thing.

*And of course they have, a worming schedule, initial vaccination(s), and a vet check (required if they are licensed), or they require you to go to a vet within a brief period after your purchase. Do they need to be licensed? Only if they sell 25 or more dogs/pups from more than 3 litters per year in WI.

*Crate training started and some basic obedience. Even though pups should be in contact with their litter it’s also reasonable to start some separation so it’s not as much of a shock on that first night with you.

What you do has a huge impact on your puppy. The first critical fear period is from 8-10 weeks old. This is also an enormously important socialization time-frame. Bad experiences, challenges that are too much and end unsuccessfully can have permanent repercussions. Painful experiences, elective surgeries, overly loud, overly anything should be avoided. However challenges that are met can be amazing boosts to the pup’s confidence and overall view of his world.

These first weeks are a time to do some good people socialization – not overwhelming the pup, not encouraging wild behavior. Many of the antisocial behaviors blamed on poor breeding are actually poor environmental choices by the new owner … genetics vs environment?

As a trainer, if I see one pup from a litter showing excessive fear or unreasonable aggression I have no way of knowing what the real cause(s) was/were – several pups … then I’m leaning toward genetic predisposition. Can this be fixed? It can be improved, many times it can be much improved. It does take effort though.

As a trainer if I get a whole bunch of pups in a kindergarten class from one litter, usually the pups have been separated from their litter mates and mom dog too early (at 4 – 6 weeks) and are excessively bite-y … so the people with them are worried, and they should be because what else didn’t the breeder know. Pups who don’t have good dog body language skills need mentoring and practice getting it right. Having them with their mom and litter mates longer is not a guarantee of good dog body language skills, but it makes them much more likely.

As a trainer when I see one of the (often GSD type) pups that has been kept isolated at home until 6 or 7 or more months and now everybody noticed how reactive it is to people and to dogs, I know the people didn’t do their initial needed socialization and they may never have the family dog they were wishing for, because the process to fix it is much harder now. The more wary, worried or territorial dogs need much more good socialization early and continuously or they won’t have the confidence to make good decisions.

As a trainer when I see a pup who is frantically wild offering displacement behaviors and an owner who is constantly scolding I know they need positive training, because the constant barrage of criticism drives the pup’s worried behavior that drives the criticism … and the cycle continues.

Raising a puppy well is a lot of work … and fun.

Do you need help choosing a dog or pup? I consult and/or actively help in the process.

What will come next?

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#1 .  Black lab puppy and running child … what comes next?

#2.  Rabbit hopping and dog let out the door … what comes next?

#3.  Door bell rings and the dogs are in the house … what comes next?

#4.  Get coat on, dog is jumping and barking, and open the door… what comes next?

#5.  Meat on the counter, dog is known counter surfer … what comes next?

#6.  Dog always on the couch/bed, new baby brought home … what comes next?

Crying crash? Laughing tumble? Bellow _____ come here? Just a minute, then yelling? Run out the door, hey, wait! Who took the ham? Get off from there!

These are all reactive and unlikely to change the scenario either this time or the next or next. The environment offered the reward – aha – fun, excitement, hunting/chase, food, comfort.

We can’t be both reactive and proactive at the same time. It’s not possible because our thinking has to flip/flop. If I’m ahead of the process I can change it, if I’m surprised by the process then I’m part of the fall out. If I’m surprised once, you wouldn’t think I would keep being surprised when the scenario occurs again, and again, and again.

Understanding the pattern of what is likely to happen next is a key to becoming proactive and controlling the environmental rewards. Then being several steps ahead I can decide what needs to be trained, practiced and managed so I can actually fix the issue instead of just react to it and let my dog pay for my lack of foresight.

Any issue I keep being reactive towards instead of getting ahead of and fixing? I need to figure out the benefit, so I can judge the cost? Is it worth fixing or is reacting to it what I want to do for the rest of the dog’s life.

Leashes and fences and reactivity:

Underground fences (electric) do they promote reactivity in people? (I’ve seen the reactivity in dogs ratchet up higher and faster than with regular fences, but what about their owners?) Thoughts?


Weighty problems – excess kills

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-photo by J. Renzoni

Spicy was my beagle-mix. She was a 30#, brown velvet eared, lovely eyed beauty of a dog.  I took her along with me when I went to live with my Grandfather and go to college.  She was an easy dog in many ways, people friendly, and soon had the  dairy-farming neighborhood in her pocket. I assume she saved up the rolling in cow pats for her return to grandpa’s jog, because her new friends were not put off and rewarded her mightily for her visits. She gained weight and needed baths at an alarming rate.

I tried lots of things to keep her in trim, but grandpa and the neighbors were beyond my control. I was gone to college classes most of the days and grandpa freed her to go visiting. He seemed not to mind her love of manure.

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photo by J. Renzoni

Food and exercise imbalance, with neutering thrown in to make overweight more likely is a common problem. For many there is an assumption that dog attention needs feeding, there is a delight/naughty, shame/guilt burden around the use of food to cajole and win friendship, about eating food, about sharing food, about them not having enough or feeling hungry or worried over getting food.

As a dietitian (RD), I personally have trouble with food compulsions – I think (and studies back me up on this) that personally having tried lots of diets and focused so much on external eating/satiety controls creates excessive attention on food. But I have no difficulty at all (barring Spicy) keeping my dogs at 4 – 5 on the 9 point body condition score. I believe the science that says they will live longer and better.

Here is a site with evaluation tools for identifying body composition score

Ideal body condition looks ‘underweight.’ More and more I’ve noticed people thinking a working weight dog (close to ideal) looks underweight to them. Quick glance evaluation – look at the dog’s head compared to his body. If the head looks small, the dog is overweight. If the head looks large comparatively, then maybe he’s underweight (take the dog’s breed into account).

Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Max at 11 years old, he's 12 now and doing well. He's pretty furry so a hands on eval is needed.
Max at 11 years old, he’s 12 now and doing well. He’s pretty furry so a hands on evaluation needed. Photo by J Renzoni

From studies on overweight/obese dogs – owner factors of importance (these are not necessarily causes, the relationship could go either way or be connected to a third unidentified issue) related to obesity in dogs: duration owner observed dog eating (longer in obese dogs), interest in pet nutrition, obesity of owner, health consciousness of owner (both for pet and for themselves) and lower-income. It seems the more we concentrate on the problem (especially without adequate funds) the more difficult it is  to resolve or conversely the more difficult it is to resolve, the more we concentrate on it.

Overweight dogs are more likely fed inexpensive vs expensive food, fed more meals and snacks, fed table scraps, and be present when owner is preparing their own meal. Type of diet: prepared pet food vs homemade didn’t matter. And fiber levels had to be above 21% to have a positive effect (obviously more intake of cow pats and horse apples needed –  ya hey, free fiber and doggy perfume in one package).

In a study of free feeding (eat as much as they want) vs controlled amount feeding (25% less than the free fed ate), the energy restricted group had body condition scores closer to optimal (ave. 4.5 out of 9 vs 6.8 out of 9 for free fed dogs), lifespan averaging 2 years longer than the free fed dogs and less hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis and improved glucose tolerance.

We want to be happy.  We want our dogs to be happy. My grandfather felt Spicy should get to roam, the neighbors thought she needed rewards for her visits, Spicy thought cow poo was delicious to roll in and I thought they all were making me crazy (she was getting fat and needing baths all the time and I was worried about her getting hit by a car). My answer: I gave up and let her be grandpa’s dog. She lived to 11 out of a likely life span of 13-15 years, obesity has a price tag.

Happiness includes being comfortable in our body.

Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.
Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.  -photo J. Renzoni

It’s a short and long-term thing. Short – I want that, that is good; long – being able to do things is so fun. Imbalance can mean too many limitations either on the short-term side (being fearful of offering anything) or on the long-term side (being overweight, becoming chronically ill and having mobility problems).

To decide how much to feed I use a combination of things: printed recommendations on the food being offered, appetite, seeming too hungry (I’ll increase measure up to 25%), stool consistency/frequency and volume (too much/too loose = decrease quantity), dog appearance (are they gaining or losing weight when I want them stable?) and occasionally the veterinarian’s scale compared to the breed standard (many of them give weight ranges).

I’ve had veterinarians express concern about using food as a reward (and teaching people in class) for training – worry about too many treats.

I use many things as rewards; toys, games, praise, pats, massage, lap privileges and food. Robust appetite and enthusiasm for food is a positive indicator of health – both body and mental.

Food is a great reward and when I’m training I may use all of it in training, so very little gets offered in a dish, but it is still measured out for the day.  For younger dogs it is important to feed some from their bowl or they may think they only eat from my hand (which is not something I want them to think). Growing pups and mother dogs nursing pups get much attention to appetite and body composition.

Food is calming, licking food may be even more calming. Food tends to encourage thinking. Food is a good thing to use to start the process of training something new. Food doesn’t usually increase speed – if you want speed add a toy/game. Food for rewards can be kibble (high quality is preferred) or very high value to the dog, like cheese or meat. The amount is the size of one piece of kibble and for a jackpot, several pieces the size of a piece of kibble given in succession – adjust size of reward to size of dog. Dogs do know the difference in size, large being better than small, but for training, a series of small pieces, given in sequence is more effective.

“The way to his (her or its) heart is through his (her or its) stomach.”

I read a blogger’s comment about the advantages of free feeding, they did not think that being observed offering food was a significant advantage for the dog/person relationship. I believe they were unobservant. Years ago when my husband needed to get my dogs to pay attention to him I offered him the task of feeding them. It made a significant difference in a short time. In class when a student is having trouble getting their dog to focus on them and not on everyone/everything else, I ask them to hand feed all food, voila.

Food is a primary need, of course the source is important.

What about the picky dog? The one that is uninterested in food. After assuring there is no medical cause then make the food more interesting – the dog has to find it, work for it, figure out something to get it and cut back the offered quantity by 25%. Dogs, like children who are picky, are seldom actually underweight and often get significant attention and excellent tasting replacement foods for remaining picky (unfortunately the replacement foods are often lower nutritional density – ie not as good for them).

What if there’s actually a medical cause and coaxing is in order? Then offer variety, and high value foods in small frequent meals. Just like in people, having too much offered can overwhelm and discourage intake. Elderly declining dog – give them what they will eat.

Prevention and early intervention when a dog starts getting overweight is the easiest.

Many dog professionals are hesitant to say anything about the dog’s weight because just like a child’s weight, it’s a touchy subject. Of course, most dogs aren’t touchy about it at all. And if I need to decrease the amount given the most I’d cut it back by would be 25% and if they seemed to want something more I’d offer raw veggies, which are a favorite of my dogs anyway.

I’ve noticed the time likely for problems is when the pup’s growth spurt has ended and they’ve also been neutered. This combination decreases their food needs abruptly. Another time is after they’ve matured, somewhere in the 3-5 year old zone and their activity may decline with less play, decreasing food requirements, but if the same amount of food is offered most dogs will continue to eat it.  Also switching from a large chunk/disk kibble to small pieces (the small pieces fit more weight in the same volume scoop), so slow weight increase can happen, oops.

Has your dog run into a weight problem?




Your old ‘step’ platform – if you’ve still got one don’t throw it out

JazziestepperDec182014 005There are lots of things to do with those aerobic steps and Kathy Smith didn’t think of all of them – I’ll forgive her since she wasn’t thinking of four paws on the floor.

Start flat on the ground for your dog:

  • stepping up onto them with front feet, then all feet
  • backing up onto them
  • moving sideways with 2 feet up and 2 feet down
  • canine body awareness – you can get any combination of paws on them – backs, fronts, one side-back and front
  • use as platform (as in ‘go to your spot’)
  • as part of agility obstacle course
  • contact zone (teaching 2 up 2 down and nose touches)
  • ramp up to something else (that grippy surface is good)
  • tricks on top of them – sit pretty, balance something on your nose
  • backing up on them at more and more steep an angle, up to front stand

Take some time and get it so your dog really does each thing well, then add a cue for it. If you do your dog will become ever so much more strong and agile.JazziestepperDec182014 001a

Having a stable, but finite place is good for lots of stuff – teaching stand, grooming, etc. My beginning dog class people know it isn’t so easy to get a dog to get up on something new, or sit on it, or down on it. And these are a nice size for most dogs (but not the giants), they are durable, weather resistant, strong and most are not slippery. And cheap – garage sales.

For those older dogs with rear end weakness just getting them to stand with front feet up for 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes can do some safe strengthening. Then start adding some backing up to step up onto it or add those elevation blocks that made those stepper programs so much harder to do.

And then there’s that exercise ball – too much fun with that!

I like the regular steps too, lots of opportunity there. Do you have any favorite equipment to use with your dogs?


Woods hikes – walks on the wild side

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Have you been too worried to go on a hike with your dog in the woods? Worried about your dog getting lost? Or worried about risks of being on the hike?

Taylor County in northern Wisconsin has great places to hike and most of them are dog friendly. Not to say there aren’t risks, but in 30 years of hiking with dogs I haven’t had anything really serious happen on the hike and I’ve hiked with lots of dogs, lots of times. I’m not saying we didn’t have some things happen. It’s why we go into the wild.

Exceptions to the hardly any risks, aka doggy adventures. The time one of our Airedales charged into a pond swimming after and briefly catching a beaver. He had the bite puncture wounds and vet visit to prove it. He responded to being called before anything worse could happen (it was a big beaver). If he hadn’t come in would we have joined him in the pond to become beaver gladiators? Who knows.

Getting skunked or porcupine quilled happened several times (certain dogs had a knack for it). We ended up always carrying needle nosed pliers with those dogs hiking (it’s much better to get as many quills out as soon as possible, you wouldn’t believe how quickly they embed if left unattended). Skunk spray stinks amazingly bad and there’s nothing to carry along to really neutralize it.

I saw a bear on the trail once (it was a big bear with a white splotch on its chest), but I called the dogs before they saw it and the bear skeddadled  – I did head a different direction. What about wolves? I’ve seen tracks, had one time when the dogs seemed worried – about what I don’t really know, but no wolves and you’re not likely to ever see any.

We don’t have any poisonous snakes and the toads are only mildly toxic (cause mouth foaming and face rubbing).  There are hunters – currently bow season, small game and bird seasons are ongoing.  During deer gun season we don’t hike in the woods and orange vests adorn the deer colored dog(s). We did have one dog get her foot caught in a beaver trap – we got her out and no broken toes.

There is a lot of water, bogs, streams so dehydration is unlikely, all our dogs have been good swimmers and willing to get muddy. Giardia from drinking contaminated water is possible though and has happened on several occasions more recently. Which is not fun.

In the early years there were some ticks, but not like now. Now ticks are very prolific, so the risk of Lymes, anaplasmosis,  ehrlichosis or some other version of tick borne disease is quite high. So I use flea/tick repellents and check the dogs over after the hike (visually and I use a flea comb) and do it again the next day (by feel) and the next. The most likely areas for ticks are on the face, ears, neck and shoulders of the dog.

So despite the exciting hazards it’s the ticks that are the most worrisome for dog and person alike. Check, check and check for them.

The fun and experience of woods/trail hiking with your dog is worth it. Beautiful, great exercise and a feast for the senses. Some of the best times I’ve ever had with my dogs have been hiking, x-county skiing and snowshoeing.

Still worried, thinking you’ll lose your dog? Or get lost yourself?

Go on an established trail and go with someone who knows the area and hikes it. Update ID, vaccinations and licenses on your dog’s collar. Bring a leash and use it if leashes are required and if your dog doesn’t listen to summons to come it’s time to improve their come here anyway, now you’ve got an even stronger reason. I’ve never had a dog get lost…keep moving and they’ll move with you. FYI rabbits circle, so if your dog chases one they will head away for a while but then come around closer again (I had a beagle as a kid so I know).

Your dog not fit enough? Start with short hikes and play hide and seek with your dog to sharpen their ability to keep track of you.BoatrideChelseaLakeOct112014 012a