Category Archives: observation

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



Dog Emotions

Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.


Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.


(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).



Harm or Help

In this era of finding dog abusers everywhere. The era of making unsubstantiated or poorly researched claims on social media. The era of ‘not’ doing the right thing?

I saw this post on a northern Wisconsin city Craig’s List .

Here’s the photo from the post. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

image 1

The Header said, “Dog left in car!!!!!!!!” And went on , “R… (location removed) at around 1pm dog left in car for over an hour. Its not hot out today but inside of a car with the windows up, no air conditioning or water seen anywhere. Its hot and humid. This person should have their animal taken away from them. I dont know who the the owner was but judging by the rhinestone collar on the dog I will assume its a (swear removed) .. and I dont mean the dog….”

Wait a minute …It was partly cloudy that day, breezy, with a high temperature of 50 at 4pm. Look at the dog.  She’s wondering why this person is staring at her, she’s not panting or looking overly hot in any way, and I suggest if she had gotten territorial over this stranger … then what? Look at the front dash, do you see where the sunshine stops? The car is parked so sun isn’t shining into the front tan seat, not far from trees (although leafless as yet). And this side door seems to have dappled sunlight on it.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time
Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140
Source: Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University
This table is the results of a study that is cited over and over, but what re-posters don’t usually say is, this data was gathered on clear sunny days in a dark sedan. So worst case scenario, in a dark sedan, on a clear sunny 70 degree day, the car could get as hot as 113 degrees in an hour. Which, even though hot, is not a death sentence for most dogs, and neither is 45 minutes at around 100. But it wasn’t 70, it wasn’t a clear sunny day.

An upper 40s partially sunny day is not an over-heated car at risk dog, but this observer believes there is animal abuse going on because the dog was? what? sitting comfortably in a car for an hour without a water dish? And name calls the owner? I don’t know if there was something more going on here, something about being at a resale shop, having this type dog or/and having a rhinestone collar on the dog – an extra level of nastiness. Of course, sarcasm alert, this well fed (OK McD’s in evidence), healthy looking dog ‘ought’ to be taken away, to join the excessive number of bull terrier-type dogs at risk in shelters.

This is a threat. This is bullying. This isn’t whistle blowing to help someone. This isn’t reasonable. So I flagged the post and then thought about whether reposting any part of it promoted the threatening aspect of it.

  1. What should be done if you think a dog is actually in danger of overheating in a car? First observe instead of assuming  – dog panting heavily or tongue curled frantic and car in direct sun, windows shut, front window not shaded and outside temperature warm to hot?  Immediate and dire risk – call the police or animal control. Seems risky, but dog looks fine (please don’t go face up to the windows of a car and stress out the dog) – attempt to find the owner – go into the store or restaurant the car is parked outside of and start asking people. Yes temperature rises fast, but there’s no reason to think the dog will rapidly collapse from heat stroke if the temperature inside the car rises to 100.   You just don’t like it – well then you can blog about it or post your ideas on facebook, but don’t threaten people or call them names or think that taking their fur family member away is doing good. What about breaking into the car? well that would be illegal and the dog might bite you and then have to be quarantined and have behavioral training to get it over the experience. In that case you would not be helping anyone.

2. Can a car get too hot on a 40-50 degree partially sunny day?  No. We have data that says there is up to a 40 degree rise in temp on clear sunny days in dark sedans in full sun. That means that less sun, lighter colored cars, shade, windows open with breeze all mean less of a temperature increase. Dogs tolerate 80 and 90 degrees with no problems – so the answer on this would be no. And the 70 starting temp on the chart might be a clue as to where the usual temperature danger zone lies.

3. Do dogs have to have water available at all times?  Does any land life form have to have water access at all times? Do you?

4. And is bringing a dog along with you to wait in a car somehow mistreatment? There is the argument that leaving your dog home keeps him safe. That’s safe physically, but what about mentally. What about the desire dogs have to be with their person and their love of riding in the car to go someplace. One of the most common reasons for re-homing dogs is not having enough time for them … and this fear for safety takes away ‘car time’ with the dog. What about the people who have dogs along because it helps them feel safe and happy?

I took my dog for a car ride on the same day as this post, we went hiking. She and I got into my car  after it had been sitting in the sun for hours, it was nice in there, I didn’t feel the need to open any windows even though I had my jacket on. But lately I’ve felt I can’t safely take my dog along with me on errands because of the above type of ‘do-gooding.’ You see, my cattle dog wouldn’t take kindly to someone peering in or trying to get her out. Not kindly at all.

My hope remains that if police are called for this type of non-issue they will at least show common sense, or talk to their canine unit, who is also in a car, often with rolled up windows and a sign that tells people not to approach the car. My hope would be that more and more stores would invite dogs in to shop along with their person.

My fear is, with enough general pressure about possible safety hazards, dogs will have to stay home instead of being able to come along for car rides.  There will be laws passed banning leaving dogs in vehicles altogether or passed to let people, who want to intervene, break in to free your dog. And they will be lauded as saving a life, and you will have to try to prove that they didn’t, while paying for the shelter boarding and legal fees of your seized  best- friend dog.

How would you feel if you saw a picture of your dog, in your car on Craig’s list with a post saying you shouldn’t own a dog?


Why One Key Trainer for the Pup? – a planner and a sleuth to figure out what’s going on…

Hi everyone.

It’s springtime in Wisconsin – snowing out and getting colder today,  going the opposite direction of warm and nice, just like sometimes occurs in training classes. I thought I’d talk about the reasons for having one key trainer (and making sure everyone else in the household assists and is consistent with the training process).

This topic comes up when I have a puppy or dog in class who, instead of progressing all the way through, begins digressing or becomes more attention deficit instead of becoming better at focusing. Or if the canine becomes apathetic about learning new things. Or more aggressive or fearful when it should be going the other way. Then something isn’t right, something is bothering them – either physically or about the process.

So why does this happen? (we’ll omit the physical, since that needs to be discussed with the vet if anything seems off about their health).

*Maybe the importance, the loyalty to the trainer isn’t high enough… Maybe the food or games aren’t tied to you enough. Maybe there’s not enough engagement in the process — it’s all about the delight in the process. Maybe luring is used too much and not faded.

*Maybe there’s too much criticism – or old-style training using force. That is very deflating for the relationship. Maybe control is trying to be achieved by shouting or jerking or hitting when the dog is over-excited at home — many dogs get higher and higher in their response when this is used.

*Maybe the thing the dog loves most is not what his handler is ever offering or maybe they are offering, as a reward, something the pup doesn’t even like (like being petted on top of his head). They need to figure out a REAL reward.

*Maybe the act of being un-attentive gets better rewards or more attention or more action from their trainer. Sooo then digression or ADD gets reinforced = what’s reinforced increases.

* Maybe during non-training time they are getting rewarded (by family, environment) for things that are contrary to the training goals.

*Maybe the mechanics of offering a reward is a problem. Quick/immediate rewards are great when first teaching a behavior, but then the time between the ‘do’ and when the reward comes needs to be lengthened and secondary reinforcers built-in.

So why one lead trainer? Someone needs to sleuth out the real picture, find out the pieces and put them together. Someone needs to decide what will be trained and how and be consistent. Someone has to (as Bob Bailey said) Know what you have, know what you want and create a plan to get there. Getting too worried about the perfect why of the problem won’t help, because we won’t ever really know truly why will we.

Reggie with his fleece tug.
Reggie with his fleece tug-no stuffing in this toy.                                                 Photo – Jeanine Renzoni

Back on Wester Ave…I just gave Reggie, (the almost 10 yr old Parson Jack Russell) a stuffed toy to disassemble. I buy them a the local resale store for $.50. He enjoys destroying them extremely much. I think I’ve been too hesitant about letting him have them, although when he first came to us almost two years ago he was random in his tearing up/stuffing removal activity. I lost a two quilts and almost a couch pillow. Which led to removing tennis balls as an indoor toy (he would hide them and then tear through stuff to retrieve them), limiting options for destruction, and encouragement for retrieving games, and always closed bedroom doors (no access to bedding). And lots of training – tricks, basic cues, agility.

He’s stuffing the pieces of the toy under a dog bed and pushing it around, but not trying to rip through anything. Yay! More disposable stuffed toys in his future, maybe one each week or two?


Training successes, dead-ends? Have you gone to a training program, had success and then something went side-ways?

What kind of training to do for your pup?

Home schooled puppy, puppy preschool, doggy basic, one-on-one with a trainer, web-based learning, board and train, specialized classes. There are actually a few options. One I didn’t include, and which seems all too popular, but not effective, is let the dog be a dog. This last one may or may not have an initial bout of house training and has the highest chance of needing to “re-home” him. Mostly, the shelter dogs I’ve worked with came with the above mentioned non-training system.

I've been training dogs for 46 years ... this is back in the 80s with Dago Red, he had completed his CD title and we were celebrating.
I’ve been training dogs for 46 years … this is back in the 80s with Dago Red (Airedale Terrier), he had completed his CD Obedience title and we were celebrating. He was a sweet dog.

Home schooled puppy – is the least expensive and has reasonable outcomes if you are a seasoned dog trainer. Libraries have dog training books, magazines; 4-H offers free training sessions; Internet has dog blogs and videos. Of course most seasoned trainers take their pups to several classes to get the pup used to the experience of having many dogs and people working around them. Myself – I go to puppy preschool, if I can find one, or have another family member handle the pup, while I run the class. I like 4 -6 pups in a class, and I like my pup to go to at least one of these classes – more if possible.

Puppy Kindergarten (pre-school) – is for pups with first vaccinations (usually 10 weeks – 18 weeks old). Good socialization and basic puppy handling is the goal. Puppies can learn huge amounts, they are little sponges, and comparatively easy at this stage. This is the time to have them meeting (good experiences) people and meeting other vaccinated dogs and pups. Doing well in this class is one of the best indicators of positive future interactions.

Basic Obedience class – is for slightly older pups and dogs who need the ground level training (basic cues – sit, down, come, loose leash walking, stand, touch/target, wait/stay, mat training and some tricks). I would only go to a positive reward-type class, because the traditional jerk ’em, negative system is counter productive and not nearly as fun. Mostly I home school all these cues well before I go to this level class and just use the class as a dog distracting environment, and also a place where I can see the gaps in my training. It’s hard to train new things in such an active/noisy/distracting place. When I put on these classes I keep the numbers down, usually only 4 dogs.

STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) – are AKC programs with a set of prescribed behaviors that must be achieved to pass the programs. Star puppy includes 6 weeks or more of class during which accomplishments are checked off, whereas the CGC can have a class, but doesn’t have to, because it is a test of behaviors considered to show a well-behaved dog. I do offer these as I am an AKC CGC evaluator and STAR puppy is a great follow-up to puppy kindergarten.

One-on-one with a trainer – more expensive, but also much more focused and very attentive to personal needs. This works for those dogs who can’t tolerate a class situation or for those people who need more coaching than a class situation will offer. I’ve been the dog trainer for this a lot, but I’ve never been the student except with my horses – and for that I’ve done years of one-on-one. I like the immediate feedback, but you miss out on learning from others who may have a problem that you’ll have in the near future.

Web-based – I currently, and have for several years taken (paid for), web-based dog training courses. I like being able to watch and listen to International level instructors doing training. Also there are lots of free tutorials on YouTube, but the possible problem is being able to discern proper training methods … that’s true in person too. At least on the web you can freely do fast research.

Board and Train – the concept of sending your dog to a trainer and having them train him and then give him back to you. I do offer this, although I suggest people do the classes or one-on-one along with it because the relationship with the dog is very important. I think this is good for specialized training (water retrieves, agility, etc) or for people who really can’t handle their dog for whatever reason – time, physical. However, the dog learns to work with the person he is working with and so the relationship changes and grows. Plus young dogs are very malleable so even when they know something well, it can be altered based on the situation they find themselves in. It takes time and repeated behaviors for them to become habitual.

Other classes – Agility, scent training, trick/circus dog, hunting, intro to swimming … these I particularly like because they are purpose based. Dogs really get into them. They are exciting and fun. Currently I am taking an agility course with my daughter’s Doberman and he’s loving it, as am I. All you need is a reasonably well socialized dog who will pay attention to you and wants to work with you. The first class everyone expects some barking and posturing, no big deal.

FYI the scent/sniffer classes are almost non-training classes because the dog does all the work – these are excellent for those who don’t really like to train.

Problems: Anxiety, fear and over arousal make learning unlikely.

Recently I had some people with their pup want to come to a class, but when I was called outside to help them i saw a raging dog in the vehicle and I told them this venue of training wasn’t going to work. The dog was too aroused to learn anything and since no one else was even outside, what kind of level would he be at when he saw the other dogs and people?

Some dogs decide that the best defense is a good offense.

He was a bit better on his home ground, one-on-one, but he still was over-reactive, seemed to be overly concerned over minor separation and agitated upon jumping into the vehicle, even though it was just sitting in the driveway.

Each challenge needs to be achievable in order for the experience to be a benefit. Key to getting the humans understanding, I talked through and pointed out how to tell if he was calm enough to decide he was ready for a ride back and forth in the driveway – laying down, slower actions, relaxed ears and face, no whining or barking,… Perhaps the abnormal excitement, because it happened so often, became ‘normal’ to them.

The hardest part about this is getting people to slow down and see. Taking the dog over his threshold is way too easy and slows the process of improvement much.

Learned helplessness occurs when there doesn’t seem to be any right choice, so the ‘learner’ quits trying.

Fears: Some dogs run/escape, but if they can’t … Some dogs freeze.

I have a dog in class that tends to freeze as her answer to worry/fear. It’s easy for people to not notice how scared she actually is, because she’s not moving. For her to get beyond her fears she needs to know she can escape and get herself some space and that she won’t be forced into scarier and scarier situations.

Again observation is so important and when she acts bravely it’s important to reward her by giving her space (let her leave the scary zone). The competing want (from her handler) is the wish to get her over her fears, but too scary doesn’t get anyone over it. The risk of using food to lure her on, is the food will become a ‘poisoned’ cue (in that what comes next is too scary so we’re offering you food).

It’s important to find an observant trainer to help you evaluate what’s going on. If your dog isn’t an ‘easy’ dog. If as you are trying to train things aren’t getting better. If your dog isn’t wanting to work with you. If you are wanting to punish or get even or get rid of … it’s time, maybe past time. to get in someone who knows more about training dogs than you do.

Last eve I was at a house concert and a long time dog owner/handler/breeder said, “People don’t understand, you can’t get those early days back. Those first weeks and months are so important … what you do, what you train … you can’t ever get them back.” And she was right. Getting a great start is really important, it makes a difference throughout the life of your best friend, your dog.

What will come next?

hikingatspearheadjan132013 007

#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

barnsjan12&132013 023
-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.

dogfooddec302014 002
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?




Organizing Training- making a plan for whining

I think barking is easier to resolve than whining is. Whining takes so little effort on the dogs part and can be sneaked in with no telegraphing of body language before hand. And a dog who whines is __________ (irritating, frustrating, a bother, getting on nerves, sneaky).April10Obe2013 002

I’m organizing; no more off-the-cuff winging it on this one, I’m starting to label the dog – which is a clue to my not-so-good mindset.

  • lists/tallies/goals
  • posted items to remember
  • blog summaries of identified issues and progress
  • facebook postings about what I’ve done today
  • reference books/reference trainer’s postings
  • outlines of weekly lessons
  • video – I have trouble with transferring my recordings so this has gotten bogged down (new GoPro camera is on the agenda)

I think everybody knows the set goals mantra – specific, measurable, achievable, reassess, time-frame. But I’ve found that being too much focused on getting there makes for frustration and feeling resistive – not enough fun and kindness in the process.  The goal is good, but it’s all about the process.

However; frustration is the mother of new plans, of rethinking, of new brain synopsis connections.  Frustration also needs to be built into training in order for concepts to really be understood. Too much handing it out on a platter means not enough thoughts, not enough understanding of the choices for dogs and people. Too easy means not enough understanding happened.

So why am I pondering this so heavily? Whining. I keep getting whining from Obie and its driving me to levels of irritation. I kinda want to bop him. And I considered it and couldn’t think how it would actually help. Note that trying to suppress a behavior automatically gets me on the punishment route (preferably negative punishment – which is taking away attention as opposed to adding aversives; aka bopping). To rethink it, I need to identify where I rewards could fit in to emphasize the pleasure of silence.

I started timing and counting the whines because it’s more measurable than trying to tally silence. He comments on a lot of things – it seems to be a ‘hurry up’ do something, or look at me or I’ve done this long enough, or I want out of here …  He’ll whine when he’s asked to do a sit or a down or trick or go to crate or bed or while he’s waiting. Both for new cues and old. It doesn’t seem to be pain – which I did wonder about because of the frequency, but it doesn’t sound like pain. And it is related to being asked or expected to do something – so more like frustration or uncertainty or a complaint or a comment. When he’s just doing things, no whining.

When does he whine specifically?

  1. when I open the bedroom door to get him out of his crate
  2. when the Treat & Train is on 15 second intervals or higher
  3. when I leave him tethered to feed the horses
  4. when he’s waiting for me to put away my jacket
  5. when he’s asked to do a cue and he wants to get done faster
  6. when the Treat & Train gets stuck and doesn’t deliver

What have I done so far?

  1. Door – turned around until he’s silent then turned back to re-approach; closed the door and tried again; repeat, repeat. Next version I think I’ll deliver a remote treat as I start to open the door because I haven’t seen the problem abate despite my sometimes theatrical silent non-cooperation. Well thinking about it, he used to whine each time I reached for the gate latches on the crate, so actually it has abated. It’s just not gone, like I think it’s supposed to be by now. What does he believe the reward is?
  2. Treat & Train – back up and re-worked up the levels. I’ve gotten incredibly competent at running the remote to not reward a whine (he just throws them in there). Each bedtime I sit next to his crate and reward at long intervals by hand – in between I do meditation exercises to counter the experience of hearing whining — not kidding. Next I think I need to be able to always hear him to be sure he isn’t throwing whines when it’s automatically feeding – supervision. His whines aren’t always loud or long, sometimes whisper-y and quick.
  3. Tethered – the irritating thing is often I’m right there behind him and he’s looking out the door and whining. But he hasn’t tried chewing the leash which was a previous problem. Next – maybe make sure he’s done going to the bathroom before he has to wait for the horses to be fed.
  4. Waiting entryway – I’m going to keep playing the waiting game on this one, rewarding when he does his down/stay silently and doing a collar touch/silent or ‘excuse me’ comment until I have a consistent boy. This is the one he sorta blew off Friday – but maybe despite my internal ‘I can’t believe this!’, he might have had an aha moment based on how long we had to reside in the entryway waiting for this process to finally work. Saturday great down/stay.
  5. Cue whine – I’m ignoring. I think this will abate when he is sure how to do the stuff at higher speed and isn’t over-thinking it.
  6. Treat & Train stuck – take my time before fixing it so he doesn’t think his whining made it go faster. Of course, I’ve been doing that all along … what is his reward in this?

Goal silence. Measure – whining, barking during specific times I’ve noted on lists. Tracking on calendar. Reassess in a week – reevaluate approaches to see what worked or what needs changing.

Celebration when we get there! And informed my daughter (he’s her dog) if she restarts this behavior after it’s resolved,  #$@%___%^!!

Do you have a specific dog training issue you’re working on and tracking? How fast do you expect things to be resolved?  Have you had a dog that whines?



Leaving your dog with friends or family or hired hand

Leaving you, beloved canine, with friends or family or hired help could be a no-brainer or it, could be a disaster. So how to set it up so it’s likely smooth going?

Dog Care-taking Safety Checklist

  1. ID and Rabies Tag on Dog, recent photo of dog:
  2. Vet Clinic phone number, location, preferred vet:
  3. Address and phone number here (if it’s dog sitting):
  4. Where puppy parents will be:
  5. Cell phone/ other phone to contact:
  6. Emergency neighbor/relative – if you have a dog sitter have someone you know that might drop in to check how things are going:
  7. Allergies;
  8. Dog’s fears or issues and known cues and favorite things:
  9. Medications:
  10. Foods/amounts/times usually fed:
  11. Special instructions or routines to follow:

Engage someone to do this who knows and likes your dog, who is reliable and who has cared well for their own animal(s). If it’s a dog sitter have them do some short practice sessions before an extended absence. Get recommendations from doggy friends if you don’t know anyone or if you’re going to use a boarding kennel.

People who take care of other people’s dogs (not for a living) often don’t expect problems and so they are more clueless or maybe careless than those of us who have dealt with dogs that don’t know us well. Of course, there are careless people, negligent people and mean people everywhere, so find somebody you trust to do the right things.

Prepare your dog to be resilient. Dogs who have lots of good experiences, fun adventures, many meet and greets with people and dogs, practice being kenneled, crated and having to wait alone at times, know lots of things and expect good things from people tend to be more adaptable and get less stressed.

Practice leaving your dog with someone or at someplace for brief times first – a half hour, a half day … And ask for a true evaluation of what the caretaker saw – if they describe something that doesn’t sound like your dog or sounds like an advertisement, they’re not observant enough.

People at boarding kennels are caring for many dogs and so are less focused on any one of them (as opposed to the one-on-one sitter), the noise and stress can be tough on dogs. Even though your dog is unlikely to be lost from a boarding kennel, aggression, fear and excessive barking could be a result from visits there.

Dogs that aren’t yours are like kids that aren’t yours, only faster. Dogs coming to visit and stay don’t necessarily want to be with you, don’t necessarily trust you much, don’t think they need to listen real well and mostly would rather be with their own family and may think they know how to get back home.

Even other people’s dogs, that apparently think I’m better than smoked pig’s ears, are kept on a leash and only let free in a fenced area. I take dogs, who are at my place to board & train – which is the only way I board dogs, on a good long walk to suss out the area immediately upon arrival for several reasons – exercise, make being left here less of a trauma, potty break, and so they know the area’s smells and sounds and where things are. Because even with all my experience I’ve had dogs get loose – never lost, but it could happen.

What I’ve found out over the years is that people often don’t follow your directions when you’re not there to see them (actually even when you are :)) Years ago, a friend of mine, who was to feed and water our pack of Airedales while we were gone, let her boyfriend do it and he just let them out of their kennel runs and then got threatened by one of them – lucky for everyone – dog, us, him – it wasn’t worse. A different time a different friend who was watching the guys reached for the collar of one of our dogs, missed, and then “Whiskey” wouldn’t come to him, wouldn’t go into the kennel or into the house (a 4 hour drive back home and all was well).

Recently a dog-sitter, engaged by one of my clients, didn’t let her dogs out of their crate for extended periods – ending up with soiled dog beds, pee soaked fur, and belly burn on the younger pup from ammonia. Not a good situation.

And then, the reason I thought of writing about this topic, a dog named Lucy bolted from the yard of her owner’s relatives, who were keeping her for the weekend, and so far she hasn’t been found, despite notifying authorities, broadcast on radio and social networks and searching. (There is still hope, some dogs are lost for weeks and then reunited).

Lucy, cane corso mastiff, 3 yr old, lost now for 1 week.
Lucy, cane corso mastiff, 3 yr old, lost now for 1 week.


What makes your dog more likely to have problems with staying someplace new or having a dog-sitter?

  1. Inadequate socialization – start early and keep getting your dog out there to see things and meet people, go to classes, try new stuff, visit new places, learn new things. Even older dogs who were previously out and about a lot can get anxious if they’ve been home-bound for a long time and then suddenly need to be cared for someplace else.
  2. Never learning how to be comfortable in a crate or kennel and not practicing intermittently. Face it, if they need to go to a new place it’s not that likely nor real safe if they just have freedom to roam.
  3. Use of electronic collars – underground fences; in my experience these are the top reason for bolting and not returning. Otherwise if a dog makes a bad choice and goes for a run, most by far will come back.
  4. Not knowing how to be on a leash, loose leash walking –  they’ll be much happier if they can go for nice walk and the caretaker will be much happier if they don’t get dragged.
  5. Changes at home – new pup, new baby, new … just like children, and all of us really, big changes at home upset us.
  6. Dogs adopted from shelters are more prone to separation anxiety and definitely are more worried about boarding kennels.
  7. Introducing a new food just before or at the visit … eek diarrhea!

Tending someones dogs isn’t always easy. They are upset about being left, things aren’t familiar, they can react with complaining/barking, anxiety, fear or aggression, or stomach upset … it isn’t the same as when their own people are there. Extra care is needed from the dog sitter. Expect the unexpected and be happy when it doesn’t happen.