10 Feb

4 Things To Do Instead of Hugging Your Dog

I think it’s safe to say, we all love our dogs and we want to show them how much we love them.  One of the most common bits of information I deliver to clients is that most dogs don’t like to be hugged or kissed.  It’s a hard conversation to have and it often shatters them. They tell me, “But, but, I love her and want to show her how much!”  (Video of a very sad young girl learning dogs don’t like to be hugged here. And at the end you see the dog lip lick, walk away, stretch and shake off – all signs of stress.) The core problem here is humans and dogs show affection in different ways.  And to dogs, hugging is restraint.

Think about the times your dog gets restrained – vet and groomers primarily, and for many dogs, those aren’t very fun experiences (but, they can be with proper training!).  Remember fight or flight in science class?  If your dog is unsure about a situation, very often their first instinct is to flee – to flight – away from the scary thing, to create distance and feel safer.  Hugging/restraint prevents your dog’s natural instinct of flight and often if the flight option isn’t available, then the dog tips the other way – to the fight side.  If the dog can’t create distance by fleeing then he may feel the need to create distance by trying to get the hugger/kisser to go away by growling, snapping or biting (fight).  The end goal is the same if the dog feels uncomfortable or threatened – to create distance between them and the threat – either I go away or you go away.

This is the second big obstacle for clients.  People don’t want to think that their dog sees them as scary.  But if we’re doing something that is weird and completely unnatural to our dog then that’s often how it will be perceived.  It’s not about our intent – it’s about how the dog interprets it.

Dr. Coren, a psychology professor at University of British Columbia looked at 250 images online of dogs being hugged and over 81% of the images showed at least one sign of the dog being stressed.  The findings were reported on Psychology Today.

A small percentage of dogs, 7.6%, seemed to be comfortable with hugging, and some may genuinely enjoy it, but it’s not the norm for most dogs.   Most are likely tolerating it, at best.  And that’s where having a solid understanding of dog body language comes in.  (Pictured here is me and one of my personal dogs, BooBoo.)

What do you see in these pictures?  In the pictures at the top you can spot whale eye/side eye, lip lick, ears back, stiff bodies, furrowed brow, leaning away, closed mouths and tight muzzles.  But, in the picture to the side, BooBoo is relaxed, her mouth is open, eyes squinty/closed and she’s leaning in, not away.  (There’s a great, free, self-paced course on body language if you’d like a refresher or need some help.  Get it here.)

Let’s talk a little about kids and dogs.  Often I get called into clients for bite situations and sometimes it’s because the dog has bitten the child, sometimes because the child tried to hug/kiss the dog or startled the dog while they were sleeping.  Children can be scary to many dogs, even without them hugging.  Kids are on the dog’s eye-level and have a much harder time understanding the dog isn’t a toy stuffy.  They can be grabby, not realize they’re hurting the dog, are unpredictable and move differently than adults.  And kids are often encouraged by their parents to hug and kiss to show affection, so a child would naturally want to hug and kiss a dog.  And this is where problems happen.  In my work as a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a private trainer for The Family Dog programs, I spend a lot of time counseling families on dog bite prevention and kid/dog safety.  Dogs bites and kids are a huge public safety concern.  77% of all dog bites come from a familiar dog, not a stray dog wandering the streets.  We need to do better to keep kids safe and dogs from being surrendered or euthanized because of biting kids.

So how can we show our dog we love them without hugging or kissing?  Here’s some ideas that I’m sure your dog will love!

  1. Take them on a sniffari!  Let them wander and sniff all they want.  No heeling here!
  2. Play their favorite game – fetch, tug, hide and seek – whatever they enjoy!
  3. Give them a yummy treat not because you asked them to do something to earn it but  just because you love them and they like pleasure too!
  4. Teach a fun, new trick using some special treat.  If you need some tricks ideas, this self-paced online course is a great start. (Use code RBT for a discount too!)

And don’t forget, if you’re in the NYC area, join me for my Dogs & Storks Bringing Home Baby event on Feb 24th at 7PM.  Let’s help you prepare your dog for your new human baby!  Details and tickets here.

Happy Training!


03 Feb

But, my dog isn’t food motivated!

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this, I’d be sitting on a private island somewhere retired right now.  And honestly, before I was a trainer, before I knew better, I said the same thing about my BooBoo.  It’s easy to jump to that conclusion if you’re trying to get your dog to do something and they’re not doing it even though you’re offering food.  But usually there’s something else going on.  Let’s dive into those.

First things first, unless your dog is sick, your dog is eating and managing to stay alive then he’s food motivated enough to get up and walk over the food bowl or procure calories in some other way.  (I could stop here, but I won’t.)

Food is typically how we motivate dogs in training (sure, some really drivey dogs like working border collies or field line labs may work for fetch or tug, but I’d put money that they’d also work for rare cooked steak).  When a dog doesn’t do what we expect, there can be a few things going on.

  1. The dog is afraid.  Fearful dogs won’t eat.  They have bigger things to worry about, and their body physically changes to prepare the dog for danger.  Fear triggers a response in the amygdala and prepares the body for fight or flight, which means stress hormones are released, heart rate increases, pupils dilate, respiration increases, blood flow increases to muscles that may be needed and organs not vital in this survival moment, like the gastrointestinal system, slow down.  So, with all this happening, it’s unsurprising that if a dog is afraid, they’re not hungry.  And in this instance, we need to help the dog feel safer, often by creating distance between the dog and the scary thing, so they will take food.
  2. The dog doesn’t know what you’re asking for.  This is a question of training.  It’s a “what?” problem.  The dog isn’t doing what you want because he’s not trained well enough and is asking “what do you want me to do?”  He may very well want the food you have, but doesn’t know what to do to get it.  The dog needs more training to clear up the confusion.
  3. The dog is not hungry. Hunger, just like many other things, wax and wane.  So if a dog has just eaten a meal, then you offering more food likely isn’t going to be very motivating.  Picture this: on Thanksgiving day you’re at my house and after we’ve eaten seconds and thirds, I ask you to help me with some really hard chores, offering you another piece of pie as payment for helping.  Changes are pretty good that piece of pie isn’t going to be motivating when you’re stuffed already.  But, if I offered you $5000, maybe you’d reconsider helping.  Often when training, we withhold a meal, so the dog is hungry and motivated by our food.  The dog isn’t going to starve – he’s still getting his calories, but we can leverage when and how he gets his food and use it in the context of training.
  4. The food (or other reward) you’re offering isn’t motivating to the dog.  We have to remember, we don’t get to decide what the dog finds motivating.  You may think you’re offering something the dog should find motivating, but if he doesn’t, then it’s not motivating.  The dog decides, not us.  Will he take what you’re offering for free?  If not, you should up your value.  Also, bear in mind, novelty is interesting to most dogs.  So maybe mix your foods up a bit – nobody likes the same thing all the time.  And, if you’re asking for a more difficult behavior then definitely up the ante.  I tell my clients there are foods worth a penny and food worth $1000 and we need to decide which one to use based on what we’re asking the dog to do.

    Food is their paycheck and nobody (not you, not me, not your dog) works for free.  If you’ve got competition in your environment, then what you’re offering the dog better be more valuable to him.  You’re offering a dry cookie and there’s a squirrel running around – which one do you think your dog is going to pick?  Why should he not chase the squirrel and come to you when you call?  What’s in it for him?  Being told he’s a good boy?  Or, are you throwing a meatball party where he gets 30 seconds of eating meatballs?

    Consider this scenario.  You’re working on a project at work, staying late working overtime, expecting a big, fat paycheck (because money is motivating for people) and your boss comes in when it’s all over, pats your shoulder and tells you “nice job, thanks.”  No extra money – just “praise.”  We do this all the time to our dogs.  Dogs don’t work for free. We need to pay them with something that they find motivating.

    This is almost always the issue I encounter when people say their dog isn’t food motivated.  Clients are just not offering high value enough food.  I’ll be sitting in a consult, as they’re telling me their dog isn’t food motivated, while the dog is actively doing behaviors I’m asking for cheese or chicken.  Or the fearful dog is approaching for tossed rare steak.

    Also worth noting, I always use real human food in training for several reasons.  It’s motivating, it’s more cost effective (I can buy a bag of high quality commercial treats for $8 or I can buy a few pounds of chicken breast for that same cost.  And the chicken will last a lot longer!) and I know exactly what the dog is getting, so if weight is a concern, it’s easier to figure out and adjust caloric intake.  My treat bag is usually filled with cheese (pecorino, cheddar or goat), chicken breast, hot dogs, meatballs and rare steak.

If none of these apply, then I’d probably recommend a vet check to make sure your pup is healthy.  Otherwise, get training using these tips!  And if your dog is fearful, be sure to seek out the help of a qualified, positive reinforcement trainer.  If you need help finding a qualified trainer, check The Academy for Dog Trainers directory or the Pet Professional Guild directory.  If you still can’t find help or are unsure if the trainer you’re considering is using the right methods, contact me.  I also offer remote sessions for many issues.

Happy Training!


31 Jan

Five Things To Do For Your Dog Before Your Baby Arrives

As a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a certified behavior consultant whose speciality is fear and aggression, I work with a lot of families with dogs and kids.  Some contact me ahead of time, to help prepare their dog, or address concerns before the baby arrives while others don’t realize their dog is uncomfortable with the baby until after the baby comes home.  It’s always better to be proactive than reactive, so with that in mind, I thought I’d review some ways you can be proactive and start to set everyone up for success from the beginning.  Of course there’s many more (and more important!) things that need to be done than what I’ve listed here!

If you’re in the NYC area, consider attending my upcoming Dogs & Storks class at Grand Street Healing Project in Brooklyn, NY to make sure you’re fully prepared.  We will cover so much more than what I’ve listed here and it will provide an opportunity for me to answer specific questions that concern you. Registration information is here.  I’d love to meet you in person and this is a great class! (If you are expecting and can’t make it to our Brooklyn event, consider our remote phone session or video options. )

Five Things To Do For Your Dog Before Your Baby Arrives:

1. Check your dog’s medication stash and get check-ups done.  Get a full physical exam and make sure Fido isn’t going to be due for any routine vet care or prescription (including flea/tick and heartworm preventatives!) in the first month or two after you give birth.  You’ll have a lot going on without trying to schedule a vet appointment for vaccines or a blood test for heartworm preventative.  Of course emergencies come up, but routine stuff you can plan ahead a bit.

2.  Get your dog familiar with whoever will be helping out after the baby arrives.  This might be a neighbor, dog walker, baby nurse or extended family.  But whoever is going to be coming and going a lot after the baby arrives, take the time now to get your dog well socialized to them.

3.  Review and practice basic obedience.  Truth time.  It’s time to be really honest about how trained your dog really is.  What might have been acceptable behavior before you were expecting a baby, may not be OK now.  Jumping up, pawing or barking for attention, not responding to verbal cues on the first ask.  Maybe these weren’t a problem before but it’s pretty hard to give a dog a hand signal when you’re holding a newborn so you might need to channel some resources into extra training now.  If you need help, find a qualified trainer and consider day training, where the trainer trains the dog and then transfers the skills to you.  This may be an effective way to get the behaviors taught more quickly than you working on them yourself, especially if your due date is nearing.

4.  Practice at home separation.  Is your dog comfortable being separated by a gate, crate or closed door while you are home or does your dog have a little FOMO and has a meltdown if he’s not involved in everything?  There will be times once the baby arrives that your dog won’t be part of the action, and we need to help make sure he’s comfortable with that.

5. Get your dog on a flexible schedule.  Dogs generally really like routine and some dogs get upset if their routine changes.  But, once the baby arrives, schedules are out the window and Fido may not get his regular walk promptly at 8am (unless you are paying a dog walker to come and walk him), so leading up to the baby’s arrival, mix things up a bit.  Try to not be so glued to meal and walk times and help him adjust to things being in flux.  Once there’s a newborn on the scene, chances are pretty good dinner for Fido won’t always be at 6pm, and we don’t want him pestering.  The more we keep his schedule in flux leading up to the birth, the more likely he will be to roll with things once the baby arrives.

Of course there is a whole lot more to do than these five things, but you’ll be off on the right foot if you start here.  As a Family Paws Educator I am uniquely qualified to help you through all of these transitions from baby’s homecoming to toddlerhood.  And, as a certified behavior consultant, I can guide you if your dog starts to growl or show other signs that he’s uncomfortable once the baby comes home.

If you are expecting and can’t make it to our Brooklyn event, consider our remote phone session or video options.  We review management, enrichment, training, homecoming plans, reducing attention seeking behaviors and provide you with over a dozen handouts with important information on making this transition safe and happy for everyone in the family.

If you would like some additional guidance or have other questions, contact me.

Happy Training!



20 Jan

How Does Distance Dog Training Work?

Technology is changing many industries and dog training is no exception.  While it may seem counterintuitive to not have someone come to your home to train your dog, distance (or remote) dog training can be a very successful, cost-effective and convenient way to get personalized training for you and your dog.  It allows you to get the help you need without leaving the comfort of your home and gives you access to quality training that may not otherwise be available in your geographical area.  But, it can feel weird to not have someone in person to see your home and your dog and to train the dog.  After all, isn’t that what you’re paying for?  (Sort of. Read on.)

So, I thought it would be good to review how distance training works.

Distance training has been used successfully for separation anxiety training for quite a while, to help remove any false results by the presence of the trainer.  The “trainer effect,” as it’s sometimes called, can cause the dog to behave differently and that’s not helpful when we’re trying to replicate real world scenarios.  Remote training removes this obstacle for any issue, since the dog is in their normal environment, with its familiar people, in a low distraction environment.  And here’s a little secret, many behavior issues really don’t require a trainer to actually do the training, if the caretaker is willing to do some work.  Yes, sometimes it can be more efficient to do something like day training where the trainer does the heavy lifting of teaching the dog.  But, in reality, those skills still need to get “transferred” to the owner.  A lot of dog training is giving the humans the tools they need to work with, live with and help the dog.   I can easily teach/coach someone remotely on what to do when and how to implement the customized management, enrichment and training plans I’ve designed for their dog and their dog’s issues, for about half the cost of an in-person session.  You get all the same handouts, knowledge and access as in person clients, but without feeling like you need to clean your house before the trainer arrives!

Through the use of technology(computer or smart phone), we can use free video services like Zoom, Facetime or Skype to do training sessions in real time.  If you can click a link or use a phone, you can do remote training! Live video sessions are especially good for basic obedience behaviors, food or resource guarding  and body handling cases because I can coach in real time based on my observations.  I can point out, and we can discuss, observations like what I’m seeing in terms of body language, and then make the decision when to push the dog to the next step in the plan.

In other cases, like dogs who are afraid of strangers, remote training can actually be better for the dog because we’re not triggering the dog’s fear by having a stranger (the trainer) come into their home.  A good trainer doesn’t need to see the dog being fearful or aggressive to help them.  I know what resource guarding looks like – I don’t need the dog intentionally pushed over threshold to show me how he growls or tries to bite if he has something he’s afraid of losing.

In cases like stranger danger, I often send clients on missions, like to a park or shopping center parking lot, to work on the training plan at a safe distance and clients will record short video clips of themselves working with their dog (usually with their phone, sometimes with a friend filming or using an inexpensive tripod – no fancy equipment needed) and then send those to me, via text or upload, for review/feedback.  This allows me to see the client’s training mechanics, the dog’s normal response and then I can tweak plans as needed or coach the client on what to do to make things more efficient for the next time.

A few months ago one of my distance clients was featured by The Academy For Dog Trainers, my alma mater.  Here’s a short video montage they put together about a case I worked on for crate aggression.

Crate Training via Distance Consult

Distance consults and training are the future! Grad Kate LaSala of Rescued By Training was hired by Mike and Jamie to work with Luna on getting comfortable in her crate. Working remotely can be a great solution for dog owners who don't have easy access to a qualified trainer. In the initial consult, Kate got information on Luna's behavior and a baseline video to see what she was working with. By setting up management – coming up with an alternate resting spot while training was in progress and increased exercise and enrichment – Kate was able to coach Mike and Jamie through a training plan to help Luna feel comfortable with being crated. By using an incremental plan, attending to Luna's body language and heeding Kate's expert guidance, in just a few days, Luna is able to happily walk into the crate and have the door closed. The value of dedicated owners who are committed to compliance to help their dog be more comfortable cannot be overstated. Big kudos to Mike and Jamie.Kate offers in-home training in New York City, Westchester County, NY and Fairfield County, CT in addition to distance consults. You can learn more on her website:https://rescuedbytraining.com/

Posted by The Academy for Dog Trainers on Thursday, June 13, 2019

As you can see from the video transformation, remote training can be very successful.  I’ve successfully helped a wide variety of cases remotely including stranger danger, house training (adults and puppies), crate training/aggression, baby prep, pre-puppy/new dog prep, fear of children, fear of men, resource guarding, leash reactivity, barking and more!  Every trainer works a little differently but you can learn more about what to expect, how to prepare for a remote session with me and read some review from remote clients here.

Happy Training!  Hope to connect with you soon!


13 Jan

The Muddy Language of Dog Behavior Titles

If you’ve been around here a bit, you may have noticed a strong theme of transparency in my posts and on social media.  For those who may have missed it, dog training is unregulated in the US.  Not only does this mean consumers have no protection and anyone can do practically anything to your dog in the name of training, it also means there’s a lot of muddy language out there with titles.  Hopefully this will help clear things up and make people better consumers and know what questions to ask when hiring a dog professional. (Note, this is targeted for those in the US.  The UK and Canada have different uses of some terms.)Click for full PDF download

The term behaviorist is a particularly tricky one, because there are behaviorists, mostly Veterinary Behaviorists, who are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists but there are only about 80 VBs in the whole world. There’s also Certified Animal Behaviorists, given the designation CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) or ACAAB (Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) by the Animal Behavior Society and there’s only about 50 of those worldwide.  So it’s not terribly likely the trainer calling themselves a “behaviorist” actually has these credentials.  But unlike falsely calling yourself a veterinarian, which would have high legal stakes, it’s not illegal to call yourself a behaviorist, so it happens without repercussions every day.  And to further complicate things, other places like the UK, use the term much more generally, so those coming here from other countries may be further confused.


And if you’re trying to make sense of the acronyms and letters after people’s names, here’s an incomplete guide.  (Please note: I’ve intentionally left out any that are endorse or are predominately aversive training methods like prong and shock.  Some listed here do follow LIMA training practices (least invasive, minimally aversive), so I do not endorse all of these.)

As you can see, there’s a lot of titles, and this isn’t even a complete list.  And it seems like there’s new schools or certifying organizations popping up regularly.  It can be overwhelming and confusing.

Stay safe out there.  One day I hope we will have regulation and minimum requirements mandated by a central overseeing body.  But until then, ask questions and walk away.  Don’t believe hype.  Remember, these are animals.  There are no quick fixes.  If someone promises to “fix” your dog quickly, run away!  Seek out a qualified trainer or contact me if you are unsure.  I offer remote sessions for many issues, or can refer you to someone who can help!

Happy Training!