27 Jul

The Dog Sanctuary Myth

As a trainer whose primary focus is on fear and aggression cases, I’m often asked by clients – both private and rescues – about sending dogs off to a “sanctuary*.”  They’re always asking about this because they need to make tough choices and often are avoiding the behavioral euthanasia discussion.  (That’s a topic for another blog post!).

My answer when asked is always the same – “there is no such magical place – it’s a unicorn.”  Why?  Simple – dogs who would need to be sent away to a sanctuary, for whatever reason, are not safe in the general public or candidates to be rehomed.  So this means the dog will be living in some form of isolation. And for social creatures like dogs, this is inhumane and that becomes a quality of life issue.

Is it a good quality of life if the animal is not not able to do the things that come naturally to it for its species and not able to live a life free from fear and pain?  I’d argue this is not truly enjoying life.

Hear me out.  If the dog is afraid of people, there is no sanctuary that is devoid of people, so this dog will always be struggling and if really aggressive towards people, will eventually be more and more isolated because the dog isn’t safe.  People need to tend to the dog – feeding, scooping poop, administering medication and more.

If the dog is afraid of other dogs, then the dog lives its entire life in isolation except for short periods of time where staff can come hang out and socialize with that one dog and I guarantee, that’s not a lot of the time, especially if the “sanctuary” is run by one person.

Places that market themselves as dog sanctuaries may start out well intentioned but take in too many dogs, don’t have the physical space or financial resources to care for the number of animals in their care and charge, often close to $10K for taking in a dog.  Ultimately, it is taking advantage of desperate people who want to find a place for their beloved dog to live out their natural life.  And many end up being busted for neglect, abuse and poor conditions.

There’s numerous news stories about these types of places and the ones listed here are not isolated incidents – they merely serve as examples of what these places are really like and of ones that have been busted.  There are still many out there in operation, swindling vulnerable people out of thousands of dollars per animal, that just haven’t been busted yet.

The common theme with all of these places is this – too many animals to be sufficiently cared and well intentioned people, who really think their animal will live out a glorious life, perhaps clouded by emotion, are hurt far worse when they find out the place they sent their loved one was busted for abuse or neglect.  I know I’m bursting the bubble of a lot of people right now, but as with so many things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’re in a situation where you’re considering a sanctuary because your dog is too much for you to handle, first I’d suggest working with a qualified behavior consultant and trainer and also working with a certified Veterinary Behaviorist.  Many, many cases (not all, of course) can be improved with medication and a proper training plan.  Whatever you do, don’t use a trainer who promises to “fix” your dog using a shock or prong collar.  I promise this will not only not make things better but it will very likely make things much worse.

If you need help or guidance, please contact me.


*The term “sanctuary” is being used in this context as a place to send unadoptable dogs – not as a general term that some rescues use as a safe haven for adoptable dogs.

Special thanks to Jenn for helping point me in the right direction for the list of news articles.

12 May

Prepare Fido For Your Return To Work

If this picture reminds you of how you’ve been working for the last two months, you’re not alone.  Many dogs (and cats!) have been our co-workers recently and as things look like they’re beginning to move towards returning to a new normal, now is the time to help prepare your dog for this and to help stave off separation anxiety.  Here’s some ideas!

  1. Leave your house, without taking the dog.  I know this seems like crazy talk, but Fido needs some alone time too.  Get the mail, walk around the block or sit outside and read a book for a while, all without your dog.
  2. Stick to a routine, as closely as possible to your pre-Covid-19 routine.  Obviously you’re not going to work but try to keep mealtime, walks and other things as predicable and close to your normal routine as possible.  This means that unless Fido is going to 10 walks a day when you go back to work, then he probably shouldn’t be getting that many now. This will help Fido transition back more easily when it happens without causing another abrupt change in routine.
  3. Practice separation now, even if you’re still working from home.  We all love to have our dogs near us when we’re working, but try some planned separation, having your own dedicated work space and set Fido up with a long-lasting chew, frozen, stuffed Kong or another enrichment toy for a few hours while you work.
  4. Reach out for help if Fido is showing signs of anxiety or distress. Often separation anxiety manifests in vocalization, destruction, potty accidents, anorexia, self-injury and other alarming ways.  If your dog exhibits any of these, get help quickly.  While I am not (yet) a separation anxiety specialist, I can guide you and connect you to someone if I can’t help, including helping you get a meds consult if needed.

For more on this topic, have a listen to some of my amazing colleagues who did a very informative Facebook Live.

Stay safe.


28 Apr

We Are All Barrier Frustrated

Last week I had a realization.  I saw this cartoon and the caption made me realize, during this pandemic, when we’re all unable to interact with, or even see, people when we want to, that this is what being a barrier frustrated dog is like.  (Barrier frustrated dogs are dogs that are generally social with people and/or dogs and get frustrated, which sometimes looks like aggression, when they are prevented from having access, like when they’re on leash or behind a fence or other barrier.)

And now, just like our dogs, we want something and we can’t have access to it and we don’t quite know how to deal with it.  We all are dealing with these feelings differently and maybe you span a variety of emotions on different days and at different times and that’s OK.  You may be sad, angry, defiant, feeling defeated or trying to be creative to get what you want – just like barrier frustrated dogs.

Many dog parks and dog daycares are closed.  People are distancing and outright avoiding others when they’re outside.  And for people-friendly dogs, that perhaps visited with people on daily walks and now can’t, this is all really hard and confusing for them.  And while we humans have some coping mechanisms available like calling or having a video get together, our dogs can’t exactly do that. (The flip side is that many reactive dogs are loving the distancing and safety that comes from it!)

I have definitely noticed an uptick in inquiries about dogs pulling, barking, lunging and being reactive on leash – all possible signs of barrier frustration.  Many of these owners report their dogs usually go to the park, or visit with people or dogs on leash.  And now that’s all stopped.  There are things we can do to help these dogs now and I’m happy to schedule a session with you to discuss your particular dog.  But, certainly increasing exercise and enrichment are two ways to help your dog channel energy into healthy, safe activities.  I’ve got lots of ideas for that on my social media, if you need ideas.

I think, I hope – that one of the positives that comes out of this whole pandemic, is that maybe we will come out of it a little more understanding and a little more compassionate, with people and dogs.  Maybe we won’t be so annoyed when our dog pulls to greet someone.  Maybe we will not rush off the phone so quickly when our lives are busy.  Maybe we will remember these times, when being able to just go outside was a treat.  We can learn a lot from dogs and I think more people are seeing that now more than ever.  I hope you can enjoy a short nap, a good meal, a short walk outside, snuggling with those you love – just generally appreciating the little things in life.  Try not to forget these things when life returns to whatever “normal” will be.

Stay safe.  I’m here if you need help.



09 Apr

Times Are Hard. How Can I Help?

Times are hard.  I want to help.  Please tell me how.

Everyone is struggling in one way or another right now.  I’ve been hearing from clients, friends, family and colleagues and nobody is unaffected.  We all know of someone who is sick, has lost their job, is going stir-crazy not seeing friends, had hours reduced, has lost a loved one or who is struggling to just see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m right there with you.

I got into dog training to help people and to help dogs.  And that hasn’t changed with this pandemic.  If anything, it’s strengthened my resolve to make good, quality training accessible to more people.  I’ve used some of my quarantine time productively and have recently obtained a new certification credential and am now only one of 12 certificants worldwide to have earned this prestigious title.  I’m incredibly proud to add the letters PCBC-A (Professional Canine Behavior Consultant) behind my name.  This designation, from the Pet Professional Accreditation Board, is the only certification for professionals who believe there is no place for shock, choke, prong, fear or intimidation in canine training and behavior practices.  I’m also currently enrolled in a Canine Nutrition course, so I can begin to add some non-veterinary nutrition counseling as a service.

What has changed is how I’m able to provide services has changed but my expertise and the information you get is still all the same. As I explained in my last email, I’ve moved all services to remote to be able to provide consults, one on one private sessions and some group offerings.  And people love it!  While it seems counterintuitive to not have a trainer there, in many cases, it’s actually easier for the dog to work on training remotely.  Once people get over the initial worry about how it works, everyone has loved the experience.  I’ve been working with clients on basic obedience, pre-baby prep, leash reactivity, puppy training and socialization and more!  I’ve posted some clips from recent sessions on social media, so check out my Instagram if you want to have a peek at what it looks like.

We’re going to get through this, together.  But I need your help to tell me how I can best help you right now by taking this short survey for me.  Once I get results, I will implement the top ideas to best help you right now.

Some of the best moments for me these days is seeing your pictures or videos of your dogs, especially if you’re training them (please, please tag us in those posts!) or getting email updates.  I was having a really hard day yesterday and received an update from a long-time remote client from upstate NY checking in and sharing a wonderful progress update.  It made me cry happy tears and was the bright spot that I so needed in that moment.  You and your dogs are why I do what I do.  Please don’t be a stranger.  Even if you were a client 5 years ago and haven’t checked in since then, please check in, send an update and let me know you’re okay.  And if you’re not okay, that’s alright too.  It’s okay to not be okay right now.  But you’re not alone, even if we’re all social distancing.

Stay safe.  Keep me posted on how you’re doing and let me know if you need help.  And please fill out the survey to let me know how I can best help right now.  And be sure you’re following me on social media for updates (links below)!

I can’t wait to see you, remotely or eventually, in person.


23 Mar

Expecting? Prepare Your Dog Now!

Are you expecting?  I’m sure you’re overwhelmed with emotions, excitement and maybe even a little bit of fear right now.  And if worrying about your dog is part of that worry, let me help. 

As a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a certified behavior consultant and trainer whose speciality is fear and aggression, I work with a lot of families with dogs and kids.

And experience tells me,  it’s always better to be proactive than reactive, so with that in mind, if you’re expecting, now is the perfect time to schedule a one on one video session to help prepare your dog (and you!) for the big changes ahead once the baby arrives.

Our private 2-hour video session includes a complete assessment, areas to focus on and personalized training plan to help prepare your dog for baby, homework, enrichment recommendations and an assortment of dog/baby handouts and resources as well as an opportunity for you to ask any questions or discuss any concerns you might have.

Book today to get started!

Happy Training! Looking forward to connecting (online!) with you soon!  Stay safe.