06 Jan

Searching For A Lost Dog (And Some Prevention)

Every day on my social media feeds I see images of lost dogs, many of which are newly adopted or in foster.  Just this weekend a fearful dog I had been working with remotely bolted away from his foster (he was found safe, thankfully!) but these stories always conjure up memories of when my own dog BooBoo escaped right from her transport van in front of us as we arrived to pick her up at the rescue.  The transport driver took her crate out of the van, opened it and reached in, grabbed her by the collar and off it snapped. She bolted and was gone in a matter of seconds, with no ID and she hadn’t been microchipped yet.

That experience was one of the life changing moments that eventually led me to becoming a trainer and for my specializing in fear and aggression.  This semi-feral, black dog had escaped into a heavily wooded area off the side of a four-lane highway, after being on a 17 hour transport.  The terrified dog I hadn’t even met yet, but had already fallen in love with, was suddenly gone and I doubted we’d ever find her alive.

We’d spend the next 9 days searching endlessly, sleeping little and learning a lot.  That experience has given me a wealth of knowledge that I’ve passed onto people in similar situations and that I will share with you here, as well as some preventative tips to try to save as many people and dogs the heartache we went through.

Here’s what to do, and not to do!

  1. Take note of important details before you forget them.  Note exactly where/when the dog was lost, what the dog was wearing (collar color, harness, dragging leash, sweater, with or without ID tags, etc.)
  2. Notify local police and animal control.  While they won’t usually help look for your dog, often well-meaning strangers report dog sightings and those agencies should know you’re looking and have your contact information in the event the dog gets turned in.  This is especially important if the dog isn’t microchipped or doesn’t have any ID tags on it.
  3. Spread the word – in person.  Talk to neighbors.  Talk to delivery people like UPS, FedEx and mail carriers who travel through neighborhoods and cover lots of ground.  If the dog is lost in an urban setting, talk to store owners or people sitting on their stoops.
  4. Spread the word – online.  Social media is your friend, mostly.  It can also be an enemy if you’re dealing with a very fearful dog or a dog who has stranger issues.  But for the mostpart, the more eyes looking for the dog, the more sightings you’ll get.  We started a Facebook page when Boo was missing to get information out to the army of volunteers we had and to request help for what we needed. There are also many lost dogs sites on Facebook by area and several lost dog apps.  If the dog is microchipped, notify the microchip company.  Many have a service where they send email blasts to other owners and animal professionals like vet clinics.  (Also important to make sure the microchip info is up to date in the event you’ve moved.  If the dog gets scanned, they need a way to get in touch with you!)  A word of caution about social media though.  While people are well meaning, especially with fearful dogs, over-zelaous strangers, can backfire.  You may want to protect location sightings and use volunteers for things like hanging posters.
  5. Make clear posters and hang them everywhere you can, starting with a 2 mile radius. Don’t cram too much information.  LOST DOG, one good picture, phone number and important  instructions like DO NOT CHASE.  If your search goes on for several days or you get sightings outside that radius, expand your search area.  We hung over 1000 posters (and then took them all down after she was found!)
  6. Banners.  If you have the resources, hand large vinyl banners in high visibility areas.  A volunteer donated this banner when BooBoo was missing.
  7. DO NOT CHASE.  Lost dogs, even well adjusted ones, are terrified being lost.  Chasing them will only push them farther away.  If anything you want to run AWAY from the dog, to try to get them to chase you.
  8. DO NOT CALL OUT THEIR NAME.  This is especially important for fearful dogs, newly adopted dogs or foster dogs, who many not even really know their name yet.  Calling them will spook them more.  With Boo, we got a lot of sightings over those 9 days but every time she saw someone and they made eye contact, she would bolt.
  9. Put out familiar smelling items and enticing food, especially if they were lost near home or a familiar area.
  10. Cover ground on foot as much as possible, not in a vehicle.  Dogs use their noses and will follow familiar or interesting smells.  When Boo was missing we walked her siblings, who had also come on the transport van, to lay familiar scent tracks for her to follow in the area where she had escaped from.
  11. Use other dogs, if the lost dog is dog-friendly, has housemates, siblings or play buddies, try to recruit those dogs and walk with them.  If the dog is fearful of new people but dog friendly, the dog is more likely to approach another dog than a complete stranger human.  This is how we eventually caught Boo.  We used her brother as a lure, and she came out of the woods to him.
  12. Track every location sighting on a Google Map using dropped pins with the time/date so you have data to see if you can detect a travel pattern.  We did this and over several days of sightings, we were able to figure out BooBoo’s path each day, and identify that she was returning to the rescue’s location where she had escaped from originally, every single night.  This enabled us to set live catch traps and eventually it is what led to us being able to catch her.
  13. Stay low and make yourself non threatening.  If you get close enough to the dog, don’t just rush at them.  Get low, crawling on the ground if needed.  This is a picture of me approaching BooBoo the night we caught her.  Standing tall, walking or reaching towards the lost dog will usually scare them off.  If you have high value food, try tossing it.  Take off hats, glasses, backpacks or anything that could make you look scary.
  14. Consider hiring a professional tracker.  Some lost dogs I’ve helped with have eventually hired a professional tracker.  They are expensive and often booked way out but sometimes they help, especially if you know what general area the dog is in.  Similarly, a drone can help give you a birds eye view to try to pinpoint the dog’s location.

How can this be prevented?

  1. Properly fitting collar/harness. Many dogs back out of poorly fitting collars or slip out of harnesses.  Before every walk, be sure your gear is properly fit.  If you know you’re walking a flight risk, use a double leash system – one to the collar and one to a harness.  Properly fitted martingale collars are intended to be slip proof but just be sure you’re not using it for “leash corrections.”  For weeks after Boo was found, she went out on a double leash, even in our fenced in yard.
  2. Training.  If you have a fearful dog, find a qualified force free trainer to help you.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, including fear and aggression.  Also, consider talking to your vet about meds if your dog struggles with being afraid to walk outside.  Otherwise, train basic behaviors that can be life-saving:  wait at doorways, a rock solid recall/coming when called and a stay.
  3. Don’t force fearful dogs to take walks.  I know everyone thinks dogs need to walk and if a dog doesn’t want to, then they just need to “get used to it.”  Not only is this wrong but it is dangerous.  Fearful dogs don’t need to get used to things – they need to feel safe.  In fact, forcing a fearful dog into a scary situation will only make things worse.  So, if this means your fearful dog doesn’t go on a walk and just goes outside to potty or uses potty pads inside, while you’re working on helping the dog feel safe, then that is 100% OK.
  4. Get a GPS tracker.  Both of my dogs wear Whistle GPS trackers (referral link – get $20 off!) and have since we recovered BooBoo.  Microchips are definitely good to have but they require the dog be captured to scan them.  GPS trackers allow you to see realtime where the dog is on an app.  I always recommend a GPS for flight risk dogs but even dogs who do a lot of off leash hiking benefit from having peace of mind that you will always be able to find them if something happens.
  5. Microchip and have ID tags.  Many dogs are recovered by strangers.  Make it easy for them to reunite you by making sure their ID tags are up to date and legible.  If animal control or a vet gets your dog, they usually will scan for a microchip but ID tags make it easier.  Update microchip registrations when you move.  Replace tags when they become too worn to read.
  6. Car harnesses/crates/seatbelts.  Many of the lost dog posts I see are a result of car accidents.  I highly recommend using a SleepyPod harness, the only one that has been crash test rated like child car seats.  They use your seatbelt and ensure your dog is safe and doesn’t become a projectile in an accident.  There are also car crates (not your regular crate you’d use as that wouldn’t be secure enough if there were a crash).  No dog should be free roaming in a car and in at least one state, it’s actually illegal.

My hope is that you never have to look for a lost dog and that these prevention tips will help prevent heartache.  But if you do, hopefully this guide will help.

Happy Training!



30 Dec

Not All Assistance Dogs Are Service Dogs

This past week a news story about a real service dog being attacked at mall in NJ by two unleashed dogs who were owned by a kiosk owner at the mall, initially claiming they too were service dogs.  This turned out to be untrue.

So it’s a good time to review the types of assistance dogs, and their differences.  There are three basic types of assistance dogs, all providing different tasks and support.  You rarely have overlap, meaning you won’t find a service dog that is also a therapy dog.  You could have a therapy dog that is also an ESA but that’s not common.

  1. Service Dogs:  These dogs undergo hundreds of hours of specialized training to assist one person, who is disabled, by Americans with Disabilities Act criteria. They must be trained to perform at least one specific task for their person that the person could not otherwise do without the dog. They also undergo public access training, in addition to basic obedience.  They are also trained to ignore high distractions including other dogs and people.  These are true working dogs with the most widely recognized being seeing eye dogs.  These dogs are given full protection under the ADA and are allowed to go into any establishment with their person, including restaurants and places dogs aren’t normally permitted.  There is no official overseeing body for certifying service dogs, which is why it can be abused.
  2. Emotional Support Animals (ESA): These dogs (or sometimes other animals) are companion pets but their own has been given a letter by a mental health professional stating having a companion animal will help their emotional well-being.  These dogs are not granted any additional public access to places like restaurants or stores but can fly in the airplane cabin and live in non-pet buildings.  These dogs do not have any training or certification requirements at all.
  3. Therapy Dogs:  These dogs undergo specialized temperament and obedience training to allow them to go into places such as schools, hospitals, disasters and nursing homes to help offer comfort and support to strangers.  They are not granted any special public access and their access is by permission only of the facility or location they are visiting.  These dogs must be certified by a therapy dog organization who has tested them and they also often have an AKC CGC certification.

Fake service dogs are rampant in my area and many others.  This picture was sent to me by a friend at Busch Gardens.  Dogs are not allowed there but this little dog, sitting in a wheelchair, has a service dog vest on.  It’s easy to buy a fake vest and impressive looking card online but that doesn’t mean anything.  I can usually spot fakers on a flexileash, with a red vest that says service dog, and the dog is often going off at people or other dogs.  This abuse of an unregulated system is not only dangerous to other pets and people but hurts disabled people from having access to the things and places they need or causes their dog to be distracted when they’re working.  As a result of the abuse, store owners are suspicious of people trying to pass off fake service dogs, disabled people are questioned, embarrassed or sometimes denied access. (I do not know for a fact this dog was fake, but I’d bet money on it based on this image.)

In almost two dozen states, there are fake service dog laws and penalties.  And airlines have begun to crack down on support animals with tighter restrictions after several people have been injured by traveling dogs.

What can you do?  First, don’t ever try to pass off your companion dog as a service dog.  And discourage friends and family members from doing it too.  I know most people just love their dogs so much and want to be with them all the time, but there are rules in place for a reason.  Second, learn the difference and help educate others.  Not all assistance dogs are the same.  Help spread understanding about the difference between a legitimate service dog, an ESA and a therapy dog.HERE’S A QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE.

And lastly, be a good doggy owner citizen.  If you are going to use your dog as an ESA, get them trained well.  Don’t put them on a plane if they haven’t been prepared.  Respect leash laws and don’t ask to pet working dogs.  If you want to get your dog trained for public access or therapy dog work, seek out a qualified trainer or contact me.  I offer remote sessions for many issues, or can refer you to someone who can help!

Happy Training!








27 Dec

Bringing A New Dog Home To Your Existing Dog

This time of year a lot of dogs find their new homes, and many of these are being integrated into homes where there is already a resident dog, so it’s a good time to review the best way to set both your new and existing dog up for success during the initial transition.

I know you’re excited about your new addition but make sure you take things slowly!  Presumably your two dogs have done a meet and greet and that went  “fine,” so it’s easy to think they’re just best buds.  But even the most dog-friendly of dogs can be overwhelmed with moving to a new home with new people and new everything.  And your resident dog might be overwhelmed with all the commotion this new dog is causing, while he’s also trying to navigate sharing his people and stuff.

Use physical barriers like crates, x-pens and baby gates to split them up every 30-60 minutes.  I also recommend leaving leashes on with them dragging so you’ve got them as a grab tab in the event you need it.  And definitely do not leave them unsupervised at all.

Brush up on dog body language (great videos here and here), so you can quickly recognize and intervene if things get tense or growly.  Happy talk, use food and split them up and give them both some alone time.  If you can’t interrupt fast enough and it escalates into a fight, use the leashes to pull the dogs apart, throw a blanket/towel over them, wheelbarrow the dogs (lift them up by their rear legs) or last resort, use citronella spray.  Never reach in between the dogs.

Familiarize yourself with what normal dog play looks like.  Often play can be loud and scary sounding.  This video and this one are great examples to really learn about dog play.

Put away anything that might be a guarded resource.  This includes, toys, chews, bones and food bowls (even empty ones). And be aware that some dogs will guard spaces, people and resting spots. Tight spaces like hallways, doorways, kitchens where the dog may feel trapped or not have space to turn around to escape can also be areas of tension.

During feeding times, be sure to physically separate dogs.  When it comes time to give out food and treats, feed the new dog first.  This helps create a positive association that the new dog getting something predicts your existing dog is about to get something.  When feeding treats, stretch your arms out as far as they go and feed each dog from that hand.  Feeding them close together could elicit guarding.

Ensure both dogs get lots of individual attention, including training time.  This will help your new dog settle but it will also help your existing dog not be neglected with all the attention being on your new friend.  Try to disrupt your current dog’s routine as little as possible.

Once your new dog is settled in, then you can begin to extend their supervised time together and the more you’ll learn about the dynamic between them.  You’ll learn triggers or what they can safely do in the same space.  But let this play out over time.  Don’t rush it.

If you would like some additional guidance or have other questions, contact me.  I offer remote sessions for many issues, including this!

Happy Training!


23 Dec

Transparency in Animal Sheltering and Rescues

Just last week a NJ rescue I was formerly associated with (I resigned 4 years ago, to the day, this news story broke) was charged with almost 20 counts of varying charges including falsifying records “for the purpose of deceiving prospective pet owners,” knowingly selling and/or exposing to human contact a pet with a contagious or infectious disease and false advertising, among others. (Personal note: I resigned for a number of reasons, but this practice of hiding medical conditions was among the many reasons.)

This got me to thinking about transparency, not in dog training, like I’m usually espousing,  but about transparency in sheltering and rescue.  In 2018 eight prominent animal welfare organizations and foundations released a joint mission statement regarding accountability and transparency regarding data sharing of the numbers of animals in their care and their outcomes. But that transparency was all about the intake/outcome numbers — how to count what and the coveted “live release rate” (LRR) that so many shelters and rescues strive to have high percentages in to uphold a “no-kill” status.

But what about transparency with adopters including what information and the quality of the information they are told?  What about transparency regarding training methods or handling techniques the dogs have been exposed to?  What about accuracy of age, breed, medical history and behavior, including bite history?  Many of these may be disqualifiers to adoptability, which in turn would affect the LRR or other important measured criteria like length of stay at the shelter or returns.  This could further impact public perception, which would impact donations.  It’s a snowball effect, so it makes sense why some rescues and shelters may want to keep a tight lid on certain information.

And from personal experience, I can say that in both private rescues and sheltering, keeping information from adopters is sadly part of the adoption equation in many organizations.  Younger dogs, dogs of certain breeds, dogs without health or behavioral issues, all tend to get adopted out more quickly than older dogs with behavioral or medical issues, so that could be a motivator for groups to err on the side of adoptability, rather than the truth.

Why is all of this important?  Well, besides the obvious ethical/moral issues of intentionally lying or hiding information, it leads to well-intentioned people committing to adopt an animal that they believe is healthy (or a certain age or breed or with a certain behavioral or training history) but later discover fallout from that misleading information, whether it be financial (unexpected training or medical expenses) or emotional (surrendering back or euthanizing a dog the family wasn’t prepared to handle).

So how can you protect yourself? ASK, OBSERVE AND RESEARCH.  Conflicting answers or reluctance to answer questions are red flags.

  1. Request to see all medical records, not just vaccine records.  Ask if their staff or partner vet is available for you to discuss any concerns you have.  Look for any discrepancies between intake paperwork and what is being advertised. Glaring age, breed or weight differences should be a red flag.
  2. What is the dog’s known history – not just where did this organization get the dog but what do they know before then?  Was it stray?  Owner surrender?  Hoarder? Puppy mill dog? Meat market dog? Street dog from another country? History is important because dogs with poor early socialization or bad experiences may be may require more extensive training but be sure to confirm what they KNOW versus what they’re ASSUMING.
  3. What socialization has the rescue or shelter been doing with the dog, especially if it’s a puppy?  What do they know about the dog’s formative early months of life? Do they have the puppy’s mother?  Have they been using food during socialization or just exposing the dog to things without ensuring it was a positive association? (If the mother is available/known, insist on meeting her.  There is a strong likelihood that if the mother is fearful, the puppies will be fearful.  What you see in mom, is very likely going to be what you see in the puppies as they age.)
  4. Ask to see a behavioral assessment.  If the dog has come from another shelter they will have some sort of behavioral assessment from the transferring organization.  Concerns  should be discussed with their certified trainer (who should also be the one administering behavioral assessments).  Inquire about guarding behaviors, body handling and sociability observed while the dog has been in their care.  Receiving organizations often repeat these tests on their own, for insurance purposes.  Ask to see them.
  5. Why was the dog surrendered, if the dog was an owner surrender? Was it for behavioral reasons?  Many rescues and shelters often try to downplay behavioral concerns or owner blame.  This is a red flag.
  6. Where has the dog has been while in this organization’s care?  In a kennel?  In a foster home?  What interactions has the dog had with children, kids, cats or other dogs?
  7. What training methods do they use?  If they don’t publicly say, ASK!  What does their contract specify?  It should specify they do not condone the use of aversive methods including prong, choke or shock collars or electric fences.
  8. Research and read reviews (dig into the hidden Yelp reviews too!) about the organization you’re considering adopting from.  If they are a charitable group, check sites like Charity Navigator to see how they stack up with other orgs you’re considering.
  9. And lastly, OBSERVE:  Before you’re ready to adopt, visit adoption events or the facility a few times. Do the animals seem happy, well cared for and the volunteers/staff happy to be doing their job?  Are the dogs being happy talked and given treats?  How are the animals being handled?  Are they being dragged around by their leash at events?  Are they cowering in their crates?

In many states there is little to no oversight to those who are taking care of homeless animals.  It’s surprisingly easy to form a rescue so just claiming to be a rescue, there’s some bad ones out there.

So it’s buyer beware, and it’s up to us to help keep groups accountable.  Ask lots of questions, demand answers and yes, trust your gut. Making good matches – for both the people and the dog – should be their top priority, not just trying to move out as many animals as possible.


25 Nov

Noelle’s Story: A Doggie Boot Camp Victim

In my previous post cautioning about aversive dog training “boot camps” I touched on the long-lasting negative effects that often happen.  I wanted to share the story of a dog I worked with, named Noelle.

I worked with Noelle after she was sent to a 6 week board and train shock trainer in NYC.   The day she returned from boot camp, she was wearing both a prong and a shock collar, was malnourished and bit the adult owner within hours of returning home.  She had been sent off to the board and train because she was barking at other dogs on leash and was a little bit of a bully at the dog park, but hadn’t injured any other dogs.  Her family concluded she was “being aggressive” and “acting out” and that she needed to be “fixed.” So they sent her off to a place claiming to rehabilitate dogs.

They didn’t know better and it’s not their fault.  With no licensing, regulation or education requirements, anyone can call themselves a trainer and it’s up to consumers to muddle through to figure out who is legitimate or not so it’s easy to fall prey to fancy talk from charlatans.  That’s why it’s so important that before you hire a trainer that you look for transparency and ask them these questions.

Now, after spending $6500 on that trainer, Noelle had a human bite history, injured 2 dogs at the dog park, sending them both to the vet for multiple stitches and antibiotics, was lunging and snarling at strangers and had developed fear of being touched (body handling).  Not only was she not “fixed” but now she had new, much more serious issues than what was present when they sent her off to boot camp six weeks prior.

Obviously these clients had no idea how damaging boot camp would be or they wouldn’t have sent their dog there.  They thought this person who claims to be a trainer and a behaviorist (more on the appropriation and abuse of that term another day, but in short, unless the person is a veterinary behaviorist or holds a CAAB or ACAAB from Animal Behavior Society, they are not actually a behaviorist) was going to help their sweet dog. They didn’t know what questions to ask and were swept in with promises of their dog being fixed all without having to juggle their busy schedules for private sessions or spend time practicing training exercises.

No reputable trainer will ever give you a guarantee of success or promise to fix your dog.  In fact, it’s unethical to do so according to The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (from which I hold a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA), an advanced certification for dog trainers who offer canine behavior modification).  “Trainers/behavior consultants refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training and behavior plans.”

Noelle’s story, unlike so many others, has a happy ending but it took almost of year of undoing the damage that 6 weeks caused.  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, including basic obedience, house training and fear and aggression.

Happy Training!