New Puppy?

It’s that time of the year again. Many have brought a new four legged household member into their homes and with them comes joy, fun and a whole sleuth of responsibilities. Whether this is the first dog or you have already owned a dog before, things may be a bit different this time around. Here are some tips on how to enjoy each other’s company and getting the best start in your life as a dog owner.


Oh, those puppy antics!


Having your cute little puppy turn into a landshark is a common issue, most puppy owners find. It is extremely rare that this behavior points towards aggression. The vast majority of dogs this age are playing and soothing their teeth. Just like babies, they test everything with their mouth (well, they don’t have hands, so how else are they going to find out about the world?) and puppy teeth can be quite sharp and painful. Some breeds are mouthier than others and while it’s a normal behavior, we do not need to lend ourselves to be walking bite toys. Many training tips are being passed around online, some effective, some not so much. Here are the effective ones:

– Trade your hand/leg/foot with a suitable toy for your dog to chew on. As sharp as they are, puppy teeth are not quite as hard as adult dogs’ teeth, so things like hard bones (always raw!) are not a good fit – neither are raw hides or Nylabones. Plush toys can be great, just know, that you will have that stuffing flying around soon – also be careful to supervise the party, so your little one doesn’t swallow the squeaker.

Fresh Carrotts are a healthy and low calories snack

– Help soothing those teeth with some treats. Frozen carrots, stuffed and frozen Kongs (natural yogurt is a great and inexpensive stuffing), frozen watermelon… it not only helps with the teething pain, it also keeps the pup busy for a while.

– Start training! If your dog is in a sit or a down, it won’t be able to bite you. Carry treats with you and use those to either gently guide your pup into a sit, then reward, or capture the moment, when your dog sits by itself and reward that. Have your dog sit for everything – food, toys, attention and soon, that sit comes naturally as an alternative behavior. We’ll go over some other great ‘tricks’ for puppies below.

– Whatever  you do, stay calm. Yelling and screaming is either enticing  your dog to play the fun ‘I’m going to catch and bite you‘ game or have your pup fearfully cowering in a corner, being afraid of you. Both are potential outcomes, that we want to avoid. Inflicting fear or even worse – pain – can alter your puppy’s mental growth at that delicate stage and you might end up with an aggressive or fearful dog later on. So just say no to kicking, yelling and screaming. It isn’t effective. Instead redirect calmly and reward positive behavior.

– If you have young kids, things can be a bit tricky, since it’s so much fun to romp around with a dog, but this may also trigger the play biting. Kids may not necessarily understand, that this is an involuntary behavior from the dog and, especially, if they are little, may get hurt. If your dog has no issues with kids, there is no need to separate them, but you always have to closely supervise the play and remind kids to stay calm. Throw a toy or treats instead of running around with the dog.


Jumping up on people is a similar behavior as the biting. It comes naturally for the dog, especially a puppy. Some people encourage it, some don’t want it to happen. It certainly isn’t funny, if a dog jumps on a small child, elderly person or simply a stranger. Here’s where a good, solid ‘sit‘ comes into play. Again, if your dog sits, it can’t jump. Work on that sit and reward good behavior. Make sure, you work on that outside of your house, too. Consistency is important. Invite a friend over as a ‘stranger’ and work on that sit and not jumping with your dog (maybe provide a glass of wine or some cookies for your friend). Don’t kick your dog or have a ‘stranger’ kick your dog. As your dog is already super excited, yelling and screaming will likely make it worse, too. Ask your friend to calmly ignore the dog until the dog sits. It may take some time and many repetitions, but it’s the start of a good solid obedience foundation, without risking fear or pain.


Many people can’t wait to start exercising with the dog – especially, when getting a dog in December, we want to extend our New Year resolutions towards our dogs and start that morning run with our four legged friend. After all – a tired pup is a good pup. While the latter is certainly true, you may want to take it slow. A dog’s growth plates (the area of growing tissue near the ends of the bones on each end of the bone) don’t close until around 1.8 year old, depending on the dog’s size. Smaller dogs typically are all grown a bit earlier than medium or bigger sized dogs. While the growth plates are still closing, heavy exercise is not a good idea. This means no forced cardio, no forced running and no forced jumping or any high impact activity. It is one thing, if the puppy decides to have the zoomies and zips and jumps around the backyard or the house, but having it jump over hurdles or taking it running next to your bike can seriously injure your dog and affect its health as an adult dog. There are many studies supporting a risk of dysplasia and CCL tears in puppies, who have been exercised too young.


This does not mean, that you have to wrap your dog in soft cushion and place it in a crate. Some exercise is of course great for any age! And we still want that tired puppy after all. You can (gently) play a good game of tug, throw the toy and have supervised puppy play dates with other dogs in similar age, size and energy level.

There are different opinions about taking puppies on walks. Short walks, about 5 minutes for every month of its life, about twice a day is a good rule. However, there is also the risk of Parvo, a particularly nasty and often deadly disease. So while walks around the house are probably ok, I would recommend against taking your pup to a public park until it is fully vaccinated against Parvo.

A game of chasing the laser pointer is also not recommended. Studies suggest, that the frustration of never being able to catch that laser light can mentally harm a dog and lead towards anxiety behavior. It can also harm a dog’s eyes.

While physical exercise is great and needed, most dogs also need mental stimulation. You won’t believe, how fast a puppy tires out after playing some hide and seek games with its favorite toy or treat throughout the house (though you want to avoid the stairs). Or do a simple and fun 5 minute obedience session, followed by some play time. Your pup will be tuckered out in no time and you will have done another step towards a good obedience foundation. There are some dog sports that can be started with a puppy already, for example K9 Nose Work.


Puppy Games

Here are some useful games and tricks to start your dog with a great and positive foundation of obedience. You won’t need anything other than a treat pouch and some high value treats (meaning, your dog will stop in its tracks to get that treat) preferably small and soft. I have found, that often tiny pieces of hot dogs or cheese work great. Keep those sessions short and fun. Don’t start, when you are already frustrated, in a rush or angry. You need to be calm and have fun. After all, that’s why you got a dog in the first place, isn’t it? Young dogs can’t concentrate for a long time, just like babies and toddlers. You can do several sessions a day, but don’t do them longer than about 5 minutes.

Yes, you will need a lot of treats in the beginning, but will soon start to wean them off, or, at the very least, not need to give as many. Once your dog reliably offers the correct behavior for a command, don’t put your hand into the treat pouch before the behavior occurs, once the dog offers the correct behavior, that’s when you can get that treat to reward your dog. That’s how you will start to wean your dog off treats (although I still like to reward dogs with treats unexpectedly).

– Focus

Getting your dog to focus on you helps not only to keep your pup out of trouble and makes walking on a lose leash easy, but also give you the opportunity to give a command while having your dog’s undivided attention. Anyone, who has ever tried to recall a dog while its chasing a rabbit down the hole, knows how important focus is.


Grab some treats and call your dog. The instant your dog looks at you, give a treat. Make sure, your dog looks at you (eye level) and not at the treat. If your dog happens to look at you without you calling your dog, still give a treat. Any focus on you should be rewarded.

– Sit

While ‘sit‘ doesn’t seem to be a super exciting trick, it is extremely useful. Making that sit a natural behavior keeps your dog from biting and jumping and other mischief. Use treats to gently guide your dog into a sit, only reward with said treat when your dog is in a sit position. Be careful not to sound like a broken record (‘sit, sit, sit, siiiiiit, sit, siiiiiit, sit!’) but to say the command only once. Try to get the behavior first before using a command at all. Have your dog sit for everything it wants – food, play, attention until it sits naturally, if it wants something. Once your dog sits reliably for the command, wait until it is in the sitting position before reaching into your treat pouch to give your dog a treat.

– Place

Use a towel or a dog bed for this nifty ‘trick’. Guide your dog on the towel or dog bed and reward once it is on there. The preferred position is a down, but I wouldn’t worry, if your dog just sits there. Give a couple of treats about 1 second apart, so your dog stays on there. Then increase the time between giving the treats, slowly. When your dog catches on and stays a couple of seconds between the treats, take a step back, then return to the ‘place’ and give another treat. Gradually increase the distance, but always go back to reward the dog, so your pup knows, that the treats will keep coming at the ‘place’. Eventually start sending your dog to the ‘place’, again by gradually increase the distance and reward, once your dog sits or downs on the towel or mat.

If your dog got this down, you can start moving the towel or the mat and continue that same exercise. This way, you can take the ‘place’ with you, if you go for a visit somewhere else.

This exercise is great for dogs, who want to be first at the door to greet (or bark at) visitors. It is also great for interrupting that biting and jumping, but don’t forget to keep those sessions short and fun. Eventually, you can give your dog a longer lasting treat on the ‘place’, such as a stuffed Kong or frozen carrot/apple/watermelon, etc.

– Come

This is the first step to one of the most important commands, the recall. Don’t ever chase your dog, if your dog runs from you, or scold it, when it comes back to you – most dogs have lots of fun, running from you – or they get scared, knowing, that you will chew them a new one, once you catch them. Instead start early and start at home. Call your dog’s name and as soon as your dog takes a step towards you, kneel down, throw a big party and give your dog a treat. You’ll never see a dog running towards you faster, than when you act as if you haven’t seen your dog for a year (and reward with a treat or two). Once your dog comes to you reliably (keep those treats coming), you can take your party outside. Start in your backyard first and repeat. Don’t call your dog, if it is checking out the neighbor’s cat or is otherwise distracted. Once your dog is reliable in your backyard, you can finally work outside of the house. Use a long line for safety, but try not to put any pressure on the leash.

– Crate

It is a good idea to teach your dog to relax in a crate. If your dog ever has an emergency, where a vet stay is needed, it’s nice, if the crate is already perceived as a safe place. Never use a crate as a punishment. Make it fun, feed your dog in the crate and leave the door open, so the dog can go in and out. Eventually, you can close the door for a second, open it again and give your dog a treat. Close the door again and slowly increase the time. After a while, you can start walking away from the crate with the door closed, come back, open the door and give a treat again.


Crate training is a great after-exercise or after-training activity, when your puppy is tired already. Get your dog in the crate, give a stuffed Kong or another longer lasting treat and let your dog relax in there. In most cases, you can also close the crate door. Try to go back and open the door before your dog starts whining.

Never let your kids go in the crate with your dog. The crate should be a safe place for the dog to go in and get away from anything, that bothers it.

Problematic behavior

It is always a great idea, to take some formal training, even if you already are dog experienced. You can usually get some good input and ideas and it’s a great social event for your dog – but especially if you have issues, that go beyond of what we were talking about here, don’t wait. Seek out a trainer, who has widely acknowledged credentials (e.g. CPDT) and/or titled sport or working personal dogs. Training doesn’t necessarily always have to be purely positive, but should be mostly. Prong and e-collars have no place on puppies. In fact, they are illegal in many countries for a reason. The least intrusive methods should be used, but your trainer should be flexible to accommodate what works best for you and your dog. Training isn’t instant gratification, it takes time to lay a good foundation. But it should always be fun for you and your dog. Use common sense and leave, if you find, that you and your dog are not having fun or if your dog is being jerked around.

Some Practical Tips


 There are more diets, brands and varieties of dog food than there are needles on a pine tree. It can be fun, shopping for our dogs, but it can also be overwhelming. While I will not recommend a specific type of food – every dog is different – I will say, that it is worth a lot to go with a high quality food. There are advantages and disadvantages both to raw, home cooked and dry/canned food and I won’t go into the details of a home prepared meal, but fact is, there are very good, wholesome kibbles available. Yes, they are likely more expensive and no, you will not find them at your supermarket. But with online stores and different pet stores around, they are still conveniently available. High quality dry food requires less feeding amounts, so a bag will last you longer – and in the long run, your dog will be healthier, requiring less vet visits. Check the ingredients of your dry food. Here is a website, that offers more information about labels as well as different brands of dog food:
Enjoying the meal
Also, watch the weight of your dog. More than 65% of dogs in the US are overweight. It’s not just unhealthy, it will shave off about 2 years of your dog’s life. This is a good overview on how your dog should look like: – a pet dog should be around 5, a sport or working dog around 4.


Dogs should never ride loose in a car. It is dangerous for the driver as well as for the dog. In case of an accident, a dog could not only be seriously injured, but also jump out of a broken window and run into the street. Keeping the dog secured either on a harness and seat belt or in a stable crate in the back ensures the safety of the driver, the dog and everyone else in the car.

Dog Etiquette

– Most of us live in an area with leash laws. This means, that by law, our dogs are on a 6 foot leash at all times. We can agree or disagree with this, but it’s the law. If something happens and a dog is either on a longer leash (e.g. fully extended flexi leash) or off leash, then that dog owner is at fault.

– Not every dog is fond of other dogs, just like not every person likes other people. Don’t let your dog run up to another dog without asking first. It is also polite to reel in your dog to your side when passing someone else, with or without dogs. Some people are very afraid of dogs. They may have had bad experiences in the past, dog bites or just plainly don’t like dogs. While this may be difficult for many of us to understand, it is certainly within their rights. So keep your dog at your side while walking past anyone, no matter, whether your dog is social or not. It’s not just good etiquette, it goes a long way to co-exist with non-dog owners and dog owners, who have dogs, that are not social.

– Pick up your dog’s poop. This is the law and it is also helps preventing the spreading of diseases like Parvo. Plus, those, who have kids, know, that they inevitably will find and step into left over poop. Not fun.

Make sure to check the ingredients of what you feed your dog

– Don’t let your dog pee on your neighbor’s front lawn. It seriously can destroy the grass and will annoy your neighbor. Find other pee stops somewhere a long your walk (oh, and don’t just dispose poop bags in your neighbor’s trash can without asking).

– Do not let your dog chase any wildlife, not even those pesky Canadian wild geese, at the very least outside of your backyard. Not even on a long line or when there’s no chance, that your dog will actually catch one. Or if you think, your dog only wants to play with them.


Above all, have fun with your dog!

10 Tips for an effective K9 Training Session

  1. Have a Goal
    Have a clear, describable goal - body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Have a clear, describable goal – body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Don’t train a whole routine all at once if you still have kinks to work out. Go into training with a clear, identifiable goal. Work specifics like leash handling, speed, alert, converging odors or that perfect heel. Be clear what your expectations are, even write them down. Have a realistic outcome in mind.

  2. Have a Gameplan
    Once you know, what exactly you want to work on, have a plan on how to achieve your set goal. Don’t go on the field or in your search area just ‘winging it’ – that will lead to frustration and is not very effective. Don’t hesitate to deviate from your start plan though, if you see a new (or old) issue arise. For example, if your goal is to work on your leash handling and your dog all of a sudden shows issues with distractions, change plan. Concentrate on one issue, don’t try to tackle two or three problems in the same training run – most of the time, that is not only less effective, it can also create a whole other set of issues.

  3. Tailor the length of training to your dog’s abilities
    This should hardly come as a surprise, but we often tend to forget and train longer than we should, because we ‘set aside this amount of time’ or we ‘paid for an hour with a trainer’. But training is can be more effective when we cut it short, depending on the circumstance. A puppy or young dog has a different attention span than an adult dog. A dog, who recently was sick or injured may also not be able to concentrate as long as a healthy dog. Hot weather might call for a shorter training and so does a new environment, if your dog is easily distracted. Know your dog and know your dog’s attention span.

  4. Stop while you are still having fun and don’t train, when you’re emotional
    Still having fun...

    Still having fun…

    This ties into the above issue. Don’t train until you don’t have your dog’s attention anymore. If you have to ask yourself: ‘Should I do one more?’ – the answer is ‘No!’ more often than not. End on a high note. Don’t get frustrated. If you don’t feel up for training, if you’re angry at something or someone, if you are already frustrated – don’t start training. Instead relax and play or just cuddle with your dog. Pick up training when you feel calm. This doesn’t only lead to a more reliable and stable dog, but it also improves your bond and keeps the trust between the two of you.


  5. Take care of your training aids
    Your training aids are important. Leashes, collars, toys, food, odor/scent articles, whatever you need for your training, needs to be in tip top shape. The best game plan won’t help you, if your training odor is off or you have the wrong reward toy/food. This is especially important for scent detection training. Know what you are training with, know your aids and know your tools.

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

  6. Maintain a training log
    A training log can help you identify issues, help troubleshoot and solving those issues and re-create training scenarios. It can also help in developing a good strategy for your next training. It is your ‘black-on-white’ memory.

  7. Variety is your friend
    Train in many different environments

    Train in many different environments

    Once your dog shows you the behavior you are asking for, change the environment. Change the reward. Change the odor amount, if you are doing scent detection. You never know, what you will encounter at a trial, competition or work place. Train with distractions, outside, inside, day time, night time, shiny floors, dark corners, spectators. Change the containers you use to keep the odor for your scent detection. Use different leashes. Vary the amount of food for reward or time you play with your dog. Use your training log to record the environment you trained in.

  8. Wear proper training attire
    Closed-toed shoes are a must, unless you don’t mind your dog pushing himself off on your bare foot, leaving behind painful scratches and bruises. Make sure, you have everything on you that is needed for your training, such as reward and leash. Be prepared and have a first aid kit nearby.

  9. Give your dog a break
    Dogs need breaks to process what they learned. There are numerous studies, not only on rats and humans, but also on dogs, showing, that given some downtime, the individuals outperformed others, who did not get a break. Additional to the increase in performance, downtime provides opportunity for a quick canine first aid check (temperature, scratches, etc.) and hydration.

  10. The Power of Videotaping your training
    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    When you are working your dog, there are lots of things going through your mind. Leash handling, environment, controlling/not controlling your dog, anticipating… Nuances and subtleties are quickly overlooked – yet that’s what makes us progress. If you have video of your training, you can sit back after working (give your dog a break) and study each aspect of the run. How did you move that leash? What was your body language telling the dog? What was the dog’s behavior telling you? We all get set in repetition and with repetitions come handler errors. The dog alerts away from source, because you don’t reward at source. The dog anticipates a recall because of your leg movement. Nothing will show your mistakes as honestly as a video.


There is a number 11, a simple step, which is so often overlooked: use common sense. If your gut tells you, that something doesn’t feel right, stop, take a step back and think. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. A responsible trainer will discuss your feelings with you and make necessary changes to the training plan.


Turning a Rescue into a Rescuer

I often get asked about how to become involved with Search and Rescue. Usually, someone tells me that their dog is the ultimate search machine and will find them/their toy/food in a matter of seconds, no matter where in the house they are. Or they just got a German Shepherd and are now looking for something to do with their dog. Here is some information about what Search and Rescue training entails. First let’s talk about different areas of SAR. These are some of the more common ones:

  • Urban Search and Rescue (Disaster)
    coloradoThese are the teams who are deployed when disaster hits, such as a tornado, hurricane or earthquake. Just hours after the devastating tornadoes hit Oklahoma City in May 2013, multiple disaster dog teams were on scene, working tirelessly to find survivors, buried underneath rubble piles. Often the dogs work independently from their handlers, sometimes, for safety reasons, the handlers are not even close to the dogs. Usually, these dogs have a bark alert, meaning, they will bark to indicate a live victim. Unlike some of the wilderness SAR dogs, they will  not leave the victim and they will wait for the handler to come to them, thus minimizing the risk of navigating the rubble. With the bark alert, they do not need to be in view of their handlers. On occasions, the handler gives the K9 a command to change direction, using hand signals.
  • Avalanche
    Avalanche dogs are trained to find survivors of avalanches. Many sources quote the Swiss army to be the first ones to have trained Avalanche dogs and/or date the first incident of a dog finding survivors in avalanches in the 1930s. However, Barry, a famous St. Bernard from Switzerland, saved many lives back in 1800. Here is another link to the history of St. Bernards as avalanche dogs: Smithonian. I fondly remember visiting Barry, who’s body is an exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland. Avalanche dogs have a long history not only in Switzerland but in many other countries, who have snow year-round. These dogs efficiently cover a wide area almost impossible for people to search. Nowhere else is time as much of essence as after an avalanche. 66% of avalanche victims die after within the first 30 minutes (Avalanche Survival Curve).  Avalanche dogs normally start digging as part of their alert.
  • Wilderness/Tracking
    chinoWilderness Search and Rescue is often sent, when hikers have gone missing. In some cases, the teams are looking for physically and/or mentally disabled people (e.g. Alzheimer patients). They have to cover a large, sometimes mountainous area or deep forests. Tracking dogs, much like disaster dogs, do not have a specific person’s scent – they are to find any live person in distress. Unlike disaster and avalanche dogs, they are usually trained not to stay with the victim, but to come back to the handler. Their alert varies, but a common alert is to take an object from their collar into their mouth and bring it to their handler (Bringsel). Tracking dogs often are out of their handlers view, working independently through brushes and obstacles.
  • Wilderness/Trailing
    Just as Tracking dogs, Trailing dogs search for lost persons. The difference is, Tracking dogs are trained to follow a specific odor, making them the number one choice K9s for Law Enforcement searching for criminals. If the dogs are handled by the Police in search of a felon, they are most likely trained to apprehend and bite – unless they are Bloodhounds. In which case the found person may get slobbered. 😉
  • Search and Recovery
    Search and Recovery is just as important as rescuing people. For families and friends, it is crucial to get closure and to be able to recover the body of the missing person. For Law Enforcement, Search and Recovery can solve a crime. Recovery dogs can be trained to find crime scenes, blood, bones (including historic bones, such as old burial grounds, etc.) and dead bodies. Some of these dogs are efficient water dogs, working on boats to find bodies underwater.

All these dogs have one thing in common: they can efficiently do the job of many people and machines. Some say, one dog is as efficient as 150 people. They are able to cover a large ground in a short time. And their noses are an invaluable tool to save lives.

frida20Now we get to the next subject – the dog. Finding anything in the house does not make a dog a blooming star on the K9 SAR sky. Focus and drive are necessary, but also the ability to work independently, fearlessness, balance to navigate difficult terrain (think piles on piles of rubble and wood or fields of snow), willingness to stay on odor and at the victim, be absolutely trustworthy with strangers (solid temperament) and most importantly, work tirelessly and focused even under stress. Ideally, a dog is not older than 2 years, when SAR training starts. Never had a broken limb or a seizure. They can’t be tiny or they won’t be able reach every inch of a rubble pile. They can’t be too big either or they won’t be as agile.

Dogs like that are very, very rare. In fact, if you know of one who’s looking for a home, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  I picked the title ‘Turning a Rescue into a Rescuer’ because many SAR dogs are shelter dogs, rescued from high kill shelters, often dumped there by people, who were not able to handle such energy. One organization who focuses on training such dogs is the non-profit National Search Dog Foundation. They provide trained K9s to handlers from FEMA teams nationwide since 1995.

Now that we established the type of dog we need for SAR, let’s have a look at the other end of the leash, the handler. SAR training and work is not for the couch potatoes, we all know that. But are you able to climb a ladder with your dog on your shoulders? Work hours after hours in burning heat on a pile of broken concrete slabs or dig through a mountain of wood pallets including rusty nails until you’re on top of it?fridawood Hike for days or run through forests, steep hills or ski through treacherous snow? And if the answer is yes, are you ready to commit almost all your free time to training – you and your dog? Spend money on gas and seminars, books and equipment and not ever expect to be paid back? Are you able to leave work on a moment’s notice to be deployed for an unknown amount of days or weeks?

If you are still interested in joining a SAR group, contact your local Sheriff’s department, a fire department or a SAR organization in your area, such as CARDA. They might invite you to take part in their training for a while before they (and you) commit. Many teams will gladly accept help in form of ‘victims’, who pose for their dogs. There is much to be learned while playing victim! Many groups are also always looking for new training grounds. Some teams may have open trainings and often times will allow the public to watch certifications.

For even more in-depth information, click here for an online class about K9 SAR.

Why it is a good idea to not leave a dog in the backyard

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think, most dogs love the outside – at least mine do, and I love the idea to be able to provide my dogs with some off-leash time outside, where they can run, sniff and (yes, admittedly) dig a hole to their hearts desire. But I don’t leave them outside without supervision, or at the very least, I’m always close, listening and ready to react. Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea to leave your dog outside without watching them.

Scaling the Fence

fridajump3No, of course my dogs would not scale our 6-feet fences. Or would they? Well, they have. Fortunately, they know who feeds them and who has their favorite dog bed. They did not stray far. In fact, one staid on the couch, while the other one barked at our neighbor’s door until he opened, where upon she ran past him to play with her friend, the neighbor’s dog. We have since fortified our fences, fixed the whole and now even feature double fences. Even the most balanced, exercised dogs can decide to make a go for it, when they discover a hole or a rotten piece of wooden fence.

We had a crazy person opening backyard doors in the neighborhood where we lived before. So even if your fences are bomb proof, you never know what’s going to happen. Add the hated neighbor cat down the street, a couple of fast cars and you have the recipe for a disaster.

Unwelcome visitors

I would have never thought it would be possible, but this last weekend made me realize, that I have not seen it all. I do not let our dogs lose in our backyard without being very alert to their behavior. When I heard them bark, the thought crossed my mind, that it was just our neighbor, cutting his tree next to our fence, like he did the days before. But the barks sounded different, so I went and looked. I could not see anything, but there were abnormal noises from the neighbor’s side. I decided to take the dogs inside, when all of a sudden I saw a big brown dog scale our fence, which is in itself 6 feet high and on top of that there is a big bush, which adds about another 4 feet. Well, this dog decided to work his way through the bush. Fortunately, I was able to get the dogs inside just before that visitor hit our backyard ground or it would have meant a bloodbath, as my female dog is quite territorial. Here’s the real kicker though – our neighbor does not have a dog! So I never expected danger in form of a dog from this side. A neighbor four doors (and backyards) down, dogsat for a friend, put the dog in his backyard and drove away. Fortunately, the dog had tags with phone numbers on his collar and I was not afraid of him, so the situation got resolved quickly. But I do not want to even imagine what would have happened, if I had ignored my dogs or – even worse – I would have left them outside and went away.

Now, again, I have double fences on all sides, except towards that neighbor, who does not have a dog!

Danger lurking in the backyard

Have you ever replanted something? Used a new fertilizer? Found a dead animal hidden in the bushes of your backyard? Maybe improved the looks of your garden with some fresh mulch? Found some exotic herbs or flowers? Even though your dog may have never dug a hole, ate a plant or munched on freshly added fertilizer, it may just happen. And it might have a catastrophic outcome. I know of a dog who died after drinking from water which was close to a tree, which, after an abnormal amount of rain, was dripping a lot of sap into that water. That particular tree sap was poisonous and unfortunately killed the dog.

Animals, killed by poison such as rat poison, may smell like a delicious in-between meal for our furry friends, but proof to be deadly. While you control the pesticide in your garden, your neighbor might have a different idea of getting rid of unwanted guests. Rats and/or other animals poisoned by your neighbor might end up on your lawn, being a risk for your dogs.

Poisonous risks aside – there are other dangers in your backyard. Even your dog playing with fallen branches from your trees might cause a hefty vet bill, if said branch ends up stuck in your dog’s throat. Or, if your dog wears a collar, he or she might suffocate while being hung somewhere in a bush. Yes, that is a very pessimistic way to spoil the idyllic  picture of dogs happily playing in your backyard, but it might just happen. By the way, there is an easy fix on the collar thing: the breakaway collar still gives you the safety of being able to have a collar (and tags!) on your dog while preventing suffocation accidents.

And everything else

coyoteOh, yes, if you can think of it, it can happen. A couple of months ago, I was just able to get the dogs inside before a huge swarm of bees occupied our backyard. While some of you say, that swarming bees won’t sting anyone, I was not about to try that out with our old man, who loves to snap at everything tiny that’s flying. And we don’t live out in the boonies! What if your dog turns out to be allergic to a bee sting? If you are not scared by bees, what about rattle snakes? Scorpions? Yes, I was laughing at that one, too, until I found one on a walk one day. We live in Southern California, in the suburbs, not on some sort of farm land. You know the dangers of your area best.

What can you do?

Some dogs prefer the outside. Some people prefer the dogs to be outside. It’s all legitimate, if precautions are being taken and it is clear, that there are risks, that may not necessarily be the same for a dog, who has access to the indoors. If a dog is to stay outside, I prefer a nice, safe kennel. When you build it yourself, make sure, you have a solid foundation, don’t just buy a kennel from Home Depot and put it up. Make sure, that you have an area that provides shade at all times and enough water. If your dog stays outside in all weather and day and night, make sure, you provide shelter for your dog, be that from the heat or the cold. Be certain, that the drinking water does not freeze. Personally, I prefer a kennel to be situated, where neither a neighbor nor someone from the street has access to. Yes, I’m paranoid like that.

If you don’t have space for a kennel, check your fences regularly. Make sure, that they are high enough for your dog not to be able to jump over them. Add a second fence for safety, if you think it’s necessary. Check on your dogs often. Make sure they have ample water and shade or shelter from the cold. Know their bark! Learn to distinguish their ‘it’s the mailman’ bark from the ‘there’s an intruder’ or ‘I’m hurt!’ bark. Act fast, when you think there’s something wrong. Let your vet know that your dog has been outside unsupervised if something happens and also inform him or her of any new additions to your backyard (plants, fertilizer, pest control). Use a breakaway collar for your dogs with tags. Microchip your dogs!

Finally, obedience train your dogs and exercise them daily. Tired dogs are less likely to go hunting for neighbor’s cat. They are also less likely to be anxious and scale the fence to go look for you. Obedient dogs will come when you call them and you are more likely to be able to bring them to safety, if some coyotes are wandering into your backyard.

What To Do About Resource Guarding

A video recently has made the rounds, showing dog trainer celebrity Cesar Millan working with a food guarding Labrador named Holly. We do not know much about Holly’s history, but the it is understood at the beginning of the video, that she has major food aggression issues. In this short film by National Geographic we see him moving into the dog’s space as she is eating out of her food bowl. As he is pushing her away, he explains her body language and just as he reaches to pet her, she turns and bites his hand.

Why Millan was not able to read the dog’s clear body language and endanger him as well as Holly, is one issue and not one we will discuss here. I would like to focus on a resource guarding dog’s behavior and what might be a better solution to tackle the problem.

All mine!

First we need to understand resource guarding, how it looks like and when it can happen. There are many ways and levels resource guarding shows in a dog. It can be directed towards people, dogs or other animals or even things in the environment including changes in their immediate surroundings. Some dogs guard food, some ‘protect’ toys, other dogs or pack members including people, even places like their crates, beds or couches. A dog might guard a specific toy but be completely fine with other toys or show guarding behavior only towards certain people. It is important that we understand the variety of resource guarding. It is equally important to understand, that not always does it mean you will encounter a teeth baring, snarling Cujo cowering over his bone. More often than not, it is a subtle protective move with the head over the item, stiffening the body and carefully eyeing the intruder. Many dogs won’t go beyond that, but make no mistake – this is just as much a guarding behavior as baring teeth, ready to attack. It is a natural behavior, but it can’t be accepted in our society.

There are a myriad of reasons why a dog starts to display signs of resource guarding. Some breeds are more prone to it than others, some dogs have had to fight for their resources growing up, some do not (yet) trust their owners and some just take advantage of their owners’ weaknesses. The last one is popular with people who attribute many dog behaviors to dominance and they will tell you, not to allow your dog to show this behavior and to take charge. Some will make you roll your dog on its back or have you go into some sort of kung fu stance over the item of the dispute and staring down the dog, much like Millan does it in the video. The outcome is rarely a good one. At the very least, you will destroy whatever trust is between you and your dog – and in the worst case, you have created a liability, a dog who has lost any bite inhibition and will start latching onto anything that comes close to it.

While it may help with working on the issue, we may not always have the luxury of knowing our dog’s history and thus the reason for its reaction. So what to do? First and foremost, do not wait until the situation escalates. If you see your dog cowering over a toy, getting stiff when you approach while your dog’s eating or hear your dog growling lowly when you get near its favorite sleeping location, it’s time to work on it.

Looking away and licking the nose – this can be the sign of a stressed dog wanting to calm down the situation

Don’t escalate the moment

If your dog is displaying the above mentioned signs, it is not the right time to take away the item or chase your dog off the couch. It doesn’t mean that you have to let it slide, just re-schedule the training to a time when your dog isn’t about to chomp down on you. Believe it or not, but this isn’t a situation that your dog enjoys. Most likely your dog displays signs of stress between the growling and being stiff. Licking its nose, trying to look away, pretending to sniff the air or even backing off a bit all means, that really, neither one of you want to be in this situation.

Getting your dog away from the item

If your dog guards the couch, try to get it down by offering a yummy treat (often just going into the kitchen and opening the fridge door may be enough). If that doesn’t work, calmly put a leash on your dog and lead him off. It is important, that you keep calm and are not afraid. Once your dog is off the couch, don’t let it get up again. The same works with a food or toy item as well. If you don’t want to get too close to your dog, calmly throw the treats as you walk closer. Don’t walk straight up to your dog, turn your body side ways and do not stare at your dog. It is important that the treats are better than whatever your dog has in its possession. Hot dogs or cheese work usually very well. Don’t corner your dog. Make sure, he can walk away.

Training the resource guarding dog

The most important thing you will need, to work on this issue with your dog, is trust. If your dog fears you or thinks, that you will take away its toy every time you get close, you won’t have much success.

Ideal situation: eating a bone and be completely comfortable and relaxed with someone standing close

So instead of always reaching for the toy when your dog is close to you, just pet your dog and let it have it for a while, even when you play fetch. Work on the threshold, how close you can get while your dog is eating without stressing your dog or making it feel uncomfortable. It may take a couple of days to weeks, depending on the level of the guarding. If you have to, feed your dog from your hand instead of letting it eat from a bowl, at least for a while. When your dog is eating from a bowl, walk by or get closer and either throw a piece of hot dog or, if you can get that close, feed that treat from your hand, so your dog gets used to you being around its food or toy and knows, something good is going to happen. Swap a good toy with a better one or a treat when your dog is playing.Make sure, the situation is calm and relaxed. Take your time. This builds trust and lets you work on the distance, where you can get close to your dog without your dog feeling the need to guard its possession.

Having a place set up for your dog

Your dog needs a safe place – for some dogs it is the crate, some have a blanket or a dog bed, but dedicate a place, where no one bothers your dog. Let this be your dog’s haven where he can go, when he is stressed. Do not let visitors or children bother your dog when he is resting there.

Setting up a plan for the future

Don’t mistake the above training tips for showing weakness. You can’t fight fire with fire in this case. Yelling and poking at your dog in this stressful situation will make everything worse. This is about defusing, de-escalating and creating a more stable relationship where you can build on. Additionally to the above direct measurements about resource guarding, you will need to establish boundaries. This is where your leadership comes in. Work on your dog’s general obedience, be strong, consistent and fair. If you are uncertain or if your dog’s behavior already includes biting, consult with a trainer, who has experience with dogs like that. Be suspicious, if the first thing a trainer does, is slapping a training collar on your dog. Establish realistic goals – if your dog has shown resource guarding behavior for the last seven years, don’t expect it to change within three days. Document any behaviors in order to see the progress.

Resource guarding is an issue of trust, boundaries and patience. It is not about showing who’s stronger or more powerful.

Heat Wave – Protect Your Dog!

Summer has finally taken a hot grip on our days – while this can mean fun in the water, surfing and chilling at the pool, it can also be potentially dangerous for our furry friends. There are the obvious lethal situations, like keeping dogs in hot cars, which by now, we should all know, can be like ovens at a moment’s notice. Only 10 minutes are enough to rise the temperature by about 20 degrees.

Provide places for your dog to cool down in your backyard

But that’s not all: dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and evaporating water. This means that they need water in the first place, and the air has to be dry and circulated enough to be more saturated with evaporated water. So it’s not just the heat, a closed environment like a crate in a car, no windows open and no water available can send a dog in heat distress even though temperatures may not be over 75 degrees. This is also the reason, why it may not be a good idea to hose down your dog before getting in a confined space like a closed car or a crate, as the wet fur acts like a sauna environment and the air around your dog will saturate with moisture almost immediately, rendering your dog unable to decrease its body temperature by panting.

But it’s also the less obvious situation which can be harmful for your dog. When walking your pooch, try to stay on cool surfaces. Hot asphalt can burn your dog’s paws in no time. Playing fetch or work in hot weather can overheat your K9 partner, seniors, puppies or overweight dogs can even show signs of hyperthermia during a walk outside. If your dog has difficulties breathing or is prone to it like some breeds (Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs or Penkingese for example), they may not be able to control their body temperature as well as other dogs.

Take your dog swimming

If you leave your dog in your backyard during the day, make sure, there is ample shade and fresh water. When temperatures reach triple digits, your dog may be safer in an AC cooled down house – or have someone check on your dog when you are away.

Some dogs do better with their fur shaven, however, check with breed experts or your vet, as some dogs need the long fur as a protection from the sun. Some dogs who do not have fur like the Chinese Crested or the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintle) may need additional protection like a light shirt or even sunscreen.

Here are some signs your dog may display when in heat distress:

  • Very heavy panting and visible difficulties breathing
  • Because blood is flowing close to the surface to cool down, the mucous membranes appear very red
  • Possible vomiting
  • Staggering, unsteady walk
  • Anxiety
  • Dry gums and/or excessive salivating
  • Possible bloody diarrhea

When shock sets in, the dog may collapse, seizure and the mucous membranes may turn pale. This is when help may be too late and the dog is about to die. Heat distress is very serious and recognizing the signs may be life saving. Once hyperthermia hits, it may be too late.

Watch your dog for signs of heat distress

If your dog displays signs of heat distress, try to cool her down as fast as possible. Move your dog into a cool environment, use cold water on the stomach, between the legs and extremities such as outside of the ears and top of the head. Do not use ice water. Check the temperature and bring your dog to a vet as fast as possible to make sure, no permanent damage has been caused. Effects from hyperthermia can show days after the incident and can be just as life threatening.

It is important to know your dog’s normal body temperature to be able to determine when it is dangerously elevated. Take your dog’s rectal temperature once a week or more often to get your dog used to it and to find out the average level. When you go for a walk with your pooch, bring water for you and your dog. But most importantly, use common sense. If you are too hot, your dog could be uncomfortable, too.

America’s Rescue Dogs Got Talent!

Search and Rescue dog Frida at a training after finding a live ‘victim’

Watching one of the recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ and seeing the group of rescue dogs performing amazing tricks, reminded me of all the working rescue dogs out there. While we appreciate dogs, who were bred to relentlessly work on finding those roadside explosive devices or flushing out terrorists and criminals, there are more dogs coming out of a rescue situation, proving that they are just as excellent in doing their job. The National Search Dog Foundationis a non-profit organization, founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville, after she worked with her dog at the terrorist-bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City and realized, that there are not enough search and rescue dog teams in the Nation. The organization has volunteers and staff members combing through shelters throughout the country to find canines who fulfill the extraordinary skills it takes for them to become a search dog. They train the dogs, once rescued and now to become rescuers, and their handlers. Some of their dog teams have been at the 9/11 grounds, searched areas after Hurricane Katrina, went to Haiti and Japan, working hour after hour to find any living survivors. However dire the situation, when the search dogs appear, everything just seems a little bit better and a glimpse of hope returns.

Searching for bed bugs

But the Search Dog Foundation is not the only organization who employs former shelter dogs. Many groups turn to shelters in order to find those unadoptable high drive and toy crazy dogs. Often these dogs have been turned in by their owners, because they were not able to handle them, in some cases, they may have turned aggressive over their toys. Sometimes, the dogs would jump the fence over and over again, because they were just too bored. Dogs, who need a job, cannot be tired out by a brisk walk in the morning. They need a lot of mental exercise, high drive play, strenuous physical exercise and obedience training – not necessarily something, a typical pet dog owner knows how to do.

Finding a dog at the shelter and train it for work is as rewarding as winning the lottery for me, but it is also very hard to turn away a dog, who almost has the potential and may be too much for a pet, but is not quite there. For most sad stories, there are successes though. My own personal dog, Frida, who got rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles, is a Search and Rescue dog and I have been fortunate to since find and train dogs for many other jobs, such as cellphone, explosive, narcotics and contraband detection, even e.coli and bed bug detection. With the right dog, any K9 job can be done – there are many talents and hidden treasures in our shelters!

If you are toying with the idea of rescuing a dog, here is a starter on how to find the right companion for you. And how to select a dog from a breeder vs. a rescue. Most shelters and rescue organizations are looking for volunteers to walk or foster their dogs. This may be a good idea to get started and find out more about the responsibility of what it means to own a dog!

Contraband detection K9 during a break

How to Put Together a K9 First Aid Kit

Since I mentioned the K9 First Aid kit in my blog about having an emergency plan for your dog, I have been asked, how to put one together. Putting together your own kit might be cheaper than buying one and you can add to it over time. Here are some important tips and ingredients for your K9 First Aid kit:

1) Only add tools, medications and other things you actually know how to use. While Subcutaneous Fluids look fancy and professional in a kit, it is useless, if you do not know how to actually use it.

Check for mucus membrane color and capillary refill time

2) The best kit will not help you much, if you do not know if your dog is sick or can’t diagnose what is wrong. In order to know that there is something going on with your dog, you need to know your dog. Over a course of a couple of weeks, take your dog’s vital signs every second day: temperature, heartbeat, mucus membrane color and capillary refill time. Check eyes and ears, so that you become familiar with your dog and your dog gets used to a quick health check. Write down the values on a piece of paper. For temperature and heartbeat, repeat the check after exercise and about 10 minutes after exercise to see, how much the levels rise and how fast they go down again. Knowing your dog’s regular body temperature, which can be between 100 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on breed and individual dog, can help you to quickly diagnose hyperthermia (heat distress and heat stroke) – or hypothermia (core body temperature too cold) and treat it fast. This alone can save your dog’s life! Calculate the average levels of your dog’s vital signs and write them on a piece of paper, which you will keep in your kit. It’s easy to have it laminated at a store like Kinko’s.

3) If your dog has certain conditions, like allergies, seizures, etc., make sure, you have a supply of their medication in your kit. Ask your vet to prescribe you an extra amount, so you can store it in the first aid kit.

4) Here are some basic parts of a K9 First Aid kit:

  • Saline – to wash wounds and eyes
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – 0.5 to 2mg per pound, every 8 – 12 hours, relieves allergy symptoms. If your dog suffers severe allergies (e.g. bee sting), this will NOT save your dog, but may give you additional time until you are at an emergency clinic.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – one teaspoon per 10 pounds induces vomiting. Do NOT induce vomiting if your dog is losing consciousness or has ingested anything, that could hurt your dog when coming up (sharp objects, chemicals, etc.). Do NOT use Hydrogen Peroxide for anything else. It has been used for washing wounds in the past, but has now been proven to be ineffective. Instead use an antibacterial spray or cream.
  • Antibacterial wash, spray or cream – do not use a ‘triple antibiotic’ such as Neosporin. Although many dog owners, even veterinaries, recommend it, they can actually be poisonous to dogs. Safe antiseptics to use for dogs are for example Betagen or simply Betadine.
  • Scissors – to cut bandages
  • Bandages (non sticky)
  • Adhesive tape – band-aids won’t stick to the fur
  • Sterile pads and/or Gauze 
  • Alcohol Pads – can help disinfect a small area, but is also poisonous to the dog when ingested.
  • Digital Thermometer – non-digital thermometers contain mercury and can harm you and your dog, if they break. Digital Thermometers are safer and usually faster.
  • Non-latex Gloves
  • Water
  • Tweezers – can be used for ticks or small objects sticking in your dog (e.g. piece of glass in the paws). Do not pull out any bigger objects or objects which are deeply imbedded. Instead secure these objects with gauze or bandages around it and go to the emergency clinic as quickly as possible.
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Chart with your dog’s normal vital signs and levels – temperature, heart rate, mucus membrane color, capillary refill time
  • List with emergency clinic contacts, Poison Center telephone number, regular veterinary contact

5) And here are some items I pack additionally:

  • White, clean towel – if I suspect my dog having a wound, but I can’t find anything, I can wipe him or her down with a white towel, to find any possible bleeding fast.
  • Muzzle – a dog in pain will bite. It does not matter, if it is your own sweet dog or not. Do NOT muzzle your dog if you induced vomiting, if your dog is losing consciousness, if your dog is in heat distress or has difficulties breathing.
  • Collapsible bowl – can be used as a water bowl
  • Additional leash – a leash can be used as a muzzle
  • Wire cutter – if the dog in distress has a choke chain and the head swells (e.g. due to allergies), the only way to get the collar off, might be the wire cutter.
  • Syringe/Pipette – makes it easier for your dog to swallow Hydrogen Peroxide or other medication.
  • Flashlight
  • Treats – to calm your dog
  • Activated Charcoal – can help with a poisoned dog. Always go to the emergency clinic as fast as you can or call the Poison Center if you suspect poisoning.
  • Styptic Powder – can stop bleeding fast. Only used on small wounds.
  • Honey – is an antibacterial substance that can seal a clean small wound and prevent infection.
  • Survival Blanket – can help a cold dog or a dog in shock
  • Instant Cold Wrap – can numb a painful area and cool down a dog. To cool down a dog in heat distress, do not place cold wrap directly on the fur. Use a towel or bandages and apply between the legs, ears or stomach area. Do not restrict the dog’s mouth or nose.

A good K9 First Aid can save your dog’s life

Check your kit regularly and have an inventory list. This helps you in case of emergency to keep track of what you have and where you have it. Check for expiration dates and replace old products. Take a First Aid class and keep current – you can also keep notes on how to perform K9 CPR, etc. in your kit.

Keep a kit in your car, if you frequently travel with your dog and check with your veterinary for more ideas on what items could be life saving. A K9 First Aid kit is just that: First Aid. Always check with your veterinary or when in doubt, go to an emergency clinic right away. Cuts, abrasions and bruises in your dog’s face may need veterinary checks because of their vicinity of the eyes. Dog bites can leave small but very deep wounds and need to be cleaned very thoroughly. Always keep a close eye to wounds and abrasions, if they do not appear to heal, if the area gets more sensitive or seems swollen, go to a veterinary or emergency clinic.

The number of the Animal Poison Control Center is: 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435) – there is usually a fee for the call.

K9 Nose Work (R) – A Fun and Competitive Sport for Everybody!

When I first started K9 Nose Work (R) with my old Shar Pei mix, I did it because I wanted to give my dog an outlet, a job, where we could spend time together aside from the all working dog environment I’m in most of the time. I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised at how this sport was already well defined and professional, while still keeping it fun.

Exterior Search

Simba, my old male dog, does not like close contact with other male dogs and Nose Work was ideal for him. Although he still likes to goof around, he takes his sniffing seriously and soon got the hang of the game. He has surprised me many times, working and finding the target odor and showing it to me, when I thought, he was just playing around. And yes, he even managed to give me condescending look, waiting for his reward, while I was still scrambling to open the pouch with his hot dogs inside.

K9 Nose Work (R) is a nation wide competitive sport for all kind of dogs. No breed is excluded and I’ve seen everything from Havanese  and Bernese Mountain Dogs to Great Danes. And of course the Shepherds and Labradors. There’s always the Shepherds and the Labradors. Goal of the sport is for the dog to ultimately find three odors: Birch, Anise and Clove. The odors are hidden anywhere, really, some of the founders are known to be very tricky with their hides. In a trial, several situations have to be passed, among them an inside room search, an exterior search and a vehicle search. You’ll feel like in a thriller, handling your dog like a pro bomb detection dog handler, even if your dog is a 12 pound Chihuahua! While the training does not compare to real life K9 detection, it focuses on the dog’s natural instinct of hunting behaviors. This is the sport, where we the dog teaches us, instead of the other way around. Maybe that is why it is so perfect for dogs with fear issues. I have seen dogs, too afraid to enter a room, to enthusiastically search that same room 2 weeks later!

This fun and educational sport started about 6 years ago, in 2006 and exploded in popularity almost immediately. There are now classes and competitions all over the Nation as pet dog owners finally have a competitive sport, that does not require a specific breed or an athlete handler. I not only recommend it to all my clients who want to do ‘something’ with their dogs, but also to those, who’s dogs are reactive when seeing other dogs, as there are never two dogs in the same room. I have seen amazing turnarounds in dogs – and in owners! But most of all, it is an exciting team work and something, you can work on at home or even incorporate in your daily walks.

For more information about K9 Nose Work visit or Rock Solid K9’s website.

How to Train Your Dog – a Practical Short Guide

No, this is not going to turn your dog into an elite university graduate over night, but hopefully, it will help you and give you some tools to get started as your own dog’s trainer. Let’s break it down in 5 easy to follow parts:

Rewards can come in different shapes or form. This dog likes toys much better than food.

  • Motivation
  • Training Time
  • Training Plan
  • Corrections
  • Expectations

This is both for you and your dog! You don’t like to work for free, do you? Well, neither does your dog. Find out, what makes your dog tick the most. Yes, we all think, our dogs will do anything for a pat on the shoulders, but I haven’t seen a dog turn down a tasty treat yet. For training, we want small, soft treats, like hot dog or string cheese pieces, that can be chewed fast, so the dog is ready to continue. Size matters! A German Shepherd will probably need a different size treat than a Chihuahua. Training with food reward is a good way to keep training motivational. It does not mean, that you need to keep treats in your pocket for the next 15 years. Yes, your dog should obey your commands, but he needs to learn them first! I love REI’s treat pouches– it makes carrying and dispensing treats so much easier. If your dog turns his nose on what you offer him, you’ll have to try different treats until you find that one that makes him salivate at the pure thought of it. I’ve seen people train with Cheetos or french fries!  You, on the other hand, need to be motivated as well. Don’t get frustrated, if things don’t work out right away. Be patient and have fun with it!

Training Time
Don’t drag the training out – stop while both of you still have fun! Even if it is just 5 minutes, it is valuable. The best thing is to have a couple of short and sweet trainings throughout the day. Don’t start when you just come home from work and you’re still stressed. You should train when your mindset is relaxed and stress free.

Training Plan
Always have a plan before you start your training. Know exactly what you want your dog to do, so you can teach him precisely that. If you have a big trick in mind, start slow and break it into pieces – for example, if you want to teach your dog to go hide in a box, don’t start with the whole thing. Start with rewarding him when he goes close to the box, then put his feet in the box, reward him sitting down and eventually work on him laying in the box. Do every step multiple times until he does it reliably, before you move to the next. Read up on different training methods and styles before you start. And always, always be consistent and patient.


Once your dog knows what you ask of him, we can talk about corrections. Know your dog. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. If you do apply corrections, they need to be fair and the timing has to be great. Use enough to get your dog’s attention but as little as necessary. Inform yourself about different correction methods and be cautious about those which promise instant results. In the end, it is better to use one good correction than 50 weak ones. A correction can be a verbal (e.g. ‘No!’) or a physical (e.g. quick tug on the leash). It can also be withholding the reward. When you train your dog for a behavior that he does not know yet, don’t correct wrong behavior. Instead make the right behavior more interesting. Give your dog a chance to offer the correct behavior. If you do use corrections, make sure that it is balanced with reward – and always, always end on a good note.

Have realistic expectations. If you haven’t worked with your dog in two years, don’t presume that he will start heeling after a short training session. Good things take time and it is important to build a solid foundation. Start at a place where your dog is comfortable, like your home. Don’t take your dog to your friend’s house to show of tricks you’ve never done outside of your home. Once your dog applies your commands correctly, you can start adding distractions by training in your backyard, then in your neighborhood and eventually in a public park. It is not fair to expect your dog to do a roll over in a dog park, if you have not extensively trained it with many distractions around before. Set up training goals and don’t do too much at a time.

Keeping the fun working with your dog is the most important thing!