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!


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.

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!