Workshop days

Quin and I sat down together and worked through how I need to time my workshops to do everything I want to do, and also make sure that everyone gets some downtime in the middle of the day to recharge.

I’m planning on booking it for April 22 or 29 (both Saturdays), ideally at the Grande Plaza in Palo Alto, although they don’t know that, yet!

We’ll start at 10 with some immediate training, but the part I’m most excited about is breaking into small groups to figure out what our neighbor’s dog is telling us. (Translating for someone else’s dog is easier than translating for your own; it removes your biases and knowledge of the dog’s history. Ex: someone with a dog they believe to be anxious in group settings will see that, often regardless of what the dog is actually saying.)

I wish I knew a little more about video editing to make little video blips, so people could get a preview of what we’ll be learning. I think others would get excited for it, too.

But I can start with something lower tech!

Know what this dog is saying? I do. It’s right there in her body language! (Or you can read it in the caption below.)

Her ears and face look fairly relaxed, which tells me her brain is probably working well. But the rest of her body screams “uncomfortable and prepared to move.” Her tail is tucked under her body, so she’s saying “I don’t want to engage with anyone around me.” Her legs are in alignment and centered with her body, not stretched out. She can most easily stand from her position, and be running before someone gets her. She’s also chosen to lay along the curb and with the bushes at her back while she keeps her eyes on the people around her, implying that’s the most defensible space. What’s she saying? “I don’t think I’m under immediate threat, but I’m prepared to bolt at any moment. I feel safer with the bushes, and need to keep my eye on what’s going on elsewhere. I’m not stressed, I’m thinking clearly, but I’m uncomfortable with what’s happening, so I’m looking for trouble and I’m ready to leave the second anything goes sideways.”

Here’s why I’m so excited: if I, as an owner, can see that about my dog, then I know that I shouldn’t drag them over to go see those people my dog is cautious of, because that would probably scare her and break her trust in me. If I’m throwing a party I know that I might need to keep her with me or put her away so no one scares her on accident, creating a traumatizing situation that, later, might build into her snapping. I know that when I have some time, I should work with her around people to bolster her confidence, making the caution go away before it ever becomes a problem. I know that she might bolt, so I shouldn’t drop her leash assuming she’s being good and holding a down-stay. (She’s not; she’s just being still to watch what’s happening.)

I know that if there are people around who might run over to give her a hug, I should guard against that strongly, because she’s not calm; she’s unsure and cautious, and something that much like an attack (dogs don’t hug each other) might cause a bite.

Look at how many things I know, that she’s telling me, if I just know how to translate her language!

Oh, man. I’m so excited. 😀 😀


Upcoming: Workshops

Hi, all!

I’ve spent a year now working on my mental stuff (still, and always, a work in progress) and figuring out what I enjoy that doesn’t also burn me out and/or create massive anxiety.

You know what I miss? Teaching dog language. Relationships require good communication. Our dogs are trying. Very few dogs hide how they’re feeling or what their intentions are, but virtually no humans learn even the basics of their language to understand.

We expect them to learn human languages. (Sit. Stay. Come. Don’t eat that. You’re getting on my last nerve. Good dog.) We’re not doing our part.

It breaks my heart to see a dog who is so obviously trying to communicate with their owner, and the owner is oblivious.

The thing is, it’s not the owner’s fault, either. It’s hard to find videos or books or anything on how to understand dog language. I know of only two dog trainers who teach it, and I taught both of them.

People used to call and say, “How do I get my dog to stop barking?”

I’d answer, “Why are they barking?”

This would usually get an, “I don’t know,” in a baffled tone, as if the question had never even occurred to them, or they’re not sure why I’m even asking.

Here’s the thing: if the dog is barking because they’re anxious and afraid, there’s a way to deal with it, and another way to cause worse emotional trauma. If the dog is barking because they’re bored, there’s a way to deal with it, and a way that will make it worse. Naturally, the thing that will improve one will worsen the other, and vice versa. This is why you get a lot of “maintenance” training. Rather than teaching the dog not to bark, someone tells you to close your blinds, because no dog trainer wants to make it worse.

What’s the solution? Listening to your dog. Not listening to them bark (although you’re probably doing that, too), but “listening” to their language, which is primarily expressed through the physical positions they take on. The cant of an ear, the tip of an eye, the height of their tail in relation to their spine, when and how they use their tongue; these are their words. Combine two things, and this is their sentence structure. They are always talking.

The key to good relationships, any professional will tell you, is clear communication. Do you want a relationship with your dog? Do you want them to trust you? Do you want to know if there might be a problem long before it starts? Do you want your puppy to grow into sweet and confident, knowing that when they talk to you, you’ll listen?

This is my passion. This is what I want to teach.

Sometime spring 2023 I’ll be running a language workshop. It’ll be the first of hopefully more, with the idea of a weekend retreat if it works out.

How much stronger would our bond with our fur kids, our best friends, and our biggest supporters be if we just listened? If we tuned into them just a fraction of the time? How many problems could we resolve if we knew what they were saying? How much trust and love and joy could we bring?

I’m going to come back to this in late January. Stay tuned.


Body language: puppies, social skills, patience, correcting and rewarding.

I talk (or used to) a lot about how dogs are super tolerant of puppies, and also how we need to teach puppies social skills, AND ALSO how after correcting we need to reward. Well, I saw this reel and it’s a perfect example.

…now we get to see if I can put it in here somehow…

I’m going to refer to these two as Papa and Puppy, though I doubt they’re related.

This is the link in case I fail:

Yeah, okay, I’ve spent 30 minutes trying to figure it out to no avail. Well, there’s the link.

So there’s Papa dog, holding a bone, probably recently chewing on it. But he’s watching, unhappily, as Puppy chews on it. Papa is baring his teeth silently. (Or at least, I can’t hear a growl on the video.)

This is teaching social skills. Papa dog is telling the puppy he doesn’t like what the puppy is doing, but he’s not correcting. If he were to correct, it would be like correcting an eight month old baby for grabbing your hair. They don’t have the brain development yet to understand that.

So what does this very appropriate Papa dog do? He continues communicating, holding uncomfortable eye contact, until the puppy finally gets uncomfortable enough to step back and look up, for direction or reassurance. At that point, Papa dog stops baring his teeth, and just a second later leans forward to sniff puppy and give him a little lick: forgiveness and reassurance, rewards for making the right choice even if the choice wasn’t yet intentional.

This is what we want to emulate when we humans are teaching puppies. Disapproval without correction at the wrong thing, maybe some persistent, slightly uncomfortable behavior, instant forgiveness and reward through touch when they check in, stop the behavior, or attempt to make the right choice.

Some dogs are natural parents, like Papa dog, here. But most, not having been raised by wild dogs (or even their own doggie parents) don’t know how to deal with a puppy. This is where we step in. Remember Papa dog, behave the same way when your puppy is driving you crazy, and watch out for your dogs when they’re being driven crazy and don’t know how to deal with it. Think of your own dog like a teenage mother. They need the same guidance, help, and protection that she would!


How to find a dog trainer

I haven’t forgotten you! I even have some blog posts I want to put up. But since December I have sold my house, moved, gotten married, had a family crisis, wrote two novels, celebrated high school graduation with my step kids, edited and prepared two anthologies for publication, had a shoulder injury… And some other things I’m forgetting.

But never mind all that! I frequently get the question on how to find a dog trainer. So this is my answer, keeping in mind I’m assuming that people who ask me how to find a dog trainer want a dog trainer that’s like me.

The best way to find a dog trainer is to go to privately owned vets and pet stores and ask them who they recommend. Don’t go to anything that’s in a chain, and don’t just pick a card off the wall. When you ask them who they recommend, they are staking their reputation on knowing what they are doing!

You can also call local trainers and ask them what methods they use. “Science-based,” “rewards-based,” and of course “positive reinforcement,” are all going to be positive reinforcement trainers. Positive reinforcement takes a hell of a long time to work, but it doesn’t cause any issues if it doesn’t work. (And it DOES work.)

If a trainer uses the words alpha, dominant, disrespect, balanced, and (often but not always) pack leader, then they are probably using the misguided alpha dog theories. This isn’t bad, it does work even if they misunderstand why it works, but they’re also more likely to be highly corrective and sometimes overkill corrective, as well as having random rules that complicate life but don’t actually do anything. These people almost always get results, but can also cause issues.

If you can find someone using the words dog cognition, communication, holistic, and (just to confuse matters) sometimes balanced, they are probably going to be more like me, interpreting dog body language to get to the bottom of things, and giving you solutions that have a little praise and a little correction.

All that said, if you get a good feeling from someone off their card or website, call them.

The questions I ask are:

What is your success rate? (Predicts their confidence and experience. If they declare “100%!” they probably don’t have a ton of experience. If they waffle, they probably don’t have a great success rate.)

What do you do if a dog does something naughty?

What do you do if a dog does something good? (These questions together give you an idea if somebody is into either positive reinforcement only – they wouldn’t have a consequence – or asversive training – they have no reward, and might have a too adverse consequence.)

How do you feel about electronic colors? (Prepare yourself. People tend to have very strong reactions one way or the other! It doesn’t matter if the person agrees with these collars or not, but it’s a good question to see how dramatic they’re going to be if they feel you’ve done something wrong, or if they want to do everything by electronic collar. Avoid either of those.)

How would you stop dangerous behavior, such as jumping on people, chewing cords, or leash aggression? (The answer should never involve pinning a dog down or “alpha rolling” them. You’re using this question to rule out anybody extreme.)

How would you work with a dog who, for instance, barks at the door? (This will give you a very clear idea of their baseline methodology.)

I would look for someone who is confident, has some kind of fairly mild consequence, and some kind of reward.

Yelp is also an excellent resource. I go to the negative reviews and see if there’s a pattern. If they each pick on one different thing, then those are probably people who’ve had bad experiences or the trainer had an off day. But if they all agree on one thing, then I can decide it that thing bothers me.

You can also add questions like, “what do people dislike about you?“ Or, “what do people like about you?“ Think of it like a job interview, only one that involves the safety and welfare of a beloved family member.

And if ever, at any point, something makes you uncomfortable or you’re not sure about it, stop and ask questions. Anyone who acts like you’re being a nuisance is not someone you should be working with, anyway. A trainer should be happy to stop and explain and adjust things if you aren’t comfortable with them.

And good luck! You can do it!


The Importance of Mental and Physical Well Being

(Or, why I’m retiring!)

Seven (eight?) years ago I bought a house. It was pretty awesome. It was also a lot more responsibility than renting. Around the same time I injured my back, stopped writing (because I was suddenly too busy) (oh yeah, I’m a novelist), and became so scatterbrained that I couldn’t keep anything straight or get anything done.

The back: a year after it ruptured the first time, we finally stopped trying to fix it with medications and physical therapy and I had surgery to clean out the detritus that, we thought, was impacting my spinal cord. This began an entire year of PT where I had to re-learn everything.

The writing: this just kept sliding.

The scatterbrained: turned out I have ADHD (which probably exacerbated the clinical depression and anxiety I’ve had since childhood). ADHD is poorly named, and has a WIDE variety of symptoms. One of the weird things about it is that you might be coping okay at your current level of busy-ness, but add something else (like oh, say, buying a house) and all your coping mechanisms fall apart. Not just about the house, either: all of them. Like you’ve been juggling all those balls, but add one too many and the rest get dropped in the chaos. So, that happened.

Therapy. Medications. Hiring things done wherever possible. I got 80% of functionality back, and that other 20% was easy enough to ignore. If I just tried a little harder, found a slightlybetter way to schedule, was a bit better at leaving places on time… yeah. That would work.

And it did for a few years. But every year my functionality slipped a little more.

5 years ago I started having panic attacks at random. (Note: anxiety attacks are where you think anxiety-provoking thoughts, and it triggers an anxiety attack. Panic attacks are when you’re walking along going tra la la la and suddenly you’re having a panic attack. Both are incredibly horrible.) My therapist and doctors suggested a service dog, and my older training dogs were getting older. So I adopted a dog, trained him to be a service dog, trained him to be a working dog (he’s a better service dog), and went back at 60% functionality, never realizing I’d dropped that much.

By 4 years ago I had so much anxiety so much of the time that I could no longer recognize how it felt NOT to have it. It was my new normal, and so I didn’t realize how bad it was. (It was bad. It was bad enough that I frequently didn’t have time to shower. Who doesn’t have time to shower except once a week, if lucky?)

I started hiring help and training other people. (Okay, more other people.) The whole training-people thing was only sort of working out; most of them decided it was too hard and dropped out, back to “normal” jobs. I thought they were crazy. Turns out I was driving myself crazy, and outside people could recognize that and didn’t really want to follow in my footsteps.

3 years ago I started having heart palpitations. The cardiologist said they weren’t dangerous, just annoying. They started out as happening once every few months.

Then once a month.

Then a couple, maybe a few, times a month.

The more stress a person is under, the more any mental problems flare up. Same with back problems. I hired a personal trainer to help me keep up on my physical therapy, because I was in pain all the time again. I increased my meds and added two more to help me sleep. I started crying a lot. I still thought this was normal, that if I just tried harder I could do this. I wasn’t even working as many hours as “normal” people do, I’d think. I shouldn’t be falling apart! (I was working 10-11 hours three days a week with no breaks doing private training, attempting — mostly failing — to write 4 hours a week, spending easily 10-14 hours a week dreading answering emails, texts, and phone calls, spending 16 hours a week actually answering emails, texts, and phone calls, trying to shoehorn in updating my website, facebook, and blog, and when I boarded I worked 7 days a week for 2-4 weeks at a time from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep. Plus making time for my relationship with Quin, trying to see my horse, and taking care of house cleaning, yard maintenance, laundry, and the usual stuff. Patience and Laurie kept me breathing during this time.)

And I was doing it with ADHD, generalized anxiety, clinicial depression, heart palpitations, and panic attacks. Yeah, looking back, I shoudl have realized things weren’t right. But it was the frog in water effect: it had gained so slowly, I hadn’t noticed how bad it had gotten.

I spoke with my therapist and Quin (also instrumental in helping me try to balance my life) and we made all sorts of changes. I didn’t know it then, but I was already sliding too fast down the other side of the mountain.

2 years ago COVID hit, and we went into quaranetine. For about 2 months I was at home. It was long enough for me to decompress, catch my breath, and actually become interested in writing again. (Writing has been my lifelong dream. I wrote my first novel at 16, even if it was terrible, published my first short story in college, my first novella at 15-ish years ago, my first novel right after that, and continued on until… I bought the house and everything started falling to bits.)

At home with COVID rampaging, I was happy. I pitched a tent in my house and slept in it. I played with the dogs for the first time in a LONG time. Even worrying about money couldn’t bring me down.

Then everyone went and got dogs, and needed help, and I started saying yes. I quickly ended up on the phone with my therapist, having had a break from my anxiety and realizing how bad things had gotten. I was in tears because I couldn’t have that happen again.

Over the summer before last, I was off and on a wreck and okay. I got some really interesting cases. I tried to figure out how to do more teaching and less one on ones. I talked to vets and taught them some animal handling skills. Good things happened.

And bad things happened. My panic attacks and heart palpitations, noticeable by their absence, made a hearty come back. My emotional crashes grew more frequent and worse; sobbing on the couch for days at a time, because I felt so overwhelmed. Cash passed away.

Just when my therapist and I thought maaaaaybe we had a plan that would get me through another few years (maybe), my back went out again. Not as bad as the first time; I knew this feeling, and worked faster to get help, so I spent less time crawling, less time on a cane, and started healing quicker. Even with all that, when we looked at my spine we found three bulging and squished discs, four ruptures within those discs, one vertebrae that was unstable (it did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted), facet arthropathy in twelve of my facet joints (arthropathy is like severe arthritis, and your facet joints are the flanges on the vertebra; they join with the ones above and below, making… uh… joints) and various other, smaller problems. I started PT again. My parents came to stay with me, because I couldn’t do things like pick up the dog bowls to feed the dogs. Over months my back improved by tiny increments. Driving was the worst; driving to San Jose and back was impossible.

Answering work emails, texts, and phone calls, and having zoom sessions, triggered heart palpitations that made me sick all day or panic attacks that did the same. My hormones went crazy, so PMS might only last a few hours here and there, but it was so severe I was afraid I’d hurt myself.

I was suicidal as a teenager, had a plan and everything, but for the first time in my life I purposefully hurt myself because it was the only way to make the pain inside stop. I used my fingernails and sliced my fore arm in a couple of rows, knowing it would just look like I’d been scratched by a dog. I didn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed and horrified.

I got PRP injections and, like a miracle, they worked. My back got better. I started going back to work. My mental health worsened. Lily died.

I hurt myself again, because the feeling of being overwhelmed, hopeless, and — “unhappy” is such a menial word for such a huge feeling. It was like I was being swallowed by all the dark things, and I didn’t know how to reach out, but if I hurt myself it all cleared for a moment. It terrified me.

I talked to my therapist. (Not about hurting myself.) We figured out how I could work less, build a curriculum to train dog trainers, and that helped. I talked to my psychiatrist. He adjusted my meds, and that helped.

I went back to work, and almost immediately my back and head got worse again. I was having heart palpitations every day. My ADHD was out of control: my impulse control was non-existent, I would forget what I was doing between seeing that the coffee was done and turning to get a mug, I lost my temper over and over, my emotions were these big, scary things. I once went into an hour-long rage — thankfully just around my house — screaming and sobbing and hysterical because a client emailed to ask me for the name of the treats I’d used. It took me hours to do a load of laundry because I couldn’t focus on what I was doing, and my working memory was nonexistent. I still hyper-focused on dogs, and I could put on a mask and fake that I was okay with clients, but more and more I had to cancel appointments because of heart palpitations, panic attacks, or back pain. I didn’t realize I should have been canceling appointments for other reasons, too.

I got new meds for my heart. I’d never needed regular meds for my heart.

A new chiropractor moved my vertebra just wrong — it was the unstable one, and he didn’t even crack it, just thumped it — and it ruptured again.

Good things happened, too. We visited Quin’s uncle for a couple of weeks. Quin and I went to Oregon for a friend’s wedding, and I saw several friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I adopted a dog for my little sister and her family (by request) and I’m in love and excited. Quin and I decided to get married (April 2nd, 2022!).

But I was in the fetal position on the couch, and I’d been crying for hours and I didn’t know why (how did I not know why? Things were so bad, and honestly I’m only realizing it now, writing this all out) when I thought, Maybe if I use a knife this time…

I had the presence of mind to decide that, if I stood up to do that, I’d call 911 and have myself committed. I still hadn’t told anyone that I’d hurt myself. Just nails on my forearm. Barely any blood. (Two of them scarred, but I scar easy.) It just didn’t seem that important.

On the phone with Quin that evening, I told him I was scared. It took a while to tell him I was afraid OF myself, and even longer to admit that I’d wanted to hurt myself. He came by my house and gently convinced me to go back to his place with him. He watched me for two days while I laid on the couch and cried.

On the third day I was exhausted, but not depressed or hopeless.

On the fourth day I realized something drastic had to change, and that my options were continue as I had been and eventually commit myself, or stop everything and make an about face. I had the energy to make some rough calculations, and realized that if I sold my house, I could take the next several years off. I could write full time and, if my and my editor’s plan works, come close to paying my bills in 3 years by writing novels. I’ve already planned out part time jobs I could do to make the money stretch, if I need to. None of them have anything to do with dog training.

I’ll be 41 in January. Everyone is asking me what I’ll do once I retire. I’ll write. I’m hoping that, after a couple of months break, I’ll be able to come back and update the blog with dog stuff. There’s a ton of emails and videos I kept meaning to turn into training posts, and just never got around to.

Also, I might not.

Maybe I’ll write a training book.

Also, I might not.

I’m going to write a lot of fantasy books. I’m going to sleep weird hours. I’m going to sit in the sun. I’m going to train Doc for mobility tasks. I’m going to scrimp and save to go see a horsewoman in SF who might be able to get me riding again, very slowly, without it damaging my back. I’m going to braid my horse’s mane and tail in intricate braids. I’m going to watch Doc run at the dog park. I’m going to write down every story idea that flits through my head. I’m going to laugh. I’m going to stop putting on the mask.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my clients. I love dogs. I love training. When I’m in the moment, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. But it’s killing me, and despite shifts in how I work and boundaries and what, exactly, I’m doing, it’s still killing me. I have the best clients, and I enjoy my time with them, and it’s killing me.

If you have a mental disorder, disability, or if anything I’ve written seems familiar, go find an outside source. Give them an honest breakdown of what’s going on. Ask if what you’re dealing with is normal. If the answer is, “No,” or “maybe, but…” then GET HELP. If it’s bringing you distress, GET HELP. If you think it’s just circumstantial, it’s probably not, GET HELP.

My ADHD is raging lately, and with it comes insomnia, anxiety, and depression. There’s a YouTube channel called “How To ADHD.” It’s light hearted and funny and definitely my brain, and if you’re wondering if it’s yours, or you don’t understand why ADHD affects people so much, or you just want a laugh, I suggest you check it out. (I’ll link a video below.)

I’m not going to edit this post. Trust me that however dramatic it seems, it was probably worse. I hope I’ll be around on here and my doggie facebook in March, but not before then. I have the best clients, and I want to thank everyone for being so understanding and patient with me lately. Now, hopefully, you understand this decision, too.

If you’re interested in my writing life, you can check that out at JBMcDonald Scribbles Here. It’s definitely different than this blog, and I’m currently writing gay romance, so know before you go. 😉

I’m going to be great. Thursday, Dec 23rd is my last day of work. I might fiddle on the blog or Facebook, but I won’t return to dog training. Thanks, all; see you on the flip side.


By the time I finished writing the last few paragraphs, I’d forgotten about the videos. Hello, ADHD. XD

This is something I’m very much struggling with right now.

Basically, I recommend the whole channel. But let me throw a few more up here…

So basically I have all the symptoms, they’re all raging all the time, but lessening my stress (by retiring and by selling my house – that’s a big load of stress off) and I’ll stop linking videos now.


FAQ: How do I stop off-leash dogs from approaching?

Answer: You can’t! But there are other things you can do.

Recently a client of many years ago reached out with just this question, and I wrote her a long email about ways to address it. (Clients ask this question on a regular basis, but this is the first time I’ve written down the response.) I’m going to go ahead and paste my response here! You can all see what a terrible person I am when I’m in A Mood. 😉 Ugh, off leash dogs that don’t listen. If I had emojis on my computer, I would add a lot of unimpressed-looking ones. XD There are some hilarious memes and posters about just this problem!

So, first, we do the difficult thing: teach our dogs to ignore other dogs running around off leash. I can’t remember what form of reward/correction we used on Mochi, but I know Taiwan dogs are often fearful, so I doubt it was much! The thing to remember is to practice with all dogs, so that when it’s an off-leash dog, Mochi and Kermit will have a set of known behaviors to fall back on. I would start positive; when there’s another dog and they start to look at it, call their names and reward with treats. Let them look back at the dog, but immediately call their names and reward again. Repeat until they’re looking at you rather than the other dog. Practice on every dog you see, whether or not they’re off leash, so it becomes easy for the pups to ignore other dogs. Eventually, just give them a treat once you’ve passed the dog, then just say, “Good dogs,” when you get past. I STILL praise my dogs when they walk past a barking or off-leash dog. It’s hard not to react when someone is talking to you!

If they’d rather look at the other dog than get a treat but they’re walking beside you, take a sideways step and bump them. It’s a little bit “Oops, I stepped into your space, better check in” and a little bit of a body block (which would be a faster bump). If either flinches or looks stressed, try tapping them gently on the top of their head. Like, “Hello? Anyone there?” When they tune back in, reward with praise/pets/treats, whichever they’ll take.

If they’re walking ahead of you, reach forward to give the leashes as much slack as possible, then jump two steps backward. The goal is for the dogs to pivot quickly to face you. It’s a surprise tactic, so it needs to be quick! (Plus, if you do it slowly it gives them time to brace, and then they drag their feet across the ground. Ouch! Quick is actually safer.) When they’re facing you, praise and reward, shorten your leashes, and head past the dog prepared with treats.

Dogs communicate visually, with their bodies. Just by having your dogs look away, you’re halting the conversation. 80-90% of off-leash dogs won’t approach closely if the other dog is ignoring them. (They might come within ten feet. If it comes closer for a treat, toss a few toward it and keep going.) 

While you’re doing all this, be aware of where your gaze is settling. If you’re watching the dog to see if it’s coming over (which, of course, we all do), you’ve just about guaranteed that it’s going to come over. As soon as you see an off-leash dog, glue your eyes on your dogs. Not only will looking at another dog attract that dog, but if your dogs are tuned into you they’ll see where you’re looking, smell your stress (easily!), and think, “Ah! She’s stressed about that dog! We’d better be stressed, too!” We can’t control our scent, but you can control where your eyes are looking. Look at your dogs! Seek out their gaze, too. Then they’ll think, “We know you’re stressed, but… about us? Why? How can we help make it better?”

Now, of course, some dogs are still going to come running over. (Especially the ones with the idiot owners.) When I’m approached by off-leash dogs, I check what my dogs are saying. If their tails are up and wagging in a relaxed, floppy manner, then I know I can let out a lot of leash (the goal being for my dog to feel like he’s off-leash, so he doesn’t get stressed at being restrained when meeting another dog) and let them say hi. I rarely want my dogs to say hi on walks, but sometimes that’s just easier. Then I can scold the owner at length, if I’m in the mood. 😉

If my dog’s tail isn’t wagging or it’s low, or if it’s pinched against their butt while wagging at the bottom (anxiety), then I know my dog doesn’t want to say hi (even if he’s going over there; he might feel he HAS TO say hi to keep from being attacked). In that case, I’m going to bodily haul my dogs behind me and shorten up their leashes to keep them there, and I’m going to step between my dog and the approaching dog. Then you can do things the nice way, or the frustrated way.

The nice way: continue blocking the dogs. If possible, free one hand to pet the other dog. This helps distract it from your dogs, shows your dogs that it’s safe, and gives you the ability to subtly grab its collar and/or push it away. Do this enough, and the dog will retreat… eventually.

The frustrated way: pull yourself up tall and big, even puffing out your chest and spreading your arms, and — your dogs still behind you — charge several steps toward the approaching dog, bellowing something. Anything will do — you could recite the ABCs — but I usually say something like, “No! Go home!” Most dogs, even aggressive dogs, will slam on the brakes. Occasionally one will still approach slowly and I have to do it the nice way, but usually they decide I’m crazy and they either watch from a distance or go back where they came from. This has the added benefit of getting the owner’s attention. Granted, while they collect their dog they’ll probably say something like, “Don’t yell at my dog! He’s just being a dog! He’s friendly!” but if you’re a really Good Person you’ll ignore it and move on. (Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.)

In California all dogs have to be on leash unless they’re in a specified off-leash area. I’ve been known to point this out, repeatedly and obnoxiously, if I’m in A Mood. It goes something like,

Me: It’s illegal for your dog to be off leash. Leash him.

Them: He was just in my front yard! It’s my yard!

Me: It’s illegal for your dog to be off leash. Leash him.

Them: Oh, please, it’s not like it’s a big deal if he comes onto the sidewalk to say hi!

Me: It’s illegal for your dog to be off leash. Leash him.

Them: You’re such a bitch! Leash laws are for aggressive dogs, and he’s not aggressive!

Me: It’s illegal for your dog to be off leash. Leash him.

Them: My dog has to learn manners from your dogs!

Me: It’s illegal for your dog to be off leash. Leash him.

You get the idea. 😉 It has the added benefit of really pissing off the other person, because there’s nothing for them to argue with. But, y’know, that’s just when I’m in A Mood. ;-D

Okay, FINALLY, I’ve spoken to some dog walkers who hit similar problems. Their advice has been:

Throw a handful of treats toward the dog to distract it while you leave.

Carry a small “Pet Corrector” canister (the small ones fit in your pocket). When a dog approaches, grab it and let ‘er rip toward the approaching dog. This will also stop your dogs from lunging, but it might be loud enough to scare them into dragging you off into a ditch. We don’t want to traumatize your dogs! (Pet Correctors are just compressed air, so you won’t hurt the dogs.)

Thinking about that, you could also carry a small bottle with pennies or rocks. I’ve been using the small prescription bottles, labels removed, because they fit in my pocket. You could grab that and throw it toward the dog’s front feet. The sudden noise right in front of them will make them startle hard and pause. You can then either retrieve the bottle and continue, leave and come back for your bottle later (to be earth friendly), tie your dogs to something and go get your bottle AND the other dog and walk the other dog home, or… No, that’s all I can think of. 😉

Usually if I’m throwing a bottle of pennies for a reason like that, I throw it hard enough that bits of it break off. Don’t aim at the dog; we’re not trying to hurt him. But aim in front of his feet, so it startles him into a stop. Hopefully it’ll be far enough away from your dogs to keep from freaking them out, too.

Phew. I think that’s all the advice I have in me!


Awww, what a baby I am here!

Working with Possessiveness: 1

Damn, I was doing so good with posting every other week or so! …I think. Well, at least it hasn’t been a year!

One of my clients from ye olden times reached out to me with a problem. Their 7 month old Cairn Terrier is getting extremely possessive of food, including chasing one of the older dogs away from their bowl (they already feed the puppy, Max, out of a slow bowl) and growling and lunging at his humans when he puked and they were trying to clean it up.

Since I’m about to have experimental (sort of) spine injections and I’ll be out of it for 2-3 weeks (so sayeth my doctor…eth) (no, I don’t know why I’m writing like this, either), I can’t go see her soon, but I didn’t want to leave her hanging, either.

So! I wrote her instructions on how to begin solving it. And now I pass them on to my blog. Ta da!

My response:

First, increase how much you’re feeding him. At 6-8 months old dogs often eat more than they will eat as an adult. A dog that’s underfed can often become possessive, so let’s make sure that’s not an issue. (Don’t worry if he gets chubby; he’s still growing! Worst case scenario, we can slim him down later, when the problem is resolved.)

Second, when you go to feed him, hold his bowl while he eats, or if he’s eating kibble you can even hand-feed him all or part of it. It’ll stop the possessiveness around his bowl with people in its tracks!

Third, start feeding him on leash. You can hook him to a chair or whatever is handy (probably easiest) or just hang onto him (probably not easiest). When he finishes his food, distract him from even looking at the other dogs’ food. This will probably require treats, but I’m guessing that Bobbie, at least, will keep eating rather than try to come over and get barked/growled/snapped at. The leash will ensure he doesn’t go terrorize Bobbie, and give you a chance to get his attention. If he does start trying to get to the other dogs’ food and is pulling/barking/straining at the least, I’d grab a squirt bottle and, quietly and without any “that’s naughty” noises, give him a surprising squirt to the back of his head. If/when he looks around to see what that was, act innocent and offer a treat! (We’re doing this quietly so as not to alarm the other dogs. They’re already tense about eating, with him acting like a goober.)

Fourth (this is a many-pronged offensive!), start practicing trading him whatever he has for a treat. Start with things you KNOW he won’t be possessive over. If Bobbie and Buster want to get involved, ask them to sit, lay down, shake, etc. when it’s their turn. As Max gets better at trading item for treat, start doing it with things he likes better, until eventually you’ve worked your way up to delicious vomit. (Ew. LOL!)

Fifth, practice being nearby when he has something he might get possessive over. Don’t look at him or talk to him, just hang out nearby as if you wanted to stand there and check your text messages, and you’re not even aware he’s there. The goal is to be far enough away that he’s not growling or tense, and the whites of his eyes aren’t showing. If any of those things are happening, casually take small steps away until they stop.

Fifth and a half, when you’re near him and he has something he’s possessive over, toss him treats. You can either look at him and be like, “Hey, Max, have a treat!” and toss it, or just toss it as if it’s pocket lint. Do whichever keeps him calmer. As he realizes you’re going to come over and toss treats, he’ll start releasing the Thing He Loves and even trotting up to get the treat faster. Yes, he might then dash back to the Thing He Loves, but it’s a huge improvement that will lead to more, easier improvement later!

Ideally, you’ll do these steps and the problem will vanish. More realistically, you’ll do these things and parts of the problem will vanish while others improve and some might not get any better. (Usually, if there’s no improvement, it means you’re doing too much, too soon.) Do these things for a couple of weeks, and then let’s see where you’re at! Hopefully I’ll have a clear enough brain to respond. If I don’t, keep doing these things, and when I come off the heavy pain meds I’ll respond!

And ye, my readers, that was my advice-eth. If I write more instructions in two weeks, I’ll post those here! If I don’t, I’ll write up a next step for those wondering and post it here, anyway. 😉

You can also hit up my YouTube channel. As I board and train I take videos and post them. They’re real-life-dog-trainer videos (which means you’ll often see me with bedhead in my PJs, because dogs never choose convenient times to misbehave) with absolutely no editing or special effects. I’m pretty sure I have some videos on possessive behavior. If not, someone should tell me and I’ll try to make them! 😉


Fireworks (and other things that go boom)

Happy 4th of July! The parades, the festivals, the pretty lights in the sky, otherwise known as OMG monsters and the world is exploding we must escape right now!! booms, in dog language. It’s it great?

July 5th is Dogcatcher Day. Or, in other states Don’t Run Over The Loose Dog day. Or, in still other states, OMG My Dog Went Through The Wrought Iron Fence And Escaped day. I n order to be sure your dog isn’t one of these loose felons, it’s important to handle the 4th of July correctly. So without further ado…

Ha! Gotcha! There’s always more ado. If you are one of those people who declares, “You should desensitize your dog to fireworks!” I would like to bow down to you. While I’m down there, I’m going to tie your shoelaces in a knot, so that the next time you step forth to proclaim inanity you fall on your sanctimonious face. Too harsh? Probably. You probably don’t know that a surprising number of dogs have PTSD, and may or may not ever be desensitized. Other people work, a LOT, or have children, or both, or are a single parent or dealing with their own mental or physical issues, and don’t have the extra time to put into desensitizing their dog. (Desensitize, take them for a walk, or get groceries? Hmmm…) As someone with mental issues and what would, to others, to seem extra time, I’m just going to take a moment to say that there are a lot of “easy” things I can’t do.

If you are an owner who CAN desensitize your dog, but didn’t realize that was possible until too late (or just now), then for next year, go forth and begin desensitization! Yay! NOW without further ado…

If Your Dog (or Puppy) is Noise Sensitive

This dog is showing all three major stress signals: his ears are pinched hard against his head, the whites of his eyes are showing, and his lips are pulled so far back I can see the skin at the edges/his back molars. If your dog looks like this at booms, read this!

I don’t know about where you live, but where I live people start shooting off fireworks as early as, oh, Februrary 15th. No, I kid (I don’t), they really start (in earnest) a few days before the 4th of July. If that’s the case, keep an eye on your dog (or puppy, let’s just assume “dog” includes “puppy” and vice versa) the evenings leading up to the 4th. Do they spook at those booms and pops? Do they spook at the first one, then ignore them if they continue? If they don’t spook or do spook but then don’t freak out, go on to the next section. You have an easier job! (Note: this includes most dogs under 12 months, who haven’t experienced fireworks before.) If your dog looks like the one to the right (whites of eyes, pinched ears, back molars showing) you’re in the right place.

Now, steps to ensure your dog will be just fine this year, even if they haven’t been before.

  1. Give your dog something nice and calming a couple of hours beforehand: a sedative, Benedryl, CBD treats, some Trazodone, whatever your vet gave you. You need to give it 2 hours beforehand for it to be fully kicked in before the first boom starts, and some of these things take a LONG time to kick in for a dog. Ignore the label if it says to shorten that window. Trust me on this one.
  2. Wear your dog out. Today, for instance, I’ll be taking Doc and my two boarders to the dog park. I expect it to be crowded. If my dog can’t do a dog park, we’re going to go on 2-3 long walks (instead of the normal 1). The goal: dogs that are so tired they sleep through the booms.
  3. Bring your dog into the house. I think this goes without saying, but just in case.
  4. Play music, preferably something with boom-sounding things: symbols, angry teenage music, whatever. I know, we think, “but classical is best to calm, right?” Sure. But things with booms are best to hide the booms outside. (Alternately, you can do what I do: watch or put on a movie with a lot of explosions!)
  5. Close the windows. “My dog wouldn’t go through the screen,” I hear you cry. Uh huh. The cost of being wrong is a missing dog. The cost of closing the windows is… oh yeah, nothing.
  6. If your dog is crate trained, crate them.
  7. Give them something ridiculously delicious to do instead, like those raw bones you never give them because ew gross, who wants raw bone juice on the floor, or stuffing a kong full of peanut butter, canned dog food, canned cat food, yogurt, pumpkin — whatever — then freezing it, and THEN giving it to them. Mmmm. Delish.
  8. Finally, stay home. If your dog is freaking out and doesn’t have a crate, put them on a leash. If you can stop pacing or barking behavior simply by keeping them beside you, with only a little room to get up and into a more comfortable position, it will dramatically decrease their anxiety. I don’t know why, but it works like a charm.
  9. “But Jenna!” I hear you cry. “I wanted to go see the fireworks!” Please insert the most effective, quelling, unimpressed look here, because that’s what I’m giving the screen right now. BUT, counting for human stupidity error arrogance lack of compassion …-ity, if you must leave, pre-print “lost dog” flyers so you’re ready as soon as you get home. OKAY, FINE, do all of the above. That’s the best advice I can give you. EXCEPT…
  10. Instead of going to see fireworks, have a nervous dog party! I know, COVID. Have a nervous dog party with others who have been vaccinated and wear a mask anyway if it’s more than 5 people! Tell people to bring their dogs! Rules: all dogs must be kept either inside, on a leash, or in a crate at all times. “Will this help my dog feel better? :D” I hear you cry. Probably not. But they’ll be anxious either way, and at least this way you get to enjoy yourself and stop feeling bad about your anxious dog (which WILL help them feel better).

If Your Dog (or Puppy) is Not Noise Sensitive (or if You’ve Never Noticed)

If you’ve never noticed, then they’re probably not noise sensitive. To repeat myself: where I live, people start setting off fireworks as early as, oh, Februrary 15th. No, I kid (I don’t), they really start (in earnest) a few days before the 4th of July. If that’s the case, keep an eye on your dog (or puppy, let’s just assume “dog” includes “puppy” and vice versa) the evenings leading up to the 4th. Do they spook at those booms and pops? Do they spook at the first one, then ignore them if they continue? If this is the case, relaaaaax.

“Oh good, I can just take off, then!” I hear you cry. Well, sure, if your dog is an adult and you’re completely positive they don’t care about fireworks. But in that case, why are you here? If your dog is a puppy, new to you, or nervous, I would suggest some prep work.

  1. If they’re nervous enough to need medication or herbal supplements, go read the above section, because that’s really what you want to do. You can come back and read 3 and 4 here.
  2. If they don’t need meds (or they’re a puppy), read the above section anyway, but skip 1, 6, 9, and 10.
  3. Now, when you hear booms and your dog takes notice (usually either sitting up, barking, or giving little woofs), tell them (in a casual voice) that everything is fine. Call them over if needed (or go get them and put them on a leash so you don’t have to go get them again), and give them pets or treats for coming back. Distract them a bit when they do it again (which they will). If they bark or woof, ignore it. I often tap them on the top of their head to get their attention, and when I have it I tell them how much I love them and other ooey gooey things like that. Sometimes I give them a treat. If they’re struggling to stay focused on me I’ll ask them to do things — sit, down, sit or shake are my favorites, because it doesn’t require that I move. As the booms go off more and more, I keep repeating this. I can even take them for a walk (…around the house or closed-in yard) if that distracts them best. I’m going to tell them how proud of them I am for their bravery (even if they’re not being brave) and how fun and exciting these booms are (even if they look at me like I’ve lost my mind).
  4. Have a confident-dog party! This is especially awesome with puppies. If you know someone who has a dog that isn’t bothered by fireworks, invite them over. (If they’d rather go watch fireworks, ask if you can just borrow the dog.) When a puppy sees that the other dogs aren’t bothered, they might need a little distraction or praise from you, but most often they relax as well. Ahhhhh.
  5. Go enjoy the fireworks! No, I’m totally kidding. If you felt the need to read this, you should stay home. But hey, take these steps and very likely next year you can go enjoy the fireworks, while the dogs chill out in the house and sleep right through the harmless booms.


Dog food: explained to the best of my ability

People frequently ask me about dog food, so here it is, my long- (and short-) winded explanation of everything I know. Please keep in mind that I am not a vet and that this is for the “normal” dog. If you have concerns about your dog’s nutrition, you should contact a Certified Veterinary Nutritionist. Also, I live in NorCal, so the stores I’ve listed are local. Sorry, folks.

The short version (in a different order than the long version).

Foods I can recommend:

Just Food For Dogs. They use fresh, human-grade, whole ingredients and are run by certified veterinary nutritionists. They take great pride in funding studies on nutrition and setting the standard for health. Anything from Pet Food Express or Pet People in Los Gatos (both have very high standards).

My dogs are currently on First Mate, grain-friendly. The Kirkland brand dog food (grain free and grain) are very highly rated, and I’ve used it, as well.

For raw/freeze-dried, Stella and Chewy’s and Primal have good reports, and S&C have been around a long time.

Choosing a pre-made food: When choosing a dog food, look at the ingredients list. If you see “by-product,” “corn,” or “soy,” avoid it. Unless it’s a limited ingredient dog food, the first two ingredients OR the first three out of five ingredients should be some type of meat or egg.

Doing research: Look for articles/studies by a Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, not Random Guy or even Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (our usual vets).

Grain free vs grain: From the research I’ve done, foods with grain seem to be better for most dogs. Rice is a less optimal grain. However, breed matters, and every dog is different.

Raw vs cooked: so many pros and cons, there isn’t a short answer.

Homemade vs store-bought: Homemade diets, even ones recommended by vets, leave out essential nutrients. If you want to make food at home, try working with either Just Food For Dogs (.com), or Balancelt through US Davis. Both are certified veterinary nutritionists and can give you balanced diets. Otherwise, use store-bought.

(I have done both, and can say: making 1 week’s worth of food for a 60-lbs dog took 6 hours, all the room in my freezer, and was more expensive than store-bought.)

Organic vs not: there are pros and cons, and no scientific data either way. (I still do it where possible.)

Other resources:

Just Food For Dogs (.com): they use fresh, human-grade, whole ingredients, and are cutting edge.

US Davis: definitely not of a holistic mindset, but still on the cutting edge and with a lot of resources. I find it to be fairly in sync with my own ethics and research, including that done by JFFD and UCDavis.

The long version

Where you get your information:

According to the certified veterinary nutritionist at Davis (where I had to take Doc several years back), there’s a difference between a certified vet who works with nutrition and a certified veterinary nutritionist. One is a vet who is interested in the subject and has done work on their own time. The other went to school to learn what, exactly, dogs need to survive, down to vitamins, minerals and whatnot, as well as how foods react in certain cases, food disorders and diseases, how dogs digest, etc, etc. (Per my vet and a few others I’ve spoken to, the vet we take our animals to for their check ups or because they’re sick are like a general practitioner we see for our check ups or when we get sick. They can diagnose and weed out common ailments, but they’ll refer us to a specialist when needed. The certified veterinary nutritionist, CVN from now on, is the specialist.)

This means that any time you want to know something about feeding dogs, want to make sure the facts come from a CVN. On a personal judgment call, I MIGHT listen to a certified vet with an interest in nutrition, if there’s signs that they’ve been accepted as knowledgeable within the nutrition field and/or have studies, papers, etc published in dog medical journals.

Unless otherwise stated, the information I’m using came from the CVN at UC Davis, Just Food For Dogs, or a study published by one or more CVNs.

Grains vs grain-free:

According to most (read: every one I’ve read studies by or spoken to, but I’m sure there are exceptions) CVNs, dogs should eat approximately 30% fruits and veggies, 30% grains, and 30-40% meat in their diet.

Before COVID, young dogs (1-2 years old) began having heart failure and dying in such numbers that the FDA began an investigation. The only link between the dogs was that they’d been fed a grain-free diet. Initial suspects were a lack of taurine and then inclusion of lentils, but both were ruled out as causes. I don’t currently know the state of the investigation.

In anecdotal information, from listening to and in conversations with vets, there’s been quite a few who believe that liver and kidney failure is happening to dogs much earlier than expected when those dogs have been fed high protein or grain-free diets. Studies in rats show that a high-protein diet causes early liver and kidney failure.

Personally, I’ve noticed that if a client complains that their dog is always hungry, then adding a tablespoon of dry oats to their food or switching to a food with grain solves the problem 90% of the time. (Although labradors and sometimes golden retrievers are an exception to this, as they are bred to be hungry.)

However, I have also noticed (and have had other trainers and breeders confirm) that some breeds of dogs that, until VERY recent generations, were expected to hunt their own meals, are more likely to do well on a grain-free diet. Specifically, huskies, dingoes, and basenjiis. (All high energy, hard working, predatory breeds that were released to survive on their own either full time or, in the case of huskies, over the summer months.) German shepherds also seem to do well on grain-free diets, although they haven’t had to hunt for food for a VERY long time! Dogs with skin issues sometimes do better on grain-free diets, as well.

In the wild, dogs are trash scavengers if they live near humans, and hunters if they live in tribal areas with low human population. Canines (including wolves, coyotes, etc) graze, stripping grains off grasses, as well as eating the stomach and intestines of any killed animals first. Since they mostly eat herbivores, this means they’re eating per-digested grains before anything else. Dogs in the wild also eat their own feces (pre-digested food) for many reasons, including if they aren’t getting the correct nutrients. Several times now, but not enough for a pattern, I’ve suggested clients add oats to their dog’s food to stop poop-eating, and it’s worked. (Sources: books on different dog/human relationships worldwide, anthropological and ethnographic histories of dogs where published by reputable sources, The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood, histories of humans that mention dogs in passing, personal experience with wild packs in Greece. The last sentence is anecdotal.)

Other bits and pieces about grains: per CVNs, rice is the most difficult thing for our dogs to digest, and minute-oats, cooked quinoa, and similar cooked grains are generally recommended. Dogs struggle to digest grain that isn’t pre-digested/broken down.

The third most common allergen is wheat. Signs of a food allergy are itchy paws, bright pink skin under their chin, and frequent ear infections. (The most common food allergens are chicken and beef. Anything you feed your dog repeatedly is more likely to become an allergen, and CVNs recommend switching protein sources semi-regularly to avoid that.)

Given current trends and research in humans, it’s possible that CVNs are/might change 30% grains to 30% carbs, from such things like sweet potato. I haven’t looked into it at all.

Raw vs cooked:

Vitamins and enzymes break down and are useless at 160F. If you want the nutrients in your dog’s food to be useful, you should look for a food that is cooked at low temps under 160F, has the vitamins and enzymes added after the cooking process is over, is freeze-dried, or is raw. You can also supplement with vitamins and enzymes you add on your own. I would look at Just Food For Dogs or ask your vet.

The downside to raw is that it can carry the same bacteria that make us sick; salmonella, e. coli, and mad cow. Those diseases also make dogs sick. At the greatest risk are old, very young, and dogs with weakened immune systems. (Any bacteria that grows on raw meat left out can also make them sick, although they’re hardier than we are thanks to their shorter intestinal tract and colon. Which segues to…)

A dog’s intestinal tract and colon are shorter than ours, which means that more bacteria are alive in their poop when they defecate. Although we make pick the poop up, the bacteria stay behind and spread across the grass when the sprinklers go on. If you have children playing in the grass, it’s something to keep in mind.

Finding a pre-made food:

Except for limited ingredient foods (which are ideal for dogs with allergies), most dog foods are made up of the first five ingredients on the ingredients list. We tend to look at the “guaranteed analysis” that tells you how much protein, fat, etc is in the food, but it’s very misleading. If a food contains soy, for instance, that can be added to the protein total. But for the most part, dogs can’t use protein that comes from non-meat sources. (There’s some evidence that they can use it if it comes from grain, but let’s just assume meat is best.) Therefore, it’s better to look at the ingredients list than the guaranteed analysis column.

Since the first five ingredients make up the bulk of the food, we want to see that the first two ingredients OR three of the first five ingredients are meat or egg protein sources. Good protein sources will say things like, “chicken,” or, “chicken meal.” The first means there’s chicken in it. The second means there’s dehydrated chicken in it, and it’s protein-dense. (I don’t remember why.) Both mean the whole chicken, including organs and bones, which is exactly what we want.

Suspect proteins are anything labeled “by-product.” The by-products of an animal are things like feathers, beaks, hooves, etc. Hooves are fine in limited quantity, but certainly not as a main ingredient, and feathers and hide are neither digestible nor nutritious.

Other suspect ingredients are corn (a filler; dogs digest it about as well as we do, and there’s little nutritional value) and soy (a filler; useless nutritional value). If either appear in the first five ingredients, I would avoid that food.

Often people will say wheat is bad. Wheat is as good as any other grain, but became so prevalent that many dogs became allergic to it. In small doses it’s just fine.

Rice is another one I look at carefully, since it’s difficult for dogs to digest, and white rice has little nutritional value. Rice is still pretty common in food, since most people don’t know it’s difficult to digest. (I only know because of taking Doc to the CVN at Davis.)

Homemade vs store bought:

Until today, I thought homemade was better, as long as you used recipes from vets. However, I emailed my vet to get the name of a book she’d recommended to me a few years back, and she responded with: “There was a study that came out looking at homemade diets, even those recommended by vets, and found them lacking in many essential nutrients.” She does say that in addition to Just Food For Dogs (which she recommends), US Davis has a nutrition service called Balancelt.

Organic vs not:

This is really a personal choice. No studies have shown a difference in dogs, and even the health and longevity correlations have been thoroughly disproved. There have been multiple studies coming out showing that some organic pesticides are FAR more toxic and dangerous to animals (including dogs) and bees than many of the chemical pesticides.

All that said, I still prefer organic, but I try to be careful and look for things like, “only dog safe pesticides used!”

As an aside, foods from Canada and Europe have to follow much higher quality standards than in the US, both in what they label organic, and in the quality of meats and vegetables used. Generally foods made there are made with human grade ingredients, and many of the toxic organic pesticides have already been banned.

Foods I can recommend:

Freeze-dried and/or raw: Primal Instinct, Stella and Chewy’s (which has been around the longest, to my knowledge), and anything found at Pet Food Express (they have very high standards) or Pet People in Los Gatos (who have even higher standards. They are also very pro grain-free.)

Fresh, human-grade, whole foods: Just Food For Dogs. Created by CVNs, they use fresh, human-grade, whole ingredients and are run by certified veterinary nutritionists. They take great pride in funding studies on nutrition and setting the standard for dog health.

Kibble: Anything at Pet Food Express or Pet People in Los Gatos.

The Kirkland brand dog food (both grain and grain-free) is surprisingly highly rated, but only comes in 35lbs bags.

My dogs are currently on First Mate (available grain-friendly and grain-free), which comes from Canada, where the standards for acceptable dog meat are human-grade or nearly so.

Other resources:

Just Food For Dogs (.com). It is a business, but they’re leading in studies on dog nutrition.

US Davis

Articles by other certified veterinary nutritionists.

I really like I don’t know who runs it, but I find when I compare its reviews to information about dog foods I’ve gotten from certified veterinary nutritionists and calling the dog food companies, it lines up with my ethics and research.

There. I think I gave myself carpal tunnel… XD


FAQ: Small Dog Leash Reactivity (Prong Collar Version)

Basically continued from the last post… If my cousin had decided to use a prong collar! Starting, again, with pros and cons for tools.

The first thing to think about is what tool to use. For a small dog, safety is first. The ideal things to use are either a front-clip harness (I recommend the Easy Walk brand, you’ll need a small unless she’s closer to 15-20lbs, and then you’ll need a small/medium – that’s the actual in-between size before medium) or a teeny weeny prong collar. They have pros and cons, which I’ve outlined below. The other kind of tool is a toy she goes crazy about or treats. The treats should be tiny. I haven’t found treats small enough, so often I use something like “mini naturals” or “mini trainers” and then break them into even smaller pieces between my fingers. You can also mix them with her kibble; her kibble will pick up their scent so she’s more likely to eat it as a treat, but you don’t have to give her so many treats that it upsets her stomach!

Front clip harness

Pros: These are excellent at stopping your dog from pulling forward, and they run only a tiny risk of impacting the windpipe and virtually no risk of impacting it dangerously.

Cons: If your dog’s windpipe extends lower than usual (actually, their shoulders sit low on their neck), then when they pull they’ll cough (signs of impacting the windpipe). This means you need to lower the strap that goes across their chest to get it off the windpipe. However, if you lower it too much and she has a long back/short legs, it heightens significantly the risk of her squirming as she pulls forward and getting a leg through, and then walking out of it. If your dog has very short legs compared to their body, that’s a risk anyway. Finally, if you tug upward as they leap and the timing is just perfect, you can flip your dog. Not A Good Thing.

Prong collar:

Pros: Probably the safest thing you can put on a small dog. The prongs keep any pressure off their windpipe, so the risk of impacting it is nil. (If your dog coughs, simply adjust it sideways a quarter of an inch so those prongs aren’t sitting directly on their windpipe. I almost never see this happen, and usually the dog’s movement will keep the collar shifting around, so even if it happens momentarily, it’ll stop almost instantly.) As long as you don’t make the collar too big (it should NOT be able to slide on and off over their head), it’s nearly impossible for them to escape. It’s also really great for correcting naughty behaviors, and because dogs occasionally nip (touching teeth to each other rapidly, NOT trying to harm) if they’re super annoyed, the prongs simulate that nip and the dogs get it.

Cons: People will give you dirty looks. You can solve this by tying a little bandanna over the prong collar, or buying the kind that has cloth already over it, or you can ignore people. 😉 Prong collars are also kind of a pain to put on until you get the hang of it. (Practice doing and undoing it without it being on Pepper, and that’ll help a ton!) The biggest con is, ironically, that they feel it like a nip from another dog. If they’re super focused on a dog and feel it, you run the risk that they will get more aggressive in the moment, because they think the dog bit them from over there!

There are a few other tools you can use, but they’re either ineffective or risk damage (short or long term).

All of the above said, I personally would suggest a prong collar first. Get a little one (the prongs are slender and only about as long as your thumbnail), and try it on right there in the store. You might need someone to show you how to get it on and off without sliding it over her head. You also might need to take a bunch of prongs out to make it fit. I’ve slimmed them down so they only have two or three prongs instead of the ten they came with; that’s perfectly fine! You only need two for windpipe safety. 😉 The other reason to buy it in the store is if you think it might increase her aggression, you can take it back and exchange it for an Easy Walk (front clip) harness.

If you aren’t comfortable with a prong collar, since not everyone is, get an Easy Walk harness! (See the last post for how to properly, safely, and effectively use one.)

Once You Have Your Chosen Tool

If you decided on a prong collar, go get one. The easiest way is to head to the pet store and actually put it on your dog, so that if you need help figuring how out to use it or you need to buy a few extra prongs to make it fit, you can. Your prong collar can sit anywhere on your dog’s neck, it doesn’t matter. You don’t want it sitting on their collar, since it won’t work that way! I want to be able to slide my fingers between the prongs and my dog’s neck, and not get stabbed. I also want to make sure it’s tight enough that it won’t pull off over their head. I’m looking for a balance: if they aren’t pulling, they shouldn’t feel it, but I don’t want to lose my dog or have prong scratch their eyes! (For the same reason, never slide your prong collar on over your dog’s head. Always take it apart and put it around their neck. Practice before you ever put it on them.)

(“But Jenna!” I hear you cry. “I saw a dog trainer on YouTube who said a prong collar should fit snug and high on their neck!” Sure, if you’re using it to control a big dog’s head, but then it’s constantly pronging them. I just… no. If I can avoid it, no.)

Next, we have an additional stage. If she doesn’t know to check in with you when you say “Look” or her name, teach her while in the house. This doesn’t mean you have to do it for days. In fact, you can just do it a few times before your walk. With food involved, it doesn’t take them long to figure that one out! Say her name or ask her to look/watch me/whatever comes automatically, then hand her a treat. Next, do it again while you’re walking. When she looks at you, hand her a treat. Do it about five times, and you’ll be ready to walk.

So, you’re home, you put your prong collar on, you ask her to look a few times, and you open the front door! Keep your leash short at first; you don’t want her building up speed and hitting the end of the prong collar. Ouch. She’ll dash forward, but with your short leash she shouldn’t get more than a foot before the prong collar pulls her up. She’ll probably back off it automatically. Reward, and give her a treat. As she starts to dash forward again, shake your leash.

Now, notice I didn’t say, “Yank on your collar.” No, just shake your leash. The prongs will barely rattle against her, and that’s all we want to start. If you do it too hard, your dog might yelp in surprise, and we’re just trying to avoid that much surprise. This isn’t meant to be bad or painful, so we don’t want to make it that way!

Most likely, a rattle will make your dog jump back in surprise. In your dog’s mind, you just nipped her. (Those prongs, when they’re loose-tight-loose, feel like teeth. Be gentle with your teeth.) She’ll probably look at you like, “WTH?” Give her a treat!

Step out the door and, if needed, rattle again. Treat again!

If your dog is alarmed, clip the leash to the prong collar AND their flat collar. That will limit how much the prong collar moves, so it’s even gentler. Again: we’re not trying to hurt or frighten, we’re trying to communicate.

“Huh?” I hear you cry.

Communicate. We’re not saying, “If you do X I’ll cause you pain!” We’re saying, “When you do X I don’t like it, and I’m communicating that with a little nip, like another dog might do.”

So, now you head down the driveway. You should give her five more treats before you hit the end of a normal sized driveway. That’s treats in VERY quick succession. Every time she pulls you’ll give a rattle. Pretty quickly your rattle won’t work, because she’ll be going, “Ha! That might have startled me the first time, but now I know it’s nothing big.” At that point you can start giving quick little tugs. They’re call “pop”s, and the goal is speed, NOT power. Start with a loose leash (if your leash is straight it’s not loose), give a flick of your wrist, and it should end looser than when you started. Don’t drag, pull, yank, or anything else where you’re making your dog’s feet move. The goal isn’t to bring her back where we want her, it’s to say, “I don’t like it when you pull. Please make a different choice.” When she checks in or comes back, treat!

Now for step two! …Or three? Maybe four. I dunno!

Watch her ears. When a dog is only focused on one thing, to the exclusion of everything else, they pitch their ears forward. It usually creates wrinkles in their forehead, so it’s fairly easy to spot. When dogs are aware of their surroundings (including you, what you think of things, and whether or not you’re preparing to attack the approaching dog) and/or they want to be friendly, they relax their ears sideways. Every time your dog’s ears pitch forward, say her name (or say “look” or “watch me” – whatever your command is) and reward her for looking back at you. If she doesn’t look at you, give a quick tug on the leash. Then say her name and reward when she looks. Dogs frequently pitch their ears forward just before or the instant another dog is in sight; that’s when you want to get her attention on you and your treat, or pop if you need to. If you wait until she’s vocalizing, you’re too late.

With a prong collar you can generally snap a dog out of an aggressive moment even if you don’t catch it early, or even if they ignore your treat. HOWEVER, there’s a flaw: if your dog is REALLY focused on the other dog, they may think the “nip” came from that other dog instead of you! If that happens, their aggression in the moment will be worse. This is a sign that you either need to switch to a different tool (like a front clip harness) and work with that until they’re calmer (at which point you can continue working with a prong collar, which will speed up the process), or you need to keep enough distance between you and the other dogs that your dog doesn’t get that worked up in the first place.

Ready? Set? Go!