Events, in short

It’s been a crazy few weeks.

“Uh, Jenna,” I hear you cry. (Okay, perhaps I hear you say it dubiously.) “It’s been 7 MONTHS since you posted, not a few weeks.”

Okay, fine, it’s been a crazy few months. Several months. Seven months. A rundown:

December: Holidays! I think this is self explanatory.

January and February: My editor said, “You finished your book as planned, right? I want to submit it but it’s due at the end of January.” I said, “Uhhhh…” She said, “FINISH IT. You write fast. Write. Fast.”

So, I started writing. Fast. I thought I had about 3/4 of the rough draft done. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was more like 1/3 of the rough draft done. Imagine my further surprise when:

1. A publisher said, “Yes, send us the cover letter and summary,” followed by
2. “We like it, send us the first three chapters,” followed by,
3. “We like that, send us all of it.”

At which point I fell into the writing hole. In the end, they didn’t take it, but I wrote 300 pages in just under 3 weeks, along with summaries, query letters, and so on. Holy moly.

March: I traveled, boarded dogs, and picked up a lot of extra work because my assistant, Lisa, had some family crises come up. Doc’s separation anxiety became SO MUCH WORSE suddenly, and we scrambled to figure out what was going on. This might also be when he got a massive infection in his foot, and bit Lily when she tried to sniff it. My nephew was born!

April: Oh, April. I’ll see you again next year, and not before that, and I’m so glad. I boarded dogs, traveled to North Carolina to see a friend, saw my friend who visited from Calgary, became a bridesmaid, got dates for two more weddings, and OH YEAH, found a tumor on Cash. This led to me dropping everything in absolute heartbreak, horror, and grief, and load the dogs up and drive us all down to SoCal, where my parents and sisters still live, so I could get a hug from my mom and dad. Everyone rallied around Cash and me, from family to clients, and the outpouring of support has been and continues to be just incredible. I don’t even have words to express it.

May: Doc bit Lily. He drew blood, though no vet trip was needed. He was unprovoked that I could see (he was hurting, but I didn’t realize it until later), and I spent a day bawling my eyes out wondering if he was going to continue to unravel and I’d have to put him down. (It had already been a rough few weeks, what with Cash and all.) I pulled myself together and got a game plan, instead. Meanwhile, I started treatment for Cash, one of my clients put together a gofundme site, other clients asked if they could send money, I cried a lot over my dogs, and I worked way too much.

June: Doc bit a boarder, Millie, leaving only a scratch but it was Not All Right. I started muzzling him constantly. Then I saved a dog! Well, me, a client, and a foster organization that my client was able to find. More on that later, but it was amazing. Doc ran in front of my horse and stopped (while my horse was running), and although my mare did her best to jump him/miss him, he still got stepped on. It severed the tendons in one back toe, but other than that he was, incredibly, uninjured. (A few shallow scratches and some bruises, but no caved in ribcage or smashed face.) His toe had to be amputated; he’s now on crate rest for the next three weeks. Save us.

Coming up: information on Cash and links to awesomeness. Congenital mental, emotional, or behavioral defects (like Doc has) and how to manage/treat them, what forms they take, and what to expect. The fabulous story of saving a dog! Videos on teaching a dog not to be afraid of a dog dryer (and why I love them). And somewhere in there, a discussion of what fairness means to a beastie.

If you’d like to see the videos as I make them, get updates on my beasties, or see entertaining dog facts/memes/bits and pieces, you can find me on Facebook!



How to Muzzle Train your Dog

I’m going to be honest here: I don’t have a boatload of experience in muzzle training dogs. When done wrong (which is most of the time) it results in a dog who is too distracted by the muzzle to act as they normally would. Training this way can be helpful, but also leads to people being over-confident. They say, “Ah ha! My dog is cured!” They whip off the muzzle, dog is no longer distracted, dog attacks whatever the muzzle was keeping them from attacking.

Problem not solved.

Some fear is healthy. The kind of fear that keeps people from putting their dogs in situations where the dog might bite is very healthy. Over confidence can be a dog killer. (Your dog bites someone else’s dog… a cat… your kid… your dog will likely pay for it, possibly with their own life.)

Like anything, in bad situations a muzzle can be harmful. A dog who’s biting out of fear will likely feel more fearful if the training was rushed. They can’t defend themselves, they don’t try, the fear is compounded, they seem “cured,” muzzle comes off, fear levels have risen, bites happen faster.

So for these reasons, I generally don’t use muzzles. I find safe distances and work there. As the safe distance decreases, we move closer without needing a muzzle.

That said, there are some cases where a muzzle is going to make life easier for everyone, and properly trained with they can be useful tools. For instance: we all know and love Doc, my beloved asshole goober.




D’awwww, Doc.

Doc loves cats. I should say, Doc loves to chase cats in a non-playful way and I’m actually a bit afraid that if he caught one, he’d kill it. My honey, Quin, has three cats. Now, we’ve done a lot of work with Doc so he’s pretty good with cats in homes (as opposed to cats outside), but it’s not worth the risk. Someday I believe he’ll be totally chill with cats in homes, but until that day, we like to play Hannibal with him.

No, seriously, his muzzle makes him look like Hannibal. His muzzle is also something he’s very comfortable wearing and will even play in, he can pant in, he can drink in, and rests gently on his face. His muzzle has been a game changer. No longer do I worry every time he leaves the family room to go check on the cats, because I know that it would take a LOT of effort on his end to hurt one of Quin’s cats. I mean, he’d have to squish them with his paws, and they’re quick little buggers. I don’t have to worry that if I’m snuggling on the couch (with dog, cat, or Quin) that I might be woken by a cat-dog fight because I didn’t catch the body language change in time. I can actually relax, which means Doc can relax. Ahhhhh.

Now the trick with muzzle training is to avoid those first two problems: distraction and over-confidence. I’m going to handle the second one first by saying: don’t get over-confident. Know that however awesomely you muzzle trained, maybe it wasn’t awesome enough. When you think your dog is no longer reacting to the thing you wanted them to stop reacting to, look at how long it took, then multiply by 4. That’s how long you should keep her muzzle on before you try anything without it.

“But Jenna!” I hear you cry. “It took me two months to get Freddo to stop going after the postman! Now she just sits on the porch and watches him. She’s ready!”

Is she? Or is she thinking, Ahh, there is the cunning postman. I’m going to — damn it, what is this thing on my face? Oh, right, it’s the thing. I shall ignore it. Now, the postman is coming up the drive… ready to attack… muscles taut… is this thing wiggling now? Perhaps my human thinks I’m in costume? God, humans are so weird. Whoops, postman is here! ! I haven’t had time to properly amp up because I’ve been thinking about this bone-doggit face thingy! Well, I shall let him escape this time. Next time, dear post man…. next time… (Note: this has been a dramatization. These are actors, not actual dogs.)

You need enough time to pass to make bone-doggit sure that your dog is no longer thinking these thoughts before you remove that muzzle. Four times whatever it took to get her to that place, at least.

Now on to the first part: muzzle training so it’s not a distraction.

First of all, a properly fitting muzzle is key. It should not come off if the dog tries briefly, because you wouldn’t want it to come off in a fight. (I hope this seems obvious.)Β  You do want all the straps to stay in place, not go wobbling off somewhere else. Ex: a strap that goes from between the eyes to the back of the neck should stay put, not wiggle down until it goes from between the eyes to below the ear. Even if the muzzle still wouldn’t come off at this point, that’s got to be annoying (and distracting) to your dog.

The other thing you want is for the muzzle to be comfortable. A basket muzzle is safer (for your dog and whatever your dog wants to bite) and more comfortable than those little cloth muzzles that hold their mouths shut. (Until they don’t. I have had dogs leave blood blisters because they could still open their mouth juuuuust enough, and I’ve seen dogs simply tear them apart.)

Because I don’t use muzzles a whole lot, I have limited experience with brands that do and don’t work. I can tell you this: First, I want more air flow than a plastic muzzle with holes punched into it gives, so I’m looking for a muzzle that has a cage appearance Second, most dogs pull a muzzle off by hooking their claws into it or rubbing it against something so that it pulls down over their nose, as impossible as that may seem, and then dangles around their necks. This means that a muzzle with that between the eye strap is likely to work much better than one without. Now, hopefully your dog will be so comfy in her muzzle that she won’t need that strap. BUT, if the worst happens and your dog is suddenly doing the Mortal Kombat battle, you’re going to want to be sure the muzzle isn’t going to come off over her nose because of a flailing paw (or mailbag).

The one I use for Doc is this one:



Well, okay, not this EXACT one, but this brand: Bronzedog. I like the leather band across the nose, protecting their nose from the wire. I like the metal wiring, because if my dog needs to correct another dog (“Hey! That was too rough!”) and goes to nip, that metal is going to feel enough like a correction that the other dogs respond appropriately, so my dog isn’t and doesn’t feel defenseless. The between the eye strap stays in place and the adjustable jaw straps mean that I was able to let it out to accommodate Doc’s massive jaw muscles. I also pulled this image instead of a more average sized image because this brand actually makes muzzles that are breed-specific. So in this image the basket part is much longer than it would normally be because a greyhound’s muzzle is much longer than most dog’s. The one I got for Doc (who is a mix) was the pit bull version, because his head is noticeably that shape and size. Finally, I like the wiring because, even though it makes my dog look like Hannibal, it provides a TON of airflow. I’m more interested in my dog’s safety and comfort than how he looks. (Granted, if I’m walking Doc into a house where I need him muzzled — maybe they have cats — I warn people first that he looks like Hannibal, because I’m very conscious of that fact.)

I did have to poke a few more holes in the leather straps to make it fit right, but hey, it’s leather: you can do that.

(Note: I found this link and image by going to Amazon and searching for “wire basket muzzle.”)

Recently I worked with a client who had a common and similar type of basket muzzle made of rubber. There were two immediate problems, and one I held in reserve:

  1. The between the eye strap kept sliding down, and was useless.
  2. Β The rubber “bar” across the nose cut directly across her nostrils, annoying her because it inhibited air flow.
    In reserve: the rubber was soft enough that if she’d had to correct another dog for being too pushy, she couldn’t. Her nip was inhibited — obviously — and the rubber simply gave. How much would this matter? I don’t know, but it was something I noted in the back of my mind.

The nice thing about it was that, while Doc can cause bruises with his wire muzzle when he gets excited and tries to lick your face, the rubber muzzle didn’t have that issue. Worthwhile, I think, if you bruise easily or have little kids, as long as you find one that fits better.

What am I really saying? Muzzles are hard to find in pet stores; like jeans, be prepared to try them on, and if you buy them online, be prepared to send it back until you find the right one.

Okay, so you have your muzzle and you’re prepared for muzzle training! I ought to make a video of this, but since I haven’t yet, here are some muzzle training steps.

1. Feed them.
Drop the muzzle in their bowl. Dump their food in the muzzle. Now, most of it is going to go out the sides, and any normal dog won’t dip their face into the muzzle to eat, but will nudge it out of the way. That’s fine, I don’t care. I’m just getting them used to the idea of having this thing near their face and nose, and I’m creating positive associations with it. “But I feed my dog raw and it gets goopy!” I hear you cry. Yeeeaaah. You’ll have to wash it afterward. No biggie. I frequently skip this step unless the dog (or human) is very muzzle-shy.

2. Treats
You can either cup your hand below the muzzle and drop treats in (they will fall through into your hand; the idea is to get your dog to put their face in to lick them up) or simply put canned food, peanut butter, kong paste, jelly, etc on the inside of the muzzle so they stick their face in to lick it up. Whatever you use, make sure it’s belly-friendly; your dog is about to get a lot of it.

3. Patience
When you’ve found the magic ingredient that gets your dog to stick their face in there and leave it in there for a few seconds (longer, preferably) while they eat, use it. A lot. In the span of a few minutes you can go through a LOT of peanut butter. Messy, but treat it like a game: go outside, wear clothes that need to be washed anyway, laugh at the peanut butter all over your dog’s face. Remember, we’re creating GOOD associations. When your dog is happily diving into that muzzle and keeping their face in there to lick off every last bit of jam, then…

4. Straps
This is where most people start getting hung up. They think, “Ah ha! I shall buckle it!” Don’t do any such thing. Just start pulling the straps up over the back of your dog’s head. Mess with them. Flop the ears through. Give little tugs so it moves while she’s trying to eat. Pull them straight up, then drop them across her skull. We’re not being sneaky; we’re being as obvious as possible We want to find every way we could lose our grip and the straps could fall across her so that when (not if) it happens, it’s no big deal. At first, Freddo will pull away because that’s weird. Just keep doing it until she couldn’t care less.

5. Attach — Freely
Assuming this is not a quick-release muzzle (I have yet to see one, though it’s a great idea), slide the strap through the buckle. DO NOT BUCKLE. This is easier said than done, because with one hand you’re holding the muzzle and treats while with the other hand you’re trying to wrangle two straps up, and with your third hand you’re trying to put one of those straps through the buckle. Only… y’know… three hands. If you feel yourself rushing to try and get it done before gravity pulls the muzzle off (because you had to let go to use that hand), stop. Come back to it later. Your goal here is NOT to get the muzzle on your dog. It’s to simply have the experience of messing around with it some more. If lucky, you’ll figure out how to pull one strap through the buckle while she works on her kong paste. If you’re not, come back later and try again. The more messing around you do here, the more relaxed she’s going to be about it staying on later. No rush. That said, once you do get the strap through the buckle, DO NOT put the buckle tongue through the hole. “But the strap just slides free….” I hear you whimper. Yeah. That’s cool. Just keep giving her more treats through the muzzle until the strap works free on it’s own, or she notices the muzzle and pulls it off. Repeat.

6. Freedom
Okay, so now you can put the strap through and she pulls it off, but consequently she’s learned she’s not trapped and she’s getting treats, so even though she’s pulling it off, she’s not panicking. WOOT WOOT! Do the same thing, but when she goes to pull it off, see if you can distract her. With treats first, then you can give a little nudge and offer a treat again. We never get beyond a little nudge, and that’s only to get them to put four feet back on the ground instead of one or two in the muzzle. Don’t worry about this too much. If she lays down and pulls it off, see if you can (laughingly — this is a game) unhook her nails from it and give her a treat before she pulls it off. Kind of like… uh… a game. >.> Who can do which first? As you do this, she’ll stop pulling it off every time. Instead, she’ll try, get distracted, try, distracted, try, succeed. That’s fine. (No treat when she succeeds, but you can still love on her and tell her how cute she is. Treats are only for when her nose is in the muzzle.)

7. Buckle
STOP RIGHT THERE, YOU HUMAN. Yes, you’re going to put the tongue of the buckle through the hole. But don’t put the excess strap through the keeper. If she’s gotten good at wear it/pull it/get distracted/pull it/distract/pull it/take it off, then when she tries to pull on it after you’ve buckled it you’re just going to distract her. If she won’t be distracted, we want that strap loose. A quick upward tug will pull the tongue out of the hole, and the muzzle comes off. We’re providing her with some resistance, but again, we don’t want her panicking. If we can’t distract her and she starts worrying about the muzzle not coming off, yank that strap so it unbuckles and comes off. We want her to have the experience of it not coming off right away so we can REWARD her for leaving it alone. We do not want the experience of her trying to get it off, realizing she can’t, and freaking out completely. If you’ve done the previous steps a lot, this step only takes a few minutes. After a few repetitions of her cycling through muzzle on/pull at it/it doesn’t come off/reward/repeat, and muzzle on/pull at it/it doesn’t come off/pull harder/it comes off/repeat she’ll realize that just because she can’t get it off immediately doesn’t mean it’s stuck forever. There’s no reason to panic; it will come off it if hast to. Instead she should look around for a treat. That said, there’s no reason to tuck in that strap until you’re in a situation that’s dangerous, so you can do this for days. Which brings us to the last bit!

8. One Week Later….
Once I could distract Doc from pulling his muzzle off just by saying his name and tossing him a treat, I left it on him. For. Hours. After about five to ten minutes he stopped trying to take it off and I didn’t need to distract him any more. Then he started moping. I mean, come on. He’s got this weird thing on his face. It doesn’t really stop him from doing much (though you’ll want a water bowl deep enough to account for the muzzle going beyond her nose; we don’t want it bumping the bottom of the bowl and stopping her from drinking), but it’s weird. If I only ever put it on him when I want him to learn something, like don’t eat the cats, the cats will distract him from getting used to the muzzle, and the muzzle will distract him from getting used to the cats, and I’m spinning my wheels. So instead, I’m going to put it on him when there’s not any big distraction. And then I’m going to leave it on him.

You’re going to feel so guilty. They’re going to look sad. “Mom. I can’t play with this thing on my face.” (Yes, they can.) “Dad. Why did you make me go as Hannibal for Halloween? I wanted to be a Ghostbuster.” Be strong, fellow humans! Once they stop moping, they’ll realize it’s no big deal. You can help by giving treats, love, and play while they’re wearing it. Convince them that it’s business as usual. (That said, don’t wear yourself out. Let go of the guilt. They’ll let go of the mope. It’ll be okay.)

It took Doc two days, wearing the muzzle for about six hours each day, before he stopped moping. Then he tried to play tug and he noticed it. Then he sulked for half an hour. Then he stopped sulking. Then by day three he realized he could still play chase-me games and running games. By day four and five — now only wearing it when I was around before and after work — he started acting like himself. (This is when I learned that getting licked by a dog wearing a metal muzzle can bruise. >.> Bad, Hannibal! Bad!) Note: I started on days I would be around for six hours at a stretch. Don’t ever leave your dog unsupervised with a muzzle on. If they catch a toenail while itching and you’re not there to calm them and fix the problem, panic can result and the situation can get bad and bloody fast.

Once Doc stopped moping and started playing, he also went back to following the cats when they left the room… only I could take the chance to let him creep up, sniff, and get spat at and batted in the face. It also meant he had the chance to show me he could be gentle with the cats so I could more often reward that behavior. Up close, he started to realize that they weren’t squirrels and he started to relax, too.

Later, when he was playing with dogs but still muzzled and one body-slammed him too hard, he whipped around and corrected. I’m sure he thought he nipped them. They probably thought he nipped them, too. It was actually the metal hitting their shoulder, but it worked just as effectively; they veered off and didn’t do it so hard again, and he didn’t lose confidence. The fact that he felt he COULD nip told me more than anything that he wasn’t muting his communication skills because he thought he couldn’t back it up, but rather that the muzzle had just become part of things.

Does my dog look like Hannibal? Absolutely. Do I have peace of mind? God, yes. That alone sped cat training up SO VERY MUCH. With the muzzle we made more progress in a week than we’d made in months. Now he seems like he could be fine with them without the muzzle… but I’ll leave it on for four times longer, just to be sure.

All that said, there’s another aspect I haven’t mentioned, which I will briefly. It is: the other animal. Muzzled or not, I wouldn’t let him approach and sniff the cats if I thought it would traumatize the cats. I wouldn’t take a dog who is muzzled to a dog park because while they can’t injure (or rather, they’d have to work really hard to do so), they can still badly scare another dog. My goal is to leave EVERYONE in better shape than they were, and that includes the animals who come in contact with Freddo. I wouldn’t take Doc to a cat sanctuary to work with cats, because it would emotionally scar those cats. I’m going to work with cats that I know won’t be terrified, and I would work with dogs who could shrug off any muzzled attack because their own confidence is high, until Freddo has learned that Mortal Kombat battles don’t work, but appropriate corrections and walking away does.

So, if you’re worried your dog will hurt someone or something… get a muzzle. Buy yourself some peace of mind, train your dog so they have peace of mind, too, and move forward. It’s awesome.


Note: No postmen were hurt during the writing of this blog.

How To: Walk on a Harness

So, here’s the problem with a blog post on teaching a dog how to walk properly without pulling: there are SO MANY ways to teach it that I could fill a whole book with different theories. If you’ve found a way and you like it and it’s working, stick with it!

In an attempt to rein in my wordy self (ahahahahahahaha!), I’m just going to talk about teaching a dog to walk on a harness.

The first thing you should know is that most harnesses are made to help a dog pull harder. The base of the neck and the chest are the strongest pulling points of a dog’s body. If they pull and the restraint is there, their instinct tells them that they’re caught and to pull harder to break free. Also, there’s a reason we used harnesses on dogs who pulled wagons (Rottweilers among others) and sleds (malamutes and huskies among others). When choosing a harness for your dog, keep in mind that most of them suck.

Wait, was that unprofessional? Probably. Ahem. Most of them are built to help your dog pull harder.

The ones that are built to keep your dog from pulling often do so by affecting their stride or pinching their shoulder blades/chest uncomfortably. If I’m going to make my dog uncomfortable anyway, I’m going to use a prong collar. Looks awful, but it’s less likely to cause joint problems later in life due to changing the way they move. (Note: neither prong collars nor harnesses are good to use with dogs dealing with aggression. In the case of a harness it can work eventually but takes forever and gives you little control in case something goes wrong, and in the case of a prong collar they sometimes work great, but can also actually increase aggression.)

So, back to a harness! My favorite ones are front-clip harnesses. Yes, the dog still hits the end and instinct says “pull,” but the more they pull the more they turn themselves around. They’re working against their own strength.

Among the front clip harnesses, I like the Easy Walk harness or the cheaper knock-offs. (If you have a small dog or one with a funky body type, pay extra to get the brand name. It has more adjustable straps and will fit better.) A lot of the instruction booklets will tell you to set them up so that the front strap sits low on the chest. Don’t do that. It affects your dog’s stride, and works just fine without affecting their stride and possibly causing those aforementioned joint problems when they age. Instead, fit it so that it’s mid-point on your dog’s chest, low enough to keep from coughing (which happens if it hits their windpipe on accident) and high enough to keep it from restricting leg movement. Also make sure your harness is snug; you don’t want it gaping and coming off somewhere.

Now, if I have a world champion puller, I’m going to start in the house. I’m going to walk to the door, put on my stuff, and then swing the door boldly open.

Did I mention the part where I braced my feet against the coming missile of my dog? No? Well, I did that even before I opened the door.

The other thing I’m going to do as I open the door is start backing up, fairly quickly. The reason for this is that by the time I notice my dog is running out the door, doing his best missile impression, it’s already too late. My brain doesn’t have enough time to tell my feet to move. So, I’m going to start backing up while I open the door, and then I’ll have about the right timing.

You’re braced, yeah? Good. Because when your dog hits the end of the leash, the harness is going to turn him back around to face you. If you timed it right, he’s going to look at you like, “What happened?” If you didn’t time it right, you’ll have to keep backing up until he finally turns and looks at you like, “Dude, you’re going the wrong way.” This’ll be about the same time that you’ve dragged him back inside. Don’t worry about it, just make a note: dog is Superman speed. Move faster.

Now my dog is facing me. I’m going to give him my best happy smile, say his name, and offer a treat. As he comes toward me to take it, I’ll step toward him. BEFORE I LET THE TREAT GO, I continue past him. He turns to stay with me. I take a step. Gasp! Now we’ve taken two steps together; one turning (him), one side by side! Now I release the treat and he eats it!

My dog shoots forward again like a 5th grade rocket. I brace and step back. He hits the end of the leash and spins to face me. “What happened?” he wonders.

“Did you spin around?” I ask brightly. “Here, Missy!” (My dog doesn’t believe in gender norms.) Missy comes to get the treat. I once again hold onto it while I step toward him and he turns to step with me. Two steps! The treat is his!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Jenna, you forgot to close the front door.” Ha! I did not, because I’m only just now getting out of the house after I had to drag Missy back in!

Close the door. Lock it, if you so choose. Reel Missy in, step forward, and try not to hit the door when you back up, because he’s hitting the end of his leash.


Now, at some point one of you is going to get smart. (I’m rooting for you, dear human reader.) Take half a dozen treats and put them all in one hand. I am assuming that you’re lazy like me, and are holding your leash in the other hand and not in both hands. If you’re not being lazy, and you’re using both hands for your leash… well, jeez, be lazy.

Now when I say Missy’s name and he comes tearing back for the treat he knows I have, I’m going to give it to him. I’m going to IMMEDIATELY thumb out another of those half dozen treats I’m holding and give him that one, too. And then I’m going to do it again. And if I’ve managed to give him three treats in less than three steps, I’m going to buy myself a donut! (No, I’m not. But you totally should.)

Now Missy remembers he’s watching his figure and decides he’d rather chase the squirrel than get a treat. As Missy shoots forward, I start walking backward again. A note, here: I’m actually walking backward. I’m not turning around and going backward, but I am actually walking backward.

“What happened?”

I have no idea, Missy! One second you were running forward, the next you were facing me!

After about ten feet of this (which will take fifteen minutes to accomplish), you’ll be cursing Missy, who will be cursing the squirrel. BUT, Missy won’t be pulling so much. In fact, he’ll start walking on… wait for it… A SLACK LEASH.


  1. Pull Missy all the way around so he’s facing you. I don’t care if he looks at you, but he needs to be facing you. If you pull him halfway around and he’s dancing toward you while looking at the squirrel, that’s cheating. It won’t work. I don’t know why not, but it doesn’t.
  2. BACK UP. Most often I’ll be standing telling someone, “Good, now back up.” They stop dead. I repeat, “Back up.” They stand there, looking at Missy and wondering what happened to Fido. I treat them like a distracted dog and help them by doing it for them; I grab their arm and pull them backward. “BACK UP.” We repeat this three or four or fifteen times before they realize; they haven’t been moving their feet. Move your feet.
  3. Remember treats. You don’t have to use them, but lordy, do they help. The thing is, you need to use about six times more of them than you think you do. If I can keep a dog beside me by giving them treats every half step, I do. If the dog doesn’t realize I have treats because they’re focused on the squirrel, I might actually stop walking, put the treat on their nose so they smell it when they inhale, then use it to lead their face around and give it to them. If they’re not used to getting treats, they’ll need twenty before they start realizing this is a new thing. Give them that twenty ASAP. Within the first five feet. One at at time.

Finally, Missy is beginning to walk on a slack leash, and you’re getting pretty good at backing up. You start to relax. You think, “We’ve got this!” You get a little lazy. Not in the “I’m holding my leash in one hand” way, but in the, “I’ll just stop Missy rather than turning him around and he’s still getting it.” STOP DOING THAT. That’s the wrong kind of lazy. Okay, sure, you can do that a time or two, but Missy will figure it out and take advantage. BACK. UP.

You usually only need to back up a step or two, but if in doubt, back up ten feet. Back up until your dog faces you. Then walk forward.

Check out your leash. Is Missy ahead of you? Probably. That’s not really what I’m worried about. Is the leash taut between you, or dipping like one of the Golden Gate Bridge wires? If it’s not dipping, Missy is pulling. It’s a fine line for Missy to detect “pulling hard enough to feel the pressure of the harness against me” and “pulling hard enough to feel the pressure of the harness against me.” Missy isn’t thinking about how much pressure there is. He’s thinking about that damned squirrel, or Daisy who lives on the corner and always barks at him and how this time he’ll get the jump on her. We need to make this really easy for Missy, and for us. The leash should dip between you. If it’s not, assume Missy is pulling and turn him around.

Now you’re starting to get tired. You’re barely having to pull him around (and thank god, you never realized Missy was a rhino in disguise). The leash is slack. When you back up, he turns around and faces you and keeps turning and continues on. And weird, but you’re not getting anywhere anymore, because you keep backing up and going forward and backing up and going forward and backing up…

Back up FAST. You want Missy to pivot. (Sometimes I’ll add a slight upward tug, so that my dog pivots instead of dragging their feet on the cement. I mean, ouch.) You don’t want to give Missy time to turn around, because that just becomes a fun game. Pivot. Greet. Treat. Walk forward.

Don’t repeat ad nauseum, because heyyyy. This is working. Woot woot!



Domestication and the Dog

Okay, here’s one I’ve been wanting to talk about: domestication. I find this topic FASCINATING. And of course, it relates pretty heavily to dogs! It also ties into any theory that bases feeding, behavior, communication, social skills, or anything else on wolf/evolution type theory.

A couple of disclaimers, first:
1. I’m not a scientist. I’m pretty careful about making sure I understand stuff before I talk about it, but I may get the occasional fact wrong.
2. I COULD site references, but I’m not going to. I’m lucky just to get this written! However, much of this information can be found in the book “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, and they sites millions of references. (Okay, fine, I cited some of it.)
3. Information changes. If you’re reading this a year from now, there might be details that have been proven wrong, or other things that have been discovered!

Okay, enough with that. On with the fun!

Dogs are descended from a proto-dog and started the process of becoming DOGS somewhere between 30,000 and 14,000 years ago. For comparison purposes, homo sapiens first appeared around 200,000 years ago.

This is Jenna-logic: I’m going to say that, on average, wild dogs start breeding at around a year old throughout history and humans start having babies around 15 years old. I realize this is a GROSS generalization, but let’s go with it for some very rough math.

If that’s the case, then between the proto-dog appearance and now, there have been 14-30,000 generations of dogs, while between the start of homo sapiens and now there have been about 13,333 generations of humans. Either way, there have been more generations of dogs.

feminizedskullsCheck out our early homo sapiens with modern man, here. (I swiped this off this fascinating site after searching for images that weren’t copyrighted; apologies if I screwed this up, and I will happily take it down!) On the right is how our skulls currently look. On the left, how they looked 13,000 generations ago. There’s some difference, huh? (Interestingly, the hallmarks of domestication are seen here: smaller skull and teeth, less biting power. They call it “feminization” because women’s bone structures are all those things when compared to men’s.)


I couldn’t find an image of a proto-dog, but if we’ve changed that much in 13,000 years, they’ve changed even more. I mean…










They did this very cool study starting in ’59 where a Russian scientist domesticated foxes.

Here’s how they did it: they left the foxes alone. When kits were born, they’d go in and see which kits were less afraid of people. They bred those ones. Now, they didn’t spend time with these foxes. They didn’t work with them or tame them. They just appeared one day in their pens, and the babies who freaked out the least were put in one breeding group, while the ones who freaked out the most were put in another breeding group. (I’m dumbing this way down, but you can always click the link about for the details.)

It took a surprisingly tiny number of generations before the foxes were obviously different, both physically (new colors in their fur, floppy ears, smaller heads) and socially (a desire for petting, kit-behavior while playing, whining, which remained throughout life). You can’t say they’d evolved, because they’d been selectively bred, and it happened fast. One generation: wild foxes. Next generation: domesticated dogs! (…you know what I mean.)

And this is where it gets cool (and becomes Jenna-theory): dogs were ALSO selectively bred. Okay, not by people (not at first), but by pressure. The dogs who succeeded were the friendliest ones; the ones brave enough to sneak into camp and eat the trash or food left out. It wasn’t a matter of the strongest in a way that had been going on for years, but a whole new behavior being selected for. So while humans had 13,333 generations to slowly evolve (and we have obvious differences from our proto-selves), dogs had more generations and a lot more pressure to evolve into a new niche; and it wasn’t long before humans were actively helping the more domestic, friendly dogs to breed (if only by providing them with more food, because the humans liked those dogs), while discouraging dogs that weren’t friendly or were aggressive (by chasing them off or hunting them down).

Crazy, right?

Now, take another look at that wolf and that pug, above. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that their insides no longer look alike, either. I don’t think you could fit wolf insides into a pug, and if they’ve gotten smaller (or bigger, in the case of, say, a great Pyrenees) then there’s no reason they wouldn’t have changed in other ways. IN FACT, what with the selective evolution happening, their digestive systems would have changed pretty rapidly in order to continue to eat human refuse. (Not poop. Well, some poop, but I also mean trash: the discards from what we hunted, grew, etc.) Our human bodies may not have changed much and may still prefer non-processed foods, but the dogs have had a lot more generations since we started agriculture to get used to more grains and starches. (This is only sort of a Jenna-theory, as there’s a growing number of vets who are highly anti the anti-grain movement, based on health issues they’re seeing in their offices.)

Okay, so some cool things that have happened to dogs as they’ve become domesticated (things that are fact-based, not Jenna-theories):

  1. They’ve become able to read (almost all) human emotion. Think your dog understands you? Actually, they do. Crazy!
  2. They understand gestures that are human-only, like pointing. (See “The Genius of Dogs.”) They understand these AT BIRTH. This isn’t something they learn. Have you tried directing a cow via pointing? It doesn’t work so well.
  3. They smile. No, really. Not all of them, but in recent years we’ve subconsciously bred more dogs who have the ability to turn the corners of their mouths upward in a human-like smile, AND who do it appropriately.
  4. They’ve become less aggressive. When two wolf packs fight over territory, they attempt to kill each other. As in, the winners will try and chase down the losers and kill them. When two dog packs fight over territory, they stand at a distance and bark. When one pack feels it’s been out-barked, it turns and leaves. I am not making this up.
  5. Wolf packs are made up of family groups of around 4-7 animals; the parents and offspring (the so-called ‘alpha dogs’ are actually parents!). Dog packs are made up of unrelated animals all chilling together, and are typically around 7-30 members! (We don’t get many packs in first world countries, so researchers head to second and third world countries to watch this at work.)

Now, these are my Jenna-theories:

If the outsides of dogs have changed that much, down to size, shape, and skeletal structure, and we know that social cues have changed, and social structure and behavior has changed DRAMATICALLY, then it makes sense to me that probably brain structure and chemistry has changed, too. I mean, the aggression levels between dogs and wolves are on two different planets. If brain chemistry helps trigger the attack/kill versus attack/scare impulses, then the brain chemistry has to be at least a little bit different. If that’s different… well, it seems like everything is different, isn’t it? This is where some of the training theories break down. If it’s based on wolf behavior, and dogs aren’t wolves… the training techniques might work, but probably not for the reasons assumed.

Okay, I could go on forever, but I have to stop writing at some point, and it’s time for me to see a new client.

If you want more information, you can watch this video. It’s fun. πŸ˜€


You can also pick up a copy (in paperback, hardback, or audiobook formats) of “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood. The majority of things I talk about here are spoken of there, only with sources.

Ahh, I love this topic. Now to go do something else I love. πŸ˜€


Training Sitting for Meals on a Food Obsessed Dog

Whenever I see a dog that wolfs their food down, I want to train them to sit for their meals. The reason for this is pretty basic: it makes them less likely to become food aggressive if they have to show self-control around food.

Last month I had a foster, Flea, who already was food aggressive with other dogs. I spent a couple of weeks making him safe, then started feeding him with my others. Then I decided he should learn to sit before his meals. He was SO meal obsessed that this wasn’t easy, but I recorded it so I could post it here! Note that while I didn’t record every meal, for the ones you missed I also didn’t make him sit. We only worked on it when the camera was on!

After this there was a lot more of the same, but I didn’t keep filming; I was tired of making sure I was decent before feeding the dogs. πŸ˜‰ But he plateaued about here, which is typical, for several days before his impatience became patience and I didn’t have to keep reminding him!

What’s Best for My Dog May Be Counter-intuitive

One of the things I struggle to explain to people is the idea of doing what’s best for your dog, rather than what’s most comfortable for your dog.

Doc is, as he so often is, my example. What feels good is to leave him loose in the house during the day while I’m gone, like I do with Cash and Lily. It feels good to cuddle with him every night. It feels good to let him sleep on my bed when Quin isn’t here (which is most nights, as we don’t live together). But is it good for him? Until recently, I’d assumed the answer was yes.

You see, he’s gotten possessive of me. Well, that’s not quite accurate; he’s always been possessive. Not just of me, either, but of any person currently getting his attention. So if Margo is petting him and Lily comes to get petted too, he tries to body block Lily away. If he and I are cuddling and Cash comes up to get petted, Doc will give him sideways white-eyes (stress) and occasionally even growl.

I’ve tried various things to dissuade him of this possessive notion. I’ve tried making him leave when he gets possessive. I’ve tried rewarding him when he’s tolerant. I’ve tried distracting him. I’ve tried making him leave for a moment, then calling him back to pet and love on everyone. Some things haven’t worked at all, others with varying degrees of success.

There’s also his separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is hard to beat, because it requires draining energy (so it doesn’t further fuel the anxiety), providing a predictable framework, and time. Doc’s separation anxiety is pretty low these days, in the sense that he doesn’t destroy things or harm himself anymore, there’s little to no barking, and he seems fine while I’m gone (says my Furbo, a camera just for dogs). It’s still definitely noticeable; when I’m getting ready to go he stands at the door, showing two major stress signals (white eyes, pinched ears) and unhappiness signs (low tail held tight to his body) as well as some of the more minor signs of stress (licking his lips) and unhappiness (dancing forward and back, tail tucked, as if he’s trying to escape when I walk toward the door).

We probably would have proceeded like this for the foreseeable future if his possessiveness hadn’t combined with pain. First, he got T-boned at the dog park several times, and played so hard he had scratch marks from the other dog’s teeth all over his body. I didn’t realize how roughed up he’d gotten, or I would have stepped in. But I didn’t see it, didn’t step in, and he was hurting. Later that day, when the dog I was fostering thumped into him a few times while they were running, then tried to take his toy (something he’s not normally possessive over), he bit the other dog.

The very next day he skinned the pads of his paws (mostly the front two) taking a header down an asphalt road. (Note: it may seem like a good idea to play fetch on the hill one block over to wear your dog out, but when they overshoot the ball and come tearing back down the asphalt to get it, you’ll realize it really, really was not a good idea.) That afternoon, while sitting in Quin’s lap, so painful he could barely walk, Lily decided she wanted Quin’s attention. Doc was worried about his feet and feeling possessive, she refused to leave them alone, and before I really thought about it, he’d bitten her on the nose.

Were there reasons for his outburst? Obviously. He was in a huge amount of pain. He wasn’t feeling well. He was worried she’d touch his feet. He wanted Dad Time. The reasons, however, don’t matter: he’d still bitten. Clearly, something had to change.

The first thing I did was not-so-quietly freak out. Like most owners in similar situations, I felt betrayed. It doesn’t matter that feeling betrayed doesn’t make sense, it’s the feeling most often reported. I spent a day unable to even look at him. I talked to Quin about all the what-ifs. What if I couldn’t fix it? What if he did it again? What if he became unpredictable? (Quin talked me down.)

The second thing I did was start thinking. Since he wasn’t going to be out of pain any time soon, I didn’t want him biting my dogs again, and I had boarders coming, I decided to get him muzzle trained. (I was going to video this process, which is usually slow and extensive, but he took to the muzzle like he was born to it. Weirdo. *laughs*) This was my short-term safety solution.

Finally, I knew I needed a long-term solution. I can’t do anything to keep him out of pain, especially as accident-prone as he is, but if I know it could be a problem then having him muzzle trained would help. The possessiveness, however, had to go.

At first I felt like it was impossible. I’d already tried everything, I didn’t know what to do. It’s kind of funny, given I’m a dog trainer, that this is often my first go-to. I have to stop and think, “What would I tell a client?” As soon as I phrased it that way, I knew the steps to take.

First, crating when unsupervised. This was already happening, since I didn’t trust him. For safety reasons, I wasn’t about to leave the muzzle on him when I wasn’t home, so he needed to be separate from Cash and Lily.

Second, we had to break the obsession on “his” people. I told him he couldn’t sleep on my bed, and moved the dog beds out of the room. I crated him at night. I told him he couldn’t snuggle with me on the couch, but could lay at my feet and I would foot-pet him, and he could hang out in the dog bed beside the couch and I would pet him. (I still went to him for pets and snuggles occasionally; the point was to create some space, not to give him the cold shoulder.)

I set up an x-pen for him for when I was gone, so he was separated from Cash and Lily but had a little extra room to stretch out. I loaded it with his bed and toys, and I put it right beside the couch where we snuggled and he’d been getting petted, so that it was a loved space.

Third and last, once his feet healed I started making it a point to take him for long walks and running again, which we hadn’t really done since he got sick months ago. He’s finally back to normal weight and energy, though, and we needed to burn that energy off.

The result? The possessiveness lessened dramatically. He still gets the occasional side-long look if we’re snuggling and another dog comes up to be petted, but now I can remind him to behave and he settles. (I say, “You’re fine, goober,” or I shift his head so he can’t see/isn’t looking or, at worst, tell him he has to get down. When he doesn’t look side-long I break off petting the other dog to coo over him and his tolerance.)

Here’s the thing I didn’t expect: he got happier overall. In part, no doubt, because I’m walking him more. But not entirely; the night I let him sleep on my bed, he was under more stress the next day. The few days I didn’t put him in his xpen when I left, he was a great deal more stressed until I started again. I’ve gone back and forth now, because I can’t quite believe it. For a few days I’ll leave him out and let him decide when we cuddle, and then I’ll pen him and I’ll decide when we cuddle. Each time, he grows calmer, less stressed, and more tolerant and content when I limit his freedom.

I can come up with all number of theories as to why this might be happening, but let’s face it: this blog post is long enough. πŸ˜‰ The important thing is that he’s happier. It makes no sense, and that doesn’t matter.

Here’s the hard part: Although he’s happier, I feel guilty. I think, “But surely he’d like to stay out with Cash and Lily! Move around more, play with toys, etc!” The thing is, he isn’t happier staying out with Cash and Lily. He’s happier with limits on what he can do.

Maybe it’s like me and meditation. I hate doing it, but it does help my thoughts calm down in the long term. πŸ˜‰

So, what are you doing or not doing that might make your dog happier? Could it be something that goes against what you expect, but is true nonetheless? For myself, I have to remember: this is the reality. I can argue with it, but it’s quicker if I accept it and move forward.



How to train a dog when you’re exhausted

In a word: don’t.

See, here’s the thing: we all get tired. Last night I got about 2.5 hours of sleep. (Yay insomnia!) (You know that’s sarcasm, right? No one says yay about insomnia.) My dogs would like to go for a walk, and they aren’t in heavy training. But I’m tweaking Doc’s leash manners a bit (specifically around cats) and it means I have to pay attention. On 2.5 hours of sleep, I’m not going to be attentive, nor am I going to be patient — another key to good training.

If I take Doc walking today I’ll either ignore his staring at cats, which will set us back in training, or I’ll over-react and be frustrated and tired and he’ll be upset, too. If I skip the day his training will pause, but it won’t backslide.

The other reason for me to take the day off? I need a day off. My mood affects my dogs’ moods, and not just in the way I treat them (as seen above). Cool fact: dogs can smell the chemical change in our brains as our moods shift. So if my mood is permanently depressed, they’re going to assume that’s my normal. If my mood is usually one thing and then it tanks, they’re going to notice the change. Sometimes it makes dogs sweet and cuddly. Other times dogs start testing, just in case we need them to take over. All of that is also going to affect my life, as well as theirs. Suddenly my exhaustion is causing my dogs to frustrating me, and I’m too tired to deal with it well. The best thing I can do? Get some rest, which probably means — don’t go training.

But let’s circle back a second. Why else should I stop training for the day? I won’t hurt the dogs and their training if I take 1-2 days off a week, and I need it.

Our society is great at pushing people to keep going. That relaxing or taking time for self-care is shameful. But here’s the thing: we do best when we care for ourselves. Even if it wasn’t good for my dogs in all those peripheral ways, I still need to take care of myself. Me, then my dogs, then my clients.

So I’m gonna go now. I need a nap.