Traveling with pets

Hi, all!

Turns out moving is hard on spines. Mine went out, and I’ve spent about a month recovering! Hopefully, though, we’ll be going back to a semi-normal schedule. Starting with…


I know a lot of people spend the summer months traveling, and some take their pets. If you travel with your pets often — even if it’s just a trip to downtown — they’ll have an easier time. (This means that if you don’t usually take them in the car, start now!)

I’m going to address road trips, as flying would be a whole other beast!

First: Prep. Hopefully you’ve taken your dog in the car often enough that they’re reasonably calm. If not, start now. You may need to crate them or seatbelt them in the car, and if driving causes them anxiety you might talk to your vet about calming medication. You can also use dramamine for dogs who get car sick (and if you get the drowsy type, you’ll have a quieter ride!).

I would suggest taking along  a collapsible wire crate or x-pen, as well as their bed, food, some bones to chew on (both in the car and when you arrive) and their favorite toy(s). Of these, the most important things are the crate and their food! Make sure your dog is crate trained, and if not check out these posts. Just before you leave, exhaust your dogs. My dogs are older, so exhausting them might mean taking them to the beach the day before and letting them wear themselves out, knowing they’ll be tired for another day or two. It might mean taking dogs for a long walk (an hour at least) before they get in the car. It might be fetch until they’re flopping over, tired. But wearing them out will help immensely.

The drive: Presumably you’ve done all the prep you can at this point. If it’s going to be a drive of more than an hour or two, give your dog some things to chew. My dogs love bison horns, antlers, and kongs stuffed with goodies. My mom, who has small dogs, uses bully sticks. I pick up these things inside the house a week beforehand, so that when they get them in the car it’s new and special again. If your dog won’t chew in the car, give them something good anyway. Maybe after a few hours they’ll change their mind. Maybe not. Either way, it can only help!

If your dogs are experienced travelers, then use your best judgement on when they need to get out and stretch their legs. My dogs are excellent travelers, but if we’re going on a long ride we get out every four hours. I keep my eyes open and find a place where they can be off-leash, safe from cars, such as a large, empty field. If your dogs don’t have a strong recall, take a long rope to tie them to, or make sure you have enough time set aside for a good walk (30 minutes at least). I like to give my dogs five-ten minutes to roam and play, and then — especially if they aren’t playing — we play fetch for ten minutes or so. It’s not enough to exhaust them again, but it takes the edge off! If your dog is easily excited and has a hard time calming down, roaming and walking is a better bet than fetch. You don’t want them amped up when they get back in the car.

Getting there: whether “there” is a hotel for the night, a cabin for the weekend, or your best friend’s house, the actions are the same. In a perfect world, you would unpack without removing your dogs from the car, or leave the car packed so you can deal with the dogs first. Then you would take them for an hour walk and, if you need to unpack, put them in their crates in the house.

The world is never perfect! When I traveled with Cash when he was young, I would take him out of the car and put him directly into his crate in the house. This way, I could unpack and settle in without worrying that he might mark or do anything else he shouldn’t be doing. This is especially the case in someone else’s house! (If that someone else has a dog, this is also a good way to let them check each other out while you’re not able to supervise.) If your dog ever marks, chews, pulls out trash, or does anything else you wouldn’t want them to do, crate them while you’re unpacking.

Now, you’re unpacked. Hooray! Time to deal with dogs.

If you’re somewhere dog-free, then you have choices. A young or high energy dog really needs a walk or some play time at this point. Which one you choose depends on how much energy you have! A walk is best. If you’re beat, then playing fetch up and down the hall or around the beds while you enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine is perfectly fine. Not ideal, but okay. If they’d rather go sniff around and check things out, that’s fine too. Trail them — you don’t have to be in front of them — to see what they’re getting up to. If they’re too interested in something on the floor or the corner of furniture, it’s probably where another dog peed. Chase them off or use a squirt bottle so they know not to pee there, as well! In the future, keep a wary eye on whether or not your dog is headed over there.

If you want to establish new rules, now is the time. When I go somewhere and there’s a section of house or yard I want my dogs to stay out of, I walk into that section and when they try to follow me, I chase them out. They quickly learn the boundary line! Likewise, if I want them to stay off the furniture I sit on something, and when they try to come up I push them off. Praise for being where they should will counteract any negative feelings (and probably bait them to try again, so I can enforce the rule again!).

Show them where the food bowls are, and the door so they can go out and potty. If they’re bell trained, hang your bells so they still have their cue. If you have access to a yard, take them out there and walk the fence to be sure it’s secure while they sniff around. You can do all this with your tea or wine in one hand! If you were able to bring bones or toys, put them where your dog will easily find them (ie, the middle of the floor). If you weren’t, make a pet store (or dollar store) run and get some.

When you leave to tour the sights or when you’re ready for bed, put your dog in his crate. Dogs think that new places have new rules; you don’t want your perfectly behaved dog to decide the new rule is to chew if bored, get on furniture when they aren’t allowed, mark in the house, go through the trash, etc. (If your dog is well trained, you can close them in the bedroom with you at night instead of crating them.)

The next morning, start with a walk, some fetch, their breakfast, and you’re ready to go! If your dog is seeming nervous, keep giving them calming meds from the vet. Keep in mind that this is a new place: they will try to establish new rules, as well. Stay firm with your old rules (or the house rules), and your dog will figure it out quickly. If the house rules are different than your rules, then they’ll soon realize that this place has different rules — no big deal to a dog! When you can’t watch them, crate them. That way they won’t have a chance to break the rules!

You’ve just finished unloading the car. Yay!

Presumably by now the dogs have had a chance to sniff through the crate. If not — if, for instance, your dog is protective of his crate and so you put him in a room and shut the door — then they need to meet each other. The very best way to do this, especially if they’ve never met, is to put both dogs on leashes and go for a no-sniffing walk. Note the no-sniffing part: they should not be tangling leashes trying to say hi. By the time you’ve walked for five minutes they’ve got each other’s scent without being in each other’s faces, and things will go much more smoothly. Walk until they can walk next to each other; sniffing each other’s cheeks and shoulders while they walk is perfect. Then head back into the house, letting the new dog go first. (This lets the resident dog know that we are allowing him, and we like him.) Take them straight back to the yard if there is one, and release the hounds! The new dog will probably check out the area, while the old dog checks out the new dog. They should start getting along pretty quickly!

When they’ve worked out their kinks and are either playing well or mostly ignoring each other, invite them in. If the old dog is possessive AT ALL over toys, water, or food, then pick up his toys, put down a second water bowl in a different area than the first, and feed them separately. Get some new toys from the pet store or dollar store, nothing of high value (what is high value is determined by what the dogs like best, but usually includes bones), and let them share those.

Typical problems you might encounter would be jealousy/possessiveness of owners, toys, food, beds, and furniture, marking problems, and house rules. It is okay for two dogs to have two separate sets of rules. Dogs are not humans, and won’t object to the unfairness! So, if the old dog is allowed on the couch but you don’t want your dog learning that, it’s okay. If the people you’re visiting don’t allow their dog on the couch but are fine with yours on the couch, that’s okay, too. Always default to the house rules if you want your dog allowed back. Don’t break them just because the owner of the house isn’t in the room! Remember: dog hair doesn’t lie.

Keep the dogs in sight for the first twenty-four hours. Crate your dog when you’re not around to supervise, and watch closely for any wariness or stiffening in either dog. These are signs of discomfort, and should be attended to immediately. You can typically break this up early on by simply calling either dog’s name and giving them a quick pet when they come over. You’ll see these happening if there’s any possessiveness of the above list going on!

Sometimes, formerly housebroken dogs will start marking. If they do so, keep them in sight or crated at all times and take them out to potty frequently. If you see one sniffing intently, chase them off, then take them outside to pee and praise them for pottying outside.

Do not leave the dogs unsupervised overnight; take your dog into your room or put him in his crate! By the time twenty-four hours is over, you’ll know if you need to worry or not. If there have been no mishaps, relax. If there has been some growling or snapping, then casually keep the dogs apart (calling names, for instance, when they get too close) or even put the nosier one (not always the aggressive one) on a leash so you can pull him away when he gets too close to the other dog. Most likely, though, the dogs will be getting along like gangbusters!

Have fun, and safe travels!



Dogs and respect

One of the very common themes I hear among laypeople and dog trainers alike concerns respect.

“Your dog should respect you,” or “I want my dog to respect me” are common statements.

I like to think my dogs respect me. However, consider this. I’m standing in a burning building. A local teacher, S, whom I greatly respect, is saying, “Jenna! Jump through these flames! It’ll be all right!” I think to myself, Have you lost your mind, S? It won’t be all right! In that moment, I don’t need respect. I need trust.

When someone says to me, “I want my dog to obey me,” that really has nothing to do with respect. Respect is a sense of admiration for someone. Am I going to obey someone I admire? Welllll… maybe. It depends, doesn’t it?

So what do people really want when they say, “I want my dog to respect me”? They’re saying, “I want my dog to listen to me and obey.” That’s a much different ballgame. And hey, I understand it. I feel the same way. If I’m in a burning building, I want my dogs to do what I tell them when I say, “Jump through these flames to safety,” even though they can’t fully understand what I’m saying.

The question really becomes: how do I get my dog to listen and obey?

Well, obeying is easy. Enforce what you say, and reward when they comply. This really depends on the person (not the dog), and how consistent they are. Essentially, we’re teaching our dogs human language. They only learn things if those things mean the same thing every time. If I say, “Lily, get off the couch,” and then I grab her collar, make her get off the couch, then praise her for getting off the couch, she knows what I meant. If I say the same thing, but then decide, “Eh, too much effort,” and walk away, she has no idea what those words were that I said. So, first big step to a dog who listens? Command, enforce, praise, consistency. Do it in a lot of different situations. Don’t give up just because your friends are visiting. (Then your dog just learns that with people around, that same phrase means something else.)

Next: trust. If I want my dog to leap through flames, it’s not respect I need. It’s the consistency of listening to me in all situations and trust. Trust is a tricky subject, and goes back to respect. But not in the way we’re used to thinking.

Today I was working with a sweetheart of a dog, Hannah. Hannah is afraid of people. When she was willing to walk through crowds confidently, we upped her work to taking treats from humans. When the first human tried to pet her and she said no, what did we do? We agreed. We supported her decision to say she wasn’t ready for that. We said, “no problem, honey. We’ll back you up here, and we won’t let that person touch you.” In short, we respected Hannah’s decision. Eventually we might say, “hey, really now, let’s try something new,” but for now? For now she said, “This TERRIFIES me!” and we said, “Then don’t do it. That’s fine.” We’re building trust. We’re respecting her, and she’s learning that we won’t ask her for what she can’t handle. If we’d forced her to be petted, she’d have been terrified. It would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. She thinks it’ll be terrible, she’s so scared when we force her into it that it is terrible, she’s proven right, and we can’t be trusted. Instead, we respect her, and she can trust us: when we do say, “hey, you’re pretty calm around people. Just let this one touch your chin. It’s not so bad.” Then she can start to say, “Hey, that’s not so bad. You let me escape when I needed to. I got a treat. It was only a brief touch and I can handle that. I guess you’re right.”

Now, back to the fire. “Cash!” I say. “Come!” Through flames and to me. He would probably whine. I would say it again. This is the command we’ve worked on in every scenario I can find, so he knows what it means. More importantly, though, he knows that I’ve never asked of him something he can’t do. He trusts me, because I respected what he was telling me.

He leaps, and we escape the burning building. Was it because he respected me? Heavens no! It was because I’d respected him, and I’d taken the time to build trust.

The next time you’re thinking you want your dog to respect you, stop and think. Do you really want them to look at you with admiration? Or do you want them to listen, obey, and trust you? If it’s the latter, start working on that. You have to give them a reason to trust you. The best reason to trust you is the knowledge that you respect them and their limits.

Go for it guys! Go build some mutual respect.


FAQ: How do I teach my dog to defend itself against another dog?

One of the most common searches that get people here is, “How do I teach my dog to defend itself?” There’s already a post on how to teach your dog to defend itself against people, but I have people ask me, frequently, how to teach their dogs to defend themselves against other dogs. Time to talk about that!

There are two things we’ll look at here: 1. Dogs defending themselves from annoying dogs at dog parks, and 2. Dogs defending themselves in dog fights.

1. Dogs defending themselves from annoying dogs at dog parks (etc)

I was at the dog park not too long ago, and someone’s perfectly friendly dog was trying to get another dog to play. We’ll call the friendly dog Friendly and the other dog Worried.

Friendly’s owner wasn’t calling him off because he was, clearly, friendly. Worried’s owner wasn’t doing anything, either because he didn’t know that there was a problem, or because he wanted his dog to defend itself. After circling away, rolling over, and trying to escape, Worried finally turned around and snapped at Friendly. Worried’s owner said, “That’s right, just tell him to back off,” and Friendly’s owner said, “Sorry about that,” but glared at Worried and his owner while taking her dog away.

What did the dogs just learn from this? Did Friendly learn to leave dogs alone when they look frightened? Did Worried learn that he can stand his ground, gain confidence, and get another dog to stop being a bully? No.

Friendly learned that this one dog is unpredictable and nasty. At best, Friendly is now going to be rude to some other dogs who might tolerate it, might be traumatized by it and never tell him to back off, might encourage it, or might attack him. There are enough dogs who will tolerate it or encourage it that he’s not going to learn to stop his behavior; he’s only going to learn that some dogs are unpredictable. At worst, Friendly learned that some dogs are unpredictable, he’s now going to be nervous which is going to bring out the other bullies and he’ll either be bullied and traumatized himself, or he’ll turn aggressive to keep the bullies at bay.

Meanwhile, Worried learned that meeting other dogs is scary and that he cannot trust his pack — his human — to help him. Dog packs work together and protect each other. When your dog is being bullied and you don’t step in, they learn that you either will abandon them to monsters and they can’t trust you (worst case), or that you’re useless, and they can’t trust you (best case). Worried also learned that attacking dogs will work. Next time a dog comes up to him he’s more likely to snap sooner and with more violence to get the dog to leave him alone. The next time it happens, he’ll up the ante again. Soon he’s dog aggressive.

This is the method most people use to teach their dogs to “defend themselves.” Now let me show you how dogs actually work.

One of my clients was having a problem with his young dog, A, mounting and playing too rough with more submissive dogs. We brought him to my house along with a submissive dog, Ike. Now, A is like Friendly, above: very friendly, very playful, but just getting full of himself. He could become a bully if we let him. I’ve spent a lot of time working with Cash and Lily so that they have excellent socialization skills, and neither overcorrect nor undercorrect a young dog. They each have different ways of dealing with a bully (Lily leaves the area and ignores them, while Cash plays “dad” and corrects them), but they are both appropriate.

We let A and Ike together. A started harassing Ike, playing too rough and trying to mount him. Ike did all the appropriate things; he tried to duck away when A was too rough, he tried to leave, he tried to lay down and request gentler play. A, being young, was oblivious.

Then we brought Cash in. Cash stood up tall (to say, “I’m not playing, here”) and went trotting after A as A went running after Ike. When A and Ike collided, Cash stood and watched for a moment. When it became clear that Ike wasn’t enjoying himself, Cash made a loud, open-mouthed noise and shouldered A away. He then proceeded to sniff A all over, essentially saying, “stay here and behave yourself.” After a minute, A eased himself away and went for Ike again.

Once again, Cash shouldered him away with a loud noise and they repeated the sniffing/licking/grooming ritual, with it increasing in time as Cash settled into his father role, and A settled into being a younger dog. When A eased away, he went more carefully to Ike. After a minute, he started getting pushy again; once again, Cash stepped in. This went on for about forty minutes before A got the idea and started playing nicely with Ike (who, realizing he was protected by Cash, agreed to play instead of running away), and rougher with Cash (who doesn’t mind playing rough).

What just happened in our pseudo-dog pack? Rather than teaching Ike to defend himself, Cash taught A to have good manners. Ike grew in confidence seeing that he was protected, and came out to play, meeting A halfway.

So in our dog park scenario above, someone should have come to Worried’s rescue, and taught Friendly firmly and persistently that he couldn’t play rough. Simply pushing him gently away from Worried would suffice.

Note also that if your dog is confident and knows that aggression isn’t okay, but they can’t get away from the annoying dog, they’re going to correct another dog appropriately. With a little noise, a shoulder away, and maybe a bark to say, “Hey! Enough!” They’re going to be Cash.

2. Dogs defending themselves in dog fights.

“Okay,” I hear you cry, “that’s all well and fine for dogs who are friendly but rude. What about a dog fight?”

Okay! Here we go.

Lily was doing zoomies around a ranch one day, when the ranch dog, who had some aggression issues, decided she’d had enough. She came charging over to Lily and attacked. I was much too far away to do anything, though I started running over. This was before I started using Lily for aggressive dogs, back when she’d been willing to fight other dogs, which was something we’d been working on. As I ran I yelled, “Lily! Down!”

Lily dropped under the much larger akita like a sack of bricks. The akita continued to stand over her, jaws clamped around Lily’s throat, snarling. When I got there, I grabbed it by the scruff until it let go, then I pulled it off and freed Lily. No one was injured.

If Lily had fought back against that dog, it would have escalated the situation. The dog weighed twice what Lily did, and had a thick coat to protect her from bites. Lily would have been injured, possibly both dogs would have been injured, and since Lily is a pit it’s possible the owner could have claimed that Lily started it. Lily, given society’s current feeling about pits, could have paid a very high price. Should she have defended herself at the risk of her life? No.

Here’s another scenario. I had Cash at a dog park, and a smaller dog started attacking him. Cash yelped repeatedly and ran to me while I was running to him. I grabbed Cash’s collar and pushed the other dog away, continuing to push him away. When the owner reached me, she scolded me for not letting Cash defend himself. Here’s the thing: that dog weighed maybe 40 pounds. Cash weighed 110. If Cash had defended himself against the smaller dog, he could have badly hurt the smaller dog without even meaning to. Cash would have ended up paying that price, too, at best being banned from dog parks and forced to wear a muzzle outdoors (at worst being put down). I’d have been liable to pay that dog’s vet bills and would have a dog on the federal “dangerous dog” list (which means an official sign, increased renter’s insurance or unable to get renter’s insurance at all), all because my dog defended himself. Instead, Cash learned that I will protect him, and when it happened again he was more willing to tolerate the bad behavior, less frightened by it, and grew in confidence. Now, that sort of minor aggression doesn’t both him; he swings out of the range of teeth and avoids it. (For major aggression, he’s still smart enough to run!)

It takes two dogs to be in a dog fight. If one of them refuses to fight, the likelihood of an injury drops significantly.

So… how do you teach your dog to defend itself against another dog? Don’t protect it. Consequently, you will:

1. Have a dog who doesn’t trust you
2. Run a far greater risk of injury to your dog and others’ dogs
3. Run a far greater risk of dog fights ending in having to give your dog up or put them down
4. Run a far greater risk of being unable to get or pay for insurance
5. Go against a dog’s nature, which is to work as a team and be protected

Given all this, why would you teach your dog to defend itself? If you want a confident, safe dog, teach them to ignore or walk away from aggression and dog fights, and that you’ll protect them so they feel safe enough to try new things, try playing with new dogs, and tolerate worse behavior than they might otherwise — because they know you’ll have their back.



*Edit: This post has created a surprising, to me, amount of controversy. People with opposing opinions are welcome to express them politely; anyone name calling will have their comment deleted.

Fault and responsibilty

There are two things I hear most often when I go to someone’s house to help with their dog. They are:

“I know it’s my fault.”


“It’s just because that other dog provoked my dog.”

As with so many other things, moderation is key.

“I know it’s my fault.”

Until recently, this blog had a look that was slightly difficult to read and navigate. That was my fault. Should I feel guilty about that? Did I slop it together and say, “I don’t care if it’s user friendly! Pah!”? Of course not. I put together a blog that was as good as my abilities could make it. When I then had time, I did a little more research and figured out how to make it better.

So, let’s look at this phrase again: “It’s my fault.” Yes… and no. Like me with my blog, when a dog’s owner sees their dog start to have problems, they do the best they can with their knowledge and experience. Owners who realize they’re out of their league and have the time and/or money to do research are then able to add to their knowledge, with better outcomes.

Whenever someone says to me, “My dog jumps on people, and I know it’s my fault,” I respond with, “You did the best you could with the information you had. Now you will have more information!” No one should be castigated for not having ALL the information. In this day and age, no one can have all the information on everything! You do the best you can with the information you have. If that isn’t good enough, hopefully you’re able to get help via books, blogs, or experts. Feeling guilty because you couldn’t solve the problem yourself isn’t helpful for anyone. You did the best you could with the information you had. Now it’s time to get more information or help.

“It’s just because that other dog provoked my dog.”

The flip side of taking all the blame is, of course, the denial of responsibility. “My dog attacked this dog, but this dog provoked it.” This isn’t helping anyone, either. If you shift responsibility, you can’t solve the problem. We can’t control other peoples’ dogs (much as I would like to, sometimes!). All we can do is ask our dogs to be AWESOME.

Lily was doing zoomies around a ranch (when your dog seems to lose their mind and RUNS AS FAST AS THEY CAN IN GREAT BIG LOOPS OHMYGODZOOOOOM!). The akita who lived on that ranch didn’t appreciate it. The akita came running over and lunged at Lily. I yelled, “Lily! DROP!” Thank goodness she did. The akita stopped attacking at her submission, and though the akita stayed there in a very aggressive posture, ready to attack again, it gave me time to run over and pull the akita away.

In this scenario, I would say the akita was at fault. A dog doing zoomies shouldn’t trigger an aggressive response in another dog. However, I can’t stop the akita’s behavior: I can only control Lily’s behavior. In the future at that ranch, I told Lily she couldn’t do zoomies. Is that fair? No, but it was safe.

There was another possible outcome, too. Lily could have not dropped when I told her to, which would be “normal” dog behavior. She could have defended herself. This would have been reasonable behavior in the face of being attacked, but it is not ideal behavior. If Lily had defended herself, there would have been a dog fight. In that case, who is at fault? Well, the akita started it. I could abdicate all responsibility and say, “It was the akita’s fault. Lily was just defending herself.” That would be true. It would be leaving out a key part, though: Lily and I could have stopped it. If Lily chooses to fight back, then she carries some fault as well. Since I can’t control the akita, I have to teach Lily what the correct choice is — in this case, not to fight back.

Most of the time, the provocation is less than this. Most of the time, the provocation is one dog standing over another while the other chews a toy. This is provocation and should be stopped. BUT, the dog chewing the toy should also learn to ignore that looming behavior, or walk away. Both parties have some fault in a dog fight.

“That dog was barking at my dog, so of course my dog barked back.” That dog was provoking your dog, no doubt. But your dog has a choice: to bark back, or to ignore the behavior. It’s up to you to teach which choice is correct.

So, let’s look at these phrases again:

“I know it’s my fault.” Did you do the best you could with the information you had? Are you now looking for more information? Then give yourself credit for that, and keep working on it. Don’t feel guilty just because you don’t know how to make it better. Simply continue trying to make it better.

“My dog reacted, but they were provoked. It was that other dogs’ fault.” Did your dog walk away? Did you put in the time and effort to try and teach them to walk away? Did you subtly, maybe unconsciously, encourage the behavior by not doing anything about it, or joining your dog in going after the other dog verbally, emotionally, or physically? Your dog has a choice. It’s up to us to teach them the right one.

In short, don’t blame yourself if you’ve done the best you can and things aren’t perfect, but don’t abdicate responsibility if something goes wrong or seems hard, either. Dog training is a tightrope, and the way through is through moderation!

Bird update:

Tango is 6 weeks old and looks something like this:

(Those bare spots on his neck and shoulder area are just where the feathers haven’t grown in. You see them in all baby greys!)


FAQ: Can you give a dog too many treats?

Every so often someone asks me this question, and the answer is: Yes, definitely. Giving your dog too many treats creates problems both mentally and physically. Let’s talk about that.

Physical problems

This is obvious: too many treats creates a dog who’s overweight and who doesn’t eat his or her food (and therefore is malnourished). If you need to give your dog a lot of treats for training purposes, and you don’t want either of these to happen, consider giving your dog a high quality kibble as their “treat.” Either reserve half their breakfast as their “treats” for the day, or buy a whole different kind of kibble and use that as treats. Either way, you want to adjust their food accordingly.

Too many treats (aka, too much sugar) can also cause health problems such as diabetes in dogs. Keep your dog healthy: cut down on the treats.

Mental problems

Far more importantly for training purposes, giving dogs too many treats causes mental problems. Now, I don’t mean it makes your dogs crazy (though dogs, like humans, get sugar highs). I mean it causes problems that are governed by the brain. For instance, if your dog is getting treats at random, then when you ask them to work for a treat (sit, come, be friendly, don’t jump, behave), they have no reason to do so. Why work for something when you’re going to get it for free later?

In addition, if they’re used to getting high value treats — whether it’s because they’ve worked for them or just because they’re getting treats in general — then low value treats will lose their incentive. Why should I work for carrots when I normally get potato chips? Your dog feels the same way!

Sometimes people will ask me if they can give their dog treats “just because.” The answer is yes, but rarely. The more training the dog is undergoing, the fewer “just because” treats they should get — we want them to be motivated for training! My dogs, who rarely have to learn anything new anymore, get “just because” treats once a week. Some dogs get them once a day. But those dogs are dogs who are PERFECTLY BEHAVED and have no problems! If you need your dog to be motivated by food, use treats sparingly.

Now, if you can’t stand the thought of giving them no treats except when they work for it, try giving them their kibble as an occasional (occasional) treat. It’s a fun snack, and it’s low value.

“Jenna!” I hear you cry. “What do you mean, ‘work for it’? What does that entail? I always ask my dog to sit before I give her a treat!”

If I ask Lily to sit, and she sits, she DOES NOT get a treat. She’s not working for it. She knows that command like the back of her hand. She’s done it a million times. It’s automatic. If, however, I ask her to sit and stay as we answer the door, she gets a treat for that. Not because she doesn’t know how to sit or stay, but because doing so in the face of TWO NEW HANDS TO PET HER is really hard.  She has to work at that, so she gets a treat. When I try to teach her something brand new, she gets not just a treat, but a high value treat — something to create incentive to work hard and learn this difficult new thing, rather than giving up or getting bored and walking away.

Ideally, unless your dog has no problems whatsoever, they should only get treats when they work for it. Low value treats or kibble are perfect for easy things. High value treats should be reserved for harder things. But note that if you give them a lot of low value treats, they’ll be too full for the high value treats! So, regardless, don’t over-do it. If your dog is in training, reserve treats for that. If they’re mostly perfect, give them occasional (once a week to once a day) low value treats. If they’re having to really work on something, nix the treats altogether unless it’s for training.

Finally, I get a lot of people who say the following:

Spouse 1: Our dog doesn’t jump on people when I tell him not to.
Spouse 2: Our dog jumps on everyone, no matter what I tell him!

This is extremely common. Dogs relate differently to different people, and respond differently to different people, and have different manners for different people! If you are Spouse 1, and you don’t have a problem with your dog but someone else in your family does and is training them… don’t, for the love of god, undermine that person’s efforts by filling your dog up on treats, or giving your dog high value treats so they’re uninterested in more treats! If one person in the family is training, the others in the family need to support those efforts in the easiest way possible: by not interfering.

So, in short:
If your dog is nearly perfect (for everyone in the family), they can have a low value “just because” treat once a week to once a day.
If your dog is in training, reserve treats for training.
If they are in training, use high value treats for the hard stuff, and low value treats for the easy stuff. Don’t fill them up on low value treats!
And finally: Support each other!


Dog movement: how to manipulate dogs (even ones that aren’t yours!)

Today I’m talking about dog body language, some behavior, and some ways of maneuvering your dog, your neighbor’s dogs, and protecting your kids around exuberant dogs!

The first thing you should know is that there’s a hierarchy among dogs. The “top dogs” (or alpha dogs) get to make all the rules, but they also protect the pack. This is part of why Cash wants to stick close to Quin’s 8-year-old twins: children (or puppies) are always at the bottom of the ranks, and need to be protected! The top dogs, in addition to protecting the other dogs, also set all the rules.
Personal space
Top dogs show their colors by getting into other dogs’ personal space. When the other dogs move away, they’re saying, “Yes! You’re in charge!”
Example: When Lily jumps toward Quin’s twins, she’s telling them, “I’m in charge! I make the rules! Give me that cookie!” If they back up (get out of her personal space), they are agreeing without ever meaning to.
What to do: If a dog is jumping on your child, you can tell your child to step forward and put their knee up. This forces the dog to move back, giving the child personal space, and the upright knee will keep the dogs from putting their paws on your child and pushing back. It usually has to be done several times before the dog tunes in!
Example: When the twins did this, Lily stopped jumping and sat down. When one of them did it to Cash, Cash settled down instantly and even laid down! In both cases, the dogs had to acknowledge that the humans were top dog and therefore get to make the rules, and the dogs started listening to the rules (which were “don’t jump for treats”).
You can also tell a dog “be nice to that OTHER person” by moving into the dog’s space when they get too close (or jump on) the other person.
Example: My neighbor’s dog is jumping on my friend.
What to do: I step into my friend’s personal space, and then step into the dog, pushing them away.
The top dog (me) gets to say, “be gentle with the newcomers! That is the rule!” and the other dogs will listen. Moving into their space is a non-offensive way to take control of a dog. (The knee up just keeps them from jumping on you when you do it! You can also do it without picking your knee up, but you have to get closer, often bumping the dog with your legs or hips, and it can be more intimidating to people.)
Dogs also sniff each other’s genitals to check in. Doing so tells the dogs if you’re diseased or have a parasite, if you’ve been eating well, what you’ve been eating (that is then safe for them to eat, too), if you’re strong or weak, and if you’re fertile. This is all very important information to a wild animal — and dogs are much more in tune with their undomesticated side than people! Now, if the top dog doesn’t want to be sniffed, they simply say so and the other dogs stop. They say so by turning and walking away, or just turning, or walking into the other dog’s personal space.
Example: A friend comes over, and Lily stuffs her nose in their crotch.
What to do: I can use my hissing noise: that noise tells my dogs that if they don’t stop, I’m going to invade their personal space (or squirt them with the squirt bottle). I’m insisting they give that other person more respect. If a dog is doing it to me, I can step into them or turn away.
If you don’t do anything about it, the dog will sniff you and then leave. It isn’t a precursor to biting.
When dogs want other dogs to come closer, they look at the dog and back away, inviting that dog into their space. When they want a dog to move away, they stand tall, look at the dog and move toward them, invading their space. (There’s a lot of other cues that will determine playing, sniffing, running, etc, but that gets complicated. Stick to a walk and you’re always saying, “Back away” or “come closer.”)
Example: Lily stuffs her nose in the crotch of a friend of mine, and my friend, very naturally for a human, backs away. My friend is actually telling Lily, “Come here, Lily!” So Lily does! (And keeps sniffing!)
For strange dogs:
If you turn your back and jog or run from a barking dog, they will often chase you. If you face them and back up, you’re inviting them to come closer. If you just stop and stand there, you’re saying, “I’m not interested in either chasing you away or you coming closer.” If, on top of that, you don’t LOOK at them (look at the treetops instead!) you’re saying, “I don’t want to be friends, I don’t want to fight, I’m not prey. I’m totally uninterested in you.” Looking and talking to dogs is actually aggressive in dog language. Friendly dogs learn that’s how WE communicate, and they accept it. But if you’re dealing with an unfriendly dog, just stop moving and look at the treetops. Worst case scenario is that they’ll run up to try and scare you, bark from 10 feet away, and then slowly either leave or come sniff you.
Now go manipulate some dogs, and feel powerful!

My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because…

(If your dog has already bitten someone, you should head to this post.)

It’s time to have this conversation! This is the conversation where we talk about when it’s acceptable for a dog to bite a person.

“My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because they were guarding their food/favorite toy, and that’s instinctive for dogs.”

No. It’s not okay for your dog to guard their food/favorite toy from a human and, in doing so, bite a person. The appropriate response is for your dog to give up the food/favorite toy. That, by the way, is also instinctive for dogs.

“But it’s their favorite.”

Doesn’t matter.

And the person got up in their face.”

Doesn’t matter.

“And this was after I told the person repeatedly that my dog bites, and they needed to leave my dog alone.”

That sounds like an annoying situation and person. But it doesn’t matter. Your dog still shouldn’t have bitten that person. Your dog was in the wrong no matter what the person was doing. And if you know your dog bites, why was it around people you had to warn away?

“I was having  a party.”

Do you have a bedroom you can put your dog? Or a muzzle for your dog?

“…Okay, but my dog bit a person and it’s okay because my dog is afraid of children, and this stranger let their kid run right up to my dog and my dog snapped out of terror.”

Aww. Poor puppy. I can see how that would be scary. But it’s still not okay for your dog to bite someone. Your dog is still in the wrong.

“But they were under attack!”

Yeah. They need to learn to retreat instead of biting. It’s not okay.

“My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because–”



No. It’s still not okay for your dog to bite someone. Don’t even go there.

“But this person BROKE INTO MY HOUSE.”

Ah! Okay. Now let’s talk legalities. In the state of California (you’ll have to look up your own state laws if you live outside of California) a dog is considered a weapon, and is therefore subject to the same rules as one. You can shoot someone if they’re breaking into your house. You can shoot someone who is threatening you. You cannot shoot someone who has broken in your house but is trying to leave. So: Was the person who broke into your house threatening you or still breaking in when your dog bit them?


Then that was an acceptable time to bite someone.

Alternately, “No, they were running away.”

Then it’s not okay that your dog bit them.

“But they broke into my house!

I know. I’m not saying if it’s morally right or wrong, I’m just telling you what the law says.

“But dogs are predators, and they chase and bite fleeing people! How am I supposed to call my dog off someone who broke in and is now running away?”

Lots of training. Your dog was in the wrong.

“My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because I hate that someone.”

You hate that someone… and so your put your dog’s life at risk by encouraging them to bite? First off, I think you need to check your priorities, and second off, that’s still not okay.

“My dog bit someone, but it’s okay because it was at a party and someone stepped on my poor dog, and they bit in their panic.”

That is awful. But it’s still not okay for your dog to bite someone.

“My dog bit someone, but–”


“My dog–”



Nu uh.


Hsssst! Bad dog. No biting!

(This post has been brought to you by alllll the many excuses I’ve heard over the years. It is never okay for your dog to bite someone. Full stop. No more excuses: if you have this problem, it’s time to solve it!)