Socialization: quality, not quantity

There’s a theory that has taken the dog training world by storm over the last ten years or so, and it’s this:

The Theory: your dog should see 100 different people a month (or is it a week? I’ve blocked it from my memory) and some similar number of dogs from 8 weeks old (earlier if the breeder can manage it) to 5 months old. If you do not do this or if you skip a week, your dog will DIE. Or something like that.

First of all, as an introvert the very thought of that many people makes me feel faint. Excuse me, I need to go lie down.

Second off, if The Theory is true, it will show itself in the dogs who have or have not been socialized to that extent. SO! Let’s look at my personal examples.

Lily was a rescue several times over; while she had several families, I know for a fact (because I know those families) that while she saw a decent number of people — kids’ friends who came over to play, the people in puppy class — she definitely didn’t see even 5 new people a week after the first week or so.

Cash I had from puppyhood, so I know exactly who he saw. First, he was with the breeder until he was 14 weeks, so he saw her and her family. (Note he was already almost out of the ‘socialization window.’) Then he was with me. We saw my family, three regular horse training clients, annnnnd… no, I’m pretty sure that’s it. Probably a person or two on walks, if I didn’t do my introvert thing and hide when someone was coming.

Doc was found wandering (several times) in residential areas and picked up by animal control. Between whoever his family was, neighbors who found him wandering, the shelter, and his new families he probably saw the most people of all my dogs. It’s a lot of people. Maybe 100 a week, but that seems excessive.

According to The Theory, all my dogs (except maybe Doc) should be hot messes, and yet they all ADORE strangers, whether those strangers are dogs or people!

The last post I wrote talked about hereditary issues. That’s another factor about whether your dog is friendly or not. Were the parents super friendly? I recently went to someone’s house where they have two dogs, brothers, both of whom are hot messes in different ways. The dogs’ parents weren’t friendly. Neither were the grandparents. I’m going to take a leap and say that probably there’s a hereditary issue there.

Finally, there’s experience. This is what I want to talk about most of all. First, I’m going to posit my working theory. It’s more complex than The Theory, and not as easy to remember. Occam’s razor wouldn’t like it, but I think it’s more accurate.

My theory: genetics and experience combine and each dog must be treated differently. Some dogs will be helped by massive socialization. Others will not, either because it will backfire or because they’re friendly regardless. In any case (and this is the main point of my theory), quality matters over quantity.

Imagine for a moment I have a timid dog or puppy, and I’m out with them. Someone approaches cooing over how cute they are and, let’s face it, I don’t disagree. They’re the cutest. My timid gal drops her tail low and wags. She might approach carefully, or maybe even not approach at all. I encourage her to go forward, knowing she’ll enjoy the pets if she just tries it. She finally does, sniffing the stranger’s feet. The stranger pets her and rubs that special spot behind her ears. She rolls over and we all go, “Awww!” She gets her belly rubbed. When the stranger stops she jumps up, all wiggles, and crawls onto my lap. Yay! Great experience! Right?

Is it? Low tail means they’re nervous and don’t want to engage. A low wag means they have anxiety in this situation — it’s the dog saying, “I’m just a puppy, please don’t hurt me! See? I’m cute!” So my dog was saying they didn’t want to engage (be petted), and were worried, but I ignored it completely and encouraged them forward. Like any small child they don’t want to disappoint, so they got petted. They learned that I’m not listening and they have no choice in the matter. Then they ran back to me for reassurance. Was that really a great experience for my dog? Maybe it ended all right, but overall I don’t think happiness is what they’re going to take away from that experience. And yet, it’s exactly what we all do! I’ve even caught myself doing it, on both ends, and I know better!

Repeat this experience 100 times a month (or was it a week? I can’t remember, I fainted), and classical conditioning takes over. See person, get anxious. Even if it’s ending well, the dog is STILL learning that we aren’t listening and it starts out stressful.

For some dogs, this won’t matter. They’re so friendly and happy-go-lucky that they’re going to find friends everywhere regardless of the situation. (Those dogs are going to like everyone even if they NEVER meet anyone during the “socialization phase.”)

But what if I have a dog who is really excitable? He knows that when he goes out HE MEETS PEOPLE! He tries to jump on every person he meets (I don’t let him), and he’s SO EXCITED he does nothing but wiggle like crazy when he sees new friends! Maybe this will work out brilliantly. Or maybe I’m over stimulating an already excited dog. Now they walk out the door and the brain turns off — THEY’RE GOING TO SEE NEW FRIENDS OMG CAN’T THINK!!1!1!!

Maybe I have a super friendly dog, but in my efforts to meet 100 people day — hang on, I’m hyperventilating — I let him say hi to the elderly gent down the street. Turns out that guy was attacked by a chihuahua when he was a toddler, and when my dog approaches (because, as previously mentioned, my puppy is the cutest puppy ever) he starts screaming and flinching backward. Now my friendly puppy thinks some people might be unpredictable and frightening, and my would-have-been-friendly puppy has trauma. Meeting people just backfired.

But what about those 100 dogs I was supposed to meet every month? In the wild, a puppy would NEVER meet that many dogs. Possibly not even in his lifetime. But hey, we’re following The Theory (and we’re apparently not worried about disease), so we do it. Some of those dogs are over-friendly and try to play, bouncing on my puppy and scaring him on accident. Others don’t want to deal with a puppy and are stiff or even snap to make him back off. (“That’s okay,” the other owner says. “They’re just working it out!” Uh, I wouldn’t let a stranger yell at one of my step kids for mistaking social cues that are above their age level. Why is it okay when dogs do it?) BUT, not all dogs snap, and some puppies play nicely. Then there’s the leash aggressive dog we don’t even get near, who is essentially screaming threats at my puppy from across the street, which is rather frightening. What’s my puppy learning? Maybe that dogs are unpredictable, and even the friendly ones might be too rough.

I’ve over-stated my point, haven’t I? But now you get the picture.

None of my dogs saw tons of people or dogs. Lily and Doc both had issues when I got them; Lily barked fearfully at men, and Doc was leash aggressive toward dogs. Lily had had a pool guy come into the yard and frighten her; I have no idea what experiences Doc had. They both saw more dogs and people than Cash did.

Cash’s experiences with dogs and people were limited to those I knew well, and knew he’d have a good experience with.

I don’t have a big enough sample here to base real comparisons on, but I can tell you this: of all the dogs I’ve trained, whether they were friendly (to dogs or people) had no obvious correlation with how many people/dogs they’d seen as puppies. Whether or not they were unfriendly to people or dogs had a direct correlation to whether or not they’d had a frightening experience as puppies.

Quality over quantity: it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen 100 people or dogs, if some of those experiences were traumatic. If they only see a few people or dogs and the experiences are all great, that’s pretty confidence building!

So kick back. Invite some friends over. Take your puppy out occasionally. Think quality, so that they have a good confidence base to work from. If you want to meet 100 people a month because you have that many friends and you can know that the experiences will be good — and your puppy is down with that idea — go for it! But if you, like me, shudder at the very thought, don’t stress yourself out.

Now, excuse me. After thinking about so many people I need to go relax on my fainting couch.



Is it the owner’s fault?

One statement I hear from responsible owners is, “I know my dog’s behavior is my fault.” It’s one I used to agree with — behavior comes from what was reinforced — but nowadays I’m re-thinking my beliefs.

First, any animal’s behavior comes from biology. My parents are amazing. They are also clinically depressed on one side and recovering alcoholic on the other. This is something that’s written into my DNA, something that has been shown over and over again to be hereditary. Are they awesome parents? Man, I have nothing but awe for my parents. I don’t think I could have done as well as they did in their situations. I always know that I’m loved, even when I’m doing crazy things like moving to NorCal with nothing but a couple grand in savings and the hope that my business will flourish. I always know that I have a safety net: my parents would take me in in a heartbeat, if something went drastically wrong, and in their role modeling so would either of my sisters. I am truly lucky.

But we don’t think of “what did this dog inherit?” when we look at dogs, quite often. Then there’s the experience factor of it: my early life experiences said “strangers are dangerous; family is safe.” (I was nearly kidnapped twice, had bullies for teachers, and in every case it was my parents who rescued me.) Today, I have a social anxiety disorder. You can’t tell in training situations, but put me in a big party and it becomes immediately obvious — without my meds, Quin (jokingly my “service human”), and/or Doc, I would be the hyperventilating, bawling mess in the corner. Personally, I’d say that if it’s anything more than hereditary, it’s the strangers’ fault.

Okay, I guess my genes predisposing me toward anxiety came from my folks. But the bit the with the strangers only made me certain my parents would protect me from strangers. My parents certainly didn’t do anything wrong in chasing down the man on the beach who’d grabbed me and was walking away, and they did everything right in sending me with an older sister and keep us in eye line as we walked (thank goodness!).

Now let’s think about your dog. Specifically, I want to think about some of the dogs who have triggered this thinking in me. Let’s look at Bobbie. (All dogs shall now be named Bob. ;-D) Bobbie was bought as a puppy from a decent, if not show, breeder. She was put into my hands as a puppy, to make sure she was socialized. We went EVERYWHERE. Orchard and Home Depot before her shots, downtown and to parks afterward. She loves other dogs. She’s TERRIFIED of humans. She’s a year and a half old now, and still dealing with this terror of humans.

Her owner is a long time client. I know for sure there has been no abuse. She hasn’t had any run ins with bad people. She HAS seen many friendly strangers, and many people who ignored her. So what causes the sheer terror?

I’ll tell you what doesn’t cause it: her owner. I can’t, in any way, shape, or form, claim this is her owner’s fault. Sure, there are things we could do that would help, that due to physical problems can’t be done. But her owner didn’t cause this fear.

“Okay,” I hear you cry. “There’s some hereditary wonkiness going on there. But what about older dogs?”

Also recently I had a session with a new client. She has an 8 year old dog, Bob, who has had problems with people all his life. She adopted Bob when he was 1, and has dealt with his human fear aggression since. To date, he goes for walks early in the morning when no one is about, and no one comes over to the house unless he’s outside. (Talk about a hiccup in your social life.)

Whatever happened to him before he was 1 was certainly not her fault. After she got him, she hired two different trainers to help. One helped somewhat with his commands, but eventually Bob became too reactive even with that person and was banned from lessons. The other suggested putting him down. That was 7-8 years ago. I could say it was the owner’s fault for not taking him out more, but really, after two trainers ditching her, I’d say she’d done her due diligence!

When I met up with her for the first time last week, she kept saying, “I know it’s my fault…” But is it? He already had problems before he met her. She worked with two separate trainers with two very different styles, and both had given up on him. What more is she expected to do?

Let’s let go of this idea that everything is the owner’s fault. Sure, sometimes things you’re doing might exacerbate a situation, but here’s another thought: a dog is no more a blank slate than a human baby is. I came into this world with all sorts of possibilities in my DNA, and my experiences then shaped that into what I am today.

We all do the best we can with the information we have. Yes, owners should take responsibility for their role in their dog’s behavior — but I don’t believe they should take ALL responsibility for their dog’s behavior. On a more spiritual level, I believe all living creatures come into this life to learn something and to teach those around them. Anyone saying an owner is to blame is taking away that dog’s spirit, as well.

So, sure. A year ago, Lily wouldn’t come until I yelled, “Lily! Get over here!” That was my fault because I never reinforced it until then, and she knew that. But her general stubbornness? That was all her — and something I loved about her. There was no ‘fault’ in how stubborn she was; that was part of her personality, and as much as it drove me crazy, it was one of the things that cracked me up. I have to give props to her for that amount of tenacity! (Note: she’s still with me, still stubborn, but now she doesn’t come because she’s almost deaf. Fair ‘nough!)

Cash, at two years old, had anxiety. Do I take responsibilty for that? Actually, yes. I created the harsh experiences that gave it to him. I ALSO take responsibility for removing it, over years, after I realized what I’d done.

Doc howls in my car when I leave. Do I take responsbility for that? He had severe seperation anxiety when he came to me; that was not my fault. It’s much less now than it was then. Could I have done more? Maybe. But in my life and within my abilities, I have done all I could. In a perfect world, that would be more. In a realisitic world, I think we’ve done well. He’s no longer forcing his way through the car windows, eating the chairs, or breaking out of crates. Do I take responsibility when he jumps my 7 foot fence? Today, yes; I know he can and will if he isn’t properly exercised. I know what causes it AND how to fix it. But the first time? Heck no. I didn’t even know he COULD jump a fence that high! And even today, if I didn’t know what caused it or how to fix it? I don’t think I could take responsibility for that, either. I could take responisbility for not figuring it out, but I can’t take responsibility for not fixing it.

So — should owners take responsibility for their dogs behavior? Yes and no. It may not be your fault, but it is certainly our responsibility to try and make things safe, figure it out, and maybe — if it’s within our capabilities — make it better.

Notice to all new clients: you don’t have to tell me it’s your fault. If you’ve called for help (whether from me, another vet, or any other trainer), you’re doing the right thing. Don’t rob your dog of his or her own place in this world, and the things they need to learn and teach. Don’t ignore hereditary behavior, even if we know less about it in dogs than people. The owner’s only “fault” is pretending like there isn’t a problem. If you see it, and you take steps, you’re on the right path. Hang in there. We may not create a problem, but the awesome thing about being human is: when we’re ready, we can help fix it.



Sometimes people ask me, “Are your dogs perfect?” And my honest answer is: no. In large part, this is because there are things I just don’t care enough about to put in the training time. But another large part is that nothing stays the same, including dogs.

For instance: I think Lily’s losing her hearing. For a long while I thought she was just being stubborn when I called her to come, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not tuning up her recall because, well, what if she can’t hear me? So her recall is failing and until I know one way or the other, I’m just not going to worry about it.

Another for instance, and the point of this particular post: Doc got possessive. I’ve had him for a year and a half now, which means any issues he’s still dealing with probably don’t have to do with him being a rescue, they have to do with him and me. (Note: this is a rough rule of thumb, with a lot of exceptions.)

He’s never shown signs of possessiveness before, but about six months ago he started getting possessive of bones with Lily. He tried some growls and snaps, and he got in big trouble for it (poked by me and chased off, his bone given to Lily), then rewarded for tolerating her (praise and pets when he had his bone and he wasn’t being a bully to her while she was wandering around/sniffing it, etc.). The praise worked better than the poking with him, so I used that a lot more once I noticed, and he got over his issue in a couple of weeks.

Skip to six weeks (or so) ago, and he’s trying to be possessive of ME, with Cash. Mostly when we were snuggling or I was petting him, and Cash would come up to say, “Me too!” Doc would growl and try to nose Cash away, and went as far as snapping at him a time or two. Because I was standing right there, I’d push Doc away (to the other end of the couch, or chase him off a few feet if I were standing), then pay attention to Cash, THEN call Doc back over and love on him, too. Again, when Cash came up and I could see Doc wasn’t happy about it – turning his face away, ears pinching along his head, whites of the eyes showing – I would praise Doc for tolerating it. After a week or two, that went away as well.

Skip to two weeks ago, and it’s popped up again: this time being possessive first over Patience (my sometimes-helper and the dog trainer in the East Bay I refer people to), then Margo (my assistant) and finally Quin (my honey). In each and every case we did the same thing: push Doc away, love on Cash, bring Doc in and love on him. We also added a couple of things:

For Patience, since she’s also a dog trainer, I asked her to start making Doc calm down and think. One thing I’ve noticed about Doc is the more wound up he gets, the less he thinks overall. Now, it’s normal for a dog’s brain to turn off when they’re super wound up (with either excitement or aggression or anything else), but his brain turns off even when he’s not wound up, if he’s spent a lot of time wound up. Things that wind him up: not exercising enough, some of my playful boarders, fetch, the wild peacocks, squirrels. It’s a full time job keeping him centered! Getting a wound up dog to pause so they can think again (and guiding them gently but firmly through what to do until they CAN think) is key. So I asked Patience to get him thinking around her, adding in little brain-working things like sitting and calming down at doors before he goes out to play, sitting to get petted, things like that. That calmed him so his possessiveness also dropped.

I asked Margo (who does some minor training for me, but firmly insists she’s not a dog trainer!) to use a squirt bottle if he got possessive of her. It’s a good consequence: not emotionally very powerful, certainly not painful, just distracting and annoying.

With Quin, we put Doc in time out when he got possessive, in an x-pen in the house. After twenty minutes (which I judged to be enough time for his brain to wander off his possessiveness), he re-joined us. He was put in time out a couple of times before he got the point!

In all instances, when he became tolerant of Cash or wasn’t possessive, he got rewarded with lots of love and pets. Ex: I petted Cash, Doc watched but didn’t come over to push Cash away, so after a minute – before he lost his patience – I turned and loved on Doc. Repeat ad nauseum! For every time he got busted for naughtiness, I want at least five rewards. If I’m busting him too much, that’s my signal that I’m asking too much of him. I need to reward BEFORE he puts himself in trouble, so he knows what it is I’m looking for, not just what I don’t like.

It took a couple of weeks for him to cycle through everyone and figure out no one was going to let him get away with it. I’m still praising and loving on him when other dogs butt into “our” space to get pets, just to reinforce his good behavior.

During his possessive phase, I used different techniques for different people, depending on how he reacts to the people in question and what they were more comfortable with/capable of, and what worked best for him.

No dog is ever perfect. Even when a dog trainer owns them, even if I spent all my time making them perfect to everyone’s standards, living animals are always changing! I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉


Research dogs

Hi! Been awhile, I know. Did I mention I moved? The dogs settled in just fine (I was able to bring them by to visit the place before I moved, and that plan worked brilliantly — though there was less exercise and I forgot the rescue remedy! Thankfully, my dogs are used to change, and I got their beds, bowls, and toys set up right away so things were normal for them) and we’ve all been enjoying the new space! You can check out Cash and Lily’s Facebook page for photos and whatnot.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about! You might have seen the following video; it’s become VERY popular.

Now, you should know that I HATE being manipulated, and I’m very good at spotting it. This video sends me to my own personal red-zone every time I see it.

Here are some facts about research dogs:

1. They get more attention and training, by far, than most pet dogs.
2. They’re socialized with other dogs as well as people, at all the right stages.
3. They’re generally loved and adored by the people doing the research.
4. They provide answers for people we love and know, and should be held in high regard for that. For instance, you can thank research dogs for the life of every diabetic you know, as well as the people who suffer from narcolepsy finding treatments.
5. Research dogs are NOT kept in tiny tiny kennels. They sleep in them, yes. They also have spaces to run around and play, and specifically socialize with people and other dogs.
6. Most research dogs, due to federal laws, are better treated than most pets.
7. Research dogs, if they’re researching something non-deadly (ie, not cancer) are retired to homes after a few years so they can live out their days fantastically after helping people across the globe. (In fact, I’ve worked with several. They were lovely, and young — it’s not like these dogs are ancient before they’re retired.)

Here are some facts about this video in particular:

1. These dogs have probably never seen grass. If you take a dog who’s never seen tile to a tile store, they will act this EXACT SAME WAY. Is the dog who has never seen tile mistreated? No. Is the dog who has never seen grass mistreated? No.
2. These dogs are in great physical shape, which means they’ve been running around, playing, and exercising. Clearly, then, they haven’t been locked in kennels.
3. These people took the dogs from the researchers they knew, put the dogs in kennels, drove them who-knows-how-far, put them on something unfamiliar with no one familiar around to reassure them, and filmed it. These “rescue” people should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. A much kinder thing would be to keep the dogs in the kennels they sleep in, take them wherever they’re ultimately going, and let them have the run of a larger concrete kennel (more familiar) and the option of going outside when they feel safe. I can’t even begin to tell you how disgusted I am with the “rescue” people for putting the dogs through this much stress for the sake of a video.
4. These dogs are not, as the video would imply, covered in their own feces. Therefore, they clearly had somewhere else that they got to go out to potty. THEY WERE NOT TRAPPED IN THEIR CRATES.

While I would love it if we never had to use research dogs, the truth is that I would rather my uncle, who has type 1 diabetes, live than these dogs be “free” to live in a home for their entire lives that maybe isn’t as good as the lab they lived in for a few years. Lab dogs are VERY well treated and cared for, and generally quite adored by their human lab counterparts. Yes, they give up a part of themselves to help us humans, and yes, we should ensure they have awesome lives for that gift. But they are NOT abused or neglected, as this video would have you think.

Rather than blindly believing what this video and the media in general would have you think about research dogs, here are some links to give you an idea of what it’s really like. Note that links contain further resources, and are often government sites:

I believe, whole-heartedly, that we should continue to make research dogs’ lives better and better. I also believe we should not watch a video and make grand assumptions.




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.


Boarding FAQ

Okay, some important information to answer some questions regarding boarding dogs here at Feathers and Fur.

1. What happens in a typical day boarding at your place?
In the course of a day, we work on getting along with other dogs, walking nicely, leaving food, clothes, shoes, etc alone, sharing with dogs, pottying outside, good manners inside, good manners outside. If there are other things someone needs work on, we do that, too. (So if a dog is naughty with visitors, I invite people over. If a dog is chewing baseboards, we try and solve that. If a dog is aggressive, we work on being friendly. Etc.)

Usually, 3 days per week I work outside the house. If you’ve scheduled boarding in advance, I work short days (5-6 hours). If you haven’t, I work normal days (8 hours). While not under supervision, all dogs are crated or x-penned so they don’t have the chance to be naughty, and so that everyone gets down time (including my dogs!). If I have a dog not used to holding it that long, my assistant trainer comes by and lets everyone out.

The other four days per week I work from home (or I’m off) and the dogs are in full training.

2. Gosh, boarding with you is expensive. Why is that?
Several reasons. One is that I shorten my work days to spend time with your dog. Another is that I’m working twenty-four hours a day when I board. A third is that I can only board as many dogs as I deem safe: it might two or three dogs from one or two households that are all pretty good, or just one aggressive dog who isn’t safe with others. How much time and effort and sleeplessness I put in all affects the price.

3. I heard you live in the east bay area. I don’t really want to drive my dog all the way up there.
I don’t blame you! I wouldn’t, either. I do live in the East Bay because it’s where I could afford to buy a large, dog-friendly lot. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and weekends I will pick up and drop off your dog for free. If you need a pick up or drop off any other day, there is a fee.

4. Will you take my dog to your classes?
Not likely. I have a lot of other dogs to watch in my classes without paying attention to one in training. More likely I’ll take your dog to downtown or park areas where there are other dogs, and I can focus solely on him or her and his or her training.

5. I don’t like the idea of my dog being crated or x-penned for more than a few hours.
We can discuss it, but safety always comes first with me. I don’t want anything happening to any animals under my care.

6. What the heck is an x-pen?
It’s like a large doggie playpen, for dogs who aren’t used to being crated.

7. My dog uses a doggie door. Can you accommodate that?

8. My dog doesn’t use a doggie door. Can you accommodate that?

9. My dog has allergies. Can you accommodate that?
I can pretty much accommodate everything.

10. My dog doesn’t really need training, but I want to board with you anyway. Will you cut me a deal?
No. Because I can take on limited numbers, everyone gets treated the same. Otherwise I just stop boarding the “nice” dogs, and only board the dogs who need it. I’m happy to suggest some other places who board dogs in their homes without training, or I am happy to take on “nice” dogs at training prices.

11. My dog is aggressive with other dogs, and I’m worried about your dogs. Will you still take him?
Yes, after an evaluation. I worry about my dogs, too!

12. My dog isn’t aggressive at all, but pees in the house. Can you fix this?
Yes. It takes about 4 weeks.

13. How long will it take to fix x behavior?
Without a consult I can’t even guess. In general, housebreaking takes around 4 weeks. Everything else depends on the problem, the severity, and how close to perfect you want your dog before you take over.

14. Do you offer guarantees?
It depends on the problem. Call for more information.

15. Why should I board with you and not a training kennel? Training kennels are cheaper.
Indeed they are, and oftentimes they’re exactly what you need. If you’re looking to solve problems in a house, then it’s better to board in a house. If a dog is in a kennel and they pee, no one really cares. In a house, it’s different. In a kennel, no one knocks at the door or rides by on a skateboard to induce barking. In a house, they do. Whether you should board with me or in a kennel just depends on what training you want done.

16. Do you trade for board?
It depends on the length of boarding. Most times, no. Occasionally, I can trade for up to 1/4 of the cost of boarding.

17. How many dogs do you board at once?
As many as I deem safe. Typically, no more than two households. (If someone has two dogs in the same family, I will count that as one household.) This changes depending on the dog and what behavior we’re working on. Aggression cases are far less likely to have anyone else boarding. Housebreaking cases with no aggression are more likely to “share space.”

18. What should I bring with my dog when they board?
Their leash, training tools (collar, typically), and food, so they don’t get an upset stomach. If you want to bring something that smells like you or a toy, you’re welcome to do so. (Warning: Lily likes to destroy toys, despite my best attempts to keep other peoples’ toys safe.) I have plenty of beds, crates, bones, bowls, and toys for everyone.

19. Will my dog miss me?
They will be very happy to see you and tell you about their adventures, but while you’re gone they’ll be so busy with work and play that they won’t have much of a chance to miss you. Dogs get a little extra TLC if they’re stressed, and occasionally some Rescue Remedy (a flower essence supplement). Rarely are either of these needed.

20. My dog is/is not allowed on my couch. Will that be true at your house?
Whatever rules you have at your house we’ll do our best to follow at my house. My goal is to keep your dog comfortable while in training, and not un-train anything you’ve done.

21. Can I ask for updates?
Of course! I try to send out picture messages when able, and update Lily and Cash’s Facebook page as well. I like to know my dogs are happy; I assume you do, too!

If your question wasn’t answered here, feel free to contact me at or (951) 704-5766!


Affection and dogs

A week rarely goes by without someone telling me, shamefaced, that they let their dog sleep on the bed or a couch, or give their dog love just for the sake of giving them love. I know that this stems from a training theory I’ve heard from others: that giving dogs too much affection can cause problems. Some theories say that it makes the dog believe you’re not the alpha dog. Some theories simply say that it creates spoiled behavior. Other theories say that if we are to use affection as a reward, it must then be limited to your dog doing something. I say, phooey.

First of all, if we stop and analyze these theories there’s not much evidence for them.

“It makes the dog believe you’re not the alpha dog.” Aside from the fact that the status of “alpha dog” is highly debated among trainers and those who study dogs alike, this is simply untrue. In groups of dogs it was found that any dog higher in the pack hierarchy was perfectly willing to console another dog. (Often after a scuffle, the winner would go console the loser.) Of my two dogs, Lily is definitely higher than Cash, yet she consoles him when he’s upset, gives him attention even when he’s not, and generally rains affection on him. Clearly, it’s not affecting whether or not he thinks she’s top dog; he still treats her with deference, and I don’t enforce that. This pattern is repeated over and over, with clients who tell me, “Fido beats up on Fifi all the time, but then turns around and is so sweet. It makes no sense!” Alpha or not, dogs give affection to each other.

“It creates spoiled behavior.” I snuggle with Lily when I’m sick or when her special red blanket is on the couch. Lily has four different sweaters, one of them hand-tailored for her. She puts her head on my knee and demands attention when I’m writing, and I usually give it to her. Cash likes to put all 110-pounds of himself in my lap. He breathes in my face when I’m writing, hoping I’ll give him attention (and oftentimes I do). They both get pets and love just for looking at me in the middle of the night when I’m having insomnia. They both also get treats for doing tricks, but sometimes they just get treats because I feel like it.

Are they spoiled? Absolutely! But they’re not spoiled rotten. If Cash is breathing in my face and I tell him, “Not now, go lay down,” he does (or at least wanders off to find a toy!). If Lily is cuddling with me and I need her to move, she does. If I tell Cash to get off my lap — yeah, you’re getting it. So, has this become a problem? No. If I don’t mind, then it doesn’t really matter. You can’t call a dog spoiled when the owner is enjoying the behavior.

Finally, “[I]f we are to use affection as a reward, it must then be limited to your dog doing something.” This might be true. Maybe affection is more powerful if you limit it. But here’s the thing: have you ever had a friend, a boss, a coworker, or a family member who didn’t offer praise and affection? Have you had one that did? Quin, my beau, is one of the most loving and affectionate people I’ve ever met. I’m the lucky beneficiary of this affection most of the time. I could get affection from her* for doing nothing, but I find that the affection makes me more likely to do things that will make her happy. I’ve also worked and been friends with people who weren’t affectionate. When they did give me affection or praise for a job well done, it was far less motivating than it was with friends or bosses who were more praise-giving. I didn’t know when it was going to come again, and in general I just wasn’t as interested in pleasing them (because they were difficult to wring praise from), so I didn’t bother.

I’m anthropomorphising, here, but maybe dogs are the same way. I’ve never had a well-loved dog turn down yet MORE love for performing something. I’ve seen plenty of non-adored dogs refuse to try, or refuse to keep trying even after praise was given.

Now, a caveat to all this: if you give a dog affection when they’re being rude, demanding, or needy, it will make them more rude, demanding, or needy. But if your dog was being a sweetheart, hanging out, doing not much at all, and you want to love on him? Love on him! You don’t have to make him work for that. Love is unconditional, and the more you love, the more your dogs will work for you.

As for being on the furniture… sure, why not? Packs of dogs all sleep together. There’s no alpha-rule about that, even among studies that do find alpha behaviors. If you enjoy it, do it. And while you’re at it, give your dog a nice belly-rub. It’s good for both of you.


*Quin is in the midst of transitioning, so you may start hearing me refer to him instead of her. Don’t worry! We didn’t break up, we’re still getting married. It’s just a pronoun, and I couldn’t be prouder of her/him for being true to her/himself!