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!



Review: head halters in general, Sporn head halter in particular

First, head halters in general:

Head halters are based on the same haltering idea used for horses. The difference between a dog and a horse, however, is important. Both major differences stem from sheer size: a horse is large. A dog is not. When you pull back on a horse’s halter, the horse’s nose comes into the chest, keeping the spine in alignment. If for some reason you pull sideways, the sheer strength, muscle, bone structure and tendon mass are going to ensure you can’t hurt them. (In fact, with a toss of that great big head they could hurt you.)

A dog doesn’t have that size. When you pull back on a halter with the lead attached under your dog’s chin, it twists his face back and up, putting a great deal of pressure on the spine. In addition, his spine isn’t nearly as strong as a horse’s spine; he simply doesn’t have the bulk necessary to protect it from us humans. For this reason alone, I generally consider head halters to be far too dangerous to use. All it takes is your dog bolting after a squirrel once, you tripping, or constant pressure as your dog pulls against you for damage to be done to the spine.

When I saw the Sporn head halters, which clip in the back and keep the spine in alignment, I decided to give it a try on Cash and see what I thought.

I got Cash used to the head halter via treats so that he was no longer trying to get it off (itself a danger, since dogs can injure themselves attempting to remove it), and took him and Lily for a walk. He was equally stressed/calm as when I use the stop-and-sit method, less stressed than when I used a slip chain. When I pulled gently back on the halter to bring him by my side, it did keep his spine in alignment. These are all pluses.

A minor downside was that if he stopped to sniff something and I pulled gently, because it attaches behind his ears he still felt like he was being pulled backward. Same for if he ducked his head to try and take it off; pulling his head up created more undesirable pressure. This was resolved by not pulling at all, but rather calling his name and offering a treat. If that didn’t work, I tapped his side to get his attention. I would imagine that halters that hook from underneath don’t have this problem.

More importantly, I realized how much pressure there is against his nose. Proponents of head halters usually suggest they are a more humane method of controlling a dog who pulls, but after feeling the pressure Cash brought to bear, I’m not sure I agree. What amazed me even more is that when we finished, his face didn’t bear the little mark across his nose that comes from a dog pulling, which means he was pulling far less than other dogs do.

Because Cash is trained to walk on a loose leash, he really doesn’t pull a lot. I decided to ask him to walk farther back simply so I could see if he’d be bothered by me bringing him gently to my side. While it didn’t bother him, he didn’t figure it out, and he was happy to pull. If I had added in treats I’m sure he would have figured it out, but I was more interested in the ramifications of a untrained pulling, and what that would be like.

In addition, though I never worry about my dogs taking off after squirrels, I did today. As we were walking Cash saw a squirrel race up a tree. As he always does, he stood up tall and ached to run after it (but stayed beside me). The difference this time was purely in me: I suddenly realized that if he bolted, when he hit the end of his leash his entire body weight would come slamming forward onto the thin bones of his face, right below his eye sockets and over his nasal airway, with no muscle, cartilage, thick skin, fur, or tendons to help absorb the impact or support the bone. Perhaps the ones that attach under the chin would work a bit better here, swinging the dog around, using his head as the focal point. However, that would put the pressure against the spine where it joins the skull and is the weakest part of the spine, so I’m not sure that’s any less dangerous overall.

I shortened my leash so that if he did bolt, it would pull him up before he gained much speed for impact, and we kept walking.

In short? Cash was better than I would expect from most dogs, and I still felt like even though it kept his spine in alignment, it put him at more risk than I was willing to take (especially since he, unaware of the risk, was far more willing to pull).

I would recommend this product for someone with a young adult or older dog (where the bones are fully formed) that is having trouble not pulling and has tried all other options, to be used very gently, on an only slightly loose leash, in conjunction with positive reinforcement training. (The goal being to get them off it eventually.)

I would strongly suggest avoiding any of the face harnesses that attach under the chin, as both the face and the spine are in danger. (And that’s not mentioning the slew of dogs who pull so much their faces end up raw. I would think those dogs should be taken off them RIGHT AWAY when the owners realize their dogs are starting to get injured.)

Having now worked with these, I can honestly say… I don’t see how they’re supposed to be more humane. I’ve used prong and slip chains on myself; I’d rather that than a string across my face that could actually cause serious damage, and frequently causes raw, angry skin across the bridge of the nose.

If you MUST use a halter-type harness, use something that attaches in the back to protect your dog’s neck. Otherwise, don’t use them at all.

Does anyone have studies on these? I’ve looked, and found only anecdotal evidence for nearly everything.


FAQ: What can you tell me about dog food and feeding my dog?

There are all sorts of very strongly held opinions and theories on feeding dogs, and not a lot of evidence.

Actually, there’s virtually no evidence. What evidence is there is anecdotal, vets watching trends appear one case at a time. It’s very frustrating if, like me, you want the best for your dogs, and want your dogs to live long, healthy lives. Here is the sad truth: no one has done studies on any of it. Believe me, I’ve looked. I’m hoping that will chance in the near future, but so far… nope. (If I’m wrong and someone else has found a study, please send it along!)

So while you’re reading, keep in mind that despite how strongly someone believes something, none of this has been proven. Someone might well present something as fact, but the trick is to keep the knowledge in the back of your mind that no one really knows. People come up with a theory, it works for them and their dog, and then they present it as fact. That person telling you about dog nutrition probably really has done their homework and really does believe what they’re saying, because they haven’t stopped to realize that the people THEY trust haven’t done studies (long-term or otherwise) either. And hey, the theory makes sense and is sound. It’s up to time to see if it’s right. Keeping that in mind, let’s talk about ways to feed your dog, the theories behind it, strengths and weaknesses of these theories, and what the vets are saying.

All that said, please keep in mind I’m a dog trainer and not a vet. If your vet has a better recommendation, give them a much stronger voice than me. I’ve done research and I have a much larger pool of dogs to notice results from than most, but new information is always coming up, and a vet is in a better position to find that than I am.

Grain free diets

The theory behind grain free diets is this: wolves don’t eat grain, and our dogs haven’t had time to evolve away from wolves, therefore they shouldn’t eat grain, either.

Strengths of this theory:  Huskies and wolf hybrids are definitely more closely related to wolves, and they tend to do very well on grain-free diets in general. Dogs are descended from wolves.

Weaknesses: Dogs have had time to evolve into dramatically different sizes and temperaments. Dogs’ brains have changed: their social structure is different than wolf packs. With all these evolutionary changes, I imagine their guts have evolved, too. In addition, both dogs and wolves eat the grain out of their prey before they eat anything else, though it can be argued that they can only digest partially-digested grain. Finally, in the wild dogs are more scavengers than hunters, and have been for thousands of years. This means they’ve been eating what we eat — and we eat grain.

The theory behind this really doesn’t work out. That said, I’ve seen plenty of dogs who function much better on a grain-free diet. In the words of my vet, “You have to look at the dog and see what works best for them. Do that.” Cash did okay but not great on a grain-free diet. Lily became ravenous and starting eating every plant she could find. I put them back on a diet with grain, and Lily stopped being ravenous and Cash got more energy. On the other hand, my friend’s huskies do dramatically better on a grain-free diet. Regardless, I personally think that for safety’s sake it’s probably best if the grains in the diet have been broken down before your dog eats them.  Finally, a fair number of vets are noting that some dogs on grain-free diets are coming in with liver and kidney damage from years spent working too hard.

Grain free versus grain? Well, depends on the dog.

Raw diets

Theory: dogs wouldn’t cook their food in the wild. When you cook vegetables and meat, it kills the enzymes that dogs can’t make that would normally help with digesting. It also breaks down the nutrients and vitamins they need.

Strengths: From the research I’ve done, this is all true. Plenty of dog food companies are now making raw dog foods that come pre-packaged and (hopefully) free of nastiness, too. Raw food diets tend to keep dogs’ teeth much cleaner, too.

Weaknesses: Weak dogs, young dogs, and old dogs are all more likely to get salmonella if you aren’t careful of the food source.

Raw diets actually make a lot of health sense to me. From a practical standpoint, they’re expensive and/or messy. Personally, given the size of my dogs and the frequency with which we travel, it’s not a workable solution. To combat the cost a lot of people will make the food themselves. If you’re of such a mind, here’s some tips: The concern on salmonella can be mostly solved with blanching whatever meat you’re using, while leaving the inside mostly raw. (The majority of bacteria are on the outside of the meat.) I do hear people being concerned about their dogs choking on bones, but uncooked bones are soft enough to swallow. Most often, I see dogs choke on kibble, so I don’t worry about the bones. If you want to be extra careful you can get a meat grinder that will turn the bones to powder. Now your dog doesn’t have the chance to strengthen his jaws or clean his teeth, but he definitely won’t choke, either. The big thing about making it yourself is doing the research so you include all the vitamins and minerals your dog needs, and in the correct quantities. Make sure you do the research.  Finally, as above, a fair number of vets are noting that some dogs on grain-free/raw diets are coming in with liver and kidney damage from years spent working too hard. Add in veggies and maybe grain so your dog isn’t eating only protein.


One of the reasons people are pushing grain-free and raw diets so much is because of the number of dogs cropping up with allergies. Wheat and corn are the most common allergens in dog foods, so I try to avoid those. I’ve read in multiple places that dogs can’t absorb protein from plant sources, and wheat and soy are common plant sources used to up the protein levels in dog food, so I avoid soy as well.

Other than that, a dog can be allergic to almost anything (I know a dog allergic to chicken), so you have to take into account your personal dog. Most dogs, though, do just fine on most things.

So… what do you feed your dogs and why?

If I was going to look for the perfect dog food I would look for one where the first two ingredients listed were animal meat, where there was no soy, corn, or wheat, a food that had been cooked on a low temperature or freeze-dried or had vitamins sprayed on after the cooking process, and had a variety of recognizable ingredients. Shall I break that down? Okay!

the first two ingredients listed were animal meat

A brief note on by-products: sometimes they mean meat, organs, and bone, all of which are good for dogs in small quantities. Sometimes it means feet and feathers, which dogs can’t digest. Because it’s impossible to know which, I avoid them. If something says “meal” it typically also contain organs.

Because the ingredients list puts the greatest quantity first, I now have some assurance that there’s a fair amount of animal protein in it. Alternately, I might like for the first three out of five ingredients to be animal meat. I’m also going to keep an eye for something like, “Wheat,” and later, “gluten” and later, “wheat meal.” If I see something appear several times in different forms, there might just be too much of it.

where there was no soy, corn, or wheat

Soy and corn are also nutritionally worthless, corn moreso than soy. Dogs can’t digest corn. Heck, lots of animals can’t digest corn. They might do okay if it’s all ground up for them, but most “good” dog foods just avoid it altogether, so if it’s there, there’s probably a problem. Corn is a cheap, sweet, tasty filler.

Soy started getting used as a (useless) protein source when soy got so popular, so you will find it in “good” dog foods. Now that people are realizing it’s not so great, it’s becoming less prevalent. Given the links between breast cancer and soy… I’d rather avoid it entirely.

a food that had been cooked on a low temperature or freeze-dried or had vitamins sprayed on after the cooking process

All of these go back to the raw-food argument. If a food is cooked at low heat it doesn’t break down the vitamins and enzymes. In theory, same if it’s freeze-dried. If they spray the vitamins and enzymes on afterward, then they haven’t been broken down!

and had a variety of recognizable ingredients.

Because if I can recognize it, I can say, “Yes, that’s good!” and if there’s a variety, then there’s more vitamins and minerals. This is just my personal theory, but I like it! If I can’t recognize what’s in it that’s not always bad (sometimes companies will use the chemical names of vitamins, and I don’t know all of those), but I’d prefer to keep it to a minimum.

So… what DO you feed your dogs?

I feed them Kirkland brand dog food (yup, CostCo!). It gets very good ratings and fills almost all my requirements. It is cooked on high eat, and I don’t know if they spray it with vitamins and enzymes afterward, so I also buy a product called “AddLife” and sprinkle a little on top, to add back in the enzymes. I don’t worry about the vitamins as long as my dogs are healthy: give them too many, and you have liver and kidney problems again, so… I try not to go crazy, and hope I’m finding the right balance!

But on this my dogs have shiny, non-oily coats, bright eyes, energy, and they seem to be quite happy. Since that’s really the best measure I can get, I’ll take it!

If you want more information, I recommend the following dog food review/information sites:

Have fun!


Saving money: Dog training isn’t just for the rich

Because I don’t believe that only those with money should be able to train their dogs, I have a few ways to help you out. Many other trainers have similar programs: if you don’t live in my area, you should ask them. Don’t be discouraged if the first trainer says no: keep asking around! (Or ask if they have an apprentice who would like to start cutting their teeth for a discounted rate!)

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, I wish I could afford Jenna’s dog training services,” then read on.


I do absolutely work in trade. I pay whatever the going rate is for services, no less than $35/hour for what’s considered “menial labor.” Services I’m interested in are:

  • Yoga, pilates, personal training, or other exercise classes (Paying on whatever you would normally charge for them.)
  • House cleaning
  • Yard work
  • Cooking (this is one of the things that has the most bang for your buck: personal chef services are EXPENSIVE. You will want to look up local prices for personal chefs, and I’m happy to adjust: if a meal is a meal for 4 plus two appetizers, I’m perfectly happy to have a casserole for 6 instead. I count it as $80 per meal, averaging from these websites: Dinner By DesignChef Monalisa. You’re welcome to use a different website and show me.) (Note: I eat dairy, eggs, and fish, but not chicken, beef, pork, etc. I don’t have any allergies.)
  • Pet sitting (mine)
  • Dog walking (mine)

Pro Bono

If you’re really having problems, and you’re working and can’t trade, I do have a pro bono program. There’s a waiting list for this program, but I try to slot in an appointment twice a month: basically I have one pro bono client at a time. If you’re in desperate straits, ask me about it.

Sliding Scale

I’m still trying to figure out how to work a sliding scale, to be honest. I know other businesses do it, and I think it’s a fantastic idea. If you have an idea of how this works, let me know! If you cannot afford my rates and think you have a fair price in mind, feel free to suggest it. (You’ll get farther if you tell me how you came up with it, too!)


Cure for Dogs with Diabetes

Two little posts today instead of one big one! I think that’s a fair trade, don’t you?

There’s some exciting news coming out of Barcelona for humans and our canine companions alike! Trials have cured dogs of diabetes, with long term studies showing no relapses for up to 4 years thus far. You can see the article here, but the gist of it is that a series of injections over the course of a day has effected the genes having to do with diabetes, curing it in an array of dogs. Huzzah for science!



Occasionally, people ask me about classes. If I can remember, I’ll start putting them on the calendar here!

Classes are on a drop-in basis, and typically only for clients who have already had an assessment. If you’re interested in a specific class, but not private training, contact me and we’ll set up a short, cut-rate assessment so you can come to class and be up to speed with the terminology and what’s expected!

Everyone must have at least a short assessment, so they know the basics. I try to make sure these classes are as safe as possible!

Available classes take place in Los Gatos, by a schedule I send out a few months ahead of time. Typically the Dogs Downtown class takes places on either Saturday or Sunday morning, every other weekend. The other classes vary.

Dogs Downtown Classes:
$15 per household prepaid (non-refundable; you can pay via paypal or check), or $20 the day of. We practice understanding dog body language, on-leash greeting, confidence building, good manners, and walking through crowds and scary downtown things. This is also a good time to catch me if you have questions or problems have cropped up, but you don’t need a whole session.

Off Leash Recall (or “come”) Classes:
$25 per dog, space is limited. You will need to bring treats and a long rope (20 ft or more), and we’ll go through how to get your dog listening and tuned in under medium-stress situations, outdoors. It’s best if your dog is at the stage where they know what “come” means, but choose not to listen occasionally.

Dog Park Classes:
Space in dog park classes is limited for safety’s sake. Cost is $25 per dog. We meet outside the dog park, practice checking dogs for good body language, spotting problems, entering, working with our dogs so they listen even at the dog park, work on recall, and learn how to know when it’s safe to be there and when it’s time to leave.

Dog walkers unite!

If you’re a dog-walker in the South Bay area, and you’d like to learn dog body language, how to avoid problems, how to get a dog to walk on a loose leash, and how to overcome fear, contact me!

Over the summer I’ll be holding FREE, once-a-month classes for dog walkers and sitters. It’s mutually beneficial; I want to know that my clients’ pups are in good hands, and people like to know that dog walkers have some sort of training! We’ll be using positive reinforcement techniques to learn how to get dogs to walk nicely, and spending time with different dogs each month so I can demonstrate what dog body language to look for, and what it means.

If you’re interested, you can call me at (951) 704-5766, or email me at jenna.b.mcdonald[at]gmail[dot]com.