What do you want from your dog?

One of my favorite questions to ask clients is, “what do you want from your dog?” This seems like an easy question to answer, but most people have a hard time with it. It may take them a few minutes to actually sit back and think about what it is they really want from their furry family member.

Do you know what you want from your dog? Do you want a calm relaxed pup, or a pup that is always on the go? Do you want a dog that chases squirrels and cats, or one that can watch curiously, yet still keep walking past them? Do you want a dog that is polite with other dogs, or a dog that rushes up and assaults or mounts every dog he or she sees?

I think it is obvious what most people want. Most clients want a calm, socially acceptable, and focused dog. Is it impossible? Well, if we follow the typical rules/fads/suggestions surrounding dogs and their training, then yes, it really is impossible. Our society sets dogs up to fail by conditioning them to do the exact opposite of what we would like them to do.

So, is that all I can say to people? That they will never achieve the goal of having a calm dog? No, of course not. I have an entire pack of “high-energy” breeds that are calm, socially acceptable, and focused. This is not because I am a magician. I do not have fairy dust to sprinkle on them. I simply condition my dogs to be the way I want them to be.

For the last 10 years, I have been teaching people how to keep dogs calm. I am happy to see that this is now becoming a “thing.” However, please keep in mind you must not confuse your pups. You must stay consistent in all areas, meaning, if you really want them to be calm, teach them to be calm with all dogs. If you want them to “shut-off” in public, practice at home, etc.

So let’s talk about some of the confusing messages we send to our dogs every day:

  1. Chase/Prey drive…..all dogs have it; some can’t control it, others we condition to increase their prey drive by our daily routines.  If you do not want your dogs to chase squirrels or cats, please do not play “Where’s the squirrel? Where’s the Cat?” game with them. Of course they are going to chase those little furry critters if they think you are ok with it! Oh, and they may even try to chase “Fluffy,” the little poodle up the road, because you said it was ok to chase little furry creatures.
  2. Hunt/kill….why?? Here is the real thought behind this: “lets teach a dog to chase a little furry thing at the end of a line back and forth, until their pupils are so huge they can’t even see straight, all in the name of….exercise?” Please go walk your dog in a calm and working manner. Don’t teach your dogs to chase and kill. We play with CATS this way to teach cats to catch and kill small animals. It enhances their ability to hunt. Do our domestic dogs really need this? No. True exercise=walking your dog.
  3. Improper play/dog parks and daycare…. There are very, very few dog parks and doggy day cares I will recommend. Why? Because dog parks and daycares have become an excuse to exercise dogs instead of walking them. A large percentage of dog owners now head to the dog park so they can let their dogs run loose and beat up on other dogs just to get “exercise.” Dog parks without monitoring are one of the main reasons we see an increase of reactive dogs. Honestly the Dog House Drinkery is the ONLY place in Central Texas (that I have witnessed), that truly monitors for proper dog play in their dog park. They do not allow biting, crazy chasing, mounting, etc. They strive for proper social skills, calm interactions and maybe an occasional quick chase. If you are going to a dog park or sending your dog to a doggy daycare for “exercise,” don’t! Instead, go walk your dog!  You will get much more positive behavior out of your dog this way. If you allow your dog to beat the living daylights out of other dogs in order to tire them out, you will never achieve the socially acceptable dog you are looking for. Each time they see other dogs, they will walk on two legs until they get to mount, bite or assault the other dogs they see. And no, it is not really cute to the fearful or well-behaved pup you come across. It is pressure and causes dog reactivity. Even if your dog is “friendly,” it’s not appropriate for him/her to rush up on another dog to say “hello.” To put it in human terms, the happy “loving” drunk you see coming out of a bar that just wants to show you “love” by rushing happily up in your face and wanting to hug you, is probably not going to get a hug from you, right?? Even if they are happy, friendly and loving, it is inappropriate. Don’t let your dog be seen as the happy, loving drunk.

So, then the question becomes, how do I tire my dogs out? If you have not guessed already, I tire them by slowly walking them…not running or biking them. You can run a dog for miles and after a brief power nap, they are ready for more. Why? You are training an athlete to run the marathons. I am literally walking my dogs at a slow pace with an occasional down command to just observe and admire the environment around us. I prefer my dogs to be calm, quiet, and peaceful, so I condition them that way. Do I play with my dogs? Of course I do! My play is fetch and down…fetch and down… tug, drop and down…high levels of excitement, lie down, etc. In return, my dogs, yes, you guessed it, lie down when they are excited.

Please think about the behavior you want from your dog in all areas (home, public, with guests, etc.). Then you and your will be successful as long as you stay consistent with conditioning for the outcome you desire.

If you need help teaching dogs to behave around other dogs, hire a trainer that does not believe in letting them beat the daylights out of each other. Proper adult canine behavior is calm and not pressured. 

Interested in more information? Please email us at k9workingmind@gmail.com, we have classes for Proper Play between Puppies and Proper Play between Adult Dogs.

Stay calm and protect first!

Tara and the pack.



Dominance Theory training, No thank you!

For 26 years, I have consulted and worked with clients that own dogs that are either fearful, reactive, confident, resource or human aggressive. During our consultations, the owner generally states they are “alpha” to their dogs, or that they want to learn how to be an “alpha” to their dogs.

I listen to the concerns about their dogs behaviors, and generally they are similar: the dog reacts to strangers or other dogs, redirects on the owner in an excited state, guards it’s food or bones, hides under items, has severe anxiety, or shows fear aggression when corrected. After listening to the presenting problem, I normally ask, how they have become an “alpha”, or what they think an alpha truly is.

The response is usually the same, “I correct them if they don’t listen, I correct them for being ‘dominant” or I hear “An alpha is the ‘boss’ of the pack.”

My question is, when does society praise? Do we endure so much “correction” from others in our lives, that we too feel the need to correct our dogs in order to feel superior?

The corrections I have seen over the years range from physically rolling the dog, spanking the dog, using a prong or shock collar, and some tie a dog to an object and walk away. All of these so-called solutions are what we call dominance or “alpha” dog training.

Dominance or “alpha” dog training is purely based on fear and pain, with the use of prong collars, shock collars, “alpha rolls”, abandonment and physical punishment to get the behavior the human would like. The problem is, with pain and fear the behavior we would like is not really going to happen. You are going to achieve fear, anxiety, lack of trust, and a dog that needs to protect itself from you, or the variables that caused the corrections in the first place.

With pain and fear, you will be successful in making your dog an omega (the “punching bag” of the pack) in front of other dogs and people. This will make a dog try to display their strength even more to avoid being viewed as weak. You will also achieve increased reactiveness, and a dog with a high frustration level. This in turn results in a dog that shows extreme anxiety, and destruction of their surroundings (or sometimes themselves).

If you were to observe a natural pack of stray domestic dogs, there is no full mouth biting for corrections, they are not inflicting pain on each other while they are walking together, and they are not attacking each other when another dog comes into sight. They are working together to protect each other, period.

Spanking, prong collars, shock collars, rolling dogs, and thinking “a dog needs to understand you can take their life away” are not training techniques, they are fear and pain causing techniques used by humans that like to project their thoughts on canine behavior.

Most times, dominance or train with pain trainers will explain the dog is aggressive because they are “power hungry”; when in fact they are not fighting for rank, they are fighting to survive. Survival is achieved with a strong protector in charge, not an unstable, confrontational one.

Protective/positive based training, is all about teaching your dog that you can protect them, and that you recognize they did an awesome job. You show your dog his successes, repeat those successes, and build on his trust and confidence that you are a fair and understanding protector. This tells your dog you are not looking to make them an omega, you are not asking for “submission or fear”, but rather you welcome them to make mistakes, let them learn from them, and praise them for their success.

Protective/positive based training teaches your dog exactly what you are looking for; there is no guessing on their end, it is clear through praise and reward.

That reward can be anything, verbal praise, affection, playtime, massage, and yes treats. There is nothing wrong with using treats to pay a dog for doing a job well done. For those that feel treats should not be used, I ask you to work free of charge. You obviously do not need to be paid either, except with praise. Makes sense if this is what your belief is.

So, when someone asks you what an “alpha” would do, or how they should become an alpha, tell them; “they would protect their pack with loyalty and dignity”. Dominance training is human, not canine.


Protect first.


Tara Stermer and the pack


Agility for special needs dogs? Absolutely!

  People ask me all the time if special needs dogs (deaf, blind and deaf-blind dogs), can lead a normal life.  Shelters rarely put them up for adoption, breeders tend to kill them at a young age (although this is never admitted), and rescues tend to have very strict limitations for any potential adopters, if they even do take one on. My question is, why? Why not give them a chance to lead a normal life?  I own special needs dogs, and I have been training them without any issues for many years.

Why would it shock or amaze anyone that a dog that cannot hear or see could do agility? Why do people think it is impossible to teach obedience to them? They adapt and can be conditioned, just like their seeing and hearing brothers and sisters. Other dogs do not see them any differently and I strongly believe we need to learn from our canine loved ones.

In April of 2012, I was asked if Charlie, a deaf-blind dog, could enroll in our basic agility class. Of course I said yes! I have fought for, and stood behind my deaf dogs for years.  I would never deny an owner or their dog, the right to reach their full potential.

A colleague of mine asked me how I would teach a deaf-blind dog agility; my answer was, “he has a nose, I will use it.”  It is the first thing a dog relies on, and their most powerful sense. If we teach dogs how to find the slightest traces of drugs that are masked by other scents, or people lost for days; why not use it to train them in other ways too.

So Charlie enrolled in our basic agility class with four other classmates that could see and hear. We taught him how to maneuver the obstacles by different scents; carefully thought out as to what effect they would have on the dog (relaxing, exciting, non-offensive).  He performed all of the equipment and learned them at the same pace as his classmates.

His owner asked if I would consider doing an all special needs agility class, so again I said of course. I love all dogs and when I decided to get into this field, it was to help all of them; so why would I exclude special needs from any activities? I know my deaf boxer Flinn and my deaf-blind dog Gaia have no idea they have a disability. They adapt, as should we.

Fast-forward to July 2012 and I had my first all special needs agility class starting, three deaf-blind dogs, and one bilateral deaf dog.  I could not have been happier to see how involved the owners were and how much the dogs enjoyed the class.  On August 4th, in just 6 short weeks, the class graduated. A very special moment for the dogs, the owners, myself and hopefully for the special needs dogs sitting in shelters waiting to be adopted.

Below is a picture of the graduating class, I am very proud of all of them and I look forward to getting more information out there in hopes that others will do the same. Open your classes and doors to our special needs, adopt them out, let them lead the normal lives they deserve to have.


Congratulations Flinn, Boomer, Charlie and Lucy. ( And their parents for giving them this opportunity!)

Painting by Stephanie Conrad of The Pet Studio- http://www.petstudioart.com ( I will cherish it, thank you)

For more information about how to train your special needs pet, please email k9workingmind@gmail.com

hugs to your furbabies,


Born to Run, but NOT Invincible!

I moved to Austin in 2007, best move I ever made for my dogs and myself!  In NY, Mother Nature limited time we could spend outside by blasting us with freezing temperatures and icy roadways.  Within the first week of moving here I was completely inspired to get outside and enjoy the sunshine with my pack. Like most people here, I have become more active and I spend most of my free time outdoors with them all year long.

Now I am not the running type, as you all know <insert smokers cough here> but I have a great piece of land that allows me to be active with my dogs in other ways; agility, search work, herding, cart pulling and hard core chase games.  As many of my clients have witnessed, every dog in my pack works in some way or another. So it is important to keep them healthy and remember that they are not invincible.

A large majority of clients I work with run with their dogs or go on very long hikes to wear them out. One of my frequent recommendations is to make your dog work, but we all need to remember that they also need proper maintenance to avoid injuries and health problems too. Rest and massage are a great way to keep your dog running for a long time, as well as a great way to build a better bond between you both.

We all know dogs will run themselves in to the ground for their owners. My border collie Maverick has to literally be stopped during herding, otherwise I am sure she would pass out from exhaustion. Axel, my powerhouse Staffie, would most definitely pull a cart until he couldn’t walk anymore, and my Chihuahua Capone, well I believe could run around the world at least 4 times before he dropped. Yes they have a high pain tolerance, which is why when they are showing signs of an injury; it is typically a major injury.  The problem is, they want to please you and our loving fur-babies are over achievers by nature.

My best friend, Christina Hardinger, is a certified canine massage/acupressure practitioner, so I asked her to help me write a informational blog to help my athletic clients avoid potential exercise ending, injuries in their dogs.

The importance of massage for the active dog.

  When we engage our dogs in “heavier” exercise, such as running, there are some basic things to take into consideration. If your dog is overweight, you would want to consult with the vet before starting any type of running. Too much extra weight causes extra strain on the joints and a brisk walk is often the better alternative to running until your dog has slimmed down.      Great Tip: You can also make your dog swim instead to help shed the extra pounds; it is a non-weight baring exercise that is also great for dogs with arthritis.  A dog with joint issues such as arthritis and dysplasia shouldn’t be running, but moderate exercise is great to help prevent muscle atrophy.

Running is best to engage in if your dog is in decent shape before you start. You want to gradually increase the distance you run with your four legged friend, don’t cold start them by walking one day, and then doing 3 miles the next. It takes time for them to get in shape, just as it does for humans. Exercise is great for an active pup and we all know the saying “a tired dog is a good dog”, but a dog with muscle problems from running is just that – a dog with muscle tension.

Here is the short version of what happens when we, or our dogs, exercise. By working out we create small tears in the muscle fibers causing a light inflammation in the muscle. That is actually how we build our muscles stronger, with the proper rest, that is. Make sure your dog gets rest between activities and a good way to do that is to run one day, and walk the next. It gives the muscles time to regain strength and minimize the inflammation. Overworked muscles become tense, and a tense muscle has a restricted blood flow. The lowered circulation doesn’t allow the muscle to get rid of lactic acid, and toxins, which causes swelling. A swollen muscle is painful, pain causes muscle tension, and soon you have a vicious circle… That is when you start to see trigger points form (small knots caused by lactic acid build-up). Tense muscles means the muscles get “shorter” and less flexible, which again pulls on the tendons and ligaments, causing them to tighten up. It is one of the reasons why you often see really active dogs get torn ligaments. The joints end up having less range of movement when the muscles are tight and at it makes the ligaments and tendons more vulnerable.

If you are all set out to have your dog be your running buddy, then treat him or her to a massage session on a regular basis. Massage helps keep the inflammation in the muscle fibers under control, prevents trigger points, and keeps the muscles flexible. And on a different note.. We are already seeing summer like temperatures in Austin and the pavement gets hot really fast. Do the barefoot test before walking or running your dog. If you can comfortably keep your bare foot on the cement for a minute, then you are fine to walk the dog. If it feels really hot to stand on, then your dog will not enjoy it either. Remember that their paw pads are where they, besides panting, get rid of the excess body heat. Don’t run your dog in the middle of the day when it is 90 F, and please take humidity into consideration. I see them at the park every spring/ summer. Dogs with their tongues dragging on the ground, looking like they are going to collapse any minute trying to keep up with an owner on a mission. Super hot days are made for walking early in the morning or late in the evening. And the same goes for running. – Christina Hardinger, Skillful Paws, LLC; 512-922-1664

So lets break it down and remember:

  • Prepare your dog properly before you run long durations with them
  • Check the surface temps so they don’t burn their paws
  • Keep them hydrated and cool
  • Make them rest, <they won’t on their own>
  • Schedule regular preventative massages to keep them running for a long time without injury!
  • If your dog already has an injury, call a certified massage practitioner to help get them back on the road to recovery and enjoying the great outdoors!


Thank you Christina for sharing this valuable information with us!


Stay calm and confident!

Tara, Brandie and “the pack”

Deaf, Blind & Deaf and Blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

Deaf, blind and deaf & blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

  For the last 23 years, I have been working with all types of issues in the canine world. I use the tag line, “specializing in misunderstood dogs” because so many people truly do not know how to communicate with our canine family members. Through the years, I have been asked to take on dogs that range from “rage” point, to rude dogs, to disabled dogs. They all have a special place in my heart, but my disabled dogs hold the record for most “misunderstood” dogs out there.

  I am continuously called by shelters about dogs that will be killed simply because they have a disability.  This hits a very hard nerve in me, because I have heard so many people tell me the human species is by far the most compassionate, caring species out there. Really?  How can we claim to be compassionate when we will kill an innocent animal because they cannot hear, or possibly cannot see? Dogs are amazing creatures, we all know this. They do not hold on to their “disability”, they simply adjust and carry on just as any other dog will.

  I had been asked to write an article about deaf dogs and aggression for the AKC delegates when they were fighting to get deaf dogs in agility competition. I did so last year, but still today I receive calls about dogs that will be killed in our shelters, for no other reason than loss of hearing. These dogs are friendly towards people and dogs, have a zest for life just as their hearing brothers and sisters, but yet they are the first to be killed because of a disability we believe can make them “unpredictable”.

  I have dealt with thousands of dogs for aggression issues; they come in all shapes and sizes. No specific breed, no specific sex, and certainly not all of them are disabled. ANY dog can and will show aggression if not trained properly, even a Golden Retriever.  To simply use a disability as an excuse to kill, is quite frankly, ridiculous.  The big issue people have with disabled dogs, the dreaded “startle aggression” that they say, “all disabled dogs have”.  This type of aggression is not just seen in disabled dogs as so many people want you to believe. How many of you have older dogs that sleep soundly or have lost their hearing and have snapped or growled at you for moving too closely.  Some of my clients have young healthy dogs that will do the same thing. Why? Simple, they have not been conditioned properly to expect the unexpected.  We never think about this until a problem erupts.

  I assess many rescue and shelter dogs for adoptability and on my assessment test I include a series of “startle” items, as most behaviorists will. Why, because ANY dog can have “startle” aggression. It is not limited to disabled dogs. If one of these dogs, mostly healthy, hearing and seeing dogs, shows startle aggression, we start them on a behavior modification program. So why would you not offer the same options and opportunity to a disabled dog?  

 Maybe it is because you are nervous they will “runaway” and not come back. So I ask you,  how many shelters are full of hearing dogs that have strayed from their owners? How many dogs are constantly being chased around dog parks because they won’t come back to their owners once off leash? This is not an excuse to kill. Just as their hearing and seeing relatives, disabled dogs can and should learn a solid recall before being allowed off leash.

  Our deaf dogs are taught how to recall to us by using a flashing light. In the daytime we use a laser light to get their focus and draw them to us. This is taught similarly to using a clicker or a verbal cue.  No dog is born with the knowledge of the recall command, it has to be taught; whether they are deaf, blind or healthy. Some dogs, deaf or not, can never achieve off leash privileges due to how they are driven.

   In my experience working with ALL dogs, I can honestly say that disabled dogs have more focus and trust in their humans, than the majority of other dogs.  

 A good friend of mine recently shot a video of our disabled fosters to show the world how EVERY dog deserves a chance at loving home, I hope you enjoy it.


Why do we own dogs?

  I often wonder what drives a human to want a dog.  After 20 years of working in this field, sometimes this question still burns in my mind.  Is it the companionship these beautiful and forgiving creatures give us or is it just for social status? 

  I like to think that it is for the companionship, mainly because I try to keep in my mind, that all people have a good soul.  After all, humans are a nurturing species that instinctively have a burning need to care for all that is weak and vulnerable.  We boast about how we are the more intelligent species, the most rational. Yes, I think for the majority of dog owners out there, it is the thought that this one creature will be waiting happily for you, even if you did something horrible a few hours ago.  This unknowingly loving creature will always look to you and wag that whip like tail at just the sight of you. It doesn’t matter if you scolded them that morning for leaving you a present on the floor; they forgive you and are blissfully happy that you are back home.  They hold no grudges for your outburst of anger that they redecorated your kitchen with leftovers and tin foil. They still show you affection even if you push them away because you had a bad day. 

  I sit back and look at my pack members and rescue dogs everyday. I wonder how they can be so forgiving after the lives they had.  I mean seriously, if we as humans went through what they went through, we would most likely be sending our therapist’s child through some Ivy League college.  Just look at my Staffie, Axel. This amazing creature lived in a run for a good portion of his life, coming out occasionally to play with the volunteers at a rescue group, never really having a consistent owner, until now.  The first time he came to me he was like a freight train of energy. He had been so pent up he literally could not sit still for more then 1.5 seconds.  We joked because his leg muscles were so well defined, that he looked like a Staffie on steroids; but really the reason for it was incredibly sad.  He would race back and forth in his little run, jump up and down like a pogo stick just to keep his mind busy. So I wonder, what would I be like if I was stuck in a run for 2 years with only an occasional outing for play with another human? Would I be so quick to accept another human as a companion?

  Axel’s experience with people had been his daily caretakers that fed him and let him into his outdoor pen. Even though he never had a constant human companion, he greets me everyday with a play bow and a body so full of happiness that he looks like he will explode out of his fur.  How can he be this excited to see me? He did not grow up with humans loving him and caring for him like a furry child, he was not conditioned for this.  But alas, he is a dog, a forgiving and loving creature we as humans take for granted everyday.

  Then there is Tyson, a recently rescued staffie.  When I was asked to take him on through a local bull breed advocacy group Love-a-Bull, I had my doubts that this magnificent animal would ever be able to bond with a human.  He and his sister had been chained outside with no human interaction for 4 years with an occasional bowl of food tossed to them. The heroes at Love-a-Bull rescued him and brought him to me in hopes that we could help him become a better canine citizen. This is a dog that had no reason to even look at humans unless it was to protect his territory.  He never knew what a gentle touch felt like; he never experienced the soft praise a caring human could speak to reward him for just being there. No, his life was spent in the backyard, attached to a truck chain, as an object of social status.  His life was selfishly used as a trophy for humans, looking big and bad so a human could brag his dog was tougher than the other neighborhood dogs.  Why would this dog trust any human? How can I expect him to not stiffen up when I try to pet him, he never felt a loving touch before.  How can I be surprised that he cannot give me accepting eye contact for my soft praise, has he ever had a human just lovingly talk to him?  Why should he care if he pleases any human or me? Honestly, no human ever gave a crap about him, why should he even give me the time of day.

  With all this in my mind, I spent the first couple of days secretly wondering how I could tell the rescue group that for the first time in my career, I have failed.  I was certain I would never be able to show this dog that not all humans were harsh, greedy creatures looking to use him as a substitute for their own lacking strengths.  Would I believe that?  Would you?  It had taken four years for any human to step up and even care enough to take the weight of that chain off his neck.  It took four years for him to feel what it was to run around and actually play with his sister.  I would be foolish to think I can change him in a short time, if I could at all. 

  Then came day three of being in my care. I approached his kennel (more of a safe built for dogs, being he has never been crated before) and asked him to wait while I put his collar on. This for the past couple of days was a very long process of waiting longer than your average human has the patience to wait. He immediately sat down and waited patiently for me to place the collar on him. As shocked as I was and as badly as I had wanted to do a joyful little dance right there, I contained myself and kept my calm demeanor.  As I slipped the collar on, he leaned forward and put his enormous muzzle in my face.  Now this is a strange situation I placed myself in, I never leave myself unprotected.  I make it a point to constantly preach to my daughter to never place yourself in a dangerous or vulnerable position when working with our rehab cases. Yet here I am, literally face to face with a dog that has no reason to not bite the person that has been controlling him for the last couple of days. But this morning, I was the student.

   With his nose at my chin, he was slowly taking in short little sniffs. I was hoping I didn’t smell like breakfast.  Then he very gently gave me a little kiss to the chin. In my mind I took it as a thank you. I thanked him back softly and gave him a big facial massage. He leaned into it with such force that I was nearly taken off balance. This literally brought tears to my eyes. The fact that this poorly treated dog that lived as confined as he had, could show affection to a human in such a short time absolutely amazed me. Seventy-two hours of having shelter, food, and kindness made four years of neglect truly a thing of the past.   

 Yes, that must be it. We love to have a dog because they are so forgiving and full of love.

 For more information on how you can adopt Tyson and give him the same love and respect he will give you, please email lydia@love-a-bull.org


The Big Debate on Pack Behavior in Dogs

  The debate is firing up about dominance and pack behavior in domestic dogs. On one side of the fence, you have professionals stating dogs are not like wolves therefore do not follow a hierarchy. On the other side, you have professionals that say you must be a leader in order to have peace in your pack. So who is right? Both sides have research to prove their theory is correct, but they bash each other and say the other is completely wrong. In my opinion, they are both right and wrong in different ways.
    After researching and learning from the dogs themselves, I do believe they follow a pack order but they do not achieve this by constantly showing aggression to make other pack members submit. The calm, confident dog controls, protects, and keeps order in the pack. They use body language or a quick correction to communicate with the rest of the pack, not brute force or fear tactics. The aggressive dog is the unstable pack member looking for rank. These dogs do not see you as a leader, but rather just another unstable pack member striving for the same rank. Why? Because we act just as they do to gain that rank. We use outbursts of physical force like spanking and rolling a dog to correct behaviors (impulsively aggressive), we yell and scream (bark in a high pitch) if we can’t control a situation. Some people even have temper tantrums and full discussions as they clean up a mess (pacing and being destructive). It is no wonder our dogs are so confused by us. We strive for leadership but act unstable.
     The debate about whether or not dogs follow a pack order started very recently, simply because of one TV show in particular. There have been hundreds if not thousands of people battling over this since the TV show aired. Up until then, even our well-known behaviorists out there believed in pack behavior. I personally, will not put 20 years of personal research and experience aside because I don’t like the way this show portrays gaining leadership. I will continue to educate people on how fear will not make you a strong leader, but rather an unstable pack member. Many trainers out there believe it should be taken off the air because of the physical corrections that are used. I personally, do not think it should be taken off the air, because it does point out that dogs are not humans. I do think we need to keep educating people that physical force is NOT the answer. TV is not the only problem; I have been on quite a few breed bulletin boards that have behavioral tips with internet links to certain aggression trainers. I have seen trainers and veterinarians that still to this day, recommend extremely harsh methods to correct aggression. There is no way to stop bad information from surfacing but to say domestic dogs are not pack animals because of this is ridiculous.
     Too many times I have had people with multiple dogs call me because either they are fighting or a weak member has been killed. If they are not pack animals and they follow our human emotions (because we have genetically made them evolve so much), doesn’t that make this behavior, in human terms, a mental disability? If a human killed one of their family members, we would view them as mentally unstable or evil. So does that mean since we “filtered” out the dog so much, that these occurrences mean the dog is mentally unstable? That they should be immediately placed on some behavior-modifying drug and kept in a cell for its entire life as we do with humans? No, it simply shows their instinctual behavior survival by keeping a pack strong. The younger, stronger dog will challenge for leadership when the time is right. For example, a news article was brought to my attention of a disastrous shelter incident. The shelter had five dogs housed together, all of which had been getting along fine. The female went into heat and the younger stronger males attacked the weaker older male of the pack. We see this as barbaric, but this is their true instinct. The right to breed belongs to the strongest male. This is a great example of how their “wild” roots still exist. If the wolf were filtered out of our domestic dogs, these dogs would not have acted as a pack and attacked the older male. For more info on this incident click here: http://www.wreg.com/news/wreg-dog-fight-at-forrest-city-animal-shelter-story,0,6542657.story?track=rss

     Our domestic dogs are domestic now because we have helped them adjust to it. So what does this mean? We provide food daily, medical care, shelter, toys, and affection. These amenities are not available in the wild. We readily say how we have changed today’s dog to be non-wolf like but then state that they should be allowed to roam freely like a wolf. We blame their aggression on their “instincts” but will quickly say they are not pack animals; therefore they do not need to follow normal pack behaviors. In short. we are constantly contradicting ourselves.

    Yes, we have helped them adapt to our style of living, but their “wild” nature still confuses us. We feed them but they still thrive on hunting and killing prey like their ancestors. We provide shelter with big roomy houses, but they still love to be in a den like area (under tables, beds, crates) like their ancestors. We give them an incredible amount of affection but they still bite if they don’t want it like their ancestors.

   Some professionals refer to our living situations with domestic dogs as a “forced” pack. They say we should allow dogs the freedom of being dogs and having rank amongst themselves. I completely disagree with this, because we are forcing dogs to live as we do and in surroundings like we do. In the wild they will eventually fight over food, territory, and mating. It would be unacceptable and dangerous to the humans to allow your dogs to fight each other over these things in your home. In a natural pack, they have plenty of space where one dog can leave to start their own pack if they are unsuccessful in the battle for leadership. In your home, you are forcing them to stay in the same territory, therefore you must be able to control the pack. If you were to allow a “wild” pack mentality where the dogs have rank and sort things out themselves in your house, you are creating a dangerous situation in an unnatural setting. If we are asking them to live as we do, it is important to remember they should abide by the same rules as they would outside with a wild pack, but adjusted to confined quarters and human pack members. Otherwise, we leave room for dogs that challenge humans for position in a pack.

Learning your dog’s body language: Targeting



  Many people misread their dog’s body language; I see it on a daily basis.  I have clients that come to me because their dog is “friendly” one second and biting the next.  The problem here in most cases, is that we are reading their body language incorrectly.  My clients see a wagging tail and think their dogs are happy and playful, I see a whole different scenario. 

  In an attempt to explain their body language, I have posted some photos of what you need to look out for.  I will explain in detail, the body language you are seeing in the following pictures as well as what you are not seeing.

  The first set of pictures here are an example of targeting from a rescue we rehabilitated and adopted out.

Relaxed Targeting


Picture 1. Relaxed Targeting:

  Here his body is relaxed; notice his top line is slightly curved down.  He does not display any tightness in his body at all and if you were to touch him, he would be very “soft”, meaning he would move into your touch and you could move him easily with almost no force.  His legs are not braced or squared off; meaning they are relaxed with the toes pointing out.  He is also not “puffing up” or putting his chest out.  You could move him by simply touching him. His ears are relaxed but slightly forward, not forced forward.

 Another sign that he is relaxed is that he is panting.  If he were stressed and panting, his tongue would be wide at the end and hanging long.  Notice his tail is level to his body; at the time of this picture, it had been wagging in a sweeping motion.  The tail can tell you a lot about your dogs’ mood.  A level or low sweeping tail is a happy tail! A rapidly wagging tail is a nervous dog and just the tip of the tail wagging means something is about to happen! Here his head is not tilted downward and he is almost carefree in his look.  This is a typical stance of a dog that is showing interest in something.   

Extreme targeting



Picture 2. Extreme Targeting:

  Now here, notice how tight his body looks!  His top line has gone from relaxed to straight. His body is so tense you would really have to try hard to move him and if you touched him, he would feel very “hard”; meaning his muscles are tightened.  His legs are now braced and squared off.  Notice how his front legs are together and facing forward, and his back legs are almost straight and no longer bent at the knee.  He is now leaning into his front end and “puffing up”.  His mouth is now closed and his head is tilted down. I call this the angry professor look!  You all know what I mean. You’re in class and you are talking, you look up and there is the professor looking over his glasses at you. This is a clear example of a hard target, his head is pointing down and he is looking straight down his nose. His ears are now forced forward.  Many people have a hard time telling the difference between ears that are forced forward and relaxed forward.  Look closely at the two pictures.  In picture one, they almost look like they are facing outward.  Here they are pushed forward all the way. In this picture, his tail is tightly held up and not wagging.  If the picture had been taken from the front, you would notice slight forehead wrinkles.  In some dogs, these wrinkles are very pronounced during a target. 

 Picture two is a typical stance prior to lunge. This dog happened to be extremely dog-dog aggressive. Two seconds after this stance, he had an explosive reaction towards the dog on the other side of the fence.

  Some dogs will also raise the hair on their back.  This is very important to pay attention to.  If your dog’s hair only stands up on their neck and shoulders, this is a threatening manner.  If, however, their hair is raised all the way down their back, this is a fearful manner.

  I have had people insist their dog is “mean” when they are approached by another dog.  They tell me their hair stands up and they bare their teeth or snap at the other dog.  When I ask them where the hair stands up on the dog, they generally tell me from nose to tail. I then ask how the other dog approached.  The normal answer is the other dog rushed in and greeted face to face.  Their dog was not being “mean” but acting out of defense fight drive.  They were fearful of the rude approach and tried to protect themselves. 

  Dogs have different drives that they act on.  In defense, they have fight or flight.  If your dog is on leash and they are fearful of another dog, they cannot go into defense flight and run away.  This means if they feel unprotected by their owner, they will resort to defense fight to protect themselves. Correcting a dog that is fearful and soft, can be a big mistake and usually advances the aggression.

  If your having trouble with dog-dog aggression, please contact a behaviorist. Make sure they understand body language, the level of different drives, and how to change drives in your dog.  Every dog is different, but they all share the same drives.  Understanding their body language and which drive is higher in your dog, will help make rehabilitation more effective.   



Tara, Brandie, Amanda & the “Pack”

Really, please think twice before prong collar use!

OK I know I am beating this topic to death, but just this week I have had 4 cases of aggression that have developed after prong collar use.
Four in a week is too many.  I know people call it “power steering” of dog training but please think about your dogs personality before using it.
Dogs have different “drives”, and if their defense fight drive is the highest of the main 4 (defense fight, defense flight, prey, and pack) you are at risk for an aggressive dog later on.
If a trainer or friend recommends using a prong, please make sure you know how high their defense fight drive is before using it.
Two of the cases this week, the dogs had no aggression prior to use of the prong. Both had taken a class and the instructor recommended a prong to make walking easier. Both after a few months started to get mouthy with their owners and with time started biting harder to the point of leaving bruises or wounds, and correcting the owners when corrected for bad behaviors.  Both of these dogs had a good foundation and the owners tried to hire other trainers to help them get through the aggression that developed later.  But their defense fight was high and they never stopped using the prong collars.  I have trained dogs with a very high defense fight drive without a prong and they have not shown more aggression in the years that pass.  It is possible to train a dog to walk calmly on leash without a prong collar, but you must understand the different drives in a dog.
  The other two cases showed nervousness and fear, around other dogs in a basic class and again the instructors recommended prong collars to “control” their walks.  They were not aggressive towards other dogs but had equal defense fight and flight drives. This caused them to become more aggressive as the months went on, to a point where they are now lunging at other dogs, and redirecting their aggression on their owners.  Everytime they “backed up” from a dog or situation they were afraid of, they were biten by the collar.  Naturally they put the two together and started to go into their defense fight drive when frightened.
In all of the above cases, proper understanding of drives and leash training in a different technique could have stopped the loss of bite inhibition and redirected aggression.  If the instructor you are using solely prefers prongs, I would recommend researching another class.  Again please do some research on how high your dogs drives are before considering the use of a prong.  Make sure the instructor understands the different drives in dogs before you rely on the “wonder tool” of the training business.  It will make your life  easier and your dog much happier.

 Tara, Brandie, Amanda & the “pack”

My dog rushes out the door when it opens!

Your doorbell rings, and of course you go to answer it; the race has begun! You try to get there before your dog so you can stop him from assaulting your guests with their over excited greeting behavior or causing a mid-day chase around the neighborhood because they got out the door. A wrestling match has started as you try to grab their collar, and you feel like you are dancing with your dog as you circle round and round. You finally get their collar and open the door. Now begins the human-dog tug of war, and launching when your guests come in. All of this usually happens in the longest and most exhausting 3 minutes you ever had.
I hear this story everyday from owners who are at odds as to what to do about their dog and their greeting manners. Too many people have let their doorway “go to the dogs” so to speak! Most consults I go on, the dog greets me first. They are happily saying, “Welcome to my house, this is my pack!” Many owners have tried to “reclaim” their doorways by having their dogs sit at the door, but they still cannot control the bad manners of jumping or rushing out the door!
The problem is, as hard as you try, if your dog is right next to the doorway you will have a harder time controlling them! The doorway creates 5 steps of excitement for all dogs!
1. The doorbell or knocking
2. You touching the doorknob
3. You opening the door
4. The high pitched greeting most people use to welcome their guests
5. The new people coming in to your den!
People forget that dogs have a very short attention span! They react to each step of excitement! When practicing door control you must remember these 5 steps!
When the doorbell rings, quietly go to the door and check to see whom it is. Again, quietly! Your dog is doing their job by alerting you; don’t yell at them for it! If you yell at them you have joined them in barking at a stranger. If you quietly walk up you have acted like an alpha.
When you get there, calmly turn around and say “enough”, then place them in a sit/stay far enough back that if they start to move, you have time to shut the door! You cannot be quicker then your dog, so give yourself some room! Your dog should be sitting five to ten steps away from the door (in the beginning you may need the help of a family member and a leash).
When your dog is sitting, reach for the doorknob and repeat your stay command (remember each step is a new and exciting adventure for them). Then open the door and repeat stay again. Do not yell at them to stay. If they break, close the door and calmly place them back in a sit/stay. If you get frustrated or yell it will make your job ten times harder.
After each of the above five steps, repeat your stay command calmly. When your guests come in, you must initiate the greeting! Tell your dog to “go say hello” if they are calm! If your dog is too excited then keep them in a sit/stay until your guests walk past them. I always tell my guests to just walk past my pack without talking or looking at them. When you are aloof to a dog they generally do not get overly excited! After they are calm release them! If you are consistent and practice this with each arrival, you will notice your dog will auto sit/stay when the doorbell rings!





This is what door control should look like!




Good luck, and please contact us if you need help!

Tara, Brandie, Amanda and the “pack!”