Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Gifts Ideas for Pet Lovers

Do you need to give a gift for an animal lover?  Want to give something meaningful for the holidays?  Here are some ideas and suggestions:


Here are some books that make nice gifts or are good holiday reading:

  • The Dog Whisperer Presents - Good Habits for Great Dogs: A Positive Approach to Solving Problems for Puppies and Dogs by Paul Owens.  This book covers positive approaches to solving problems for puppies and adult dogs.  It tackles modifying dog behavior from the perspective of changing habits.  This book also has a unique approach to dog training called “Take a Vacation from Canine Education.”  Those of you who have taken my classes might recognize this approach as a comprehensive version of the “Magnet Game” we play in class.  Not only is this approach easy to follow but it takes the stress and pressure out of dog training.  Small brag:  my Akita and Shiba Inu are in some of the pics.

  • Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals.  This book explains why clicker training is such an effective training tool.  Karen Pryor is a former marine mammal trainer that popularized the use of clicker training with dogs.  Her book has many entertaining anecdotes that demonstrate the theories involved with training animals whether it be a dog, a dolphin or even a hermit crab!

  • The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World.  Here is one that is on my reading list this holiday season.  Featuring illustrative human, pet, and wild-animal anecdotes, this book is a unique and fascinating introduction to a science that is truly epic in scope. Children quickly learn that actions have consequences. This elementary lesson is repeated again and again throughout adulthood as we adjust our behaviors according to the reactions they produce in the social and natural environment.

Donate to an Animal Rescue

During this time of year, animal rescues are in need.  Consider donating money or even your time to an animal rescue.  With the cold weather, many shelters and rescues need blankets and old towels to help keep the animals warm.  If you are no longer using your dog’s crate, x-pen or leash, consider donating it to a rescue.  Call first, to see if they have a need for your equipment.

Pet Portrait

There are many talented animal photographers in town who specialize in pet portraitures.  An animal lover would love to have a professional portrait of their pet as a keepsake.  A couple of people in town are: - the photos on my website were taken by Erin Tomanek. – I have used this company as well for pet portraits.

Gift Certificates

Many pet boutiques, pet stores, pet groomers and even certain dog trainers offer gift certificates you can give your friends. Recently, a client purchased some private training lessons for her mom to help with a newly adopted dog and another client purchased group lessons for her son and daughter-in-law.  These make great gifts for someone who has a new dog or a dog that needs a bit of training.

Gift Baskets

Many companies can make dog-themed gift baskets.  You can build a gift basket with dog treats and bowls or doggie toys.  Here are some fun ideas for interactive dog toys that they will be sure to love:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Peeing in the Rain

A common complaint from dog owners is that their dog does not like to go outside to pee in the rain. My dogs are the same way.  I open that back door, my dogs take a peek outside, see and smell the wetness and in the house.  So what do I do on rainy days?

Wait for a break or light rain - most dogs don't like to go outside during torrential downpours so wait for a break in the rain or at least when it is a light drizzle.

Misery Loves Company - the simplest solution is to put on my raincoat and boots, leash up my dogs and walk around the neighborhood.  My dogs are willing to go out on a walk in the rain because, well, their walks are a positive experience and walking out in the neighborhood is always fun and exciting for them.  I also believe that dogs are more willing to walk on wet sidewalks than wet grass.  So, while it is not so fun for you to walk out in the rain, I find that this is the easiest way to coax your dog outside.

Put Peeing on Cue - the other thing I did when my dog Kiku was a puppy was to put peeing on cue by teaching her to pee when I said the words "go pee pee."  On rainy days this helps keep your excursions outside short and efficient. Even if your dog is an adult, it is not too late to teach your dog this verbal cue.  So this is how I taught my dog to pee on cue:
1) When you go on a walk, watch for signs that your dog is about to pee.  For female dogs, it is when they begin to squat and for male dogs leg lifting is a good sign.  When you see your dog begin these behaviors, say your cue (e.g. go pee pee, go potty, etc). Some people say "hurry up"  or "go now" but I never liked that phrase because people have a hard time saying it in a positive tone.  It tends to come out anxiety-ridden or impatient
2) When your dog finishes eliminating, say "yes" and reward my dog with a treat.
3) You will need to do this for a few weeks so your dog makes the association between the words, "go pee pee" and the actual act of urinating.
4) After a few weeks, test your dog to see if they understand what the verbal cue means. When you get close to a spot your dog likes to pee at, say the words, "go pee pee," wait 10-15 seconds and see if your dog begins to eliminate.  If your dog eliminates, say "yes" and give a treat. If not, you may need to repeat steps 1-3 for a few more weeks before attempting step 4 again.  Eventually, you will be able to tell your dog "go pee pee" and your dog will know that it is time to go.
The above tips have been tried and true for me however, the following tips may also work for your dog:
Raincoats - some dogs do not like being rained on and a raincoat may help.  

Wee wee pads - on very rare occasions where I had to leave the house for extended periods of time on a rainy day, I may leave a wee wee pad by the back door where they normally exit into the backyard.

Covered balconies and outdoor areas - for apartment and condo dwellers, sometimes it is helpful to teach your dog to go out on a balcony.  Putting wee wee pads or boxes of sod can help encourage the dog to use this as an alternate elimination area but it helps if the dog is introduced to these areas early on when it is not raining.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Foul Weather Friends

Now that the rainy season has officially started here in Southern California, you may find that you are holed up in your house with your pet because of inclement weather. Your dog may not be able to take his/her daily walks and whenever you look up you find a pair of big, sad eyes staring at you expectantly, anticipating every move that you make.

Fear not, being indoors just changes the activities that your pet can engage in. Rainy days are when I break out some of my favorite interactive dog toys and play some indoor games that reinforce my dog’s training. Here are some examples:

Training – why not use that time in the house to reinforce some of your dog’s training? Put together a series of behaviors for your dog to perform and reward your dog for the last behavior in the chain. Go to your spot, lie down and stay is an example of a training combination. Or teach your dog a new trick. YouTube and other websites have videos of how to teach your dog to do simple tricks.

Hide and Seek – playing hide and seek games where your dog has to find you in different parts of the house is a great way to reinforce your dog’s recall (coming to you).  When training a dog to come when called, always remember that when they find you to reward them with praise, petting and/or treats.  Teach them that finding you is a big party.

Some toys can be used when the dog is left alone or for times when you need to keep your dog occupied (e.g.when you have guests over, you are busy at the computer, when you are having a meal). These toys must be fairly indestructible and have no small parts. Most people have Kong toys but there are many others you can order online or obtain from most pet stores.

Kongs ( are great toys that can be stuffed with your dog's kibble, treats, and other foods. Your dog will spend a lot of time trying to get the contents out of the Kong. Think of it like a doggie pacifier. For heavy chewers the Extreme Kong (black version)would be a better choice. The Kong website has instructions on how to use it with recipes and I also posted a blog about the many uses of Kongs which you can read about here.

One of my favorite ways to use a Kong is to hide one or more Kongs around the house (I like to use places other than the kitchen or dining room) and ask your dog to find it. My dogs have been taught that the word “find it” means go hunt for the object. An empty Kong makes a great fetch toy as well.

Tug a Jug - This toy, made by Premier Pet Products, requires the dog to manipulate the jug and rope to try to get the treats out. If you use smaller treats, it is easier for the dog to get the treats. If the rope is destroyed, you can place balls in the jug for continued play. The other nice thing about this toy is that the jug is see-through so the dogs can see the treats inside. This toy has a high difficulty rating in my book so it may be too difficult for inexperienced dogs like puppies.

Here is a video of my two year old Akita, Kiku, who takes a patient and systematic approach to problem solving:

Twist and Treat – this is another similar rubber toy called the Twist and Treat is made by Premier. This toy is probably better for smaller dogs and less powerful chewers. This toy has the advantage of being adjustable depending on the size threat you are using so I find it easier for most dogs.

Buster Cube - The Buster Cube has been on the market a long time. This was one of the original toys I used with my 10 year old Shiba Inu when she was a puppy. The Buster Cube dispenses dry treats randomly when the dog moves the toy around. You can also adjust the level of difficulty depending on the skills of your dog.

Kibble Nibble: This is another Premier toy similar to the Buster Cube. The object of the game is to roll the ball around to make the kibble come out.The ball is see-through and the dog can see how much kibble is left. It takes some experimentation to determine what size kibble/treat works best so that it is not too easy or too hard.

Here is video of my Shiba Inu, Mitsu, playing with the ball. She is almost 11 years old now and she is going after the ball with gusto. This video is not sped up, this old gal is actually this frenetic. She ended up playing with this ball for about 15 minutes, did a couple of shiba yells at the ball, got a drink of water and came back for another 10 minutes before I took it away from her. During the video you can see a treat flying out of the ball:

Toys Requiring Owner's Participation
This category of toys are toys that involve the participation of the owner. Examples of traditional toys requiring owner participation are balls, fetch toys, tug of war toys and frisbees. There are also toys that involve problem solving skills. Nina Ottoson has created a whole line of toys which help hone your dog's problem-solving skills and at the same time help develop the bond with your dog. These toys require human supervision and they must not be left alone with your dog.

The Dog Brick - this toy requires the dog to remove the bricks and slide the covers to get to the treats. The link provided contains an instructional video on how to use this toy. Below is a video I made showing how my dog solved the brick.

Dog Tornado: This toy has a higher difficulty rating than the Dog Brick and it is definitly more challenging. What is fun about this toy is that you can potentially put your dog's entire meal (especially for small dogs) in the Tornado thereby slowing down their eating and preventing gulping their food. Again, these toys require your supervision because there are small parts.

Here is a video of my female akita, who is a little more sophisticated at solving puzzles, using the Tornado at a more advanced setting to make it more difficult to have access to the treats:

And some of these toys are not limited to use for dogs. Even cats can get in on the fun. Here is my cat using the Dog Tornado as a way to keep her occupied and to prevent her from gulping down food too fast.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention - Leash Laws are Good

In this 4th installment for Dog Bite Prevention Week, we address the issue of leash laws.  In a recent article from the LA Weekly, State Farm Insurance has ranked California as the leading state for dog bite claims.  State Farm cites it dealt with 449 claims in 2013 from California, which accounted for $14.7 million in canine-attack payouts by State Farm.   Los Angeles accounted for 61 attacks on Postal employees.  Although, the statistics do not seem to take into account pet population or housing density, these statistics do raise the issue of why the dogs are not behind secure fences, indoors or on leash.

There seems to be a growing trend for people to disregard leash laws and allow their dogs to walk off leash or roam their neighborhoods unattended. Several incidents have happened in recent months which motivated me to write a blog about leash laws.  I have had several clients involved in incidents with off-leash dogs during neighborhood walks.  In some cases, the off-leash dog and their dog got into an altercation.  I have also worked with clients who have come to me after their dog had been attacked by an off-leash dog.  In such cases, the dog is often traumatized and shows aggression to other dogs after the attack.

While it may be a sign of pride that your dog can walk off-leash or it may be based on the notion, that the dog is happier off-leash, leash laws serve several very important functions which help protect both the public and the animals living within city limits.

First, leashes help keep the dog within the owner's control.  The leash will prevent your dog from getting into an altercation with another dog.  Even though you think your dog is friendly, the other dog may not be friendly or may be very fearful.  In addition, your dog may not like every dog he/she encounters. Leashes help prevent serious injuries from such encounters.

Second, not every human likes dogs.  There are some people who are very frightened of dogs and being confronted by an off-leash dog (even if friendly), can be traumatic.  In addition, children can be knocked over by a large, enthusiastic dog.  Keeping your dog on leash respects other people's space and possible discomfort towards your pet.

Third, many people are working with reactive and/or leash aggressive dogs.  Running into an off-leash dog can not only trigger an aggressive encounter, but can also set that person's training backwards.  Many of these dogs are fearful and having a predictable environment helps the dog overcome that fear.  Running into off-leash dogs when outside the safety of that dog's home can reinforce aggressive and fearful behavior.  Many of my clients who are working with their reactive dogs have had runs with off-leash dogs and it is unfortunate that these run-ins can have such a negative impact on someone's training program.

Fourth, your dog may not respond to your verbal cues 100% of the time and there is always a possibility that your dog will chase somebody's cat and do harm to that animal.  In a similar vein, your dog may chase another animal into oncoming traffic and run the risk of being hit by a car.

For people who allow their dogs to roam the neighborhood unattended (and yes, I see these dogs all the time), the same arguments apply.  Your dog may be hit by a car or may wander into someone else's property where there is a territorial resident dog.     Not only are there penalties for free-roaming dogs but there are issues of liability if that dog harms another person or animal or damages someone else's property.

So while many people have idealized notions of walking their dog off-leash, this is not practical or safe for a busy and crowded city streets like Los Angeles. There are designated beaches, hiking areas and parks where dogs can safely be off-leash.  Leashes are not only for your protection but for the protection of other people and their dogs as well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention - Children and Dogs

I am sure my parents thought this was cute
but the look on my face is not too happy. A friend
pointed out that the dogs are also stealing food off my
tray.  Hey mom and dad, a little management please.
Fortunately, no harm came to this baby.
One of my earliest childhood memories of a dog showing aggression towards me was when I was probably about 3-4 years old and I was with my 4-5 year old toy poodle (we had 3 of them at the time). I had a fisher-price type train toy and I decided to play choo-choo train and my dog was going to be the caboose.  I tied the string of the toy around my dog and then my dog growled at me. Add to the fact that this young dog was completely blind and he did not do more is quite tolerant.  At some point one of my parents came in, untied the dog and got mad at me for bothering the dog.  Needless to say, I never teased or mistreated my dog for the rest of his long life.

Sadly, small children under 12 years old are one of the most frequent recipients of dog bites. According to the AVMA, children between the ages of 5-9 are at greater risk of being bitten and seriously injured by that dog bite. Approximately 400,000 children receive medical attention every year. Most of the injuries inflicted on children are from everyday interactions with familiar or family pets. Children move faster than adults and toddlers move in a manner that seems erratic and odd to dogs.  This video from Dr. Sophia Lin and illustrated by Lili Chin (the artist who did the doggy drawings on my website), really captures what a small child seems like from a dog's perspective:

This video highlights the importance of supervision and management when young children and dogs are in the same room or area. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
Be vigilant of stress signals - If a dog is showing stress, increase distance between the dog and the child.  If you are in a house, separate the children and dogs using baby gates, crates or separate rooms.  The following video is a summary of the major signals dogs exhibit when stressed:

Most dogs do not like hugs (or kisses) - there is a tendency for young children to want to hug, kiss or grab dogs much like a stuffed animal and this runs the risk of a bite to the face. Unlike primates, most dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed on the face so it is wise to make it a practice not to do this with your own dog so your child will not assume that it is o.k. to do it to other dogs.  Teaching gentle petting is a better alternative.  As I was contemplating this article I looked through all my childhood photos of me and my dogs and sadly in almost all of them, I have my dog in a tight choke hold.  Another interaction that can provoke a dog is putting your face too close to a dog's face. Many children want to do this and try to kiss the dog.

Not digging on the hug 
Notice the flattened ears and head tilting away from the person. 
My dog is shy and is uncomfortable being grabbed or hugged by people.

Tolerating the Hug
This dog (who is blind) is tolerating the hug. 
Notice the tense mouth and expression. 

Tolerating the hug better
My dog is more relaxed,
I am not grabbing around the neck
but over the back

Here is a happy dog. 
Face relaxed, mouth relaxed, perky expression
Apparently my dad had better manners than me.
But then, they are in Hawaii so who wouldn't be happy. 
Teach your child the appropriate way to approach an unfamiliar dog - it is important to supervise your child around other animals. Teach your child to never touch another person's pet without permission and that you must be present.  Here is a summary and video:
  • Instruct your children that a parent needs to be with them before approaching a dog.
  • Stand 6 feet away from the dog
  • Ask the owner for permission
  • Look for stress signals (see video above)
  • Stand still, let the dog come to you, do not go to the dog or hover over the dog. If the dog does not want to come, leave the dog alone.
  • Let the dog smell your closed hand
  • Remember - dogs don't like hugs.  Gentle petting if the dog shows you he/she is receptive
  • If the dog shows stress signals or growls, stop what you are doing and slowly back away (don't run or yell).  See my article on what to do if your dog growls at you.

Running or Loose dogs:  Children should not yell or run away from dogs that are loose.  This can cause the dog to chase and knock down the child. It is better for the child to stand still (like a tree) and stay still until the dog loses interest and goes away. Here is a video from Doggone Safe that demonstrates this concept:

Read this article by Joan Orr for a more detailed description of how to stand like a tree

Parents should never leave a dog unattended with a child under the age of 12 years old no matter how gentle your dog seems.  A few months ago an infant was killed by the family golden retriever/lab mix.  The child was left in a swing while the father fell asleep in another room.  There are many stories like this every year and children left alone in baby swings is a common theme.  Moreover, any breed is capable of harming a child. Do not assume that your nice family dog is not going to react to a child teasing him/her.  As my story with the choo-choo train illustrates, toddlers and kids can do some pretty crazy things.

Respect a dog's boundaries. Teach children not to touch or poke dogs when they are sleeping, in a crate, eating or behind a fence.    If you have resident dogs, you may want to create a "safe zone" where dogs can eat in peace and rest when things get really active around the house.  Crate training is also a helpful tool.  Dogs behind a barrier can get frustrated and dogs behind other people's fences can be territorial so teaching children not to bother dogs behind barriers is also important. Barriers include crates, gates, fences and the inside of a car. Riding a dog like a horse will provoke a dog to bite and can harm the dog physically. 

It is important to teach children not to
bother dogs when they are sleeping.  It is also important to
teach children not to put their face in a dog's face

Dogs can get defensive behind boundaries or areas where they sleep. 
Instruct children to leave dogs alone when they are in these areas. 
Note:  Yawning can be a stress is a stress signal

For dog owners - many dogs are afraid of young children. As highlighted in my earlier post, most dog bites inflicted on people are on children and senior citizens.  For this reason, early socialization and puppy classes are important for puppy owners. Many people think puppy socialization means socializing with other dogs.  This is only one facet of a dog's social development. Socialization includes socialization with different people including children and senior citizens.  Dog training classes also help build a dog's confidence and teach your dog some basic training skills and manners which will help your dog behave more acceptably in public.

If you have a dog that is afraid of children or certain people, follow the tips addressed in my previous article on how to greet a dog.  This includes recognizing signs of stress in your dog, managing your dog's space, providing a safe place for your dog and working with a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based approaches to address this type of behavior.  With children, very strict supervision and management is required. Instruct guests and children how to interact with your dog and always supervise. If your dog is very stressed when children are at the house or if you are too busy or distracted to supervise, it is better to put your dog in a "safe place" until the children leave.  Children and strangers should not hug or grab your dog, hover over your dog or rub the dog's belly because your dog may act defensively. 

Fortunately, for me, my little blind poodle was very tolerant and was my best friend for many years until he died at the age of 17. Despite his early onset blindness, he could find his way around a two story house and hang out in the back yard with no problem.  Does anyone else have any fond memories of their childhood dog?

Los Angeles Dog Training:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week and here are a few tips to minimize the risk of dog bites:

Learn a dog's stress signals

In my last blog on Canine Body Language I go over some of the common postures and stress signals that dogs exhibit.  Here are a few stress signals to be on the look out for:  frequent yawning, licking lips, ears pulled back, pacing, panting.  If your dog is stressed, do not force them to meet someone they are afraid of.  In a similar vein, learn your dog's aggressive stances.  This could include stiff body, very still body, ears forward, body leaning forward, hackles raised, tight/closed mouth, hard stare, curled lip, growling and snarling.  Here is a video showing some common stress signals:

Respect these signals and remove your dog from the situation that is causing stress by increasing the distance.  Don't worry about offending a stranger.  Your dog's well-being is more important.  If your dog is frequently afraid of strangers, work with a dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a behavior modification program to help your dog feel more at ease around strangers.  It is important to choose a professional who focuses on positive reinforcement methods.  If you meet someone else's dog exhibiting these signals when you approach them, stop and slowly back off to give the dog more space. 

Appropriate Greetings and Interactions

Besides being able to read a dog's body language or stress signals, another factor that can reduce the incidence of dog bites is knowing how to greet a dog in a manner that will put the dog at ease.  Here are a few tips:

1) Stop 5-6 feet in front of the dog.  This is usually the distance that a dog is comfortable with and is also the length of most leashes if the dog is on a walk.

2)   Ask the owner if you can pet the dog.  If the owner hesitates or says the dog is not always friendly, move on.  If you are the owner and you notice that your dog is fearful or showing stress signals, ask the person to stop moving forward and refrain from reaching towards your dog.

3)  Turn your side to the dog  - dogs are often more comfortable when your side is facing them rather than facing them head on.   By turning your side to the dog, it makes them more comfortable to approach you.

4)Let the dog approach you - rather than going towards the dog and invading their space, let them approach you.  If the dog does not want to approach you or shows you the stress signals mentioned above, then leave the dog be and do not try to pet the dog. 

5)  Pet the side of the body or neck - avoid blind spots like the top of the head. Fearful dogs do not like to be petted on top of the head and do not like people hovering over them. 
Here is a video showing the steps:


Sadly, small children under 9 years old are one of the most frequent recipients of dog bites.  Children move faster than adults and toddlers move in a manner that seems erratic and odd to dogs.  This video from Dr. Sophia Lin and illustrated by Lili Chin (the artist who did the doggie drawings on my website), really captures what a small child seems like from a dog's perspective:

This video highlights the importance of supervision and management when young children and dogs are in the same room or area. There is a tendency for young children to want to hug, kiss or grab dogs much like a stuffed animal and this runs the risk of a bite to the face. It is therefore important to teach children how to appropriately greet a dog.  Most dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed on the face and make it practice not to do this with your own dog. Be vigilant of stress signals and teach your child the appropriate way to approach and handle a dog

This dog is tolerating the hug but is shying away from close contact with the person's face. Notice the flattened ears and head tilting away from the person.  Teach your children appropriate ways to interact with a dog that helps put the dog at ease.

Runners and Bicycles

If you have a dog that reacts to fast moving objects, be vigilant and aware of oncoming runners and cyclists.  Make a point of teaching your dog to sit and stay so that you can step out of the path and give enough space to allow the person to go by.  If you have a dog, that lunges and goes after runners or cyclists, consult with a trainer to help your dog learn to handle people and bicycles moving quickly by them.   When I run or jog behind a person with a dog, I try to give them a heads up several seconds before I approach them to give them a chance to move out of the way and not surprise them.

These are a few tips to help you understand canine body language and how to approach a dog safely.