RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2011

Choosing a Good Boarding or Day Care Facility for Your Dog

Clients often ask me where to board their dogs or where to take them for day care services.  While I do keep a “short list” of recommended facilities, it’s a pretty exclusive group of mainly home boarding situations run by long time dog pro’s, so the available spots often fill up very quickly.   So, for those who may need to step out on their own and evaluate a commercial facility, here are the criteria I would use if I were going to search for a place to board one of my own dogs.

1. Is the kennel facility secure?  There should be an extra gate, or door, separating any off leash or kennel area from the main lobby to prevent escapes.

2. Is the facility clean?  No kennel can completely eradicate disease transmission, but they should be able to insure that all reasonable precautions have been taken against the most dangerous organisms.  Floors and fomites should be regularly bleached, or disinfected with a kennel disinfectant, but there should be no residual fumes while dogs are in the facility.   Any dog facility will smell a bit like dog, because many breeds have oils in their skin that get on to surfaces, or the dogs may come in wet, but there should be no odor of stale urine or feces.  Needless to say, the facility should keep a file with the vaccination, or titer, records of all the doggy participants, to insure that they are up to date, especially with the rabies vaccination, which is required by law.

3. Is there an attendant on duty or are dogs left alone for extended periods?  No excuses on this one, folks, even if the dogs are crated separately.  If you are paying for boarding, your dog should not be the only one to hear the smoke alarm if it goes off, nor should he have no one who can respond to a medical emergency, and he should not be left alone in a building known to house expensive dogs, possibly exposing them to theft (according to the American Kennel Club, thefts were up 49% across the nation this year).

4. Is the facility willing to sign an agreement that they will not use choke, prong, or shock collars on your dog?  We have had reports from clients that such equipment was used on their dog without their permission!  Of course, they terminated their relationship with the offending facility, but their dog, who is regularly walked in a head collar, had to experience the pain of a prong without their knowledge, which might have gone on indefinitely had they not made an unannounced visit.  The facility did it as a cost saving measure so that they could walk him with more dogs, and not have to walk him individually.  Surprise visits are good!

5. Ask what training the staff have had in animal behavior.  Someone with credentials should be in a supervisory role, but staff should also be well trained on basic dog body language and behavior, when to intervene as dogs play, and when to let the dogs work things out.  Also, pay attention to how people are speaking to, and interacting with, the dogs.  If all you here is someone screaming dogs’ names, or yelling “No!” don’t leave your dog there.   Be sure that your dog is arriving home tired from safe play, and not from stress!

6. Ask how the facility staff would break up a fight if necessary.  There should be some citronella spray (Spray Shield) or a water supply handy, but if you see spray bottles hanging from every pillar and post, ask why they are there and how they are used.  Ask what methods are used to quell excessive barking.   It shouldn’t be by squirting your dog repeatedly in the face!   Tell the facility that if your dog causes any problem, either by barking excessively, or anything else, that he can be segregated and that you want an immediate phone call, and will come and get him.

7. Dogs should play with dogs that have compatible play styles.  Even if your dog plays with some larger dogs at home, consider restricting the dog to playing with dogs its own size, or only slightly larger, while boarding.  Screening will not always weed out the bullies, and you don’t want your dog victimized by a much larger dog, or becoming the victim of “predatory drift” either.

8. Speaking of screening, do not leave your dog in a facility that allows intact dogs to participate in group play.  While intact male dogs aren’t necessarily aggressive just because they are intact, they sometimes do elicit an aggressive response from other dogs.  Your dog doesn’t need to be in the middle of that.  Neutered males may still fight over a female in heat, too.

9. What about breed restrictions?  My personal comfort level tells me that I would be fine with my big hound playing with dogs of any breed or play style, but my Aussie would find it totally abhorrent to play with any breed of dog which has a typically rough and physical play style.  So, it’s not about prejudice against a particular breed, it’s really about play style, size, strength, and the individual tolerance level of the owners and dogs.   It’s more important to ask how the facility insures that aggressive dogs are screened out, and not which breeds might be screened out.  Aggression happens in all breeds!  The application form you fill out should be extremely detailed when it comes to behavior, and should include info on the dog’s reaction to dogs of both genders, and to human strangers, including children!

10. If the day care uses terminology like “pack walks” or “structured walks” and they are taking dogs off the property for off leash excursions, run for the hills!!!!  We have first hand knowledge of several dogs being lost by their caretakers who were a bit too confident of their abilities (in some cases the dogs were never found – if you are boarding or using day care, please be sure your dog is micro-chipped first!).  Remember, your dog has a relationship with YOU, and even if the dog has a strong recall, he may not come when called by a kennel attendant, especially one who might be irritated or exasperated at not being able to gather everyone up that they left the kennel with.

11. Are the dogs kenneled securely at feeding time?  No dog should EVER be asked to eat in direct proximity to unfamiliar dogs.

12. Does the kennel have a policy about emergency veterinary care for your dog?  If they don’t, or it’s nebulous, don’t leave your dog there.

13. Remember, no one should take it upon themselves to “train” your dog in your absence without your express permission.  We frown on “board and train” or “boot camp” because we’ve found that it is mostly correction-based or harsh training that is described in those terms, and we suggest if you do choose to have your dog trained while boarding, make sure the trainer is a member of a professional group committed to positive training, such as Truly Dog Friendly, KPCT, VSPDT.  Don’t ask what the dog will be able to do when you get back to pick him up.  Ask what equipment and specifically what method will be used.  If you hear any of the following words, run for the hills and take your dog with you:  dominance, guarantee, control or remote collar, pack leader, balanced.  The buzz words you WANT to hear are: marker or clicker training, positive reinforcement, lure/reward, science-based or progressive reinforcement.

14. Be sure the facility is bonded and insured.  Also, if they are sending a dog walker to your home, be certain that they also carry “care, custody and control” coverage.


For more information see the following:

ASPCA Day Care Article

About Choosing a Trainer

Pet Sitters International



A Baker’s Dozen of Holiday Hazards

Here’s a list of the things I hope everyone will remember at holiday time, so that their dogs all remain safe and happy.

1. Cooked bones are dangerous.

2. Fatty turkey skin, and gravy can cause pancreatitis.  Don’t allow guests or kids to feed Fido the scraps.  If you want him to enjoy the meal, cut up a few pieces of turkey white meat and place on top of his regular dinner.

3. Guests, or kids, might leave doors open accidentally.  Be sure you know where your dog is, and contain him in a safe area if necessary – don’t let him get lost.

4. If you are baking, be aware that dough made with yeast can expand in your dog’s stomach and cause huge problems.  Keep dough out of your dog’s reach.

5. If your dog seems ill, but your vet is closed, there are emergency vet clinics that will be open – have the number handy in advance.  Do NOT medicate your dog with human medications without consulting a vet.  Some seemingly harmless ones, such as naproxen, can kill your dog very quickly.

6. Your car may be in good repair, but a guest’s car could leak antifreeze.  Keep your dog away from guests’ cars or the driveway until you know it’s safe.   Use only non-toxic ice melt products on your walk ways.  Keep the Animal Poison Control Center number handy by the phone: 1-888-4ANI-HELP

7. Make sure your dog can escape the hubbub.  Some people think that dogs should have to put up with the attention of anyone who wants to interact with them, but they can get overstimulated or grouchy.  The way to keep kids safe is to keep the dog safe!  So, give Fido a break now and then, and don’t let well meaning people overdo the attention.

8. Well meaning people may give you plants, chocolate, or other gift items.  Keep gifts up and away from pets, just in case there are edibles inside that they shouldn’t have.

9. Cleaning products can leave a residue that is harmful to pets.  One safer product to use, for example, is the Libman Freedom mop, which is made in the USA, and instead of chemicals, you can use vinegar and water in the reservoir.  Makes my tile floor shine with no streaks!

10. Be sure your pet wears his collar and ID tag at all times.  If your pet is microchipped, be sure that you have registered the tag to you with the company so that you can be found if he gets lost!

11. Make sure the trash can is secure and the dog cannot access it.  Things like baking string, foil, or plastic wrap can cause huge problems if ingested by an animal.

12. If you are visiting with your pet, make sure he’s wearing a proper harness that he cannot get out of, and consider hooking a leash the harness and another leash to the collar.  Any dog, when frightened, can slip a collar, and you don’t want your dog lost in an unfamiliar place.

Check out these pages for more ideas on keeping your dog safe at holiday time:

Warriors Left Behind

Many people don’t realize that at the end of the Viet Nam war, not only did many service members come back to a less than grateful reception, they had to leave their best friends behind to an almost certain death.  The war dogs that served in that conflict did not enjoy the same status that military dogs do now, and Uncle Sam didn’t realize that the loss of a dog in that way would forever wound the soldier who had to leave his partner in that way.   The military dog handlers of Viet Nam have an association where you can learn more about what they went through with their partners:  According to a CNN story today, each military dog saves approximately 150 human lives during the course of its career.  Because of that, they truly do deserve to be recognized alongside their military members as warriors, heroes, and worthy of the highest honor and respect.  On Veterans’ Day, when we remember our soldiers, we also remember the dogs that gave their lives in service to an America that didn’t value their contribution enough.  Today they would be walking down the tarmac with their returning handlers, but yesterday they were tied to fences while the helicopters took off without them.  Never again.  Never again.

When Muzzles Go Gray

In every dog’s life there’s that moment when
flecks of silver start to appear at the tip of the muzzle
It’s a sign that time is not our friend
But, for us, it’s also a signal that we have become
such good old friends
Rather like a well worn pair of fuzzy slippers, we fit
We are familiar, and can’t imagine life without one another
Though the day will surely come when the beloved muzzle, now turning silver
Will not be there to greet me
And I will no longer reach to caress the soft fur whose smell I am so afraid I will forget
For now, we are in that middle time of pleasure
We are enjoying the love and trust that will outlast our time together
But appreciating even more the bond
That brings a tear to every dog lover’s eye when muzzles go gray…



The Great Divide in Dog Training – What to Do…

Just as humans have argued for many years about whether to spank or not spank their children, dog trainers have argued about whether to physically punish dogs.  In psychological terms, parenting takes different forms.  One is authoritarian – that’s the obedience-oriented parent who allows little dialogue, and is the likeliest spanker, the one who, when a child asks, “Why?” responds with, “Because I said so.”  Another style is so-called indulgent parenting – the parent who allows the child excessive freedom, the permissive parent.  These are the parents who want to be their child’s friend, and who have low expectations of obedience.  An extreme form of indulgent parenting is neglect.  Either neglect or over controlling can cause learned helplessness. The third type is authoritative – the parent who is most likely to encourage the child to explore, while still placing appropriate limits on them.  This parent is most likely to use the withholding of privileges as a punishment.

There are studies which have concluded that children whose parents are indulgent increased the child’s likelihood of problem drinking by three times (  Authoritarian parents doubled it.  It’s worthwhile to note that parenting style is not always predictive of success or failure of a child, because other environmental factors and genetics play in to the equation as well, but there are some predisposing factors for failure associated with various parenting styles.

So, how does this discussion of parenting factor in to the dog training debate?  Well, the authoritarian dog trainer is similar to the strict parent.  These are the trainers who often see the dog as “wrong” and requiring “correction” and who have no problem using physical manipulation or punishment to effect changes in the dog’s behavior.  When you see the words “boot camp” or the training method is described as “balanced” you might be seeing a trainer who falls along the continuum in this group.  They are bolstered in this approach by the fact that punishment, administered in sufficient force, does work.  The dog appears obedient. But, some would argue that the dog has learned helplessness.  This is Wickipedia’s description of Seligman’s 1967 study on dogs: “In the learned helplessness experiment an animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimulus which it cannot escape. Eventually the animal will stop trying to avoid the pain and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.  Finally, when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness prevents any action. The only coping mechanism the animal uses is to be stoical and put up with the discomfort, not expending energy getting worked up about the adverse stimulus.”  When trainers who are opposed to correction training describe a dog as “shut down” this is the definition they are suggesting.  The dog does not have to look unhappy to be learned helpless!  For the dog, this is the job where, no matter how good, the boss doesn’t notice your work that often, but make one mistake…

Contrast authoritarianism with a “trainer” (usually the owner) who allows the dog lots of freedom or doesn’t really know how to modify the dog’s behavior, may even think that loving the dog is enough – or the equally “hands off” laissez faire owner who thinks that dogs should be born knowing how to come when called, who when the adolescent dog decides not to listen, unceremoniously dumps it off at the shelter, or worse, off the back of a pickup truck in a strange neighborhood.  This is the person who excuses their dog jumping up on you by saying, “Oh, he’s just trying to be friendly.”  Or, it could be the person who might think the dog was born stubborn or spiteful, and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. For the dog, this is the job where you get either paid for just showing up, or you end up in “prison” at the animal shelter waiting for a better family to give you a second chance.

The authoritative trainer, like the authoritative parent, wants to engage the dog in the process.  This is the trainer who might use absence of a reward as a punishment, or who might heavily reinforce the dog with something the dog likes as a reward.  Just as the parent wants the child to gradually take responsibility for his own behavior, the assertive but democratic style trainer wants to encourage the dog to be an active participant in the process, and to choose appropriate behavior by a series of training scenarios that show him that it’s in his best interest to do so, and that poor behavior results in no reward.  These trainers might use a marker or click to tell the dog which behavior they like, and follow it up with reinforcement, not always food, that the dog is happy to work for.  For example, what’s better to reward a good sit/stay first thing in the morning, than to reward the dog by opening the door so you can take a walk together?  This is the job that pays on commission or gives merit raises.

If obedience is the only goal, both authoritative and authoritarian training methods work.  Even indulgent dog parents are sometimes rewarded with a naturally good dog.  But, if your goal is a dog that is a willing participant, enjoys his time (including training time) with you, and understands your cues as requests that he is only too glad to fulfill, consider choosing a trainer who embodies the true “balance” of authoritative training.  They often describe themselves as “truly positive” but that’s only in the sense that they do not use aversive methods to train, and their desire to separate themselves from those who do.  It doesn’t mean that the dog faces no consequences, but it does mean that the dog is the one who decides what’s aversive and what isn’t, and what’s reinforcing and what isn’t.  Most dogs would not volunteer to put on a pinch or a shock collar, given a choice.  Most dogs would volunteer for a job that pays off in liver treats.  It is the judicious avoidance of punishment, and the judicious use of reward that makes a truly great trainer.

The responsible pet owner is faced with quite a dilemma these days, but MUST determine accurately the method that a prospective trainer uses, before deciding who to hire.  There are shock collar trainers claiming to be force free, and positive trainers offering boot camps.  So, avoid listening to the buzz words.  Ask about the tools and methods your trainer is willing to use on your dog.  Be specific.  Do they use clickers, do they use lure/reward training, do they use shock collars, do they use prong collars, do they use absence of a reward, do they ever physically manipulate the dog (ear pinches, forcing the dog into a sit, etc.)?  Before choosing a trainer, ask around among groomers, veterinarians and dog sitters.  Search the reviews on Yelp.  Does the person belong to a professional organization?  Authoritarian trainers gravitate toward IACP, others to APDT, and IAFFPP (formerly IPDTA) or Truly Dog Friendly.  See which organizational mission you identify with.  Remember, there is a great divide among trainers, but there should never be a great divide between you and your dog.  Choose wisely.

Anne Springer is a graduate of Salem State University, member of Psi Chi Psychology Honor Society, Certified Trick Dog Trainer, member of IAFFPP and Truly Dog Friendly.

Learn more about Anne at 



Choosing a Dog Day Care

I’m often asked by my clients what to look for in a dog day care.  I do have some hints on how to evaluate the day care, but the first thing you need to do is evaluate your dog.  If your dog was very well socialized as a puppy, and is at ease around unfamiliar dogs, and is a good player, that’s a great start.  Day care is not the place to “socialize” a dog that is ill at ease, and in fact, while you may get a tired dog back at the end of the day, you want “good tired” from exercise and play, not the “bad tired” that can come from your dog spending his days in a state of constant stress.  Dogs that did not get to meet a lot of other dogs in off leash situations during the critical developmental stages within the puppy socialization period may never be totally comfortable in a situation where other dogs are soliciting play, sometimes fairly obnoxiously.  Of course, some dogs do take a while to warm up to unfamiliar situations, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is not a candidate for day care, so long as he or she is not aggressive, and is not so scared that progress is not seen after a day or two.  Expect a good dog day care to have a lengthy application process and to ask you plenty of questions, and to bring your dog for an evaluation ahead of time.  If you think their process is too invasive, or “picky” that’s probably a good thing.  After all, you want the management to be concerned enough to screen out aggressive dogs, and make sure that the dogs they admit will have a good time while they attend.  Speaking of the management, there are a lot of former software engineers who run dog day cares these days.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking software engineers, and some of them run terrific day cares, but the point is that they didn’t start out as dog professionals!  You, as a consumer, have a right to know where your provider got his or her dog education.  It’s NOT enough to just like dogs.  Taking care of other people’s dogs is a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the answer you want is that the person has some kind of formal training in behavior, and perhaps attended additional seminars given by experts in the field.  Be leery of anyone who talks about “pack behavior” or “dominance” or “alpha dogs” as they are not up to date on the latest that we know about the social structure in which dogs live.  Be very careful, if the day care is also going to provide boarding services, to ask if there is always a human on the premises (think what would happen with no one there if a dog got a claw caught on the crate, if there were a fire, or if a dog became ill – after all, you are paying for care, not for the kennel staff to be away for the weekend just like you), and you need to specifically ask how much crate time the dogs get.  They should get some time in their crates or in cubbies, for rest purposes, but should not be crated for long periods, completely bored and unhappy, whining and barking for hours on end.  If the day care has a web cam, super!  Then, you can check in on your dog yourself from time to time, and be sure that he isn’t being ignored, yelled at, or bullied by other dogs.  If you would like to know what normal canine play looks like, go to our Yappy Hour page and click the link at the bottom of the page that shows Quanah and Lojack playing.  In normal play, expect lots of curved body postures, frequent self interruption, back and forth action so that no dog looks like the “victim” all the time, and open mouths with tongues lolling out occasionally.  Growling is not necessarily bad, and play bows are usually good.  If you aren’t sure your dog is happy, ask the day care provider to pull the other dog away gently and see if your dog goes back for more or chooses to leave the other dog.

Choosing a day care provider is like choosing any other professional service.  You have to do your homework.  And, just as you might do if you left your child with a day care, an unannounced visit from time to time is probably a good idea!


Reactive = Scared or Frustrated.

Dog trainers and behaviorists consider a dog to be “reactive” if it overreacts to certain triggers in its environment.  Some dogs react to the sight of another dog, kids, loud noises, or frenetic activity.  They often exhibit frightening behavior, such as growling, barking, and lunging.  It is often the result of fear, insufficient social experience when young, or exposure to a very scary incident.

If your dog is non-aggressive to other dogs and people when off leash, and reacts badly when on leash, chances are that he or she is “reactive” and not truly aggressive.  However, some reactive dogs can, if they are not managed properly, become aggressive if they cannot make the scary thing go away just with an aggressive display, or distance increasing signals, so it is essential that you learn how to help your fearful or reactive dog.  Your dog is depending on you to “save” him.

One of the best things you can do to make your dog feel more at ease is to remove pressure from his neck.  It can be helpful to use a front-clip no-pull harness, such as the Sensible harness.   Using other management tools, such as prong collars, can make things worse – you never want to punish an already frightened dog, or cause pain to a dog that could become aggressive (one possible unintended consequence of sensing pain at the neck when another dog approaches is that some dogs will think that the other dog is causing the neck pain, and grow more fearful, or react with aggression if the approaching dog gets close enough).  Allow enough space between your dog and the scary thing so that he doesn’t react in the first place, or get him out of there at the first sign he is reacting.  You will need to understand the distance at which your dog reacts in order to further your training, so take careful note.  Every dog has their own comfort zone.  Some dogs can tolerate another dog almost up to their face, and other dogs react when the other dog is 200 feet away!  Remain calm yourself.  Don’t clench up on your leash or freeze in place. This only makes your dog think there really is something to be nervous about.  Better to walk away then just stand there frozen with your dog reacting.  Contact a positive trainer (you can find one at Truly Dog Friendly, Victoria Stilwell Positively, Karen Pryor Academy, Peaceable Paws, or IPDTA) for help, or see if your local SPCA offers positive “Growlies” or “Feisty Fido” type classes.

If you live in a remote area with no trainer nearby, here’s a great little video by another positive trainer on “The Surprise Party Game” that can help you teach your own dog to look to you for guidance when approached by something scary.