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Five Things You Can do to Bite-Proof Your Puppy

Five Things You Can do to Bite-Proof Your Puppy

1. Start early!  Puppies have a window for socialization that closes and you can’t re-open it easily once it does.  The best time to take a puppy to a positive training class is when they are less than 16 weeks of age.  Sadly, many people wait because they think they cannot attend class until pup has had all his shots.  But, many veterinarians now believe that it is just as important to protect a puppy’s mental and behavioral health as his physical health.  Puppies should have at least one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to their first class, be parasite free, and kept up to date with age-appropriate vaccines during classes. 

If you are considering a purebred dog from a breeder, be sure to do your homework – does the breeder do any socialization exercises while the pups are still with their mom?  They should! Puppies can be exposed to different people, surfaces, sounds, wobble boards, mazes, crates and chew toys, etc. while still at the breeder’s home.  While we advocate rescue, we understand that some people will want a purebred from a breeder – however, it is critical, if you go that route to find a reputable breeder

If your particular breed has a breed standard that says “aloof” or “reserved” for example, be aware that you may need to pay particular attention to careful, early, and ongoing socialization. 


2. Meet and greet!  Meet and greet some more!!!  Puppies should meet and greet lots and lots of people in the first weeks. That means people of different gender than the owner, and people of all sizes, especially babies and children of all ages and elders.  If your pup is shy, all the more reason to get to puppy class with an experienced positive trainer.  Make all interactions with people comfortable for your puppy.  A small tidbit or lick of cheese offered by you just after someone starts petting the pup will go a long way to keeping his mouth occupied, telling him that petting is GOOD, and telling him that people predict good things happening for him.  You can print out a Socialization Checklist and take it with you.

3. Socialize carefully.  Puppies need lots of “padding” with other puppies and safe older dogs.  They do not need to be “told off” or learn bullying play styles, either by example of older dogs or through fear.  That’s why puppy socials or puppy classes are ideal for first experiences with off leash contact with other dogs.  

It’s not enough that your pup plays with the other dogs in your home, or with one or two neighbor dogs.  They need to learn that many different kinds of dogs are out there in the world, but that most are friendly.  If a friend suggests letting your pup meet their dog, the question to ask is, “Does your dog play nicely with UNFAMILIAR dogs and PUPPIES?”  Introductions should be made with leashes dragging (you’ll have to be a careful “wrangler” so that no one gets tangled).

Be sure that all play takes place in a very securely fenced environment so you can remove collars and harnesses once you are sure the dogs are friendly.  The area should also be small enough for you to intervene if you need to quickly step in to remove a dog, or give a gentle time out to pups that get overly-aroused.  

Normal play means both dogs are having fun, no one looks stressed, and there is plenty of “give and take” with lots of curved body language and meta-signals, such as “play bows” and exaggerated pouncing.  There may or may not be wrestling, growling, play-biting, etc.  If you are not sure your pup is having fun, do a “consent test” – gently remove the “offending” pup and see if the underdog pup goes to seek him out again.  If so, they are probably OK.  If not, time to find another play mate for a little while, or even permanently.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the offending dog is awful (after all, it may be YOUR pup that is overly aroused at times), it may just mean that the dogs’ play styles are not compatible at this stage.

4. Make sure your puppy gets husbandry training so that he/she will be more comfortable when you must give puppy a pill or clip nails, or he/she must go to the veterinarian or groomer. Acclimating puppies to being handled all over is important, as is getting them used to having their collar grabbed or to being hugged (children tend to hug dogs, and most dogs don’t naturally like being hugged, so it’s important that we teach them!).  For those of you who want to more thoroughly understand the process that good trainers use to do this, the ASPCA has an article about “Desensitization and Counterconditioning” on their virtual behaviorist section.


5. Use force free training!!! Evidence is mounting that if you train with aggressive methods your dog may be more aggressive.  Many who are new to training think that all trainers do the same things.  Training, however, is an unregulated industry and knowing how to find the right trainer isn’t always easy.  The first place to look to find a force free trainer in your area is the international organization for force free pet professionals – Pet Professional Guild.  
If you have no trainer nearby, Puppy Start Right is a great book that can help you with puppy’s early education.

The Love/Hate Relationship of Social Media and Rescue

The Love/Hate Relationship of Social Media and Rescue.

How Did The Aversive Get There? A Call for Honesty

The always thought provoking Eileen does it again.


I am mystified by one particular argument of those who use protocols for fearful or reactive dogs other than desensitization/counterconditioning (DS/CC). These other protocols often use negative reinforcement; if not that, then sometimes desensitization without counterconditioning; sometimes extinction; sometimes habituation.

People who practice these protocols intentionally expose their dogs to their triggers at an aversive level at times, as opposed to people who practice pure DS/CC, which is ideally practiced at a distance or intensity such that the trigger is not aversive to the animal.

The argument that bothers me is this:

It’s OK to expose the animal to a trigger at a potentially aversive level as long as we are not the ones who put the aversive there for them to be exposed to. We’re not adding an aversive; it’s already there.

I wrote a post a while back addressing this idea in part. I pointed out that for negative reinforcement…

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Dog Trainers Playing in the Sandbox


The dog training industry is not regulated in any way, so currently, anyone who wants to call themselves a trainer and hang out a shingle can do so (which is why I wrote a previous blog post on how to find the right trainer).

Sadly, even if the industry were regulated tomorrow, there would likely be a grandfather clause which would allow anyone currently practicing dog training to continue doing so.  So, consumers would still not be protected against those who have insufficient skills, no background in behavioral science, or who use force in training dogs.

On the Internet, there are many dog-related forums, blogs, and Facebook groups.  These groups are populated by everyone from average pet owners to nationally known trainers and everyone in between, including some of those force trainer people who would get grandfathered, much to my chagrin.  Just as with any other subject matter, there are as many opinions on those groups as there are…well, you get it.  Arguments ensue over almost everything. Should you feed raw food or kibble?  Should you train using food as a reinforcement or not?  Should you crate your dog or not?  Should you spay or neuter your dog, and at what age?  Should we identify the quadrant of operant conditioning that we are using or abandon thinking about quadrants altogether (I don’t think we should – I want to use the quadrants that are force free whenever I can)?

These issues, if you look at the rancor they cause, are akin to the ones that cause nations to go to war.  They involve “no compromise” types of choices. Pro choice or pro life?  Gay marriage OK or not OK?  Republican or Democrat? Dog aficionados are just NOT going to agree on some matters.

The problem isn’t the disagreements.  Most adults can handle disagreement or debate, and they can even handle the tough debates.  What is disconcerting, however, is the departure from debate into tantrums.  It represents devolution, if you will, to a form of benign or not so benign name calling that is designed to deflect any attempt at pressing for answers to hard questions, so that people can hide from uncomfortable scrutiny. I’ve been called everything from “cookie tosser” (I like that one) to “queen of mean” to “crone” and everything in between. People have suggested to others that they rant privately about people like me because we are just so mean. The word “mean” is now tossed into the mix any time someone loses the ability to debate using facts and citations, versus “my way or the highway.”

If we are to elevate the profession of dog training, we must go beyond doing what is effective, and move toward doing what is effective AND ethical. We must treat dogs the way we would want to be treated if we were the dogs. It is our obligation, as force free trainers, to expose practices that cannot be supported with research, ethics, experience, and efficacy.

Elie Weisel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Many dogs lead lives that are not ideal, where even supposedly loving owners cannot see the fear or distrust in them. Sometimes, knowing that requires turning the other cheek when someone elects to call you a “hater” because you disagree. It requires you to smile to yourself when you find out that someone has encouraged ranting about you on some closed clique or Facebook group, or even on an open one. If no one hates you, you’ve probably never stood up for a difficult or unpopular position in your life.

Remember, it is not MEAN to ask for evidence, to question why a practitioner wants to do something to YOUR dog, or to stand up for the oppressed, the weak, the defenseless, or the misunderstood.

“Being ‘nice’ doesn’t convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. And being ‘mean’ doesn’t impede someone who wants to learn.” –Melissa McEwan

So, stop telling me to be nice every time I give you information. Stop telling me to be nice when you are frustrated by your own misunderstanding of an issue that I’m trying my best to explain in scientifically accepted language (in order to level the playing field so ALL can understand), and stop telling me to be nice because I refuse to drink the guru-of-the-week’s Kool-aid. I’m not being mean, just persistent.

I haven’t called you any names, or told you you’re stupid (even when I think you are), and I haven’t called you incapable of learning. I’ve simply given you an opinion, hopefully with some reasoning behind it. Put on your big boy or big girl pants and engage in adult debate, if you can. But, if you can’t, stop ranting about the meanies and go do some more research so that you can enter the debate constructively. Either that or, if you are going to run away on every Facebook page or Yahoo group from the hard questions posed to you, stay gone and let the rest of us learn together.

Threshold Roulette or Choice?

Threshold Roulette or Choice?.

Cesar Millan training methods can lead to dog abuse

Dog Connect SF Bay Area

Monday evening, September 9, 2013. Pictures of a woman jerking, kicking and dragging three dogs behind her made the round on Facebook. Not much was known. KTVU report Amber Lee posted a picture on Twitter. Shortly after KTVU showed the whole footage:

My first response was “boil in oil”! How can someone treat their dogs like that? The body language these three dogs provide to us is clear. Their bodies are crouched, their tails are all down, their ears back and they go into a dead stop every few steps. They are moving slowly and at a great distance behind her. This is not behavior that happy dogs provide us when enjoying a walk with their handler. These are dogs that appear afraid.

I watch the woman continuously correct the dogs. Jerking the leash and kicking the dogs. Methods promoted on National Geographic through the infamous Dog Whisperer…

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Please Stop Breeding Your Pet Dog

Please Stop Breeding Your Pet Dog.