Positively Expert Blog

‘All American Dogs’ at the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Roo, the winning All American Dog at the 2014 Masters Agility Championship at Westminster.

Roo, the winning All American Dog at the 2014 Masters Agility Championship at Westminster. (Photo: Steve Surfman)

As reporter on the happenings at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for five years running, I look forward to wearing all my best winter clothes during my time in New York City for the series of events (business networking, attending dog fashion shows, and more) surrounding Westminster.

This year I had the privilege of sharing my veterinary perspective on all things canine with former judge and Westminster’s director of media, Karolynne McAteer (see my interviews with McAteer on the WKC Dog Show Live Stream Curated Channel:Monday’s, starting at 00:18, and Tuesday’s, starting at 00:56).

I’ve been eagerly anticipating a new event to the 2014 competition. The inaugural Masters Agility Championship has the unique attribute (for Westminster) of including dogs from all breeds and their mixes as competitors.

Instead of being labeled mongrels, hybrids, or some other less endearing term, the sporty mixed-breed participants are positively termed the "All American Dog." For me, the All American Dog conjures up classic Americana images of working dogs accompanying police officers, firefighters, and military service members.

I feel that the inclusion of agility within the breed-specific show sends a positive message to the viewers and general dog loving community. McAteer similarly states that “Westminster honors the diversity of the dog with the addition of the agility, and therefore the diversity of all dogs.”

It was great to see a variety of sizes and general appearances in the pure and mixed breeds that launched themselves over and through the obstacle courses at Pier 94 in New York City. The obstacles used in AKC agility trials include open tunnel, closed tunnel, pause table, weave polls, dog walk, seesaw, tire jump, A-frame, jumps, and broad jumps.

The bond between handler and owner was exceptionally displayed, as a disciplined connection needs to be present for the master and dog to efficiently traverse the agility course. In a perfect example of the well established human-animal bond, a handler fell to the ground and her Collie ran over to graciously give a reassuring lick on the face. The audience collectively let out a sigh and supportive clap as the duo finished the course with heads held high.

Among the medium to large-sized competing dogs, the most common seemed to be the Border Collie (Herding Group), but the Australian Shepherd,German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Husky, Poodle (standard), and other breeds and mixed breeds were also present.

Smaller competitors included the American Eskimo Dog, Brussels Griffon,Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Chinese Crested Dog, French Bulldog, Papillon, Poodle (toy), Schnauzer (miniature), Shetland Sheepdog, and their mixes.

Watching the fit versions of these mixed and pure breeds excel at the agility competition was a nice departure from my normal observations of them as veterinary patients with less-than athletic bodies and ambulating with a lumbering gait from carrying excessive weight (before I slim down their body condition scores to a healthier state with calorie control and whole-food diets). After all, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than half of the dogs (and cats) in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

As these athletic dogs are great representations of health and fitness for their species, they are handled by people who similarly appear to prioritize their own physical well-being. In the words of McAteer, “Form follows function and in order to function you have to be fairly fit.” Perhaps seeing these agile canines traverse the agility course will motivate owners to get off the couch and commit to daily exercise benefitting both pet and person. I certainly hope more emphasis will be placed on the merits of canine fitness in future messaging to Westminster’s audience.

The big winner of the agility trial was, big surprise, a Border Collie! Kelso is a 7-year-old hailing from Cape Elizabeth, ME (handler Delaney Ratner). The winning All American Dog was also recognized – Roo, a Husky mix who traveled from San Francisco, CA (handler Stacey Campbell) to NYC for the event. Check out Steve Surfman’s excellent photo of Roo sprinting her way through the weave poles.

Congratulations to Kelso, Roo, and to all the canine competitors. I look forward to future wintry trips to New York City to report on Westminster’s Agility Championship and Dog Show.

Easter Bunny Hazards and More….

SPRING has sprung, well, at least for most of us!  The warmer weather has melted most of the snow and for us down south, we are already cutting our lawns.  The new season is loved by humans and dogs alike!  The sweet smell of the tree blossoms, the buzz of bees and the return of the hummingbirds all signal longer, warmer days and long evenings to spend outside with our dogs.  With the new season comes a host of new hazards for our dogs.  Here are some you may want to check out before your dogs get into trouble.

EASTEaster DogER CANDY AND CHOCOLATE:  Most of us know already, that chocolate is toxic to dogs.  Theobromine and methylxanthines are the culprits.  The darker the chocolate, the worse it is.  Poisoning results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly death.  If your dog ingests chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contact your veterinarian.  Most of us don't think of other candies as being dangerous.  Note that many candies contain Xylitol which is potentially very toxic to dogs. The most common symptoms of xylitol toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, loss of coordination, collapse, and seizures.  While you are on the lookout, watch for that plastic grass that is contained in baskets.  Dogs will ingest just about anything if it smells like food and this plastic "grass" can wreak havoc on your dog's intestines.  If it is ingested, it may become caught around the base of the tongue or stomach, making it unable to pass through the intestines. This can result in a “linear foreign body” and cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, often requiring expensive abdominal surgery.  Keep that stuff away from dogs!  Make sure you hide those Easter treats from your dogs as well as your kids!!!  Dogs are remarkably clever and have an excellent sense of smell and can snuffle out even the most well hidden treats.  Don't think a mere door will keep them out.  I know many dogs who can open doors, especially ones with the handles like the one shown below, or bi-fold doors.  Make sure you put your candy way up on a shelf, out of the reach of inquisitive children and hungry dogs.

NOT dog proof.

NOT dog proof.

Dog Digging in GardenGARDENING 101 FOR DOGS:  It's no secret, dogs love to garden (read: dig).  With the warmer weather, we tend to leave our dogs out in the yard unsupervised for short periods of time (not a good idea).  As they are exploring the scents and flavors of nature (read: digging), they may come across some tasty items that are hazardous (and expensive), like spring bulbs.  Consumption of leaves, flowers, bulbs, mulch and all things "garden" can make them very sick, and can sometimes be fatal.  Stay far away from Cocoa Mulch (poisonous) and dyed mulches (toxic).  So listen up dogs: No digging in the flower beds!  It is best to fence off these areas if at all possible.  Dogs love to dig where you dig.  Why?  Because that's where the ground is soft and full of the great smells of manure and compost.  So supervise or fence it off.  Also, make sure you check your fertilizers for any warnings regarding pets and heed those warnings!!!

List of plants that are toxic to dogs here: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/dogs-plant-list

Animal Poison Control here: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

Got a Poison Emergency? Call (888) 426-4435.  The ASPCA is your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.  Do it, don't wait.  Pay the fee.  If you wait until you get to your veterinarian, the staff there will be doing the same thing, opening a file with Poison Control and you will pay the same fee.  So don't delay, the experts will be able to help you right away.




Are Black-Coated Dogs Harder to Adopt?

Photo: Today.com

Photo: Today.com

There have been some studies out lately that have come to the conclusion that the color of a dog’s coat doesn’t matter to people who are looking for a dog to adopt. They state that the old theory that black-coated dogs are more difficult to adopt than lighter color dogs is not true.

The ASPCA conducted a study on what drives people to adopt certain animals. Based on that study, an official of the organization claimed, "Color does not play a role at all.” According to a recent study by the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, adoption records from two no- kill shelters in New York State were reviewed to determine what factors influenced the adoption of dogs. One of those factors included a dog’s coat color. Based on their findings, coat color had no influence on length of stay at the shelter.

I’ve been involved with animal rescue organizations for a good portion of my adult life. I’ve volunteered at adoption events for numerous rescue organizations. I partnered with a rescue group in every city I visited during my national book tour. I was the president of a local no-kill animal shelter. Through working with animal rescue organizations over these many years there was one consistent challenge they all faced. A black dog didn’t get adopted as quickly as a lighter colored dog.

This isn’t necessarily true for puppies. Everyone loves puppies, no matter what the color of their coat. For adult black-coated dogs, it was more of a challenge to find them their right and perfect forever home. At the shelter’s facility, we would often need to place them in the dog runs that are closest to the front entry door in order for them to get noticed. At off-site adoption events, we would place their cages closest to the store’s entry point. Otherwise, they would tend to get overlooked.

When speaking to numerous rescue organizations, I found that they, too, would place their black dogs in more prominent locations. They would take pictures of the dogs on lighter backgrounds in order for their photos to “pop” when someone viewed them online. They would also place their photos first on the web pages. Some of the rescue groups would discount the adoption fees for black dogs, since they seemed harder to adopt and tended to stay at the shelter or in foster homes longer. They would also have special adoption days just for the black or dark coated dogs.

If you ask me, I would tell you that I just don’t get it. I think all dogs are beautiful no matter what color of coat they have. I’ve had black-coated dogs as part of my family and enjoyed every minute we had together. I always thought their black coats were beautiful. They had a wonderful shiny sheen to them that always made them look regal.

We should choose the dogs in our lives based on the lifestyle of the family and the heart connection we have with a certain dog. The color of a dog’s coat should be the least of our concerns.

Four-Year-Old Girl Killed in Fatal Dog Attack: Who’s to Blame?


My dog, Emmett.

Over the years I’ve written and talked about breed-specific legislation. I am a passionate owner of two pit-bull-type dogs, and I’ve taken every opportunity to write about the myths and misconceptions about the breed and the benefits of breed-neutral laws. But it was always from a theoretical perspective.

Then, on March 24, an unspeakable tragedy occurred in my town of Houma, Louisiana: A four-year-old child was killed by a dog in her apartment.

Now, I’m afraid that my dogs are in danger.

The details of the case have been reported differently across news outlets. The gist is that a 130-pound unneutered dog – initially called a pit bull, then an American bully, and now possibly a mastiff mix – and a young unspayed dog were in an apartment together with the child and her mother. The male dog attacked the child. The mother called the police and was able to hand her daughter out a window before the police shot the dog to death. The young girl died at the hospital.

It is a heartbreaking loss of life.

The knee-jerk reaction has been to call for a breed ban, rather than demand the specifics and accurate details surrounding the case. There is an ongoing, official investigation that has come to a halt because the girl’s mother and her boyfriend, the owners of the dog, refuse to speak with police.

Allegations swirled around social media and in the news. Some claim that the mom’s boyfriend, a kennel operator, was breeding the dogs for fighting. Others allege that the dogs received steroid injections to achieve that massive size, and still others claim the dog was in the woman’s apartment specifically to breed with the younger female. It was originally reported that the dog was a family pet who was never mistreated, but the man’s social media accounts told another, more gruesome story. In one dangerous example, a picture showed the four-year-old child "training" another pit-bull-type dog on a flirt pole.

In the media flurry, questioning the mother and boyfriend and examining the details of the tragedy have been called “victim blaming.” The argument is that she lost her beloved daughter so shouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny.

The family suffered a horrendous loss of an irreplaceable, adored four-year-old. I get that.

But I also get that if we don’t examine the details and, more importantly, report on what accurately happened, we’re unable to spread valuable information that could, potentially, prevent another child from losing her life. Further, the lack of accurate reporting is resulting in a hasty, panicked call for a breed ban, instead of holding the child’s human caretakers responsible.

Hopefully the family cooperates with investigators and the truth emerges. In the meantime, I’ll be on the offense, writing letters to the reporters, editors, and newscasters who are covering the story, and reaching out to those responsible dog owners who can speak out against the proposed breed ban when it arrives in the legislature.

And I’ll be holding my dogs closer than ever before.

Can a Dog be TOO Food Motivated?

We packed up our stuff and I walked Lola outside to the car, both of our feet crunching down the ice and snow in the parking lot. Lola hopped in the back and I sat in the front seat. I was disappointed. I was somewhat disappointed in myself and in Lola.

Can a dog be too food motivated?!

Lola and I had just left a photo shoot, Lola was one of the (dog) models. The photographer was the one handling her (may have also contributed) and she brought out HAM and CHEESE! I'm sure Lola was thinking, "Wow! This is awesome...". And then everything went down hill. She started losing focus, trying to sniff out that bowl of ham and became very anxious to receive the reward. She held her 'sit-stay' for about a minute and then began to lose focus yet again - becoming a little too interested in that strong aroma coming out of that bowl! This was not normal and I couldn't help but begin to think:

Can a dog value food too much so that it begins to negatively effect your results when training? Can they begin to lose focus if they are too interested in the reward and not performing what you are asking of them?

Which brought me to the question I was continuously asking myself, can this be the result of a dog being too food motivated?

Have you ever ran into this issue with a dog?

I'm discussing this topic along with advice and explanation from an expert - continue reading on the Lola the Pitty blog.

A Veterinarian’s Experience with Treating His Dog’s Cancer

162x162xcardiff-on-red-main.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.R6yT_h3g2NIn late 2013, an ultrasound revealed that Cardiff had a small intestinal mass. Surgery was performed to remove the growth and the biopsy revealed the diagnosis of T-cell lymphoma. Although the tumor was completely removed and no other evidence of cancer was found in Cardiff’s body, the potential exists that other cancer cells could still be present in his tissues.

A concrete plan was needed to manage Cardiff’s disease on a long-term basis. If he received no chemotherapy, then these cells would likely continue to prosper and new masses or other cancer-related illnesses could develop. So, we are now undergoing the long term process of regular chemotherapy treatments.

As I’m not a veterinary oncologist, I defer to the more educated brains at theVeterinary Cancer Group (VCG). Fortunately for us, Dr. Mary Davis will be overseeing Cardiff’s chemotherapy.

Cardiff is being treated with the University of Wisconson-Madison Canine Lymphoma Protocol. This six-month protocol involves administering series of oral or injectable medications known as CHOP, which stands for Cyclophosphamide, Hydroxyadaunorubucin (Doxorubicin), Oncovin (Vincristine), and Prednisone.

The rationale behind this CHOP is to treat on an every 7 day (to start) to every 14 day (after 12 weeks) basis to expose cancer cells having different life stages to multiple drugs. According to Dr. Lily Duda, professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and Oncolink editor (and one of my oncology professors at Penn), “The theory behind combining drugs is that there are many subpopulations of cancer cells, and some of the populations will be resistant to drugs a and b, but sensitive to c; others will be sensitive to c, but not a or b, etc. In addition, some drugs act synergistically, so that the effectiveness of two drugs together exceeds that of the simple sum of each drug individually.”

Although I’ve been involved in providing holistic perspective to the treatment processes of cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group since 2011, I’ve never had a patient undergoing the CHOP protocol. Partaking in Cardiff’s chemotherapy treatment process will truly be a first for me.

Of course, the more holistic part of my clinical brain questions if I should even provide Cardiff with the lengthy and potentially illness-inducing protocol. After all, the surgery completely removed his tumor and there was no clinical evidence that it had metastasized (spread) to other body parts. Would Cardiff have as long and good of a quality of life if he did not undergo chemotherapy treatment? Likely, no.

If I had the awareness, resources, and veterinary connections to put Cardiff through treatment and did not do so due to my concern for the side effects he may suffer, I’d feel horrible if he quickly had a recurrence of lymphoma.

Fortunately, Dr. Davis enlightened me that the CHOP protocol would be tailored specifically to Cardiff’s small size and would likely be well tolerated by his body. The drugs used in chemo protocols kill rapidly dividing cells, both cancerous and non-cancerous, including those in the bone marrow and digestive tract. So, the most common side effects dogs undergoing the CHOP protocol experience are immunosuppression, decreased appetite, and diarrhea.

As I have many pieces of ammunition in my veterinary-supportive-care kit, Cardiff will also be getting medications, herbs, nutraceuticals, acupuncture, fluid therapy, vitamin injections, and more to help his body through this process.

One of the questions I’ve been asked more times than I can count is, “Will Cardiff lose his hair?” No, Cardiff will not likely lose his hair, but his luscious auburn and black locks may not grow as well during his chemotherapy treatments.

As Cardiff’s abdomen was shaved for surgery and his front limbs clipped for intravenous catheter placement, his coat is currently looking somewhat mismatched. I’m pleased to see there’s new hair growing at these sites, so he’ll get a full body clip in the coming month to help even out his look.

Cardiff was given three weeks to completely heal from surgery before we started chemotherapy. Plus, we wanted Cardiff to feel as good as possible for a short New Year’s getaway to Three Rivers, CA. While there he got to spend much time energetically playing with his golf ball in the river adjacent to our rented house and acted pretty much like his normal self.

It’s now 2014 and the chemo show must go on. A honeymoon trip to Hawaii in late January has been canceled along with any travel requiring both of Cardiff’s dads to be away from him until he completes his chemotherapy course. Of course, Cardiff's treatment is worth every minute I would have spent relaxing on the beach and snorkeling among Hawaii’s exotic fish.

Cardiff's radiology image

Cardiff's radiology image










Cardiff during his 24 hours post-surgical hospitalization

Cardiff during his 24 hours post-surgical hospitalization











Cardiff on holiday in Three Rivers, CA, doing what he does best

Cardiff on holiday in Three Rivers, CA, doing what he does best











Cardiff's life goes back to normal before starting chemotherapy

Cardiff's life goes back to normal before starting chemotherapy











Note: This is the third part in Dr. Mahaney's series of posts in which he shares his medical and personal experience with treating his own dog's cancer (and with a little help from some veterinary friends). You can read parts 1 and 2 of Cardiff's story here:

Can a Veterinarian Treat His Own Pet?

How a Vet Diagnoses and Treats Cancer in His Own Dog

The Crossover Child

One of my first foster dogs, who was later adopted into an amazing home. (Photo: Mia Baker Photography)

One of my first foster dogs, who was later adopted into an amazing home. (Photo: Mia Baker Photography)

I have often wondered which side I would take in the greatest historical injustices throughout history. Would I have been for slavery or against it? Would I have fought for civil equality or against it? If I had grown up in an upbringing that encouraged immorality, would I have gone with the social norm or would I have forsaken the “popular” opinion of the times to fight the battle for equality and justice?

The answer came to me most clearly through my experience with training dogs. As a child, my parents trained their dogs using a so-called "trainer" who I now know to be highly aversive, using outdated, punishment-based methods. My parents’ dog, Romeo, was trained using a shock collar and harsh leash corrections on a prong collar. At about 10 years old, I was taught how to use the collar at the “appropriate” level of shock and how to enforce a “correction” on the prong collar.  The trainer even suggested putting water on the shock collar to increase the level of the shock. Most children at that age believe that adults know best and don’t question their judgment on issues they know nothing about. But when I saw the light in Romeo’s eyes start to fade, and heard my parents comment that there was something “not quite right” about the way he was beginning to act, I knew that something was wrong. My parents love their dogs unconditionally, and simply fell victim to a trainer's smooth-talking promise of a quick fix.

Even at such a young age, something about the methods that were being used on this dog didn’t sit right with me. His issues were jumping, constant mouthing, and not coming when called. I wish I could go back in time and, using the knowledge I know now, have taught my parents to solve Romeo's issues without the use of force or fear. But I can only look to the future to help prevent any more people from damaging their dogs in this way.

One day when my parents weren’t looking, I threw their shock and the prong collars away. I stopped watching a popular dog training show and started to watch It’s Me or the Dog every morning before school, and I began researching dog behavior and training. Page by page, episode by episode, I started to see just how flawed the aversive techniques that I had been taught really were. My parents would never use aversive methods on their dogs today, and they have had happier, healthier dogs because of it.

The final straw for me as a child was watching a show about animal cops on TV. I found it exasperating that dogs were being euthanized simply because of their breed or breed mix, and worst of all, for curable behavioral problems such as food guarding. Every time the narrator would say, “And sadly, the dog had to be humanely euthanized,” I would literally scream at the TV, knowing it was too late for that dog, but determined to help others in the future avoid this fate.

When you really delve into the science behind the ways dogs think, behave, and learn, there isn’t much question as to the methods that work long-term to solve behavioral problems.  The best thing you can do for yourself and for your dog is to read everything you can get your hands on about positive training and the science behind dog behavior, and to hire a dog trainer that steers clear of aversive methods and collars that cause your dog fear, anxiety, and pain.

I’m happy to say that I was a crossover child. I was raised with the belief that dogs have to be dominated into submission in order to behave, and as an adult, I have emerged on the other side of the battle. It doesn’t matter what you were raised to believe or what “everyone else” is doing. What matters is trusting the instinct that tells you something is wrong here, and having the courage to take a stand against injustice.

The Yellow Ribbon – Good Idea or Not?!

The Yellow Ribbon (used to indicate a dog needing space) - Good Idea or Not?!

The Yellow Dog Project is a movement created for dogs that need space. By tying a yellow ribbon or something similar to the dog's leash you are indicating that this dog needs space, for whatever reason (or perhaps the human walking the dog... either way).

However, there has been much debate with this whole 'yellow ribbon please ignore us' movement. What do you think? Can you see the downsides? Are people taking it too far? Are we assuming the worst if a dog is wearing this ribbon on their leash?

Shortly after I became aware of the Yellow Dog Project, I read many blog posts and articles touching base on the potential downsides to this movement. After swaying back and forth and weighing in the good and possible negative sides to the yellow ribbon, I have formed my opinion.

The movement was intended to create awareness and provide a clear indicator that your dog needs a little more space. I think this is a great idea and positive way to make this statement. I've seen alternatives to the yellow ribbon, such as harnesses and leashes that have text printed on them saying things such as, "do not pet". I think the yellow ribbon leaves it wide open to the reason the dog may need space. My only hope would be that people would not jump to conclusions assuming that the dog wearing the ribbon must be aggressive.

While we as dog owners do control the situation that we expose our dogs to, I do believe that there are many unknowns in any given scenario. And ultimately you should be the one looking out for a dog you are handling that needs a little extra space, but if others are aware as well it will work much better. Just imagine walking in a neighborhood and rather than having to "shoo" off an approaching stranger that clearly wants to see the dog, they see the ribbon and understand. Now, for creating a wide awareness...

Articles have also stated that juries could be urged to treat the yellow ribbon as they have in the past with “Beware of Dog” signs - as an admission that the dog owner knows they have a dangerous dog. Luckily I have never heard of or been in a situation involving a case like this but I would not doubt it. But as the owner, I think you have to be the judge of the situation and your dog. Let's also remember that the ribbon is intended to represent dogs that are scared or skittish, may be in heat, recovering from an injury, etc.

There is also the argument, 'if your dog needs space, why should they be around others?’ I believe this is a very naïve statement and one cannot be certain that you will not run into another human or dog unless you live in the middle of nowhereville. We all need to take our dog for a walk and have to assume the chance of running into another dog, person, or child. Now bringing a dog that 'needs space' to a pet expo or dog park is another story.

After attending a public event with one of our dogs recently, it was brought to my attention that while some adults and children are very aware of proper ways to approach a dog, many are not. Luckily Rio who was with me at the time, is very good with people and wants to be 'ooed and awed' over just as badly as many of the people wanted to reach their hands in his face. It was a bit of an awakening but it proved to me that it is not always common sense to keep your own dogs (and hands) out of another's face. So I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the public will automatically respect your space; and while it shouldn’t have to take a ribbon to communicate this, it could help in the most-needed cases.

So while I do agree that there may be certain situations that pose unintended consequences, as sad as it is, I think with responsibility and researching the setting that you will be using the yellow ribbon in, could be a great benefit and help educate others. And keeping with the original intended use, this is a positive way to communicate that a dog needs space.

What do you think? Can you see the downsides? Are people taking it too far? Are we assuming the worst if a dog is wearing this ribbon on their leash?

I love this poster below:


You can print posters here & here and visit my blog at LolaThePitty.com.

-Sarah Lukemire

Breed-Specific Rescues

670px-Pet-a-Dog-Step-1I’ve been a big proponent of animal rescue organizations for more years than I can remember. Like many, my involvement started off with my financial assistance and donating items that were on the rescue organizations’ wish list. Then, my wife and I decided to get more involved by volunteering our time. This included spending time at the shelter socializing the cats and dogs, becoming active members of the feral cat program, writing requests for grants, posting the information about the adoptable pets on Petfinder, fostering a stray kitten, and, eventually, becoming the president of the Humane Society of Forsyth County (GA) – a no-kill shelter.

Since forming my own animal-focused business, I routinely provide my lost animal consultation services on a pro-bono basis to rescue organizations that have missing animals. During my national book tour, I partnered with rescue organizations in every city I visited. I invited them to my book signing events and to appear on local and national television with me to promote their organizations. I wanted to help raise awareness about the local rescue organizations and, in doing so, get more animals adopted.

After many years of supporting animal rescue organizations, I still know people who have never considered visiting a rescue or county shelter when looking for a new dog. The most common reason I hear is that the person or family is looking for a purebred dog to adopt. They have the misconception that these types of facilities only have mixed-breed dogs to adopt. After all this time, this incorrect belief still amazes me.

My first response is always, “Why do you want a purebred dog?” Often, they tell me that they believe purebreds are healthier and have a known lineage. Though it’s true that purebred dogs may have a known lineage, it’s not always true that they are healthier. I then educate them on the benefits of adopting a mixed-breed dog. In many cases I’ve come across, the mixed-breed dogs can live longer lives and have less health problems. My first dog, a collie-shepherd mix named Bandit, lived to be 16 years of age. Outside of his annual exam and routine vaccines, he never needed to visit a veterinarian. Meanwhile, we adopted two purebred schnauzers, Buzz and Woody (brothers from the same litter), and they had just about every health problem imaginable.

If they still insist on adopting a purebred dog, then I let them know that purebred dogs are available at your local county shelters, through animal rescue organizations and through breed-specific organizations. In major cities, you can find a breed-specific rescue organization for just about every breed of dog out there. For example, we adopted or most recent schnauzer boy, Kramer, from Schnauzer Love Rescue (SLR) . SLR focuses on rescuing and adopting schnauzers throughout the southeast. There are also wonderful organizations like Friends to the Forlorn, who focus on Pit Bull rescue and Arizona Golden Rescue who focus on Golden Retrievers. You can also search Petfinder to locate specific breeds of dogs as well as breed-specific organizations nationally or in your area.

I always suggest that you do your research first to determine the best breed for you and your family. The right and perfect dog is out there waiting for you and can end up being purebred or a little mix of all the good stuff.

Panic in Dogs and People: Let’s Learn From Each Other

IMG_0537 2I have been working for Victoria and Positively for over a year now. Words can’t express the richness of the experiences and knowledge I’ve gained along the way, and I feel fortunate every day to have a job that I love. What I simultaneously love and dread the most about my work is traveling. I travel with Victoria extensively to appearances and seminars, which is incredibly fun and exciting. But what I’ve managed to hide to most of the world is that I have long suffered from a debilitating fear of flying, and my job has forced me to face what has always been my greatest fear.

Panic in dogs is incredibly similar to the way we experience it. The trigger of the panic and anxiety often seems ridiculous to the outside world, but that doesn’t take away from the devastating symptoms and consequences of that anxiety.  I'm well aware that flying is the safest form of travel, but the "what if" scenarios often overrun rational thinking. I have never allowed my fear of flying to keep me from living my life—I will always get on the plane—but the entire flight is usually an exhausting and miserable experience. True panic and anxiety is mentally and physically debilitating for us humans, and it is equally as devastating for our dogs.

Take separation anxiety, for example. We know that we will be coming home and that our dog will be safe until we return, but to a highly anxious dog that doesn't know this information, this is a time of severe panic and stress. When we return home to a chewed up doorframe or a busted open crate, we tend to explode with frustration, anger, and exasperation.

Before you lose your temper, though, imagine what your dog just went through. When I fly and my anxiety is at its worst, I am on edge throughout the flight. I’m constantly monitoring the flight attendants, looking out the window, and calculating the remaining time left on the flight. By the time we land, I am exhausted and exasperated. The last thing I want is for someone to tell me how embarrassing my behavior was or that I need to “deal with it.” In fact, receiving that kind of response can actually make the anxiety much worse.

It may help to look at treating our dogs’ anxiety from the perspective of an anxious person and how I've started to overcome my fear.

Exhaustion and anxiety don’t tend to mix. The more tired I am, the easier I find it to board a plane and to complete the flight with minimal stress. Incrementally increasing the exercise of an anxious dog can do wonders for mild to moderate cases of anxiety and panic.

Flooding is a dangerous and ineffective technique for treating anxiety, but it is important to slowly desensitize your dog to the trigger of his anxiety. I could go my entire life avoiding flying, but it wouldn’t help me overcome my fear. Likewise, you can avoid walking a leash-reactive dog, but your dog will never begin the process of overcoming his fear. You will never regret contacting an experienced, positive trainer to help you and your dog work on his anxiety. I know I could never have started this process without the help of the fabulous Dr. Paula Bloom. Through slow desensitization and counter-conditioning, your dog can overcome even the most debilitating anxiety, just as I have.

I have started using all kinds of techniques to combat my flying anxiety, and I'm constantly looking for new ways to challenge myself and to slowly overcome my fear. There is no quick fix for anxiety, in people or in dogs, and any dog trainer who gives you a 100% guarantee that your dog’s anxiety will be “cured” is likely just out to make a buck. A good trainer knows that anxiety is a beast that must be tamed slowly, meticulously, and without force or fear. You can’t force me or scare me into loving to fly, and you shouldn’t treat canine anxiety that way, either. Kindness is powerful, and I hope that we can apply that mantra to treating both human and canine anxiety.

Believe it or not, I'm writing this article from 30,000 feet. Victoria is asleep by the window next to me, and the only noise I hear is the quiet drum of the airplane engine. I feel calm and completely at peace. It has taken an incredible amount of support to get me to this point, but I know I'm on the right track to overcoming a fear that has had its grip on me for far too long.

Exercise Caution: A Word from Victoria’s Vet About Chemical Castration

Photo: Dogster

Photo: Dogster

Zeuterinwhat is it and what is all the fuss about?

Zeuterin is an injectable sterilization product that is labeled for use on male dogs between 3 and 10 months of age. This sounds great, right? Sterilization without surgery? Any product that could potentially decrease the number of stray pets is fantastic. But hold your syringe, because as good as it sounds, it might not be as quick and easy as it has been portrayed.

Believe it or not, this is actually not a new product. It was first introduced into the market in 2003 under the name of Neutersol and subsequently pulled in 2004 because of supply problems according to the manufacturer. There were also some complications that the company contributed to “improper injection technique” due to lack of training.

The manufacturer relaunched the drug, now under the name of Zeuterin, and have instituted more intensive training for the veterinarians using the product. However, there are still some unanswered questions about the product, and significant concerns that I have, such as:

1. There are no long-term studies available at this point about pain which might be involved with the procedure (i.e., do the dogs feel pain long after the injection?), nor regarding lingering injection complications such as tumor formation. We surely do not want these dogs to be in pain or develop other diseases such as cancer because of the product.

2. I have concerns about the reduction of testosterone in dogs. A surgical neuter reduces the testosterone down to zero, while Zeuterin reduces it to about half the level of an intact dog. Having testosterone could cause these dogs to be more aggressive. More aggressive dogs could lead to more dog fights, and also human bites.

3. With the chance of increased aggression and more potential human bites, I have concerns that if Esterilsol (Zeuterin) became widely used in rescue dogs, an unintended consequence might be that people will become reluctant to adopt these dogs for fear of having a family member or child be bitten. This will lead to more dogs being euthanized in shelters.

4. It is critical to have proper administration of the product, and I am not certain there would be any cost savings as opposed to a surgical neuter after all costs are calculated. These costs would include training for the veterinarian, the cost of the drug, the sedative needed to allow the injection to happen, and the pain medication given after the injection. This is not just a quick and easy injection, such as vaccines. It requires measurement of the testicles to ensure the proper amount is administered. The company recommends light sedation for the injection, which needs to be given slowly – over 5-12 seconds per testicle. While the testicles do not have pain sensors, they do have pressure sensors and as the testicles are injected there is some discomfort, so pain medication is needed for these pets.

5. Proper identification is also important because it will be visually difficult to tell if the dog has been altered or not. Improper identification or identification that has worn away or is difficult to see (such as a tattoo) could cause problems and expense for the owners. They may not be able to board their dog, since most facilities will not board intact male dogs for liability reasons. The owner may incur expenses such as tests being run to see if we can tell if the product has been used on the patient or if he still needs to neutered.

6. Because the drug has a very narrow window of time in which it can be used (3-10 months of age), there is a risk that the drug might accidentally be used off label and expose those using the drug to liability and risk to the animals it is used on. Knowing a dog’s birthdate with certainty is rare. Once a dog is over four months old where the permanent teeth have erupted, it is very difficult to tell their age, and most of the time it is an educated guess. This is especially true in shelter and rescue dogs since many of them are malnourished and have medical problems, making it almost impossible to verify their exact age.

Therefore, while this product has great potential to help control the dog population, it might be too early to know if it will be as good as the manufacturer says it is. I would recommend caution when using the product for the next few years so that we can make sure we are not inadvertently harming the pet population. As with all new drugs and pet products on the market, only time will tell if it holds up to its original marketing claims.

Duffy Jones is Victoria's personal dogs' vet and a practicing veterinarian at Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, GA.

Developing a Common Language to Set Our Dogs Up to Succeed

Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ― Mark Twain

As a writer, I strive to find the perfect word to communicate exactly what I want to say. Someone can trip, tumble, or slip, and even though those words mean that the person fell, they convey that idea differently.

There’s a huge amount of variation between whispering, shouting, singing, screeching, or simply saying, even though all those words mean that someone is vocalizing. English is a finicky language, and it’s full of variations and synonyms that allow us to put an artistic flourish on our stories. Your boss didn’t tell you she wanted cream in her coffee; she demanded that you put cream in her coffee.

While it makes for entertaining stories, that imprecision in language can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration for our dogs. For instance, even though we know that “lie down” means the same thing as “down,” our dogs don’t. Think about it: How many times have you come home from work exhausted, your dog jumps on you, and even though you’ve trained him to “off,” in that moment you say “get down.” So, he keeps clobbering you. Or, you taught your dog to bark at “bark,” then the neighbor asks him to “speak.” He’ll probably sit there silently, maybe tilt his head, and try to figure out what the person wants.

Developing a common, consistent language is critical to communicating with our pups. Training is that common language. In other words, the goal is to teach your dog a specific action associated with a specific word, and then always use that single word to mean that single action. Sounds simple, right? Here’s a fun test of your communication clarity: On a piece of paper, write down every word you think your dog knows and a short definition of that word. If multiple family members or roommates work with the same dog, have them go through this exercise and compare notes. Here are some examples from my dogs:

  • Sit: Park your bottom on the floor.
  • Place: Walk over to your special mat and lie down.
  • Woof: Bark loudly!

Once you have a solid set of words and definitions, run through them with your dog. Does he think the words mean the same thing that you do? If not, revisit the misunderstood cues in your training sessions. Keep the list handy and reference it frequently to make sure that you and your dog stay on the same page. With clear, consistent communication, you and your dog will work together seamlessly – and you’ll have more joy, pleasure, delight, and fun together!

Cardiff’s Cancer Story, Part 2: Surgical Removal of an Intestinal Mass

162x162xIMG_6345-1.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.R947qZBu0pSo, my dog Cardiff has cancer. My own pooch, who has overcome three bouts of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) in his nearly nine years of life now has a fatal disease. If you’re first reading of this, I started the chronicle of Cardiff’s cancer journey in my last petMD Daily Vet article,Can a Veterinarian Treat His Own Pet?

Dr. Schochet of Southern California Veterinary Imaging (SCVI) discovered Cardiff's intestinal mass via ultrasound. Unfortunately, the ultrasound diagnosis doesn't determine the exact cellular nature of the mass. The suspicion was high for Cardiff’s mass to be cancer, but based on his lack of severe clinical signs and the appearance of the affected site on his abdominal ultrasound, the potential existed for Cardiff to not have cancer; granuloma was still a possibility. Granuloma is an area of inflammation typically caused by the body’s response to a piece of embedded foreign material or localized area of infection (bacteria, virus, parasite, etc.).

Biopsy would clarify this quandary. If Cardiff did have cancer, then the biopsy would also determine if the cells were benign (less concerning) or malignant (more concerning).

Attaining a fine needle aspirate for cytology (microscopic evaluation of cells) or biopsy via ultrasound was’t happening due to the challenging location of the mass deep within Cardiff’s abdomen. So, surgery was needed to remove the mass. The great news about surgery is that it also could potentially be curative. Additionally, the exact nature of his illness could be determined via biopsy so that the most-appropriate, post-surgical treatment could be started.

My veterinary associate, Dr. Mark Hiebert, performed the surgery with my assist. Having neutered Cardiff as a puppy, I feel comfortable performing surgery on him but I’m somewhat out of practice when it comes to major abdominal procedures.

Cardiff’s vital organs were working perfectly, so he was an ideal anesthetic candidate. One of my most-trusted veterinary technicians, Dawn McCoy, was also on hand to oversee the anesthetic induction, maintenance, and recovery process. So, I had confidence that Cardiff would sail through his surgery with flying colors.

Upon opening Cardiff’s abdomen I was relieved to not see any obvious evidence of disease in his other abdominal organs but for the discrete mass on his jejunum (middle portion of his small intestine). Cardiff underwent intestinal resection and anastomosis, which means we removed an unhealthy section of his intestine (with wide margins) and then put back together the two healthy-appearing free ends.

The small intestine is held together by a fibrous netting of tissue called the mesentery, which contain lymph nodes that drain the intestines. As disease from one area of the intestines can spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system, it's vital to biopsy the mesenteric lymph node adjacent to the surgery site to determine if disease was already spreading. Fortunately, the lymph node that was biopsied visually appeared normal.

Cardiff had an uneventful anesthetic recovery, which I promptly "photo-bombed" for commemorative sake. Once his endotracheal tube was removed, he began to look like a much more normal, yet drugged, version of himself. To ensure his continued positive recovery, Cardiff spent the night in the hospital so that he could receive intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication.

While waiting with bated breath for the biopsy results, I was still hopeful that there could be a chance that Cardiff may not have cancer at all. If Cardiff had a granuloma instead of cancer, then surgical removal would be curative.

Unfortunately, Cardiff’s biopsy did not show a granuloma. Cardiff was instead diagnosed with a severe form of cancer that may shorten his lifespan, especially if it were to go untreated via surgery or chemotherapy.

Cardiff was diagnosed with “transmural malignant round cell sarcoma with mesenteric invasion, consistent with high-grade malignant lymphoma.”Lymphoma is white blood cell cancer. Either B or T cell lymphoma could be the cause of Cardiff’s mass, so immunophenotype staining of the tissue was required to differentiate between the two types of lymphoma. Just to keep the suspense building, the results of the test would take 10 to 14 days to process.

On a positive note, the mesenteric lymph node showed no evidence of cancer. There was evidence of inflammation associated with the tissue changes that were occurring at the site of the mass, but to my relief the cancer had not spread further.

Cardiff is healing well from his surgery and will start a course of chemotherapy in the coming weeks. Never a dull day for this veterinarian and his canine companion!


Dawn McCoy prepares Cardiff for surgery













Drs. Mark Hierbert (L) and Patrick Mahaney (R) perform Cardiff's cancer surgery.

Drs. Mark Hierbert (L) and Patrick Mahaney (R) perform Cardiff's cancer surgery.











Dr. Mahaney photo-bombs Cardiff's post-surgery.

Dr. Mahaney photo-bombs Cardiff's post-surgery.

Can a Veterinarian Treat His Own Pet?

162x162xIMG_7085-main.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.QEcnSajszwWe veterinarians are very familiar with the process of guiding our clients through the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses as a daily event in our veterinary practices. Yet, what happens when a veterinarian’s animal becomes sick? Do we choose to manage the case by ourselves or do we defer to others out of our lack of experience or ability to fully diagnose and treat the issue? Or, do we emotionally struggle with the concept of treating our own pets as patients?

In human medicine, there are restrictions surrounding the provision of care to our own family members. The American Medical Association (AMA) Opinion 8.19 - Self-Treatment or Treatment of Immediate Family Members states that “physicians generally should not treat themselves or members of their immediate families. Professional objectivity may be compromised when an immediate family member or the physician is the patient; the physician’s personal feelings may unduly influence his or her professional medical judgment, thereby interfering with the care being delivered.”

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the AVMA, such restrictions do not exist.

There are those of us who would prefer to direct all aspects of our own pet’s treatment. I am not one of those veterinarians, as I prefer to take a team approach in diagnosing and treating my pooch. I figure that if I engage the brains of my fellow colleagues, then we can have a more-thorough perspective on my own dog’s sensitive case.

I’ve sought help from other veterinarians many times before, as my Welsh Terrier Cardiff has overcome three bouts of typically fatal immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) in his almost nine years of life. The diagnostic workup and treatment of IMHA is very complicated, so I always seek guidance from other practitioners who are more experienced and educated than myself in treating Cardiff’s disease.

During all three episodes, I called upon the help of internal medicine specialists, geneticists, and other holistic practitioners to act as part of Cardiff's medical team.

It's been four years since Cardiff’s last IMHA episode and he’s been the picture of health during the times he’s not destroying his own red blood cells.

Just before our 2013 Thanksgiving trip to the East Coast, Cardiff started to again act somewhat unusual. With Thanksgiving 2009 being the event around which Cardiff last developed IMHA, I’m always extra wary during what’s actually my favorite holiday and give extra thanks for my dog’s ongoing good health.

Cardiff also has an infrequent history of petit mal seizures, with the first occurring around Thanksgiving 2011 (there’s that holiday again!). In the past six months, he’s had a total of four seizures. Each episodes never correlates with any known toxic exposure, infection, hypersensitivity reaction, or any disease that I would be able to diagnose through routine testing. The night before we left for our Thanksgiving holiday, Cardiff had another seizure and again recovered quickly and uneventfully. With his seizures becoming more frequent, suspicion that all may not be well inside my own dog’s body was developing

Overall, Cardiff was acting energetically normal and showed no overt clinical signs of illness, but for a mild decreased appetite for certain varieties of his normal foods (Lucky Dog Cuisine and The Honest Kitchen, which contain only human-grade, whole-food ingredients). He then became mildly lethargic. Decreased appetite and lethargy always sends up a red flag in my mind, as they are clinical signs of IMHA. Could Cardiff be developing another IMHA episode? My mind started to race.

Cardiff then vomited partially-digested food on a few occasions. What came up were his meals from hours before, which appeared to barely be broken down in his digestive tract. As vomiting was not a clinical sign he showed during previous bouts of IMHA, I started becoming concerned that another form of mild to serious disease was brewing in his abdominal cavity.

I immediately started the diagnostic process, including blood, fecal and urine testing, and radiographs (X-rays). The good yet frustrating news was that no major abnormalities were discovered on these tests. With supportive care (fluid therapy, anti-nausea medication, probiotics, and antibiotics) Cardiff showed significant energetic improvement and resolution of his vomiting, but he still was not eating with a hearty appetite. At that point, I recognized the need to take a more investigative approach and arranged for him to have an abdominal ultrasound with Dr. Rachel Schochet at  Southern California Veterinary Imaging (SCVI).

What was discovered via ultrasound did not overly surprised me, but changed Cardiff’s and my life forever. Please stay tuned for his ongoing story of diagnosis and treatment of one of the most severe forms of cancer afflicting our pets.

Why Does My Dog Keep Pulling Me?!?!?!

1231331_10100170443816418_554607215_n“Why does my dog keep pulling me?”  This is the phrase I hear over and over from clients who are trying their best to walk their dogs on a regular basis.  Short of giving up, they suffer the embarrassment, danger and sometimes pain, of walking a dog who pulls like a freight train when on a leash.  Before I became a dog trainer, this was the one skill my dog Wylie and I could not master!  Even after learning loose leash walking techniques in a basic obedience class, students still struggle with this often frustrating skill.  So what’s the problem?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly why your dog pulls.  Dogs pull for a variety of reasons but most can be put into a single category: excitement/over arousal.  It’s exciting to be outdoors exploring new places.  All the sights, sounds and especially scents are often overwhelming and your dogs just can’t get to where they want to go fast enough!  They are eager to explore and try to get to their destination the fastest way possible, and that means pulling the human they are attached to with sometimes ferocious strength!


    Some of the problems of pulling on leash have nothing to do with loose leash walking.  Instead, they are rooted in impulse control, or rather, a lack thereof.  For example, I have a client who brings her two young Labrador retrievers to doggie daycare several times a week.  When they arrive, the dogs are frantic to get inside.  Their arousal level is sky high. As soon as she opens the back hatch on the car, the dogs come crashing out, dragging her to the front door.  They love going to doggie daycare and can’t wait to get inside for a day of fun.  This became dangerous because the dogs easily overpower their owner and could cause her to fall.  The problem in this case is not walking to the door, it’s the crashing out of the car.  Teaching the dogs to wait before being asked to exit the vehicle, a release by name is preferred when there are multiple dogs involved, helped calm the dogs to the point where walking them inside was less of a problem.  So, it’s important to separate out the skills your dog needs to be able to keep himself under control.
    Have you ever noticed how dogs that have their leashes attached to their collars pull a lot?  The pulling is caused by an opposition reflex, also known as thigmotaxis, that is, an equal and opposite response to pressure.  We have all experienced this as humans.  Someone leans against us and we automatically lean into them with equal or greater pressure to maintain equilibrium.  The tightening of the leash actually causes the dog to strain against the collar.  You pull one way, they pull the other way.  Contrary to popular belief, putting your dog in a harness will not cause him to pull more.  Many people think that a harness will cause a dog to pull like a sled dog.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  A proper fitting two point attach harness, like Victoria’s No Pull Harness or the Freedom No Pull Harness, will actually decrease pulling and give you more control, even without changing anything else.  It sounds counter intuitive, I know, but it’s true.
    Trying to teach your dog to walk politely on leash when she has not been adequately exercised is, in itself, an exercise in futility.  Dogs have so much pent up energy if they are not exercised that they cannot focus, cannot walk slowly, and cannot listen to you.  A good romp in the back yard, a game of fetch or some fun time chasing a flirt pole*, will expend some of that energy making it easier for your dog to understand what you want her to do.  Leash walking is NOT exercise for a dog.  Humans walk really slowly from a dog’s perspective.  We are slow and pretty boring, mostly walking in a straight line.  Walking IS essential for their wellbeing.  It adds to their social skills, provides necessary mental stimulation and is a wonderful time for them to explore the world and bond with their humans.  So exercise your dog first, before you walk.  When your dog is learning to walk nicely on a leash, you should consider all walks to be training sessions.  All training sessions, whether it’s practicing the basics like sit and down, or learning loose leash walking, should be short and fun.  There is absolutely no point in trying to take your unskilled dog for a 3 mile walk.  You will be frustrated, the dog will be frustrated and you will be tempted to give up.
    Sometimes, a basic obedience class just doesn’t cut it and more intensive training is called for.  By concentrating on a single skill, the humans and the dogs are able to learn faster, practice those learned skills and succeed through positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.  Dogs learn faster and better if they are given a choice.  The idea of letting the dog decide whether to relax the leash or not may seem novel to many dog owners, but it is essential if your dog is going to learn to voluntarily walk nicely on a leash.  Need some help in perfecting this life skill with your dog?  There is an upcoming Loose Leash Walking course, two full days of learning, practicing and perfecting loose leash walking.  Work with your dog in a controlled, positive, environment, under the direct instruction of TWO of Victoria’s personally selected trainers.  Daniela Cardillo, VSPDT, internationally recognized multi-species animal trainer from Milan, Italy will be joining me at my facility in northeast North Carolina on April 4, 5 an 6th to offer an intensive weekend of training focused solely on Loose Leash Walking.  The first day is for dog trainers only.  We will be teaching trainers this easy, comprehensive method to teach Loose Leash Walking.  The rest of the weekend is for dog owners and their canine companions.  Come and join us!  Check out the links below.  We would be honored to have you attend!


Loose Leash Walking Course Information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/556639364419839/

Loose Leash Walking Course Register here: http://www.eventbrite.it/e/loose-leash-walking-course-online-registration-registration-9850404826

Victoria’s No Pull Harness Combo is available here: http://positively.shop.musictoday.com/Product.aspx?cp=54834_55890&pc=YP05COMBO

Freedom No Pull Harnesses in a multitude of colors are available here:  http://www.usadogshop.com/1-Wide-Freedom-No-Pull-Harness_c27.htm

The Flirt Pole* is available through Squishy Face Studio here: http://squishyfacestudio.com/

A Positively New Year (pssst, it’s not just for dog training)

Victoria Stilwell has the most awesome fans. You are passionate about animals, care deeply about promoting positive approaches to animal training, and want to make this world a more compassionate place. Take a moment and congratulate yourself (in our culture, it isn’t always easy to follow the positive path.)

Many of my clients (I’m a clinical psychologist) are MAJOR animal lovers. I’ve noticed that many dog owners are willing to do almost anything for their animals. They’ll take them for walks after a long day of work (when eyes can barely stay open.) Feed their animals quality food (even when they themselves live on noodles and soup to save money.) Then there’s all the effort made when training an animal--the accidents to clean off the carpet, the leash walking that can feel like a tug-a-war, the fear that your pet may never “get it.” Animal lovers will put their own needs aside in order to have a happy and healthy pet. Can you see where this blog post might be heading? (Shrink says people will do anything to keep their pets happy, yet, when it comes to themselves, not so much.)

Losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking etc. are pretty common resolutions. I want to invite you to consider an intention for the new year. An intention is about setting a direction and not necessarily a black or white resolution that once you feel like you’ve “blown it”, you just give up ‘till next year.

Of course I can dish out advice and not follow it (I do that all the time.) But, in my experience, I have more credibility when I’m willing to be vulnerable. So, let me tell you about my intention for the year. I find it helpful to choose one guiding word. Mine is (drumroll please)...COMPASSION.

I want to be more compassionate with friends, family, strangers and animals--basically, all living beings. One “being” that easily gets overlooked, however, is MYSELF. I don’t know about you, but if someone talked to me the way I talk to myself they might get punched (wait, not now that I’m trying to be all zen and everything, but I’d probably still think it.) I criticize my aging face, overweight body, mistakes made, lack of discipline and productivity, lessons not yet learned, blah..blah..blah. Yup, I can be my own worst bully. (Oh, and as a mom, if my kids were bullied that way there might be hell to pay---wait, I’m all zen now,right?..whatever.)

If you are reading this blog, I am going to assume that you know that the dominance path isn’t the right one. That, as Victoria often says (as do her t-shirts) “KINDNESS IS POWERFUL.” So here’s my message to all of you--how about you treat yourself with the same compassion you extend to your animals. Think of yourself as an untrained puppy. You need a lot of consistency and repetition to learn new behaviors. Sometimes you might backslide. Yelling, screaming and beating up on yourself will not motivate you to make better choices. Positive reinforcement will.

Here's an idea/challenge: Any time you are reading about positive training (and I find that many of you care so deeply that you spend hours pouring over books, blog posts and videos in order to improve your skills,) take a moment and think about how you might apply these strategies to changes you want to make in your own life. If it helps, remind yourself that humans are animals. You deserve the same compassion you’d give your animal.

I’d love to hear how you take principles from positive training and apply them to living a more positive life. We are all traveling this journey together. Sharing positive experiences inspires and motivates others.

Happy New Year!

What is Animal Communication?

Tim-Action-Shot-199x300If you’ve not ever worked with an animal communicator you may be asking, what exactly is animal communication? The broad definition of animal communication is the ability to communicate telepathically with animals of all types. It is sometimes referred to as interspecies communication.

Telepathy is the acquiring of information from another living thing (animals, people, etc.) through the transference of thoughts, ideas, feelings and mental images. Just as some people are born with various natural talents – the ability to sing or excel at a particular sport – similarly people are born with a natural ability to communicate telepathically.

For me, this involves establishing a telepathic connection with the animal by either being in the same proximity of the animal or over great distances through a photo of the animal. Once a connection is made, I communicate to the animal any questions that their human companion may have. I then relay to their human companion the response that I receive from the animal.

Over the years, I have successfully communicated telepathically with many types of animals. I have learned that animals communicate with a full range of emotions and senses and in the manner in which they are most comfortable. During my conversations with animals, some of them have chosen to communicate in the form of words while others have used images, smells, tastes and/or feelings.

Words are sometimes communicated to me so that I can convey the exact words that the animal wants me to relay to their human companion. Some animals have shared words that have absolutely no meaning to me but, I always relay the words exactly as they are provided. The words usually have a meaning to the animal’s human companion. It’s always interesting to find out what the animal meant by what they asked me to tell their human companion.

Images may be communicated to show me the animal’s current surroundings. This is very helpful if the animal is lost and I’m trying to assist the family in finding their missing animal by describing an area shown to me by the animal.

Smells may be communicated in order for me to be able to tell the human companion what the animal smells that they either like or dislike. This is particularly helpful if the smell is causing an allergic reaction (i.e. chemicals, perfumes, cigarette smoke, etc.) with the animal or if a missing animal is acquiring food from a particular type of eatery.

In various cases that I’ve worked on, the animal has been able to share particular tastes with me in response to questions that I’ve asked.  For example, if the animal is being treated with a medication that’s leaving an unusual taste in the animal’s mouth, I will also be able to taste that medicine the same way in which the animal is experiencing it.

Finally, sometimes animals will share their feelings or emotions with me. The feelings and emotions that an animal is able to express are much like our own feelings and emotions. They can convey joy, laughter, dissatisfaction for something or love for a particular person in their home.

Another interesting point is that much like us, some animals can be very communicative while others are not. However, I have yet to encounter an animal that has declined my request to communicate with them on behalf of their human companion. In fact, most welcome it as a way to let their human companion know what their preferences are or, if they are not feeling well.

Animals use telepathy as their main method of communicating with each other. An example of animals using telepathic communication is when a flock of geese need to change their formation. The lead goose falls to the back of the line in order to catch the draft and rest. The other geese move up in formation and a new goose takes the lead. In order to perform this task simultaneously, the geese will communicate telepathically.

The Aborigines of Australia, Native Americans and even very young children up to the age of 5 or 6 years of age know how to freely communicate using telepathy – regardless of the distance between each other. Unfortunately, due to societal influences, the development of telepathic abilities has not always been encouraged.

The important thing to remember about being successful in using telepathy with animals is to first relax by quieting the mind and body and then becoming centered. Using guided meditation is an excellent way to relax and open your mind and heart. Once this is done, opening a telepathic connection becomes very easy to do.

Animal communication is often used in conjunction with many traditional and alternative healing modalities for animals. It’s not designed to take the place of veterinarian care. However, animal communication can be an effective tool to assist your veterinarian in understanding what the animal may be experiencing in a certain area of their body.

Animal communication is also not meant to be a substitute for positive training for your animal. It can, however, be used in conjunction with positive training techniques by providing you with a better understanding of why your animal may be behaving in a certain manner.

Forming a telepathic connection with an animal helps them and their human companions form a closer relationship and a better understanding of each other. In the simplest of terms, I like to think of having a telepathic connection with an animal like being a radio receiver looking for a specific radio transmission. Once you are tuned into the right channel, you will experience all of the wonders of a telepathic connection with the animals in your life.

Top 10 New Year Do’s and Dont’s

If you're adopting a dog this new year or choosing a puppy, think carefully about how you will select, socialize and train the new addition to the family.


Happy New Year! Photo Courtesy of Lyn Dubois and Tammy

Happy New Year!
Photo Courtesy of Lyn Dubois and Tammy

1. Don’t choose a pup on the spur of the moment or value cosmetics over temperament and personality. The behavioral pick of the litter is generally the middle puppy: The feistiest or the shyest may have been  either a bully or a victim.Picture 23
2. Do take your time. It’s a lifetime commitment. Rescue dogs come with either more or less behavioral issues than when abandoned, largely dependent on the rescue’s choice of training methods. Examine the shelter or rescue organization grounds and policies closely.

3. Do socialize as early as possible. Socialize slowly and carefully to people, stranger-dogs and moving objects with frequent and regular exposure. If your dog is fearful or aggressive, the dog park is NOT the place to practice. It can make your dog worse...and it's not fair to the other dogs.

Photo Courtesy of Linda Michaels

Photo Courtesy of Linda Michaels

4. Don’t wait until your dog has received all the vaccinations to begin safe socialization activities. Check the PetProfessionalsGuild.org for a socialization checklist, to find out how Socialization and Vaccinations Go Together, as well as OperationSocialization.com for more safety guidelines.

5. Do use “do no harm’ training methods.  Positive does not mean permissive. Establish clear boundaries and be consistent.

6. Don’t use old-fashioned dominance methods or collar equipment that may hurt your dog both psychologically and physically.

Button Courtesy of the No Shock Coalition

Button Courtesy of the No Shock Coalition

7. Do “listen” to your dog’s body language and vocalizations. Your dog talks to you and to dogs through behavior, body language and vocalizations.  Speak your dog’s language by using hand signals.

8. Don’t mistake fear for respect. Dogs don’t and never will “respect” anyone. Their brains are not sufficiently complex to process a concept such as respect.


Don't mistake fear for "respect"!  Photo Courtesy of Bailey Joy Photography and Charlie

Don't mistake fear for "respect"!
Photo Courtesy of Bailey Joy Photography and Charlie

9. Do use the power of food to train and change emotions in your dog. Later, transition slowly to affection, toys and real life reinforcements.

Picture 4

"Want Results? Use Rewards" Victoria Stilwell Quote

10. Don’t forget your furry new bundle of joy depends on your care, kindness, patience and diligence to make his new home a warm and wonderful place to be all year long.

Photo Courtesy of Victora Wadkins

Photo Courtesy of Victora Wadkins


Linda Michaels, MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private behavioral consultations near the San Diego Coast. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n’ Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.


Top 5 Acupuncture Success Stories

In striving to keep things merry and bright and this holiday season, I've decided to feature the top five photos of my veterinary acupuncture patients from 2013.

Not many people get the chance to see what it's like for pets to have acupuncture, so I frequently photograph my patients during their treatment process. Actually, quite often I'm in a room by myself with my patients (after having been let in by an assistant or housekeeper), so I like to share the images of my canine and feline acupuncture recipients in a very relaxed state with my clients.

#1: Little Man is a Chihuahua with a tendency to exhibit inappropriate urination: 

Little Man

As we’ve ruled out medical causes of urinary problems via diagnostic testing, Little Man’s propensity to pee in less-than-desirable places is occurring as a result of disturbed shen (heart, emotions, etc.) energy. This stems, in part, from mild muscular discomfort he experiences along his back in his Bladder meridian (energy channel). The areas of discomfort along the bladder channel interrupt the proper flow of qi (chi) throughout his body, which contributes to his occasions of inappropriate urination, according to traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM).

Fortunately, Little Man is doing better with regular needle/laser acupuncture treatments, nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, and behavior/lifestyle modifications.


#2: Happy Face is a Boston Terrier who suffered trauma from being hit by a car during his younger years:

Happy Face

The accident led to the amputation of his right front limb. As a result of carrying his weight in an imbalanced fashion on his remaining front left leg, Happy Face experiences discomfort between his shoulders extending into his mid back. His discomfort occasionally even manifests with him exhibiting mild to moderate behavior changes like aggression.

Providing consistent needle and laser treatments along with pain-relieving medications, nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, a whole food based diet, and behavior modification has led to a happier Happy Face, who is now more comfortable and less prone to exhibiting undesirable behaviors.



#3: Maggie was a sweet senior pooch who had discomfort in her back that limited her ability to comfortably navigate her home environment:


Stairs and hardwood floors were a challenge during Maggie’s senior years.

Although Maggie is no longer with us (a quality of life choice was made), she led a more comfortable and better quality of life as a result of the regular administration of needle/laser acupuncture treatment, joint supporting medications and nutraceuticals, and environmental modifications.








#4: Riley is a Golden Retriever who has outlived the expectations of the numerous veterinarians involved in the regular management of his care:            

RileyI began working with Riley in 2010 when he was experiencing issues causing him chronic pain while also being afflicted with a lifelong history of severe allergic skin disease. The medications Riley needed to control his skin issues prevented him from taking common anti-inflammatory medication, so I was called in to help manage his bodily discomfort. Ultimately, Riley developed liver cancer which has been managed (along with his pain) on an ongoing basis through the use of needle/laser acupuncture treatment, whole-food diet, medications, and nutraceuticals.

Riley leads a great day-to-day quality of life and enjoys swimming with his canine companion on a daily basis despite his severe diagnosis.



#5: Finally, I have to include my own dog Cardiff:


You may well know that Cardiff suffers from a chronic and often fatal disease called immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Fortunately, Cardiff’s IMHA has been in remission and he’s been symptom-free for four years. Unfortunately, Cardiff was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Yes, my own dog who lives the most toxin-free life I can possibly provide has cancer.

Cardiff’s condition occurred in a discrete area of his small intestine that caused the mild clinical signs of decreased appetite, lethargy, and intermittent regurgitation. After discovering the intestinal mass via ultrasound, Cardiff had surgery to remove the affected section of intestine and to biopsy an adjacent lymph node.

Although the diagnosis is severe, the situation is relatively best-case as he’s healed great and is nearly back to being himself.

He’ll be starting six months of chemotherapy in early January 2014. So, the steps I'm taking in treating Cardiff’s cancer and the story of dealing with my own dog’s illness will be revealed through my petMD Daily Vet articles throughout the next year (stay tuned).



K-9 Officer Rescues Unwanted Puppies

photo copy 2

Me and Sgt. Corso with the puppies shortly after the rescue.

Sgt. Paul Corso is a seasoned law enforcement officer. As a K-9 handler, he has served the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department for over 20 years. Corso has seen a dark side of our world that most of us will never see or understand. It would have been easy for him to walk away when we stumbled on a litter of unwanted puppies during a home investigation, but what he did was quite the opposite. 

The story begins with a wanted criminal. We have been filming with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's K-9 Unit for a few months now, so a search like this was nothing new to us. As Victoria's assistant, I get to do some pretty incredible things, but filming with this amazing group of deputies absolutely tops the list. Victoria was out of town for a seminar, so I was keeping her updated throughout the night.

We were looking for a man who ran from the cops (we'll call him "Jimmy") and he had several warrants out for his arrest. Corso and his partner, Jason Cotton, had received a tip about a friend of Jimmy's that might know his whereabouts.

We pulled up to the house in the dead of night. No blue lights, no sirens. Just complete silence as we rolled up to the house. My heart was racing as we headed towards the front door. Almost immediately, a boxer mix came charging towards us. Something about her panicked demeanor told me that she was protecting something more than her home. At this point, some police officers might have shot her. She had charged right up to us, barking so close to me that I could feel her breath through my jeans. But Corso and Cotton understand dogs better than most, and Corso could tell almost immediately that she was not a bite threat. Corso led the way and she let us pass. I steadied my hands on the camera and tried to focus instead on what was ahead.


The puppies when we found them.

Corso and Cotton made contact with the residents of the house, who were suspicious at first but eventually let us inside. The house has been a hot spot for illegal activity in the past, so we were wary as we went inside. The cops began their investigation inside the home, talking to the residents and searching the house for Jimmy. We walked around towards the back of the house, and that's when I saw them. There were nine tiny, adorable puppies living on a mattress on the porch. It was a bitterly cold night, and the temperature was going to continue to drop over the coming days. I knew in my heart that all nine puppies would never survive the freeze, and even if they did, what would happen to them? Surely some of them would end up in the wrong hands, and they would certainly add to the pet overpopulation problem here in Georgia.

One of the residents of the house must have seen the horrified look on my face, and picked up one of the puppies.

"You want one?" he asked me, holding the puppy towards me. He told me that they couldn't care for the puppies and were trying to give them away.

I looked at Corso, and he looked at me affirmatively. We needed at least a day to get approval from the rescue group I volunteer for, and to find a foster home for them. We promised the man we would be back for all nine puppies by the end of the weekend.

As promised, Corso and I returned to the property after all the arrangements were made. When we returned, the puppies had been moved to a makeshift pen in the backyard. The temperature had dropped below 30 degrees, so I was incredibly relieved to find that they were all still alive. They were crying and shivering, and licked our faces as we loaded them into a warm crate in Corso's truck.

Sgt. Corso rescuing the puppies.

Sgt. Corso rescuing the puppies.

We brought the residents of the home a bag of food for the mother of the puppies, who they were fond of and did not wish to surrender. She was not being abused or neglected--they simply did not have the means to get her spayed and could not handle the financial burden of a litter of puppies. We will be getting her spayed for them as soon as her body has recovered from nursing, and she will never have another litter.

Corso's ability to handle any situation with complete calm and control is amazing to witness. He's one of the funniest people I have ever met, and doesn't take himself too seriously. But when he's working, he's all business and incredibly professional. He had every opportunity to walk away from the situation, but I could tell by the look in his eyes when he saw those puppies that he wasn't going to leave them behind. He chose to add this litter of puppies to his case load, and to save these nine lives from an unknown, and potentially tragic, future. Their happy ending would have been impossible without his help and dedication to seeing the rescue through to the end.

We are lucky to have the support of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department, under Sheriff Butch Conway. Sheriff Conway is a dog lover and pit bull advocate who has made an incredible difference in animal welfare through the Jail Dog Program he facilitated at the Gwinnett County Detention Center.

The puppies are now available for adoption through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.

The puppies are now available for adoption through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.

I'm happy to report that all nine puppies are happy and healthy, and are now available for adoption through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue in Atlanta, GA. We could not have saved the puppies without their help--thanks, AAU!

It truly took a village to save these nine little puppies, and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who made it possible.

Jingle Dogs — Top 10 Gifts

Top 10 “Thank You” Gifts for your Jingle Dog.

Our precious pups bring such joy to our lives and deliver unconditional love all year long. Consider saying “Thank You” with gifts that keep on giving throughout the year. Some of these may make you smile-- all of them will make your dog smile.

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Kronenberg and Cooper

Happy Holidays to You and Your Fur-babies!
Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Kronenberg and Cooper


  1. Adopt or Donate. There is no greater gift. Consider adoption to fill that special place in your forever home, or donate some resources to your local shelter or rescue group.
  2. Socialize, Socialize, Socialize! Socialization is the most critical learning activity of all. Begin at 8 weeks of age, if possible, or as soon as your new rescue pupster settles into her new home. Participate in socialization activities regularly and frequently. Hang out at Starbucks or run errands together.

    Photo Courtesy of Lynne Fedorick, Earl and Skye

    Socialize, Socialize, Socialize...
    Photo Courtesy of Lynne Fedorick, Earl and Skye


  3. Gentle Leashes. A front-clip harness or a step-in for toy breeds is best. Avoid shock, prong and choke collars. These devices are singled out as equipment to avoid by veterinary behavior experts in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2006 (“Good trainers: How to identify one.” Vol. 1). They can cause a variety of documented medical injuries (“Gentle Leashes”, 2012. Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM) and may cause aggression. They are illegal in a growing number of countries.
  4. Veterinary Care. Choose a vet both you and your dog like and trust, one that takes the time to bond with your dog, and practices gentle handling and restraint. Consider integrative care. Ask questions. Spay/neuter. Get that orthopedic bed your dog has been dreaming about!
  5. Training. The scientifically-endorsed, non-aversive method works for wild animals at the zoo and wolfdogs, It can work for your dog too! It’s effective, long-lasting, safe, and often very fast, as well as truly dog-friendly. Get a private behavioral consultation to target those behavior problems that have cropped up, or enroll in a class.

    Photo Courtesy of Nicole Marlin

    Positive Reinforcement Training
    Linda and Shiloh, Ambassador for the WolfEducationProject.org
    Photo Courtesy of Nicole Marlin


  6. Diet. A super-premium grade food with a specifically named meat as the first ingredient is best. Canine nutritional expert, Dr. Doug Knueven, DVM tells us. “There is no greater obstacle to canine health than poor diet”.  “Venison Holiday Stew” (made by Merrick®) would be well-received.
  7. Exercise. Check out the many great trails, beaches, parks and neighborhoods you can explore together. Consider enrolling in a dog-sport class.


    Photo Courtesy of Evelynn Linden and Scoobs


  8. Grooming. Choose a groomer who takes the time to make your dog feel safe and practices gentle handling and restraint. Would your dog appreciate a spa massage treatment or a blueberry facial?

    Gentle Grooming Photo Courtesy of Lyn Dubois and Tammy

    Gentle Grooming
    Photo Courtesy of Lyn Dubois and Tammy


  9. Environmental Enhancement. Rotate food-toys, interactive puzzles, and safe chew-items to keep your dog busy and happy. Add a window with a view and dog-friendly landscaping. Don’t forget to provide a quiet place where you dog can rest away from all the excitement of the holiday season.
  10. Your love. Infuse all the above with your love—the best gift of all.

    Photo Courtesy of Linda Michaels

    Love, love, love. The most important gift of all.
    Photo Courtesy of Linda Michaels


Dogs are our closest, most beloved animal companions, so it behooves us to consider every aspect of their care and well-being carefully during the season of joy and throughout the new year!

Linda Michaels, MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private behavioral consultations near the San Diego Coast. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n’ Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.


Making Manners Fun: Counter-Surfing (Holiday) Edition

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many dog owners are going to be faced with GREAT opportunities to work on counter-surfing with their dogs. As we have family over to celebrate the holiday season, there will inevitably be mouthwatering treats and other great smells out on the countertops. It’s so important to remember that our dogs aren’t trying to be naughty by stealing food. To dogs, food left out with no one claiming it is just wasted opportunity!


Regrettably, dogs are often punished for counter-surfing - a behavior that really just comes so naturally for them. Dogs have historically been scavengers, and as such, they tend to be opportunists.  Come on now, tell me that you wouldn’t stop to grab a 100-dollar bill on the ground if it seemed unclaimed? We know that dogs learn by association. While the dog MAY make the connection between counter-surfing and the punishment, he runs an even greater chance of associating something else unintended - like people in the kitchen mean bad things. Or just that kitchen is a bad place to be in. Or that the counter tops are scary. Or that my human isn’t nice in the kitchen so I should only go in there when he or she isn’t there. Finally, what punishment fails to do is tell the dog what you would like them to do instead. Rather than fussing at the dog, let’s go ahead and move toward teaching him what is more acceptable kitchen etiquette instead.

MANAGEMENT: When people come to me and complain about their dogs counter-surfing, my very first prescription is to not leave food out on the counter. This instantly fixes 99.99% of all counter-surfing problems as we have removed the source of the problem. Dogs won’t counter-surf for items that aren't there. When you cannot watch your dog, do both yourself and your dog a favor by not leaving food out on the countertop. This will ensure that your dog isn't rewarded for counter-surfing when you’re not there to redirect the behavior. Management can also include crating your dog when you won’t be able to watch him or putting up a baby gate in the doorway of your kitchen to keep the dog out of trouble. At the very least, if you can't remove your dog from the environment or put all food away, you can utilize the space in your oven or microwave. Remember: if your dog counter-surfs successfully, this behavior has been reinforced and will most likely happen again.  

CAPTURE THE GOOD: My partner, Robbin, is a brilliant cook, and he loves being in the kitchen. However, I'm not the only one in the house that has noticed. He faces the problem of living with five furry opportunists who have learned what an exceptional chef Robbin is. Before working on it, our dogs were always underneath him as he moved around the kitchen. In addition to counter-surfing being an issue, there was also a problem of safety. There was huge risk of tripping over one of the dogs while cooking that could result in human OR dog injury. Because we knew that punishment wouldn’t work, Robbin and I first focused on capturing polite kitchen behaviors. As Robbin cooked, I would reward our dogs with tasty treats for doing ANYTHING that included four paws on the floor. If the dogs stood nicely without jumping up on the counter or on one of us, I rewarded them. After that, I started rewarding other behaviors they offered. Sits and downs were heavily rewarded.

The problem transformed from dogs counter-surfing to humans not being able to move around the kitchen due to the 5 bodies sitting - beautifully, I may add - in Robbin’s immediate body space. Management would work in this situation - we could easily put up a baby gate in the door of the kitchen and let Robbin cook in peace. We do this sometimes, especially when we have company over. However, I’d like my dogs to do something else on their own that doesn’t require management and doesn’t crowd the cook’s personal space. This brings me to my next point.

TEACH INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIORS: I taught my dogs how to go to lie down on their beds on cue. We say, “hit the hay!” and they all run to their beds and lie down. To teach this behavior:


  1. Reward your dog for walking onto his bed.
  2. Reward your dog if he sits or lies down.
  3. Add duration: treat your dog every 2 seconds. Then see if he’ll still stay there after 3 seconds. Then after 4. Slowly add length to this behavior.
  4. Be prepared to reward this behavior if it’s offered to you - ESPECIALLY when you’re in the kitchen.
  5. Add the cue. We used “hit the hay!” You can use any cue you’d like. I tend to pick silly behavior names because I hate to sound like I’m bossing my dogs around.

By using the management suggestions above (no food on the counters, blocking access to the kitchen) and treating them often for being on their beds, our dogs are much less interested in being underneath Robbin while he’s cooking. Counter-surfing problem solved! Now we can have friends and family over for the holidays without the worry of dogs getting in the way.


  • Take things slowly and only train in short bursts (5 minutes or less). The type of training listed above requires a lot of concentration - especially in an environment as distracting as your kitchen.
  • Realize that your dog does not know better. Remember that scavenging (e.g. counter-surfing) is something that is genetically ingrained in our dogs. They can’t help it! It may take some time for your dog to solidify these good habits. Our dogs show us on a constant basis what is valuable and important to them. Help your dog learn to find the fun and the value in behaviors that don’t involve counter-surfing or bullying the cook! ;)
  • Be patient and enjoy learning with your dog. Not only will you find that this will help your dog's house manners, it’ll strengthen your bond in huge ways.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!

For more holiday tips from Victoria, click here!

Have ideas for future training articles from Kevin? Email kevinballance@gmail.com for suggestions or training questions! You may just see your question with answer show up on the blog! 

Kevin Ballance is a service dog trainer at Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization which provides service dogs to children and adults with physical disabilities, seizure conditions, and other special needs. Kevin’s method of training is called Choice Teaching, a technique created by Canine Assistants founder Jennifer Arnold that empowers dogs to think and make choices on their own. You can find more from Kevin at www.lifetheuniverseanddogs.com or on Twitter and Instagram - @kevinballance. 


Have You Been Bathing Your Pet with a Cancer Causing Shampoo?

shutterstock_139902808_162We all want the best for our canine and feline companions, but sometimes we owners may unknowingly be sickening our pets. One of the most glaringly obvious circumstances where pets were sickened or died as a result of the recommendations of animal-health professionals is the 2007 melamine pet food crisis.

Dogs and cats that consumed dry (kibble) and moist (canned) foods containing melamine-contaminated wheat gluten produced in China suffered kidney failure and death. Wheat gluten is a grain by-product which provides a cheaper alternative to muscle meat protein or whole grain carbohydrates. Melamine is a plastic which increases nitrogen content and protein levels (as determined by laboratory testing) when added to wheat gluten.

As a result of certain pet food manufacturers’ efforts to keep their production costs down by using poorer-quality ingredients, our companion animals suffered life-threatening toxicity. This trend to use feed-grade ingredients (which have higher allowable levels of toxins than human-grade foods) is followed by many pet-food manufacturers in creating their commercially-available dog and cat diets. Therefore, for the sake of my patients’ health, I always recommend meals made from fresh, moist, human-grade foods just like the real meats, vegetables, grains, oils, and other ingredients we (humans) eat, instead of feeding them conventional pet foods.

I’ve digressed and will now get back on topic to discuss the subject for this week’s post: carcinogenic (cancer causing) ingredients in pet shampoos.

Recently, I found out that a veterinary prescription shampoo I recommended for a canine patient contains a carcinogen. My client went to purchase Virbac’s Epi-Soothe shampoo from a nearby California veterinary hospital and was informed that the product was no longer being dispensed.

In general, Epi-Soothe has been reliable product used in veterinary medicine by general practice veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists for years. Upon hearing the news, I found myself considering the consequences of my actions. Epi-Soothe is a product I’ve recommended for years, but in doing so, was I actually contributing to the potential development of cancer in my patients?

So, I’ve decided to further break down the situation for this week’s Daily Vet.

What Carcinogen is Contained in the Pet Shampoo?

The carcinogenic compound contained within Episoothe and other Virbac shampoos (Allergroom, Sebolux, Allermyl, and Etiderm) is Diethlanolamine (DEA).

According to a press release from Virbac, “Diethanolamine is a naturally occurring fatty acid derived from plants. It has been used for decades as an agent to boost foaming, stability, and add viscosity to hundreds of shampoo, cosmetic, and consumer products.”

In 2012, DEA was included in California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.

Why are Products Containing DEA No Longer Being Sold in CA?

According to Ecowatch.com’s article Study Finds Cancer-Causing Chemical in Nearly 100 Shampoos and Soaps, a Center for Environmental Health (CEH) review indicates that DEA was found in “98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold by major national retailers.” Reportedly, these were human products.

CEH executive director Michael Green states that “most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo.” The same principle goes for our pets.

The Virbac press release as mentioned above states that “recent changes in California’s Proposition 65 (The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) will have a short term effect on the availability of select Virbac dermatology products for sale in California effective June 22, 2013.”

Virbac is currently not providing any DEA-containing products to California retailers and is reformulating affected products to appropriately comply with Proposition 65.

What is Proposition 65?

According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)’s article Proposition 65 in Plain Language:

In 1986, California voters approved an initiative to address their growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. That initiative became the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known by its original name of Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires the State to publish a list of chemicalsknown to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, has grown to include approximately 800 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.

Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.

What Can Pet Owners Do to Protect Their Pets From Cancer Causing Products?

The skin is the body’s largest organ, so there’s definite potential for any substance applied to the surface, whether intentionally or accidentally, to be absorbed and cause toxicity inside the body.

Causes of cancer are multifactorial and have correlations with genetics, environment, lifestyle, diet, etc., so there is no 100% fool-proof method of ensuring your pet will live a life permanently free from cancer. Yet, by avoiding toxins, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and consuming foods and water known to be as chemical-free as possible, we can potentially reduce the likelihood our pets will be affected by many of the related fatal diseases.

Pet owner should always use products that are free from cancer/toxicity-causing chemicals included on the list as provided above. Read the label on your pet’s shampoo and compare the ingredients to those on the list to decide if you’ll continue to use the product or make a safer selection.

As I needed an all-purpose alternative to EpiSoothe for my client, I performed a Google search for diethanolamine free dog shampoo and discoveredEarthBath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo and Dr. Mercola’s Organic Pet Shampoos.

Disclaimer: I have no professional arrangements with Virbac, EarthBath, or Mercola to mention their products here.


Making Manners Fun Series: Loose-Leash Edition

As a dog trainer, one of the most common problems I get asked for help with is getting a dog to walk without pulling on the leash. Loose-leash walking is just like any other trick we may teach our dogs. It’s about finding a way to make it fun for the dog. Walking with a loose leash isn’t natural for dogs. There is nothing equivalent in the dog world. We humans move so slowly! And to add to that, what’s the fun in only walking straight down the side walk when there are fun and interesting smells, sights, and sounds in every direction? It’s our job to help our dogs see the fun in walking next to us.


Loose-Leash Walking: Before You Go On The Walk

  1. Define what you want. This is critical to teaching ANY dog behavior. As the handler you have to decide what loose-leash walking means to you. Does it mean walking with you with the dog’s attention completely on you the entire time? Or is he walking next to you but allowed to look around at his environment? Is any tension on the leash ok? (If you’re using a Flexi-leash, there’ll always be tension.) This is completely up to you, but it must be decided. If not you’ll be inconsistent when you teach, and your dog will get confused.
  2. Getting your dog “on the phone.” Getting your dog on the phone with you simply means getting his attention. If you aren’t able to get his attention focused on you in your house free from distractions, you’re definitely not going to be successful outside where everything is exciting and new for your dog. To practice getting your dogs attention, wait for him to come to you or even make eye contact and reward.
  3. Get the right equipment. I recommend using a martingale collar and 4 or 6-foot leash for walking. If your dog is a severe puller, I recommend using a front-hook harness. Choke chains, prong collars, pinch collars, and shock collars do not work. Caution: the allure of a tool that seems to quickly fix a dog’s pulling problem can be very tempting. However, punishment will have the opposite result that you’re going for: your dog will not learn to enjoy walking next to you. Instead, he will learn that going on walks with you results in pain and discomfort.
  4. Get great reinforcement. Take a treat bag filled with tasty treats of your dog’s liking. Remember, what you have needs to be more interesting than the distractions your dog will encounter outside. I like to work on loose-leash walking before meal times with my dogs so they’re extra hungry. You may even want to take your dog’s meal on the road with you and use it as treats! If your dog isn’t as into his normal dog kibble, mix in some higher value treats. For my dogs, tiny piece of hot dogs do the trick. Find your dog’s favorite reinforcement.


Loose-Leash Walking: On The Move

  1. Reward often. At first, do this AT LEAST every couple of steps. As your dog is able to go for longer periods of time walking next to you, you can slow down your rate of reinforcement. This is the most common problem I see with handlers who have dogs that pull: not treating often enough when the dog is doing something right.
  2. Let go of that leash! I often make new dog handlers put the loop of the leash around their hand and then put their hand in their pocket. What this does is makes you, the dog handler, give the dog the full length of the leash. This allows the dog the choice to stay with you or run ahead (which gives YOU the opportunity to reward good choices.) When you force a dog to walk next to you, you’re not actually building value for loose-leash walking. You’re simply inhibiting what the dog actually wants to do. This will not make the dog want to stay next to you; it will most likely make him want to pull ahead harder.
  3. Be ready to reward any attention your dog gives you. This means eye contact or any other interaction your dog gives you. This will encourage your dog to continue to watch you and want to walk next to you.
  4. Mix up reward amounts. Sometimes feed just one treat and others feed several. Every now and then stop and feed a handful and tell your dog how fantastic they are. This will keep your dog’s anticipation level for being with you high. He’ll never know what he’s about to get!
  5. Make walking with you unpredictable. Slow down, and then speed up. Then change directions. Reward your dog each time he chooses to stay with you.
  6. Anticipate distractions. Look ahead to notice what things may be potential distractions for your dog so that you can reward your dog when he sees those distractions and chooses to stay with you.
  7. Stop along the way and work on other behaviors. Stop at random and ask for other behaviors - even simple behaviors like sit or down. Doing this will keep your dog on in anticipation of what you will do next.
  8. If your dog is pulling toward a distraction and will not come back to you, turn and walk the other way. Reward your dog when he catches up to you.



General tips: 

  • Take things slowly and only train in short bursts. The type of training listed above requires a lot of concentration - especially in distracting environments - and can be exhausting. As your dog starts to build good, loosh-leash habits, you can lengthen the time of your training sessions.
  • Realize that your dog does not know better. Remember that walking with a loose leash isn’t something that is natural for dogs. It may take some time for your dog to solidify these good habits. Our dogs show us on a constant basis what is valuable and important to them. If your dog is pulling ahead consistently, it simply means that walking next to you isn’t as valuable or meaningful to him as whatever he is pulling toward.
  • Be patient, and enjoy learning with your dog. You’ll find that this type of work with him will not only make his leash walking so much better. It’ll strengthen the bond you two have in huge ways.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!


Have ideas for future training articles from Kevin? Email kevinballance@gmail.com for suggestions or training questions! You may just see your question with answer show up on the blog!

Kevin Ballance is a service dog trainer at Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization which provides service dogs to children and adults with physical disabilities, seizure conditions, and other special needs. Kevin’s method of training is called Choice Teaching, a technique created by Canine Assistants founder Jennifer Arnold that empowers dogs to think and make their own choices. You can find more from Kevin at www.lifetheuniverseanddogs.com or on Twitter and Instagram - @kevinballance. 


Holiday Smells: The Nose Knows


Photo Courtesy of Fetchlight.com

Holiday Smells: The Nose Knows!    The aromatic heralds of the holiday season are coming to your dog's home soon; roasted chestnuts, eggnog lattes, cranberry sauce, hot pumpkin-spice pie, gingerbread cookies and turkey, scented candles and pine tress. Yum!

Pet parents often believe dogs can learn to see things from the human point of view. However, although dogs are extraordinarily teachable and adaptable they are also utterly unique. Understanding how your dog perceives the world can deeper your relationship. Dogs live in a subterranean world full of information we are entirely unaware of — a world where the nose leads.

Puppies are born with a fully functioning sense of smell. Dogs get most of their information about the world from sniffing a continuous stream of scents that travel directly to the brain. The dog brain is dominated by olfactory structures larger than the area of the brain devoted to vision in humans. Their sense of smell is anywhere from 100,000 to 100,000,000 times greater than a human’s! Dogs help detect cancer, locate disaster victims, find illegal drugs and find other lost pets. The intensity of their sniffing experiences is beyond our imagination. Be careful not to subject your dog to powerful scents that may be mild to us but overwhelming to your dog, such as citronella collars, cleaning products and air fresheners.


Photo Courtesy of Patton and Jade

Research shows that odors are strongly tied to emotional memories, so leaving your dog with a “comfort item” such as a work out t-shirt can help with separation anxiety during the holiday or any season. Nose work classes are very popular and fun.

If you're cooking a turkey dinner this holiday, rest assured your dog can easily identify each ingredient individually in your carefully executed recipe. Your dog is your most ardent admirer. Expecting your dog to ignore, not become excited or worst of all, be left out of the festivities just isn't fair! Merricks® Thanksgiving and Holiday/Christmas Day Dinners are big favorites. Or why not cook up a special canine-safe plate for your furry member of the family and celebrate together? Or go all-out with a private cooking lesson for you and your dog. Bon Appetit!

Linda Michaels, MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private behavioral consultations near the San Diego Coast. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n’ Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.


Do Some Dogs Need a Heavier Hand?

Mango Likes Soccer!

It never fails—someone always says it. In a recent online discussion about a trainer known for using less-than-gentle methods, someone made a comment that sounded a lot like this: “Positive training is fine for smaller dogs and puppies, and maybe even some adults, but there are some dogs that need a heavier hand.” Really? Because that sounds an awful lot like justification for jerking, yanking, shocking, and other things done to dogs in the name of training.

I’ve heard the excuse for heavy-handedness put like this: “They’re red zone dogs” (somehow that term always makes me visualize dogs with red, flashing sirens over their heads) or something similar. The term is used to categorize dogs who are severely aggressive. Often the trainer has been brought in as last-ditch effort before the dog is euthanized. In my years of working in canine training and behavior, I’ve had many clients with what would be termed “red zone” dogs. Lest you think I don’t fully comprehend the extreme aggression the term is meant to denote, one example from my own clientele is the 140-pound Alsatian who had put a hole through his owner’s hand. The owner, a 6-foot-tall police officer, had adopted the dog as an adult. The first week, the man went to grab a toy on the carpet at the same time as the dog did. This resulted in a hole that pierced the palm, through which daylight was clearly visible. The dog was also very aggressive toward strangers, and had severe aggression toward anyone on the other side of a barrier such as a chain link fence. I’m happy to report that with a course of kind, gentle training and behavior modification, and some beautiful follow-through on the part of the clients, all lived carefully but happily ever after. I could go on about successful outcomes with dogs like the Catahoula/chow mix who multiply puncture-wounded multiple people, and how gentle methods saved the day…but you get the idea. Many other trainers could tell you the same thing...

To read the rest of this blog on the Huffington Post, click here.

Nicole Wilde is an author and behavior specialist. You can visit her website www.nicolewilde.com, and find her on Facebook and Twitter



Circovirus Linked to Multiple Deaths of Michigan Dogs

179856906-162As of late (i.e., the latter half of 2013), there’ve been reports of outbreaks of illnesses having serious health consequences for animals or people. I recently wrote about two of them in my petMD Daily Vet column:

Can a Dolphin Virus also Infect Humans? and Could Your Pet Have a Brain-Eating Amoeba?

Recently, reports of what seems to be an emerging virus have come from multiple states, including California, Michigan, and Ohio. As of October 3, 2013, circovirus has been confirmed in two dogs that have died in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Another four dog deaths in Ann Arbor are suspected to have been in part due to circovirus related illness.

So, let’s get right down to it and discuss what is currently known about this virus.

What Species is Circovirus Known to Infect?

Circovirus is currently known to infect birds, dogs, and pigs. Infection in the pig world is quite common, as Porcine circovirus 2 can affects piglets shortly after they are weaned (cessation of nursing). Delayed growth, body tissue wasting, and death are associated with infection in pigs.

Many species of birds can be infected, as circovirus causes infectious anemia in chickens, and beak and feather diseases in psittacines (budgies, cockatiels, finches, parakeets, and parrots).

The canine variety of cirvovirus, CaCV-1 strain NY214, is closer in genetics to the virus infecting pigs than it is to the bird virus. It was first discovered during a 2012 Columbia University study (Complete Genome Sequence of the First Canine Circovirus). It was then diagnosed in a dog suffering from diarrhea and hematemeis (vomit containing blood) that had been brought in for evaluation at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. The virus was also discovered in the feces of 14 of 204 dogs that were not suffering from digestive tract upset; a finding that shows it can be present and not cause illness.

What Are Common Clinical Signs of Circovirus Infection?

Besides the diarrhea and vomit as mentioned above, other clinical signs include:

  • Decreased appetite (anorexia)
  • Decreased water consumption
  • Lethargy (depression, decreased moving, etc.)
  • Delayed capillary refill time (the time it takes for blood to refill the gums after a finger presses out the blood. It should be < 2 seconds: try it on your pooch)
  • Pale pink mucous membranes (gums) and tongue
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels, which can manifest in skin lesions)

As there are many other causes of the same clinical signs in dogs, it is important that veterinarians don’t immediately jump to the diagnosis of canine circovirus and consider all potential options (bacterial, parasitic, and other viral infections, toxicity, foreign body consumption, cancer, etc.) when performing their clinical workup (blood, fecal, urine, other testing).

How is Circovirus Spread?

Circovirus is commonly spread through body fluid secretions, including those from the digestive and respiratory tract, such as saliva, vomit, diarrhea, and nasal secretions.

Infectious organisms affecting our canine (and feline) companions have a tendency to emerge in areas where populations of susceptible hosts congregate. Therefore, shelters, day care facilities, dog parks, breeding facilities, and veterinary hospitals are all sites where bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses can be transmitted from one animal to another.

How is the Diagnosis of Circovirus Achieved?

Circovirus diagnosis is achieved based on a PCR (Polyerase Chain Reaction) test on body tissues. If deemed appropriate, a veterinarian can perform canine circovirus testing through the MSU Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.

Collecting data about this emerging disease is important, so please consent to testing for circovirus should your veterinarian deem it appropriate based on clinical suspicion.

Can Circovirus Infection Be Prevented?

There is currently no vaccination available for canine circovirus. Unfortunately, development of vaccinations takes years and the diagnosis of circovirus in dogs is a recent event.

Realistically, there may never be a vaccination available to prevent dogs from being infected with circovirus. Therefore, it’s vital that owners focus on preventing infection with microorganisms instead of treatment. Prevention comes down to using common sense and caution when planning your dog’s interaction with other canines.

Locations where dogs congregate can be hot zones for infection, as bacteria, viruses, and parasites are exchanged via direct contact or from body secretions. As a result, having your dog frequently spend time in these places isn’t really in his best interest from a standpoint of health. Dogs that do socialize with others of their and other species should be vaccinated according to the recommendations of their veterinarians and have frequent physical examination and diagnostic testing to monitor for the development of disease that may not be apparent to the naked eye.

Can Circovirus Be Spread to Humans?

Currently, there have been no reports of humans being infected with circovirus. Yet, as there are many zoonotic diseases (those that transmit from one species to another), including some which have origins in swine and birds, the potential exists for humans to be infected with circovirus.

Infection with the swine variety of circovirus is more likely than with the dog variety, as humans and pigs are closer in their genetic relation than dogs (see Human to Pig Genome Comparison Complete). I wrote about zoonotic transmission of a virus containing bird and pig genetic material in the following article: Swine Flu Pandemic Over But H1N1 Hybrid Virus Emerges

You can focus on disease prevention by:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Preventing your dog from licking your face or areas of the body having mucous membranes, such as the nose or eyes
  • Scheduling a wellness examination with your veterinarian every 6 to 12 months
  • Limiting your dog’s access to areas well-traveled by other canines

Separation Anxiety? What You Can Do

Separation Anxiety? What You Can Do.

Dogs are social creatures and can over-attach to a pet parent or canine housemate and become habituated to continual contact. When left alone these dogs may experience what is akin to a panic attack in humans.

A well-structured change in routine may break the cycle of anxiety if practiced carefully and consistently.

·      Sleep alone. If you sleep with your dog in your bed -- stop. Snuggle together in bed if you like but when it’s time to sleep, have your dog sleep in her own bed.

·      Make your arrivals home boring. Deliver your greeting after your dog has calmed down.

·      Stimulate your dog.  Leave "home-alone only" favorite chew items and long-lasting food toys within a “dog zone”. Provide a view of the great outdoors. Your dog could be suffering from a condition that is often mistaken for separation anxiety – boredom!

·      Practice frequent separations. Start small and build confidence slowly and incrementally. Practice "sit/wait" and "down/wait" while you leave the room for just a moment. Keep your dog on the other side of a closed door inside the home for short periods each day.

·      Provide a comfort item. Leave your dog with a worn article of your clothing, such as a sweaty T-shirt.

·      Desensitize triggers. Turn triggers -- putting on your coat, picking up a purse or briefcase, and jangling keys into neutral events for your dog by preparing to leave but don't leave the house. In time, the triggers will lose their power to generate fear.

·      Don’t punish. It won’t help but it will make an already anxiety-stricken dog even more insecure.

If you continue to have troubles or if your dog has more than one of the following symptoms seek professional help from a positive reinforcement behavioral consultant: sweating or wet coat, drooling, pacing, self-mutilation, trembling, incessant barking or crying, elimination in the house even though otherwise housetrained, chewing or scratching at windows, doors or plaster boards, attempts at escape to find you, frantic greeting although you were gone for just a short while, or persistent following. Separation Anxiety disorder treatment is one of my specialties should you need extra help.

Linda Michaels, MA Psychology and San Diego Coastal Victoria Stilwell-licensed Positively  private trainer, behavioral consultant, columnist and speaker, may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com
Please visit us at www.DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch 'n Sniff.

Respect the Fear, Change the Perception

We all have fears. Every single person has them, even the toughest of the tough and the baddest of the bad. We're supposed to have fears, it's what allows us as a species to survive. The problem is that many of us are mocked, or worse, for our fears, which only begets a higher level of fear or creates new ones. However, if we had the opportunity to work with someone we TRUST, who could TEACH us how to CHANGE our perception of what we fear, we could lessen or overcome that fear, thereby ENJOYING life even more.

So what does that have to do with dog training (or Canine Coaching as I call it)? EVERYTHING!! It seems that on top of the most ridiculous expectations we have for our companion dogs, like being perfectly polite, meeting and greeting every living thing with grace and diplomacy, being a friend to everyone no matter how poorly mannered or scary that person or animal is, reading our minds so they know what we mean and what we want whether we've said it or taught it or not, understanding perfectly what we say no matter the language or tone we've spoken to them in, basically expecting them to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (practically perfect in every way), we also demand that they NEVER be fearful of anything and if for some God forsaken reason they are, then they better get over it and right now! (enter Dominance theory, calm-submission, aversive methods, physical abuse, prong, choke and electronic collars, hollering, screaming, growling, throwing bean bags, hanging, "helicoptering," hitting, punching, flooding, etc.)

So tell me, how's that workin' out for you, huh? Not too much for your dog, either, I imagine. No kiddin' Sherlock, can't imagine why. Why is the simple question: because we're humans and we have a really hard time admitting to and dealing with our own fears let alone having a dog (or child) that shows fear. Darnit, having a scaredy dog (or child) makes us look bad! And with that, we've gotten right to the root of the problem: we've never learned how to RESPECT our own fears, have never TRUSTED anyone enough to allow them to TEACH us how to CHANGE our perceptions of what scares us so there's always something holding us back from ENJOYING our lives even more.

Whether an adult, child, dog, cat, or any other living species, fear is natural. We are all born with a baseline of fear (survival), are predisposed to others (nature) and accrue others through life experiences (nurture). There is only one way to learn from them and then deal with them: RESPECT the fear, CHANGE the perception. That means finding someone you can TRUST to help TEACH you how to CHANGE your fear and then ENJOY life. Do this for youself, for those you love, for your dog, cats, or whatever other animals you enjoy having as part of your life. Y'all will be better for it, believe you me. Amen.



Toxic Meatballs Poison Dogs in San Francisco

Dachshund Killed by Toxic MeatballAccording to CBS Local San Francisco, there have been multiple reports of illness and even death in dogs that consumed meatballs tainted with strychnine, a common ingredient in rodent poison, that have been dispersed on city streets since early July 2013.

Residents of the Twin Peaks and Diamond Heights neighborhoods have been on high alert after the source of the toxicities was discovered, as it’s unclear if all of the poisoned meatballs have been recovered.

Oskar, a Dachshund, died on July 5, 2013, two days after eating the meatball. Dorothy Schechter, Oskar’s owner, saw her dog consume an object (the meatball) from the street during a walk. A short time later, Oskar fell ill. Schecther said, “The next thing we know, he started to seize and his back went up. I grabbed him and went to the vet.”

Another owner, Crystal Maglio, also has a dog that was sickened by the toxic meatballs. Maglio said, “There looked like there was some meat on the ground.  It was just little parts of it and I saw him sniffing it and I pulled him away. It’s likely he ate some of it.” Maglio’s dog suffered vomiting and anorexia (decreased appetite).

Dr. Carey Jurney, the attending veterinarian who cared for Oskar, detailed the appearance of the meatballs as being “ground beef meatballs with green and red seeds in them. That’s the toxin.” Images of the meatballs can be found via CBS's SF Dog Owners Warned Over Possibly Poisoned Meatballs Left On Streets.

I’ve treated cases of known or suspected toxicity from rodenticides (rodent poisons), and they all require immediate intervention with extensive diagnostic testing (blood/urine screens, X-rays, ultrasound, etc.) and significant treatment (potentially inducing vomit, giving IV fluid/blood replacement products and other medications, medically induced coma, etc.) depending on the type of poison.

The most common forms of rodenticides are anti-coagulants, like Brodifacoum (active ingredient in D-Con), which inhibits the body’s synthesis of Vitamin K and causes abnormal function of the blood clotting cascade. Within one to seven days post-ingestion, the blood cannot properly clot and clinical signs associated with bleeding (lethargy, pale mucous membranes, increased respiratory rate and effort, bruising, tar-like stools) appear.

Other varieties of mice and rat poisons can contain substances that are faster acting, such as Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) and Strychnine.

Strychnine is an exceptionally lethal neurotoxin with the capacity to kill both humans and animals. Signs of Strychnine poisoning occur in minutes to hours post-consumption and include:

  • Seizure activity — often uncontrolled and violent, which can occur in response to bright light or sound
  • Rigidity of the limbs
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Emesis — vomiting
  • Opisthotonos — extreme arching/extension of the head and neck
  • Dyspnea — respiratory difficulties and failure
  • Tachycardia — elevated heart rate
  • Hyperthermia — elevated body temperature

San Francisco police indicate that the meatballs contain strychnine levels that are potentially lethal to people. Styrchnine can be absorbed through the skin and other points of entry into the body (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.), so impermeable gloves should be used in the handling process. Any person finding suspicious meatballs or other food products should immediately call 911.

The individuals responsible for the placement of the toxic treats evidently had malicious intent, as the locations chosen are those where dogs commonly defecate. The reasons behind this heinous activity are yet unknown; was the intent to injure the dogs whose owners refuse to remove their dogs' waste from those particular elimination areas?

Oskar’s passing prompted Megan Backus, spokeswoman for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), to offer a $1,000 reward for information contributing to the arrest of the individuals responsible. ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells declared that “the citizens of San Francisco are up in arms over this sadistic crime.” The ALDF is now teaming with VegNews Magazine and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman to offer an increased reward of $5,000.

Please report any information about those responsible for killing an innocent canine companion and sickening another, and creating a panic state among San Francisco residents and visitors, to the police or to the Animal Legal Defense Fund at 707-795-2533, ext. 1010.

Should you suspect that your dog has consumed any poisonous substance, bring a sample of the product, any associated packaging materials, and even your dog’s vomit and feces to an emergency veterinary facility.

Has your pet ever been suspected or confirmed to have been poisoned? Feel free to share you story in the comments section.



Overcoming Thunderstorm Phobia

2003-Aug-23 - Toronto thunderstormThunderstorm phobia is a relatively common problem for dogs, particularly for those that live in areas where stormy weather is commonplace. Whether fear of thunderstorms is elicited by a singular traumatic experience or prolonged exposure, the result is often highly distressing for dogs and owners. Without extensive behavioral therapy and management strategies, phobias become deeply ingrained and even harder to overcome.

The intensity and frequency of big thunderstorms can be frightening enough for us humans, but some dogs are so traumatized they are unable to function normally for hours before and during a thunderstorm. Many thunderstorm-phobic dogs adopt self-management strategies in order to cope including attempts to escape from the home, digging into carpets, seeking out dark den-like spaces in which to hide, pacing, or crawling behind a bathroom sink or toilet.

What makes behavioral modification in these cases so difficult is that thunderstorms are not easy to predict or control. A dog usually knows that a storm is coming long before a human does and becomes increasingly panicked as it approaches.

The good news is that it is possible to change how a dog feels about storm noise by gradually exposing him to audio recordings of storm sounds at low volume levels and, if he appears relaxed, playing his favorite game or feeding him his favorite food. Allowing a dog to play and relax in the presence of the soft noise for short periods of time throughout the day ensures that he does not become bored with the training. Introducing the audio at low levels and gradually turning up the volume allows the dog to habituate to the noise without a fear response.

Noise De-Sensitization & Prevention

CNP-tstorms-frontWe have taken this process a step further by pairing clinically demonstrated psycho-acoustic calming music (the same kind of music used for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety) with gradually increasing levels of thunderstorm sound effects. This ground-breaking complement to sensory education from my Canine Noise Phobia Series helps dogs acclimate to thunderstorm sounds in a controlled environment. The recording is uniquely constructed to enable dogs to “tune out” the sounds of a thunderstorm. In addition to treating already-present thunderstorm phobias, this tool can also be used to prevent thunderstorm noise phobia and other noise sensitivities from ever developing.

The goal of this therapy is to change how a dog feels by altering the way he hears the sound. The Canine Noise Phobia Series noise desensitization series encourages nervous dogs to passively hear the noise rather than actively listen to it. For a dog, the end result is that even though he hears the sound of a thunderstorm, he is less bothered by it because it no longer overwhelms him.

De-Sensitization to Lightning Flashes

Gradually exposing a dog to flashes of light (by using the flash of a camera, but not in the dog’s face) that grow in intensity and using fans to simulate increasing wind are complementary parts of this therapy, but these can sometimes be harder to implement. Some dogs respond well to all of these tools during teaching sessions but may still become panicked when a real storm rolls in. It’s therefore important to tackle this phobia in other ways by using effective management strategies and masking any visual stimuli that elicit a fear response during a storm.

Barometric Pressure

Dogs can be very sensitive to changes in barometric pressure that occur before a storm, but it’s also possible that some dogs – especially long-coated breeds – become statically charged during a thunderstorm, receiving electric shocks from static in the air unless they “ground” themselves. It’s believed that dogs do this by retreating to a bathroom and hiding behind a sink or toilet, staying close to pipes that provide electrical grounding. If true, this would certainly explain why so many dogs end up cowering in a bathroom. To reduce static build-up, some owners wipe their dogs down with antistatic laundry strips and spray antistatic spray on their dogs’ paws, but care should be taken to avoid using products that contain harmful chemicals that dogs could lick off .

Other Therapies

Some phobic dogs benefit from chewing on a food-stuffed toy or calming therapies such as TTouch, anxiety wraps, pheromone collars, and lavender essence; others do much better on anti-anxiety medication that can be given just before a thunderstorm or by daily dosage, especially during storm season. It is vital that behavioral therapy and management are always implemented in tandem with any medication, to give the dog the best possible chance of rehabilitation.

The most important thing you can do for your thunderstorm-phobic dog is to provide him with a “bolt hole” – a place he can escape to in the event of a storm. Providing access to this safe place is essential at all times, particularly if you are absent. This could be a closet, bathroom, or basement (the best places usually have no windows), but with plenty of artificial light to mask flashes of lightning. If static electricity is a problem, rubber matting or tile is a good antistatic material to use for flooring. Specially designed psycho-acoustic music should be played close to the safe haven to mask the sounds of thunder. If you are present during the storm, spend time with your dog in the safe haven or give him attention if he comes to seek comfort. Far from reinforcing fearful behavior, your presence will help your dog cope – as long as you remain calm.

Thunderstorm phobia is a difficult condition to treat, but trying a variety of therapies and techniques can improve a dog’s ability to cope when the big clouds roll in.

Victoria Stilwell Book Review: The Pet Professionals Guild.

Victoria Stilwell Book Review: The Pet Professionals Guild. Victoria Stilwell, star of the hit Animal Planet TV show, It's Me or the Dog, and CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training, unleashes the power of Positive Reinforcment training with her new book, Train Your Dog Positively (TYDP). Stilwell, the passionately vocal dog training expert, delivers a concise, thorough, scientifically-supported and referenced discourse with a message that has far-reaching implications.

Stilwell hits her stride right out of the gate and delivers her trademark TYDP Cover 533x800straightforward advice and insights with a fresh new eloquence while meeting a formidable challenge-providing clear theoretical explanations with practical applications in each area of dog problem solving.

In it’s first week of publication, sales topped the “Dog Training” category with the major online booksellers. TYDP is a well-organized, pioneering treatise on the path to becoming a classic. In a personal message to Pet Professional Guild (PPG) members and readers, Victoria, tells us, “I wanted to create a widely-available option that every pet parent could pick up, read, and understand while providing airtight documentation from the scientific community as well.” And that she has. Academically on point, TYDP is written in unfettered language, making sometimes complex behavioral topics easy to understand. Every pet parent, dog trainer, behavioral consultant, veterinarian, animal activist, dog sitter, dog walker, groomer and dog lover should have a copy of TYDP in their research and pocket libraries.

Ringing endorsements include such notables as Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, renowned behavior expert and author, and Robin R. Ganzert, PhD, President, American Humane Association. Stilwell credits the greatest minds in modern dog training, “as well as the thousands of trainers fighting this fight on a daily basis”, for inspiration.

She notes that the call to change in the contentious field of dog training is urgent. The absence of a “Do No Harm” professional ethic, and lack of industry regulation leaves the door wide open for promotions from purely profit-driven training companies, widespread misconceptions, and not only outdated but often damaging and dangerous dominance-methods practices. Victoria tells the PPG, “I believe we’re in the midst of a tragic epidemic of fundamental misunderstanding regarding how dogs think, feel and learn most effectively. What sets good positive trainers apart from punitive trainers…is how they manage to stop unwanted behaviors while still using humane training techniques instead of punishment.”

If you’re a positive reinforcement trainer looking for succinct supporting arguments to enhance your practice, it’s all here– challenging and dispelling the myth of dominance and pack theory. TYDP may be used as a source-book of quotes, research and resources about the science and effectiveness of positive reinforcement method training. TYDP is a well-honed treatise of domestic dog behavior, aimed at addressing and treating the underlying causes of problem behavior, as well as providing a comprehensive toolbox.

Stilwell dispels the myth that dogs are on a mission to dominate us. TYDP explains the world from the dog’s point of view and explains how they learn. What is perceived as a struggle of wills is simply normal canine behavior that, once understood and approached from a positive training point of view, is often easily modifiable. Indeed, so-called “red zone” dogs, even more so than other dogs, need gentle training methods in order to prevent dog bites and improve behavior.

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 12.21.08 PMTYDP is a gift to pet parents seeking practical help making sense out of all the diverging advice about dog training, “So many pet parents want to do the right thing, but have been infected with the dangerous, less effective and downright inhumane training techniques popularized by certain pop culture media phenomena” Stilwell well says. This book teaches pet parents to celebrate the relationship they have with their dogs through training, and that raining should be fun.

In addition, TYDP contains practical applications in each major area of problem-solving, from frustrating, persistent nuisance issues such as housetraining to frightening multi-dog household aggression. Stilwell’s use of case studies for elucidating problems and solutions captures the reader’s heart by putting a real-life fur-face on the problem.

Stilwell has truly come of age with this discourse, and continues to let the reader know she’s not to be tangled with. “All of us on this mission share a strong passion for not only sharing this information, but for helping to actively change people’s minds about how they think of dogs and the type of relationship they want with them,” she says. “The most important thing is to not give up.”

Stilwell lives in Atlanta with her husband, daughter and rescue dogs, Sadie and Jasmine.

Linda Michaels, MA Psychology, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

© Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Originally pulbished in Barks From the Guild, Vol. 2, No. 2. Summer 2013.

The sexually frustrated parrot: a man-made phenomenon

feather-plucking2According to a recent study, men think about sex 18 times a day, while women think about it 10 times a day. Should we be surprised that most parrots that are raised in the wild in large very social flocks also are obsessed with sex?

I recently attended the annual conference of the Association of Avian Veterinarians and heard a lecture that looked at just how much sexual frustration underlies many of the common disorders parrots suffer today. Among the most frequently treated problems for which parrots of all kinds are brought to the veterinarian are feather picking/chewing, self-mutilation of skin, dermatitis (skin inflammation), egg-laying difficulties, and aggressive behavior. When nearly 100 female and male parrots of varying ages and species each displaying one or more of these problems had a small implant (the size of a rice grain) surgically inserted under the skin over their backs to slowly release a hormone (Deslorelin) that shuts down the sexual cycle temporarily (for about 3 months), all of them had significant decreases in the problem behaviors they were displaying. When these birds again began to show signs of a problem, generally after about 3 months, many of them received a second hormone implant that again suppressed their abnormal behaviors for a period of months. While not all problem behaviors in parrots are due to sexual frustration, the findings of this study support the notion that a great number of problems in captive parrots have a sexual basis. This is not surprising, as parrots in the wild generally live in flocks of thousands and have the opportunity to mate whenever they want. Many wild parrots form pair bonds that tend to mate seasonally and that may actually remain bonded for years or even their entire lives.  Even during the non-breeding season, these pairs live in close contact – nesting together, preening each other, foraging for food and nest sites together, and vocalizing constantly. This strong need to socialize is a very important component of these parrots’ culture and directs much of their daily activity.

In captivity, most pet parrots are not able to interact with other parrots. Many pet parrots are housed singly in cages and given little to do but chew on a few toys hanging in their cages and eat food presented to them in bowls. They have neither the opportunity to socialize with flock mates, nor the chance to hunt for nest sites, food, or other activities. They generally crave attention from their human caretakers who often spend very limited time with them each day. When light cycles and temperature changes signal them to breed in the spring, they often become sexually frustrated and manifest behaviors such as feather destruction, self-mutilation, aggression, and purposeless screaming – behaviors that are generally not seen in wild parrots and that have no adaptive function for these wild birds. The fact that wild birds generally don’t display these behaviors and that administration of synthetic hormones that suppress natural sex hormone cycling in captive birds underlines that fact that the way parrots are housed and raised in captivity is completely unnatural for them; in fact, many of the problems avian veterinarians are challenged with treating in these birds are actually man-made. What is the solution? Should parrots be kept as pets at all? This is an ongoing debate for which there is no correct answer.

Many parrots, when given the opportunity to participate in activities (such as hunting for food, shredding and tearing up wood and paper, manipulating puzzle toys, interacting with humans on a daily basis, watching TV, listening to the radio, sitting in direct sunlight, bathing) other than those directly associated with mating seem to be less obsessed with breeding than those left with little other stimulation than that which they get by masturbating on their perches or toys.  So, the take home message here is clear: if you’re going to have a mentally, as well as physically, healthy pet parrot, you must provide it with outlets for activity other than those that involve sex. If you don’t, you may end up with a raging hormonal ball of feathers that is neither happy, nor makes a good pet.

California Squirrels Infected with Plague Could Spread the Disease to Pets & People

118235016_162Have you heard of the plague? It's not a disease that we modern-day dwellers frequently consider, but it still exists and could potentially affect your pet. The plague is a disease caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague. Plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death. Presently, human plague infections continue to occur in the western United States, but significantly more cases occur in parts of Africa and Asia.

So, the possibility that your companion canine or feline could be exposed to the plague and pass the disease on to you, your human family members, or other pets is very real. The potential for zoonosis (transmission of illness among different species) is an important consideration for anyone inviting a pet into their home.

In 2011, USA Today featured the article Sleeping next to pets could be harmful, study says, which garnered significant attention among pet owners and those of us in the business of providing health care. In the piece, Bruno Chomel, a University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicineprofessor, stated that close contact, such as that which occurs when pets sleep in our beds, could contribute to the spread of a variety of infectious organisms. Chomel noted Bubonic plague, Chagas disease (brought on by the protozoanTrypanosoma Cruzi), and cat scratch disease (caused by the bacteria Bartonella sp.) as the zoonotic diseases of concern.

Unfortunately, instead of emphasizing a common sense approach to pet care (see my tips below), this article struck fear into the hearts of pet owners by sending the message that our cats and dogs should be banished from the bedroom. According to Chomel, “There are private places in the household, and I think our pets should not go beyond next to the bed.”

Recently, plague-causing bacteria were identified in California ground squirrels that had been captured from two camp grounds in the San Diego area. According to a U-T San Diego story, Plague Found in Three Ground Squirrels, health officials are deterring people from having contact with squirrels and other wildlife.

Not every squirrel carries the plague, and there’s a low likelihood that people or other pets will encounter the bacteria from direct contact with squirrels. Yet, a bite from a plague-infected squirrel could potentially spread the disease. Generally, the disease spreading culprits are the fleas that take their blood meals from the squirrel. Chris Conlan, supervising vector ecologist for San Diego County’s Vector Control Program, said that "luckily, the fleas that are transferring plague from squirrel to squirrel much prefer to bite squirrels instead of people.”

Yersinia bacteria may be diagnosed in a few animals during routine surveys, yet no cases have occurred since 2011. The disease has some history in California. A Department of Public Health report lists 62 human plague cases in California from 1926 to 2013; 39 people survived and 23 died.

In general, using good sanitary habits can help prevent disease transmission from your pets or wildlife. My top five tips for keeping yourself and your animal and human family members free from undesirable pests include:

1. Avoid all contact between you and your pets with wildlife, and take measures to prevent both wild and roaming domesticated animals from entering your yard.

2. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching your pet. Additionally, don’t let your pet lick your hands, face (especially no French kissing!), or other body parts.

3. Provide a bath with a pet-appropriate shampoo every 7-30 days (weekly to monthly).

4. Use veterinary prescribed oral or topical parasite preventative medications to keep ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, etc.) and microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) off of your pet’s fur and skin.

5. Vacuum your home (and empty the canister or throw away the bag far from your house) and wash all bedding on a weekly basis.

These tips are all common sense practices, but we occasionally need to be reminded of their importance. Hopefully, both you and your pets will stay plague-free this summer and year-round.

Paraphimosis: Pet Emergency or Owner Embarrassment?

image001As a sole practitioner with my own Los Angeles-based holistic house call veterinary practice, I work a lot of long and unusual hours. I'm highly available to my clients nearly all day and into the night. As a result, short naps are often needed to keep up my better brain function and energetic state.

Recently, I was just about to take an afternoon power nap when a text from a client came through with an attached picture. As I did not want to have an unanswered message dwelling on my brain and affect my sleep, I picked up the phone and laughed out loud when I saw the photo and associated text.

My client sent me an image of her fluffy, white male Shih Tzu-Poodle (a Shihpoo?) mix lying on his side, which exposed his belly and a little, pink surprise: the glans penis extruding from his prepuce (foreskin-like sheath that covers the penis).

The text inquired: "Why is it still peeking out? What should I do?"

Having faced this issue many times in emergency practice, especially while doing emergency work, I recognize that this clinical presentation can alarm the pet owner and potentially escalate to a more severe health issue if not properly addressed.

Paraphimosis is the medical term for this condition. Mirriam Webster defines the term’s components as follows:

Para — beside, alongside of, beyond, or aside from

Phimosis — tightness or constriction of the orifice of the foreskin arising either congenitally or postnatally (as from balanoposthitis) and preventing retraction of the foreskin over the glans

When it comes down to it, paraphimosis occurs when the glans penis is unable to be properly retracted within the foreskin (prepuce).

Is Paraphimosis a Serious Health Concern?

The condition becomes more serious when irritation and dryness occur on the surface of the penis after the glans has protruded for minutes to hours (to days?) and comes into contact with environmental surfaces (the ground, carpets, etc.).

Additionally, edema (swelling) will occur as a result of restriction of blood flow back from the head of the penis. This further prevents the glans from retracting and restricts the proper flow of urine through the urethra, which leads to bladder enlargement and discomfort.

How Is Paraphimosis Resolved?

Resolving paraphimosis can be relatively simple or complex, depending on the length of time that the problem occurs and the amount of irritation, trauma, and swelling occurring in the glans penis.

An owner can apply some lubricant (personal, sterile surgical, moisturizing lotion, other) to the glans penis and gently try to press it back into the prepuce (or slide the prepuce forward over the glans).

If hair from the prepuce is sticking to the glans and preventing proper repositioning, then electric trimmers can be used to carefully trim away the hair. Scissors are not recommended, but they can be used if trimmers are not available, the scissor operator can work with confidence to cut only the hair (and not skin), and the animal can be properly restrained.

Additionally, a highly-osmotic solution, like 50% dextrose solution, can be applied to the surface to promote the movement of liquid out of the penis. On a more severe scenario, the prepuce tissue may need to be surgically cut to create a larger opening for the penis to be retraced.

It’s most ideal that a trained veterinary professional performs the treatment beyond the owner’s ability to lubricate and readily replace the penis to its natural position.

Can Paraphimosis Be Prevented?

One of my top paraphimosis prevention tips is to keep the hair at the tip of the prepuce cut short. This reduces the likelihood that hair will stick to the penis to prevent it from properly retracting into the prepuce.

It pains me to see a dog return from being groomed sporting a fresh haircut and an artistically-styled frond of hair at the tip of the prepuce (like a Merkin … Google it). Not only does this increase the likelihood that paraphimosis will occur, but the collection of urine, environmental debris, white blood cells, bacteria, and other substances can contribute to urinary issues, including infection, that ascends into the urinary tract from the outside world.

Additionally, prevent your male dog from humping other dogs, your mother-in-law’s leg, and his favorite stuffed animal.

Fortunately, my client’s dog’s paraphimosis was resolved the DIY (Do It Yourself) way with a gentle, lubricated push. From now on the hair is being trimmed shorter, so I hope his manhood stays put in its proper place.

Snake Avoidance-Making Wise Choices

How can you keep your dog from being bitten by a venomous snake? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and there are no guarantees.

Seal Your Yard
Neither your family nor your dog is safe from venomous snakes. Many snake bites to dogs occur on their own property. Remove food sources, such as: rodents, mice, birdseed, crickets, pet food and secure garbage cans. Remove habitats where they may hide, such as: woodpiles, vegetation, underbrush and rocks. Seal holes and block entrances under your house. Install rattlesnake safety fencing. See Wikihow.Com There are no spray or scatter products that have proven to be effective.

Penny Di'Lorento offers No Shock Snake Avoidance in the San Diego area at K9Park.com

Penny DiLorento offers No Shock Snake Avoidance in the San Diego area at K9 Dog Park.

Exercise and Activities

Don’t allow your dog to walk or roam in known snake infested areas. Some dogs have an inborn aversion to snakes, others do not and are fascinated by them. The San Diego Natural History Museum herpetology research center advises, “Common sense is the best defense. Cultivate an attitude of alertness. Never let a dog run loose; always keep a dog leashed no matter how good it normally is.” Keep your companion animal safe and happy by providing exercise in safe environments such as an agility class, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, dock diving, paddle boarding, shopping with you, or join a flyball team. Use a Manners Minders, play upstairs fetch, chase a lure toy or have your dog fetch your tennis serve into the pool! Remember, it's against the law to have your dog off leash except in a very few select areas, such as dog parks and dog beach.


The Vaccine

If you live in or frequent areas where rattlesnakes roam, get the vaccine. It’s generally effective for most venomous rattlesnakes in San Diego and side effects are rare. The vaccine costs about $20 and may dramatically reduce the effects of venom, the cost of treatment, and recovery time in the hospital. Bites should always be treated immediately as a veterinary emergency. Make sure your vet carries antivenin. Details are here: rattlesnakevaccinefordogs.com


Snake Avoidance Training
What’s really best for you and your dog? Many snake bites occur by inadvertently disturbing a snake. No amount of training can prevent that. Still, promotional claims, anecdotal reports, and unverifiable statistics abound about the benefits of shock training for your dog. However, there is no empirical data to support the efficacy of this training--that it does what it promises to do. It may give people a false sense of security. It may have serious and permanent side-effects. Behavior experts tell us that shock is easily misapplied and can traumatize animals. The San Diego Humane Society and SPCA does not endorse rattlesnake aversion training for companion animals. According to Stephanie Shain, Director of Outreach for companion animals, "If people choose to work with a trainer, they must be sure that the trainer's methods are safe. Trainers should never use electronic aids like shock collars which will hurt your dog and can damage your bond with him."


Alternative, less aversive training methods are springing up because of the need to find another, safer way. For example, Penny DiLorento, owner of K9DogPark.com offers Snake Avoidance classes using rattlesnake sight, sound, smell, simulations and pyrotechnics as an alternative to programs that use shock, prong and choke collars in the San Diego area.


New courses that teach your dog to alert you immediately upon encountering a snake, similar to basic service dog training and real life scenarios of an outdoor hike are underway in Tucson, Arizona at Seize the Leash facility and in Austin, Texas at The Canine Center for Training and Behavior. For example, the sound of a rattle is the cue to come to you. As Penny says, “Learning should never hurt”.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Copyright2013. All rights reserved. Original publication UT San Diego, Pet School, Scratch 'n Sniff.

Choice Training – Working with a Leash Reactive Dog

My Labrador Sadie spies a dog in the distance and as the dog approaches she turns her head to look at me.  Her eyes catch mine and I smile at her, telling her what a good girl she is.  She turns again to look at the dog as he walks past and then back at me.  I praise her courage and the decision she made to remain calm in a situation that previously caused her fear.  

When Sadie first came into my life four years ago, she was what I would call a reactive dog, lunging towards and barking viciously at any dog that walked past or came close to her.   In the first five years of her life with another family, she had obviously learned to protect herself by behaving in a threatening manner.   In her mind, each time she aggressed, she kept herself safe by making sure no dog came into her space, and by the time she came to live with me, the behavior was so deeply ingrained, it had become a well rehearsed ritual.  Fortunately I was able to temper her reaction and teach her a new way to cope and behave in similar situations.  The techniques I used meant I could change her behavior without physically punishing or imposing my will upon her in any way.  I just gave her choices.

Choice training is not a new concept, but is one that I have used for many years to guide dogs into making better decisions in all kinds of situations.  Because modern day dog training is still polluted by the more traditional punishment based methodology, choice training has been somewhat pushed into the background, but the beauty of this method is that it works, and yes, even with the aggressive or ‘red zone’ dogs. 

It saddens me how dogs are manipulated and pushed around.  For example I regularly see owners and trainers teaching their dogs to sit by pressing down on their poor animals’ backsides, or punishing them by poking, kicking or restraining them on their sides or backs in an effort to dominate and gain control.   The flawed idea that a dog will only learn to behave through force and fear is sad and misguided, but  people are still misled into thinking that these methods are the right way to go.  This leads to elevated stress levels that could be avoided if time was taken to understand how dogs’ learn and how they can be taught effectively.  Choice training is a beacon of hope in what is still a dominating world.

Sadie, my chocolate Labrador.

Sadie, my chocolate Labrador.

Choice training involves catching actions and behaviors that you like and marking them with rewards that your dog finds motivating.  These actions and behaviors can then be the dog’s ‘default’ behaviors that he or she can use in certain situations.  A default behavior gives the dog an alternative and makes him more positively confident in a situation that previously made him insecure.  The dog is then gradually exposed to increasingly stressful situations and is watched to see what alternative behavior he offers.  If the behavior is something that counters a previously undesirable behavior, the dog is rewarded. If he chooses negative behavior, he is quietly removed from the situation until he is in a place where he can learn again. 

The only way Sadie knew how to deal with a scary situation was to lunge and aggress.  Suppressing that behavior with punishment would have probably worked momentarily, but as in most cases, punitive suppression does not change the way a dog feels, but merely puts a bandage on the problem, which is likely to resurface again in a similar situation.  Not only that, it is simply wrong to punish a dog for being nervous or insecure and only serves to make the insecurity worse.  I changed Sadie’s behavior by showing her that not only was there another way to behave, but it actually made her feel better.

 I began by teaching her a variety of actions she could use, such as sit, walk on and watch me and paired her success with rewards she loved, which ensured that her learning process was a fun and enjoyable one.  I then taught her a combination of actions.  Whenever she looked at a dog in the distance, I said look and rewarded her for looking but not reacting.  I then asked her to watch me and when she turned her head towards me, she got another reward.   After many repetitions (and a very kind friend who brought her dog along and worked with us) she was eagerly looking at the strange dog and back at me because the action was now reinforcing for her.  I then faded out the food reward I gave her for looking at the dog and used it only at the end of the sequence – when she looked back at me.  As the dog came closer we continued with the sequence.  At no time did Sadie have her back to the approaching dog.  If Sadie reacted negatively at any point, I turned her away and took her to a place where she felt safer and learning could continue again.  Because Sadie is highly motivated by food she easily learned the process.  We quickly got to the point where she could watch the other dog walk past with no reaction whatsoever.

I repeated the sequence with a number of different dogs and then when I believed Sadie was ready to make her choice, faded my cues out of the picture.   Would she used the series of alternative behaviors I had taught her or revert back to lunging and aggressing?  I gave her a loose lead and stood still, as a dog that Sadie had never seen before, approached.   Saying and doing nothing I waited for her to make her choice.  Each time she looked at the dog and back at me I smiled and quietly praised her, but at no time did I issue a cue or do anything else.  When the dog walked by, Sadie watched him and then looked back at me.  I could see in her eyes how happy she was and rewarded her for her bravery.  She knew she had accomplished something that day, and as we continued over the next several weeks, her confidence increased and her new ‘choice’ behavior became fixed. 

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is for me to see a dog learn, think for themselves and grow in confidence through success.   It is what makes my job so rewarding.  Of course, I start the process by giving dogs’ alternatives, but at the end of the day they are the ones that make the final choice.  The beauty of this training is that it encourages dogs to think for themselves while gaining confidence from the choices they make, without being pushed, punished or physically manipulated in any way.  My presence was still important for many months, as it gave Sadie confidence, but she was gradually able to walk with other people and is now even greeting other dogs successfully on and off the leash. Lunging and barking was not only stressful for her, but exhausting.   Her ‘choice’ in comparison, requires little energy and the rewards are much more satisfying for her.   Sadie will never be a highly social dog because of her past experiences, but she now has a group of canine friends that has made her life infinitely more rewarding.

Choice teaching is a great method for teaching all kinds of reactive and fearful dogs, but can also be useful when teaching pups and adults simple cues.  For example when I teach a dog to ‘sit’ on cue, all I do is find out what motivates the dog, be it a toy or treat, and hold the motivator in front of them.  The dog then has to work out how he is going to get the reward out of my hand.  He might try a variety of actions such as pawing, licking or nibbling at my hand but the reward is not given until he puts his bottom on the ground.  As soon as he does so, he gets the reward and this is repeated again and again until I am ready to put a cue word to the action of sitting. 

For so long dog training has been about force, fear and physical manipulation, which renders the dog into some kind of performing robot and doesn’t allow for the dog to think for himself.  It might sound strange to those well versed in the more dominant style of training, but all dogs, regardless of breed and drive, have evolved to have excellent problem solving skills, and therefore have the ability to think for themselves, be guided to listen, take direction and make the right choices.  

Behavior enrichment for rodents: how to have a happier, healthier pet

guinea pig and coffee cupEnrichment is a big buzz word in the field of animal behavior. According to the Encarta Dictionary,” enrichment” is defined as “to enhance or improve the quality of something usually by adding something else to it.” Whether this term is applied to the behavior of a dog, cat, bird, fish, or other animal, the notion is the same: enrichment is the provision of items or activities that improve the quality of that animal’s life.

When people hear the word “rodent,” they generally think of pesky vermin scurrying around. But actually, many rodents are commonly kept pets such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, mice, domesticated rats, and degus (in the rat family). All of these animals can make great pets when they are cared for properly with the right diet and proper housing. Unfortunately, many people get these animals as pets and don’t realize that in addition to good food, a safe cage, and clean bedding, these pets – just like cats and dogs – need environmental stimulation to be happy and to thrive. Many wild rodents are very social animals living with numerous others of their own kind in their normal habitat. In the wild, they have “jobs” – searching for food, finding mates, building nests. Most rodents nest in communities and share parental responsibilities. They spend 30-50% of the time they are awake grooming each other. When young rodents are separated from their mothers, they often show an increase in disease, are more anxious and aggressive, and are less likely to play.

Captive rodents that are kept caged and not given anything to play with or to chew on commonly develop behavior problems including barbering (chewing hair off themselves), repetitive behaviors (such as cage bar chewing, jumping, digging, and running in patterns), fighting, cannibalism (of their mates and babies), and repetitive teeth chattering. Studies have shown that rodents provided with different forms of environmental enrichment do not develop these undesirable behaviors.

If you have a pet rodent, there are many ways to provide enrichment. Here are just a few:

Social interaction – in general, many pet rodents, depending on their species, do better in groups. There are species differences, though. Mice normally live in groups with 1 dominant male and several females and young. Mature males housed together may fight. Rats generally do better living in same-sex groups. Guinea pigs may be housed together but mature males also may fight. Gerbils live in large mixed-sex colonies in wild, so they generally can be housed this way in captivity but must be monitored for overcrowding and fighting. Finally, hamsters are usually not social; they should be housed individually.

If you are planning to introduce a new rodent into another one’s territory, there are a few important things to keep in mind.  First, scent or smell is a very important sense in these animals; new individuals should be introduced only into partially cleaned cages so that they can smell the original animal before actually meeting him. Second, the cage must be large enough to house more than one animal. Twice the number of animals means twice the needed space. Overcrowding can lead to fighting, injury, and even death.  Third, all introductions should be done gradually and monitored carefully. Don’t just put the new pet in and leave, expecting cage-mates to work it out. Both the new and the original animals may be stressed initially – sometimes hiding and not eating for a day or two. These animals must be watched closely to ensure that neither becomes ill and that eventually they both settle in. If not, they may not be compatible. Finally, realize that if you house opposite sexes together, you will definitively end up with babies unless you neuter one of the pair. A rodent-savvy veterinarian can give you advice about the best strategy to deal with this if you are faced with this situation.

Light exposure- many rodents are nocturnal or crepuscular (most active during dawn and dusk). For these animals, in particular, the presence of flickering fluorescent-type lights or long periods of daylight may induce stress. Short-term exposure (10-20 minutes, 1-2 times/day) to low-level natural sunlight is best for most rodents. This can be accomplished in warm weather by placing the cage next to an open window or moving the cage with a wire mesh top outside so that direct sunlight can come through it. Remember, if you do take your rodent’s cage outside or put it in a window, be sure to protect your pets from predators, don't allow them to overheat, and provide them with hiding spots. Rodents benefit from short periods of direct sunlight not only because of the behavioral effects, but also because of the health effects. Direct sunlight exposure may decrease bone density problems by promoting vitamin D production in the skin. So, short periods of sunlight can be beneficial both behaviorally and physically.

Substrate enrichment – substrate is the material that you provide at the bottom of the cage. Different species have different preferences for substrate. Mice, gerbils, and hamsters like deep bedding for nest building and to maintain their high body temperatures. For these animals, bedding colored close to their fur color should be provided so that they feel safer blending into their environment. Types of bedding that work well for these pets are shredded paper or newspaper, tissue, and commercially available soft paper bedding such as Carefresh.®  Guinea pigs may be housed on flat surfaces covered with paper bedding and hay. Chinchillas need to be kept at cooler temperatures, since their thick coats make them overheat easily. They may be housed on flat surfaces covered with paper bedding and hay. They also need to roll around in a fine sandy dust (available in most pet stores) to remove oil and to decrease moisture on their skin. This dust mimics the material they bathe in in the wild to clean their fur. If it is very humid, they may actually require a dehumidifier to maintain their skin and coats.

Regardless of the species, to increase the enrichment experience, you can provide more than one type of substrate in different areas of cage at different times of day. Substrate should be changed regularly to decrease ammonia build up from urine, but since familiar scent is so important in decreasing stress in rodents’ lives, only partial bedding changes should be performed so they don't have abrupt change in smell.

Toy enrichment – all rodent species live more happily and have fewer behavioral problems when provided with toys. All species like to run on wheels. Wheels should be smooth-sided inside to ensure safe footing (without holes to get feet caught and without a rough surface that can be abrasive to feet). If there is more than one rodent in a cage, there must be an adequate number of wheels for everyone, or cage-mates may fight for access. In addition to wheels, hiding areas are essential for rodents.  They are especially important in making animals feel safe. Cardboard boxes and tubes (from paper towels and toilet paper) and plastic hide-outs (Tupperware containers with a door cut out) work well. Hiding spots are environmentally enriching to rodents, but their use may need to be limited if they subdivide the cage and promote territoriality and aggression.

Foraging enrichment – providing small objects to interact with is essential for all rodents.  For smaller species (mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters), great things to try are pine cones (which must be free of parasites and sap and from untreated trees) and deep bedding for tunneling. For guinea pigs and chinchillas, items to try are grass cubes and straw to gnaw on (hay woven into small huts, tunnels, mats, and twists commercially available from Oxbow® Animal Health work great) and cardboard hide-outs. Ensure there are an adequate number of hide-outs to prevent fighting for access. For all rodent species, small wood branches from untreated trees free of sap and parasites can be terrific foraging toys. Other great foraging toys for rodents are commercially available, as well, from sites such as www.BusyBunny.com and www.bio-serv.com. The best thing about many rodent toys is whether you make your own enrichment toys of purchase them, they can serve as a food source, a hideout, and a play object all at once. Now, what other species can be so versatile? Rodents really are neat little pets.

*Adapted from M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), Rodent Enrichment, Proceeding s  Association Avian Vet, 2012;63-68.

The Grazing Game

The Grazing Game Can Change Behavior and Emotions.The easiest, scientifically endorsed methods to train and socialize your dog involve food. If we couldn’t go to the grocery store and bring home bags of groceries, we would be asking, “Who’s got the food? What can I do for the people who have the food!”

Use your dog's ration of food calories to train basic skills and to help your dog overcome socialization difficulties. Food can be used as a reward, to enhance emotional connections and dispel fear. It can effectively focus, redirect, distract, and calm a hyperactive, fearful, or noise-phobic dog, and to safely treat all types of aggression.

Dogs are born scavengers. Setting up grazing opportunities gives your dog a dog-job he likes that keeps him out of trouble. Grazing Games are naturally occurring species-specific activities your dog is designed to enjoy. They're both mentally and physically stimulating for your dog. All dogs including geriatric, grieving and and dogs recovering from injuries find grazing fun.

"Rocco" Busy at work doing his dog-job. Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

"Rocco" Busy at work doing his dog-job. Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

Here’re some of my favorite Grazing Games:

  • Scatter Breakfast and/or Dinner. No need to feed from a bowl. That’s something humans, not dogs, like to do. Your dog will find every last piece of premium-quality kibble you’ve thrown out on the patio, walkways, or lawn while you read the newspaper and have your coffee.
  • Use Food to Change Emotions. Desensitize fear of the yard, car, location, noise, person, or other dog, by scattering high-value food paired with a low intensity version of the feared stimulus.
  • Separation Anxiety/Housetraining. Pet parents often mistake a separation anxiety issue for a housetraining problem. If you suspect your dog may be afraid to go outside without you, scatter kibble for grazing in the yard – just not on the elimination area.
  • Housetraining Accidents. Scatter treats over thoroughly cleaned urination and defection areas. Dogs don’t like to eliminate where they eat.
  • Crate training. Scatter food over the floor of the crate to diffuse fearfulness.
  • Environmental Enhancement. Grazing makes almost any environment feel safer and interesting.

Animal behavior icons from B.F. Skinner to Pavlov and progressive zoos worldwide, control very large and potentially dangerous animals by using the power of food judiciously and wisely. Your dog is easy by comparison!

Linda Michaels, MA, Del Mar’s “dog psychologist” and Victoria Stilwell-licensed trainer, canine behavioral consultant and speaker, may be reached at www.DogPsychologistOnCall.com or 858.259.9663.

Orginally published for the UT San Diego newspaper. Chris Ross, Editor. All rights reserved.






Why Are Dogs Aggressive

Defining what aggression means is not easy, because there are so many variables associated with what is a highly complex behavior. But by investigating the function served by an aggressive act as well as why it occurs and what result it achieves from the dog’s point of view, we can begin to gain a better understanding. At its core, aggressive behavior addresses the dog’s need to increase distance from a perceived danger and includes threat and action displays, ranging from a subtle lip lift to a deep bite. In most cases the intention is not so much to harm as it is to change the “threat’s” behavior by making it go away.

Aggression is deeply rooted in the dog’s instinctual need for safety. Growling, snapping, lunging, and biting are critical ways of communicating intent, and whether that intent is to warn, intimidate, resolve conflict, increase distance, defend, or cause harm, it’s designed to ensure personal safety and survival. Even on an emotional level, when a dog is fearful, frustrated, angry, anxious, stressed, or in pain, safety is of paramount importance. Most dogs don’t live their lives walking on eggshells, but the functional need for safety is intricately woven into most aspects of aggressive behavior.

Of course, there are those who explain all aggressive behavior in terms of dominance, but as we now know, using the “d word” to describe every dog’s intent can be misleading.  Because the term itself suggests a preconceived plan by the dog to use aggression as a means of establishing an elevated status over others, this fuels an owner’s anger and encourages a rank reduction protocol involving punishment, confrontation, and other unpleasant methods to establish an owner’s authority, which in turn increases the likelihood that the dog will aggress again in the future.

Although aggressive behavior is an effective way for dogs to control their environment, affect behavior in others, ensure priority access to resources, and achieve reproductive success, using the dog’s supposed desire to be the ‘alpha’  to explain why dogs aggress does not do justice to what is really going on in the dog’s mind.  A more accurate explanation lies in the fact that if a dog has not been taught how to function successfully in a domestic environment he will behave the only way he knows how. He may control access to food, space, furniture, or other things that provide comfort and pleasure, by aggressing, but this is more likely done out of fear that he will lose access to those resources and not because he wants to  be “above” everyone else in the household.

So if attaining the position of ‘alpha’ is not the root cause of domestic dogs’ aggressive behavior, what is?

Genetics, health, age, sex, fear, an imbalance of brain chemicals, hormones, and whether the dog is intact or neutered--all are factors that influence aggression. Studies show, for example, that due to higher testosterone levels, intact male dogs between eighteen months and two years of age have a greater incidence of aggression than females or neutered males. It is also important to point out that even though dogs can bite when in pain and because of other medical reasons, there are some cases of aggression that simply cannot be easily explained. These cases are categorized as idiopathic (unexplained) aggression, which manifests itself as a sudden explosion absent of any known trigger. Idiopathic aggression has been linked to chemical disturbances in the brain, such as canine epilepsy.

There is a clear link between anger, anxiety, and fear-based aggressive behavior. This has recently been demonstrated by Dr. Karen Overall of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of Pennsylvania, who found that dogs with a history of aggression problems have levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones similar to those of dogs that suffer from fear and anxiety. When a dog aggresses, he surpasses his stress threshold, causing his limbic system (the emotional brain) to take over as he prepares for flight or fight. When this occurs, the cerebral cortex (the learning brain) is inhibited, explaining why it is so hard to get a dog’s attention and encourage him to learn when he is reacting, as he is at that moment incapable of rational thought. To overcome this situation, a punitive trainer would try to suppress the aggressive outburst with punishment, whereas a positive trainer would immediately remove the dog from the stressor by quickly walking him away or creating some distraction to cut through the reaction. Only when the dog is in a calmer state can he begin to learn again. The secret to successfully treating aggression is to never put your dog in a situation where he goes over his stress threshold. Achieving this requires sensitive, compassionate handling and the manipulation of his environment to set him up for success while working on ways to change the way he feels about a particular stressor.

Unfortunately, we cannot sit down with our dogs and ask them how they feel, but we can observe them closely to understand why they feel. Helping an aggressive dog become more confident by teaching it to see a perceived threat or potential loss of a valued resource in a different light is the key to successfully changing the behavior. For some dogs this can be achieved in a relatively short period of time, but others require more time; each dog learns at a different pace. Positive reinforcement is the most effective philosophy to use in these cases, because the methods have a lasting impact, even on the “red zone” dogs.

Owners want quick fixes for their dog’s aggressive behavior because they worry about what damage their dog may do, but the “quick fix” idea demeans a dog’s emotional experience and is psychologically unachievable. When a dog is suffering from anxiety or fear, it is sheer foolishness to profess that he can be “fixed” quickly; this idea of “success” is dangerous and fundamentally wrong.

Imagine what would happen if people who suffered from chronic fear or attacks of anxiety went to their psychotherapists and were guaranteed they’d be “cured” in an hour, a day, or even a couple of weeks. Those therapists wouldn’t be in business for long. Successfully addressing fear and anxiety-related behaviors in both humans and dogs takes time, patience, and an understanding of what’s going on in the brain and body. It’s true that some positive behavioral modification processes take more time and work on the front end, but the result is a lifetime of positively changed behavior. Quick fixes may suppress the behavior at that moment, but because they don’t actually change it, you could spend a lifetime dealing with the problem

A dog needs time and support to change the way he feels emotionally; punitive training only puts a bandage on the problem without really addressing the cause and changing the way the dog feels inside. Even though it may look like the dog is “behaving” better, continual suppression of aggressive behavior through punishment is very dangerous because every incident creates another negative experience for a dog that is already a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Unlike other manifestations of aggressive behavior, predatory aggression is not emotionally driven and is largely influenced by genetics. Some dogs do find it reinforcing to chase other animals or moving objects as it fulfills an instinctive need but this is only the beginning of the predatory sequence. Humans have bred the desire to bite and kill out of the domestic dog, but occasionally a deeper instinct takes over. Although many dogs, including my Sadie, enjoy shaking and disemboweling stuffed toys, this sequence does not translate to live animals or people. Herding breeds are adept at eyeing, stalking, and chasing their “prey,” but they will seldom attack and kill the animals they are herding. Dogs that are motivated by the chase, grab, bite, and kill part of the sequence can be very dangerous to live with, especially around small animals and children.

Aggressive behavior serves many important functions for dogs; it is a deeply rooted natural instinct that ensures reproductive success, safety, and survival. If aggression is successful it can be an effective way to repel a perceived threat and to control resources, space, and environment. On an emotional level, aggression causes extreme stress for dogs, especially if triggered by a traumatic incidence, abusive handling, or an inability to cope with continually changing environments. Regardless of its origins or intent in the dog’s life, aggression is almost never a useful or wanted behavior in any domestic environment and must be treated appropriately in order to preserve the well-being of the dog, the environment, and his human family.

You can find more about aggression and workable solutions for aggressive behavior in my new book, Train Your Dog Positively.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney’s Top Five Holistic Pet Cancer Prevention Tips

Cancer is a disease that we veterinarians are diagnosing more frequently in pets. According to the Morris Animal Foundation, “1 in 2 dogs will develop cancer and 1 in 4 dogs will die of the disease.”As there is no guarantee for a cure, we should strive to prevent our pets from developing cancer in the first place.Yet, as cancer is a complicated disease of the immune system involving excessive growth of cells that have altered DNA, the origins of the disease never have a singular or finite cause. Therefore, there is no absolute guarantee that our best efforts to prevent cancer from happening will guarantee a desired outcome (i.e., having a pet never develop cancer).

May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, so I want to emphasize the concept that making healthy lifestyle choices can provide a better state of overall wellness and potentially reduce the likelihood that cancer may occur. Although there is no fail proof cancer preventive tactic, here are my top five tips to help keep your pet cancer free.

1. Physical Examination — Take a DIY approach paired with your veterinarian’s evaluation

Owners can take a proactive, holistic approach to their pets’ health by placing their hands on their canine or feline companions on a daily basis to perform a DIY (Do It Yourself) version of a physical exam. Frequent, tactile examination of a pet’s body permits pet owners to detect areas of discomfort, heat or swelling, skin lesions or masses, or other abnormalities that can then be brought to a veterinarian’s attention.

All pets should have a physical examination by a veterinarian at least every 12 months (more frequently for juvenile, geriatric, and sick pets). During the exam, all organ systems can be evaluated through the veterinarian’s scrutinizing perspective. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, lungs, digestive tract, lymph nodes, skin, neurologic function, and urogenital (urinary and reproductive parts) and musculoskeletal systems must operate normally to achieve whole body health. Body weight and temperature should also be assessed during teach visit.


2. Vaccinations — To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question

Have you considered the necessity of updating a vaccination just because the recommended time to booster has arrived? Will getting all of your pet’s vaccinations “up to date” really make your pet healthier? Is your pet even healthy enough to be vaccinated? You should be asking yourself and your veterinarian all these questions before your pet is “given its shot.”

As an individual and public health preventive tactic, humans vaccinate pets against certain organisms that could cause severe illness or death. Companion canines and felines should be vaccinated under state-mandated guidelines and the discretion of the attending veterinarian.

Vaccinations should only be given to a pet that is in the utmost state of health. Animals showing any signs of illness (lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) or having known diseases (cancer, immune mediated disease, etc.) that could be worsened by a vaccine-induced immune system response should not be vaccinated; at least at that time.

Blood testing for antibodies (immune system proteins involved in managing infectious organisms that attempt to enter the body) can determine if the patient already has mounted an adequate immune response from a previous vaccination.


3. Focus on whole food instead of processed food

The foods our pets eat and the liquids they drink are the building blocks of body tissues and the foundation of overall health. Without consuming appropriate quantities of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water, organs ultimately suffer and ailments emerge.

Before feeding your pet a particular commercially available food or treat, look closely at the ingredients and ask yourself if you would consume it. Many people who feed their pets conventional dry or canned foods may resist the idea of eating the types of diets made for our canine or feline companions. I completely understand this perspective, as most pet foods are made with feed-grade ingredients. (See Are You Poisoning Your Companion Animal by Feeding 'Feed-Grade' Foods?)

Why should we feed our pets nutrients that we would not eat ourselves? Do they deserve to eat less than the highest quality meats, vegetables, and grains? When we feed our pets food that has been significantly modified from the way nature intended and that potentially contains ingredients that are poorer quality and have higher allowable levels of toxins (some of which are carcinogenic, like mycotoxin) than the foods we eat, we are doing a disservice to our pets’ health.

Instead of processed pet foods, consider a commercially available or home prepared diet formulated from whole-food based ingredients.Home prepared recipes that are balanced and complete can be scientifically formulated via the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Nutrition Support Service or companies like BalanceIT.


4. Reduce Calories and Keep Body Condition Slim

In ever growing numbers, pets show the significant health consequences of being overfed by their caretakers. Diseases of the heart, kidney, liver, pancreas (diabetes), musculoskeletal (arthritis, disk disease) system, urinary tract, skin, and cancer are all associated with being overweight or obese.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 54 percent of pets in the United States are overweight or obese (an astounding 89 million cats and dogs). Excess weight increases the body’s overall level of inflammation, which promotes cancer cell growth. Being overweight or obese has a well documented correlation with canine bladder and mammary cancer.

Always feed your pet a quantity at the lower end (or less) of the recommended guidelines according to the food’s manufacturer (or home prepared recipe). Minimize extra calories from pet treats and only give human foods that are high in fiber and low in caloric density (vegetables, etc.).

Make time every day to engage in calorie-burning activities with your canine or feline companion. Dogs can be taken for longer or more intense walks or hikes. Cats can chase a feather toy or laser pointer, eat from elevated surfaces, or be required to retrieve portions of their food from puzzle-style toys.


5.  Reduce Day to Day Exposure to Toxins

Toxic exposure can initiate a variety of negative internal organ system changes in your pet. Air, water, soil, food, plants, and other substances all hold the potential to create short or long term toxicity in companion animals. Some chemicals commonly used as herbicides are associated with bladder cancer (Transitional Cell Carcinoma = TCC) in Scottish Terriers.

Strive to reduce your pet’s exposure to toxins in your home or yard by:

  • Not allowing your pet outside unless under control of a responsible adult
  • Walking your pet on a short lead
  • Pet proofing your home and yard to remove appealing substances that may be inappropriately ingested (trash, feces, plants, still water, etc.)
  • Using only pet-safe cleaning products and cleaning all chemical residues from the surfaces your pet’s body comes into contact with (as self-grooming can lead to ingestion of chemicals)
  • Reading all food and treat labels and only feeding your pets products that are free from meat and grain meals and by-products, rendered fat, animal digest, carrageenans, food dyes, meat and bone meal, and chemical preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, etc.)

The five tips I’ve presented here merely scratch the surface of the means by which pet owners can help maintain or improve an overall state of health and wellness in pets of all ages.

What steps do you take to reduce your pet’s chances of developing cancer?

Are You Poisoning Your Companion Animal by Feeding ‘Feed-Grade’ Foods?

In my holistic veterinary practice, I’m continually striving to educate my clients that by feeding their pets "nutritionally complete and balanced" dry or canned food, they may be involuntarily providing a daily dose of toxins that otherwise unlikely to appear in foods consumed by humans.  With this knowledge, I challenge them really consider why they are feeding pet foods containing “feed-grade” ingredients in the first place.

First, let’s get some background on the multitude of issues that have stemmed from people electing to feed pet food to their canine and feline companions.

In 2007, an international pet food crisis caused dogs and cats to suffer kidney failure and even death after eating foods containing wheat gluten contaminated with melamine. The foods had been produced in China. This tragedy prompted U.S. pet owners to finally become more observant of the ingredients and nutritional value of commercial foods they had been so faithfully feeding to their companion animals. After all, if meals are built on the foundations of being cheaply produced and containing less than bioavailable ingredients, how will your pet’s physiologic needs be met?

Contained in most commercially available dog and cat foods are a plethora of feed-grade ingredients. Dr. Janice Elenbaas, founder of Lucky Dog Cuisine, clarifies the meaning of feed-grade as being "any ingredient not fit for human consumption, including moldy grains and 'allowable' levels of plastic and Styrofoam. These are not acceptable in my (human) food, so why should they be acceptable in dog’s diet?  It’s no wonder that one in two dogs is being diagnosed with cancer."

Additionally, the ingredients in feed-grade foods include parts from animals that are dead (not from being slaughtered onsite), diseased, dying, and disabled (the "4Ds").

In Buyer Beware: The Crimes, Lies and Truth About Pet Food, Susan Thixton shares text from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FD&C Act), Section 402. Adulterated Food:

A food shall be deemed to be adulterated — (a) Poisonous, unsanitary, or deleterious ingredients … (5) if it is, in whole or in part, the product of a diseased animal or of an animal which has died otherwise than by slaughter.

This makes it sound like our pets’ safety as pertains to consumable foods is strictly overseen by the FDA, but that’s not the case. According to the FDA Compliance Policy CPG Sec. 675.400 Rendered Animal Feed Ingredients:

No regulatory action will be considered for animal feed ingredients resulting from the ordinary rendering process of industry, including those animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter, provided they are not otherwise in violation of the law.

These laws sound contradictory, and Thixton concurs in stating that "the FDA Compliance Policy is a direct violation of The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act." As a result, companies putting 4D animals into foods do not incur any regulatory or legal repercussion. Such policies do not bode well for the overall health of millions of pets (and some people) eating non-human grade ingredients.

What about the toxic effects of moldy grains?  According to Toxvet.com’s John Tegzes, VMD, Diplomate ABVT (toxicology):

“Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin most commonly associated with corn-based pet foods. Even very small amounts of aflatoxin can cause serious illness in dogs, often progressing to death. Aflatoxin primarily affects the cells within the liver and results in overwhelming liver failure. If the dose ingested is very high, pets may also develop sudden kidney failure. Even with treatment, most of these dogs will die. Chronic, low-dose exposures to aflatoxin can suppress the immune system and cause cancer.

Although it is impossible to see mycotoxins in grains, laboratory tests can identify their presence before the grain is incorporated into feeds. The FDA established specific guidelines about the amount of aflatoxin that can be detected in grains and still be used in either animal feeds or human food products. The allowable amounts in animal feeds are consistently higher than that for human-grade foods, therefore using only human-grade grains in pet foods will help reduce the incidence of poisonings in our pets”.

With such potential for pet foods to create a toxic effect, why do companion animal owners feel these are the best available nutritional options? Fortunately, companies that produce pet foods made with human-grade ingredients are emerging to satisfy the demands of consumers seeking options similar to home prepared food.

The standards for nutritional content as dictated by Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) create a challenge for pet owners who are interested in feeding home prepared foods.  Unfortunately, society has been misled to believe that our pets will suffer detrimental health effects if protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, vitamin, and mineral ratios are not specifically commensurate with industry standards. In extreme cases (100 % meat/bone diets, etc.) or with pets already dealing with illness, this has some validity. Otherwise, feeding a home prepared diet has many nutritional advantages over commercially available feed-grade sources even if the home prepared version is not 100 percent "complete and balanced."

I would rather feed my dog a combination of moist, human-grade, muscle meat protein, whole grains, and fresh vegetable and fruit options having a somewhat varying or unknown cumulative nutrient content rather than any commercially available dry or canned option made with feed-grade ingredients. This perspective is controversial in the veterinary profession, but my beliefs are based on ongoing clinical experience and common sense.

In my practice, if a client seeks to feed home prepared foods, I suggest a diet specific to my patient’s needs is formulated by veterinary nutritionists at the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Nutrition Support Service.  Alternatively, I recommend using a reputable service like Balance IT.  I prefer these guidelines, as the truly give the client an excellent foundation for ingredient options, portion control, and food preparation and safety.

In The Moment

Thank the good Lord for my pups. I'm over-the-hill, rough around the edges, not politically correct, pretty cynical about people, have a tendency towards sarcasm, more of a who the (beep) drank the water from my glass (none of that half empty/half full garbage) type of guy. My wife should be elevated to sainthood and Mr. Satan won't want me any more than Mr. God will. So what's my point?

Like I said, thank the good Lord for my pups. I've had a lot of dogs over the years, each very different and special. Topping the list is my deceased K9 partner Sanders who was my partner, my best friend, my boy. Next up are my current pups Joey and Rufus. Both are 'special needs' behavioral dogs, each with a complex set of fear issues but each who teach me so much every minute of every day about enjoying who they are and the world they live in.

Joey's big brother was Sanders. Sanders taught Joey everything from house-training to socializing with other dogs, good manners and that streams can be so much fun. Sander's sudden passing in 2010 left him devastated and changed certain aspects of his personality forever. Rufus was born and raised in 3 shelters before finding safety at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary at Dogtown. When we adopted him at 6 years of age, ours was the first human home he'd ever been in. Though he continues to have occasional heartbreaking events he has come such a long way.

The reason for the short history was to give you a quick look inside who my pups are, as I see them, an admitted failing on my part.  As far as they're concerned, they don't let many obstacles get in the way of enjoying every waking, and sleeping, moment, which is what makes our dogs so very, very special. They love to sleep; Joey on his back, Rufus on his side, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Play hard, sleep hard:) They wake up looking at me with the childlike wonderment of what each new day will bring. They find the simplest pleasure in venturing outside each morning, understanding that the night brought lots of other mammals through our yard and new smells from the skies just for them to sniff. Noses and tails high, they drink in the air, whether sun, rain, snow; hot or cold, but always with delight. For two years we watched Joey muzzle punch Rufus' flanks and pull his tail trying to get him to play and then one day, voila!, Rufus 'bootybumped' Joey, chased him and rolled onto his back so Joey could climb on- I don't know who was happiest, them or us! It was unbelievably exhilarating because Rufus finally found within himself the freedom to be a puppy.

Whether it's trail walking with them off lead, looking deep into their eyes as I rub their muzzles, Joey rooting through toys in the toy box, Rufus chasing deer, Joey jumping through my newspaper as I try to read it, both of them sleeping on the couch while my wife and I watch TV or Joey dancing on hind legs when he gets excited (which he does about anything and everything), I get to see them being dogs in their way, the way enjoyable to them, telling me in such simple terms what the truth about life is as they see it, not understanding why I don't see it like they do: rewarding, fascinating and fun.

When you look at your pups, forget what you see, see what they see and LIVE in the moment, SHARE in the moment and ENJOY the moment, for that moment will never come your way again. Don't miss out on the fun.


To read some of my other interesting views on things dog and human, please visit my website at www.samwike.com or check out my Facebook page, The Inner Dog.





Meet Wolfdog Journey!

If the thought of interacting with a wolflike creature makes your heart leap, meet wolfdog Journey, A cross of a wolf and a domestic dog several generations removed, Journey was selectively bred for social-butterfly abilities and wolflike appearance.

To Hear Journey Howl and Watch Him in Action, Click on Photo.
Courtesy of Wolf Creek Ranch

When he wags his tail, bobs his head and starts to wriggle, he’s saying, “Pet me!” People are joyfully surprised they can pet him. (To hear Journey howl click here or visit Linda Michaels YouTube Channel.)

Journey loves people, traveling and new challenges. His public appearances help to debunk the Big Bad Wolf myth and to raise awareness of our precious, endangered wolves in the wild, as well as those in rescues and sanctuaries.

Approaching his second birthday, Journey weighs in at 90 pounds and can stand at 5 feet, 9 inches. He eats species-appropriate raw food, peppered with a variety of wholistic supplements.

Journey lives at Wolf Creek Ranch with his pet parent Julie. He loves the family cats, running his acre pasture, and watching goats and llamas grazing.

Journey is also a “poster pup” for dog-walking harnesses.

“It’s a matter of mutual respect,” Julie tells us.

At four weeks of age Journey was “placed in a shopping cart and into the store he went,” says Julie. They went to busy public places each day for the first year of his life. Now he strives to meet as many people as possible. Journey was raised with and adores children.

Journey’s been seen locally at the Balboa Park Powwow, Del Mar and Lowes Surf-Dog-a-Thons, Thanksgiving Dog Day, Bates Nut Farm Kennel Club Dog Show, and the Del Mar Pet Expo.

Wolfdog ownership requires a serious lifelong commitment, thorough research, appropriate housing and acreage, early ultra-socialization, and training the Positive Reinforcement way. Just looking at and petting Journey is a bucket-list dream come true.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n’ Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.

Endnotes:  I wrote this article knowing it to be a controversial subject, however, I've never run from controversy if I feel there is an injustice when it concerns animals.  The literature on wolfdogs suggests that each animal should be judged individually....just as any dog ought to be as well, but even more so in the case of wolf-dogs. There is no way to make accurate statements about them as a group from what I  understand.

I did my due diligence researching statistics on bites comparing wolfdogs to domesticated breeds. Reported bites from wolfdogs are not as prevalent as some other domesticated dog breeds. BSL (breed specific legislation) is proposed for a number of breeds, including wolfdogs.  I believe that socialization and behavior modification are key, and that training trumps genetics in most cases of domesticated and wolfdogs. It's absolutely true that wolfdogs require very, very early ultra-socialization and continued frequent and regular socialization and training throughout their lives if they are to interact with the public.

If one examines the relevant research, that notably includes the fox studies in Russia, we see that selectively breeding for friendliness to human is indeed possible and may be accomplished in just a few generations...much to the surprised of the lead investigating scientists, I may add. This information is now widely available and accessible, such as here on Wikipedia, as well as documented in peer-reviewed scholarly journals.

Here's an except about the conclusions drawn: "The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebearers."

There will always be individual stories that stray from the norm. However, I stand with Nicole Wilde who wrote, "Living with Wolfdogs", and "Wolfdogs A-Z". On the first page she thanks Dr. Ian Dunbar, Animal Behavior Ph.D, renowned canine expert, and Veterinarian for his encouragement.

I hope everyone understands, I'm not advocating for breeding or having these animals for the average pet owner. This animal and others I've worked with are being used to help educate the public in order to try to save our wolves in the wild. I find that a worthy cause.

The San Diego Zoo uses wolfdogs not only in their behind the scene shows but also parades them around the grounds for people to observe and enjoy. Wolfdogs can be used to help rehabilitate the Big Bad Wolf image so people CAN get close which was a thrill of a lifetime for me.

My personal experience with wolfdogs was mostly a great surprise, as I arrived with my own bias. They are extremely intelligent... wolves having brains 30% larger than the domesticated dog on average, they learn quickly.

Breeding laws vary from state to state, so it's a complicated mix of possible actual wolf-content that may be legal in your state. In California, for example, breeding wolves with dogs ended in about 1976 and since that time the lines are wolfdog to wolfdog offspring, with the content weakening across time as people mix in more domesticated dog. The idea is to LOOK like a wolf, not behave like one... although wolves in wild are generally fearful, not aggressive toward people which is largely misunderstood.

I expect the controversy will rage on!

Problem Parrots and Progress With the Positive

Birds are screaming. People are screaming back. Every spring, as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, birds scream more. While some pet parrots scream every season, many scream more during spring when their hormones get revved up as they are looking to breed.

Wild parrots scream, too. They scream at sunrise to start their day and to search for breakfast. They scream at dusk as the flock gathers to eat dinner. But what is a natural behavior for wild parrots is an annoyance to many pet parrot owners, especially those that live in small homes with close by neighbors who don’t share their love for these very vocal pets. So, what do parrot owners do when their pets scream? Often, they start to scream back, only perpetuating the cycle of screaming.

Pet parrots scream for other reasons. The main reason they scream is to get their owners’ attention. They scream, and their owners respond (even if just to run to the cage to yell back at them to stop screaming). Positive reinforcement of the screaming behavior starts. The parrot screams, the owner comes. So the parrot will continue to scream, so that the owner will continue to come, and the cycle of positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior is established.

Screaming is not the only behavior that bird owners inadvertently reinforce. The same occurs with biting. When bird owners want their birds to come to them, they generally hold out their hands in front of their birds and say, “Step up.”  However, sometimes birds are occupied with other activities (eating, playing with toys, etc.) and don’t want to step up at that moment. So, they express their lack of cooperation by biting their owners’ hands. Consequently, owners may scream (unwittingly positively reinforcing the biting behavior by responding to it with attention) and remove their hands (also positively reinforcing the biting, because now the birds have achieved what they wanted - not having to step up). Thus, another cycle of positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior is established.

What can parrot (or dog, or cat, or any pet) owners do if their animals scream and bite and drive them crazy? Unfortunately, owners in these situations often end up ignoring their pets completely or relinquishing them to others who are more tolerant of these behaviors. With birds, this happens particularly after a few years, when the birds reach sexual maturity and are hormonally driven to scream and bite more. What these bird owners don’t know is that with just a few minutes of training each day, many of these pet-owner relationships can be saved, and owners can learn to enjoy their pets again.

As I am frequently reminded by my mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman, and other behavior specialists, behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Behavior is learned, in part, either to achieve something good (such as attention from an owner) or to avoid something bad (such as having to step up on a hand when you don’t want to). This same is true for all behaviors performed by both animals and people. Behavior is repeated because it accomplishes something for the performer. If you think about it, why else would a behavior be repeated if it didn’t?

I teach parrot owners who bring their parrots with behavior problems to me that they can use the principle of positive reinforcement to help solve these behavior issues. Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding an animal’s behavior with something valuable to that specific animal (i.e. a food treat, verbal praise, a head scratch, etc.). For this training to work, the reward must be something very valuable to that particular animal, and what is rewarding to one pet might not be to another. For example, I may love pepperoni pizza and be willing to do anything for it, while you may hate it and ignore any request to perform a behavior that rewards you with pepperoni pizza. The same is true for animals that have likes and dislikes. Thus, it is critical that an owner trying to modify behavior with positive reinforcement training determine what makes his individual pet happy. The best way to do this is to watch the pet as it plays and eats to see what food and objects the animal seeks out. Once the owner figures out what is most rewarding to his pet, he can use this information in a training program to modify undesirable behavior.

In trying to eliminate problem behavior, an owner can start by positively reinforcing a more desirable behavior that the pet already knows (i.e. for a bird, tapping the beak on the cage) to accomplish the same end for the pet (i.e. getting the owner’s attention or signaling to the owner an unwillingness to step up). Ultimately, the animal will no longer have to perform the undesirable behavior (screaming or biting) to accomplish the same end. Eventually, the undesirable behavior will go away, because if it is no longer positively reinforced, as now the beak tapping is, the undesirable behavior is no longer as rewarding to the pet as is the more desirable behavior of beak tapping.

Pet owners also can teach animals new behaviors (for a bird, for example, ringing a bell) by positively reinforcing these new behaviors initially when they occur accidentally or unpredictably. With repeated positive reinforcement of these new behaviors (i.e. giving the bird attention or a food treat every time it rings the bell), these newly learned behaviors may ultimately be used to help replace problem behaviors if these new behaviors can be positively reinforced in the situations that usually elicit the problem behavior. For example, if a bird screams every time an owner leaves the room, the owner should wait to come back into the room until the bird is no longer screaming but is ringing the bell. By going to the bird then and praising it or giving it a treat, the ringing behavior becomes much more rewarding to the bird than the screaming (which ultimately should go away because it is no longer rewarded). Simple, right?

So, if you own a bird or other pet with a problem behavior, and you are willing to work at it, problems behaviors can be eliminated, and the pet-owner bond can be re-established. All it takes is some patience and a few minutes every day. Remember, however, that animals aren’t machines; like us, they have good days and bad days, and when you are teaching them a new behavior, they may take a few steps forward and an occasional step back. There is no magic solution or quick fix to solving problem behaviors, and behavior takes ongoing practice to be maintained. However, with a little daily practice and long term dedication, you and your pet can live harmoniously together once again.

For help with problem parrots or any other issues related to the health and behavior of birds or other exotic pets, Dr. Hess can be reached through her websites, www.LaurieHessDVM.com and www.avianexoticsvet.com.

Train Your Dog Positively Book Excerpt

An exclusive excerpt from Victoria's new book, Train Your Dog Positively, which is available from March 19th in the US:

Studying the Study

The shocking result of a study on the effects of early neutering in Golden Retrievers was recently released in the online journal Plos One.  Goldens neutered early, before one year of age, were judged more likely to develop hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears, and some forms of cancer than those dogs left intact or neutered after a year of age.  Golden lovers began calling and emailing me with questions and concerns as soon as the popular press picked up the story.

Most of the dogs we teach at Canine Assistants are Goldens.  Maybe that’s why people wanted to know my take on the study.  Perhaps I was an easy way to access the opinion of my veterinarian husband, Kent Bruner, whose practice at Canine Assistants consists primarily of Goldens.  Regardless of the reason, I was enthusiastic to review the findings of this research…until, that is, I actually studied the study.

The researchers obtained data on nearly 800 Goldens Retrievers, an enormous number for this type of project.  It is extremely rare to see a study on dogs as a species, let alone on a single breed, with such a large sample size.  But, while the amount of data collected is impressive, the source of the data concerns me deeply.  The dogs were all patients at the Veterinary Medical Hospital, University of California, Davis.

UC Davis is a fantastic veterinary teaching hospital, offering cutting edge care for those breeders and pet parents who want the very best for their animals.  It’s the type of place you turn when your beloved dog needs specialized treatment for major problems such as hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears, cancer, and infertility.  All the data collected came from a very small population of dogs---those seen at UC Davis.  That one fact makes any conclusions drawn from the data suspect.

Consider the finding that Goldens neutered before one year of age are more likely to develop hip dysplasia or have cruciate ligament tears than those left intact or neutered after a year of age.  At a vet school, most of the intact dogs seen belong to breeders who have retained those specific animals for breeding, at least in part, because they have good hips and conformation that makes cruciate ligament tears less likely.  It makes sense then that few of the intact Goldens seen at a vet school would have hip dysplasia or cruciate ligament tears.  At the same time, those pet guardians who would take their dogs to a vet school for treatment of hip dysplasia or ligament tears most likely neutered their pets early as part of their commitment to responsible care.

Likewise, committed pet guardians, those who usually neuter early, are the individuals most likely to take their dogs to a veterinary school or specialty center for cancer treatment.  Good breeders, especially Golden breeders, are very committed to breeding only dogs whose bloodline shows no evidence of early cancers.  So, much like with orthopedic issues, the dogs most likely to be seen at a veterinary teaching hospital with cancer are those belonging to guardians who probably, responsibly, neutered them early.

So are the findings of this study valid in any way?  I have absolutely no idea.  There isn’t any way to know for certain unless the same large amount of data can be collected from sources less likely to produce skew the results---meaning a cross-section of all Goldens not just those taken to specialty hospitals.  Previous studies with smaller sample sizes have reported inconsistent results.  So, for now at least, my pet dogs will continue to be spayed or neutered before one-year of age.

PS-Below is a link to the article for those of you who want to read it.


Exercise with Your Dog: Burn Calories While Your Dog Plays Fetch!

It's early in the New Year, and no doubt many have vowed to exercise and get into shape. But do you look at your dog and feel guilty that you're working out instead of playing with him? How about incorporating your dog into a cardio, calorie-burning workout? Sure, you could just go running or biking with your dog. Or you could use your workout to work on your dog's down-stay, come when called, and to play fetch. With the help of Igor Seriba, instructor at Hideshi's FitnessGarage, I"ll introduce you to a fun cardio workout, that includes speed and agility for you, that you can do while training and playing with your dog.

How Does the Dog Work Into the Exercise Routine?

For this set of outdoor exercises, you will simultaneously work on the down-stay exercise for your dog or playing fetch, or alternating between the two. For instance, you can have your dog lying down while you exercise and reward him frequently enough so he stays in a down-stay, or you can play fetch and get as many repetitions in while he's running. In some exercises, you'll even build up distance while your dog is in a down-stay and then practice a come when called.

One benefit to incorporating your exercise into your dog's training is that you turn the most boring dog-training exercise ever -- the down-stay -- into a fun routine. Let's face it, having your dog lie down while you stand around and watch the clock to make sure he can stay lying down long enough is more irritating than standing in line to return holiday presents.

Practicing a down-stay at a distance is even worse. You have to have your dog lie down, walk away to whatever distance you're practicing (such as 5-30 feet), and then come back and reward him while he's still lying down. You can't just call him to come to you, because then you're rewarding him for a come when called, not a down-stay. Now, if you can exercise during the segments where you'd just be waiting around or if you can exercise on your way out and back from your dog's lying spot, suddenly you're making good use of that time.
You'll also be playing fetch with your dog during your rest period between high intensity intervals.

What You Need

This workout is simple. You'll just need your dog's 6-foot leash, a safe area for your dog to play fetch or be off leash, and your dog's treats. I use my dog's daily allotment of kibble for treats. That way his diet is still balanced and he stays trim.

The General Approach

This workout will be high intensity, so you should warm up first and stretch while you work on an easier set of down-stay exercises with your dog. (See: "Working Out With Your Dog: Quick Outdoor Warm-Up Exercises for You and Your Dog"). For each exercise, you'll start with your dog in a down-stay; make sure you get treats to him frequently enough so he remains lying down. Get the reward to him quickly and low enough so that you don't accidentally lure him to stand.

The first exercises are a set of four speed and agility exercise that involve your dog's leash, which will be lying on the ground. You'll perform three sets of five repetitions per exercise with 30, 45, and 60 seconds of rest in between each set. Take the rest time to play fetch with your dog.

The final two exercises will be even higher intensity. You'll perform three sets of three repetitions per exercise with 30 seconds of rest during the first break, 60 seconds during the second, and 90 seconds between exercises one and two. Rest sessions are your dog's chance to play fetch. You'll also work a come when called into these exercises.

Finding a Good Dog Trainer


One of the most important decisions you will make in paving a path to happiness with your pet is choosing a competent and kind dog trainer. The absence of standard credentials required by law, or established professional ethics, makes it problematic for pet parents to find a great trainer in an unregulated field.

However, science and culture are moving away from punishment/pain-based methods. Behavioral scientists resoundingly endorse dominance-free, reward-based training as the most effective, long-lasting and safest method, particularly for aggressive dogs who may bite if underlying issues are not adequately addressed.

Use of a front-clip harness or head collar is recommended for hard pullers — a step-in harness for puppies and small breeds. Medical injuries caused by collars constricting the airway passages are well-documented.

Journey, wolfdog ambassador of WolfCreekRanch, admiring his harness.

The Pet Professionals Guild adheres to the “do no harm” ethic and a strict code of conduct for trainers, holding pet welfare as the top priority. It’s the right thing to do for those who cannot speak for themselves. Search www.PetProfessionalsGuild.com for a trainer near you. Victoria Stilwell-licensed trainers, hand-picked by Victoria, may be found on this website. These trainers use non-aversive leash-walking equipment and behavior-change protocols available. They suggest that you:

• Find a trainer both you and your dog like.

• Reward behaviors you want repeated.

• Manage environments to prevent the opportunity for unwanted behavior.

• Remove reinforcement to stop or decrease a behavior.

• Teach alternative behaviors for behaviors you want to change.

Talented trainers can manipulate the resources we control in order to get the behavior we want. They don’t resort to force or pain-based methods.

Killer whales, dolphins, wild animals at progressive zoos world-wide, and wolfdogs trained with purely positive reinforcement methods are powerful examples of the effectiveness of purely positive methods. It can work for your dog, too.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us atDogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n’ Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.


Photography Matters


Pet photography provides the impossible: a lifetime with your pet

Photography is everywhere. We are faced with millions of images every day, most of them selling us something, implying who we should be, how we should look or what we should buy.

Anyone with an iPhone and Instagram is an artist: capable of creating a digital masterpiece instantly and sharing it just as quickly on Pinterest, Twitter, Flik-r and Facebook simultaneously. The medium of photography is evolving even faster than the technology supporting it and the definitions of art are more fluid than ever.

In the midst of all the images marketers choose to attract us and all the cover photos we select to define us, it’s easy to forget just how powerful a single photograph can be.

As a professional pet photographer I admit I take my job granted; the flexible hours, the travel perks, my dogs at my feet while I edit and of course the fact that I get paid to spend hours rolling around on the floor with the most irresistible creatures on earth. But there is one irrefutable fact that I never, ever forget: I am too-often reminded of just how a perfectly captured portrait of a pet transcends art to become the most precious possession a person can own.



photo by: J.Nichole Smith, www.dane-dane.com

Last week I was designing an album for clients with three charming dogs: Jasmine, Willow and T-Rex. T-Rex, the eldest, started life in New York City, chained up outside in a cage, but fate managed to deliver him all the way to Terri & Michael in Seattle, which is where I met and photographed him many years later.

Our shoot was on a hot day in August and I remember T-Rex as a smiley, wise old German Shepard who quite willingly followed us around the vast lakeside park. But only months later, on a cold day in January, T-Rex passed away.

As I edited his images and pieced together pages of the album, I found myself feeling quite weepy. I glanced down at the notes written by his mom…

T-Rex's nickname was "Dunderhead" and he was a cheese bandit. He was in love with our boy cat Asher and they slept together on the couch. T-Rex could put whirling dervishes to shame when he was ready for a walk…”

As I considered where to include these details within the album I re-read her most recent email and saw the lines…

“Sadly, our boy just passed away. He was in such great spirits that day and we really want to remember him that way.”

photo by: J.Nichole Smith, www.dane-dane.com

These honest words struck a chord with me and despite my best efforts the lump in my throat choked-out objectivity and tears began spilling over my cheeks. I was crying for their loss, crying for my 8 yr. old Dane who is starting to show her age, crying for the memory of T-Rex as a sweet, happy boy and the knowledge that he no longer joins his family for walks in the park. I blubbered like a baby all over my keyboard.

Then I recovered, struck once again by the warm, honorable reality of my job: the most precious gift photographers offer the world is tangible proof of perfect memories. Pet photographers in particular, have the ability to capture poignant moments with the pets we love so desperately. The stark reality is that these companions just don’t stay with us long enough, but the timeless gift of a portrait, is that it will be a meaningful part of our life long after the dog hair, stinky breath and the tap, tap, tap of their tails has vanished.

In a world of fleeting and fake, there are few jobs so meaningful and lasting.


One pet photographer in Minnesota was so impacted by the power of this role that she designated a whole portion of her business to offering “end-of-life” sessions for aging and terminally ill pets. Her name is Sarah Ernhart and she has lovingly defined these shoots as “Joy Sessions”.

photo by: Sarah Beth Photography, www.joysessions.com

Sarah was inspired to offer these sessions after she had the opportunity to create portraits of a particularly special relationship between a labarador named “Joy” and her owner, Joan.

Since 2010 the demand for these shoots has risen to the point where Sarah recently created a whole website dedicated to matching up pet owners in need of “Joy Sessions” and pet photographers who offer this tender service:  www.joysession.com


As pet photographers we regularly receive overwhelmingly emotional words of thanks for the images we captured with our clients. Thanks because their puppy is grown and they had forgotten just how small he once was, or because like T-Rex’s family, their dear friend is gone but they have beautiful images to remember him by. This is the greatest honor bestowed upon artists – the ability to transform an intangible, powerful bond, into proof of your love you can see, touch and cherish.

If you haven’t yet, or if it’s been years since you have, I urge you to document the relationship you have with your pet(s). Whether you snap cell phone videos and photos for your desktop wallpaper or Facebook, or you hire a professional to produce a work of art for your mantelpiece or coffee table – do it now. If not, you will desperately wish you had.

When we lose a pet, no words can soothe the grief. No amount of busy can distract from the daily routine that is suddenly gone. No sound on earth can ease the silence their absence leaves behind. There is no remedy for the loss of a loved one.

As time passes the ache does dull, but so too the memories will blur and fade. But like your love, the gift of photography is forever; moments as crisply rendered a decade from now, as they were that sunny day in August when you took a walk in the park… one of a million moments shared, saved forever.


If you’d like a referral for a fantastic pet photographer, check out Pet Anthology’s Guide to Inspirational Pet Photographers Part I  and Part II.

In memory of T-Rex February 1997 – January 2012

… and all the animals we love so much who leave too soon.

Wise Food Choices

Wise Food Choices. What’s more important to your dog than food? Chances are, not much.

The experts do not agree about nutrition, however, Dr. Doug Knueven, veterinary lecturer on dog nutrition, tells us that poor diet is the biggest obstacle to achieving canine health: Many illnesses, skin, and behavioral problems are directly affected by diet. Here’re some “greendog” guidelines:

Poor diet is the biggest obstacle to canine health.
Photo Courtesy of Archie Chippendale

  • Diets. Home cooking is great if you eat healthy, and you avoid foods that are toxic to dogs. Alternatively, choose a super-premium quality dehydrated, freeze-dried or kibble feed. A more natural diet includes raw meat, organ meat, raw bones, vegetables, and fruits. An excellent resource that investigates and reviews food may be found at http://www.WholeDogJournal.com
  • Ingredients. Read the labels. Look for a specifically named meat or fish as the first ingredient and natural preservatives. Avoid by-products, sugars, artificial colorings and flavorings.
  • Protein and Carbohydrates. High-protein diets are often linked to high performance, and high simple carbohydrate diets to obesity. Dr. Lynn Honeckman, DVM, tells us, “Medical problems that result from obesity include diabetes, hip dysplasia, cancer, degenerative joint, respiratory, skin and autoimmune diseases.” Monitor intake.
  • Rotation. Rotate between and within brands. Transition gradually. A balanced diet requires variety.
  • Processing. High-temperature processing destroys essential nutrients. Stay as close to natural and organic as feasible.
  • Supplements. Err on the safe side and provide a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement, fish oil, and a probiotic.

In case of illness, always consult your trusted, nutrition-savvy veterinarian.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist” M.A. and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker, can be reached at (858) 259-9663 or email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com  for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations in or near Del Mar or the San Diego Coast. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published UT San Diego, Scratch ‘n Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor

Our Pets Deserve Better

Our pets deserve better. Overwhelmingly, Americans want to do the right thing for their pets -- or at least that's what they say. After all, according to all surveys, most pet owners consider their four-legged or even feathered friends as members of he family. Yet, despite our love for our pets, veterinary visits are on the decline, especially when it comes to preventive care. As a result, pets and their owners are paying a significant price. Preventive illness is on the rise, and the price is also paid in dollars and cents.

My resolution for 2013 will be to play whatever role I can in reversing this alarming trend.

Just two of many examples of preventive illness which are on the rise are flea infestation and heartworm disease, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2011 Report.

Flea infestation and heartworm are far more expensive to treat than to prevent. As flea infestations have risen, so have reports of flea allergy. Also, fleas can also spread disease to people. The treatment for heartworm -- which can be fatal -- is grueling. For cats, no treatment even exists. Obviously, if pets had a choice, they'd clearly pick prevention over crazily itching from flea allergies or suffering the effects, even succumbing, to heartworm.

According to a study conducted by Bayer Animal Health, a quarter of all pet owners don't understand the importance of preventive care for pets. The percent of households making no trip at all to a veterinarian in the course of a year went up by eight percent for dogs, and a confounding 24 percent for cats compared to five years ago, according to the 2012 American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.

One viable explanation is that many pet owners have never been educated about the value of preventive pet care, as well as what veterinarians do doing during annual exams.

For example, most pet owners don't know that the exam begins as the pet walks into a clinician's room. The veterinarian checks the pet's gait for arthritis, even neurological problems. By simply petting a dog or cat, the veterinarian is feeling for lumps, even noting coat quality, an indicator for all sorts of issues.

The answers to seemingly benign questions, like "how much does your pet drink?" offer clues to potential kidney disease or diabetes. Or is your dog barking when you leave the house? The answer may reveal separation distress, a behavioral issue which dogs are sometimes given up as a result – but pet owners often don’t volunteer this information to veterinarians. Solving a behavior problem can save a life as much as solving a heart problem.

Some pet owners believe they would know if their pet was sick. However, this is often false, especially for cats, masters at masking illness. A veterinarian may detect problems an owner can't, unless the owner has learned to run blood work in their home or knows how to listen for a heart murmur, for example, with a stethoscope. Others (as many as 15 percent, according to one survey) feel they can "Google" anything their veterinarian can do.

I don't deny that in some cases veterinarians are to blame for not communicating the value of visits, pushing clients away with excessive fees, or "nickel and diming" them. Overall, however, veterinary medicine remains a relative bargain. The cost of similar care and identical testing and drugs for pets is far less than the cost of the same for people.

Regardless of the explanations, the decline in veterinary visits is entirely contradictory to what's in the best interest of our pets.

I welcome your comments and ideas on all sides of the fence on this issue.

Email: steve@stevedale.tv.

Martin Luther King – How to Lead Without Force

Dr. Martin Luther King

Today we celebrate a great leader. We all know about how he helped advance civil rights and effect change around the world. We teach our children about the value of sticking to your core beliefs and allowing strong but understated confidence in the power of justice run its course like he did. But perhaps the most defining characteristic of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is his unwavering commitment to advancing his cause through the use of nonviolence.We continue to learn much from MLK, but the impact he continues to have on us as a society today applies not only to our human relationships.

The most effective and powerful leaders are able to change the behavior of others without imposing their will through the use of physical force. I wish we could all take this to heart as it relates to our relationships with our pets as well.

Despite the significant advances we've made as a culture over the past several decades in our understanding of animal behavior, there remains a virulent and undiminished undercurrent of resistance to the concepts of building relationships with our pets that are based on mutual trust, respect and love rather than pain, fear and intimidation. Despite the successes of my various TV shows and other projects, I'm continually confronted by those who believe that positive training is nothing more than a cute little sideshow that's helpful for naughty chihuahuas and earnest soccer moms.

Like Dr. King's, the battle to change people's perceptions of how we should interact with our dogs is an uphill fight. But as the evidence from the scientific community continues to mount and our collective willingness to allow others to treat pets more like livestock than cherished family members erodes, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is no alternative in sight but to win the fight.

Though the sentiment is obviously on a far different plane than the struggle over civil rights for all humans, we positive trainers, too, have a dream. We dream of a world where it is commonly understood that punishment and pain have no place in dog training. Where forced cooperation and submission through the use of intimidation and fear are universally recognized as outdated and less effective. Where positive reinforcement is celebrated as the most humane, long-lasting tool to combat unwanted behavior in all dogs - whether it's for common housetraining issues or severe aggression. Where we don't have to counteract and undo the damage inflicted on those whose owners are susceptible to the zen psychobabble of popular media culture.

On this Martin Luther King day, we celebrate the legacy of a great leader who harnessed the power of nonviolence and gentle, persistent persuasion. Let's try to do his memory justice not only by how we interact with our fellow humans, but also our four-legged companions.

Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Although the name bed bugs produces an image of bugs in a bed, they often reside in other places, according to WestChesterGov.com. That's when expert sniffers, like Cruiser, Liberty and Gracie come to the rescue. With the growing resurgence of bed bugs in majors cities, dogs like Cruiser, Liberty and Gracie are becoming trained professionals, who are hired and paid to sniff out potential bud bug problems in their homes.

Cruiser wakes in New York City, sometimes making house calls as early as 9:30 a.m. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Liberty's work often requires her to travel to different cities for her clients, while Gracie in Derby, Connecticut has inspected everything from college dorms to apartment buildings.

According to the National Pest Management Association, "one out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel."

Earning An Education

Like any traditionally promising career, the dogs start at school. According to the Associated Press, Gracie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, graduated from the Florida Canine Academy in Tampa while Liberty, a tan and white beagle, and Cruiser, a puggle, attended J&K Canine Academy also in Florida, according to the New York Times. There are only 150 dogs in the nation certified to sniff out bed bugs. Training and certifications are gained through the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.

According to the Association's website, members of NESDCA evaluate dogs critically as handlers hide bed bugs and are given 20 minutes with their dog to end the search, with strict alert and room size requirements. Only dogs affiliated with NESDCA credited dog schools can be certified, so schools that offer training programs and raise dogs in-house sell for an upwards of $10,000.

Working the Grind

Once certifications are given, the dogs are quickly sent out to their handlers to begin work.

"She loves to go to work. When I say, 'Let's go to work,' she gets excited," William Steeves said to the AP about the enjoyment Gracie has as a bed bug inspector.

Bugs can sometimes hide from the eyes of exterminators, but they don't stand a chance against the nose of a dog. Steeves said a dog trained to find bed bugs is accurate 97 percent of the time.

As Liberty's handler, Glen Collymore expressed to Tulsa World that, "Beagles have one of the best senses of smell of any dog." Unlike Gracie, Liberty is known to be a bit more 'energetic,' although at times she can be hard to handle. The used-to-be show dog has impeccable accuracy in work with the K-9 Special Force Bedbug Detection Specialists in Norman, and is the state's only detection dog.

How could a dog not enjoy their job of travel and constant interaction with people and treats? To keep their noses sharp, the dogs are constantly being trained and rewarded of their findings with treats.

Daily Duties

Cruiser starts his day on the job with a whiff of bed bugs from his handler Jeremy Ecker, of Bed Bug Inspectors. To keep dogs training up, handlers are required to own living bed bugs; most store the insects in small glass jars, hidden from the dogs.

The dogs travel to businesses, hotels, residencies, schools and virtually any type of facility with furniture and people. They need minimal distractions to focus and work. Typically when they detect an infestation, they pause, and paw at the infestation location.

Although there are lots of 'ick' in their daily jobs, handlers can earn between $200 to 400 per hour for their services. Ecker, who had been in the business six years before trading his co workers for dogs, told the New York Times, “it’s very rewarding work. We get to walk dogs for a living and we help people get peace of mind.”

Gifts That Last All Year

Reward your dog for all the joy and love you get all year! Say "Thank You" you with gifts that keep on giving.  Some of these may make you smile — all of them will make your dog smile.

1) Adopt or donate. There is no greater gift. Consider adoption to fill that special place in your forever home, or donate some resources to your local shelter or rescue group.

2) Socialize. Socialize, Socialize! Socialization is the most critical learning activity of all. Begin at 8 weeks of age, if possible. Participate in socialization activities regularly and frequently. Hang out at Starbucks or run errands together.

3) Gentle leashes. A front-clip harness or a step-in for toy breeds is best. Avoid shock, prong and choke collars. These devices are singled out as equipment to avoid by veterinary behavior experts in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2006 (“Good trainers: How to identify one.” Vol. 1). They can cause a variety of documented medical injuries (“Gentle Leashes,” 2012. Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM) and may cause aggression. They are illegal in a growing number of countries.

Linda Michaels and Oka. "If non-aversive methods work for wolfdogs, killer whales and wild animals at the zoo, it can work for your dog too." Photo Courtesy of the WolfEducationProject.org and Colleen's Custom Pet Photography.

4) Veterinary care. Choose a vet both you and your dog like and trust, one that takes the time to bond with your dog, and practices gentle handling and restraint. Consider integrative care. Ask questions. Spay or neuter. Get that orthopedic bed your dog has been dreaming about.

5) Training. The scientifically endorsed, non-aversive method works for killer whales, wild animals at the zoo and wolfdogs. It can work for your dog, too. It’s effective, long-lasting, safe and fast, as well as truly dog-friendly. Get a private behavioral consultation to target those behavior problems that have cropped up, or enroll in a class.

6) Diet. A super-premium grade food with a specifically named meat as the first ingredient is best. Canine nutritional expert Dr. Doug Knueven DVM, tells us. “There is no greater obstacle to canine health than poor diet.” Venison Holiday Stew (made by Merrick) would be well-received.

7) Exercise. Check out the many great trails, beaches, parks and neighborhoods you can explore together. Consider enrolling in a dog-sport class.

8) Grooming. Choose a groomer who takes the time to make your dog feel safe and practices gentle handling and restraint. Would your dog appreciate a spa massage treatment or a blueberry facial?

9) Environmental enhancement. Rotate food-toys, interactive puzzles and safe chew-items to keep your dog busy and happy. Add a window with a view and dog-friendly landscaping. Don’t forget to provide a quiet place where you dog has sanctuary.

10) Your love. Infuse all the above with your love — the best gift of all.

 Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist” M.A. and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer , canine behavioral consultant and speaker, can be reached at (858) 259-9663 or email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com  for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations in or near Del Mar or the San Diego Coast. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com   All rights reserved.

Originally published UT San Diego, Scratch ‘n Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor

‘God’ Spelled Backwards

Maybe it’s not a coincidence what God spelled backwards is. "Dogs are absolutely loving, non-judgmental and pure," says Tim Hetzner, president of Addison, IL-based Lutheran Church Charities, and their K-9 Parish Comfort Dog Program. Hetzner and a contingent of dog handlers and eight Golden Retrievers traveled from the Chicago area to Newtown, CT, arriving two days after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

On the Monday after the shootings (December 17), primary school-aged children, including many who survived the Sandy Hook attack, attended events held at a local activities center. The dogs greeted people walking into the building. Perhaps it's no surprise that the presence of the dogs attracted children. And they weren't alone.

Hetzner says, "One lady came up to the dogs. She sat down, looking directly at them, and began to speak with the dogs, not the handlers. Of course, the handlers could hear."

The woman spoke quietly and was crying as she explained, "Five people were killed on my block. I have five funerals to go to. I don't know what to do. What can I possibly say to their families?"

As she cried, one dog curled up into her lap. She hugged the dog, looked at the handler and no further words needed be spoken.

"We met parents (of slain children). Of course, they're numb," says Hetzner. They want everything to return to how it was, though of course it can't. Some are angry; their emotions range. At the high school, one young man came to pet a dog. He said that his dad was a first responder. And ever since it (the shooting) happened, when he comes home at night, he doesn't talk to anyone. He asked, 'Can I bring my dad to pet one of your dogs?"'

Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs are all Golden Retrievers. The dogs’ resume includes visiting New York City and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy, and Joplin. MO, following killer tornados there.

"It's never been like this." Hetzner says he says that he’s seen homes ripped apart, but never so many hearts. The most emotional moment for him came at Newtown High School. Hetzner and his volunteers walked into the school auditorium, where they were greeted by thunderous applause. The principal was at the microphone, but he just couldn't get any words out. Finally, he asked the students to stand and hold hands, which they did. Everyone cried, Hetzner included. "I'm the father of four children myself," he says.

On two days, the dogs "attended high school," available in two different classrooms for students or faculty to pet.

Lutheran Church Charities is national ministry which offers a legion of volunteers from around the country as first responders following disasters. The ministry trains its volunteers using a FEMA-approved program.

When responding to disasters, Hetzner had observed how people are attracted to dogs, even neighborhood pets out for a walk. In 2008, Lutheran Church Charities initiated K-9 Parish Comfort Dog Program. All the dogs in the program begin their training as puppies. Their training protocol is similar to that used for service dogs, except these dogs' only job is to listen to people in their time of need.

"They're really just furry counselors; they keep whatever they're told confidential, and they don't even take notes," Hetzner says.

What the dogs do is indeed work for them, and can take an emotional toll. Of course, no one really knows what the dogs understand, but Hetzner, and most experts, believe that somehow dogs are emotional sponges.

"The Goldens never work for more than an hour to two and a half hours, depending on the dog,” he says. “Then the vest comes off. The dogs get a chance to be dogs, maybe play with a ball."

Though they make no bones about being a Christian ministry, the group doesn't proselytize. "We don't hide who we are," says Hetzner. "But we're not there to convert anyone. We are there to offer comfort at a time when people may need it the most."

Perhaps it takes a person of special commitment to faith to believe good can come from evil like that seen in Newtown, CT.

"What I've seen is that the worst of all events has brought out the best in people. And that is beautiful," Hetzner says.

Change is Powerful

I have always enjoyed a challenge.  Whether I’m working on a complex behavioral case or brokering a workable deal among quarreling families, it’s a challenge I welcome and work hard to resolve.  The most dedicated trainers are the ones that never stop learning, never sit back and think they know it all and always work to perfect their skills. Even after fifteen years of teaching, including eight years of It’s Me or the Dog, I am still growing and perfecting my skills with each new experience I encounter. Failing a case has never been an option and maybe it’s this trait that has kept me going for so long.

I’m not going to pretend the journey has been easy because however much I do, there is still so much that needs to be done to guide people towards a better way of teaching their dogs and improve the well being of animals around the world.  This is one of the reasons I formed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT).  The VSPDT network is comprised of some of the best positive reinforcement trainers in the country dedicated to spreading awareness of humane methods to the dog loving public.  If you are a trainer and are interested in joining VSPDT go to www.vspdt.com or if you are looking for a qualified trainer to teach you and your dog, please go to: www.positively.com/trainers

I still find it hard to comprehend how anyone can justify teaching a dog through pain, force and fear, when decades of research and a mountain of scientific and observational evidence continues to prove how destructive these methods can be.  Teaching people to train their dogs in a humane way is not just a moral issue; it has become an issue of public health and safety.  Punitive training methods are having a profound affect on our canine companions, making them more insecure, unable to communicate and more aggressive as a result.  Mankind is destroying what was a beautiful relationship and putting their dogs, themselves and their children at risk as a result. There are approximately 10.5 million dogs in the UK and 78.2 million dogs in the US, and while education and humane training is not going to solve all canine problems, it will certainly go a long way to make things a lot better for our dogs and for ourselves.

While punitive trainers vehemently defend their use of forceful techniques, they are finding it harder to discredit the insurmountable evidence supporting the fact that hitting, poking, kicking, restraining, hanging, jerking and using electric shock to teach dogs causes pain, fear, anxiety, distrust, shyness, insecurity, increased likelihood of aggression, irritability, frustration, learned helplessness and in many cases, complete shutdown. And that’s just for starters.  I can’t see how any sane person can validate using techniques that have such a high potential to cause harm.

Following extensive discussions with a number of notable human behavior experts on why people use force or feel the need to dominate other beings, I learned the following:  The general feeling among these professionals is that some people use force and punishment because they need to be in charge and fear losing control.  This might be because they have been or are being dominated themselves by a family member or friend, or because the tendency to dominate others is inherent within them.  Other people simply don’t have the time or the desire to investigate what training methods are best and grab whatever is most available, even if they instinctively know the techniques they are using are inhumane.  Whatever works to fix a dog’s behavior as quickly and as easy as possible is preferred and validated.  Dog training is an unregulated profession, which means there are too many people advertising themselves as trainers that simply don’t have the qualifications and use force because they don’t know or don’t want to know any better.  Because there is an ever-increasing amount of bad press about punitive training techniques in the media, some trainers use the ‘positive reinforcement’ buzzwords to sell their services to prospective clients even though these trainers still employ punitive methods in practice.   Some trainers use positive reinforcement techniques to teach dogs what to do, but lack the knowledge and/or skills to use humane techniques to curb unwanted behavior.  It is relatively easy to use positive reinforcement methods to teach a dog to do something, but it takes advanced knowledge and skill to stop a dog from doing something negative WITHOUT using punitive techniques. Viewers might be impressed by what looks like a heroic battle to ‘rehabilitate’ a deranged, aggressive animal on some television shows and copy what they see, but in reality what they are viewing is just an act of violence from a human to a dog, designed to suppress negative behavior through dominant control.  The great tragedy in all of this is that when the dog finally submits to this force, his submission is labeled a ‘success’ even though he is not submitting calmly at all, but has been BULLIED and FORCED into submitting.  A submissive dog’s stillness is often mistaken for calm, when in reality the dog’s body and mind have reached such a state of distress that the dog shuts down, ceasing all movement in an effort to avoid further violence.  This state of stress, often mislabeled as a dog being ‘calm submissive,’ gives people a false impression of what the dog is actually feeling, including a belief that the methods employed to get him to that point, worked.  This is not only desperately sad for the dog but very upsetting for those of us who really know what is going on in the dog’s mind.

I must make something clear at this point.  I do agree that harsh punishment curbs negative behavior at the moment it is used, (unless the dog fights back, which is often the case and is why so many punitive trainers and their clients get bitten when they use domination), but here again is the reality:  When you use pain, punishment and intimidation to teach dogs to ‘behave’ you are likely to see a difference in behavior very quickly and this will positively reinforce that what you did to get that difference did indeed work.  This will make you feel good, even though you might feel slightly guilty that you used combative methods to get the desired result. But be aware, just because you might see an improvement in behavior, this does not mean that the behavior has been CHANGED.  You might think your dog is behaving better, but this is only because your dog has been intimidated or dominated by you or your trainer into submission, and he is now ‘behaving’ out of fear of repeated force.  He still feels the same inside, even though the outward expression of how he feels has been suppressed… for now! This improvement in behavior is labeled, by those who don’t know any better, as a success, a great rehabilitation; the dog is fixed or cured!  But again, shut down, suppression and learned helplessness is NOT CHANGED BEHAVIOR.  If anything, your dog is now even more insecure because of the treatment he experienced and worse still, by using punishment, you haven’t taught him anything useful.  You haven’t given him a new skill or shown him that he can ‘be’ and ‘feel’ another way, which will help him behave in a more positive way in the future. That’s the beauty of humane training. Instead of putting the emphasis on punishment, positive trainers put the emphasis on teaching dogs new behaviors and new ways to cope in different situations, and yes, it even works with the aggressive ‘red zone’ dogs or dogs with high drive.  It’s not about just stuffing a treat in a dog’s face, it’s about finding each dog’s individual drive and using that to help him learn and overcome any behavioral issues he might have.

If you use punitive techniques, be warned that your dog will associate you with negative experiences and distrust you as a result, even if it looks like he is still your best friend. Dogs are very forgiving!  Forcing submission on your dog won’t change the way he feels inside and increases the likelihood that he will revert back to his former behavior at some point, and when he does, it will be much worse than it was before.  This is especially true for aggressive dogs.  After punitive handling, their aggressive response might be suppressed for a time, but when the stress becomes too much, the aggression will resurface again with a lot more intensity.  If you fight fire with fire, you will get burned.

I can write numerous columns, books, produce videos, film TV shows, or do seminars all day on this subject, but that won’t help change things unless people are willing to learn, discover and change for themselves.  We are creatures of habit and it’s hard to change our behavioral patterns.  But I think it is time to ask the question:  am I truly doing everything possible to ensure my dog is happy, trusts me, and is pain free and secure?  Am I someone who my dog truly wants to be with or does he only follow me because he’s scared of what will happen to him if he doesn’t?

If what I write annoys or angers you and you think I’m wrong or are sick of being preached at by the British girl who trains dogs on TV, then I encourage you to read the numerous books and articles written by some of the brightest animal behavior minds in the business: Dr. Patricia McConnell, Suzanne Clothier, John Bradshaw, Karen Pryor, Dr. Sophia Yin, Jean Donaldson, James O’Heare, Alexandra Horowitz, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Nicole Wilde, Turid Rugaas, Dr. Ian Dunbar, to name but a few.

My biggest challenge is to continue promoting positive change, even though this sometimes makes me the target of ridicule by those who are threatened by what I say.  I understand that it takes courage to change, but the more humane you are towards your dog, the better your lives will be. The right kind of knowledge is very powerful.  As more and more people make the switch to gentler teaching methods, the canine and human nation will be safer and more stable because of it.

This holiday season you can help shelter pets! You’ll love it.

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

Why not start a holiday tradition and share the joy of the season with your local animal rescue group? It’s the perfect time of year for pet lovers to give back to the animals. This holiday season, there are more dogs than ever in need of help.

You can foster, volunteer, adopt, or donate skills, equipment or money. You'll not only provide a much-needed service to our community, but it will fill your heart to overflowing. That’s a promise. Your local 501c3 rescue groups-- often shelters of last resort, need help. Volunteering and working with animals is a great learning opportunity for the kids.

Six-month old “miracle puppy”, Daniel, American Humane Society’s Emerging Hero Dog Award winner, survived seventeen minutes in an Alabama euthanasia gas chamber and became the new “poster puppy” for dog adoption. An estimated seven million animals are brought to shelters every year, and ½ of those are euthanized due to overcrowding.

Please visit http://www.Petfinders.com, the #1 facilitator for 13,772 animal shelters and rescue groups across North America.

You can search for any breed or animal welfare group by zip code. Today, more than 25% of dogs in rescues are purebreds. For example, you can find 31 breeds to choose from that start with the letter “B” including, Bedlington Terriers, Borzoi, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bull Terriers et al. Petfinders.com has hundreds of thousands of beautiful adoptable dogs at this very moment.

"Daniel". Survived 17 minutes in a euthanasia gas chamber. American Humane Association Emerging Hero Dog Award Winner.

The Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) has one of the world’s most successful holiday pet adoption drives. In California alone they partner with 262 shelters They also provide free 3-day seminars that teach animal lovers and shelter workers more effective ways to increase adoptions and lower euthanasia.

Dogs are often relinquished, orphaned and abandoned when pet parents find their dog’s behavior unacceptable simply because of insufficient socialization or basic training. Non-aversive training for every dog at the earliest possible time avoids problems. Positive Reinforcement, force-free dog training is effective, safe, fast and truly dog-friendly.

There are good dogs languishing in shelters and there are great dogs languishing in shelters. Help make adoption a first-choice in your community.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist” M.A. and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer  and speaker, can be reached at (858) 259-9663 or email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com  for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and up the SoCal Coastline. Visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com   All rights reserved.

Originally published UT San Diego, Scratch ‘n Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor.


Make recall fun and rewarding. Photo Courtesy of Patton Marshall

"Come!" Make recall fun and rewarding, one baby-step at a time.  If you bounce back and forth between a sugary-sweet, sing-songy, “Come Blinky” and a frustrated, commanding, “Blinky, Come!” — try these recall tips instead. 

Always reward for “coming”

Living things perform best on the reward system. Each time your dog “Comes” to you, reward her with a yummy treat. To start, substitute meal calories for training calories, using food to help your dog learn quickly. You can transition to affection or a “Good Girl, Go Play” later.

Start with easy “Comes”

Start inside your home and progress slowly, week by week, to more difficult environments. From just 3 feet away, use a big hand signal, saying, “Come” as your dog runs toward you. Reward. Increase distance, vary distractions and locations step by baby step. Later, work outdoors in an enclosed area or with a 50-foot leash until recall is reliable. Always reward when your dog comes back to you without being called.

Never punish for “coming”

Don’t clip nails, medicate, leave the dog park, or scold your dog for being slow to “Come.” If necessary, reward first, wait a minute and then do what your dog dislikes. Otherwise, she’ll learn that “Come” means that something unhappy may happen and she’ll run the other way.

Practice regularly and frequently

Get the whole family on the same training page. Play “Come” Round Robin. It’s fun! Repeat “Come” and reward in four 3-minute sessions per day. Regular routines and predictable outcomes speed training and reliability. Once learned, use recall throughout the day to cement it. Remember to have realistic expectations for your dog. Some breeds seem to naturally stick closer than others. If you train your dog to “Come” to the sound of “Blinky, Come” paired with a whistle for dinner, your dog’s ears will perk up when she hears those words in other contexts too! It’s easy.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n' Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor, 2012.

Human Ego & Dog Training

Check your ego at the door!  EGO, this funny little word has such a huge affect on people, it changes people for the worse.

When working with animals you cannot have an “ego” of any kind.  Animals know, they can feel the kind of love and energy your putting off and when ego gets involved nothing will go right.  Why you ask?  Because ego is all about self and teaching and guiding your dog is about the dog not you.

Positive Reinforcement training is training that is respectful and is based in science and best of all is kind, the lines of communication stay open and loving, this is how we all learn the best.

Stop and think about it, how great would you be at your job if someone was always yelling and telling you” NO, NO that is not how you do it how can you be so stupid” but they never stopped and took the time to show you what they wanted. My guess is you would quit that job and probably have a few choice words for your boss.  Just because you’re a human and you think differently than your dog, does not give you the right to DOMINATE, or INTIMIDATE or BULLY your pet into doing what you want. This includes prong collars, choke collars, shocking devices, hitting and verbally abusing.  When knowledge ends aversive techniques begin.  This world wants everything NOW and given the technology we have everything is at a touch of a button and happens fast!!  We are used to getting what we want when we want it.  We must remember dogs are gifts, they feel, they love, and they hurt just like we do.

SLOW DOWN PEOPLE!  If you are blessed enough to live with animals as I am we need to realize that dogs and humans alike thrive on love and kindness and consistency.  Don’t get caught in the” EGO trap” instead why don’t you pause for a moment, look at your dog and actually try and figure out WHY the behavior is happening in the first place. There is always a reason for everything a dog does you just may not understand their language and it frustrates you.    It means you have to take your EGO out of it and really try to understand you pet.  Read about dog behavior call a professional force free trainer to help you get on the right track.

Our dogs our the most wonderful loving creatures who shower us with unconditional love each day and I feel its only fair we give them more of our time. They cannot be an after thought they cannot be last on the list of things in the family order.  Be grateful for your pets and show them that you are grateful by spending time with them and educating yourself about their world and what makes them who they are.

Involve the entire family in continuing your education about your canine family member and read about what makes a dog tick.  Remember, when communicating with your dog speak with your heart, be a kind, be educated and the learning will astound you.

Amy Sandmann  vspdt


The Ricky Fund

Even today, I miss my best friend.

Ricky and I had one of those special relationships – he could look at me and know what I was thinking. I believe if my name happened to be Timmy, and if I feel into a well – he would have been there to rescue me.

Most people might bet that Ricky would have been a Collie, or perhaps a German Shepherd dog or even a Poodle. Ricky was a Devon Rex cat.

That’s right – a cat.  He was no ordinary cat, aside from our close bond, he was talented. Ricky could jump through a Hoola hoop, over dogs (or young children) on a down stay – and did I mention that he played the piano?

One of our dogs, named Lucy, did animal assisted therapy work. My wife asked me to teach her something new, so I thought I’d show Lucy how to play a little kids piano I’m not sure why I thought this.

I closed the door in our practice room so I could begin our first clicker training piano lesson. I began to shape Lucy’s behavior. Well, I apparently hadn’t closed the door securely, and in walked Ricky the cat. Instantly, he looked up at me, and then looked at the piano, lifted a paw, and “ping,” “ping,” he began to play the piano. I had a virtuoso!

I thought, ‘What am I fooling around with this dog for?’ And continued the piano lessons with Ricky. I had long wanted to demonstrate that a cat can be taught to do anything a dog can do, and maybe even do it better. So in no time, Ricky had an entire regiment of behaviors.

But what good is a circus act for just me and my wife?

Ricky was social, and leash and harness trained. Knowing he wouldn’t mind public scrutiny, I let the cat out of the bag and unleashed Ricky on the America public. If only YouTube were around, Ricky would have gone viral many times over.

Ricky, thought nothing of appearing in recitals at Petco or PETsMART. TV crews regularly paraded into our home, as Ricky appeared on several Animal Planet shows, National Geographic Explorer and PBS. Ricky made in studio radio and TV appearances in Chicago. He seemed to relish the extra attention being a star brings.

Even when he wasn’t performing Ricky would accompany my wife, the dogs and myself on errands, to the pet store or to the dry cleaner.

In the summer of 1999, during a routine veterinary visit, my best friend was diagnosed with feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a common heart disease of cats.

Some cats with this disease (an abnormal thickening of the left ventricle of the heart) live for many years, dying of old age related illness. However, often that is not the case – either cats throw clots and have repeated painful stroke-like episodes, until finally the family is too taxed emotionally and /or financially to deal with it, or cats with HCM die suddenly. HCM is the most common cause of sudden death in cats. In fact, HCM may account for more deaths of indoor cats from about three years to eight years than any other disease.

Ricky was easily trained to jump on my shoulder to take his heart medication  (of course, it was Ricky). At best the medication only slowed the disease progression, offering little – but it was the best veterinary medicine could do.

Ricky was only 8-years old when died suddenly in June of 2002. A little of my heart was lost forever that day. Ricky gave me so much, and taught so many about what a cat can do – I felt I needed to stop heart disease in cats, or at least try.

I began a fund with the Winn Feline Foundation named for my pal, hoping to raise enough money for researchers to help find an effective treatment. We’ve raised over $100,000, which in feline health is significant. And, in fact, as a result, a genetic test (using a simple cheek swab) can now be done for Maine Coons and Ragdolls to determine if the gene defect for HCM exists. The test is not perfect, but this beginning – and at least has begun to diminish the disease in these two breeds.

Still, there’s much to do – to somehow find a treatment for all cats with HCM. What’s frustrating is that when it comes to cat health every dollar is a struggle  to raise. For reasons I don’t quite understand, it’s far easier to raise money for canine health studies. Meanwhile, cats are the most popular pet in America – and too many are dying of heart disease.

We don’t know how many cats succumb to HCM, many suffering for months or even years prior to their deaths – something must be done. Please help.

Dogs Help Soldiers Combat PTSD – VA Not Impressed

Scientists around the world have confirmed that for some conditions a wagging tail might help more than a pharmaceutical. One such condition is posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome (PTSD).

There are scientific studies (though limited in number) which do support the positive affects of dogs paired with veterans diagnosed with PTSD, not to mention  literally thousands of real-life anecdotal instances.

“I couldn’t handle it any more; I was pushing away people I loved,” says Ray Galmiche, a Vietnam War vet with PTSD in Navarre, FL. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if it wasn’t for Dazzle (a German Shepherd Dog).” He added that is not too melodramatic to say that his service dog saved his life.

A few years ago Congress mandated additional scientific study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the impact of service dogs paired with PTSD vets. The study was to follow 230 PTSD vets and their service dogs, and to track them and their families through 2014. In June 2011, a study was finally begun.

After enrolling only fewer than two dozen dogs, the VA just announced they’ve suspended the study. What’s more the VA indicated they will no longer support service dogs paired with veterans diagnosed with PTSD (and instead only support dogs partnered with veterans with visible disabilities).

This sudden move apparently even took Congress by surprise. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) was so affronted; he quickly held a press conference and issued a press release. Schumer replied to a request for further comment via email.  “It’s of the utmost importance that we provide our vets with every option available to treat service related ailments.  For some vets who suffer from PTSD and other mental illnesses, this means service dogs.  Especially as the wars are winding down, and more and more soldiers are returning home with mental trauma, the VA must continue to allow their doctors and mental health professionals to provide benefits to veterans who need mental health service dogs.”

Indeed never before are so many veterans being diagnosed with PTSD. According to the VA, there are about 400,000 ex-soldiers currently in treatment for PTSD, and among that population, rates of divorce, substance abuse and unemployment exceeds those in the general population. Suicide rate is off the map with 32 to 39 suicide attempts daily with about half that many succeeding.

The non-profit Paws for Purple Hearts is one of several groups which provides certified therapy dogs for PTSD patients. The organization began in 2008 with PTSD patient veterans helping to train dogs for veterans with physical disabilities. “We immediately learned that the dogs benefited the ‘trainers’ with PTSD as much the disabled veterans they were eventually paired with,” says Robert Porter, CEO/executive director.

In each and every instance Porter says medical professionals at their partner VA Palo Alto, CA Health Care System witnessed dramatic changes among PTSD veterans paired with dogs, which includes fewer medications (sometimes all together eliminating them), and an improved quality of life, including fewer flashbacks and nightmares.

“One hallmark of PTSD is avoidance (of going outdoors and socializing with others),” says Porter. “That’s hard to do with a 60 lb. dog who just wants to go out and play.”

Guardian Angels Medical Services of Williston, FL was one of the three groups involved in the VA study (the other two were New Horizons Service Dogs of Orange City, FL and Freedom Service Dogs of Englewood, CO).

According to printed reports, the explanation for halting the VA study were concerns of dogs biting children; dirty, cramped living conditions that caused animals to suffer illnesses such as worms and diarrhea; and faulty record-keeping.

That “explanation” leaves Carol Borden, executive director and founder of Guardian Angels perplexed. The majority of the dogs enrolled in the limited study, she says, were from her organization, and there were no biting incidents. Providing dozens of service dogs paired with veterans over the years, Borden says she’s never received a single complaint relating to a dog’s temperament. As for veterinary care, it was paid for as a part of the study.

Borden says that in her organization’s history, in each and every instance, the veteran (with PTSD) has benefited by having a dog. Many go from 12 or more meds daily to half that to even no meds at all. We’ve not experienced a single suicide attempt as far as we know,” Borden pauses and takes a breath “I have letters from wives thanking us because the (personality of their) husband has returned, and it all happens because of a dog who provides unconditional love.”

Instead of the veterans depending on government subsidies, many PTSD vets with dogs find jobs.

“It (the VA’s directive) doesn’t make sense,” she says. She even intimated that since vets paired with dogs require fewer meds, pharmaceutical companies may have lobbied for the VA’s new position. Another possibility is that the VA was told to cut budget, period. And even if the decision will cost taxpayers more dollars, at least their department isn’t paying.

“I understand the need for further published scientific evidence, but the overwhelming anecdotal personal stories of veterans who say they’ve gotten their lives back as a result of a service dog should matter,” says Amy McCullough, national director of animal assisted therapy of the Washington D.C. based American Humane Association. “With all the returning veterans with PTSD, we don’t have the luxury to say ‘let’s think it over’ when we could be saving lives.”

(Next week: More with Ray Galmiche, Vietnam War Veteran diagnosed with PTSD, and how his service dog works daily. “I know my dog has my back,” he says. “I never thought a dog could do this. My life has changed.”)         

Victoria Announces the Denver Dog Bite Prevention & Awareness Conference – Nov 2, 2012

Renowned pet trainer Victoria Stilwell, forensic dog bite and aggression expert Jim Crosby and attorney Claudine Wilkins are just a few of the presenters that are coming to Denver on Nov. 2, 2012 to take part in the National Dog Bite Awareness and Prevention Conference presented by Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT). This marks Stilwell’s and the world’s premier national dog bite prevention initiative’s first visit to Denver - a city all-too familiar with dog bites making national news.

In 2010 alone, over 4.5 million people were bitten by dogs in the U.S., 800,000 of which required medical attention, while thirty-one people died from dog attacks. Through September 2012, twenty-four people have been killed by dogs, sixteen of whom were children. The tragedy is that in most of these cases and others, such bites and fatalities are preventable. 

In response to the reports of dog bites and attacks which continue to drive news cycles in cities across the country, celebrity dog trainer, TV personality and best-selling author Victoria Stilwell (It’s Me or the Dog, Animal Planet) founded the Dog Bite Prevention Task force in 2012 with other leaders in the fields of animal behavior, forensics and legislation.  Comprised of canine behavior experts, lawyers, pediatric surgeons, rescue coordinators, educators and dog bite victims’ families, the Task Force tours the country presenting the Dog Bite Awareness and Prevention Conference in a dedicated effort to finding practical and workable solutions to this universal problem through education and heightened awareness among those on the front lines of this epidemic.

“I am devastated each time I hear about children being bitten, mauled or killed, especially when most of these incidences could have been prevented,” Stilwell states. “Education is key, not just for parents and kids, but for professionals and educators who must all work together to spread awareness and encourage responsible pet ownership.”

The National Dog Bite Awareness and Prevention Conference, presented by VSPDT-certified Wag & Train Animal Behavior Specialists and Good Family Dog Training, is designed for and open to all animal industry professionals, child educators, shelter workers, attorneys, medical professionals, first responders, animal control officers, delivery personnel, trainers and dog lovers.

The one-day seminar features dynamic presentations from Stilwell, Crosby, Wilkins and other leading canine behavioral experts. Topics include: understanding aggression, recognizing and interpreting canine body language, the effect of punitive training methods on dogs, safe-handling of aggressive dogs, what to do after a dog bites, how to investigate a bite incident, victims’ rights, the inadequacies and inefficiencies inherent in breed-specific legislation (BSL) and tips on keeping you and your family safe around dogs.  Find out how which breeds and age groups are most bite-prone and how bites can be prevented through education, awareness and humane training techniques.

Space is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Early-bird registration is open until Oct. 5, 2012 and is $85 ($125 for a personalized copy of Victoria's book as well). To register or for more event details, visit www.denverdogbiteseminar.com. Group and shelter worker discounts are available: please contact event organizer YellowDog Creative at yellowdogdenver@gmail.com for details.

Proceeds from the Conference benefit the Victoria Stilwell Foundation.

Downloadable Press Release (PDF)

Chew This, Not That!

Chew This, Not That! Dogs need “occupational therapy.” So says Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM, animal behaviorist and puppy guru. If you don’t give your dog something to do, your dog will find something to do.

If you don't give your dog something to do, your dog will find something to do! Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Kronenberg and "Bailey".

Although dogs are genetically hard-wired to chew, some dogs like to chew more than others. You can help encourage your dog to be a happy, busy, lifelong chewer who enjoys chewing appropriate items rather than your stuff. Habits develop early and quickly, so start your training on the first day home regardless of your dog’s age.

The joy of chewing

Chewing is a natural canine activity that relieves stress and teething pain and is a great outlet for pent-up energy. Lucky for you, your dog can exhaust herself chewing on a great bone. Favorite chew-toys act as pacifiers. Chewing also helps distract your dog from engaging in other, unwanted, activities.

Chew-toy training

A. Puppy-proof your home. Remove access to valuable items.

B. Design a Dog Zone using an x-pen and crate, or baby-gated area so you can run errands and sleep.

C. Use Bitter Apple, a nontoxic taste aversive, for items that cannot be protected.

D. Supervise and redirect your puppy to her own chew toys if she gets off track. Praise her for playing with her own chew toys.

E. Provide a Doggie Toy Box and rotate three or four favorite chew items every other day.

What to chew

Safe chewies should be as close to 100 percent digestible or 100 percent indestructible as you can find. Provide chew-toys stuffed with high-value foods. You may feed all food from chew toys, until the dog is chew-toy trained. Long-lasting chewables include “bully sticks,” marrow and soup bones. Newly popular on the chew scene are antlers, the adorable PlanetDog.com tuff chewies, Caviar Buffalo Jerky, duck, pork or chicken air-dried strips. Choose Made in the USA labels for higher-quality-control standards.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n' Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor, 2012.

Celebrate National Dog Day!

Victoria with her two rescue dogs, Sadie & Jasmine.

There are over 78 million owned dogs in the U.S., and 39% of all American households include at least one dog. This Sunday, August 26th, is National Dog Day, giving many of those dogs and the people that love them reason to celebrate. As someone who has dedicated my life to helping people build healthy relationships with their pets based on mutual trust, respect and love, I have one of the best seats in the house on days like this and I honestly believe that I have one of the best jobs in the world.

These special animals are unique among pets, and the bond we’ve developed over many thousands of years of domestication and partnership is one-of-a-kind. Anyone who has shared their life with the family dog knows this. But on National Dog Day, while we are celebrating our love for and devotion to man’s best friend, we must also take time to remember those who aren’t here to celebrate with us any longer.

Losing a pet can be a truly devastating event. We lost our beloved cat, Angelica, several years ago, and my eight-year old daughter still occasionally lights the ‘kitty candle’ to let her know that we still love her and think of her. And while any current pet owner who has previously lost a pet can use a holiday like National Dog Day to remind them to give their furry pals an extra squeeze or a few more minutes of belly rubs, there are many dogs, cats and other pets that have never felt that kind of love.

Victoria visits with Lennox's owners, the Barnes family, in Belfast.

Many of you are familiar with the case of Lennox, a Labrador mix from Belfast, Northern Ireland who was euthanized recently following a two year legal battle to return him to his loving owners. Despite the fact that the dog was registered, microchipped and well-behaved, the Belfast authorities claimed that due to his bodily dimensions, he was of ‘pit-bull type’ and confiscated him, keeping him in a kennel for two years before killing him while claiming their hands were tied due to the law. I met with Lennox’s owners in Belfast last month, and knowing what conscientious, loving, responsible pet owners they were to Lennox and continue to be with their other animals, my heart goes out to them today.

But it’s not only the victims of breed-specific legislation (BSL) that we must think of. Every year, between 5 to 7 million dogs and cats enter American shelters.  3 to 4 million will be euthanized, 60% of those will be dogs (the number is even higher for cats). We are suffering from a chronic pet overpopulation problem, and the most frustrating thing is that it simply doesn’t have to be this way.

As a nation, the U.S. is improving in terms of the number of dogs we’re adopting instead of breeding or buying – 21% of currently-owned dogs were adopted from shelters. We’re also making progress regarding spaying and neutering, with up to 78% of American dogs spayed or neutered. But we still have a long way to go, as evidenced by the fact that 20% of people who leave dogs at a shelter originally adopted from the shelter as well. This is a return policy where the math doesn’t add up to a happy ending.

People often ask me if it’s ever too late to train dogs, or if their older dog is a lost cause. While it is true that, like humans, some older dogs’ brains don’t fire quite as quickly as they did in their youth, the wonderful thing that dogs have going for them is that above almost everything else, they still retain a desire to learn and simply want to please us.

Some people abuse that fact, using domination and intimidation to ‘train’ their dogs and force them into a mythical state called ‘Calm Submission’, but more and more people are beginning to see that that type of approach is outdated and ultimately less effective (not to mention inhumane!)

The short answer is that it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, but the more important thing to remember is that it’s also never too early to begin working with your young dog. Watch the puppy training and socialization videos I’ve produced on the eHow Pets YouTube channel, read books promoting positive training ideas, and use consistency and perseverance when working with your young dog – it will pay off in the long run and you’ll be doing your part to ensure that your dog won’t become a casualty of our pet overpopulation numbers at the same time! To find a professional, force-free dog trainer certified and licensed by me, check out the Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer search page

In between filming projects and speaking tours, I continue to work with rescue groups all over the world, and I have the utmost respect for those on the front lines of the battle to overcome our pet overpopulation problem. One of the most successful and mutually rewarding projects I’ve come across is the Gwinnett County Jail Dogs program, featured in the American Dog series on the eHow Pets YouTube channel. In this program, shelter dogs are brought into the jail where inmates train them using positive reinforcement methods in order to make the dogs more adoptable to the public. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power that these dogs and inmates can have on one another as they help to rehabilitate each other from the inside out.

On this National Dog Day, give your dog a little extra love, but also remember that there’s much work to be done to make sure that all dogs are eventually able to experience that same love and devotion.

Top Five Tips for Successful Dog Training

Top Five Tips for Successful Dog Training! It’s scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog. So says the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, in a consensus article, Good Trainers: How to identify one (2006). The authors, esteemed veterinarians and experts in behavior, recommend positive training methods and tools, and warn against the use of punitive methods and tools. Intimation and pain-based methods can actually worsenyour dog’s behavior.

Samantha learns Sit Pretty easily with the help of Positive Reinforcement methods. Photo Courtesy of Nicole Marlin.

Sadly, the unregulated field of dog training has no “Do No Harm” ethic. Anyone can call themselves an “expert dog trainer “. How’s a well-meaning pet parent supposed to figure out what is really best for their dog?

Here’re some tips:

  1. Train early and practice often. Early training (at 8 weeks) trumps genetics. Be proactive and you can prevent many problems.
  2. Socialize, socialize, socialize. Socialization is the most important thing your dog will ever learn. Socialization skills with humans, other dogs and tolerance of moving objects are the most difficult challenges.
  3. Listen to what your dog is telling you. Your dog is “talking” to you all the time, through her body language. Learn to “read” dog body language: ears, tail, posture, facial expressions etc., and hear what your dog is telling you. Let this be the guide to your next move.
  4. Speak to your dog in a language your dog can understand. A common language is available to you and your dog to help you communicate clearly. Use easy-to-learn hand signals. Reward behaviors that you want repeated. You will be able to brag about how smart your dog is!
  5. You never need to hurt your dog, physically or psychologically, in order to train your dog. Methods and collars that hurt can cause aggression. Get your information from reliable sources, not from TV shows that warn, “Do Not Try This At Home.” Redirect, don’t correct!

Remember, both you and your dog can both get what you want. Scientifically- endorsed Positive Reinforcement methods are the most effective, long lasting, and safest. Your pet is a member of your family, but will be "a two-year old for life." Be kind. Be patient. Play daily.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch n' Sniff. Chris Ross, Editor. 2012



State of Pet Health Report 2012

“The health of America’s pets is deteriorating; pets are getting sicker than they need to,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, medical director Banfield the Pet Hospital.

Klausner bases his candid assessment on the “Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2012 Report.” The document offers the only meaningful sum of available data to sum up pet health in America. There’s no Centers for Disease Control for pets, but the Banfield report provides the next best thing; their 800 hospitals in 43 states report all illnesses to their database, trekking every detail on pet health. Last year, 2,600 Banfield veterinarians saw over two million dogs and nearly 430,000 cats.

While there are about 20 percent more cats than dogs in the U.S., cats represented less than a quarter of visits to the veterinarian, according to the Report. Is it because cats rarely get sick? “Not at all,” says Klausner. “Overall, veterinary visits have been on the decline for some time. This is particularly true for cats – we need to get cats into the veterinary clinic.”

The number of overweight or obese cats has increased a whopping 90 percent over the past five years, Banfield’s data shows. Dogs aren’t exactly maintaining their svelte figures either, as overweight and obese canines increased 37 percent over the past five years. Klausner doesn’t mince words, “It’s an epidemic,” he says.

There are many explanations for the striking rise in weight gain among pets. One is that pet owners truly aren’t aware their pet is overweight. According to the Report, 76 percent of dog owners and 69 percent cat owners don’t know their best friend is flabby.

Interestingly, Minnesota has the highest rate of overweight dogs and cats. South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Washington State also rank high. What does this mean? Klausner admits he’s not sure, especially since these states don’t correlate where the most people are overweight and obese. (According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Colorado actually has the lowest obesity rate nationwide for people; West Virginia has the highest obesity rate followed by Delaware, Mississippi and Louisiana).

No doubt the rise in arthritis, diabetes and several other problems mentioned in Banfield’s Report is correlate to the increase in weight gain. According to the study, since 2007 the prevalence of arthritis in dogs has increased 38 percent. It’s relatively recent that veterinarians are even considering arthritis in cats, and instances have gone up 67 percent over the past five years. Also, not surprising, the states with the most overweight pets also tend to have the most that are arthritic and diabetic.

Here are some more facts and figures from the “Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2012 Report:”

  • The most common small dog breeds (under 20 lbs): Chihuahua, Scottish Terrier
  • The most common medium dogs (20 to 50 lbs): Beagle and Boxer
  • The most common large dogs (50 to 90 lbs.): German Shepherd dog and Golden Retriever
  • The most common giant dogs (over 90 lbs.) Great Dane and Great Pyrenees
  • One of the most common dogs seen, overall: dogs described as Pit Bulls
  • Overall dog trends: More mixed breed dogs, fewer dogs described (by weight) as large and giant.
  • The most common names for cats: Tiger, Max and Kitty
  • The most common names for dogs: Max, Buddy and Bella

How to Become an Animal Communicator!

Ever get the feeling your dog is talking to you? You’re right. If you’ve longed to know what’s going on in your dog’s heart and mind, and to communicate back, here’s a surefire way to connect. Learn to read what your dog is saying to you, and speak to your dog in a language your dog can understand.

Conversing with Your Dog

Your dog talks to you in three straightforward ways: via behavior, with body language and by vocalizing. Hone your observational skills to decode your dog’s messages. Then respond with clear hand signals in order to communicate most effectively. Body language is the bridge to communicating with your dog.

Body Language

Start with listening. Your dog’s body language broadcasts clear giveaways to their feelings. Don’t ignore it. Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior expert explains, “We can learn to read the body language of dogs displaying happiness, curiosity, anxiety, fear and hostility. Even learning the basics of interpreting a dog displaying Approachable versus Stay Away body language can be of the greatest benefit.”

"Ferrari" Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak


A relaxed flag-waving tail often means “I love you” but a raised twitching tail is an aggressive display. There’s some difficulty reading the “tail language” of a dog with a stubby tail.


Floppy ears generally indicate calm, but erect ears means “I’m on alert”. Your dog is deciding how to react. Flattened ears may be your dog telling the world she is afraid. Behaviors on-leash, such as hiding behind you, freezing, or trying to go the opposite direction let’s you know something is wrong. Change the situation so she can relax.

Body Posture

Body posture is another emotion indicator. Forward leaning with a stiff body are warnings to back off. If your dog freezes over the food bowl or fixates on another dog, a bite may follow. “Looking versus non-looking has various meanings” says Carol Byrnes, creator of What is My Dog Saying? and What is My Dog Saying at the Dog Park? available online for pet parents and trainers who want to learn more.


Vocalizations such as whining, growling and barking are your dog’s way of telling you she is uncomfortable. Whines often mean, “I’m scared, help me” or “I want something” whereas a growl is a warning. Barks have a lot of different meanings, depending on the context.

“Listen” for Doggie Disorders

Indoors, following from room to room, escape attempts, housetraining or destructive regression are some classic symptoms of separation/attachment problems. Your dog is not a happy camper. Fears may be treated with very slow acclimation and exposure to the troubling stimulus. Use baby-step socialization desensitization for confidence building. Dogs with human aggression or serious dog/dog aggression problems need professional help.

“Talk Back” by Marking

When your dog does something “all by herself” that you’d like to see more of, such as sitting or making eye-contact on leash, “Capture” it by marking it with a treat. Behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, so reward what you like regularly and frequently and you’ll be getting more and more of what you want. Use “Luring” with a treat to get a jump-start on a new behavior. You may want to use a clicker to mark a behavior before you reward.

Developing a good relationship with your dog is two-way street. Stay positive. Don’t correct... redirect. Punishment and old school dominance training methods produce anxiety and may cause aggression making a troubling behavior even worse. Learning to look at the world from your dog’s point of view will help you understand and respond appropriately to dog talk so you can both be happy!

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Magazine, Pet Edition. San Diego.


Tips for Dealing With the Summer Heatwave

You can have hot fun in the summertime with your pets, but if the heat is on, your pets may potentially be in danger.

In general, dogs aren’t able to deal with the heat as well as people, that’s mostly because for all intents and purposes they don’t perspire – they pant, Darker colored dogs have a tougher time of time, and so do larger dogs.

Here are seven tips for keeping your pets safe in summer:

Dogs Die in Hot Cars: Instances of dogs becoming ill and sometimes dying as a result of literally roasting in hot cars are avoidable. According to the AAA Chicago Motor Club, if it’s 85 degrees outdoors, even when the windows are open a crack, the dashboard can heat up to 170 degrees in less than 15 minutes.

In many states, counties and cities, it’s actually against the law to keep a pet shut inside a hot car, so the law may be on the side of the good Samaritan. Calling the police may be an option. In some places this law (like many animal cruelty laws) is more enforced than in others. Certainly, if the car is parked at a store – if more than a few minutes passes, simply fetching the owner can save a dog’s life.

Exercise: Some dogs play fetch, and simply know when enough is enough; they stop. Others will fetch forever because they want to please us. It’s your job as an adult to step and say, ‘enough, the game is over.’ This is why an adult in the household needs to be aware of the pets’ activities. If the dogs appear too hot, they probably are.”

For dogs who are out in the yard for any extended period of time – which is not the best idea in the first place – shade and water are necessary.

If you run with your dog – even a short distance – best bet is an early morning jog or hit the track after sunset when the temperatures aren’t as hot and the sun isn’t shining. Be sure to bring water for your dog (and for you).

Splash This: Life preservers for dogs are a good idea, if you’re on a boat. Just as they save human lives, they may do the same for even good canine swimmers. While many dogs might know how to jump into a pool for a few laps, the problem is getting out of the pool. Also, never allow Pugs, Pekingese and other swimming impaired dogs near a pool without adult supervision. It’s rare for them to enthusiastically jump in (Labrador style), but they can fall into the pool – and get into trouble very fast.

Cats in Trees:  Where’s Sheriff Andy Taylor when you need him? In most places, phone the local sheriff or fire department to fetch a cat up a tree, you’ll only hear a bemused operator ask, “You’ve gotta be kidding?” If you manage to convince emergency personnel to respond, you’ll likely be charged a fee.

Be patient. Veterinary clinics rarely report treating cats who have fallen from trees. Emergency rooms, however, do treat people who have fallen trying to rescue feline friends. Entice kitty with a can of tuna left at lower branches or at the base of the tree; walk away and wait for hunger to overcome fear.

Skunks: Step #1: Get a clothespin – that’s for your nose. Step #2: Scrub your pooch in a solution of one quart hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and one teaspoon liquid dish soap. Step #3: Rinse. Step #4: Scrub the pet again – this time with a solution of half tomato juice and half water as needed. Step #5: Rinse. Step #6: Go to the movies while the odor subsides. Or go back to Step #2 and purchase an over-the-counter products available to help fight skunk stench.

Asphalt: Hot asphalt can literally scorch dog paws.

Rodenticides: Pets who have eaten rodent poison may emit a sour gassy smell, and have sudden muscle tremors or bleeding from the nose or stool. See your veterinarian immediately. It’s very helpful to know exactly what kind of rodenticide your dog has ingested.

Bret Michaels Talks Dog…

Bret Michaels says he owes his life to rock ‘n roll and to a Husky named Nicholas.

The year was about 1990, Michaels recalls. "It was overnight. I was having a very bad low blood sugar drop, around the high 20s or low 30s. I don't know if Nicholas picked up on a scent or saw me getting increasingly restless in bed. I was about to go into insulin shock, and I might have died if he didn't jump on the bed and alert my manager, who gave me orange juice and a Glucagon shot (to increase blood glucose) - and I was fine in moments."

Fans of old school heavy metal know Michaels as the front man for Poison. Others know him from the highest rated VH1 show ever, "Rock of Love." Michaels won "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010, though the battle was not so much with Trump as with his own health.

The star has been battling Type-1 Diabetes since he was 6-year old. A series of health scares were played out in front of America during his final weeks of "Celebrity Apprentice." It began with an emergency appendectomy. Less than two weeks later, Michaels was back in the hospital with a brain hemorrhage, which was followed by a transient ischemic attack. (TIA occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops for a brief time, triggering stroke-like symptoms. A TIA may be a warning sign of an impending stroke). This was followed by heart surgery. Michaels is 49.

"I've been so blessed," says Michaels. "I know it sounds very clichéd, but when you go through something like that and come out the other side doing just fine...," he says, pausing. "I sure don't take life for granted."

Michaels says he was both surprised and thankful for the outpouring of public support as he faced each crisis. Today, he's past the string of setbacks and is very busy creating rock 'n roll gear, as well as toys and accessories for pets, partnering with PETsMART.

Pets have been a part of Michael's life since childhood. His very first pet was a German Shepherd dog that his dad named Tarkus Arlicicus.

"It was some sort of Romanesque name," Michaels says. "To be honest, I never knew why we named him that; we just called him Tark." He says that having a pet helped to teach him responsibility. Along came cats, horses and more dogs.

Today, Michaels' menagerie includes two German Shepherds (still his favorite breed), Diesel and Phoenix; horses Bo and Ness; and his pet rats, Harley and Charlie. He talks affectionately of his beloved rats Marley and Chester, who passed away.

"I'm telling you, rats are smart, clean and friendly. It's not like Ben and Willard," says Michaels. "We need to create some rat toys."

While the rat toys haven't yet materialized, his Pets Rock line of toys and accessories will be available in stores and online around the end of May, with more products to be released through the summer, and in the fall, a line of cat toys called 'Look what the cat dragged in.'

"Love me or hate me, it doesn't matter, you'll love the ball with my face on it," Michaels says and laughs. "Dogs can fetch me, or not; maybe they'd rather bury me in the yard."

Michaels says he had a hand in designing everything, then "the pet experts" insured that each product would be safe. In addition to toys, the collection includes stylish t-shirts (for dogs) - one with a skull and crossbones. Of course, Michaels' trademark bandanas are replicated so pets can wear them. One dog bed is pink, but a skull with wings adds rock 'n roll appeal.

There's even a rock tour bus dog toy. Inside the toy bus are other toys, band members, groupies and a driver. It's the toy that keeps on giving. As the dog shakes the bus, a band member or groupie might fall out.

10 Safety and Calming Tips for Dogs During Fireworks

The fireworks show last week celebrating the Queen's six decades on the throne was reported to be the most amazing show London has ever seen. Fireworks can be fun for humans, but dogs don't have the same reaction.

In the United States, July 4th is around the corner, along with the fireworks that inevitably come with this holiday. Almost all humans with canines in the U.S. declare this day the worst day of the year for their dogs. Veterinarians say that July 3rd is usually the most trafficked day in their offices, with clients coming in to get drugs for their dogs.

A few years ago, I found a lost dog on the 4th of July. He was obviously a well fed, groomed, and trained dog that escaped his yard when he heard the fireworks. When I called our local Humane Society, I was informed that it is the busiest time of the year for them, as more dogs are found wandering loose on July 4th than any other day of the year in the U.S.

10 Tips for providing a safe July 4th for your Canine Household:

  1. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise earlier in the day.
  2. Keep your dogs inside during fireworks, preferably with human companionship. If it’s hot, air conditioning will help. Bringing your dogs to a fireworks display is never a good idea.
  3. Provide a safe place inside for your dogs to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. (I once had a dog who climbed in the bathtub during windstorms.) If your dog is comfortable in a crate, that is a good option.
  4. If possible, keep the windows and curtains closed. Covering the crate or lowering the blinds can also be helpful. Removing visual stimulation can also help calm dogs.
  5. Make sure all your dogs are wearing ID tags with a properly fitting collar. Dogs have been known to become Houdini around the 4th of July.
  6. Leave your dog something fun to do – like a frozen Kong filled with his favorite treats.

Using sensory enrichment to calm dogs:

  1. Sound Therapy: The psychoacoustically designed music of Through a Dog's Ear has been specifically designed to reduce canine anxiety and has been successfully utilized by dog lovers world-wide. It is most effective when you first play the music well before the fireworks start, at a time the dog is already feeling peaceful and relaxed. He will begin to associate the music with being calm and content. Then play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime. The music doesn’t need to be loud to be effective as it has been clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Listen to free sound samples.
  2. Sound Therapy combined with Desensitization: The Canine Noise Phobia series (CNP) consists of four CD's that can be used individually or as a set: Fireworks, Thunderstorms, City Sounds, and Calming. CNP is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention of sound-sensitivities and noise-phobias:
    • progressive sound effects (distant/close)
    • specially-designed psychoacoustic music (Through a Dog’s Ear)
    • reward-based reinforcement protocols (Victoria Stilwell)

Here's what Nancy Weller said after using CNP Fireworks:

"I am preparing for New Years Eve. The most skittish of the greyhounds already went to bed. My boy is just game for everything. Tonight, we are relaxing to the Phobia Series Fireworks. He fights hard to stay awake. The subtle fireworks make him stare at the speaker. Then not. 75+ lb brindle boy, sleeping like a baby. Mom might have to curl up too."

  1. Tactile: There are two canine wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic dogs. The original Anxiety Wrap was invented by professional dog trainer Susan Sharpe, CPDT-KA. The patented design uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress. The thundershirt is also a wrap for your dog that provides gentle, constant pressure. Their website reports that over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms. Most dogs respond with the very first usage; some need 2-3 usages before showing significant improvement.
  2. Scent: Canine Calm, an all-natural mist from Earth Heart™ Inc., can help dogs relax and cope more effectively with loud noises and other stressful situations. Directions on their website say to spray Canine Calm onto your hands and massage the dog’s outer ears or abdomen. Or lightly mist the air behind your dog’s head, inside the travel crate or car, or directly onto bedding or clothing.

Do you have any additional tips for helping keep dogs calm and safe on this noisy holiday? Thanks for clicking comment below and sharing your suggestions. Also, feel free to share how your dogs have acted during previous July 4th holidays.

Receive a FREE DOWNLOAD from the Calm your Canine Companion Music Series by Through a Dog’s Ear.

Simply click here and enter your email address. A link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy!

Get 15% off all individual Canine Noise Phobia Series products (not including 4-disc bundles) through July 4, 2012 by using promo code SUMMER15 in the Positively Store.

Enough is Enough

At some point, it’s time to say enough is enough. For several years now, both in Canada and the U.S, there had been reports of pets sickened as a result of chicken jerky treats made in China. Last year, veterinary substantiated reports of pets eating chicken jerky treats and in some cases becoming very ill – even dying – seemed to be on the rise.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine began to investigate. And the agency was further pushed in February when U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio publicly interceded, and expressed concerns for pet owners at a press conference which included Ohio resident Kevin Thaxton, whose 10 year-old pug, Chancey, passed away unexpectedly after eating chicken jerky pet treats.  But Thaxton didn’t know why his dog died at that time and fed the same jerky treats to their new puppy who nearly died as a result.

To date, the FDA CVM and independent scientists have not been able to determine the problem; the agency even sent an investigator to China. “It’s a very simple product really,” says Dr. Dan McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA CVM, referring to how little goes into chicken jerky treats.

Put simply – the agency is stumped.

And making matters all the more confusing, the vast majority of dogs who eat jerky treats suffer no apparent ill affects after scarfing down any of the myriad of jerky treat brands.

Still, this year alone, McChesney says there have been about 1,000 complaints of pets sickened as a result of chicken jerky treats. While not all reports are absolutely substantiated, there have no doubt been pets who have become ill – but their owners never connected the treats as a possible explanation.

McChesney concedes that something must be going on. But therein lies the problem. The agency isn’t legally allowed to stop companies from distributing the products or authorizing a recall without specific scientific justification.

That hardly satisfies pet owners like Terry Safranek of Brooklyn Heights, OH. She’s confident that Waggin’ Train Wholesome Chicken Jerky caused the death of her best friend Sampson on January 13. This brand, manufactured by Nestle Purina PetCare has, thus far, done nothing, despite many complaints, and over 64,000 signatures at Safranek’s Change.org petition. Though, interestingly, the Waggin’ Train website does state last November’s FDA note of concern on their website.

I suggest that the best way to deal with this issue is the old supply and demand model. If the demand dissipates enough, those who supply the jerky will be far more motivated to figure out the issue for themselves and correct the problem.

I realize most pets have no ill affects – but what if it’s your pet that is sickened? Is purchasing chicken jerky treats really that important? Call it a boycott if you like. I think it’s less risky to choose an alternative tasty dog treat, or offer some baby carrots to your best friend – you can’t go wrong.


Story Links:

Why Positive Training Is Not Bribery

Many who discount the power of positive training often frown upon the use of food in training and claim that it is tantamount to bribery.  Having heard this argument from traditional trainers ad nauseum, I have finally determined that it is usually motivated by one of two things (or maybe both):

1.   A desire to have the dog ‘work’ for his food simply because it’s what we want, and given that we’re smarter, stronger and in charge, that should be enough,
2.   An unnecessary and unfounded fear that once the food stops flowing, the unwanted behaviors will return.

As for the first point, there’s not much we can do with someone who feels the need to dominate such an eager-to-please species, so we’ll leave that one for their human psychologists.  And while the second point above is a more understandable concern, this frequently-repeated myth not only completely disregards the scientific fact that food literally alters an animal’s brain chemistry, but also suggests a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the basic scientific principles of how reward-based training (conditioning) works.

To truly comprehend why food is so powerful, you must first understand the influence it has on the dog’s brain. Food has the power to not only enhance a dog’s ability to learn but  also helps a dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the desire to seek or move towards the food reward. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses. If a dog is presented with food before he reaches a high stress level in the presence of a stimulus that scares him, a positive emotional response occurs. There are circuits in the dog’s brain that encourage seeking or hunting behavior and circuits that elicit the fear response. When you present food to your dog you turn on his seeker system, effectively turning off the fear. This is one reason why using food for activities such as scent work is so valuable for fearful/aggressive dogs. Turning on the thinking brain deactivates the emotional brain, enhancing a dog’s attentiveness with positive motivation and allowing him to move into a calmer state where learning can take place. Therefore, because food is incompatible with fear, using food treats for teaching is incredibly valuable, especially when it comes to modifying a dog’s anxiety and stress.

The food that is used to motivate your dog to learn must be of high value to him until he is responding reliably. Once this has been achieved, the high-value food should only be used intermittently, meaning that your dog doesn’t always get rewarded with food every time he responds to a cue, but with an alternate reward that might be of lesser value to him, such as praise. Because the dog never knows when a treat is coming he will continue to respond in anticipation that food will appear again in the future.

Such intermittent reinforcement actually makes your dog respond faster and more reliably because this learning is based on the same concept that makes a casino slot machine so addictive. It would be wonderful if a slot machine gave out money every time you played it, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen. The potential, however, that you could win the jackpot with the very next pull of the lever makes you want to play even more.

Imagine you arrived at work tomorrow and were called into your boss’ office. You like your job (pretend if you have to), and are generally quite good at it. Your boss praises you for your good work and tells you how glad he is to have you on the team, and then informs you that as of that moment, you’d no longer be receiving any salary. When you ask why, he simply states that you should be glad to work for him because he’s in charge and you’re not, and that that should be enough for you. I don’t know anyone who would put up with those terms, and yet that’s the dynamic that opponents of reward-based training suggest we employ with our dogs.  Nuts.

Finally, while food should certainly be used as a reward for a dog that is food motivated, rewards such as toys, praise and play can be just as powerful if a dog happens to be motivated by them.  You can enhance your dog’s ability to learn by using whatever motivates him the most first and then varying the rewards you use as your dog becomes proficient at the particular cue or action you are teaching him.   Any reward which motivates a dog to learn is a great training tool because learning not only makes a dog more confident and able to live successfully in a domestic environment, it also encourages mutual understanding that increases the human/animal bond.  This is not bribery.

Bottom line: if a dog sees that there are pleasurable consequences for a behavior then he is more likely to repeat the behavior because doing so makes him feel good.  When a person is attached to that good feeling there is more likelihood of the dog listening and responding to whatever that person asks of him.  That is why I have never understood why people choose to train their dogs using force and punishment or who belittle the power of rewards in training. I want my dogs to do the things I want them to do because they want to, not because I have made them do it through force.

Puppy Socialization and Vaccinations/Titers Belong Together

Pet parents are now aware of the necessity of providing dog/dog socialization opportunities for their puppies. Nevertheless, when and how to do it is still misunderstood largely because many veterinarians, as well as breeders and pet-store owners, advise new pet parents to avoid socializing their new puppy with other dogs until the age of four to six months in order to avoid exposure to illnesses that vaccines protect against.

"I'm a Social Butterfly!" Photo Courtesy of Macchi and Kathy Hopper

Veterinarian experts in animal behavior, however, caution that the risk of developing behavioral problems—especially aggression—outweighs the risk of developing disease in otherwise healthy puppies. As early as 2004, renowned veterinarian, RK Anderson, proclaimed this in an open letter to his veterinary colleagues; Puppy Vaccination and Early Socialization Should Go Together!

Dr. Lynn Honeckman, DVM, tells us, “There is a very small window of opportunity during which it is our job to teach our puppies that the world is a safe place.”  So, exactly how do you plan for the “lifetime of happiness” approach to puppy-raising?

When Should You Socialize Your Puppy?

Dr. Ian Dunbar, veterinarian and Animal Behavior PhD, a pioneer in puppy training, tells us that safe socialization during the first few weeks at home is of “extreme urgency.” Indeed, Dunbar has launched the Puppy Raising Initiative explaining socialization imperatives for puppies in the short “critical period” of social development—between four and twelve weeks of age. This applies to socialization with people too. “Puppies must be safely socialized to people; otherwise, during adolescence they will likely become wary and fearful and may be aggressive towards people.”

How to Socialize and Protect Your Puppy

Dr. Lee Harris, a San Diegan veterinarian who studies canine behavior, wisely counsels, “Some common sense needs to be exerted about providing well-chosen socialization.” The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Puppy Socialization advises that socialization in the first three months of life, before puppies are fully vaccinated, should be the standard of care. The organization Operation Socialization: Just Add Puppy offers easy to follow socialization safety guidelines when socializing your puppy. The American Veterinary Medical Association website provides guidance as well. It states that, “Puppies need socialization with other dogs, but those dogs must be well vaccinated and healthy.” Socializing with litter-mates or in-house dogs is not sufficient.

What Happens to Dogs who are Not Socialized Early?

"Jack" Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Kronenberg

After the 4 to 12 week “critical period” window closes, the friendly socializing puppy that was open to accepting the wide and wonderful world, enters into a fear-acquiring developmental period. So… unless you and your dog plan to live in the woods and need to protect yourselves from other dogs, preparing your pup to live in a domesticated, dog-filled environment makes better sense!

Failure to properly socialize early often results in aggression that is resistant to treatment, dogfights, embarrassing and stressful barking/lunging walks, heartache and pet abandonment.

Education is the Key

Dr. Karen Overall, Veterinarian, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB) PhD, CAAB, explains, “Worldwide, it’s exceptional that

veterinary specialists in behavior are on faculty at veterinary schools, and yet the single biggest killer of pet dogs is behavior problems. People need to realize that vets don’t know that much about problematic behavior, or maybe even normal behavior. The single biggest reason people relinquish animals to a shelter is a behavioral problem.”

Work closely with your veterinarian to keep your puppy current on her vaccinations, or better yet, titer testing, but be proactive about your puppy’s socialization requirements. Discuss the current scientific literature and work out a medically safe but early socialization plan with your vet and a private trainer or puppy class instructor, or ask your positive reinforcement behavioral consultant for a veterinary referral.

Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Pet Magazine, San Diego Edition.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

The Adventure Continues

Dog training is sometimes a Mystery.  I work daily with the Devil Dog on Sit Down Stay and COME. The DD will be one year old on Friday 13 April. I still don’t have these command done.  At times I just want to cuss; then there are times when I think maybe she is getting it. We train every day on the basics, and still I want to just cuss.

Today  I want to  relay another Devil Dog story to allow y’all to share in my pain. Yesterday I loaded all four dogs into my truck for a afternoon of running at the farm. As I drove out of the driveway it started to rain, but I had brought towels for the ride home I was prepared.   As I turned into the gate at the farm I heard all this growling, barking, screaming and weird noises from the dogs -  the noise sounded like a busload of first graders stopping at the Dairy Queen for free blizzards -- they were excited.

I opened the door to the truck, Star took off running, Lucille found a hole to dig and Maggie ran to gather the cows. I being the smart one had DD on a leash.  I walked around my new barn looking at the new electrical plugs that were installed today. I wondered what kind of lights to use in the barn. I walked DD around the fence line; checking for holes, loose wire, and picking up sticks.  Rain had started by now and all dogs were double wet as they had taken turns jumping into the cows' water tub.

After an hour or so  I spread towels in the seat of truck, loaded up Star in the front seat and Maggie and Lucille in the back. As I loaded DD into the back seat a cow walked by the door of the truck. DD jumped from the seat, jerking me to the ground. While on my way to “kiss the dirt”  I hit my ‘good ‘ knee on the corner of the truck door, laying in cow poop, water, and sheep poop;  I looked under the truck to see DD chasing the cows. Once before she had chased the cows into the barn thru a fence and over me, causing me to ram my head into the doorway of the small barn. Visions of that bloody incident  came flooding back, but I some how managed to get up on my feet.

DD  was running as fast as the wind after the cows, thank heaven the cows were in the open and not headed for a fence.  DD is flying over the pasture  but right on her back end was Buddy the Llama, who has in past KILLED dogs that have attacked livestock. Now in my younger years I was a pretty good athlete, able to run with the best, sprint with the wind, and turn on a dime. But somewhere along the way ’LIFE’ has taken me to a different athletic realm. I struggled to get up then realized my knee would not work with out me screaming multiple cuss words. I ran behind Buddy who was chasing DD  who was chasing the cows, only if some one could have videoed this from the road where cars were passing and honking. I was yelling (cuss words) lay down! But DD kept on running the cows straight at the new barn and new fence I had spent the past two weeks building. Buddy making weird Llama sounds right in behind and the two goats and one ram sheep  are now running wildly around me and Buddy.

Can you say “CIRCUS”! with lots of yelling and cussing.

Finally DD sees me as she turns the cows into the newly fenced pasture I have a stick, leash in my hands and covered in sheep and cow poop. What I looked like must have scared the dickens out of her as she ran an jumped into the cow trailer. GOT YA! I  screamed as I  slammed the end gate   But no, that was just a shortcut to the cows on the other side. Buddy now was right behind me spitting growling and stomping his feet.

The cows were now approaching the new barn and  new fence; they were about to stop running; when DD comes from under the truck and dive bombs into them biting and barking, THRU the new fence the cows  go. AND DD then runs to the truck gets in the back seat , sits there with this look on her face of ‘My job is finished here’.

I, on the other hand, was out of breath, smelled like sheep, cow, and llama crap, wet, jeans torn where I had hit my good knee on the bottom edge of truck door, blood running down from my knee into my shoe, leash wrapped around my neck, and a llama over my shoulder  I thought to my self…. Dog training is tough and some times you just got to laugh to keep from crying. I managed to limp to the truck driver's side and slid behind steering wheel  and think to my self. This adventure is becoming a comedy.

Daniel’s Law

Animals dying in gas chambers – it doesn’t conjure a pleasant image but it happens at shelters every day,

When the inevitable time occurs, owned pets are euthanized by injection. Animal euthanasia comes from the Greek, literally meaning a good death without fear, stress or pain.

“Death by gas (really carbon monoxide is used) is a death horrible enough to be banned (in most states) for criminals,” says activist and dog trainer Joseph Dwyer of Nutley, NJ. “These shelter animals are not criminals – their only crime is that they can’t find a home.”

According to Dwyer’s count, 30 states still allow for killing in carbon monoxide chambers. ”It’s unnecessary, heartless,” he says.

Dwyer became involved when he learned about a Beagle named Daniel. The little dog made national news back last fall when he and 17 other dogs were placed together in a carbon monoxide chamber in Florence, AL. Sixteen dogs died that day. When a shelter worker opened the chamber door, a wagging tail was on the other side. The amazed shelter worker thought the pup would still die overnight, but the dog refused to succumb.

The shelter didn’t have the heart to put down the plucky dog, who made national news for his resilience.

Dwyer heard about the dog, and adopted him through a non-profit called Eleventh Hour Rescue. Dwyer not only adopted Daniel – named for the Biblical figure who survived the lion’s den – he adopted a personal mission to advocate for euthanasia by injection, and end carbon monoxide killings forever.

When Pennsylvania State Senator Andy Dinniman (D) heard about the hardy Beagle, he learned his state was among those, “still in the dark ages,” as he says. “I feel our great state must do better.”

Indeed, they’re about to do just that. This month (in March) a Pennsylvania bill to end carbon monoxide killing of animals should sail through the state Senate Appropriations Committee, and then onto the full Senate for what one Dinniman hopes and expects to be a bipartisan vote of approval.

Dinniman noted that public response to the proposal has been overwhelmingly in favor. “In my district (the 19th Senatorial district), 400 people showed up at a rally with their dogs,” he says.

“I’m not sure what the opposition could possibly say,” adds Dwyer. “I’m convinced that most people don’t realize gas chambers exist – and likely in the state they live in.”

Some contend euthanasia by injection – one animal at a time – will be more costly. It turns out that isn’t true, according to a 2009 study by the American Humane Association. In fact, euthanasia by injection can potentially be less expensive

Perhaps, the carbon monoxide chambers are so rarely reported on because it is, after all, hard to stomach. Despite guidelines which suggest otherwise, for the sake of expediency, the animals put to death in these chambers are often rounded up. So, big dogs are crammed together with small dogs, and cats are put to death with dogs – it doesn’t matter. Temperatures in these chambers may reach over 100 degrees. Technicians report hearing animals scream.

“That’s right, it’s inhumane,” says Dwyer. “But also don’t all animals deserve to die with some dignity?” As pet owners are aware euthanasia by injection, allows for respect for individual lives; many pet owners use words such as “beautiful,” “spiritual” and “peaceful.”

Dwyer – is working to support Dinniman efforts in Pennsylvania, and hopes that the state’s high profile passage of a bill banning euthanasia by carbon monoxide will spread to other states. And Dinniman is hoping for the same. “The way which we treat our animals reflects the way which we treat ourselves.”

Be a Shining Star

Drop the “obey” and replace it with "COME PLAY."

I think part of the problem with many dogs today is that they don’t get to really play enough.    Having a dog in your life should be more about having a friend and companion and less about obeying and commands (I don’t care for either of those words - they sound so controlling).

When I am with my own dogs I feel a sense of wonder because I get to share my life with such amazing animals.  Don’t get me wrong - I want everyone to have well-behaved canines, and one very important step to that is learning to play fun games with your dog and get them outside.  In addition to exercise (which is a key component to having a well balanced, healthy dog), the mental stimulation that your dog gets from the exercise is crucial.  Just like us, dogs get bored with the same smells, the same backyard, etc.  Change it up for them, bring them joy from your human world just like they bring you joy from the simple act of being a canine.

I believe that walking a dog should be about the dog.  Remember, you're taking them so that they can use one of their most important senses - their noses - and because they probably have been locked in all day waiting for you to return.  Smelling new smells and exploring makes their minds happy.  Next time you take your dog for a walk make the walk all about them.  Try and forget how busy or how tired you are, how long your dog is sniffing the same darn spot and wishing he would just hurry up.

Our dogs are not here for very long and I think sometimes we all tend to forget that.  When it is time to go for that walk and you're tired, just remember, you’re the stars and the moon to your dog.  Let us all try and strive to be just that…   The STARS and the MOON.

If Your Dog Could Talk: Reward vs Punishment Dog Training

If Your Dog Could Talk, What Would She Tell You? Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

There's a raging controversy in the field of dog training centered around dog training collars and methods--Reinforcement vs Correction and Treats vs No Treats. What's a pet parent to do? If your dog could talk, your dog would surely ask you to listen to the experts in animal behavior. As it turns out, it’s scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog.

In a consensus article, Good Trainers: How to Identity One, the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) states quite clearly; shock, prong, and choke collars should be avoided “because they increase fear and anxiety.” It specifically suggests, “no pop and jerk”. You can Google it to read the full article. These esteemed veterinarians-- experts in behavior-- outline the behavioral and psychological drawbacks of punitive methods and equipment: “There are many pitfalls of punishment: it ruins relationships, inhibits desirable learning, doesn’t tell the pet what to do, and increases aggression and arousal.” They recommend, “bite-sized treats, harnesses and praise” and name these as superior training tools.

Scores of animal behavior experts in the scientific community and humane organizations have spoken out on the Reward vs Punishment debate. Behaviorists from The American Humane Association to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists concur that using intimidation and pain-based methods to prevent or manage behavior can actually WORSEN existing behavior.

So, why is punishment-oriented training so widespread and popular? Well, there’s a charismatic TV trainer whose sensation-driven show warns viewers, “Don’t try this at home”. Additionally, shock, prong and choke collars are marketed in every big box store assuring buyers that they’re safe, acceptable and “won’t hurt your dog.” The language of “stimulation” and “tickle” can mislead innocent pet parents. Shock collar training is still legal in the US and there’s a great deal of money to be made. It works in the moment, but doesn't create lasting change or address the underlying problems.

Shock collars were recently banned for dog training in Wales and are illegal in Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and many parts of Australia. States, such as Connecticut, have banned their use by private trainers and severely restricted their use by facilities.

If you think of your pet as member of your family, think of your dog as "a two-year old for life." That's the truth of it. Reward-based learning is what we ought to use with our children and with our companion animals as well, if we want relationships built on trust and love rather than on dominance and fear.

Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Pet Magazine, San Diego.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com


The modern dog tends to lead a relatively unstimulating life in the domestic home, with nothing more to do than eat two meals, sleep on the couch and go for the occasional walk.  Dogs that were specifically bred to work can find domestic life boring, and in most cases barking relieves that boredom.  Even though dogs bark for many reasons including excitement, anxiety, for attention or to sound an alarm, the best prescription for any barking issue whatever the cause is increased exercise and mental stimulation, which helps to refocus a dog’s mind and tire them out.

First of all it is important to find out why your dog is barking. As with all training, you cannot successfully address the issue until you understand why the behavior is happening.

If your dog is barking at you for attention or because she wants something, ignore her until she stops.  This might be hard to begin with as she might bark longer and harder in an attempt to get your attention, but be patient.  Wait for 5 seconds of quiet and then reward that quiet with attention.   Repeat this as necessary.  Your dog will learn that barking gets her nothing but quiet gets her the attention she desires.

Dogs bark with excitement just as we humans like to vocalize when we are in exciting situations.   This barking normally occurs before going for a walk or being fed, which can be hard to work with because humans usually have a fixed pattern of pre-departure and pre-feeding cues which are highly ritualized.   Dogs pick up on these cues and bark in excitement for what is about to come.   The first thing to do is to change your cues as much as you can and stop what you are doing when the barking starts.    If your dog barks when you go to get her lead, for example, put the lead back where it was and go and sit down.  If you manage to successfully attach the lead when she is quiet and then the barking starts again as she goes outside, immediately came back in and wait for quiet before going out again.  This technique requires patience, but your diligence will pay off as your dog learns that being quiet is the only way she gets to go on a walk or be fed.  All of these training techniques require no verbal communication with your dog whatsoever.  In situations like these, body language speaks volumes and as dogs are so good at watching our every movement, it is a language they quickly understand.

Each dog needs an outlet that is specifically designed to motivate them and serve their particular needs.   Find an activity or sport that your dog really enjoys doing, taking into account what your dog’s breed or mix of breeds is.  Enrich your dog’s life inside the home by hiding her toys or food around the house and encouraging her to seek them out using her canine senses to find them.  Instead of feeding your dog from a bowl for every meal, try feeding her through activity toys at meal times instead so that she has to work to get her food.  Working for her meals will stimulate her brain and tire her out.

Some dogs do not do well by themselves and suffer anxiety upon separation.  Vocalizing this distress is a way of easing that anxiety as well as a way of trying to re-establish contact.   If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you need to enlist the help of a qualified positive reinforcement trainer to help you with a modification plan.  Separation anxiety can be a hard behavior to modify and time is needed for success.

New Year’s Dog Diet Resolution: “I resolve that my dog will eat better in the new year!”

Your dog will be ecstatic about your resolution! Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

New Year's Dog Diet Resolution: "I resolve that my dog will eat better in the new year!" Why not get on the “green dog bandwagon” and give your dog the new year’s gift that will last a lifetime? Your dog will be ecstatic about this resolution!

If you're having trouble sifting through all of the dog nutrition information and want to know what's good for your dog to eat and what's not--what's  essential and what's not--this article is written for you.

Veterinary nutritionist agree, a poor diet is the biggest obstacle to achieving canine health...from the ingredients, to the additives, to the processing. Buy food from companies that don’t cut corners but rather strive to provide the best quality food using ingredients produced and regulated in the U.S. Experts do not agree 100% about nutrition, however, an excellent holistic resource that investigates and reviews dry and canned food each year may be found at www.WholeDogJournal.com

Here're some tips to help you select dog foods that are both healthful and convenient.

The urban legend instructing pet parents to avoid feeding "people food" to dogs is only true if what you eat is not good for you! If you choose to home-cook, start with trustworthy recipes or prepare a healthy meal for yourself and cook a little extra for your dog. Be informed however, that raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, chocolate, xylitol and even onions are considered toxic to dogs, as are the pits of fruits. Home-cooked meals can be great for your dog... but not every good pet parent wants to cook for the dog.

If you choose to feed kibble, feed an organic super-premium quality kibble and rotate between specifically named meats within and between brands. A balanced diet requires variety. Feeding the same food continuously may create allergies and nutritional deficiencies. There are some excellent dehydrated and freeze-dried foods as well.

Transition from one brand or protein source to the next over the course of a week or two.  Always add water or a scoop of wet food to the kibble. Producing enough saliva to swallow dry kibble is hard on your dog’s digestive system. Chewing kibble does not clean the teeth.


Q. What’s best on the ingredients list?

A.  TV ads and food bags that proclaim “complete and balanced” may be misleading.
Look for a specifically named meat (or fish) as the first ingredient and as many named meat sources in the first three ingredients as possible. Unfortunately, you can’t determine the quality of the meat from the label. Look for natural preservatives, such as vitamin C, vitamin e, citric acid and rosemary.

Nikko, carrot connoisseur, tells us that carrots are not only a yummy treat, but nutritionally ideal for dogs. Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

A more natural diet would include raw meat, ground and large raw bones, shredded fruits and vegetables, and organ meat. Most vegetables and some fruits can and should be a part of your dog’s diet. Add a human food-quality bone meal as a calcium source to balance the high phosphorus in meats if you’re not providing bones. Conveniently frozen raw meals of meat, bone and veggies are now available.

Q. What about protein vs carbohydrates in the nutritional analysis?

A. High-protein diets are generally linked to high performance and high simple carbohydrate diets are linked to obesity in dogs. Choose a food with a small percentage of whole grains, if any. Doug Knueven, DVM, renowned veterinary lecturer on dog nutrition and author of The Holistic Health Guide: Natural Care for the Whole Dog (2008) also warns, “High carbohydrate foods predispose dogs to cancer.” Canines have little dietary requirements for carbohydrates, however, up to 90% grains may be used in commercial dog food because they are an inexpensive way to increase calories.

Q. What ingredients should I avoid?

A. Corn gluten, wheat, soy, unspecified meats, by-products of all kind, and any ingredient ending in -ose, corn syrup and sugar.

Q. What are red flags in my dog's food and treats?

A. Artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, especially BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin which have been linked to a variety of diseases.

Q. What about the processing?

A. High-temperature dog food processing can destroy nutrients including vitamins,
enzymes and amino acids. Stay as close to natural and organic as feasible.

Q. Do I really need to add supplements?

A. No matter what type of diet you choose, supplements are important.  Be sure your supplement producer is a member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) which commits to stringent quality controls.

Supplements listed in order of relative importance:

A balanced multivitamin/mineral derived from whole food sources.
Fish oil. DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids naturally found in fish oil and are important for brain function. A 2004 study showed that a measure of canine intelligence was more than doubled for a group with DHA supplement than a control group of puppies 9 -13 weeks of age. DHA is “cooked out” of heat-processed (kibble) foods.
Glucosamine/chrondroitin. Especially important for high-activity or performing dogs and to prevent and treat arthritis.
Probiotics--“good bacteria”. Provide at the change of the seasons, high-stress, and during and after any medication treatment, especially antibiotics.

Many illnesses, skin, and behavioral problems are directly affected by diet, so keep your Fifi and Bowser physically and temperamentally fit by meeting their canine nutritional needs. Consult your holistically-minded veterinarian or certified canine nutritional expert for more details.

Originally published in the Carmel Valley News. CA

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Snickers: A Year-End Happy Ending

After U.S District Court Judge granted a motion for Snickers to be returned to Jim Sak and Peggy Leifer, the couple walked outside the courtroom only to find that they incurred a parking ticket.

A few hours later, Peggy called me and she could barely laughed contain her laughter, “I knew you’d appreciate the irony,” she says.

Irony, in part, because her husband, Jim, 64, had been a Chicago police officer for 32 years (on the other end of those parking tickers). He’s also a Vietnam veteran. Clearly, the man is hero.

In 2008, Jim suffered a stroke. He depends on Snickers his service dog, to help enhance his independence.

In November, Jim and Peggy moved back to her home town of Aurelia, IA to help care for her ailing 87-year old mother. A hero and a good guy.

Jim Sack with his recently-returned therapy dog Pit Bull-type dog, Snickers.

Snickers happens to be part Pit Bull. And the city of Aurelia banned Pit Bulls and “bully breeds” several years ago. Well, maybe Snickers is a Pit Bull, but who knows. A certain look doesn’t necessarily correlate with what really is genetically in a dog. Peggy recalls, “We took in this 10-week old something dog – we really don’t know what Snickers is. Maybe part Lab, part Boxer and he does have broad shoulder of a Pit Bull, but we don’t know.”

Never mind that this dog had done nothing wrong, and is by all accounts is very friendly and is well trained. After two council meetings, Jim and Peggy were told to get their dog out of town, or else.

Never mind the dog issue  - disability experts were astounded.

“The ADA (American for Disabilities Act) Guidelines are very clear on this issue,” says Rebecca Huss, a law professor at Valparaiso University, an expert on service dog related issues. “The breed or mix is irrelevant when it comes to service dogs. The ADA isn’t about dogs, it’s about giving people with disabilities access and enhancing independence.”

Sometimes Jim’s leg begins to shake, and 85-lb. Snickers will push him up against a wall so he doesn’t fall. When Jim falls, he is able to get up by grasping on to Snickers. “I have a very hard time getting Jim back to his feet, but he and Snickers have it worked out,” Peggy says. Certified as a therapy dog, it’s difficult to argue that Snickers doesn’t assist Sak.

Also, a petition supporting giving up the dog was passed through the town of about 1,100, which 38 people signed.

Snickers future was discussed in both council meetings, before the decision was made. Snickers even attended the first of the two meetings. “I wanted to show everyone how friendly he is,” Peggy says.

Snickers was perfect, friendly and as well behaved as can be. Eerily, though, Snickers whimpered whenever his name was mentioned. It’s as if somehow this innocent dog knew he was a target. Maybe Snickers knew what was to come, or somehow felt unadulterated hate by at least a few in the room.

By a three to two vote, it was determined that Snickers would have to be removed from town. One of those votes to jettison the dog came from Cindy Nelson, a city council member. When reached by phoned, and asked to comment, she said “no comment” and hung up

George Wittgraf, an attorney representing Aurelia said he will stand by the comments he made to a Chicago newspaper reporter. He said, Aurelia is “simply exercising its authority to protect and preserve the rights and property of its residents — whether or not that’s trumped by” federal law.

Huss says, “Ugh, no. You can’t have local actions or laws which are contradictory to Federal Law.” And while this seems to be common sense which most high school students enrolled in a rudimentary civics class understand, the public servants of Aurelia chose another course.

Snickers spent several days in a kennel just outside town, and then moved into a foster home.

Jim Sack and Snickers were recently reunited after he was removed due to local breed-specific laws.

“Snickers gives Jim a feeling of independence, but the relationship is so much more,” says Peggy. “Here’s this tough ex-cop – and I am here to tell you Jim is tough. This dog makes Jimmy happy in way I can’t even explain. This dog is Jim’s heart. Snickers is like an anti-depressant drug. And then to be told when we explained Snickers is a service dog, to just get another (service dog).”

Of course Snickers isn’t like an old chair that can just be replaced.

Breed bans (almost always banning Pit Bull-looking dogs, and sometimes other breeds) have been passed in various cities and counties sporadically across the country. The wave of those bans began to wane around the time Michael Vick was convicted of dog fighting. In fact, it was Huss who was given responsibility by a court in 2007 for recommending the disposition of Vick dogs.

Huss agrees one lesson from the Vick story is that the dogs are merely victims of deplorable human behavior. “A type of look doesn’t make a dog dangerous,” she says. “But there’s a greater legal issue at stake.”

To that end Sak and Leifer have sued Aurelia for damages and costs associated with their ordeal (which the Animal Farm Foundation stepped up to pay for). “I’m not a litigious person,” says Leifer. “But we hope our case will prevent this from every happening again.”

In fairness, most people in town appear sympathetic, not to mention an outpouring of understanding emails from around the world – since the story has hit the Internet. In fact, several people who signed the original local petition in support of forcing Snickers to leave town have apologized, pointing out the petition never indicated Snickers is s service dog. Peggy said she heard someone in town was selling ‘Save Snickers’ t-shirts.

Still, when Snickers was removed from his home - the stress clearly took a toll. Though he was well cared for, Snickers still broke into hives and a rash, which was deemed stress related. Peggy rushed her husband to the doctor for elevated blood pressure.

The good news is that December 28, 2001; after several hours in court, the judge reunited Saks with his best friend by court order. And certainly national attention has been directed to the value of service dogs – and bred doesn’t matter is a message which the public seemed to understand.

While city officials voted for Snicker’s removal, they clearly didn’t speak for the town, and certainly don’t speak for the country.

“Listen, I take no pleasure that the media has painted the whole town as ignorant because of the ignorant actions of a few,” says Peggy “Many citizens came out of the woodwork to help us. Complete strangers helping us move in, bringing food, installing needed things in our home to assist Jim and the many, many offers of help we have received.”

It’s really like the Pit Bull issue isn’t it? All may get blamed for what a few do.

“Oh, you’ve got it,” she adds, and laughs. “We felt it was important to stand up for Snickers.”

“Snickers has given me so much – we wouldn’t even consider giving up on him,” says Jim. “My hope is that what happened here is an example, so no one else with a service dog has to go through what we did. “

Jim adds, “When I came back from Vietnam in ’68, they called me names and jeered at me. It felt like it was happening all over again. What did I do? What did Snickers do to do deserve this?”

12 Ways to Keep Pets Safe and Happy for the Howlidays

  1. LIMIT TABLE SCRAPS. When you have a dozen dinner guests, and everyone from Aunt Ethel and Uncle Fred are all offering table scraps, it may be too much for a small dog or cat to handle. Even big pets are too often treated for everything from minor tummy upset to pancreatitis on Christmas Day.
  2. WATCH WHAT YOU LEAVE OUT FOR SANTA. When leaving Christmas chocolate cookies out for Santa, remember chocolate can make pets sick (and Santa doesn’t need the calories); avocado is hazardous to birds (no Guacamole for Polly). Pets can choke on chicken or turkey bones, which may also cause a gastro-intestinal obstruction.
  3. CANDLES IN THE WIND. Candles may look nice, but they can easily be knocked over by playful kittens or curious cats. Aromatic candles may smell good to us and seem benign, but may be very dangerous to pet birds (who have very sensitive respiratory systems).
  4. AVOID PRICKLY CHRISTMAS TREES. When choosing a tree, consider one with pet friendly needles such as white pine or Douglas fir. They’re not as likely to stick to pet’s paws.
  5. TIDY WITH TREE NEEDLES. Puppies and kittens can munch on errant needles, and that may cause choking or stomach upset. Pet parrots (given the chance) may naturally perch on a branch of your Christmas tree, no harm done – great photo opp. But if Polly begins chewing on real needles or those from an artificial tree, it may be life threatened.
  6. NO CHEMICALS UNDER THE TREE. Don’t add chemical preservatives to prolong the life of your tree if pets have access to that solution. While the solutions to prolong tree life don’t seem to cause severe reactions, pets can get an upset tummy.
  7. HOUSE GUESTS. Some pets are social butterflies, others not so much. For some pets the commotion caused by little children is simply not the peace and quiet they’re accustomed. Those pets might be happier secluded in a room, door shut with Christmas Carols playing in the background. Also, with that front door frequently opening and closing – some dogs get out, and so do indoor cats. Be sure all pets are microchipped for identification (and registered with the microchip provider), and have a collar and an ID tag.
  8. HOLIDAY PLANTS MAY NOT BE SO FESTIVE. In truth, poinsettias are generally not the poisonous killer they’re made out to be, although too much may potentially cause stomach upset. Fresh holly and mistletoe are toxic, particularly the berries. Also, cats may be attracted to amaryllis lilies, red azaleas – all potentially dangerous.
  9. TINSEL AND RIBBON IN THE TUMMY. Cats and puppies love to play with tinsel and ribbons; if they ingest enough of this glittery stuff, it can create serious gastro-intestinal obstruction, and may be life threatening.
  10. WHAT ARE TREES FOR? Ask any cat – Christmas trees are all about trying to climb them. Secure the tree, so if a cat takes a flying leap – the tree won’t topple over.
  11. ORNAMENTS ARE MADE FOR CATS. If you have cats, glass ornaments should be kept off the tree. Find a cat-proof place, such as behind a glass cabinet where they can be shown off. Cats tend to believe that shiny glass ornaments are, of course, meant to be batted at. Broken ornaments are a hazard to people and pets, and some may have lots of sentimental value. Also, tinsel hanging from a tree is an equivalent to an invitation for any cat to jump and grab.
  12. PETS DESERVE PRESENTS TOO. As the family gathers for opening presents, include all members of the family - even those with paws. This doesn’t mean you need to spend big bucks – simply take a dog’s toy away a few days before Christmas – and now open on the big day; your dog won’t mind the “re-gifting” as long as you make a fuss. Cat toys can be simple as a plastic bottle top, wine cork or used tissue box with catnip inside it, Of course, the best thing you can do for your cat is to wrap the present in catnip-scented wrapping paper. The wrapping will be far more exciting than the gift.

Animals and the Kids Who Love Them

Zach had a history of running away. Zach isn't a roaming dog, but instead he’s a child with autism who likes to roam. His mom, Julie Yanez, of Minneapolis, MN, tells the story of how an assistance dog named Midas changed Zach's life, as well as the life of her entire family. The family can relax when Midas is at Zach’s side, knowing Zach likely won't want to run off, and if he does, his dog is trained to prevent him from getting far.

Yanez recalls how even going out to dinner as a family was impossible until Midas came along because Zach wouldn't sit still and would create a "scene" in the restaurant. Now, the dog serves as Zach's "emotional anchor" and "built-in sensory regulator," Yanez writes in "Animals and the Kids Who Love Them," a collection of inspiring stories compiled by Allen and Linda Anderson (New World Library, Novato, CA, 2011; $14.99).

The Andersons, a married couple, have authored a long list of inspirational books, including "Angel Dogs with a Mission," "Angel Animals: Book of Inspiration" and "Dogs and the Women Who Love Them."

Linda notes, "In her story (about Zach and Midas), Julie wrote what it was like to lose her child to autism, like a candle snuffer dropped on him and shut out his bright light. It wasn't until a dog, Midas, entered his life that the candle was lit again. I don't know that people realize the impact these animals can have."

“We received stories like this from all over the country," says Linda. "It (the book) was inspired by the American Humane Association, which protects animals and children. We put the concept together and today we have a book.”

Allen chimes in, “Don’t forget, when we were in your radio studio talking about the book ‘Dogs and the Women Who Love Them,’ you gave us the idea to directly connect children and kids in this unique way. This (book) tops them all when it comes to goose bumps."

"Animals and the Kids Who Love Them" is filled with touching tales, including one from Barbara Babikan, of Sugar Loaf, NY.

Babikan enrolled her Shetland Sheepdog, Lille, in Angel on a Leash, an organization administering animal-assisted therapy programs. One of many clients who petted Lille happened to be a little girl in the hospital for surgery on her leg. Lille and the girl seemed to bond. After the visit, Barbara left with her dog, assuming she'd never see the girl again.

About a year later, at the same hospital, Babikan encountered the same child's mom. Nearly in tears, she explained that her daughter had endured another surgery and had been asking for Lille. What a reunion it was. Babikan still had no idea of the Lilie’s impact on this little girl, until she bumped into her mother many years later. "You don't know what those visits meant to my daughter," the mom said, holding Babikan's arm.

While most of the stories in the Andersons' book feature dogs and cats, a wide assortment of other unlikely animals who made a difference in a child's life are also featured, including a rabbit, a llama, and a turkey who might have been dinner. Instead, the bird, named Chloe, landed at the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, CA.

The mission of the Gentle Barn – featured on TV’s Ellen (with Ellen DeGeneres) - is to rescue, rehabilitate and give sanctuary to abused animals, and to help kids who themselves have been abused and/or have a disability.

Julia was born to sing. She warbled and twirled like a ballerina from the time she could walk, though she was blind from birth. An earthquake rocked Julia's world when she was 6 years old, so profoundly that the child was traumatized. Julia stopped talking and began to act out violently.

It was advised that she visit the Gentle Barn, where she seemed to bond with a chicken named Bonnie, stroking the bird for hours, and being gentle. Julia treated the hen like a precious china doll.

Periodically, the Gentle Barn would sometimes take animals to fairs, where there was live music. As one such event, a country band began to play, and people began to dance. The dance floor began to part and it was clear that something unusual was happening, as people moved from the center of the floor to reveal a single dancer: Chloe the turkey, moving in time to the music.

Learning this bird was a music lover, the staff at the Gentle Barn began to play music for Chloe. The turkey always responded the same way, and soon Ellie Laks, founder of the Gentle Barn, began to sing to the turkey with Julia at their side. One day, Julia began to hum along.

Laks thought Julia might again find her voice through the bird. It worked, and soon Julia was singing to the turkey (who loved it), and began to talk again. What's more, her violent tendencies vanished.

"I do think animals and children can have a special connection," says Allen. "Explaining that connection is challenging, but understanding the connection as you read is heartfelt."

Tis The Season

TIS THE SEASON, for rushing around, rushing to shop, rushing to visit relatives, rushing to various parties trying to fit it all in.  How do you all feel after the holidays?  Many people are left feeling exhausted and they are glad it is all over.   If we would just re-condition ourselves to slow down the outcome would be different.  Remember, over the years you have done the same thing when holiday time comes, so now you've conditioned yourself to act that way.  Now it is time to change, take it one holiday season at a time, give up one or two things that have been making you crazy over the years and replace with what you really would like to do.  Over time, your holidays will take on a “New Normal”

You can use this same idea when working with your dog, give him or her a “new normal”

Replace a behavior you do not like with one you do but you must show your dog what you would like them to do instead.  Condition them to behave the way you would like.

Conditioning,  whether classical and operant, is in your world now so why not put it to work in your dogs world as well.  Positive Reinforcement training is all about classical and operant conditioning and when applied to dog training the results are amazing.  Train with your heart so that the lines of communication stay open and loving,  add patience and consistency and you have a winning training method.

Stop and think about it, how great would you be at your job if someone was always yelling and telling you, "NO, NO that is not how you do it," but never stopped and took the time to show you what they wanted.  My guess is you would quit that job and probably have a few choice words for your boss.   Just because you’re a human and you think differently than your dog that does not give us the right to dominate, or intimidate or RUSH your pet into doing what we  want.   This world wants everything now and given the technology we have everything is at a touch of a button, we have been conditioned to get everything quickly.  Think about it though:  this conditioning took time, and is still developing everyday. We got hooked on fast technology, but only over time were we CONDITIONED to having information at our fingertips.    If you are blessed enough to live with animals as I am we need to realize that dogs and humans alike thrive on love and kindness and consistency.  Don’t get caught in the "I want it right now trap," or, you're going to do what I say right now.  Instead why don’t you pause for a moment, look at your dog and actually try and figure out why the behavior is happening in the first place.  Again, this takes time, it means you have to take your ego out of it and really try to understand you pet.  It seems most pet owners can articulate what they don’t want their pets to do, but I want people to take it one more step and ask themselves “what do I want my dogs' “New Normal”  to be  instead.  The next step is to teach that alternate behavior or find a qualified positive reinforcement trainer to help you do just that.

Our dogs are the most wonderful, loving creatures who shower us with unconditional love each day and I feel its only fair we give them more of our time.  They cannot be an afterthought; they cannot be last on the list of things in the family order.   Be grateful for your pets and show them that you are grateful by spending time with them and really getting to know their world it is fascinating.

Involve the entire family in continuing your education about your canine family member and read about what makes a dog tick.   Remember, when communicating with your dog, speak with your heart, be Positive, and the learning will astound you.

Amy Sandmann

Victoria’s Interview With Dr. Sophia Yin – Part II

Part two of my interview with Dr. Sophia Yin about her new book, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days:


Victoria:  Perfect Puppy in 7 Days really focuses a lot on early learning and socialization. In fact, John Bradshaw, author of Dog Sense, says “Worth buying for the socialization advice and checklist alone.”  Can you explain to our blog readers Why is socialization so important?

Sophia:  People frequently have dogs who are fearful and later aggressive out of fear to unfamiliar people and dogs. They tend to think their dog must have been abused, when a much more likely scenario is that the puppy was not fully socialized starting at a young age. When puppies are between 3 weeks and 3 months of age, they are primed to be curious, and to bond to animals in their environment. But as they get older their default setting is to be fearful of all the things that they were not introduced to early on. This is a survival mechanism. It’s why wild animals don’t come out and visit and try to make friends with people all the time. It’s also how wild animals stay alive. If they approach everything without fear, they are likely to get eaten.

The implication with puppies is that we need to give them many positive experiences. with friendly, well-behaved dogs, unfamiliar people, new objects and  different environments during their sensitive period for socialization and continuing into their adulthood. My rule of thumb is that they need 100 positive experiences with 100 different people in 100 days. And they need to have positive experiences with new dogs on a weekly basis.

This means that as with children, owners will have to set up play dates and make an effort to get their dog into new environments at least 2-4x a week. In Perfect Puppy in a Week, you’ll see that during that first week Lucy, the Australian Cattle Dog puppy who was the subject of much of the book, had many positive experiences with visitors as well as appropriate doggie playmates. She also learned how to be polite around cats and kids.


VS:  What’s the biggest problem you see with how people socialize puppies currently?

SY:  Besides just not getting their puppy out enough, the biggest problem is that people when they do get them out, they don’t realize the puppy must have positive experiences, not neutral or negative experiences. That means they need to be able to read their puppy’s body language so they can recognize fear and anxiety. That’s why Perfect Puppy in 7 Days has sections on reading body language.

A second issue is that people don’t realize the amount of things they need to socialize the pet to—sounds, surfaces, people, other species, new environments. And they don’t realized that the socialization should start with the breeder. Socialization is so important that I cover it in two chapters in the book and show pictures of the various situations and items the puppy must be socialized to. The early chapter shows how puppies develop their senses and how this coincides with what they should be socialized to starting before 8 weeks of age.


VS:  A week or two really does make a difference in socialization, doesn't it?

SY:  For a puppy, a week or two is the equivalent of months for a child. For instance, I document the progress of a litter of young puppies and show that one puppy is very reactive to handling at 4 weeks of age but with several minutes of handling a day, after a week, the puppy can even have clippers near him and remains calm. Similarly puppies can also learn unwanted behaviors as quickly. For instance, one puppy in the litter highlighted in chapter 1 of the book was adopted and would struggle when the owner held him wheras previously he’d been very tolerant with us. The new owner would release him as soon as he struggled and by day 2 he was learning to growl when held. After the owner realized her mistake, switched to picking him up and giving him treats and then letting him down when he was relaxed. She’d try to put him down before he started struggling. But even when he did struggle a little, because he’d been given treats in the handling situation, he didn’t struggle as much and so she didn’t let go. Within a week he was back to allowing people to pick him up and place him in different positions. So behavior can change quickly in puppies.


VS:  Tell people about the advantage of training puppies as young as 8 weeks of age.

SY:  Besides letting them learn the rules before they have a chance to learn to break them, when they are young they are less coordinated and this gives us a huge advantage. We don’t have to be as quick to get the food reward or other reward to them. They physically can’t jump on us as quickly or nip or grab as quickly as an older puppy. So it’s easier to remove our attention or remove the reward for jumping before they have a chance. Training is about rewarding exactly as the correct behaviors occur and removing rewards for unwanted behavior such as jumping to grab a toy, before they can perform them. When puppies are really young, it’s easier for the humans to be faster and thus have better timing than if they wait several weeks.


VS:  You talk about leadership in the book, but make it clear that it’s not the same as being the boss? What’s the difference?

SY:  One definition of leadership is the ability to influence an individual to perform behavior he would not otherwise perform. By that definition, pet owners do need to develop leadership skills. However we have a choice of leadership style. We can lead by force like a dictator such as Muammar Qaddafi or by providing rewards that the followers want, such as Mahatma Ghandi. Schools of marketing and leadership recommend against the dictatorial, coercive style of leadership and encourage methods of leading that motivate humans through positive methods.

A similar approach should be used with animals. Instead of using coercion we can learn to lead like a leader in a dance. When partners dance as a couple, one leads and the other follows. The leader's job is to decide ahead of time which steps to perform and then guide his partner in a clear manner so that the partner CAN follow. Partners who have to shout out the steps or who yank their follower around don't make the cut. With animals the approach is similar. If we set rules and have a clear picture of what we want, then we can consistently convey this information to the puppy through our body language and perfectly timed rewards. To see this concept in action,  watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVVBGJi5v9s&feature=related


VS:  Marty Becker, veterinarian on Good Morning America has said it’s not just about teaching your puppy manners, it's a step-by-step recipe for bonding with your puppy, learning to communicate with him, and preparing you pup for life!  Can you explain how your book shows a step by step recipe for bonding?

SY:  One aspect of the book is my version of the Learn to Earn Program where the puppy learns that the way he gets what he wants —praise, petting, to go outside, to come inside, to get bits of his meal, to play fetch—is to sit politely and ask you. It’s not about forcing him to sit, it’s about rewarding him over and over throughout the day. If you’ve read the “Compass of Pleasure” by David Levin, you know that a high rate of reinforcement can have an almost addicting affect. For instance, the reason cigarettes are much more addicting than heroin, which is much more potent is that smokers get many many little rewards on a daily basis. Similarly with puppies, if they are working for their entire meal and everything they like, they are also getting probably 200 rewards a day for good behavior and they are learning that unwanted behavior does not work. Through this process they learn that you are consistent and you are able to communicate what you want in a clear manner (with good timing). As a result, they learn they can depend on you. It’s much easier to trust someone who always does what they say they will do and who communicates in a language you can understand.

I also use the Learn to Earn Program to quickly build a bond with any new dog I take in, as a first step for training anxious dogs they can look to their owners for guidance or help in scary situations, and for helping dogs who have lost their family members to guide them into a more structured situation.


VS:  In the testimonials people say over and over that the book is fun. One trainer says “ I own tons of dog training books and none of them are as much to read as this one. Was it your intention to make the reading enjoyable?

SY:  Yes, both people and dogs learn best if the learning is fun. And for me, I’m more interested in writing books that will also be fun for me to read.  Just having a wide array of photos that depict every type of situation you might meet make the book engaging and documenting the progress of both the litter of puppies as well as of Lucy, the main main character/puppy depicted on the front of the book, made the process enjoyable. I love watching puppies and noticing how they develop and how minor events shape their behavior and personality. So it was just natural to document these things so that everyone else could see.

Because of the fun and clear instructions, many puppy class instructors have told me they are going to use it for their classes, and at least one large puppy program will be revising their classes to follow the Perfect Puppy program.


VS:  Any last messages you want to send?

SY:  Yes. Blog readers, please feel free to visit my web site (www.drsophiayin.com) and Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/sophiayin.dvm).  I have lots of free downoadable posters on topics ranging from body language in dogs, how to appropriately greet a dog, how kids and dogs should interact, as well as many article and videos on behavior.  In fact I was voted one of Bark Magazine’s 100 Best and Brightest because of the website.


VS:  Sophia, thanks so much for all the great info.  It really is a great book, and I wish you lots of success with it.  I'll see you at the APDT conference in San Diego!

Note: This book will be available on amazon.com in September 2011 and on Amazon kindle, B&N Nook and ibooks by August 1, 2011.  You can preorder the book at a big discount now or download the free puppy socialization check list from www.drsophiayin.com/perfectpuppy. 

Hero Dogs on TV

The American Humane Association inaugural Hero Dog Awards, presented by Cesar Canine Cuisine airs on the Hallmark Channel on November 11. Ordinary dogs achieving the extraordinary are being honored, as well as heroes on two legs on the other end of the leash.

“At the taping, there wasn’t a dry in the house,” says Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association. “Many of those tears were tears of joy, it’s emotional, incredible what these dogs have done.”

During a nationwide six-month search for hero dogs, hundreds of canines from 50 states were nominated in eight categories. Then over 400,000 votes were cast on a Hero Dog website culminating in the selection of eight finalists. That’s where an panel of celebrity and expert judges took over including Whoopi Goldberg, Orlando Brown, Kristin Chenoweth, Susan Orlean (author of “RIN TIN TIN: The Life and the Legend), all overseen by Victoria Stilwell (who better?).

Each of the eight winning dogs walked the red carpet in Hollywood with dozens of paparazzi shooting photos and video. “I felt like a Hollywood celebrity,” said Dione Luper of Des Plaines, IL.

While many Hollywood celebs turned up for the event, and appear in the TV broadcast, from legends like Betty White and Mickey Rooney to TV’s Pauley Perrette of “NCIS: Los Angeles” to Michael Vartan, of “Alias” to Julianne Hough of “Footloose” and “Dancing with the Stars.”  Carson Kressley was the emcee. Victoria was among the presenters.

However, the real stars of the show were people like Luper.

In 2004 Zurich, a Labrador Retriever trained by Canine Companions for Independence, was partnered as a service dog with Dione’s wife Patricia Kennedy, who had been diagnosed with a degenerative and fatal brain-stem disease called OPCA (Olivopontocerebellar atrophy).  Today, Patty is dependent on a wheelchair and is unable to speak – the disease has many similarities to Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).

“When we first got Zurich, I went to work and Patti was comfortable staying home because of Zurich, who was able to help her to get the phone or open the refrigerator. That was hugely helpful, and gave Patti more confidence. Today, it’s Zurich that makes it possible for her to cope. And in ways, I don’t understand, Zurich somehow understands her.”

Luper goes even further – saying his wife would not likely still be alive today if it wasn’t for Zurich.

Still, appearing on a website for thousands to see, and then at a TV taping – which millions will eventually watch – wasn’t an easy decision. “In the end, we just felt we wanted to tell our story, and also Zurich’s. He’s been amazing.”

When Dione first posted his wife’s story – he never thought about what he would be a top vote getter in the Service Dog category. After all, Patty isn’t even able to leave the house often, let alone travel half way around the country. “We thought going to Hollywood would be impossible, but the American Humane Association and their partners made the overwhelming possible,” he says. “It was a dream to be on the stage and talking from my heart about Zurich.”

Dione says he hopes the camera picked up on Patti’s tears. “They were definitely tears of joy,” he adds.

Among the eight categories is Military Working Dog. “We are especially pleased to honor military dogs on Veteran’s Day 11-11-11,” Ganzert says.

Debbie Kandoll of Atlanta, GA makes a point of saying Bino C152 is one of many military working dogs who easily could be honored. “Each military working dog is credited with saving a minimum of 150 people in a career,” she said

Bino, a Duch Shepherd, served the U.S. Army’s 35th Military Police Dog Detachment at Ft. Gordon, GA as a Narcotics Detection/Patrol K-9 for nearly 11 years. He was also deployed in Iraq for over a year and served as a U.S. Border Patrol Dog.

Kandoll is working on a proposal to finally offer attention long overdo to military working dogs. Currently, it’s very costly to pay for an adoption of any retired military dog transported from overseas military bases when actually there is available space on cargo and military planes. So, the cost is, in reality, is negligible. This high cost charged though, deters potential adopters.

Currently, individuals award heroic dogs – but there is no formal award from the military for meritorious canine service (which would be subsidized by private citizens, and still the military – to date – refuses).

Also, Kandoll is hoping veterinary care for these retired military dogs would be made available by military veterinarians at cost. “Why not?” she says. “It wouldn’t cost the government, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Kandoll adds that currently when these dogs retire, they’re pretty much considered excess equipment. The good news is that those dogs who make it back to the U.S. are increasingly successfully adopted from military bases

Other dogs were honored in six additional categories, Law Enforcement/Arson Dog, Therapy Dog, Guide Dog, Search and Rescue Dog, Hearing Dog and Emerging Hero Dog.

“This is a tribute to what dogs can do – it’s really quite astounding and inspiring,” Ganzert says.

TV star Perrette, said, “There was only one problem with this event – we needed more tissue.”

Behind-the-scenes tidbit and images. 
A promotional sizzle reel of the upcoming Hero Dog Awards show on the Hallmark Channel.

A Conversation with Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell, Otis, and Linda Michaels on the KUSI TV Studio Lot

In my recently published interview, Victoria Stilwell discusses the major differences in dog training methods... and explains why "methods matter" to all pet parents and to every dog. Victoria goes directly to the heart of a "hot" issue in dog training that is too often misrepresented to people searching for help with their beloved pup. Victoria lays out the facts, clearly and  beautifully, in an easy-to-read manner. Please share it!


Animal Planet's Victoria Stilwell, the "Dog Training Diva", is the new heroine of dog lovers everywhere. Stilwell’s smash hit show, It's Me or the Dog, airs in more than 50 countries. Anyone who's seen her show knows she means business...and everyone recognizes the signature boots she wears. Importantly, professional animal behaviorists and progressive veterinarians applaud her affirmation that it's "scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog."

Welcome Victoria! You’re considered a dynamo in dog training with an exploding and devoted fan-base.

Q. What’s your “mission”?
A. I’m a passionate cheerleader for positive training that’s based on mutual trust, respect and love, rather than fear, punishment, and intimidation. Our mission is to turn the tide of public awareness away from the traditional punishment and dominance-based methods which have been so popular in the past.

Q. Many people may not yet be aware of the differences in dog training methods, although they are quite dissimilar in important ways.
A. You’re right. To the casual observer, all dog training looks the same. But it’s not. Dominance trainers believe that most behavior problems stem from a dog trying to ‘dominate,’ while positive trainers know that the root cause in the majority of cases is lack of confidence. Two trainers on opposite ends of the spectrum can look at the same aggressive dog and see two totally different things. There’s still a lot of debate about which side is correct, but it’s really all moot because science has spoken.

Dominance trainers believe that they must impose their will on the dog in order to earn ‘respect’. This is very dangerous, as the dog has not fundamentally changed, and will still act out, sometimes aggressively, when it’s safe to do so.

Q. So, what’s wrong with the “alpha” and “pack leader” theories?
A. The “alpha” and  ‘pack leader” theories are based on 40-year old research that is now, admittedly, inherently flawed. Scientists studied wild, unrelated, captive wolves and translated the findings to domesticated dogs. We now know that a wolf pack is a mother, father and their offspring, and the “alphas” are the breeding pair.

A Conversation with Dog-Training Diva Victoria Stilwell. Cover "Natural Awakenings Pet" Magazine, San Diego.

Q. What about the need for leadership?
A. The most powerful and effective leaders lead without the use of force. Positive trainers believe that leadership should be used as constructive guidance rather than a punitive imposition of will. It’s similar to the way we raise children these days: build up their confidence and give them the tools to make the right choices.

Q. There’s a proliferation of shock, prong and choke collar equipment training. What type of leash-walking equipment do you recommend?
A. For “serial pullers”, a chest-led harness helps work through the behavior problem. For smaller dogs, I recommend a mesh harness.

Q. I understand your network of expert trainers now reaches from Athens, Greece to San Diego. Tell us a bit about your new project of networking trainers and what you hope to accomplish.
A. I founded Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT) – to provide the public with a ‘name brand’ you can trust to use the latest science-based, reward-based training methods.

Since last year, I’ve been enlisting the most accomplished, professional positive reinforcement dog trainers into my global network.  The idea is that if someone is hunting for a dog trainer, they’ll recognize that the trainer is aligned personally and professionally with me, they’ll recognize the type of training I do on my TV show and say, “I want that.”

We’ve got fantastic VSDPT members in the San Diego area, including Linda Michaels and Julie Schmitt.

Q. Please tell us, what's next on your agenda?
A. I’ll be continuing work on my new product line, developing new and innovative solutions to canine problems. We’re focused on promoting healthy, balanced relationships to make the world a better place for us and our dogs.

Thank you! Find us at www.Positively.com

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Introducing Pets to New Babies

It seems like every few weeks, a fresh news story about a family pet seriously injuring or killing a baby hits the airwaves.  And every time, we all say and hear the same well-meaning and accurate but tired talking points about how devastating it is, how it could have and should have been avoided, who to blame, who not to blame and what to do about the problem.  The general theme is that the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents and/or dog owners, not the children.  That any breed of dog can bite, and any breed of dog can be a good family pet.  That parents should never leave their kids alone with any animals unsupervised.  That government should focus on penalizing irresponsible dog owners, not certain breeds of dogs.

And I agree with all of that.  I've said much of it myself in interviews on national press many times.  And yet still, these tragic incidents keep happening.  And that's even not to mention the millions of dog bites that go unreported and don't require professional medical attention.  In the US alone, there are over 4.5 million reported dog bites each year, 800,000 of which require a trip to the doctor.

What we're doing is not working.

That's why I've dedicated myself and my company's resources to try and make a difference and reduce the number of dog bites that happen each year.  I'm in the process of setting up the first ever Dog Bite Prevention Task Force, which is charged with determining what the root causes of the problem are and how to effectively address them once and for all.  Comprised of trainers, behaviorists, legal professionals, legislators, animal control specialists, pediatric surgeons and reconstructive surgeons around the country, we will be bringing together the best and brightest minds to figure out how and why dog bites happen, what precedes them,  how they are investigated, who should be held responsible, and most importantly, how to stop them from occurring.

For example, by digging into the data from some of the most high profile cases involving canine homicides (the term used when a dog kills a human), we've found one fascinating common thread in almost all scenarios:  one component of the scenario is unnatural.  That means that in every case, either the child is being looked after by grandparents, the dog is being house-sat by an uncle, the whole family (including the dog) are visiting relatives in a different house, etc.  There's almost always one part of the equation that is not the everyday norm for either the dog, child, caregivers, or environment.  This important revelation can help us determine how to most effectively educate dog owners and parents of children about what to look out for in an otherwise seemingly normal situation.  If we can stop just one beautiful little child from losing his or her life, it will be worth it.

But my goal is even larger than that.

Ashlynn Dawn Anderson

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with the lovely Anderson family.  Just over a year ago, they lost their beautiful daughter, Ashlynn, in a fatal dog attack.  I met the family when I was in Oregon, and I was struck by their determination to do everything they can to help other families avoid a similar tragedy.  They have set up a non-profit organization called Dads Against Dangerous Dogs, and though they lost their little treasure to dogs, one of the most remarkable things about them is that they have not jumped to the most obvious target.  They do not blame any specific breed for Ashlynn's death, rather they are focused on increasing awareness about the fact that any dog - any breed, any size, etc - can be a danger to little ones if not properly managed.

Obviously, education is the key to stopping this from happening.  We all know that.  But we've known it for a long time, and yet the message isn't effective enough to make a significant difference.  As a society, we must figure out a more successful way to get the message across.

Download your free copy of Pet Meets Baby here!

That's why I've decided to support the American Humane Association's safe handling initiative - Pet Meets Baby.  This is an easy-to-read, comprehensive free booklet that can help dog owners and parents of children without pets by making them aware of how to safely and effectively introduce pets to new babies and vice versa.  By widely distributing this information in maternity wards, pediatricians' offices and beyond, we hope that this will make a difference.  It's important to note that even parents of children without pets should read Pet Meets Baby, since all kids end up interacting with animals at some point, whether at grandma's house, on playdates or walking in the park.

I've donated some great prizes (Positively t-shirts, signed books, It's Me or the Dog DVDs, etc) to a free contest anyone can enter by providing some brief feedback about Pet Meets Baby.  Plus, one lucky winner will win the grand prize - a 30 minute phone consultation with me where we can talk about your dog and anything else you can think of!

Enter the contest by visiting the Pet Meets Baby homepage!

More info about the Pet Meets Baby contest.

Read my Safety Guide for Children and Dogs.

Victoria’s Interview With Dr. Sophia Yin – Part I

I recently connected with my friend, Dr. Sophia Yin, to discuss training young dogs and her new book, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.


Victoria:  There are a lot of puppy books already out there. What made you decide to write this book?

Sophia:  I wrote this book because I needed a resource that would provide my dog-owning clients. I wanted to provide them with step-by-step, photo-illustrated solutions to their most common puppy and adult dog problems.  You can tell owners and then show them what to do and how to do it but they do best when they also have photo-illustrated instructions where each step is documented visually in pictures so they can see what the steps look like any time they want.

Even more important, I’ve found from the research projects I carried out on training protocols and handling procedures, that people also need to see what it looks like when they are performing the techniques incorrectly otherwise they think they are doing the right thing when in fact they are making mistakes.  Overall, three factors:

  1. seeing photos of the training steps
  2. having enough training steps so that there are no gaps in the sequences, and
  3. seeing what can go wrong, greatly improve the rate of success.


VS:  In this book, you personalize the book by focusing on the training of your fathers’ Australian Cattle Dog puppy, Lucy. How did you make that choice?

SY:  Well, my dad declared one summer that he wanted a new puppy because my parents had recently lost their 13-year old Scottie to cancer. He knew exactly what he wanted—an Australian Cattle dog that looked just like his past cattle dog Rudy, and he wanted it ASAP.

Apart from the obvious concern that no matter how much the puppy looked like his old dog, it would not act like his old dog, I was concerned about how the puppy would eventually turn out. My dad has a history of raising dogs that turn out to be aggressive in some situations. Their 13-year old Scottie never showed signs because I had owned her first. But their first Boxer was an unneutered male who was aggressive to dogs and wandered the neighborhood. The second Boxer was a neutered male who was aggressive to some people. His most recent Australian Cattle dog, Rudy—who was otherwise a great dog—was fear aggressive if unfamiliar dogs got in his face. I already have a wonderful Jack Russell Terrier, Jonesy, with fear and arousal issues who keeps me on my toes, I really didn’t need to inherit an aggressive Australian Cattle dog down the road. And as you probably know, Australian Cattle Dogs can have a tendency towards aggression if not socialized appropriately.

So I decided that I would keep the puppy for a week as soon as I got her and then train her as much as possible before giving her to my dad. I knew that she could form great habits and be well on her way to being a perfect pup in just that one week if I ran her through my Learn to Earn Program and started her socialization, so I decided to document her training in pictures (and video) so that my clients as well as other dog owners could benefit from my task.

The great thing about using this puppy, Lucy as an example within the book is that I can specifically tell people how long it took for her to learn habits such as automatically sitting to go through doors, to get petted and to play fetch. The information is not just vague. It’s very specific and it gives people and idea of what can go write and the little glitches along the way.


VS:  It’s called Perfect Puppy in a Week. Can you actually get a perfect puppy in a week?

SY:  With the Learn to Earn program where you focus on teaching the puppy to say please by sitting for everything she wants and you are aware of your every interaction with your puppy, yes, you can form good habits in just a week. Each exercise only takes 5-10 minutes for the puppy to learn and we train the puppy that it’s fun. Probably the coolest thing for owners is that they get to see the puppy make the choice to behave in a desired way.

But what really makes the program unique is that owners learn how to make the good behaviors a habit, rather than just a trick performed for treats. It’s not just about training puppies to sit or come. It’s about training them to sit or come every time you want them to do so in all the appropriate instances. The key is to make it fun and use all of the dog’s motivators—food, petting, praise, getting the leash on, going outside—to your advantage and to make sure you don’t accidentally reward them for the unwanted behaviors. That combination is what makes the training so fast.

That being said, because readers will just be learning the exercises, and trying to teach their dog at the same time, it will take longer for them. And once the dog knows the exercises, it’s about being consistent enough to make the polite behaviors a habit. For Lucy, I didn’t expect that she’d be good for my parents until they also learned how to reward the good behaviors and make sure she didn’t get rewarded for unwanted ones. But she was pretty perfect for me, my assistants, and the visitors who visited.


VS:  What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about training puppies?

SY:  People think you should wait until the puppy is older to start training and as a result, they spend the first weeks inadvertently rewarding unwanted behaviors or instead of controlling the environment and immediately setting up the situation for success.

For instance, puppies are really energetic and love to nip and jump. People think that because it’s a puppy these behaviors are ok, but once they start getting scratches and wounds from the nipping that they have accidentally rewarded, or when the puppy is larger and knocking people down, it can be much harder to break these habits and form new desired ones. So a behavior that could be fixed in just a few days with a puppy might take weeks or months once the puppy is older.


VS:  Will starting young ruin your puppy?

SY:  Back when most people were training using force-based methods, yes starting puppies young could ruin them. The puppies just learned that whatever they did, they’d get a correction that might scare them or that might hurt. So, you can imagine that dogs that were bred as working dogs would not have a high drive to hunt or do protection work if they learned as a puppy that the world was a place where humans give lots of scary or painful corrections. So these trainers would say you had to wait until the dogs was mature enough. What they meant was mature enough to handle the force-based corrections without crumbling.

This whole situation is akin to taking young children and putting him into a school program where he is mostly corrected for doing things wrong rather than being shown in a step-by-step manner how to do things right, being rewarded for good behaviors frequently. I think everyone has had some type of incident when they were young and someone told them “you’re no good at that—you’re a bad drawer, or singer, or bad at math” and those negative words at that young age have stuck with the kids for a long time. Similarly for puppies, training based on punishing unwanted behaviors rather than setting them up for success can ruin them or at minimum produce a very different dog that what you would get otherwise.


VS:  How does your training differ from the correction-based training?

SY:  Similar to your approach on Its Me or the Dog, science-based training is about rewarding the behaviors we want and removing the rewards for unwanted behaviors. And it really focuses on making good behavior fun so that the puppy will want to be good. Many people don’t realize this, but in order to reward only the desired behaviors the humans have to be aware of all of their interactions with the dog. For instance, if they would like their puppy to greet them politely by sitting instead of jumping on them to get them to interact or give attention, they must clearly remove their attention, when the puppy starts to jump. Generally that means, standing still and looking away. Then as soon as the puppy sits they can reward with a sequence of treats—the first for sitting and the rest for remaining seated— and later with praise and petting, once the puppy can sit for food.

It also means that during other times during the day when the dog solicits attention but may not be as excited, they also must remove their attention until the dog sits. That is, in the most exciting situations, the dog will jump, but in less exciting situations the dog may just push against the owner, or climb into the owners lap. If the humans reward the pushy attention behavior in the low excitement situations, then they dog will definitely continue to perform the pushy behavior in the high excitement situations too. Hence it may take forever for the puppy to learn to greet politely.


VS:  This book really focuses on breaking the exercises down into steps and on the postures and movement of the owner.

SY:  Yes. The most difficult thing for owners is to realize that dogs care what you do now what you say. They don’t understand English or other language, but they do naturally understand and read your body language. So in order to communicate clearly with dogs, we have to be aware of how we’re standing, how we deliver rewards, and how we move around the dog. For instance if you lean over the puppy to give him a treat, he’ll have a tendency to jump because it looks like you are soliciting attention. That’s why for treat delivery I focus on standing up straight and bending your knees while delivery the treat with an outstretched arm. Similarly if you hold the food reward too high, you’ll train the dog to jump to get it. It doesn’t matter if you’re telling him “no,” he’s going to pay attention more to what your body language says, “Jump up to get the treat I’m extending out to you.” So it’s important foe people to know what their body language is telling the dog so that they can up a communicate clearly.


Part II of this interview will be posted shortly...  Stay tuned!

Canine Unemployment


Is there such a thing??? I mean really folks, canine unemployment? Yes, Yes, yes!  That’s what I say.  Our shelters are filled to the brims and dogs are being tossed aside like yesterday’s news.  It’s because the unemployment rate for dogs is too high!

Dogs are faithful companions, but what are we really doing for them???  We feed them, water them, and pat them on the head and if they are lucky they may get a walk for 15 min.  Now I am not saying that every dog in America is treated this way but a high percentage are and then these unexercised un-stimulated dogs start exhibiting behaviors that are not house or people friendly and off to the shelter they go.

Your dog needs a job, it is only fair, and after all you have one.  Our pets are crying out for something to do and its time owners started listening.

Each breed of dog has a history, where they came from, what they were used for etc.  If you tap into your dog’s history and give him his old job back or one that maybe mimics his old job you will see the canine version of extreme bliss.

The husky for instance loves to run and pull so teach him to do that!  Give him his old job back.  Teaching a dog to pull a lightweight sled is easier than you think and these sleds are available along with the proper pulling harnesses to the general public you just have to know where to look.  Pulling is just not for the Iditarod dogs your yellow lab can do it too and he will have a blast and so will you and the kids.  I know, I got strange looks when my yellow lab Beezer and I would tool around our subdivision on our small kick sled but what a wonderful way to share time with your best buddy.  Beezer would see the racing harness come out and he would start to scream with excitement just as if he was at the starting line of the Iditarod.   Think outside the box when it comes to exercise with your dog.  There is a huge world out there for dogs and their owners to find new and exciting jobs they can do together.   I challenge each and every one of you to get your dog’s old job back for him or her.  Experience the joy of something new and exciting you can do together. Let’s end CANINE UNEMPLOYMENT!



9/11 Ten Years Later

We all have our stories to tell.

On that bright September morning ten years ago when the world changed before our eyes, our collective experience was etched into our personal histories in the way that only those truly transformative historical occasions can imprint us:  Pearl Harbor, JFK, 9/11.

Having moved to Manhattan the year before the attacks, I had been going through a not entirely smooth transition from the leafy suburbs of London.  I had been used to driving where I needed to go, having family nearby, and regularly escaping into the vast swaths of greenspace that are scattered throughout the city where I had lived all my life.  Moving to New York City with my husband at the beginning of the millennium had been rewarding in many ways, but I still harbored deep longing for my hometown while somehow slightly resenting New York for not being London.

We were living in a one-bedroom apartment on the 4th floor of an old building in Hell’s Kitchen in September, 2001.  I was working as a dog trainer in and around Manhattan, cutting my teeth in one of the world’s most unique environments for dogs with some of the most colorful clients you could imagine.  The events of 9/11 changed all of us in ways large and small, and for me, one of those small changes was that I truly became a New Yorker.  In the spirit of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment, I believe that peaceful, loving, selfless citizens all over the world became New Yorkers that day.  Just as we all also became Londoners on 7/7 after the train attacks, Indonesians and Japanese after the tsunamis, and Haitians after the earthquake.

Certain events pull us all together and lead us in new and more fruitful directions, sometimes even out of the smoke and rubble of tragedies like those endured at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  For me, in addition to my newfound sense of ownership and pride in my adopted city, those tragic events also provided me a backdrop from which I would build an even greater appreciation of the power and grace of man’s best friend.

Pier 94 on Manhattan's west side served as the Family Assistance Center for victims' loved ones.

In the days and weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center, the West Side Highway along the Hudson River near where we lived became a sort of pipeline for those working through the carnage downtown.  Countless times each hour, a fire truck or bus filled with search and rescue teams hurtled back and forth from Ground Zero down a road lined on both sides with well wishers and those of us who felt compelled to do something – anything.  Many of us who lived nearby felt a constant sense of helplessness – we wanted to be a part of the effort somehow.  Part of our city, country and way of life had been threatened and disrupted, and we needed to help support those who were literally doing the heavy lifting both emotionally and physically.

I was working as a volunteer adoption counselor at New York’s ASPCA during this time, and after investigating what options were available to those of looking to help during those dark days, I ended up at Pier 94 on the Hudson River.  FEMA, the Red Cross, and other organizations set up areas within the massive pier to organize the search for missing persons, and the ASPCA began the task of rehoming animals whose owners had died in the tragedy, as well as coordinating the large number of therapy dogs that came to provide comfort for the victims’ families.  My job was to organize which dogs would accompany the families on the boats making daily trips from the pier down the Hudson River to Ground Zero.  It was a chance for the families to remember their loved ones and to throw flowers and wreaths into the river in their memory.

Photo credit Patrick Schneider - Charlotte Observer

I had been aware of and even worked with a few therapy dogs before 9/11, but the days I spent witnessing the immense power of these dogs as they poured themselves out for the bereaved was truly amazing, and served as the inspiration for what eventually became my charitable foundation.

Therapy dogs bring comfort and companionship to people in all kinds of situations, helping the elderly, the sick and the disabled, relieving their pain and anxiety.  A therapy dog must be calm, confident, patient and enjoy meeting and being touched by strangers.   It is well documented that dogs improve a person’s health by lowering blood pressure, relieving anxiety and boosting immunity.  Playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, nerve transmitters that promote pleasure and calm.  According to several studies, heart attack patients that have pets survive longer than those without and male pet owners in particular have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, two key components of heart disease.  But even beyond the physiological chemistry of how it all works, to watch a therapy dog bring the first smile to the face of a boy who had lost his father in the towers was witness to a heartwarming mini-miracle.

Photo Credit Andrea Booher, FEMA

The dogs who served during and after 9/11 were shining examples of what has become known as hero dogs.  Along with Whoopi Goldberg, I am co-hosting a tribute evening on behalf of American Humane Association in honor of the search and rescue, therapy, and support dogs who gave of themselves so bravely 10 years ago.  The event in New York on September 8th will help kick off American Humane Association’s Hero Dog month as we lead up to the official Hero Dog Awards in L.A. on October 1stClick here to find out more about this special event.

There are many of us around the world who are dedicated to helping dogs who can’t help themselves, but I wanted to find a way to help support the extraordinary work being done by organizations that helped dogs who help people, too.  That’s why I created the Victoria Stilwell Foundation, whose mission is to provide behavior advice and financial assistance to canine assistance organizations around the world.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation and helping us make the world a better place not just for dogs, but also for the people who rely on them for help.

As we reflect on the loss we suffered ten years ago and how it changed the world we live in, I think it’s also important to look forward and try to identify whatever positives we can glean from the wreckage.  I’m currently filming the 8th season of It’s Me or the Dog in New York City, and I feel honored to be back in my adopted city as this important anniversary draws near.  We will never forget what happened that day, nor those who gave their lives then and in the years that have followed so that we can live in freedom.

An Interview With Nicole Wilde

Clockwise from bottom left: Nicole Wilde, Cathy Bruce, Amber Burkhalter, Victoria Stilwell

I love Nicole Wilde.  She is such a lovely woman and a true powerhouse in our collective quest to promote positive training at the expense of dominance and fear-based methods.  I first met her several years ago when she stopped by our house in Atlanta for some dinner while she was in town for one of her popular dog training seminars, and we instantly hit it off.

I recently caught up with Nicole to discuss her latest book, ‘Don’t Leave Me!’ – a fantastic resource for those who have dogs struggling with separation anxiety.  I love this book, and recommend you buy it today if you don’t already have it!


Victoria Stilwell:  What made you decide to write “Don’t Leave Me!”?

Nicole Wilde:  Well, actually, I wasn’t intending to write a book about separation anxiety! But a year after our dogs had crossed over, I found myself searching the shelters for a new family member. I eventually found a wonderful female husky-keeshond mix. When I went to sign the adoption papers, I learned that she’d been impounded four times previously. I now believe that was probably due to a combination of separation anxiety and being a consummate escape artist. After the first year living with Sierra and her separation issues, I realized that a comprehensive book on the subject was warranted. That’s our girl Sierra on the cover!

VS:      What sorts of things did you learn by living full-time with a dog who has separation issues, as opposed to what you already knew as a professional behavior specialist?

NW:    Living with Sierra has given me a much deeper understanding of what owners of dogs with this issue go through. Although I had helped many clients to address separation anxiety over the years, I hadn’t really understood the extent of the emotional turmoil it caused to both dog and owner and the upheaval to one’s lifestyle.

It became important for me to come up with creative management solutions even beyond those I had previously used in my professional practice. Overall, my experiences with Sierra caused me to search beyond the traditional recommendations for addressing the issue, to get creative with solutions, and to become very organized in my approach.

VS:      The book appears to be partly a workbook. Can you talk about that?

NW:    Because the problem of separation anxiety can seem so overwhelming, and because so much of the available information is very general, I wanted to give owners a way to formulate a plan for their own individual dog. The book begins by guiding the reader through a few simple exercises to determine whether their dog has true separation anxiety, is simply acting out of boredom, or has “isolation distress,” meaning they are fine as long as there is another warm body present. In subsequent chapters, owners are assisted in brainstorming management solutions and in creating an appropriate  “Alone Zone” for their dog, and are given step-by-step assistance to formulate a customized treatment plan. Getting it all down on paper helps owners to feel less helpless and overwhelmed, and empowers them by creating a solid plan of action.

VS:      Along with useful exercises such as desensitizing the dog to departure cues, you offer a few different behavior modification protocols. Why not just one?

NW:   Because every dog is starting at a different point along the anxiety continuum. Some dogs become distressed when separated from their owner physically or visually—these are often the “Velcro dogs” who don’t want to let the owner out of their sight, even for a minute! Then there are those who are fine so long as the owner is at home, but become anxious as soon as the owner prepares to leave. Other dogs don’t become upset until the owner is actually gone. So there are different protocols to follow, depending on the particular dog.

VS:      You also discuss complementary tools and therapies that may help. Can you discuss one or two?

NW:    Leaving calming music playing when you are gone is one of the easiest ways to help your dog to relax. This goes beyond the old advice to leave a radio or television playing. Studies have shown that classical music, played with sparse instrumentation at a specific tempo, can have a calming effect on dogs. I recommend the Through a Dog’s Ear CDs, which are psycho-acoustically designed specifically for this purpose—but the chapter also discusses how you can use classical music you have on hand.

Another helpful modality is DAP, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This product chemically mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female dog. In addition to being calming to puppies, it is also calming to adult dogs. The product looks like a plug-in air freshener, and you place it in your dog’s main resting area. I’ve had good success with DAP with some of my clients’ dogs. All of the things mentioned in this section, including the natural alternatives to pharmacological drugs, may help and won’t cause harm. They are definitely worth trying, and should be done in conjunction with behavior modification.

VS:      In addition to helping owners, do you feel this book would be particularly helpful to shelters or rescue groups?

NW:    Absolutely! It’s an unfortunate fact that some dogs who are rehomed will have separation issues. I offer deep discounts to shelters and rescue groups. Some organizations hand the books out to adopters of dogs with known separation issues, while others sell them, for example, in on-site humane society gift shops. This is an issue that is very close to my heart, and I want to do whatever I can to help. My hope is that the book will help dogs and their owners, and by doing so, keep dogs in their forever homes.

VS:      Fantastic stuff – thanks so much, Nicole, and I’ll see you in a couple of months!

Purchase “Don’t Leave Me!” and “Help For Your Fearful Dog" in the Positively store.

What Is Going On?

Earl looked at me with is big brown eyes and his black droopy lips asking, what’s going on?  Where are we?  Howie has been following me from room to room for the last week.  No matter how easy you try and make it your pet feels the confusion and stress of a move as much as you do!  Don’t take it for granted that your dog is not under stress when a household move happens.  Take as many precautions as possible to help them through the difficult and confusing time.

First and foremost get new ID tags BEFORE YOU MOVE and attach them to your pets collar right away. Get to know the veterinarians in your new area and pick one ahead of time if you can.

I feel it is best to board your dog at a familiar kennel for a few days while the packing is underway and the house is getting torn apart.  Think about it, think about what your dog is seeing and he cannot use the human language to tell you of his confusion and fright.  Always put yourself in your dog’s paws and try and see things from his point of view it’s a real eye opener.   What if someone came into your home started pulling things off the walls, putting your belongings into crates and boxes WITH NO EXPLANATION TO YOU? There is no doubt you would be very frightened and freaked out by the overwhelming process that was taking place. That’s how your pet can feel when they are being moved out of their familiar home into a new home.

My next suggestion is plan on boarding your dog on the other end of the move as well until you can get at least two rooms in some kind of order. Your pet needs to have some type of safe area in the new home one that is not full of boxes.  Keep a favorite toy or bed with them at all times.

Remember, even the best-behaved pet may turn into a bit of a door dasher in an unfamiliar house so keep a sharp eye when going in and out until the house becomes “home” to them.  Every dog is different so adjustment time will vary with each dog.

If there is a fenced yard you must walk the perimeter and do a fence check to make sure there are no gaps or holes where your dog could get out.  Making sure your new backyard is secure for your pet is a must.  Do not take it for granted that the yard and fence are secure and safe you must check it. It is best not to leave your dog outside for extended periods of time in a strange yard unsupervised they may try and dig or jump out.  Sometimes owners just assume a yard is a yard and if the dog stays outside at home for extended periods its no different in the new yard.  Don’t make that mistake, your dog does not know where he is yet, this is not “home” he may try and escape if he is feeling overwhelmed.   As each day passes and things settle down so will everyone in the family and soon the strange smelling, funny looking new place will become “home” to everyone.

I’m Okay!

I have been planning on building a goat/sheep barn for some time. I have drawn plans and have been watching the prices of the 12 foot post that I need. These post range in price from $11.50 to $15.50 so being on the cheap side , I was really keeping an eye on the price.

Last week Lowes had the post on sale for $11.50 each I hustled to the store to purchase the 8 that I needed plus all the other supplies such as 2x4s, nails, and cement.

As it was raining I covered the cement with a tarp for the trip to the farm.  When I arrived at the farm. I then took all the supplies to the area I where I was planning to build the barn; but the cement I took to my small shed where  I had some tools stored. With eighty pounds of cement on my shoulder I placed each bag in the shed in an area that was dry and covered with a tarp.

On Saturday the rain had stopped some so I took off to the farm with the dogs. I started to build  the barn, First set the 2x4s in a perfect square ; then staked up everything so it would be  square and level.

Now I started to dig the post holes. Wow didn’t know that I  had clay that close to the surface of the ground. My arms were just about to break off after 3 holes, the rain had started so I called it a day.

Sunday morning the rain had stopped and it appeared that there would be sunshine even with 25 degrees for the high that day. I took a couple of Advil to help the sore arms and shoulders. Then loaded up the dogs for our day at the farm.

I began to dig the remaining holes with some strong arms, but after the second hole I started to take longer breaks between holes.  Finally I got to the last hole! I must admit I did try to dig that one faster and with out stopping to breath.

Now to cement the poles in the ground, I found I had to walk up hill about 75 yards to the small shed to get an 80 pound sack of cement then tote it back to the area of the new barn. At first I thought “you big stupid” but then some where the mucho man inside of  me said “ this will get you in shape”. So I began to tote each bag to the new barn site , fill the poles holes and level and straighten.

On the fourth or fifth trip to the shed, I might mention that the  shed doorway is 5 foot, I picked up a bag of cement slung it over my shoulder as I had done before, but this time  I stumbled slipped and staggered out the doorway. Did I mention that I am 5 feet 11 inches tall?  I began to fall forward and to gain my balance I stood up. BAM I hit the top to the door way with my head. Down to the ground I went , HARD!   I lay there for a long time hoping that some one would come take the 80 pound sack of cement off me. Or some one would just come see if they could see my brain  as I just knew I had a gapping hole in my head.

Maggie Lucille and Star were to busy searching for some critter so they were no help.  Laying there in the water that had turned to ICE, I realized that I had my cell phone. Help would be on the way soon.  I called my son Bryan who lives only 5-6 miles away, ‘no answer’. I called my wife; who was in town shopping, ‘no answer’  I called my daughter who lives about 38 miles away, ‘no answer’. I called my son who lives in Florida, ’no answer” !!!

The ice was sticking to me by this time, I had  to get the sack of cement off me. I did not want to be found with  80 pounds of cement on me while I was face down in the rain and ice.  What would people think. I rolled and rolled on the ground. Now the dogs come ; they think this is some kind of new training that I am teaching them. A new game, they are now jumping on my back and splashing ice water on me. Why is ‘leave me alone not a command”? I will teach them this command if I can just get this sack of cement off of me I thought as I struggled.

Finally I rolled the sack of cement  off my body. I started to stand, bells, stars, black spots in my eyes, and rain made me stay on the ground.  I sat on  my knees till I could see the truck over there. I could not stand I was just to dang dizzy. So I crawled toward the truck, dang dogs think this is another new game , ( a reminder to self teach “ leave me alone next week”).

With all the strength I had in my sore arms and hands I could gather I reached for the door handle on the truck. Locked! The keys were ’way’ over there by the shed that I had just crawled from.  I crawled back to the shed; dogs jumping on me ( this aint funny you animals). I got the keys; crawled back to the truck (NOT Jumping on a crawling person is also  being taught next week).

I unlocked the truck crawled inside turned on the heater. I sat there for a very long time letting the ice melt from my clothes an face.  When I got to feeling better I found some dry clothes in the truck, I began to towel off the rain from my face to find that it was not rain but BLOOD. ! My blood!  I was bleeding and since it was my blood I was thinking this is very serious.

After adjusting the mirror in two different angles I found I had a huge cut on my head. Still somewhat dizzy and not thinking real well because of the blow to the head and  nearly freezing  I thought I will rip off some of this “duct tape” and plaster on my bleeding head.  First aid on the job site --- I missed that class!

I sat in the truck for an hour or more   before I felt that I could drive home.  I called the dogs ; they piled into the back seat of my truck. Each one of them saw the big splat of duct tape on my bleeding head . Each one of them had to smell or lick my head. I will teach that class next week also.

I drove to the main highway and headed home. I  called my Mom and Dad who might give me some pity. Dad answered the phone on the first ring. I said “ I’m okay”. Dad said “well I am glad to hear that “ he hung up.

So today I am home with a large lump on my head, very large bandage on the top of my head, bruised forehead and burns on my  head where I had to pull the ‘duct tape’ off last night. That removed some the hair on head also. Like I needed less hair.

So the training of ‘leave me alone’ has started and  just so you know “I’m Okay”

Bill McFarlin

Top 10 Tips for Dogs and Babies

Was your first baby a fur-baby? Many dogs accept a new baby without any problems. However, some don’t and some will need a lot of help adjusting to the presence of an infant. Here’re some Tiny Tot ABC’s to help you prevent common problems.

1. Prepare your beloved dog months in advance. Assess, ultra-socialize, train and desensitize before you bring your baby home. Encourage independence and slowly transition primary care-taking duties of your pup to your partner if helpful. Visit your veterinarian to get a wellness exam for your spayed or neutered dog.

2. Never leave a baby or child alone with a dog. Sufficiently provoked, any dog will bite. No dog should be trusted with a small child and no child should be trusted with a dog. The American Veterinary Medical Association has a must-read online brochure: What You Should Know About Dog Bite Prevention (www.avma.org). Your dog may not recognize your newborn as a human member of the family. The best rule may be not to allow the dog into the nursery. Secure it.

Get your FREE DOWNLOAD here and enter the Sweepstakes to win free prizes from Animal Planet star, Victoria Stilwell, by sharing your thoughts and your experience.

3. Personality profile. Assess your dog’s behavior toward infants, toddlers, strangers, as well as reactions to novel items, smells and situations. What’s your dog’s history? Does your dog have small-animal predatory tendencies, guarding behaviors, startle phobia or fear responses? If so, call a professional canine behavioral consultant for an assessment.

4. Address training and behavior issues before the baby arrives. Obedience requirements are: sit, down, stay, come, leave it, and calm leash-walking. Practice using voice-alone instructions with your dog. Train out the behaviors you don’t want. Private, distraction-free training and practice in your home can provide the best results. Don’t play aggressive games with your dog.

5. Learn to read your dog’s body language so you can tell if your dog is experiencing stress  around your baby. Watch for avoidance or fixation, listen for vocalizations and notice how you dog looks when she’s happy. Be sure to provide lots of aerobic exercise. Employ a dog walker if your dog needs more fun!

6. Habituate and desensitize your dog to new baby sounds, gadgets, smells, and various baby routines by role-playing activities such as diaper changing and stroller walks with a doll. Dogs love routines. Check out Preparing Fido, a CD of crying, grunting, bathing, and giggling baby sounds www.preparingfido.com  by the Humane Society of the United States. Everything associated with the baby should become the new normal. You don’t want your dog to be surprised or anxious about having a baby join the family.

7. Socialization to infants and children. Take your people-friendly dog to observe children at play. Encourage friends with infants to visit in order to accustom your dog the presence of babies in the home. Reward your dog with treats and soft praise for remaining calm in order to develop positive associations between them.

8. Create a "Dog Zone" sanctuary and a "Baby Zone". Enclose gated areas to keep them safely separated so both you and your dog can relax and your baby is safe.

9. Introduce your dog to your baby in a slow, gradual fashion. When coming home from the hospital, have Mommy come into the house alone and calmly greet the dog. Then put the dog on a leash and ask for a sit or down. Have your partner come in with the baby and either retreat to another room and save introductions for later, or if your dog looks relaxed, walk your dog calmly and slowly toward the baby and let him sniff the baby’s toes---not the face. Make it a non-event. Ideally, your dog will not be overly interested in the baby. Help your dog experience the arrival of the baby as a good thing.

Photo Courtesy of Cara Shannon, Dog Bite Expert, Mom, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Trainer

According to renowned veterinarian Dr. Nicholas Dodman, “Share your attention with the dog when the baby is around.” This will help endear your baby to your dog and prevent “sibling” rivalry.

10. Seek professional help anytime you have concerns about interactions between your dog and family members, displays of aggressive, or guarding behaviors of items or people, sudden changes in your dog’s behavior, or conflict between dogs in the home. These problems need immediate intervention.

Ideally, parents ought to add a dog to the family after the children have reached the age of five but often that’s not the way life unfolds. Achieving harmony through proper preparation should have your fur-baby as happy as a lark to go for a stroller walk with you and your new baby!

Resources: Renowned dog and baby specialist, Colleen Pelar’s, Living with Kids and Dogs may be found at: www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com/. Her website is filled with helpful articles, an advice column and more. Attend a Dogs and Babies seminar or arrange for a private consultation in your home. And don’t forget www.DogsandStorks.com.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Embracing Empathy

My rabbit sprayed urine in my face this morning.

Now what on earth does this have to do with dog training you may ask?  Hear me out.  So after cleaning my face, swallowing my frustration that while I was reaching in to feed my rabbits their beloved pellet breakfast, Smokey decided to spray me in the face, I decided to do some research.  My first question was “why” and my second question was “why then?”  Turns out that male rabbits can develop a tendency to spray urine to mark territory or if they feel threatened.   That somewhat answered my “why” question and the more I thought about it I realized my ritual of moving around food bowls and refilling water in the morning could absolutely lead Smokey to feel threatened OR territorial.

So where am I going with this?  I’d like to talk about empathy for a moment as it relates to our pets, namely our dogs.  Showing empathy is identifying with another’s feelings or emotionally putting yourself in the place of another.  Once I started thinking about why my rabbit Smokey might be spraying me (regardless of whether it was territorial or fear based) I started having empathy for him and I was not as frustrated.

One of the most fulfilling components of my job working with dogs and owners is helping them answer some of the possible “whys” of the dog’s behavior they might be frustrated about.  The owner can then put themselves in the dog’s shoes and try to look at the reality from the dog’s perspective.  I think empathy is a must in any good relationship and this point was driven home to me recently with a young client I was working with.  She could not empathize with the fear her young dog was experiencing and the behaviors that were associated with that fear.  In her words, the dog should just “get over it.”  Wow.  If someone were to put me in a room with a snake and deal with my fear by telling me to just “get over it” I would probably have some choice words for them!  I wonder how many times our dogs have some choice words they would like to say to us when we refuse to empathize with where they are coming from.

If you Google “empathy towards dogs” what you come up with is a long list of articles and essays on whether or not dogs are empathetic towards humans.  There is great research being done on this topic, but what surprised me was the lack of articles on what I was actually looking for which was writings on “human” empathy towards dogs.  It is an important element, not to be overlooked in the relationship between dog and owner.  It is sometimes easiest to walk into a shelter and feel empathic for the dog without a home, but when we turn our thoughts onto that unwanted behavior that our OWN dog displays at home, are we
able to afford them the same empathy?  I hope it is something we all strive to do, but it involves us sometimes having to put our own feelings of frustration or aggravation aside and trying to see things from the dog’s perspective.  At the end of the day this will lend itself to a greater understanding and better relationship with the wonderful canine companions we share our lives with.

In Honor of Lucy…

Call it the human condition.  We often  take the ones we love most for granted.  Until she was gone, perhaps I never quite appreciated how wonderful our little dog Lucy was.  However, there are many who do – and likely will never forget the joy Lucy brought to their lives.

“Wha hoo” says Lucy, our miniature Australian Shepherd, as walked into the large gymnasium-sized room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  Lucy spent eight years at the direction of medical professionals to help stroke, spinal cord injury and burn injury victims as a part of an animal assisted therapy program.

When Lucy walked into a room – everyone knew it, as she announced her entrance.  I was embarrassed and worked to correct this attention-seeking behavior.  But it was an effort in futility.  Lucy’s “Wha-hoo” sparked laugher.  What could I do?   And really, why would I?  A part of her function turned out to be simply to help people to laugh, who might not have had a reason to for a long time.

Once our animal assisted therapy assignment was to help a little boy – about 12 years old – to better use his voice by calling to Lucy from the other side of the large gymnasium-sized room.  Thing is, the boy was afraid of dogs.  Why would he ever want to call a dog who he was afraid of?

I tried telling a few jokes, and told the boy Lucy likes jokes and will laugh:

Q: What do you call a joking duck?

A:  wise-quacker!

Each time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl “Wha hoo.”

The jokes didn’t make the boy laugh, but Lucy did. And within 10 minutes, Lucy somehow broke the ice…and the boy quietly began to ask Lucy to “sit” or “roll over.” He was amazed that she listened to him. Lucy knew over a dozen little tricks, from “playing dead” to jumping through hoops.

Lucy visited the Rehab Institute weekly, and each week the boy seemed to gain more confidence and have more fun. We were told, he had two photos in his room, one was Michael Jordan, then with the Chicago Bulls and another was of Lucy.

In four weeks the boy achieved the assigned goal from the medical professionals – which was to call Lucy from other side of the room.  The following week, the boy called her so often – we had to stop him; he was exhausting poor Lucy.

The week after that, the little boy wasn’t there.  My wife Robin and I were worried because sometimes, in truth, the stories don’t always have happy endings.  One of the physical therapists came up to us in tears.

We thought, ‘Oh no.”

The therapist walked right by Robin and me, and went straight to Lucy with a cookie, and said “thank you.”  She then hugged us, and tearfully told us the little boy went home much sooner than expected, She credited Lucy.

The wonders of animal assisted therapy are mind boggling but definitive. No one knows how dogs like Lucy wiggle their way into the hearts of people – adults and kids - and somehow achieve success when medical professionals cannot.

Lucy wasn’t a dog who liked to snuggle, except for when she was working– and her job was to sit next to sick child – which she would do as long as asked.

Sometimes Lucy’s animal assisted therapy successes were dramatic, sometimes more subtle.  No doubt there are families who still tell stories of the little dog who made them smile, or helped them on their way to recovery.

Lucy came to us as an 8-week-old blue-merle puppy.  Lucy was – named for Lucille Ball – so, no wonder she made people laugh.  I can’t count how many times with a group of children, I’d ask them to holler the name of a language, any language – German, Swahili, whatever…  My contention was that Lucy could speak them all.  And somehow, without any discernable cue from me, Lucy would “Wha-hoo” as they’d offer up a language.

So one child may offer Japanese, and Lucy would “Wha-hoo”.

Then another, say Australian, and Lucy would reply “Wha-hoo.”

I am telling you – I am sure I was giving her some cue, but honestly, after a time I had no idea what that was.  Lucy just knew it was time to play this game.

Lucy was euthanized May 2, just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday.  Our veterinarian commented, “She was lucky to have you and Robin.”  Actually, we were lucky to have the little funny dog who made people laugh.

To honor our dog, the American Humane Association has created the Lucy Fund, to provide recognition and assistance to animal assisted therapy dog dogs.  American Humane is also naming an award in Lucy’s honor at the Hero Dog Awards. Please consider contributing to help all dogs who do this important work:   www.americanhumane.org/lucy.

Victoria Chats With Patricia McConnell


I recently had the chance to catch up with my friend and dog training guru Dr. Patricia McConnell to chat about her latest book, Love Has No Age Limit.  Love this woman and what she does!

Victoria With Dr. Patricia McConnell

Victoria Stilwell:   Hi Patricia!  So glad you could find a few minutes to talk to me about your new book (which I love, by the way.)  As you know, you have been a huge influence on me as a dog trainer and I’m honored to be able to talk dog with you!

Patricia McConnell:  The honor is all mine, Victoria, it’s a joy to talk to someone who has done so much to promote humane (and effective!) dog training.

VS:  Why did you and your co-author, Karen London, decide to write Love Has No Age Limit?

PM:  We wrote the book to both encourage adoptions and, as importantly, to increase the percentage of successful ones. We’ve both had many clients over the years who adopted dogs from shelters and rescues who needed some guidance about how to transition their adopted dog from “new dog” to “best dog ever.”

VS:  Have you found that dogs from shelters or rescue groups have a special set of problems that need to be addressed?

PM:  In some ways, no. We’ve met (and adopted!) so many adolescent and adult dogs who were great dogs, really fantastic ones. However, it IS a bit different bringing home a dog who is not a puppy anymore, and it helps to have one’s expectations aligned with reality.

VS:  What have you found are the primary differences between bringing home a young puppy versus adopting a dog who is a bit older?

PM:  One important thing to keep in mind is that a dog who is “house trained” in one home doesn’t necessarily transfer that behavior to your home. Even well-trained, older dogs need to be watched carefully for the first few days so that they understand where to find the restroom. Take them out often and give them treats for relieving themselves outside so that they catch on before they establish a bad habit.

Another important tip is to remember that once a dog is no longer a puppy he or she doesn’t have an automatic “following” response. Too often adopters bring home a dog and expect it to jump out of the car and follow them into the house. We advise being

extremely cautious at first when you bring home a new dog: be sure the leash is on and in your hand before the dog leaves the car, and don’t assume that, if you have one,  your backyard fence is “dog-proof” without doing a careful check before you let the dog loose in it.

And overwhelmingly, the most important attribute to making an adoption work is to be patient! Just as puppies need months or years to learn the rules of the house, remember that your new dog needs time to get to know you and to settle in and feel at home. He or she also needs the humane and effective kind of training that you role model Victoria, to be a polite member of the family. Just because a dog isn’t a puppy doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to learn what you expect of it.

VS:  Some people have told me that they are resistant to adopting a dog from a shelter or humane society because the dog must have something wrong with it. Do dogs from shelters have more behavioral problems than other dogs?

PM:  Absolutely not. That doesn’t mean that every dog who needs a home is perfect, but there are so many wonderful dogs out there looking for homes. It’s true that they’ll need training and guidance to learn to fit into your household, but one of my best dogs ever came from a shelter, the one I renamed Lassie because she was the dog everyone wants but doesn’t deserve!

VS:  It certainly is a fantastic book, but I know that most shelters and rescue groups are strapped for money. Can they afford to give it out to adopters?

PM:  We worked very hard to create a book that is priced far, far below the usual retail cost for a book its size, so that shelters and rescue groups could afford to give it out with every dog they adopt. That’s been super successful --- a Golden Retriever rescue group (GRIN) in Ohio bought 500, and we’ve heard from lots of people who are buying multiple copies and donating them to their shelter. We want to do all that we can to help find homeless dogs their forever homes!

VS:  Fantastic.  Thanks so much, Patricia, and best of luck with the new book – it certainly is a valuable addition to your terrific catalog.  See you soon!

For more information about Dr. McConnell, go to www.patriciamcconnell.com

CLICK HERE to visit the Positively Store where you can buy Love Has No Age Limit and Dr. McConnell's other bestseller (and one of my favorite dog books - The Other End of the Leash.

We’re Certified Humane

Certified Humane

By Lisa Spector, Canine Music Expert, Juilliard Graduate, and co-creator of Through a Dog’s Ear.

I noticed the top of the Brown Cow yogurt I recently purchased. It read "We're Certified Humane". I continued to read, "Our farmers have always treated their cows with kindness. But, now that we're certified humane, you can be certain the ladies enjoy ample space, shelter, gentle handling, healthy food, clean water, and a safe living environment."

I reflected on those words and wondered if that phrase could also be used with dog trainers. Just imagine, if a trainer uses science based, positive-reinforcement training, everything associated them would say, "I'm certified humane." A further expanded explanation could read, "My dogs and the dogs in my training classes and lessons have always been treated with kindness. But, now that we're certified humane, you can be certain that they are treated gently, are encouraged to make good choices and are rewarded well for those choices, are not seen as something to dominate,  are taught very patiently, while their people are supported in building bonding relationships with their dogs."

Of course, if you are a Victoria Stilwell licensed trainer (VSPDT), you will likely have the Positively sign to the right (or something similar) on your website, so it will be obvious. Otherwise, it's not always so clear. I try and be very selective in who I follow on Twitter, and often can't tell what training methods a professional trainer uses by looking at their website. Trainers who use dominate based training methods often use deceptive words that could misguide potential clients. And dog lovers in search of a trainer may not know what science based/ reward based/positive reinforcement training really is all about. And the initials KPA, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, CDBC, CDAC might as well be in Greek to some of them.

What do you think? What words could be used to make it clear what kind of training method a trainer uses? Should a trainer that uses dominate based training methods be required to say so? And should there be a certification that would allow trainers to post a sign that says "We're Certified Humane", if they use positive reinforcement training? If you are a trainer, I'd love to hear what words you use to describe your training methods. Thanks for sharing your comments below.

As co-founder of Through a Dog’s Ear, I am offering my readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.

Why Should You Vaccinate Against Parvovirus?

To some dog owners, the issue of vaccination is controversial—should it even be done? But to anyone living in developing country where most dogs and cats are not vaccinated or to anyone unlucky enough to see an outbreak, the issue is a no brainer. Take the following historical case in point.

Unknown infectious agent drops dogs in droves.
It was a scorching 90 degrees and the young stockbroker, in a hurry to reach the comfort of his air-conditioned house, was taking a short cut through the park. The area looked pristine, but little did he know, thousands of microscopic organisms were collecting on his shoes. They weren't after him. He was just their transport. What they really wanted were his two pups. And they would wreak havoc with them when they met.
"I was vacationing in Cape Cod when it hit," says Dr. Leland Carmichael, a veterinary virologist at the Baker Institute of Animal Health at Cornell University. I received an urgent call from my lab. 'There's something strange going on here,' says my associate Dr. Max Appel. 'We're being inundated with fecal samples.'
That July 1978, dogs were dropping in droves to an epidemic of diarrhea the likes of which had never been seen. Veterinarians all over the U.S. were sending samples to Carmichael's lab in hopes that the watery excrement held the clue to the mysterious outbreaks. Carmichael and Appel evaluated the samples under the electron microscope, a gargantuan magnifying device, and in record time they had a suspect. It looked surprisingly familiar. Like a cat virus they knew well. And after further tests, they knew for sure it was a relative. A new virus. They dubbed it Canine Parvovirus.
Identifying the beast was only the first step. With diarrhea in adult dogs spreading across the U.S. and a more fatal form showing up in young puppies -- sudden death due to heart failure -- Carmichael and company were under the gun. "We dropped all other research," says Carmichael, "and embarked on a crash program, directing all our resources to the new virus." They needed to know more about the virus so they could find a way to stop its lightening spread.
The task proved challenging. The virus replicated quickly and was passed easily through diarrhea. Plus, it was practically impossible to kill. The particles could live in the environment for months and were resistant to most disinfectants other than bleach. This meant that anyone and anything traveling through an infected area could transport the virus. As a result, even kennels and households with no history of contact from outside dogs suddenly spiked disease.
In the following months, Carmichael's lab was flooded with over 10,000 telephone queries and thousands of cases were diagnosed from samples from around the world. But luckily, by October things were slowing down. The virus was highly infective with possibly hundreds of thousands of dogs falling ill, but only about 5% died. Because those that recovered were immune, the population was gaining a natural immunity to the disease. New cases mostly involved puppies.
This natural immunity didn't stop the disease though. While the first commercial vaccines were marketed in 1981, they weren't in time for a second more deadly wave of disease in 1980. This time fewer dogs were affected but more died. The virus had mutated to a more deadly form affecting primarily dogs under five months of age and killing whole litters of younger puppies.

Preventing parvovirus infection by vaccinating
Today we have a number of good vaccines against parvovirus and we no longer see nationwide outbreaks. However, every year, hospitals see micro outbreaks and occasionally large outbreaks of over 100 dogs occur, especially at shelters. In fact, if you work at a shelter, you are likely to see an outbreak of distemper or Parvovirus at least every several years. And infectious disease is such a prominent issue at shelters that there’s now a well-established specialty in veterinary medicine called shelter medicine. The veterinary specialists in focus on keeping large groups of animals healthy rather than just focusing on the individual. They set up programs and make choices that ultimately keep more animals safe. Even in the absence of actual outbreaks, many individual cases or Parvo infection occur. In 2009 one of Oprah Winfrey’s puppies died of Parvovirus infection after staying at an animal shelter in Chicago. (http://www.examiner.com/pets-in-boston/oprah-s-dog-dies-from-parvo-dog-owners-urged-to-get-their-dogs-vaccinated-for-parvovirus)

Why does parvovirus still persist?
Parvovirus persists because the virus is highly infectious and difficult to destroy. Infected dogs shed millions of virus particles in their feces and potential victims need only ingest a small amount to become infected. New victims can become sick within 4-7 days of exposure. Secondly, although vaccines are available, not all vaccines are equally good. This is where your veterinarian comes in.
Lastly, many dog owners still fail to get their puppies vaccinated and this is the most common cause of outbreaks. Puppies need to be vaccinated in a series of shots every 3-4 weeks starting around 6-8 weeks of age and extending to 14-16 weeks—longer in susceptible breeds such as Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers. Adult dogs who've never been vaccinated may need a series of two shots to start off, although one administration of parvovirus vaccine is considered to be protective. Both groups should have regular boosters—the American Animal Hospital Association recommends not more than every 3 years. Alternatively, individuals can have their titers taken to see whether they need a booster yet.

How do you tell if your dog has Parvovirus?
Dogs rarely develop heart disease from parvo now, but if your puppy develops vomiting or diarrhea or suddenly becomes listless take him to your veterinarian immediately. He or she can diagnose the disease using a specific diagnostic test. Many diseases can cause diarrhea but parvo is the number one cause in dogs under six months of age. If your dog does have parvo, expect an extended hospital visit. Treatment often requires intensive hospital care including fluids, antibiotics and even a blood transfusion. The total stay can last days and sometimes several weeks and even then, cure is not guaranteed.

To find out why puppies need multiple vaccinations, read Puppy Vaccinations: Why Puppies Need a Series of Shots.

Have you ever had a pet or seen a pet get parvo?