Mind Your Canine Manners
The lure of the dog park is inescapable. That wide expanse of grass. Trees, shrubs and rocks dotted about. Perhaps a metal fence for added protection. As inviting as the scene may be, it’s essential that both you and your dog pass the test in proper dog park etiquette before you even enter the grounds.
There may be no signs posted stating “BAD MANNERS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED,” but every well-informed dog owner knows what they are. For those first time owners who have absolutely no clue, the following is a list of the most essential “do’s” and “don’ts” of playing safely at the dog park.
DO keep your dog under control at all times and DO make certain that he always comes when called. Pity those poor owners standing helpless and hoarse, leashes dangling, treat bags drooping, while their own dogs dance off disobediently into the distance. In the event that you dog escapes the dog park, be ready and know what to do if your dog goes missing.
DO make certain that your dog has been properly socialized beforehand. What’s worse than watching an aggressive dog going after a timid dog, resulting in punishment for one and pet therapy for the other? Make sure you’re up to date on all dog park etiquette before putting your dog in that situation.
DO ensure that your dog is up to date on all of his vaccinations, is heartworm negative and parasite protected. Think about all of those tiny, unseen menaces like fleas and ticks lurking about in the grass.
DON’T bring an intact male or female dog to the park. Picture the pandemonium that would ensue. Not to mention the potential for a passel of unplanned pups.
DO monitor the behavior of the other dogs in the park and be alert to possible signs of trouble. Step into referee mode and start dropping penalty flags on the field if loose packs are forming, playing is getting too rough or bullying has begun.
DO be prepared to leave the park if it means avoiding a potentially unpleasant or dangerous situation. Whether it’s your dog’s fault or someone else’s dog, finger pointing is preferable to finger biting. But both should be studiously avoided.
DO be considerate of the other dogs and their – hopefully — considerate owners. Stoop and scoop up carefully after YOUR dog. If you don’t appreciate your dog’s nose sniffing at, or your feet slipping on, another dog’s droppings, you’re certainly not alone.
Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.
Now, go play!
THE DOWNSIDE OF DOUBLE MERLES
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sadly, in the world of dog breeding, some dogs are
bred simply because they are thought to be beautiful -- by breeders and buyers alike. So it
is with the double merle.
Merle refers to a color pattern, not a color in and of itself. Merle dogs come in many
colors, the most common of which is blue merle, found most often in Australian Shepherds.
Blue merles are, in fact, black dogs with the black broken up into irregular patches by
lighter shades of gray. In some “circles”, the lighter, the better; the whiter, the prettier.
This has led to the irresponsible breeding of male and female merles in the hope of
producing as many light merles as possible. The unintentional result: the double merle.
Whether they are called double merles, lethal whites or homozygous merles, these dogs are
born carrying the MM gene, leaving them unable to produce pigment. Some of the most
popular breeds affected by this so-called MM genotype include Australian Shepherds,
Border Collies, Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Catahoula Leopard Dogs, Collies (Rough and
Smooth), Dachshunds (known as dapples), Great Danes, Old English Sheepdogs and
The unethical practice of breeding double merles is generally condemned worldwide, not
only because so many are considered defective and put down at birth by their breeders, but
because of the health problems that plague them, namely, partial or complete deafness and
Numerous myths have arisen concerning double merles. If deaf, blind or both, they are
reputed to be aggressive, unpredictable, untrainable, prone to other health issues, even a
shorter life span. According to studies, however, none of this is true. Double merles, despite
their deficiencies, are generally quite healthy dogs capable of living long, otherwise normal
lives. And they are no more aggressive, unpredictable or untrainable than hearing and
To dispel another myth, there are homes more than eager to adopt, train and love such
special needs dogs. Experts stress the importance of not viewing them as “handicapped.”
While they do have certain limitations, they themselves are not aware of this, and can be as
active and affectionate, playful and pleasurable as any other dogs.
Families adopting double merles first receive their own training, and what they learn is
promptly passed on to their dogs. Deaf or hard-of-hearing dogs are trained through the use
of sign language or hand signals. Lights and vibrations can also be used. Deaf/blind double
merles are trained by touch signals and scent cues placed throughout the home. Blind
double merles are trained through the use of both sound and scent cues. All sharp edges at
eye level are either bubble-wrapped or cushioned by towels for added protection. All
stairways are baby-gated, and either a textured mat or a scent placed before each one to
alert the dog to the gates’ proximity.
And, so contrary to popular misconception, double merles can and DO lead happy,
balanced and productive lives. In fact, to the delight of their proud and loving owners,
double merles excel in many areas and numerous arenas. They often compete at the highest
levels in agility, win ribbons at kennel club showings, participate in K9 nosework, and
become therapy dogs – to name but a few.
Do you own a dog but want to rent an apartment or condo, town home or house?
If so, it’s vital that you’re fully informed before initiating this all-important process.
Why? Because too many dogs are either abandoned or surrendered to animal shelters as a
result of housing problems encountered by their owners.
It’s understandable that many landlords may be leery of renting their premises to dog
owners. Some tenants are thoughtless and irresponsible, allowing their pets to damage
property, to chew and defecate inappropriately, and/or disturb their neighbors – from
barking incessantly due to separation anxiety to jumping up on them or nipping them.
It’s therefore incumbent upon YOU to prove to prospective landlords that your dog is well
trained, well mannered and well socialized, and that renters like you will not only be
respectful of their rental property but will illustrate, by your example, that most pet
owners are both conscientious and trustworthy.
Since finding a rental property that welcomes ALL dogs regardless of breed or size can be
difficult, increase your chances of success by considering the following:
Allow as much time as possible for as thorough a search as possible.
Research all “animal-friendly” listings and all “animal-savvy” realtors by placing classified
Reach out to your neighbors and co-workers, friends and family, through networking sites
and social media for an even broader range of potential rentals.
Stop by the supermarkets and drug stores in your area to pick up free publications of
rental opportunities and visit such web sites as https://www.apartments.com and
https://www.rent.com for even more listings.
Create a “canine resume” detailing your dog’s positive personality traits. Include several
photos guaranteed to win hearts, list your dog’s favorite activities, food and treats,
certifications if any, and a brief adoption story. You should also include a letter from the
vet showing that your dog is spayed or neutered and up-to-date on vaccines, a letter of
reference from your current or most recent landlord (if applicable), and written proof that
your dog has completed a training class (if applicable).
While some landlords may advertise “no pets” or have size or breed restrictions, others
may be willing to make an exception -- particularly if they own pets or are pet lovers
themselves. It’s worth making an inquiry over the phone and even inviting the more
amenable ones to meet with you and your dog.
NEVER sign a lease that states, “no pets allowed” even if you happen to observe other pets
on the premises. But most importantly, never accept the word of a realtor, manager or
landlord that having one is “okay.” The only words that count are those WRITTEN in the
lease. If the lease clearly states “no pets allowed”, ensure that it’s either crossed out or
replaced with language approving your pet, and that all changes are initialed by both you
and the landlord.
Any pet deposit or monthly fees should be specified in the lease, but before signing it, first
discuss the matter with the landlord and/or renegotiate the amount.
Keep a signed copy of the lease with all of your other important documents where it can be
readily retrieved if needed.
Then, once you and your cherished canine companion are happily ensconced in your new
home, it remains your responsibility to reassure the landlord that he made the right choice
in renting to you.
Like a prenuptial agreement, the aptly named “pet-nuptial” (pet custody) agreement can
assist you in keeping your cherished canine companion should your current relationship
Whether you’re divorcing a spouse, breaking up with a partner or moving out on a
roommate, if you’ve owned a dog together, gird yourself for a potential battle over the
custody of that dog. The key to resolving this issue and being on the winning end of it is to
have a “pet-nuptial” agreement already in place.
Since the law in most states regards pets not as family members but as personal property,
protecting your rights requires foresight on your part. When you have a “pet-nuptial”
agreement, a court – if it comes to that – will, in all likelihood, enforce it unless you live in
one of a handful of states with pet custody laws. If so, the judge will, as in any child custody
battle, make a decision based on the best interests of the disputed pet.
Without a pre-arranged agreement, you’ll have to prove why YOU’RE the one entitled to
keep the dog rather than your spouse, partner or roommate. Are you able, then, to provide
the answers to the following questions?
Who actually adopted or purchased the dog in question? Have the necessary receipts,
Did you or “the other party” have the dog before the start of your “arrangement?”
Are there any children involved who are attached to this dog? If so, where will they be
Who plays the greater role in feeding, walking and playing with the dog?
Who takes the dog to the veterinarian?
Who pays the bills -- from food, toys, beds, clothing and equipment to veterinary expenses,
medications, supplements and therapies if applicable?
Who has (more) room for the dog in their home or apartment?
Who has a backyard for the dog?
Is one of you moving to an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs?
Does either party have a work schedule that prevents them from spending quality time
with the dog?
Which party has bonded with the dog or is the one the dog always follows around your
Has either party ever exhibited any cruelty towards your dog or any other animal?
To keep your pet dispute from ever going to court, consider using mediation or arbitration
instead. This way you can hopefully work together and come to an amicable arrangement.
Another solution is an agreement that either provides for joint custody of your dog or for
sole custody with the other party given “visitation rights.” Joint custody agreements are far
from ideal since pets, like children, are often traumatized by the dissolution of a marriage
or partnership. A custody agreement where your dog is shuttled back and forth between
two homes seldom works satisfyingly for any party – particularly the dog.
If your spouse already had the dog before you got married, it will be difficult for you to get
custody of him because he’s not considered “marital property” but your spouse’s “separate
And yet, in some cases, you may emerge victorious. Examples: if you spend the most time
with your dog, you could get custody of him despite the fact that your spouse pays most of
the vet bills. If children are involved, and you’re getting custody of them in one of the few
states with pet custody laws, a judge will want the dog to remain with the children. In other
states, custody could be split, with the children going to one parent and the dog going to the
Because pet custody is an evolving legal issue, consider hiring a family attorney to help you.
Ensure that you have photos and videos of you and your dog sharing a series of bonding
experiences. Ensure that you have witnesses eager to testify that YOU are his primary
guardian and playmate. Ensure that you have records of or receipts for every purchase
you’ve made towards his care and well being.
In short, if you have a dog and an intact marriage or partnership, put a “pet-nuptial”
agreement in place NOW so that you’re protected should the relationship ever end.
Dogs and Leptospirosis
A disease potentially harmful to dogs, leptospirosis is caused by a bacterium called
Leptospira interrogans. Omni-present in the environment because it’s borne by numerous
animals, including rats and skunks, raccoons, feral cats and domestic livestock, the
organism is carried in their kidneys and excreted through their urine. Dogs will often
contract the disease by swimming in stagnant water or by drinking from contaminated
puddles of water.
Known to exist as well in dampness and in mud, especially following heavy rainfalls, more
cases of leptospirosis are diagnosed during the late summer and fall, while winter tends to
lower the risk since the bacteria can’t tolerate freezing temperatures.
Although many infected dogs never exhibit any signs of illness, the disease is usually most
severe in unvaccinated puppies younger than 6 months of age, and takes between four and
twelve days following exposure for them to feel sick. While the symptoms may vary from
dog to dog, they usually include lethargy, poor appetite, fever, vomiting, and increased
thirst or urine production. Some dogs may also become jaundiced.
Veterinarians diagnose the disease by running blood tests (these will reveal changes in
kidney values or both kidney and liver values) and urine tests that look specifically for
leptospirosis. They then typically prescribe antibiotics to treat the active infection and
assist in keeping an infected dog from becoming a carrier of the organism.
Unfortunately, leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, which means it’s contagious to
humans. While the most common way for people to contract the disease is through
exposure to infected dog or rat urine, any contaminated bodily fluid, including vomit and
saliva, can be the culprit. If your own dog is ill with leptospirosis, it’s essential, then, to
observe such hygiene protocols as wearing protective gloves when cleaning up after him
and not allowing him to lick your face until he’s fully recovered.
Familiar with the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Never
was it more applicable than when dealing with leptospirosis. Prevent your own dogs from
contracting the disease by eliminating their access to contaminated water, by keeping your
property free of food, and by using durable garbage containers to reduce attracting rats,
raccoons or feral cats to your area.
If you believe that your dog is at high risk of contracting the disease, you might consider
having him vaccinated for leptospirosis. The American Animal Hospital Association,
however, considers it a “non-core” vaccine, only recommending it if a dog is very likely to
be exposed to leptospirosis. Not only does its effectiveness vary from short term to longer
lasting, there have been reports of reactions to the vaccine that also vary -- from minor to
While a vaccination doesn’t always prevent the disease, it does make the disease much
milder should infection occur. There’s also the potential for vaccinated dogs infected with
leptospirosis to become long-term carriers of the disease, with some experiencing a more
frequent incidents of reproductive failures and stillbirths.
As with all matters concerning your cherished canine companion, discuss the vaccination
with your vet. Your decision should be based on your lifestyle, whether your community is
experiencing any cases of leptospirosis, as well as your vet’s own experiences – positive and
negative -- with dogs and the vaccine.
Woe to those careless doggy owners who leave temptation – most famously socks – within easy gulping reach of their curious canine companions.
Notorious for eating items they shouldn’t, dogs can cheerfully chew and swallow almost anything.
If your precocious pup did indeed swallow a sock and he’s a large dog, he may simply vomit it back up – almost immediately or within a day or two. If he doesn’t, the sock may pass neatly through his intestines and eventually be eliminated. Because this could take several days, you must carefully check his stool for that sock every time he moves his bowels, and paws crossed, find it sooner rather than later! But if you don’t find it or if your dog seems out of sorts, promptly take him to the vet.
If, on the other hand your dog is small, rather than wait, one option is to bring him directly to your vet to have the sock removed from his stomach by using an endoscope. This is a long, thin tube with a miniature light and camera at the end that goes down your dog’s throat and into his stomach. The missing sock is then extracted with a pair of specially designed forceps.
Unfortunately, in some cases, that errant sock might become lodged in your dog’s stomach. According to experts, when the stomach empties out, food is the first to be eliminated while indigestible items are the last. A sock or any other foreign object can, therefore, remain in a dog’s stomach and cause problems. Why? Just because he swallowed it doesn’t mean he can throw it up or eliminate it, and if it’s too large to enter his intestinal tract, it literally bounces around, resulting in extreme discomfort.
Since many ingested objects are difficult to see on x-rays, and since dogs often swallow things without their owners even realizing it, vets will usually investigate further by using that same endoscopic procedure. How often has a vet, when searching for bowel disease or a chronic inflammation, been surprised to find that the culprit is someone’s underwear (be wary of that elastic band) or a tennis ball instead!
The most unpleasant and potentially life-threatening result of your dog’s swallowing a foreign object is an intestinal obstruction -- where the item lodges somewhere in his intestines and causes a blockage that requires surgery to remove it. What’s difficult about an intestinal obstruction, however, is that you might not realize your dog has one if you didn’t actually see him swallowing something that object.
What, then, are the classic signs of an obstruction? If your dog keeps vomiting and vomiting and he’s neither eating nor drinking. If your dog never vomits, then he suddenly starts vomiting several times a week. Consider both scenarios to be medical emergencies.
And, in conclusion, should you witness your dog swallow a battery, a sharp or a very large object, visit the vet immediately.
The Downside of Doggy Doors
The benefits of doggy doors, particularly those with screened flaps, permitting your precious pup to exit and enter your house in your absence, are, all too often, outweighed by their drawbacks.
Curious? Concerned? If so, consider some of the following downsides of doggy doors.
Your dog may bark more: With unlimited access to a doggy door, your dog can easily be tempted to run outside at the slightest sound and start barking. Before long, this behavior will become a pattern. The paw-tential results? Unhappy neighbors complaining about your dog’s excessive barking during the day when you’re not at home. Unhappier neighbors complaining about his randomly barking at night, eventually branding him a “nuisance barker”, thereby allowing Animal Control to intervene and fine you.
Your dog may escape: If granted unfettered 24-hour access to an inadequately fenced yard, he can readily escape (was that a squirrel he saw … a cat … another dog?), race into the road and be hit by a car, or even worse, run off, never to be seen again. Far too many agile and athletic dogs can, with the greatest of ease, leap a low fence and bolt. And for those less adept dogs, digging and burrowing UNDER the fence works equally as well.
Your dog may become aggressive: Another byproduct of incessive backyard barking should your dog roam about unsupervised, is frustration, and potentially aggression. When he sees other dogs go past or approach the fence -- from mesh and chain link fences to widely spaced metal picket fences -- not only will he begin to bark but, quite possibly, “fence fight” with them. He may even exhibit aggression towards people walking too near the fence, youngsters riding by on their bicycles and neighborhood children verbally teasing him or baiting him by poking their fingers through the spaces.
If your dog shows any signs of either canine or human aggression – or simple boredom -- keep him indoors when you’re not at home and have a dog walker take him for one or two walks a day. Or better still, hire an experienced pet sitter to bring him outside to the yard to potty, rewarding his “good behavior” and redirecting his attention at the first signs of aggression. The pet sitter can also have soft music playing to muffle some of the intrusive noises from outside, but most importantly, relieve his boredom by stimulating his brain and keeping him constructively engaged by solving puzzles of various kinds.
Your dog may be stolen: Purebreds, in particular, are as desirable as they are expensive, and are, therefore, easy targets for those eager to make a profit by stealing and selling them. If your purebred dog has unsupervised access to the yard, especially if you’re not there, someone can stealthily unlatch the gate, open it or jump over the fence if it’s low enough, and leave with your dog in the blink of an eye.
Doggy doors are entry points for burglars: A door large enough to accommodate a large dog is an open invitation for a thief to squeeze through it when you’re away, perhaps pepper spray your pet and proceed to ransack your house.
Doggy doors are entry points for other animals: Both domestic animals (cats and other dogs) and an entire alphabet of wildlife will instinctively follow the scent of food, even dog food left near the opening of a doggy door. If your dog can get in and out of it, so can they, and since most wildlife scavengers are notoriously unfriendly and potential carriers of disease, they can seriously harm both you and your dog.
Doggy doors are exit points for small children: Older toddlers can, all too easily, mimic the way your dog gets in and out of them and, if left unsupervised, escape just as easily into the backyard with potentially dangerous consequences.
In short, never leave YOUR cherished canine companion unattended outdoors when the safest place for him is, paws down, inside your house.
But if you feel a doggy door is a MUST, erect a sturdy fence (e.g. a 6-foot-high stockade wood fence) with a door that bolts securely on the inside around your yard and install the highest grade doggy door that locks as well.
Tail Biting and Chewing in Dogs
Most dog owners readily admit to smiling at the silly sight of their dog chasing his tail. But when an occasional tail chasing episode becomes a habit or if it devolves into tail biting or chewing, what was once viewed as cute may, in fact, be worrisome.
Consider then, the six most common causes of canine tail biting and chewing.
1. Parasitic infestations: Fleas and ticks are both seasonal annoyances and afflictions for countless dogs. Rather than reacting to the presence of the pests themselves, some dogs are allergic to the saliva in their bites, resulting in dermatitis (skin inflammation). A dog with an undiagnosed flea or tick allergy may repeatedly bite at the affected area, breaking the skin, in an attempt to find relief from the itching. Tapeworms can also cause extreme discomfort -- this time, in the area around your dog’s anus -- often driving him to gnaw or chew at the base of his tail which, in turn, leads to even more pain.
2. Allergies: Environmental allergies – including outdoor pollen and household chemicals, mites and mold, shampoos and soaps, and contact with other animals – are also extremely common in dogs. Studies show that reactions are most severe between the age of three months and six years, and that, like people, a pup’s first instinct to an allergy’s itchiness is to scratch it, which can ultimately progress to biting and/or chewing.
3. Hot spots: These are areas where repeated scratching or chewing, exacerbated by warmth and moisture, has led to the creation of open wounds on your dog’s body. Easily recognized by the presence of blood, pus and matted hair, should stray bacteria enter the site before it’s been properly treated, the result is a secondary infection. If your dog is biting at the base of his tail so often that he draws blood, a secondary infection may not be the root cause of his problem but a symptom of some other issue. Only your vet can determine precisely what that issue is.
4. Stress, anxiety and boredom: Any or all three can lead dogs to exhibit a variety of repetitive and often destructive behaviors – including biting and chewing their tails. For some, it’s because they’re left crated too long while their owners are gone during the day. For others, it’s because they’re not getting enough physical exercise, interactive playtime and mental stimulation – all of which can be easily remedied by providing them with sufficiently satisfying outlets for their pent-up energy.
5. Injury: Any type of rear or hind end injury, such as a broken or fractured tail bone, may, under normal circumstances, go unnoticed by even the most conscientious of owners. Perhaps your sole clue will be the sight of your dog, wracked by intense pain, licking, biting and/or chewing the affected area. Only a visit to the vet and x-rays can accurately pinpoint the problem.
6. Impacted anal glands: The final, possible reason for a dog to bite at the base of his tail until it bleeds is an impacted anal gland. Scooting – when he sits and drags his butt across the floor or any other surface – is the most obvious sign. Other symptoms may include an especially foul odor coming from his rear end, constipation and, in severe cases, blood or pus in his stool.
Whatever the reason behind your cherished canine companion’s tail biting or chewing, once it’s been addressed and treated, he’ll be free to enjoy his life in good health and high spirits.
Dogs and Grass
Many dogs have a condition called pica, which means they favor eating such non-food items as toys and feces, dirt and grass. Most experts, however, consider consuming grass to be fairly normal dog behavior that usually doesn’t cause many -- if any -- problems.
Why then, do our canine companions go for grass?
Some simply enjoy the taste and texture of it. Their wild relatives are known for eating whatever vegetable matter they find in the stomachs and intestines of the prey they catch while also feasting on roots, grasses and berries. Mimicking their relatives then, it makes perfect sense that, in addition to grass, your dog may delight in downing safe, raw-plant snacks like green beans and strawberries as well as slices of apple and banana.
On the other hand, however, numerous studies have shown that grazing on grass may provide dogs with the fiber and/or trace vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in sufficient quantities in most commercial dog foods. Consider asking your vet to help you select a product – dry or wet -- that’s backed by both science and research and that best meets your own dog’s specific needs.
If your dog’s a devoted grazer, keep him from chewing on grass that’s been chemically treated because it could prove poisonous to him. You may not use pesticides or herbicides on your own lawn but one of your neighbors may, and if applied on a windy day, these toxic substances could reach your yard through wind or water runoff. Be wary as well of public areas like parks, where the grass may have been treated with chemicals (if so, signs usually indicate it). Provide your pup instead with a patch of healthy wheat grass or purchase dog-safe grass or herb-growing kits at a pet supply store and grow your own.
When they’re not feeling well, dogs may, on occasion, gulp down grass as a natural emetic to force them to vomit. If you hear ominous rumblings in your dog’s belly and if he seems gassy and somewhat lethargic, don’t be surprised that the moment he gets outside, he starts chewing and swallowing mouthfuls of grass. Their long, tickling blades and slender strands may prompt him to regurgitate whatever was causing his upset stomach. If so, as soon as he’s vomited, he may resume his usual activities almost immediately without exhibiting any further signs of discomfort. The flip side to a dog’s sudden vomiting, however, is when he’s unaccustomed to eating grass at all let alone on a regular basis.
Some animal experts suggest dogs eat grass because they’re bored and that it gives them something to do. This occurs most often in dogs – especially puppies and young dogs -- who don’t receive enough exercise and whose natural exuberance requires a more satisfying outlet to release all of their stored-up energy. The solution: spend more time playing with your dog and teaching him new tricks on a regular basis to keep him mentally stimulated and physically satisfied, thereby reducing the chance of his reverting to such boredom-related behavior.
But if your dog eats grass then vomits for several days in a row, take him to the vet for a thorough examination and to be tested for intestinal parasites such as roundworms or for more serious conditions like the canine parvovirus (CPV) or kidney disease.
The most up-to-date, science-based training approach, force-free dog training is not only an especially effective way to train your dog, it also builds a strong bond of trust between the two of you. But it requires time, patience, commitment, and, in particular, repetition, repetition, repetition for this approach to ultimately succeed.
What, then, is force-free training? At the heart of this technique is positive reinforcement.
When positive reinforcement is used, dogs learn to connect a desired action with rewards (food, treats and toys) and/or praise. By providing dogs with consistent rules and a fixed structure, they’re being taught to understand what’s expected of them. And by promptly rewarding them for any desired behaviors, it greatly increases the likelihood of their repeating those behaviors over and over again in the future.
Force-free training also involves teaching dogs proper manners without pain, threats, intimidation, force or coercion. It’s accomplished without the use of choke chains, pinch, prong and shock collars, physical manipulation to change their position, pushing or pulling them by the leash or collar, and kicking or hitting them with an object, a foot or a hand in a misguided effort to win their compliance.
Negative punishment – the process of ignoring or correcting unwanted behaviors -- is also an integral part of force-free training. For example: Ignoring a dog’s persistent barking for attention lets him know that his behavior won’t get him either the attention or the reward he’s seeking. Shouting at him, on the other hand, actually rewards and reinforces his barking. Time-outs are also a form of negative punishment, as are turning and walking away when a dog jumps up. If a dog’s accustomed to being rewarded for good behavior, the absence of positive attention “tells” him that he’s done something wrong.
To put this method into practice with your own dog, begin with the basics and build up to more challenging behaviors while, at the same time, establishing those unbreakable ties of respect and trust between you.
Using treats as rewards, start with such simple, one-word commands as “come”, “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “no” and “paw”. Reward him immediately after each successful response and repeat the exercise as often as needed to ensure that he’s both compliant and confident.
Then start applying the commands to new situations. Begin, for example, with “sit” when people visit your home. Instruct your dog to “sit” to keep him calm and prevent him from becoming overly excited and jumping up on them. If he obeys, reward him with either some high value treats or several pats on the head to let him know that he’s done well. Over time, this behavior will not only become second nature to him, he’ll start each subsequent interaction with visitors by automatically assuming a “sit.”
The second step is teaching him to remain calm whenever you return home after being gone. Although your dog’s natural instinct will be to welcome you back eagerly and excitedly, it’s your responsibility – as difficult as it may be -- to ignore him. Even if he barks or whines, jumps up or rolls over in an attempt to get your attention, do NOT look at him, speak to him or pet him.
Once he calms down, stops his unwanted behaviors or sits (for some dogs, this can be within minutes while others may take far longer), reward him with treats or several pats on the head. By NOT reacting to him and only rewarding him for “behaving himself,” your dog will soon learn that greeting you calmly and quietly is the correct behavior.
The third step is loose-leash walking. This involves teaching your dog to walk beside you or at least very close to you, thus allowing you more control over him and, ultimately, over his wellbeing. Whether you’re taking a walk, going to the dog park or visiting a pet store, you can keep your dog safer if he’s right by your side and paying rapt attention to your every move.
Whenever your dog pulls or stops, simply turn and walk casually in another direction. By removing his control over the direction of the walk, then rewarding him when he turns to follow you, you’re letting him know that this is the behavior you want.
With these few basics under your belt, you and your cherished canine companion should be well on your way to becoming the best of forever friends.