Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are dog parks great places for dogs?

Dog Parks are often considered a great place for dogs but is that really true? Recent studies have shown that dog parks are actually not such a safe environment for your dog. Sue Sternberg, well known author and dog behaviorist, who has spent the last few years filming and observing dog interactions recently revealed that she identified 5 behaviors in dog parks throughout the United States:

  • bullying
  • targeting
  • group chasing
  • mobbing (ganging up)
  • hunting

These behaviors have been identified among groups of unfamiliar dogs such as dogs that happen to meet in dog parks. Dogs are often no different then unsupervised children on a playground and tend to engage in mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive behavior.

Is a dog park a risky place? Generally a dog park is a very risky and unsafe place for you to take your dog. There are always exceptions of course. Those exceptions are dog parks that provide more than just a hang out place for humans. Dog parks such as Fort Funston, Carmel Beach and Point Isabel just to name a few in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. What makes these places a better place for your dog? Dog owners usually tend to be on the move, are more likely to engage with their dog and beaches are simply hard to beat when it comes to wearing out your dog. Water and sand will provide what a small and enclosed area in a city cannot.

When visiting places like these ensure you respect local laws. Do not let your dog off-leash when leash laws are in place. You are not only setting yourself up to fail. Respect fellow visitors with our without a dog. It is not a right but a privilege to have your dog out and about.

Sue Sternberg has some great off-leash park rules:
  1. Recognize that your dog may not get along with ALL other dogs, and that some combinations simply don't work. It is fine to leave the dog run and come back another time, or take a personal, one-on-one walk with your dog in the neighborhood and come back in a few minutes to see if the run has emptied out a bit.
  2. Consider leaving your cell phone off, or not taking calls, unless it's an emergency, during your dog's time at the dog run. The more attention you give your dog, and the more you participate, the better the relationship. This is a good time for you and your dog to be together, and doesn't your dog deserve your undivided attention?
  3. Make sure your dog's play partner(s) are playing fair, and that your own dog is playing fair, too. This means that each dog takes turn pushing and initiating physical contact (being on top) and that neither dog is pushing another dog relentlessly. There should be frequent role reversals in healthy play.
  4. Make sure your own dog is actually playing with another dog, and not just responding in a defensive, deflective way based on fear. Call your dog to you, and when you release him to go back to "play," see if he indeed does return to engage with the same dog(s). If not, he may not have felt that what he was previously experiencing was really playful or fun for him.
  5. Watch your own dog, and make sure he is not targeting ONE other dog exclusively and going after that particular dog relentlessly - even if you think your dog is "just playing." Playing is a balance between the dogs, a give and take - not one dog pushing and jumping and mouthing the other dog over and over and over again. If your dog is doing this to another dog, go and get him, or call him to you and get him under control. The same holds true if your dog is the target of another dog's obsession. Go and rescue your dog from the situation.
  6. Watch out for "ganging" up; when two or more dogs "gang up" and relentlessly chase or surround another dog. Have all the owners call their dogs, and probably one or more of the gang members should leave the run for that time, as they'll usually start back up again.
  7. Toy dogs should play with other toy or smallish dogs, and should absolutely not be in the run with the big dogs. A predatory attack can happen instantly and without warning. The risk to toy dogs is too great.
  8. Beware of high-speed games of chase. Alone, two dogs playing chase is probably fine, but if other dogs join in, then a high-speed game of chase can arouse other dogs, and in an instant this can turn into a predatory attack. It's hard to get control once dogs begin this high-speed chase, which is why you want to catch it early, and why you want to spend a lot of time training your dog in the run. You want control when your dog starts to get out of control. But you can't wait until he is out of control to train your dog to listen to you. Train him while he is relatively calm.
  9. Participate in your dog's playtime. Interrupt every few minutes by calling your dog to you, rewarding with at least one treat every two seconds, and keep your dog with you for at least 10 seconds. For this entire 10 seconds, praise, pet and reward your dog often enough so that he doesn't have a chance to look away from you. This encourages attention, and allows your dog to calm down and focus on a human in between aroused playtimes.
  10. Playing with other dogs is very, very fun for your dog, sometimes more fun than being with people, and sometimes more fun than being with YOU. This puts you at a disadvantage in every other situation with your dog. It is important to include yourself in your dog's play activities. Watch your dog, encourage your dog, interrupt your dog, play with your dog.
  11. Call your dog to come to you frequently, not just when it's time to leave. By calling him over to you frequently, rewarding him with something valuable, and then releasing him back to play, you can avoid the difficulty many dog park frequenters experience: the dog who can't be caught when it's time to leave. Make sure that calling your dog to come to you doesn't just signal the time to leave. By calling him and having him sit by your side, receive your praise and petting for a brief time before releasing him with permission to go back and play teaches your dog that coming to you is merely a pleasant interruption, and not an end to his fun.

Info from: Sue Sternberg's book, Out and About With Your Dog available from


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Angel or Devil: leash reactivity

Barking, growling, snarling and lunging on-leash are one of the most common behavioral issues dog owners encounter. For many of these dog owners it is a life changing situation. Walking their canine companion down the street can literally become their worst nightmare. A sweet, mellow and loving dog at home becomes a monster at the end of the leash.

Leash-frustration versus leash-aggression:
There have been multiple discussions about the use of leash frustration and leash aggression. No matter how it is interpreted it is a reactivity that happens when the dog is on-leash.

Is it leash frustration or aggression? According to some trainers and behaviorist there is a difference between leash frustration and leash aggression. It depends on the underlying factor of the behavior. Although the behavior at the end of the leash appears to be similar, the reasons for reacting may be different. To keep it simple I will only talk about leash reactivity. Here are some reasons for leash reactivity:

1. Hyper- motivated or leash-frustrated dog:
The behavior is a display behavior. Those dogs often do well off-leash but get extremely frustrated on-leash. The leash becomes a barrier and the frustration level rises to the point the dog lunges, barks and sometimes even growls due to frustration.

2. Fearful or undersocialized dogs:
Some dogs are fearful or conflicted and respond to the approaching dog which forms a threat in their perception. The fearful or undersocialized dog would most likely avoid the conflict and move away from the situation but we force the dogs to pass and the dog will respond. The display works as the other dog moves on and the chances the dog will repeat this behavior is very likely. It may even increase in intensity.

3. Previous aversive training exposure:
Aversive training methods are those that cause avoidance of a thing, situation or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus. The stimulus could be a prong, choke or electronic collar, which are designed to implement pain when the dog pulls, barks or lunges. The correction may hurt and the dog may stop but it doesn’t change the emotional state of the dog and that can cause long term damage as the dog may simply learn not to like other dogs.

Note: reactivity can also be to people, kids or other objects.

It is important to keep the dog under reactivity threshold meaning your dog is in the process of getting stressed but is not completely stressed yet. Once over threshold your dog is stressed and you can identify the stress signals such as starring, hackles up, tail raised, tenseness and most likely unresponsive to food/treats. When the stress level of the dog rises so will the response which can be barking, growling, snapping, lunging, etc.

Dogs often get punished verbally and physically for displaying such behavior. We covered this as a reason for reactivity. Yelling, pinning the dog down or using a prong or choke collar will worsen the behavior. I believe these kinds of training collars provide an extra stimulus to the situation. If you implement pain while the dog is having an emotional reaction to a strange dog this extra stimulus just makes it worse. The dog already has a bad association with a strange dog. The use of force and/or pain enhances this association. A frustrated or hyper motivated dog will build up a negative association with strange dogs while on-leash.

The successful approach:
The key to reactivity is to ensure your dog stays within their comfort zone. If your dog goes over threshold the stress level is too high. It is only under threshold you can work with your dog.

To manage your dog’s behavior the appropriate training tools are needed. We start with basic obedience and positive training gear. We stay away from prong and choke collars for the reasons we mentioned before.

Having a solid sit, stay and look are priceless commands that will help you manage your dog through every situation. We replace the dog’s current behavior with a new behavior and we teach you to create a situation where the dog feels safe with you. It is really important for an owner of a leash reactive dog to hire a professional whether it is to work with your dog one on one or to teach you to handle your dog in such situations. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Logo!

Our new logo! Designed and created by my daughter Lara. Her first ever drawn pet. I'm so proud of her!

Why a new logo? One of my competitors had stolen my image and used it on her own logo. For the last two years we were using the same logo. When I started to market my dog training business again she suddenly had a new logo designed. Funny, she could have kept it as I was waiting for this one to be done. Things seem to be working themselves out as usual. Today I also received notification that the same competitor abandoned my business name K9 Outdoor Adventure. She had been using it for the last year and even registered it with the County as a dba although she knew I had it trademarked. Yes, competition can be extremely unprofessional but that seems to be the going rate in the dog care world.

A day to celebrate and I am extremely happy. Our website is up and running: K9 Consultant. Click on the Facebook or Twitter link if you would like to follow us there. Thanks everyone for being supportive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hunter update

I was planning on writing more but it didn't happen. Again!

It is time for a little update. Hunter came with NO basic obedience. He jumped up, mouthed, humped ... you name it and he did it. Promised! Underneath that layer of skin I found a very sensitive boy, who had not discovered the world, who had not been told boundries and who simply wanted to be loved.

It only took us three days to calm him down. Something neither the shelter or the rescue believed. Currently he holds the position of top nop notch foster hiker, vicious pibble licker, and play instructor at large. He does well with cats, other dogs and kids. I guess you cannot ask more of a top notch pibble!

We have a potential adopter. Hopefully we get to meet her soon. Hunter fits great into our family but I do hope he finds a family soon to call his own.

His training has been going well. He is a fast learner.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hunter: rescued and up for adoption!

Please meet Hunter. 6 month old male Pit Bull mix, saved from being euthanized at the San Jose Shelter on April 27, 2012.

When I picked him up at the shelter he was a bouncy little fella. Happy to be out of his small kennel for the first time in 14 days. He jumped up and his long and thin tail wagged excitedly. He whined and mouthed my hand. I knew he had no clue but I was going to take him away from this dreadful place.

I brought him home and I loved the way he took everything in. I filmed his first hike just up and down the road with me. Simply mesmerizing!

In the next couple of days I will try to log his progress with us as a family. He has no basic obedience and he does everything a puppy comes with. My one and only PROJECT DOG for now!