A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

When I started training, we used to describe using a clicker to taking a Poloroid photo of the desired behavior. These days, however, many of my (human) students are too young to have more than a hazy idea of a Poloroid, so the analogy doesn't work quite as well anymore. However, I recently realized that the concept is even more relevant than it used to be. In an era when cellphone cameras capture every cute pose and expression our dogs make, what could be more relevant than the concept of taking a photo to capture desired behaviors? That is what markers help us do. Markers signal to our dogs when they have done something right. Of course, we reinforce our approbation with food or play rewards, but the use of a marker makes this connection cleaner and clearer. If you are rewarding a sit, during the delay between sit and treat, your dog may have looked at the ground, licked his lips, and...
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BOO! Watch Out for Halloween

This week is Halloween—the start of the fall yard decoration season. The return of cold weather means that winter clothing, including parkas, hats, gloves, and scarves, are making a return as well. What does this mean for you and your dog? Yard decorations can be scary for many dogs. They appear where nothing was before. Many move, flash bright lights, or even make noises, all of which dogs may find unnerving. Halloween decorations will be quickly followed by holiday decorations at many houses. As a dog owner or walker, you are responsible for being aware of these potentially scary objects and planning accordingly. Never force dogs to approach things they may find scary. A forced approach may reinforce fear in the object and also erode your dogs trust in you to keep him safe. Additionally, a sudden movement or sound from a motion sensitive decoration may also startle your dog, increasing fear. Keep in mind that scared dogs may also redirect...
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Road to the “Peaceable Kingdom”

This post tells a personal story. In subsequent posts, I will address some of the details of introducing new pets and dealing with conflicts. A lot of people ask me how long it will take to reconcile their new or newly conflicting pets, especially their cats or their dog and cats. People would really like a timeline, a “drop-dead” date by which they will no longer have to engage in the complicated ballet of managing multiple pets who do not get along, must be kept separated, requiring two separate routines and extensive demands on people’s time. People would also like to know when they can expect to see progress, and how much they can expect to see, what it will look like, and so on. I call this process—the process of moving from managing multiple pets who are in major or minor conflict to one in which everything is running smoothly in an integrated household—the road to the “Peaceable Kingdom” (a phrase...
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THUMP! – A reminder travel safely

We had attended two weddings 600 miles apart in less than 24 hours—driving through the night to make it to the second one on time. People said we were crazy, but we didn’t feel we could let down the friends and family that were counting on us. In the end, the trip had been successful, and the car was packed for the trip home. There had been some light rain, but the road conditions were fine, and we expected an uneventful drive. Certainly, we didn’t think anything of having to stop behind several other cars to wait for another vehicle to turn left. That is, until I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the yellow Jeep coming up behind us. It was braking, but not fast enough to stop on the slightly slippery road. Thump! We both jerked forward in our seatbelts, glanced at each other, and pulled to the side of the road. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad,...
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Life of the Party: 5 Tips for a Safe and Successful Party – With Pets!

Christmas has come and gone. Stockings have been opened and family have departed, but with New Year's Eve fast approaching, party season is far from over. Whether you are planning to entertain for or in the New Year, here are a few tips to help you host a successful gathering. 1. Consider individual needs. Not everyone is a party animal. You may have your heart set on a free-for-all with children and dogs running gleefully around the backyard (ok, maybe not in Maryland for New Year's), but unless you select your guest list carefully, that just isn't going to be in everyone's best interest. The needs of human and animal guests need to be carefully considered. If you want to let all your friends bring their dogs, are all the dogs likely to get along? Do you have enough room to separate them if you need to, either because they don't get along, or because some are overwhelmed by the number...
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Relax Already!

Never underestimate the power of relaxation. It's a skill that too few people - and very few canines - have truly mastered. I always emphasize the importance of teaching self-control, especially to owners of young and energetic dogs. Having shared my home with a border collie mix for the past four years, it is a skill I can truly appreciate the importance of first-hand. There are numerous ways to teach this important skill, although my go-to method is Dr. Karen Overall's Protocol for Relaxation (from Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, First Edition), which provides an excellent systematic method for mastering the three "D"s of a stay - distance, duration and distraction. Additionally, Dr. Overall's basic set-up can be altered to focus on areas of particular concern for a given dog. In this video, Sirius Black demonstrates Day 5 of Dr. Overall's protocol. He has not quite mastered the "relaxed" part of it, as I point out in a few places....
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Site-seeing with dogs

Last weekend, I took my dog out to Mount Vernon on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was crowded, but we skirted busiest areas, sticking to the woods, the dock, etc. We avoided getting too close to the livestock (despite Sirius's earnest appeal to be allowed to play with the cows). Overall, I think all of us had an enjoyable time. However, as we headed home, I couldn't help but consider questions that I have considered many times before - when and where should your dog accompany you on trips, and how do you make that decision? That night, I posted a few tips on Twitter. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on the comments I made. Today we went to @VisitMtVernon . Love open air places that allow dogs - be around lots of ppl but still have space. pic.twitter.com/PChPmUHjyF — Next Best Pet (@NextBestPet) August 5, 2013   1) Pick your spot. As I said in the tweet above, I...
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