I hate when people let their dogs chase squirrels. They usually think it’s harmless, but they are encouraging their dog to participate in an activity that the dog can never succeed at. Would you want to chase something that is always just out of your reach? Occasionally dogs do catch squirrels and will the owners be happy about it? Of course not. They will instead punish their dog by yelling at him to drop it and shouting “No”. But they were the ones that encourage their dog to do so in the first place. If you bike with your dog, do you want him running after a squirrel then? What happens if your dog takes after a squirrel and the leash slips out of your hand and the squirrel runs across the street? Your dog thinks it’s doing what it’s supposed to do: chase the squirrel until it jumps into a tree.

If your dog is consistently chasing squirrels,  maybe he’d like another job. For instance, fetching the newspaper or a ball, carrying a backpack, running alongside you, etc. Give your dog a job to be proud of. You can un-train your dog to chase squirrels by being the leader and taking charge. Give your dog a firm leash correction and keep walking. Don’t allow your dog to show excitement or stare the squirrel down. If you need to, stop walking and wait until your dog is calmly facing away from the squirrel, then keep walking. In a short time, he will get the message that you no longer want them to exhibit that behavior and they will stop.

Okay. Rant over (there’s a dog in my park that gets run over nearly daily from chasing squirrels–oy). Lead your dog!


“Question: If you give a leash correction to a large dog, you can feel confident that you aren’t doing the dog any harm. But what about with small dogs? How do you know how hard is too hard?” Let me see if I can help you…

How to Give a Proper Leash Correction To a Small Dog or Puppy

1) Lower your hand so that it is parallel to the dog’s neck. This may mean that your hand is almost touching the ground, but when you give a leash correction you want to snap sideways, parallel with your dog’s neck.

2) Only use your thumb and pointer finger on the leash. You don’t need a lot of force with a small dog, but you do need big energy. Don’t be worrying about if your snap is too hard. Just use your judgement, feel confident and in control and then snap the leash quickly to the side and then immediately relax the tension again. The tension on the leash should only last a second or two.  The purpose of a leash correction is to snap the dog out of its current behavior. You are disagreeing with his decision in a calm, quiet way.

3) You will know if your leash correction was successful if your dog stopped what it was doing, put his ears back, lowered his head, and/or made eye contact with you. If you see no changes in your dog’s behavior after the correction then you didn’t snap hard enough, your energy was too soft, or your dog has been de-sensitized to leash corrections on his neck and you need to use another means of discipline such as “The Touch“.

4) The final piece of any leash correction is what you do afterward: no tension on the leash. Leash corrections are only effective if the leash isn’t taught all the time! Work towards having a loose leash at all times so that your dog knows that tension equals discipline.

Lead your dog!

Snapping the leash is a form of discipline that throws your dog off balance. It makes him lose his concentration, stops him from doing a behavior, conditions him to avoid the thing he’s doing, and prevents excitement from escalating.

To properly perform a leash correction, you must start with a loose leash. If there is tension on the leash (aka, if your dog is pulling), you won’t be able to do this properly. Bring your hand down near your dog’s neck–if you have a small dog you will have to bend over. Quickly jerk the leash to the side (NOT back), and then immediately let the leash loose again. The leash should be taunt for less than 2 seconds.

When you do a leash correction, make sure that you are not timid, anxious, nervous, or excited. As the leader, you need to be calm and assertive in your corrections or else your dog won’t take you seriously.  If done correctly, with the right intensity and energy and timing, you should see your dog respond by lowering the head, looking at you, sitting down, or putting the ears back. A properly timed leash correction can change a dog’s behavior instantly and a smart dog needs only to be corrected in this way once or twice before getting the message that what they are doing is unacceptable behavior.

Lead your dog!

The most common type of obsessive barking occurs when a dog is focused on what it cannot reach (usually out the window or at another dog while on a leash).  It may or may not happen when you are home with your dog, but it most certainly happens when you are gone! “How can I stop my dog from barking when I’m gone?” you may wonder, and I sincerely hope that these suggestions prove beneficial to you and your neighbors!

1) Exercise. If a dog is properly exercised, the occurrences of obsessive barking are almost entirely eliminated.  Walking, jogging, or biking with your dog are the best ways to exercise since they help you relate side-to-side with your dog (which is extremely important to all canines). Other exercise forms would be fetching, a trip to the dog park, fetching up and down the stairs, or having your dog learn to ride a treadmill. I recommend at least a 30 minute walk twice a day for a barker (you can read about mastering the walk here).

2) Training.  You can train your dog not to bark out the window by taking the following steps. First, make sure your dog is exercised. Second, place a leash on your dog (preferable not a flexi-leash since you cannot give a proper leash correction with one easily). Third, purposefully create the barking scenario. You need to make the barking occur so that you can stop it in that moment (thus showing your dog what is expected of them). For example, if your dog is a leash barker, walk past lots of other dogs. If your dog is a window barker, ask a friend to walk in front of the window with their dog. Fourth, correct early on. As soon as your dog begins to become obsessed (you’re looking for level 2 excitement–don’t wait until level 10 when they are already barking like crazy) give a calm, quiet leash correction to the side (think “snap” of the leash: loose, tense for 1 second, then loose again). Give the correction when your dog’s ears go up, his tail becomes alert, or he gets anxious.  Do not become frustrated. You are teaching your dog a new concept: that barking is no longer acceptable behavior. Remember that when you discipline your dog you are disagreeing with the behavior, not with the dog personally. Fifth, repeat, repeat, repeat!

Once your dog is no longer barking with a leash correction in front of many different dogs (or window distractions), take the leash off and repeat some more. You are now teaching your dog that it cannot bark even with the leash off. Now is the time to use auditory or physical corrections (snap your fingers, say “ah-ah”, block your dog from getting closer to its target, use “the touch“, etc). It will make much more sense to your dog if you come between them and the thing you are barking–do not try to call them away. Another note: if you have more than one dog that is an obsessive barker, target the stronger one/instigator. Whenever you have two dogs, one is the leader and one is the follower. By correcting the leader/instigator first, the follower will calm down too.

3) Don’t give them reason to worry. If your dog is a alone-at-home barker, one way to diminish barking is by conveying to them the idea that it’s no big deal to be home alone, and that the home is a place of rest. You can help your dog understand this by not working them up when you come and go. Don’t say “ok, honey, Mommy’s going to leave now, but you just stay home and be a good boy!” Nonchalantly pick up your keys and go without a word to your pup. When you come home, practice no touch, no talk, no eye contact to help your dog understand that it’s no big deal when you come home either (I realize that this takes a lot of self discipline, but it IS worth it to your pet!). Feel free to love and cuddle your dog like crazy when they are being calm. Your goal as pack leader and authority figure is to promote calmness in your canine (this is what pack leaders do in the wild).

4) Authority. As you take charge of your dog by showing them that you are in control of every situation, you will see their behavior improve in other areas of life as well. All dogs want to be followers. Your dog will live a more contented, happy-go-lucky life if you don’t let them rule the roost.

Lead your dog!

Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. the last few weeks.  Went on vacation with the hubby and got back yesterday.

While on vacation, I got to soak up lots of Animal Planet (I don’t have cable, so it’s a treat to watch that and TLC every time I’m in a hotel). One night they had a show on called “The Bear Whisperer”.  In some small town in California there are a plethora of black bears. Occasionally the bears would get into trouble and then be killed because there was no one to vouch or them or try to change the system. Until a funny man named Steve Searles stepped up to the plate. He now educates the community AND the bears on how to live peaceably together. I was mesmerized!

First he educates his community (civilians and police officers alike). Don’t feed the bears, if you see a bear sleeping don’t bother it, if a bear is in trouble call 9-1-1, keep your garbage well-sealed, don’t try to confront a bear for that “perfect photo”, etc. Then he educates the bears. If the bear does something wrong, he uses multiple negative reinforcement techniques to deter the bear from repeating the unwanted behavior. For example, a cub, named “Ace” broke through a screen window, entered someone’s house and got into their kitchen. Steve found the bear and detered him from repeating himself by spraying Ace with pepper spray and shouting “You bad bear!”.  When this same cub re-entered the same house, he used a rifle to launch rubber bullets (that won’t penetrate the bear’s skin) and firecrackers to kick the bear out of the neighborhood. You should have SEEN that bear take off! However, if Steve finds a bear that isn’t doing anything wrong and shows a healthy respect for people, he will learn from them and bond with them.  What a beautiful picture of training! (Exercise–the bears take care of that themselves, then discipline, and THEN affection)

Check out this video of Steve and “One Ear”

I’m all for positive reinforcement training but when that’s all you provide, you miss out on an important factor–in the wild, animals use positive AND negative reinforcement to teach each other. Yes, it is possible to teach a dog a bunch of commands using a “reward only” system. But if you calmly direct your dog when he does something wrong, you can take him to a whole new level.

In a world where so much value is placed on “taming the wild animal” (getting so comfortable with gorillas that they “groom” you, keeping a lion cub in your house and then getting excited when he “hugs” you, sticking your head inside a lion’s mouth, etc.) I was SO thankful for this alternative. The Bear Whisperer repeated several times throughout the show “We need to put the wild back into the bears”. What a foreign concept–I love it.

The Bear Whisperer uses several negative reinforcement techniques: vocal reprimands, rubber bullets, flash-bang firecrackers, pepper spray, and others. In dog training you can also use multiple negative reinforcements: vocal reprimands, leash corrections, physical corrections (like the touch or leg tap), pennies in a tin can, an e-collar, a chain or prong collar, a spray bottle with water in it, clapping your hands, snapping your fingers–the list goes on! So next week think about negative reinforcement not as something to use as a last resort, but instead think of it as an enhancement of communication–how dogs communicate to one another in the wild.

Lead your dog!

One of the ultimate keys to dog training is to give affection when your dog is doing something right. The problem is that most people are quick to give dogs affection at ALL times. Please remember that your dog will continue to do whatever it’s doing when you give affection and that includes his state of mind. Your dog might be sitting, but if he’s still hyper active and ready to jump back in your face as soon as you stop, don’t pet him. If your dog is nervous, fearful, or anxious the only thing you will accomplish by giving affection at that time is to reinforce that behavior. Your dog thinks “I’m getting affection right now, so in order to get more of this, I need to do the same thing again”. Thus begins the dangerous cycle of perpetual fear, dominance, aggression, or hyper-activity unconsciously being reinforced through affection at the wrong time. Learn to use self-control for the well-being of your dog. If your dog is the tiniest big excited when guests come over and they PET him–the only thing you are teaching your dog is to be excited when guests come over.

This is such a problem for humans because when a child is nervous, anxious or fearful you pick them up and console them. After you discipline a child, you give them affection and let them know that you still love them. NOT SO WITH DOGS!! You will never see a mother dog discipline and then go caress the pack member. You will never see a pack leader go cuddle with a dog that’s hiding because of a thunderstorm. In your dog’s eyes, it’s not normal for you to respond to every situation with affection, affection, affection.

So when IS the right time to show affection, you ask? You may give affection: 1) To reinforce trick training.  Your dog is focused and learning a new trick and when doing it properly you reward them. 2) You MAY give a massage or pat your dog when they are nervous, anxious or fearful. Do it confidently and without words. Do not feel sorry for the dog when you do it. Use deep, circular motions and pat them confidently on the chest or their side. 3) Pet, cuddle, caress and kiss when your dog is totally quiet, laying down, not caring about what’s happening around them. You need to reinforce CALMNESS.

Pay attention this week to when you give your dog affection and their state of mind or energy level at the time of that affection. Lead your dog!

One of the most useful skills you can teach your dog (and I believe that every dog should know this) is that an open door does NOT mean go through it. Many dogs escape and run away from their homes each year from door-jetting leading to serious injury or death. People are highly impressed when I can open the door widely to let them in and the dogs don’t have a single urge to run through and escape. Fixing the door-jetting problem  keeps you from “holding your dog back” when guests enter or forcing your guests to squeeze through the door to prevent Spot for slipping out.  It’s simple to teach this concept, actually, you will just need to do it  consistently. Put a leash on your dog and make sure they are CALM. Open the door and give a leash correction to the side if your dog pulls forward. Stay calm yourself. Depending on the level of intensity to which your dog likes to be the first one out the door, you may need to continue to correct a few more times. You can “shhht”, touch, give a leg tap, snap your fingers, “ah-ah”, or continue to give a quick-snap leash correction to the side. I taught this concept to a dog I was grooming yesterday (whom I had never met before); it took me three corrections and then he sat down and looked at me. THAT is when you walk through the door. I’m a big advocate of going out the door first. In the wild, the pack leader will always lead the pack by going first. You can help solidify your position by doing this in your home. Even if you’re letting your dog out in the backyard by himself, open the door and make him wait until he’s calm. Then YOU step out the door and motion for him to come out (then you can step back inside and close the door).

Give this a try this week and let me know how it goes. It can truly be life-saving! Doors get left open accidentally and this preventative measure will keep your dog safe inside. Lead your dog!

Next Page »