Fun Video of Canine Freestyle Dancing

Fun video of dog and handler dancing

Freestyle is a fun dog sport where human and dog perform complex routines together to music.
Although I can’t help thinking Freestyle is a tad goofy with its costumes and routines, I am also in awe of how much you can accomplish with positive training, and I think it’s a testament to how much fun we can have with dogs when you engage their minds and bodies in activities that challenge them and allow them to have fun at the same time. Not so goofy at all!

Do I Always Have To Use Treats?

Photo by Heather Ohmart

(Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three)

A lot of people worry about training with treats.

  • * Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
  • * Aren’t I bribing them?
  • * I want them to do things because they want to please me.
  • * I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.

These are all good questions.


Tiny high value treats are a great way to teach new behaviors to any animal.
Learning something new can be challenging for all of us, and for dogs it can be both physically and mentally challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging for them when working on behaviors that will help them combat the discomfort or outright fears they might have about strangers or dogs or loud noises, etc. Yummy treats can make those more difficult things easier, and the fact that they’re sprinkled though the activity fairly regularly and appear when they do the best job can be very motivating to try harder to make that good thing happen. Please read more about the value and science behind positive reinforcement training and how dogs learn, and the dangers and outright misinformation surrounding dominance based training in our last blog post: To Treat or Not to Treat

The greatest benefit to using treats when teaching a new behavior is how quickly you can teach something new if you’re using them, as the dog is usually trying to figure out how to get those neat treats, and may stay in the game longer before she gets frustrated. By quickly rewarding small advances towards your end goal, she can get the picture of what you’re after and get there faster. This is helpful to you, the trainer, and also helpful to your relationship. If you’re asking her for a new behavior she’s never heard of before, don’t forget that you have to show her what you want her to do. It seems like an obvious statement, but they really don’t speak English right away.

Picture this: If your boss (who maybe has a bit of a short fuse, so you’re already a little anxious about doing the wrong thing) says in a demanding voice, “Zowzy!” And points at the wall, you’re not going to know what the right answer is to that request. There are certainly a lot of wrong answers and likely only one right one, and if you tried one of the wrong ones (maybe you just looked at the wall, or went over to the wall and looked at a framed picture) and he seemed to be upset by that and he says “Zowzy!” even louder, your anxiety level might climb. It just wouldn’t be an efficient way for you to figure out what he wants, and you probably won’t enjoy figuring it out. Repeating a word they don’t know in a louder voice certainly won’t make them know what to do.

With treats, we can “lure” them towards the behavior we want, in order to establish what you’re after, and don’t worry – we can then phase out the lure. Small treats allow you to be able to get a lot of voluntary repetitions of the new behavior quickly, keeping the dog engaged and therefore learning what it is you want.
 So the scenario of teaching a dog to sit might go like this: the dog is standing and you put a treat right up to her nose (even touching her right under her nose with it, and move it up and back slowly so she’s following it. This makes her head point up towards the ceiling, and she might start to sit “by accident” because she’s following that treat. When her butt touches the floor, say “yes!” right at that moment and give her the treat and praise her. Do it a few more times the same way. Now it might be getting faster, as she’s starting to realize that when she gets into that position, she gets a treat. Now you can start saying the word “sit” right when you bring the treat to her nose. After a few repetitions, she’s going to start to build an association with the sound of the word sit, that it predicts that you’re going to be doing the thing where her butt touches the ground. End the session on a high note.

Next you’ll want to start the process of phasing out the lure, but we want her to have a solid sit before we eliminate it altogether. Here’s how: In the next session, repeat what you did before a few times. Your next step will be to hide the treat a little in your hand. Eventually you might like to have a hand signal to ask her to sit (many people might be surprised to find out that dogs generally respond even better to hand signals than to voice commands, maybe because we’re always talking at them). I like to use my flat hand, palm towards ceiling, and bending my elbow. It kind of mimics the up and back luring motion you just did. You can make this hand signal by putting the treat under your thumb on your flat hand. Let her sniff it there, say sit and then move that flat hand up and back just like you did before. When her butt touches floor, say “yes!” and give her the treat (and maybe a second one, for having accomplished something slightly new).  Once she’s doing that easily with the treat a little more hidden under your thumb, put the treat in your other hand and use your signal hand the same way you did last time. This time when she sits, you mark the behavior with “yes!” again but the treat comes in from your other hand. This changes the picture so she knows that she still gets a treat at this point even if she can’t see one. End on a high note.

Start to practice this new behavior in new places with the treat still in the other hand. Dogs don’t generalize very well at first, meaning that she might not know that the request for “Sit” will actually be the same behavior in another room, or outside. “But sit means touch my butt to the living room floor – how can I do that somewhere else?” Even if you have to lure the first time or two in a new place, it’s OK. She’ll soon realize that “Sit” means put your butt down, no matter where we are. And then perhaps she’s getting better at doing it when you say it, or maybe when she sees you follow the word sit with the hand signal. You can work on both.
OK – now she’s easily sitting when you ask for it. How do we phase out the treat?

Here’s the best training tip I can give you:

photo by Julie Murray

EARN EVERYTHING! Most dogs like a job. In fact, if you’ve adopted a working breed of dog, you should feel pretty much obliged to find activities that challenge their minds and exercise their bodies (think agility or other organized dog sports, freestyle, nose work, lure coursing, etc). Of course all dogs need stimulation and exercise, and any breed might enjoy these activities! Another way to always be sharpening their training skills (and yours) and to give them a job to do is to incorporate training throughout their day in a simple way that doesn’t take up a lot of time for you, but gives you great benefits.

The thing about positive reinforcement training is that it doesn’t mean you have to be permissive, or that they can have anything they want any time they want it, and it certainly doesn’t have to have anything to do with bribery, or that you have to have treats on you to get what you want from them. Here’s the way to get them to do what you want, the first time you ask:

Once your dog learns a new behavior like sit, and really knows it well, even in new areas and with a little bit of distraction around, you can ask them do this behavior to earn the things in life they want. Any time they’re excited to do something, or want to get to something or someone, or you want to give them something like a new toy or chew, this is your opportunity to get them to earn it.

Leadership is important to dogs. This does not mean “dominance” or having them do things you say to avoid punishment. What it means is that you, the leader, controls all of their resources. They have to go through you to gain access to these resources, and you have the power to give or withhold access to them. This kind of leadership is actually quite a bit more powerful than the threat of force. You are not the impediment to them getting these resources, you are the gateway. They can actually speed up their own access to these resources by doing what you want as soon as you ask them. They can also choose to not do what you ask and lose access to the thing they want (oooh – powerful stuff). Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean:

Scenario #1:

Lets say your dog loves to go for a ride in the car. (Remember, you’re going to use this tactic only with things they want. If your dog is frightened of the car, you won’t want to make them work for access to something they fear). You’ve worked on “Sit” a lot, and the dog has a solid understanding and pretty much does it when you ask, no matter where. You’ve put the leash on and asked “Do you want to go for a ride?” and your dog is stoked! He can’t wait to get in the car. You go out to the car together, and you say “Sit”. You’re going to say it once, and not repeat it. (saying “Sit. Sit! Sit! Come on, Sit!” only dilutes your cue, making is less meaningful.) If the dog sits, super! Immediately give him access to the car and tell him he’s great. More likely what might happen is that he doesn’t. When something is exciting, it’s harder for them to do what you ask the first time you ask them. If he didn’t sit, say “Oops, Too Bad!” And turn right back around and take him back into the house. Wait a moment or so, and then ask again if he’d like to go for a ride. Repeat what you did before (go to the car and ask for a sit), and still be willing to put your money where your mouth is and go back to the house. What you’re after is a dog that knows he has this one window of opportunity to get what he wants, and as soon as he does it, he gets what he’s after. I’ll just bet you the next time you say sit to get into the car he does it! When he does, don’t give

Earning the right to come into Green Dog. Good Job Rita!

him a treat, just say “Yes!” and let him right into the car. He did what you asked, he got what he wanted. It’s likely that the next time you ask for a sit to get into the car, he’ll do it, the first time you ask. Keep your standards high (but of course allow for strange circumstances like a dog hanging out of a window barking at your dog in the parking space next to you) and you’ll get a dog that is on his way to doing what you ask the first time you ask him.

Scenario #2:

Your dog loves to meet other dogs. She’s straining at her leash when she sees a dog coming towards her on a walk. In this situation, you are usually just an impediment to her, keeping her away from what she wants. This isn’t great, as she’s not only building excitement and frustration, she might also be making the approaching dog uneasy or overly excited too. If she gets to meet the dog when she’s dragging you, this reinforces that straining at the leash behavior. You’ve basically just told her, “If you really want to get to that dog, all you have to do is drag me there”. She shouldn’t be blamed for this bad behavior, as she’s only doing what works. With any behavior you don’t like, ask yourself: What do you wish she would do? Wouldn’t you like it if she sat down and looked to you for permission to greet? This is possible!

Before you’re too close to the other dog, ask if their dog would like to say hi. If the answer is no, then ask your dog to turn away and come with you, using your treats to reward breaking away from the exciting dog and coming with you. (This is a really good treat moment).
If the owner says OK, then this is a good Earn Everything moment. Say “Great – just give me a minute because she has to sit first”. This gives you a moment to work on this. Step in front of your dog, facing her and essentially blocking access for a moment. Get her attention, and ask for a”sit”. She probably won’t, she’ll likely be trying to get around you. Don’t make a big deal, just say “Oops – too bad” and walk her a little bit back. (Space penalty). Not sitting got you a little farther away, not closer. Still blocking her, ask for a sit again. Repeat the “Oops too bad!” and the space penalty backup if you have to. Hopefully, your next “Sit” will get her to touch her butt down, even for a second. As soon as she does, you release her with “Yes! Go say Hi!” and let them say hi right away. You want to reinforce this amazing skill! The first time might be messy, but the next time might go a bit better. If you’re consistent with this, you will soon have a dog that when she first sees a dog, instead of just charging forward to get to the dog, you start to have a dog that sees another dog and whips her head around to look at you and puts her butt on the ground, as if saying, “Dog there! Oh Please can I say hi? Look! I’m sitting!” You will no longer be the impediment to her joy – you are the gateway through which she has to pass to get it, and you are very happy to let her have what she wants if she does what you ask right away. She’s finding her way to get what she wants even faster, so a faster response is what will be reinforced.

Scenario #3:

You can use other rewards he likes to reward a behavior you’re working on. Let’s say you’ve been working on “Come” recently. You’ve just gotten home from a trip to Green Dog and you’ve bought a new stuffed animal for your dog (Thanks!). Don’t just walk into the house and say here’s a new toy! Instead, hide that toy in the waistband of your pants, call the dog to “Come!”, and when he runs to you, say “Yes!” when he gets there and surprise him with the new toy! Don’t waste an exciting new bone by giving it to him for free. Ask him for a sit or a down or a spin and then surprise him with it. You’re not waving the bone in front of him as a bribe, you’re reinforcing him for doing what you ask. Even if you are holding something up you intend to give him like his food bowl, make him work for it by asking for a few different behaviors in a row, or work on “wait” when you put it down. You are the bearer of great things. You are the portal to fun and sustenance. This is a more effective form of power, and your relationship only gets better for it.

Just make sure that any behavior you’re asking for is fair – that it’s not something he hasn’t practiced or that it’s not in a stressful new situation. Once behaviors are solid, you don’t need big training sessions every day if you sprinkle these behaviors into your daytime to make him earn things he wants and make those behaviors more solid – “Lay down” to get dinner. “Sit” to go out of the house. “Spin” to get into the dog park gate.

Do use treats to help them trust strangers, to desensitize them to the sound of the scary dump truck, to reinforce important behaviors like “leave it”, (and use extra jackpot treats for leaving something amazing). Keeping a treat-filled training pouch on you for walks is an espcially good idea for a young dog, or a fearful dog. Do reinforce the things you want your dog to be better at, and they will be.

Of course dogs like to please their owners. That’s one of the many reasons we love them. Your praise and approval can be very reinforcing for most dogs. But the truth is that all animals and people tend to learn what gets them what they want or need faster, and abandon the tactics that don’t work as well. Working with this construct can get you the dog you always wanted. One who looks to you for permission. One who does what you want when you ask them to. A dog that you don’t have to bribe to get them to listen.  And above all a dog who trusts you and looks to you for guidance.


This article is part of a series about training puppies/adult dogs (and even tips for cats). Here are links to the others so far:

Tips for New Puppy Owners What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid 19 This new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges like socialization and avoiding separation anxiety when you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?  (Foundational Thinking for Creating Good Behavior, Part Two), as once you understand how dogs think and learn, and the concepts behind why you use certain methods, you can train just about any behavior you like! I think it contains what I believe to be some of the most important information I can give you about why we use positive reinforcement, and the dangers of using dominance theory and aversive methods especially when dealing with situations that are uncomfortable for dogs.




Raising a Puppy (or Any New Dog) in the world of Covid 19

Hello new dogs!
We’ve seen a surprising number of customers with brand new puppies in the store these past few weeks! There are also reports of shelters getting cleaned out of both cats and dogs around the country – yay! But Why? I was a little surprised at first, but I quickly realized there were two good reasons. What I heard from customers was that they thought that with all of the time they had on their hands, they could really concentrate on training a puppy. Later I also started to realize that this is a very scary time. All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. When a puppy comes into the store right now, we’re incredibly grateful for the visit – it helps us have a moment of sweetness and laughter in our crazy upended lives of scurrying around putting together orders for curbside pickup, interacting with most people by phone and trying to get the people who are visiting in and out quickly (we allow two people in the store at a time right now). We stop for a moment and soak in the puppiness.  I can see both the logic and the emotional benefits of this decision for sure. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges.

Chalenge #1: Separation Anxiety is a Risk For The Future

Being home all day every day with a new dog sets up a tricky precedent:  What will happen when you suddenly are allowed to go back to work? Adult dogs that are rescued are often prone to some degree of separation anxiety. If you think about it, it’s not an unfounded fear – they probably had another owner, and for whatever reason, lost that owner. They must worry constantly in the early days after being adopted that it could happen again. They’ll often hyper-bond to their new owner after the loss of the old one, sticking like glue to them in the house. When that new owner suddenly goes to the grocery store, the dog left behind might feel a great deal of stress.
A new puppy thinks that the routine you have in your home from the beginning is what is “normal”. Having that routine change suddenly could really throw them for a loop as well.

The most important way to prepare these dogs now for this eventuality is to show them that sometimes you leave, and yet you always come back. Showing them that you coming and going throughout the day is “normal” and doesn’t mean anything bad. First start with very short absences. Pick up your keys, step out the door, one Missisippi two Missisippi, step back in, put the keys down and go about your business indoors. Don’t make a big deal about leaving or coming back. Do that a lot until the dog doesn’t even really notice what you’re doing.
Then you can continue to build time by a little bit until you can stay outside for a few minutes. Each time, don’t mention you’re leaving, just take your keys (and whatever you’d leave with if you were going shopping). When you come back in, don’t make any sort of big deal. Jut say hi and go about your business.

At this point, you can start to work on confinement when you leave. First decide where the place is that they will stay when you’re gone. Crate training from the beginning can be helpful, or acclimating them to staying in a place like the kitchen (somewhere without rugs or lots of things to destroy). Using baby gates or an Ex-pen can be helpful. Link the confinement to a pleasurable activity like working on a treat-stuffed puzzle/slow feeder toy (Toppl, Kong, Kong Wobbler, or Lickimats are our favorites – fill the Toppl/Kong/Lickimats with moist foods and freeze them! Fill the wobbler with kibble sized dry treats or foods). You might even feed them most or all their meals in this way, so that they look forward to being confined briefly as part of their day. Remember that puppies often need to relieve themselves after a meal, so take them out of confinement and outside right after mealtime. Once they’re relaxed about your short comings and goings and also happily getting into confinement, combine them: Put them in confinement with a little puzzle toy or safe chewy before you go outside.
Eventually, take a walk around the block without the dog, or take the car around the block. Then come back (without fanfare) and perhaps take them out for another walk with you.

Is your dog a real velcro dog that can’t seem to be relaxed when you’re not right there? Some tips:
– increase the amount of exercise she gets, especially before you leave.
– consider agility training or other dog sports to increase her confidence and mental stimulation
– work on behaviors that involve a little distance, like stay, fetch, nose work, or hide and seek, to help her see that fun can happen when you’re a little ways away from her.
– install baby gates in multiple places in the house and leave good toys and treats/stuffed puzzles nearby, so that each time you leave her in a room as you walk around your house she gets something positive.
Work on your “go to your spot” behavior, creating a safe spot to rest and a good habit of being able to settle down there without being pressed up against you – read how here (scroll down to Strategy #4)
– Often velcro dogs are being reinforced by you for sticking by you without you realizing it. When you go somewhere, you might be talking to her, petting her a bit, dropping crumbs in the kitchen, etc. When you make a move to get up from the couch (like holding the remote to turn off the TV) the dog might jump up anticipating your next move. Working on go to your spot while you sit down and being released from the spot when you get up and walk to her would be a good thing to work on. You can also start picking up the remote and putting it down numerous times while you watch TV, and then start to include standing up and sitting back down, etc which can decrease her anticipation of your next move so she doesn’t see it as a predictor anymore.

Challenge #2: Socialization
This is a big one of course. Socializing a new puppy or helping a newly adopted nervous dog warm up to people and to new sights and sounds are some of the very most important things that you have to work on when you bring a new dog home. This is an obvious challenge when you’re not supposed to be taking excursions or spending time with people outside your household, but it’s not impossible.

At this time, the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) say there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, spread COVID-19. Here’s some good info about that one weird thing we heard about the dog in China.
Can your pet infect you? To quote National Geographic’s Rachel Bale, “Yes, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the novel coronavirus. And yes, a cat in Belgium had traces of the virus’s genome in its stool and vomit.
But to be perfectly clear: There is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to people. One study, from a veterinary diagnostic lab, tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats, and found no cases of the disease. And an early version of a report on a small experiment testing whether the virus could spread between cats found that it can—but it does not suggest that cats are an important vector in spreading disease among humans. With more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 globally, experts say that if pets were a significant vector, we’d know by now.
“This is almost exclusively a human-to-human transmitted disease,” Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medicine Association, told NBC affiliates. “The risk to pets is very low, with only a handful of cases of the virus appearing in companion animals, and no cases of people getting sick from their pets.” We at Green Dog believe that if someone has the virus, it is quite conceivable considering this news from Bronx zoo that a cat could get it and show symptoms. The British veterinary Association is suggesting that cats be kept indoors to protect their health. We hesitate to recommend that you limit your puppy’s socialization with people and dogs, as we believe the risks that come along with a poorly socialized dog outweigh the very low risk of transmission of the virus from a dog to a human or another dog. If you are sick with Covid 19, it makes sense to protect your animals from you the same way you would protect other people, restricting your contact with them.

Bring treats with you on your walks. If the dog is startled by any weird sights or sounds, be upbeat, offer treats, and jolly them out of that bad feeling. “Wooo! That was a big funny dump truck wasn’t it!” is better than consoling them in a way that makes them think you also find that dump truck big and scary. Use your happy voice and manage their space if your dog is very nervous. Bring a treat pouch with you on your walks. Pairing yummy treats with the presence of something/someone that makes them uncomfortable is called Classical Conditioning, and it works! Please see this important article on working with fear-based behaviors.

Other parts of exposing them to the world is to find new surfaces to walk on, different levels of traffic flow, different sights and sounds. Find stairways to go up and down (some at apartment buildings or motels have those open see-through steps, as does the Fremont Commons building on NE Fremont, and if you’re lucky, elevators, etc.) Some stores still might be open (like ours) where they could meet a few people or just experience going inside somewhere that’s not the vet. Home Depot? A Plant nursery? Maybe call places and see if you can come. Be cautious about social distancing and be sensitive to the fact that many stores will want you to keep your visits short.

Speaking of the vet, these days many vets are taking dogs from you at your car and seeing them without you being allowed to accompany them. This is of course smart for their employees to remain safe, but tricky for the dog to be in a a place that might be scary without you. Look for a vet that advertises “Fear Free” handling techniques. Check here. for a directory. If you can’t find one, express your desire that this first visit is positive and as fun as it can be. Perhaps they’d use a jar of Gerber’s (or whatever brand) turkey baby food for the puppy to lick to distract them from a vaccination.

If you have a 6 or 8 foot leash, you could encourage your puppy/new dog to meet people in your neighborhood, if other people are comfortable with that. Praise and encourage them to go say hi, and reward them with a little treat when they return to you. If the dog is a little too nervous, just chat with the people at an appropriate distance, and praise and give treats for any signs of interest. If the dog is very nervous, keep the visit short and reward any check-ins to you by the dog.

If your puppy has had its second round of vaccines (or is meeting a dog you know is healthy and well vaccinated) you could also allow your dog to meet other dogs in this way. If both dogs are on a 6 foot leash, the humans will be at least 10 or 12 feet apart. Always ask if their dog really likes puppies (not all dogs are keen on them) and with your adult dogs, ask how they do when greeting other dogs on leash (some are great off leash but not on). It’s better they have an uneventful sighting of another dog nearby than a yucky interaction. For puppies, perhaps ask the other owner (especially if their dog seems boisterous) to keep their dog close to them, and allow your puppy to go in and out as you cheer-lead her for any little progress forward. This way there’s less of a chance of your puppy becoming overwhelmed and frightened by a bigger dog enthusiastically running up and over her, which could be scary. Your aim is always to have one of two things happen: an event that is positive for them, or one where nothing exciting happens. Some dogs don’t care at all about other dogs, and will ignore the puppy that sniffs at them. Awesome! They interacted with a dog and nothing bad happened! It’s a win. Then they might meet another dog and though the puppy didn’t feel brave enough to approach entirely, nothing bad happened and you praised and were a cheerleader to your puppy and he got a little closer and was rewarded for it by you. Maybe the next dog is pretty awesome and your puppy is interested, yo-yos in and out getting closer each time while you cheered them on. They met and it was pretty fun! Now you’re getting somewhere! If a dog ever is a little scary towards the puppy, use your happy encouraging silly voice and say OK let’s go! Try and jolly the puppy back up again and create some fun on that walk to help them shake it off. Reward the sight of any dog approaching and passing by with a treat or two, to create positive feelings about dogs approaching.

Challenge #3: Normally You’d Have Access to Puppy Classes

Here’s some amazing news if you’re in Portland:

Doggy Business, our absolute favorite training facility, is still doing puppy socialization classes and puppy kindergarten!! These classes are currently held without owners present. They’re taught by the owners of Doggy Business, Doug and Meredith. If there’s anyone I would gladly hand over any puppy of mine to, it would be these two people. They’re also doing some virtual training classes online, and can even do one-on-one virtual sessions. These are all really amazing options and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of them. Their puppy socialization classes are amazing and include exposure to things like skateboards and vacuum cleaners, etc.
They mention that “For Play Groups and Puppy Socials, we have added some extra steps to ensure getting into the building, handing off your dog to us, and picking up your dog is as safe as we can make it. Please drop us an email if you have any questions. And, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 please keep your dog home with you”.
I’m certain that many other training facilities around the nation are adopting similar programs, using apps like Zoom or FaceTime to give you access to advice and training techniques, and I’m quite sure there’s a lot of good (and bad) training advice online. Look for virtual puppy kindergarten classes that emphasize the importance of Positive Reinforcement Training.

Other puppy priorities: 

Handling: Now’s the time to get them used to grooming and maintenance activities that will be necessary for a lifetime of care. Get your puppy used to you handling her feet (a good time is when she’s drowsy) Touch her toenails, spread her toes and look between them, and do a little massage. When this becomes normal and pleasurable to her, start holding a toe and touching something random to it, like a pencil eraser or a spoon or a bully stick. Reward this well with a treat or two sometimes (and give her that bully stick). Sometimes bring clippers to the couch and just have them lying around, and when you’ve had good success with other objects, touch them to her toenail. When you do nip the tippy tip off of one toenail, reward that really well with something amazing! (cheese? A piece of chicken?) and don’t clip any more that day. You never have to cut all nails in one sitting – it’s better to leave on a high note.
Get into her ears regularly. Massage her everywhere. Inspect her bootie. Get into her mouth frequently and count her teeth. Rub her gums with flavored dog toothpaste (yum!) (no need to brush before she gets her adult teeth, but it’s a very good idea to introduce this idea now.  You could even use a piece of gauze with toothpaste on it to rub along her gum line. Don’t mess with her gums when she’s teething.) Make these activities into something she finds normal for you to do. They could be very important in the future to being able to see changes, find lumps, and do cleaning and maintenance of her whole body. You never know when she might get a burr or a cut or a tick, etc on some part of her body/between her toes, etc and you want her to be amenable to all of these sorts of manipulations.

Developing a puppy’s soft mouth:
This is an important thing to work on right from the first days you have the puppy. A puppy’s bite can be significantly painful, so it’s no surprise that people would start a “no biting” policy from the beginning. However, we feel there are important reasons not to say no mouth at all.  Why? Because the early days are the only days that you can help a puppy begin to understand the difference between a gentle mouth and a hard mouth, and the only time that you can create a dog who automatically inhibits the force of his bite later in life. Developing “bite inhibition” means that if he does happen to bite, he is less likely to inflict as much damage as a dog without any automatic bite inhibition. It is critical to keeping people and other dogs safe if he were to ever bite someone. The truth is, any dog, no matter how sweet and trustworthy and gentle, might find themselves in an extraordinary situation. If he were in a dog fight, he might defend himself. Or if he were in a car accident and a stranger reaches into the car to get him out, he may be so stressed that he bites. If he is an old dog and in some sort of very bad pain you are unaware of like undiagnosed bone cancer and a child trips and falls on the dog, the startled dog might bite. When a dog grows up with a no bite inhibition, these bites could be much more injurious.
Adult dogs with no automatic bite inhibition often take a treat with what feels like a part of your finger along with it. They don’t mean to be a shark, but they never were able to learn how to use a soft mouth with human hands.

Here’s how to do it with your puppies:
You know that soft gentle gnawing that puppies do sometimes? If it’s soft, the adults in the house should allow it for now. When the puppy bears down harder you can give a high pitched yelp if you can do that, but the most important thing to do would be to get up immediately and walk away. Abandon that dog. Eew. Yucky dog. You don’t want to say “no bite”, or hold his mouth, or make him bite his own lip, etc. When you aggress against him, he’s likely to escalate, and then you might escalate, and now everyone’s feelings are hurt and he hasn’t even learned what you needed him to learn.  Saying no and keeping the game going is also is a mistake, as the puppy just thinks you’re roughhousing. Instant abandonment is feedback that there’s one thing he can do that ends your desire to play with him. Even other puppies do this to a degree. Someone in a litter bites too hard and the bitten puppy yelps and stops playing to lick his wounds. If there is one thing (biting too hard) that reliably, consistently ends his playtime, he’s going to start to avoid that. If, when you get up to walk away he follows you nipping at you, just pick him up without much comment (maybe an “Oops – too bad!”) and plop him on the other side of a baby gate for a few minutes. When he’s calm, let him out. You could even try another play session, but if he bites down again, you could have a 2- strikes-and-you’re-out policy. If you have smaller children at home, it’s important that an adult be involved with all play sessions. Teach kids that if the dog is getting rough or just too excited to just stand up and “be a tree”, crossing their arms, turning away. If he persists in jumping at the kids to get their attention back, you may then want to put the dog in a short timeout, but If he calms down, they can return to gentle play. Keep an eye out for a puppy that’s had enough and end the playtime on a good note before he gets too wound up. Start a different activity like a walk outside or chewing on something in a quiet spot.  
If you’re out in public and the puppy puts his mouth on a stranger you should also calmly end the interaction. “Oops – Time to go.” It’s important that a dog doesn’t think it’s acceptable to goof around with strangers by getting mouthy with them. Playing with a stranger might be fun for that stranger, but a dog putting their mouth on them might not be. A lot of people out there are nervous around dogs, and they might just be litigious, accusing your goofball of maliciously biting them.
Final Stage: When the puppy is getting better at using a mostly soft mouth, you can start to become a bit more fragile, pretending that even his soft mouth now hurts as well. You’ll be able to get rid of that gentle puppy gnawing mouth and now be tightening your standards – now even a soft mouth on a human hand ends their fun. This way you will be on your way to having a dog that is always soft and gentle with his mouth with all human hands.

The good news:

Despite these Corona virus challenges, you are correct in thinking that you really can get a lot of training work done with any dog in your household with this time on your hands. 
Teaching new tricks and skills is fun and mentally challenging for both the people and the dogs.
Some ideas:  Try Target Training! (this link brings you to an article about what target training is and how we used it as zookeepers to introduce the concept of training to various species in the zoo setting). Maybe target training will enable your dog to learn something useful like retrieving the remote for you or turning off a light switch!. Build an agility course and use targeting to teach them how to move around the obstacles.
Other ideas for fun training: Teach silly tricks like “sit pretty”, being able to go around a tree or other object clockwise or counterclockwise on command, to hop up on something on command, to go under a broomstick or hop over it.
We look forward to seeing all the great new tricks you’ve taught your dogs while you were at home!

 This article is part of a series about training puppies/adult dogs (and even tips for cats). Here are links to the others so far:

Tips for New Puppy Owners What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?  This is the second article in the series that I call “foundational thinking”, as once you understand how dogs think and learn, and the concepts behind why you use certain methods, you can train just about any behavior you like! I think it contains what I believe to be some of the most important information I can give you about why we use positive reinforcement, and the dangers of using dominance theory and aversive methods especially when dealing with situations that are uncomfortable for dogs.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part 2

There is still a big disconnect in the world of training – there are two camps: some trainers that use positive reinforcement training (“Causing desire of a thing, situation or behavior by using a pleasant or motivating stimulus”), and some that use aversives (“Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus”).
Humans and dogs are definitely different species with different perspectives in many ways (check out the book in the photo below). However, both dogs and humans have similar sorts of things that motivate us – things that might make us drag ourselves out of the comfort of our cozy beds to do something that we might not exactly choose to do for pleasure, but that are motivating for other reasons.

Check out Patricia McConnell’s book, “The Other End of the Leash” It’s a really interesting read on the differences between humans and dogs that often cause miscommunications.

1) Love – We might do tasks or favors for people or creatures that we love that then serve to strengthen our bonds and often cause them to show us affection or approval, which feels good.

2) Money – lets call it “currency”. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs that mean something to us and reinforce our desire to be there, but let’s face it: When it comes to dragging ourselves out of that cozy cave and applying ourselves to tasks we might not choose to work hard on just for the fun of it, we’re all working because we get paid. For dogs, one of the most effective currencies is yummy treats. Learning is challenging for all of us – and for dogs it can be both physically and mentally challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging when we’re working on behaviors that will help them combat the discomfort or outright fears they might have about strangers or dogs or loud noises, etc. Yummy treats can make those more difficult things easier, and the fact that they’re sprinkled though the activity fairly regularly and appear when they do the best job can be very motivating indeed to try harder to make that good thing happen. If only our salary could magically appear a dollar or two at a time, right when we do a good job with something or complete a task, or especially when we do something we don’t want to do. We might get more done and have more fun doing it! There’s science to this: Wikipedia says, “In popular culture and media, dopamine is usually seen as the main chemical of pleasure, but the current opinion in pharmacology is that dopamine instead confers motivational salience; in other words, dopamine signals the perceived motivational prominence (i.e., the desirability or aversiveness) of an outcome, which in turn propels the organism’s behavior toward or away from achieving that outcome.

3) Fear – Fear can be a pretty effective motivator for both humans and animals, but as we know, it comes with baggage. Anyone that’s had a relationship with a family member or supervisor that is someone who is overbearing, judgmental, explosive with their emotions or who is quick to punish or belittle you, knows that that kind of motivation can create a lot of anxiety. It can make you feel jumpy or withdrawn when they’re around and can make you desperately seek approval that you don’t generally get, which doesn’t feel good. That person might actually be pretty pleased with this result, not perceiving that it’s tearing you up inside, or that the relationship could be much more satisfying if it was based on mutual trust and admiration.
My opinion is that just because something might occasionally be effective, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best method. In fact, the biggest trouble with using aversives (besides the byproduct of eroding the relationship and the development of mutual trust) is that it’s a method that can have serious consequences when used to address behaviors that are a result of discomfort or especially fear-based behaviors.

A good example of this is the use of choke collar “corrections” and shock collars for reactive dog behavior. Reactivity is a common problem we see in our store, when a dog lunges and barks at the sight of another dog. When a small dog does it, you’ll often hear the owner say that he thinks they’re bigger than they are or that the dog is  always thinking that they’re the “alpha”. When reactive behavior happens with a big dog, they’re worried that they have a “dominant” dog or that their dog is being aggressive. There are of course many reasons dogs might have developed that reactive behavior. That little dog may have been carried for most of its puppyhood by a protective owner. I understand the urge to keep a tiny baby out of the jaws of a big dog that might think it’s something to chase and catch. But when that tiny dog gets to be a bit bigger and its owners then decide it should suddenly have to walk on a leash, that dog may be completely overwhelmed by the new situation, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and scared. A leash also keeps a dog from being able to run away, which means their only remaining tool to protect themselves and to tell the other dog to keep it’s distance is to bark at them. “Stay Back! Stay Back!” Sometimes owners will even push that dog closer to the bigger dog and tell it to “say hi”, which could completely overwhelm it, sending into defense mode and biting. This is not being “too big for his britches”, he’s terrified and may think he’s defending his life. The owners move to another part of the store and the little dog feels like his barking worked to end the situation.

In the case of the bigger dog, perhaps he didn’t meet tons of dogs when he was young and his owners thought the best way to “socialize him” was to bring him to the fenced dog park, where he met another dog with poor social skills, had a very scary scuffle and came out with some small wounds. He starts to bark at other dogs on walks, trying to keep dogs out of his space. It seems to work as the owner gets him out of the situation, but the owner is starting to feel very self conscious about her dog’s behavior. When she sees another dog coming, she says “Uh Oh” and her worry and agitation that it’s about to happen again is conveyed to her dog. She transmits all sorts of warning signals to her dog, gathering his leash tighter, feeling worried, inadvertently signaling to him that other dogs are indeed very bad. The dog starts to sound the alarm, the owner yanks him away and scolds him for his outburst, feeling embarrassed in front of the other owner.
When the other dog is gone, the owner might feel and act relieved, and perhaps pet and comfort the stressed dog, feeling bad for having to punish his bad behavior.  All of which tells the dog “We sure don’t like dogs. It’s so good and we’re so happy when dogs leave!” The other thing that’s happening here is that the sight of other dogs approaching starts to predict to the reactive dog that not only are we going to have to deal with a dog that I don’t feel comfortable around, but dogs make my owner upset too, and I’m likely to catch hell from her when dogs get close. “I MUST keep that dog away!” His discomfort around dogs starts to escalate, making the behavior worse.
Now consider adding pain to the equation. Prong collars and shock collars use a painful stimulus with the premise that the dog will make the association between the barking and the pain and stop barking. The trouble is, the real association for the dog that is made by the presence of the other dog is, “Dog approaches, I feel pain. Dog leaves, pain stops”. This can make a dog’s fear of other dogs spiral upward. This process can make dog reactivity escalate. The owner then has to keep escalating the punishment, which if it does make the dog lessen his barking, it certainly will also continue to increase a dog’s hatred and fear of other dogs.
As an owner, you have to think, “What do I wish would happen when a dog approaches?” Don’t you wish that your dog would be happy and relaxed when he sees another dog, or that he would at least pay attention to you instead of the other dog? A dog that has learned that pain and disapproval and anxiety are the only things that happen when other dogs are near will never be relaxed around other dogs.

However, a dog that has an owner that proactively avoids confrontations and creates safe space between her dog and others is a good first step. Then she might start to try and create positive  associations for her dog about the sight of other dogs at a distance. She can start to pretend she feels happy when we see another dog at a distance far enough away that it doesn’t illicit that barking, and rewards that view of another dog with yummy treats. “Look! There’s a dog! Aren’t you lucky!” When the dog is out of view, the bar is closed. “Aw too bad! Dog’s gone. We’ll have to find another one!” She’s always looking out for opportunities to reward each time a dog is sighted (no matter what his behavior is like), managing his space to make sure he’s not too close, and stopping treats when the other dog is gone.

Why would she still “reward” when her dog isn’t acting perfect when he sees other dogs? Because she’s using “classical conditioning”. Classical conditioning is about creating an association. It’s a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired – you all remember Pavlov. After he rang that bell, he then brought the food bowls. Very quickly the dogs started to drool when they heard the bell, before they ever saw the bowls coming. Bells would have never made a dog drool before that association was made. If you were to give a little boy a shock every time he saw a white bunny, it wouldn’t take long at all before the sight of a white bunny made him cry. He very likely would have a lifelong aversion  even to a photo of a white bunny, even if as an adult his rational mind could understand that a white bunny probably wouldn’t hurt him.
Classical conditioning is a simple, very powerful method that can be used to change an animal’s (or a person’s) emotional response. This is what reactive behavior is all about – an involuntary emotional response that’s been developed because of the associations the dog has made between the sight of a strange dog and what it predicts will happen due to previous experience. This is how all living creatures learn, and it’s the reason that positive reinforcement training is entirely rooted in science and why it can be so powerfully effective in changing behavior in dogs.
We not only experience classical conditioning every single day, but we have all had experiences that show us that associations can be changed. Example: lets say every time my phone rings it’s terrible news. Someone breaks the news that my friend died. My boss is calling because I forgot I said I’d work today and she’s pissed. My doctor calls to say that lump needs a biopsy. My judgmental relative calls to “say hi” but spends the whole time complaining that I never call, and then criticizes my mother the way she always does. My vet calls and gives me bad news about Otis’ blood work, etc. When that phone rings, my heart sinks. “What is it now?” That heart-sinking feeling is not voluntary. It’s an emotional response to the sound of the ringing phone. Then, what if suddenly each phone call I get is great news. A long lost friend calls me and we reconnect and chat and laugh together. My vet called and said it was a mistake and Otis is actually fine. I get a call that my biopsy is benign. Someone calls saying they’ll buy the thing I posted for sale and I suddenly will have some cash in my pocket. The dream job I interviewed for is mine! Now each time the phone rings, I’ve started to have a little emotional lift in my chest, and a little intake of breath. “Ooh! Who can it be?” says my subconscious. I couldn’t have felt that happy little lift in my heart because someone told me to. So, creating a positive association, over and over, with something that I used to feel uncomfortable with can truly change the way I feel about that thing. Now I don’t feel I have to swear when the phone rings, which brings us to the barking analogy: “If I feel that the presence of a dog predicts bad things, I will bark at it to keep it away. If I then feel (as a result of lots of repetition) that the sight of a dog at a distance predicts only good things will happen and I feel no threat to my safety, I will not feel the need to bark at it.” This clever owner will also use operant conditioning (rewarding a good choice making it likely I’ll try to make that choice again and again) and reward that quiet dog when he could have barked and didn’t. She might also start to ask for behaviors that help him deal with the situation like “Watch Me” and reward those behaviors frequently. So, creating the simple association between “dog in view” and “cheese” can have powerful effects, and eventually that dog can be asked to be closer to other dogs and still be able to hold it together, gaining confidence around other dogs, becoming more relaxed in their relative presence, and also gaining confidence in his owner to manage his space. It works.

So this is why positive trainers get so upset when they see someone like Cesar Milan or other dominance based trainers “training” a reactive dog: They almost exclusively use punishment with reactive dogs and they see every undesirable dog behavior through the lens of “dominance” or “alpha” behavior. Not only do positive reinforcement trainers know there are other methods that aside from being kinder, can also help to change their dog’s perception of the stimulus, but they realize that punishment can create a greater negative association with the stimulus than they even had before. Remember, someone’s fear of spiders isn’t a voluntary reaction, and no amount of shoving spiders into their face, or slapping them when they see a spider will help at all to make that fear of spiders go away, even if they can learn to suppress their screams to avoid a slap. It will only work to deepen their agitation about a spider’s presence. (And there will always be a distinct possibility that the sudden sight of a spider will make them scream anyway if they’re unprepared).

Cesar Milan and the skateboard
My favorite illustration of how his method is faulty: I watched a show of his where an English Bulldog was very reactive when he saw a skateboard, barking and lunging and biting at it. He put on a choke chain and had a kid roll by on a skateboard while his owners looked on. When the dog started to bark, he kicked the bulldog. He said he wasn’t kicking him, he was just distracting him using his foot. It was enough force to move an English bulldog sideways which makes me feel like you’d call it kicking, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, he continued to distract him with his foot and then give a hard yank on the choke chain each time the kid rolled by. His timing was excellent, so the bulldog quickly learned that barking predicted kicking and choking, and he suppressed his barking, even when Cesar made the kid roll very closely by. The bulldog still looked distressed, and if a bark slipped out, he got a harsh correction. The owners were so impressed and praised Cesar’s amazing skills – the skateboard was right there and he wasn’t barking, in just a few minutes time! Then the owners had a try, and predictably their corrections weren’t as strong, and the dog barked. He was predictably flipping out at the skateboard’s presence. Cesar chastised them and said they had to show more dominance.

Every person and dog has a threshold at which they can contain themselves in the face of something horrible, but there will always be a level at which you cannot keep it together.  A dog that is staying quiet because they’ve learned there’s a risk of punishment and pain is doing the equivalent of pressing his hands over his mouth, keeping himself from barking, but his opinions have certainly not changed about skateboards. The trouble is, the level of punishment has to escalate to regain the silence if the animal’s threshold is crossed. His feelings when he sees a skateboard have likely spiked into even greater levels of bad. The most important thing to point out is that this is a dog who will never ever be reliable in the

What if he learned to love skateboards like Tillman?

face of a skateboard that zooms by in real life. When that family’s 4 year old insists on holding the leash (as they do) and a skateboarding teenager appears from nowhere, that strong dog will likely react and inadvertently drag that child causing injury. No attempt has been made to make that dog feel comfortable around skateboards. If that family bought a skateboard and slowly associated it with all good things, teaching the dog that not only are skateboards safe to be near, but they actually predict that awesome things happen for bulldogs, that dog could become safe and reliable around skateboards, and that 4 year old could be holding the leash when he sees one. Positive reinforcement wins in this scenario. It may not create a sudden appearance of fixing a problem in 5 minutes like on the TV show, but it is far more likely to truly fix that skateboard problem for a lifetime, no matter who’s holding the leash.
Dominance and wolves
Trainers that use punishment often insist that just about every undesirable dog behavior can be attributed to their yearning for status, and that dominance is the underlying motivator for their actions. They have been led to believe that because they descended from wolves, that they must be in constant competition with members of their pack. The big trouble with this is that wild wolves don’t behave this way. There was a study in the 1930s that was reproduced a number of times by others that put unrelated adult wolves together in an artificial captive situation and discovered that they did indeed fight violently. Wild wolves are found in smaller family groups consisting of mated pairs and their offspring who stay in the group for several years. Sometimes families that know each other will come together for a time when resources are plentiful, and perhaps split up again when prey is scarce. When adolescents mature, they’ll leave the family to make their own. The only constant members of the group are the mated pair. It’s very unnatural to confine adult, unrelated strangers in a small captive setting, and this is a recipe for constant fighting and competition for resources.

As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”

As a zookeeper and conservation worker I’ve worked with and observed many species in captivity and in the wild who live in what you might call dominance hierarchies, and I can assure you that outside of the military, dominance doesn’t take the form that many trainers envision, with small infractions constantly punished aggressively, and lower ranking individuals constantly picking fights to rise in rank. Dominance theory is so poorly misunderstood by humans (who are all too often not skilled in reading dog communication). They might completely misinterpret things like appeasement behaviors (like jumping up to lick) as being an example of a dog misbehaving because it hasn’t been shown who’s boss. What is almost certainly happening is that they have no idea that anything else is being asked of them but to greet enthusiastically, and they’re actually showing deference (defined as humble submission and respect). They just haven’t been taught that you’d rather they sit to greet, and that doing the new behavior can be very rewarding and result in the affection they crave.

I love this passage from Jean Donaldson’s book, Culture Clash, “My favorite myth is going through doorways first. What silly person came up with the notion that a dog would understand, let alone exert dominance, by preceding his owner out the front door? When dogs are rushing through doors, mustn’t we first rule out that they are trying to close distance between themselves and whatever is out there, as quickly as possible, because they are excited, because they are dogs, and because they have never been presented with a reason not to?”


In my next installment, I’ll address the concern that some people have that if you use treats that you’ll always have to use treats, every day, for every behavior. I assure you, though treats can still come in handy in some instances, there are many ways to control a dog’s valuable resources, making him earn what he wants in life by doing what you ask, right away.


One of the best little books ever about how to work with dogs who are reactive on leash is called “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell PhD and Karen London, PhD. It’s a silly name but a fantastic book that walks you through the process and gives you good “What if” scenarios. It’s a very short read, but thorough enough to really help you.

Locally, we’re lucky to have one of the best trainers around (and the first Certified Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA) in Oregon) right near the store. Call on Doug Duncan  at Doggy Business – you’ll see a link for Private Training for Aggression on the front page at



This article is part of a series of articles designed to help you train your new dog:

Congratulations On Your New Puppy! (or adult dog)
What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid 19
All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges. How to work on socialization and help to prevent separation anxiety once you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.





What do they Want? How should they get it?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies (and kittens!) Part One
Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like. First, I’ll say that punishment doesn’t need to be part of the picture. Punishing him for wanting your attention can erode your relationship. It’s sweet that he wants your attention, but he’s asking for it in the wrong way.

A universal truth: Animals do what works for them.

Here’s a little attention getting scenario: You’re talking on the phone, and the puppy starts to whimper and bark at you. You ignore it for a time, and he gets louder. You tell your friend to hang on, and you turn and shout at the puppy, “Stop it! I’m on the phone!”. You go back to your conversation and he goes back to his barking. The trick is to think (in any similar situation) “What does he want?” In this example, he wants you to break away from what you’re doing, look at him, and pay attention to him. Have you just done all of these things? Hmm, he in fact got exactly what he wanted, and he thinks “Oh good. That’s how I get her attention”. You can’t really fault him for trying that again. You have unwittingly rewarded his bad behavior, and it will probably increase. Hurrying and getting a dog’s dinner to him faster just to shut him up really teaches him something you’re not going to enjoy.
Strategy #1: Ignoring behaviors you don’t like can be a useful tactic, though you really really have to be a rock. If he barks and barks and barks and you eventually break and tell him to cut it out, you have taught him endurance. “Bark long enough and they finally listen” is what you’ve taught him. We are no different: when we push the elevator button and the lights don’t light up, we jab at it again, and again, and maybe bang on it a few times before we give up and take the stairs. If we ignore the dog at first and then respond when the behavior escalates, we’ve only taught him, “If barking and whining’s not working, bark louder!” They’re not being turds on purpose, they’re doing what we’ve taught them works. If that elevator button never ever brings the elevator, you’d quickly learn to go straight to the stairs. If they’ve had a lot of practice barking to get attention, count on it getting a little worse before it gets better. Remember how you might have jabbed at that stupid broken elevator button in exasperation before you gave up? That’s called an extinction burst – they try and try and then really try, saying “Why isn’t this working???” Rewarding him when he finally gives up and becomes quiet for a few moments is useful in this moment. Being a rock in the future may help to extinguish this behavior but it can be easier combined with other strategies (read on).


July 4th Tips!!

By Green Dog Pet Supply

Photo Copyright Green Dog Pet Supply

The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of the larger illegal fireworks that are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips that we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.


Congratulations On Your New Kitty!

Whether you’ve gotten a kitten or an adult cat, we hope that these tips will come in handy for you:

Nothing’s more fun than a new kitten, and we know you’ll have a blast. However, there are some things that we feel are sometimes not well communicated to new cat owners about the long term care of cats that could help you make your kitty’s life as long and healthy as it could be, as well as helping you to avoid behavioral issues in the future.
We might be called Green Dog, but the owners and staff of Green Dog are actually made up of some pretty serious cat people. We know there’s a lot of info in here, especially in the diet section, but after serving the cat community of Portland since 2004, our hearts are often heavy from the overwhelming numbers of cats with chronic illness, much of which we feel could have been prevented with better nutrition. Also, a greater understanding of the behavioral needs of cats could help to prevent or resolve behavioral issues that are very difficult for the humans in the household to live with and often result in cats being given up to shelters.


Setting Your Cat Up For Litter Box Success

Both wild and feral domestic cats prefer to eliminate in different areas outdoors every time, covering the scent of their waste in the soil. Luckily, indoor cats are pretty amenable to using a litter box as long as conditions seem acceptable to them. Just know that if they ever start to eliminate outside the box, they’re telling you that something is wrong. Though it may seem to humans that this behavior conveys “spite” this is not the case. Realize that what you’ve asked them to do is against their true nature, so be patient and aware that they need your help to modify the situation.

The general rule is to have one box for every cat in the house, plus one. Don’t force cats to use the same box, and perhaps put some space between them if possible. A bigger box with higher sides keeps mess contained. Hoods can make things  even tidier for a big digger, but not all cats feel safe losing that visibility. If you want to use a hood, get them used to a new box without the hood first, and then pay attention to their reaction. Sometimes a really deep open topped Rubbermaid storage container is the solution for cats that kick their litter everywhere. Put all boxes in quiet, low traffic areas if possible.

Find a litter you both like. Most cats prefer a softer texture such as a scoopable clumping litter. The downside is that all scoopable litters track. Use a good litter mat or a fluffy bath mat to capture the mess. The upside is that when you find a litter that clumps quickly and firmly, removing those clumps leaves very clean litter behind keeping your box nearly odor free. If your clumping litter breaks apart as you shake your scoop, get a new litter and your box will smell fresher. Litter that comes in pellets reduces tracking significantly, but not all cats like the texture. Starting kittens on pellets will likely increase your success. The downside of pellets is that they don’t clump, and urine dissolves them into wet sawdust that is harder to remove entirely. Keep the level of litter shallower than a scoopable litter (just a few inches vs. 3-4” of scoopable) so not as much litter is ruined at a time. Perhaps use a solid spoon or spatula to lift urine spots when scooping pellets. We recommend unscented plant based litters (made from grass, corn, wheat, etc) over clay. These litters are more sustainable than clay, as all clay is strip-mined, it uses more fossil fuels to ship as it’s heavier, and it doesn’t degrade. Plant based litters are lighter to carry and to scoop, they generally clump quickly wasting less litter, they handle odor well, many brands aren’t as dusty as clay (and clay dust is dangerous to breathe), and the bags last longer than clay, saving you money.

Keep your boxes clean. Scoop once a day. Having that extra box mentioned above allows them to find a clean spot if you’ve forgotten to scoop. Cats prefer as little odor from their boxes as possible (as do you). Empty and clean your box regularly. You can spray with an enzymatic cleaner and wipe clean and dry and refill with clean litter, or take it outside and hose and scrub.

Pro Tip: Cats fed dry food generally have more concentrated and smelly urine. Switching to a moisture rich diet helps the urine smell and their health. Even better, a raw-fed cat’s box generally doesn’t smell! Their poops are smaller and firmer and not as stinky, and their urine doesn’t really smell either. If you walk into your house and you can smell your well maintained boxes, look to their diets to solve the problem.

When switching litters, a sudden switch might be upsetting. Use your extra box to introduce a new litter, and if they jump right in and use it, you’re done! If they never use it, try adding a layer of their old litter to the top of the new litter, or put a urine clump from their old box into the new litter. If you happen to only have one box, try to replace clumps you’ve removed during cleaning with the same amount of fresh litter. Eventually your box will be mostly new litter, and the next time you empty your box you can fill it entirely with the new litter. If they boycott their box during the process of switching, go back to the old litter and try a different one in the future.

If your cat suddenly stops using their box, the very first thing to do is bring them to the vet to eliminate medical causes such as urinary infections or crystals. When in pain, cats often hide their symptoms. They often associate pain with the litter box and try to find a place to go where it might not hurt as much. Other symptoms can be howling in the box, excessive licking of the genital area, blood in the urine, and frequent attempts to urinate.

If your cat ever visits the box repeatedly, strains to urinate but voids little to no urine, it’s vitally important to rush them to the vet or to emergency care if it’s after hours. Urinary blockages can be a life threatening emergency, especially in male cats.

**Once an infection is cleared, cats often still blame the box for the pain they felt. Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter may help. They also make an herbal attractant that you can add to other litters of your choice. It can be really helpful.

Once medical reasons have been eliminated, one must consider sources of stress. These may include:
– A new member of the household, person or animal.
– A new outdoor cat in the neighborhood who might be  marking under open windows, in a crawl space under the house, on the outside of an entry door, etc.
– Another cat in the household intimidating them in ways you may or may not have noticed.  Their intimidation tactics might seem very subtle to us.
– Humans having frequent disagreements.
– Living with an adult that doesn’t like them.
– Children chasing or harassing them.
– Lack of environmental enrichment/stimulation/exercise.
– The cat finds something about his litter or box that is stressful, such as a change in litter (especially one with a strong scent, relocation of box, change in the room the box is in, etc.

Expelling urine outside the box for many of the reasons listed above would be qualified as “marking”, which is not an elimination behavior, but a sign of territorial stress.

As Dr. Karen Becker, DVM says, “Under no circumstances should you ever punish a cat for improper elimination. Imagine if you were forced to relieve yourself in a dirty, cramped or unnatural spot, with activity swirling around you. Then imagine being punished for finding a more suitable location for yourself. The reason for their behavior may not make sense to you, but it does to your cat, and now is a good time to remember he is, after all, a different species! Your pet needs your help to find the cause of his behavior and fix the problem.Work with your cat, not against him, to help him be comfortable with his potty area”.

Here are some ideas for managing your cat’s environment and lowering his stress to help to resolve the problem: Of course reevaluate your box situation and all of its variables.

If it might be a new person or someone that the cat is uncomfortable around, try to enlist their help and sympathy (as they’d probably like the marking to stop too!) Have them try to stay calm and speak softly near the cat. Have that person gently toss a treat the cat likes in front of him and retreat without approaching too directly. Have them put the food bowl down at mealtimes. They might be willing to play a little with a wand toy or string, etc. No rough or overstimulating touching, like roughing up the fur – let the cat approach them and they don’t approach the cat.

With other cats, children, or new animal in the home:
– Try Feliway Multicat diffusers in the home when the issue might be another cat, and original Feliway in the case of children or a dog.
– Increase the number of scratching areas available.
– Can the space be managed to give them their own areas for a while?
– Look at your common areas and see if you can increase the amount of vertical space for the cat. What if you could put a high-backed chair in between the couch and the mantel to make it accessible to a cat? Cat trees are useful of course, but inexpensive shelves made with scraps of wood and L-brackets can be used to create high spaces for cats to retreat and feel secure (especially useful when there are children or new puppies in the home). If there is another cat, make sure there are no dead ends to the escape routes.
– Ask yourself if the cats would be happier in separate homes.
– Don’t allow puppies or children to chase the cat. Puppies can drag a leash when supervised, and reward the puppy (and praise children) for calmness when a cat is in the room.

If the problem is an outdoor cat, try to block access (to a crawlspace etc). Use Feliway spray on the outside and inside of the doors. Make outdoor areas the cat is spending time in less comfortable – perhaps put down pointy rocks under windows. There are even motion activated sprinklers available (search “Scarecrow sprinkler”)

CBDs are very safe and effective for calming anxiety. We carry a tincture that is completely tasteless for mixing into food, and a few that are in treat form.

Interactive playtime and enrichment is very important every day for all cats, but especially for a stressed or bored cat. Is your cat a jerk? He might just be really bored. A happier cat is often a nicer cat. Look for novel materials that you can leave on the floor for them to investigate for a day and then recycle them when boring. Put down a big wad of tissue paper or other kind of crumpled packing papers that they can investigate. Pull out a wand toy and make it act like prey hiding in the paper. The next day put a big cardboard box that you cut a few big and small holes in. Let them investigate for a while, and then play with a wand toy through the holes. The next day open some paper shopping bags and leave them open on the floor. Be creative – shredded paper is different than tissue paper – how many different things can you find? We also carry paper and fabric tunnels and “Ripple Rugs”, etc that you can put down for a few days and put away, rotating them to reduce boredom. Playing with them is important. Neat resource for ideas

Lastly, cats (especially those with excellent nutrition and care throughout their lives) can live into their 20s. But when cats reach a certain age  can often become confused or stressed, especially at night. They might seem to be forgetting elemental things, like where their box is. You may need to add additional boxes in the home in places that they seem to be spending more time (as opposed to hidden in the back of the basement). Perhaps add a nightlight near their litter box, use litter attractants, or if the cat seems restless at night or howling excessively, try an unflavored  CBD tincture in a bit of canned food before bedtime, or a Feliway plug-in.


Talk to us – we’re here to help brainstorm.

When Vets Tell You To Switch from Grain Free Kibble to Grains

You may have heard something online or from your vet about the issue of dogs eating grain free foods sometimes showing low levels of taurine in their bloodwork. Since then, we’ve had a number of customers that come saying their vet told them to switch to a food containing grains. One local vet in our area just sent out an email about Heart Disease and grain free foods, and also advocating for the use of  “Meat By-Products” in pet foods, and we’d like to address both of these topics to help you learn more and make educated decisions.

Grain Free vs. Grain Friendly Diets:

The truth is, all processed dry pet food diets are compromised nutritionally due to high-heat, high-pressure extrusion and the need for starchy carbs to bind them and make those little crunchy nuggets. Critical amino acids like taurine that are found in muscle meats and organs are fragile and very heat sensitive, and so become damaged by processing. It’s true that another variable that might exacerbate these diet related heart problems could very well be the overuse of legumes in dog foods. Some brands use a lot of them because they contain plant proteins that are less expensive than meat proteins, but plant proteins don’t contain those vital amino acids. Large quantities of peas may very well be blocking absorption of those important amino acids found in meat that do vital jobs in your dog’s body like support his heart function.
Please read more in this important article – we’ve tried hard to distill the facts and offer suggestions for how to avoid trouble.

One thing that frustrates us is that many traditional vets work closely with brands like Purina and Hills, who are companies eager to use this opportunity to switch nervous consumers back to their formulas that contain corn, wheat, and soy. Some of these well-intentioned vets are simply advising customers to switch to any food containing grains. Please note that foods made with grains also are using plant proteins to save the company money by taking the place of more species appropriate proteins from meat, and these plant proteins also do not contain those valuable amino acids like taurine, just like in grain free foods.

Both corn and wheat are high carb and high glycemic ingredients and can also cause food sensitivities/allergic reactions in dogs. We often see dogs with new troubles come to us after having been on a diet like this, and we are able to reverse these new issues when we remove the foods that contain corn, wheat, and soy and switch to kibbles that have higher quality sources of meat proteins.

More importantly, ingredients such as corn, wheat and soy are likely to contain contaminates that don’t cook out.
GMO crops are sprayed with large quantities of RoundUp (glyphosate), and corn is especially problematic as it almost certainly contains dangerous aflatoxins. These are dangerous grain molds, toxic to humans and animals, even in very small amounts. Our most recent stats  from 2017  show that 88% of all corn tested nationally was contaminated with aflatoxins, and in some previous years (2012) it has been 100%. A testing agency stated:”With more than ten-years of experience monitoring the occurrence of mycotoxins in livestock feeds, BIOMIN has shown that co-occurrence of mycotoxins (the presence of more than one mycotoxin) is the rule and not the exception” The FDA allows mycotoxins to be at 20 ppb (parts per billion) in pet foods, however science shows that even small amounts of mycotoxins can be dangerous to pets. From the International Journal of Food Microbiology, Drs. Herman J. Boermans and Maxwell C.K. Leung published the report “Mycotoxins and the pet food industry: Toxicological evidence and risk assessment” in 2007. One of the biggest issues of concern discussed is that existing studies of mycotoxin contamination in pet food overlook the day to day consumption of small amounts of mycotoxins; resulting in “chronic diseases such as liver and kidney fibrosis, infections resulting from immunosuppression and cancer.” In 2005 a Diamond Foods aflatoxin recall resulted in 100 dog deaths.

We don’t have a problem with some grains in foods, and we carry a few lines that have ingredients like oats and barley and rice. All of the kibbles we carry generally have a high percentage of their protein content derived from muscle meats and organs and not plant proteins (even the ones that use some peas). However, you don’t have to run to a food containing grains. The amino acids in all extruded kibbles suffer damage from heat processing. If you shop with us, ask us what percentage of your food’s guaranteed analysis of protein is derived from meat proteins (as opposed to plant proteins). If not, you can
1)call the company and ask this question. If they won’t tell you, perhaps switch brands.
2) Look for a baked kibble (as opposed to extruded) as more of the amino acids survive baking intact. Stella and Chewy’s is one baked kibble we carry.
3) No matter what, consider adding some fresh taurine rich foods to your pet’s dry food. It’s easy, can be inexpensive, and your pet will love it! See here for suggestions

Re: Meat By-Products:
One thing they said that we do take issue with is the statement that “Meat By-products” get a bad rap and are actually just contain good organ meats. Organ meats are desirable ingredients, and are far more expensive than “Meat By-products”. Good organ meats would be listed on the label as their own named ingredient, ie: “beef liver” or “beef hearts”, etc. and would be USDA inspected and passed for human consumption.  When you look closely at FDA laws concerning pet food ingredients, “Meat By-products” are defined as rendered product that is legally allowed to be a mix of any species of animal, including animals that “died otherwise than by slaughter”. These include animals that died from disease, euthanized animals, condemned/spoiled meats, and roadkill. Rendering facilities are waste management facilities, with separate standards for handling and storing ingredients meant to be rendered. FDA states clearly that these ingredients are acceptable in pet foods. When looking at your ingredient list, it’s important that you see the species of animal mentioned with the proteins and the fat. ie: avoid “Animal Fat” and choose “Chicken Fat”.
We love human quality organ meats for pets, and strongly advocate for their use to help supplement naturally occurring amino acids like taurine, cystein and methionine that support heart function, but we avoid By-products in pet foods, as even named ingredients such as “Chicken By-products” are not handled with the same safety or quality standards as USDA inspected and passed meats and organs.


Final Thoughts: It’s true, in its recent update the FDA says that between Jan. 1, 2014 and Nov. 30, 2018, it’s received reports of 325 dogs and 10 cats diagnosed with DCM. Most were eating grain free kibble, but some were on kibble with grains, vegan diets, and some homemade diets. The figures include 74 dogs and two cats that have died. At the same time, as the FDA notes, diet-associated reports of DCM have affected a very small proportion of the estimated 77 million pet dogs in the country. “Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM” and “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors,” the FDA said in the update on its investigation.

The FDA states: “It’s important to note that the reports (cases of diet-related DCM reported to FDA) include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain containing foods, and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations. They also include all forms of diets: kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked. This is why we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.”

A Few Things To Keep In Mind:

Another little-talked-about report shows grain-based pet foods are significantly linked to DCM as well:
DCM Diagnosed Dogs North Carolina State University 2015 – 2017

22 dogs – grain-free pet food
29 dogs – grain-based pet food

At this time:  1) No study has yet been completed that shows any link between diet and low taurine blood levels. We look forward to study results.
2) The FDA is not recommending a diet change for dogs

Most Recent List of Grain Free Foods by Manufacturer in DCM Report.

This is not a list of brands that have been proven to cause DCM, it’s a list of what the dogs with low taurine levels were eating.

Note that publicity about this issue implicates “Boutique” or “specialty foods”, when in fact the foods implicated are mainly from very large mainstream pet food companies.

It’s Important to Note:
Regardless of who’s making it or whether it’s grain free or not, this problem is primarily a processed dry kibble problem

Thanks to Truth About Pet Food for the 3 pieces of info above

Products We Love: Silver Vine for Cats

Many people know that catnip can create a euphoric and playful feelings in many cats, but other cats don’t seem to be affected. There are actually several other plants that could create this same effect, especially one called silver vine, which is in the kiwi family. Interestingly, a recent study shows that more cats reacted to silver vine than to catnip, and moreover, almost 75 percent of the catnip non-responders responded to silver vine.

If your cat hasn’t enjoyed catnip, or even if he loves catnip, you should really give silver vine a try. Our cat Otis likes catnip OK, and mostly wants to lick it, but Silver vine really holds his interest, and even stimulates him to play with soft toys on his own when it’s applied to them (which is unusual for him, as he prefers interactive play). He also loves rubbing his face on the ends of the sticks when we hold them for him, and many cats like to chew on them, perhaps adding a dental health benefit.  The effects for Otis seem strongest when he doesn’t smell it every day. Every few days we pull out the sticks or a silver vine sprinkled toy and it’s all new again. 
We’ve brought in products from From The Field including a locally made silver vine/catnip blend in small “dime bags” to try, and in 1oz containers for those that want more.

We also have a multi-pack of sticks from the same Washington company, nested in dried silver vine leaf, and a also cloud shaped soft toy that comes with a little tin of finely ground silver vine from Dezi Roo that you can sprinkle onto it and other toys. Happy playtime, kitties! They also have a good article about Why Silver Vine Is Better Than Catnip.

Offering cats novel objects and smells are key to keeping them happy and behaviorally healthy. Experiment with Silver Vine to see if it can add some spice to their lives!