Why we Discontinued the Sale of Retractable Leashes


Forward by Christine Mallar:
This is a blog post written by Dr. Karen Becker, DVM. She’s a veterinarian with an active blog discussing many aspects of pet health and behavior. This article sums up the issues we had with these leashes so well that I thought I would paste it here for your benefit. When I was a trainer teaching classes I quickly banned them from class time, as dogs can suddenly dash into the space of another dog that might have social issues. This has continued to plague us at the store, as many dogs are reactive on leash or simply overexcited by other dogs. Some dogs are painfully frightened of being in a store to begin with, and being in close space with other dogs nearby can exacerbate this. When another dog on a retractable leash can quickly rush into their space, fights can break out. Stopping a fight is very difficult and dangerous if you can’t pull them out of the situation with their leash, and reaching in to remove the dog on a retractable leash would put the human in danger of being bitten. This also creates an unfair disadvantage for other people that are carefully trying to train dogs with social issues, as their ability to manage their dog’s space to keep their dog comfortable is destroyed easily by a dog that is suddenly 16 feet away from their owner and in that dog’s space. It can be a huge training setback for these people who are trying to provide positive experiences for their dog in a place that contains other dogs within sight range.
Another problem for us is that when people are distracted by shopping, they may not notice when their dog is getting into trouble, eating treats on counter displays or marking our antique furniture (old wood is so porous!).
I do think there are some times that a retractable can add to the fun of an outing while still being “on leash” for safety, such as on the beach, or on a hike in areas that are not busy with people and other dogs, but please be aware that dogs leaving a trail at all in some habitats can damage fragile vegetation, etc.

The safety concerns for dogs and people are many when you use a retractable leash in a populated area. Even if your dog is tiny and wouldn’t break a leash, wouldn’t it be terrible if an off leash dog attacked your little dog and it was 16 or more feet away from you when it happened? Please read these ten reasons below before deciding to use a retractable leash. Remember: if you use a retractable leash, keep it retracted and locked so it is as short as or shorter than a regular leash in places with other dogs and people. When you are in an open space, you can give them more room to explore. If you are looking to buy a retractable leash for trips to the beach, find one with a “belt” or “tape” instead of a cord. This can be safer for your skin.


Why I Don’t Recommend Retractable Leashes retractable-leash-NO
June 11, 2014
By Dr. Becker
A retractable leash is not so much a leash as it is a length of thin cord wound around a spring-loaded device housed inside a plastic handle. The handles of most retractable leashes are designed to fit comfortably in a human hand. A button on the handle controls how much of the cord is extended.
Retractable leashes are popular primarily because they aren’t as confining as regular leashes, allowing dogs more freedom to sniff and poke around on walks. But unfortunately, there are many downsides to this type of leash.

10 Reasons Not to Use a Retractable Leash

1.  The length of retractable leashes, some of which can extend up to 26 feet, allows dogs to get far enough away from their humans that a situation can quickly turn dangerous. A dog on a retractable leash is often able to run into the middle of the street, for example, or make uninvited contact with other dogs or people.

2. In the above scenario, or one in which your pet is being approached by an aggressive dog, it is nearly impossible to get control of the situation if the need arises. It’s much easier to regain control of – or protect — a dog at the end of a six-foot standard flat leash than it is if he’s 20 or so feet away at the end of what amounts to a thin string.

This graphic is from Flexi's page on safety, outlining the risks of cuts and burns, finger amputations and fractures, eye and face injuries and falls. http://www.flexi-northamerica.com/us/operation/

This graphic is from Flexi’s page on safety, outlining the risks of cuts and burns, finger amputations and fractures, eye and face injuries and falls. http://www.flexi-northamerica.com/us/operation/



3. The thin cord of a retractable leash can break – especially when a powerful dog is on the other end of it. If a strong, good-sized dog takes off at full speed, the cord can snap. Not only can that put the dog and whatever he may be chasing in danger, but also the cord can snap back and injure the human at the other end.





4. If a dog walker gets tangled up in the cord of a retractable leash, or grabs it in an attempt to reel in their dog, it can result in burns, cuts, and even amputation. In addition, many people have been pulled right off their feet by a dog that reaches the end of the leash and keeps going. This can result in bruises, “road rash,” broken bones, and worse.


5. Dogs have also received terrible injuries as a result of the sudden jerk on their neck that occurs when they run out the leash, including neck wounds, lacerated tracheas, and injuries to the spine.

6. Retractable leashes allow dogs more freedom to pull at the end of them, which can look like aggression to another dog who may decide to “fight back.”

7. The handles of retractable leashes are bulky and can be easily pulled out of human hands, resulting in a runaway dog.

8. Along those same lines, many dogs – especially fearful ones – are terrorized by the sound of a dropped retractable leash handle and may take off running, which is dangerous enough. To make matters worse, the object of the poor dog’s fear is then “chasing” her, and if the leash is retracting as she runs, the handle is gaining ground on her – she can’t escape it. Even if this scenario ultimately ends without physical harm to the dog (or anyone else), it can create lingering fear in the dog not only of leashes, but also of being walked.

9. Retractable leashes, like most retractable devices, have a tendency to malfunction over time, either refusing to extend, refusing to retract, or unspooling at will.

10. Retractable leashes are an especially bad idea for dogs that haven’t been trained to walk politely on a regular leash. By their very nature, retractables train dogs to pull while on leash, because they learn that pulling extends the lead.

If your dog is well trained, gentle mannered and smart enough to master a regular leash and a retractable leash without being confused, you could be one of the rare guardians that can walk your pooch on any kind of leash without increasing risks to either one of you.

Dental Health for Dogs and Cats

FinalBy Green Dog Pet Supply

February is Dental Health Month, so it seems a good time to address the health and maintenance of your pet’s mouth.

Dental health is so important to the health of your pets, and if you’re doing a good job maintaining healthy teeth and gums, your pet’s life could be extended. Gum disease can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, causing damage to organs, so just like us, pets need regular checkups and occasional cleanings. Luckily, there are definitely other ways to maintain the health of the teeth and try reduce the number of cleanings necessary.

Diet: A fresh, species appropriate whole food diet goes a long way towards keeping the teeth cleaner. Foods whose proteins are primarily derived from grains are high glycemic (quickly releases sugars into the bloodstream)  and high carb diets put weight on your pet. They also are hard on the teeth, as the starches adhere to the teeth, becoming plaque if they aren’t cleaned off. Grains are also high in phytic acid, which inhibits mineral absorption during digestion – the minerals that are needed to maintain healthy teeth and bones.  Raw foods do not have all of the starches that can adhere to the teeth, they aren’t generally sources of phytic acid, and they contain natural enzymes that help to break down bacteria in the mouth. Check out what happened when this veterinarian realized that “Since he had become accustomed to seeing drastic improvements in dental health with the change from kibble and commercial pet foods to a raw diet, he wondered “How quickly will healthy dogs start to deteriorate if we feed them ‘junk food’ ?” It’s alarming, but not surprising, as we see the differences every day in dental health between dogs who are kibble fed and those that are raw fed and include meaty bones.

It’s a myth that kibble cleans teeth – First, because cats and dogs are carnivores, their teeth are not designed for chewing or grinding like ours are; they’re designed to shear through meat, bone and organs like scissors. The best they’ll do is crack a kibble and swallow it, which does not clean the teeth. Even though we humans have teeth that chew and grind, really crunchy human foods don’t clean our teeth either, actually.

No matter what, we have to help our pets keep their teeth clean, and the best ways to clean them is with chews and brushing. There are also a few supplements worth mentioning, but manual removal of the biofilm (the sticky layer of bacteria that turns into plaque) that forms on teeth is critical to maintaining a healthy mouth, for us and for our pets.

All puppies need to chew, but throughout a dog’s lifetime chewing remains an important activity for both physical and behavioral reasons. Chewing helps to keep teeth and gums healthy and clean, and is a form of exercise that comes in handy on bad weather days to keep boredom at bay and relax a hyper dog. Coyotes and bobcats eat a diet that’s mainly meat, bones and organs. Their teeth are scraped clean by crunching through little bones and shearing meat and tendons with their back teeth. Coyotes and other canids (dog type animals) also gnaw on larger bones after their main meal is done. We can replicate this to a degree with many kinds of recreational chews available for pets.

We have come to realize that all forms of chews for dogs have some kind of benefit, and they all carry some type of risk. Risks depend on not only the quality of the chew, but also the dog’s chewing style. All hard chews are more durable, long lasting and less likely to be choking hazards, but do carry the risk of a weak tooth breaking if a dog is trying to break the chew instead of just gnawing it. Senior dogs are even more at risk of breaking a tooth. Chews that soften as they chew and are ingested as they go (like bully sticks, tendons, and rawhide) are very beneficial for gum health (as they soften and get in between the teeth) but carry the risk of choking and in some cases (like rawhides) impaction if they were to swallow too much at one time. The general rule of thumb is that you need to watch dogs (especially puppies) with every new thing that you give them, and realize that they’ll become more proficient at destroying things as they get older. Throughout a dog’s life, it’s important to supervise them the first few times they get a new kind of chew. Once you feel comfortable that they’re handling the new item well, then you can make the judgement call to leave them alone with it.

A Few Chews for dogs we like:

* Bully sticks – Bully sticks are natural beef chew sticks that are like a thick tendon that softens and is eaten as they are chewed. They are valuable because they are so much more digestible (safer) than rawhides when swallowed, they soften and get between teeth like floss so help to keep gums and teeth healthy, and they are apparently super delicious, so they hold a dog’s attention. They can get a little stringy, and you probably don’t want them to swallow a big piece at the end of the stick, so we recommend using bully sticks and other tendons while you’re with your puppy, perhaps while you want them to relax while you watch a movie. You can even hold one end while they work on the other. Some bullies are stinky and some are not, depending on the store’s standards for sourcing. Other types of tendons (like achilles) have similar benefits and might come smaller than bully sticks if you have tiny dogs.

* Raw Meaty Bones – Raw meaty bones from the freezers of retail pet supply stores (safest, as they were produced and handled with the intention of animals eating them raw) or very fresh from a good butcher can keep a dog very busy for a long time, can have nutritional benefits, and can be very effective at cleaning teeth. Enzymes from the raw meat help to break down bacteria in the mouth, and the bones help to scrape it away. Raw bones are generally not as hard as smoked bones and so are less likely to splinter or to break teeth, though teeth can be broken on any hard chews if the dog is prone to trying to break it instead of gnawing it. Starting puppies earlier on raw bones gives them more experience with how to handle them. As a rule, recreational bones are best if they’re bigger – ideally for safety (bearing down on a hard chew causing tooth damage) it would be a knuckle bone the size of their head, as they’d be less likely to be able to fit it all the way between their back teeth. Marrow bones are the hardest (as they are weight bearing bones), and you want to pick one that has no chance of fitting over their bottom jaw/lower canines when emptied of marrow (we don’t think it’s at all common, but we have seen a photo online of a dog with one stuck this way). Marrow and knuckle bones are fairly easy to find, not that expensive, and aren’t as messy as you think they might be. Good tip – some owners teach their dogs to chew bones on a blanket or towel by making a rule that if they leave the blanket, they lose the bone. Marrow can be a little rich at first, so you can either thaw a marrow bone and give it to your dog for 15 or so minutes and then put it back in the fridge for the next day, or you can scoop some of the marrow out at first until you know they do well with it digestively.

* Chicken necks, duck necks, and turkey necks can be very good teeth cleaning chews as well, and though they don’t last as long as a marrow bone, they are safer for the teeth, and are packed with nutritional and behavioral benefits. It is true that cooked poultry bones can be very dangerous, but raw poultry necks have lots of collagen/cartilage (and therefore a great natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin) and have more pliable bones than weight bearing bones. Check the Green Dog Blog for a post called, “Chicken Necks for Cats and Dogs” for videos of both a cat and a dog eating necks and for more tips and info.

NEVER FEED HOME COOKED BONES OF ANY KIND – THEY COULD BE SPLINTERY AND DANGEROUS! (Slow smoked knuckle and marrow bones in pet stores are less likely to splinter than home cooked bones, but they do become extra hard when cooked, and could conceivably splinter).

* Antlers: Antlers are interesting – they’re fairly sustainable, as they’re naturally shed every year and they regrow, and even people who are vegan that have trouble with the concept of animal chews can rest easy with these as the animals are unharmed. They don’t stink or stain the carpet, and they’re less likely to splinter than bone. They also won’t be consuming anything that would stimulate their need to potty (like a full Kong might) and as long as an appropriate size is chosen, they won’t be able to choke on or swallow one, so we feel these make safe appropriate chews to leave alone with a puppy in a crate. They’re an animal product, so they are very interesting and hold their attention much better than something like a Nylabone. They’re also a great value, as they last such a very long time compared to any other chew. They wear away slowly and should be discarded when small enough to swallow. Though this is another hard chew, we’ve sold thousands of antlers in the last 10 years and have heard only 2 or 3 reports of cracked teeth. We believe that split antlers (cut longwise to expose the “marrow”) are great for gentle chewers, but carry a greater risk of slab fractures than round (whole) antlers, due to the flat surfaces on a split antler that are easy to bear down on with the back teeth.

* West Paw Zogoflex toys: Though rubber doesn’t generally clean the teeth as well as some other chews do, sometimes for allergy reasons or damaged teeth, they start to become one of the only options. These USA made rubber toys are far more durable than any other we’ve found – they often stand up to dogs that can chew up Kongs. They come in good shapes – especially the Hurley (stick) and Tux (has a hole for stuffing), and best of all are guaranteed against chewing damage. There’s no toy or chew that’s invincible though, so if you have a dog that can get a piece off, you can bring it straight back to the store and we’ll swap it out for something else (or send it back to the company). Best of all, we mail the pieces back to them and they melt them down and make new toys.

Beams: These dried fish skin chews are also great for puppies, older dogs and those with a history of tooth damage. Remarkably, these chews seem to be well chewed even by dogs who usually gulp things (they sort of chew them like gum, switching sides with a big piece in their mouth). Even if they’re gulped, they are very digestible.

Chews for cats: There aren’t as many options for cat chews, but our favorites are one inch pieces of raw chicken necks (some cats might even do well with whole chicken necks if they’re good chewers). Remove the skin before giving, as it’s very high in fat. Pieces of chicken gizzard are also abrasive and chewy. Check out the blog posting about chicken necks for a video of our cat Otis eating a piece of chicken neck. Otis generally chews a chicken neck piece about 40-80 times before swallowing it. We’ve also known a few cats that will chew dried fish skin treats like Honest Kitchen’s “Beams”.

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
People sometimes seem intimidated by brushing a dog’s teeth, or think that it’s a little silly. Brushing is a very good way to help keep plaque at bay, and can save you big money at the vet as a result. (Nothing’s silly about that). And it’s not that hard! Luckily doggie toothpaste is yummy and makes the job easier.

Some Tips:

* A puppy’s mouth is changing rapidly, and vigorous brushing is not recommended, but now is the time to get them used to the routine and getting them used to you investigating their mouths and and touching and rubbing their teeth and gums. First, get them used to you opening and looking at their whole mouth. This will be very valuable to you later in life, where noticing changes in the color of the gums, or noticing a new spot that has developed could be the key to catching a developing condition. Perhaps each night when you brush your teeth, you call the puppy in for an inspection of the mouth and then reward them with a little treat. This will help you to set up a routine with them for brushing later.

* For any dog, to get them used to brushing, start with letting them have a lick of the toothpaste. It’s important not to use human toothpastes, as those are designed not to be swallowed (dogs won’t spit). They come in yummy flavors like chicken, peanut butter, and vanilla to help you make the experience positive for them. Once they’re loving the taste, you can simply rub your finger with toothpaste over their gum line on the outside (most plaque builds up in the back on the outsides of teeth). Once they’re OK with this, wrap a piece of gauze around your finger and rub the teeth along the gum line – even this will help to remove food particles and starches that adhere to the teeth. As the dog gets older you can move on to finger toothbrushes and then when adult teeth are in place, a doggie toothbrush will do the best job.

* A few customers have told us that brushing the dog’s teeth at the same time of day that you brush yours helps them to keep a routine – brushing for everyone!

Tips for brushing your cat’s teeth:

It can be done! If you have a kitten, we’d recommend following the steps for puppies outlined above. Take it slowly and do not force them into anything. Reward it well, and you might just be able to do more than you think. Check out this great post by Dr. Karen Becker, DVM on how to brush a cat’s teeth. Note: some cats who won’t allow brushing (like our Otis) might very well be willing to just bite down on the bristles of a toothbrush with kitty toothpaste pushed into the bristles. We let Otis chew on the brush facing up, and then facing down.


Plaque Off – We like supplements like Plaque Off which use a species of kelp that has been proven with clinical trials to reduce plaque in the mouth. When ingested each day, it changes the saliva a little bit to make food less likely to adhere to teeth (it interrupts the biofilm). Within 2 weeks we see better breath and within 6-8 weeks we often see noticeable changes in the amount of visible plaque on the teeth. They have a human version as well, which Mike and I both use – we definitely had measurable results at the dentist after 6 months of being on it. It’s pretty economical as well, the smaller 60g size sells at our store for $23.99, and lasts a cat or small dog over a year. The only animals (or people) that shouldn’t be on it have hyperthyroid disease, as kelp naturally contains some iodine, which can stimulate the thyroid. If it’s already over stimulated, it’s not advised to eat foods high in iodine. Otherwise, sea vegetables have nice nutritional benefits for healthy animals and people.

Petzlife – a gel or spray that can be applied topically to reduce tartar build-up. We think it works but haven’t had too much luck with palatability, as they’re all pretty minty, but they’re worth trying.

DentaTreat from Wysong – a cheesy powder that pets generally looove the taste of has lots of digestive enzymes and probiotics that help with bacteria in the mouth, and apparently some cheeses have unique properties that help to prevent tooth decay. Check out the link at the bottom of that page that says “product monographs” for an excellent description of how diets and tooth decay are intertwined, as well as a good description of each component of DentaTreat. Makes a good food topper for picky animals and makes a really nice “toothpaste” – dip your brush into the powder and use it to brush the teeth. Yummy!

Remember, visiting the vet for preventative care, including occasional dentals to check for damage and clean below the gum line are important, but if the dog’s nutrition is solid, they’re chewing a lot, and their teeth are getting brushed, you can avoid a lot of extractions and the expense of frequent surgical cleanings and treatments. And it’s not that hard!

Thundershirts Can Be an Amazing Tool to Help Fearful Dogs

by Green Dog Pet Supply


I was busy writing a blog posting on July 4th tips, but I felt like the section I was writing about Thundershirts deserves its own post, as we’ve been so very happy with the results we’ve seen with this product. Though they don’t help every dog, the number of great stories we hear from customers about how well they work on dogs with anxiety issues is very impressive. It’s a sort of jacket that is wrapped snugly around a pet and secures with velcro, and it has amazing calming effects on many anxious animals. (more…)

What the Heck is Target Training?

A Tapir learns to touch a target in a zoo

A Tapir learns to touch a target in a zoo

By Green Dog Pet Supply

We just brought in some nifty extendable target training sticks to the store, and so I thought I should write up a description of what it’s used for, as targeting is such a fun and really easy activity to do with your pets, no matter what species – I’ve even taught a fish to target. No, seriously! This isn’t an indication of what a good trainer I am, it’s just an illustration of how easy it is to teach and learn. (In fact, I have to laugh as I just Googled “Target Training a Fish” and came up with lots of results! Here’s one).

To ask an animal to target, you are asking the animal to deliberately touch an object, and you are marking the moment with a sound (like a click from a training clicker). The animal knows this sound means that a treat is coming their way, and allows them to pinpoint the exact thing the trainer wants them to do to earn that treat.  This clever concept was created by dolphin trainers. Dolphins are very smart,  but slippery. Trainers couldn’t possibly have used traditional methods of training that required physical domination of the animals (like cowboys did with horses, or dog trainers did with leashes and choke collars) – it just isn’t possible. With a whistle and a bucket of fish, dolphins participated voluntarily in their own training (and if they weren’t having fun they could easily swim away).

<! — more — >Picture this: a dolphin trainer wants the dolphin to jump out of the water and touch a ball that is suspended way up high. First, the trainer might toss the ball onto the water and wait until the dolphin investigates it. The trainer is watching for the moment the dolphin touches the ball with its nose, and they mark that moment exactly with a whistle. This noise means a piece of fish, which the dolphin happily goes to collect from the trainer. When the dolphin happens to touch the ball again and hears that whistle, it starts to become quite clear to the dolphindolphin that she can touch that ball on purpose to make that trainer give her another fish.  Now that the intent is clear that the behavior is to touch the ball with her nose, the trainer can introduce a hand signal or word right before she touches it, which becomes the command. The trainer might suspend the ball from a rope right at water level, and ask for and reward touches to the ball.  Then the ball can be raised a little at a time and the dolphin must now stretch to reach it, and then jump to reach it, etc. Targeting can also be used to teach her to touch other parts of he body to objects or even trainer’s hand, allowing the trainer to perhaps shake a flipper (first a “trick”) and then this trick is used to slowly shape a far more difficult behavior, like allowing a vet to take blood from a vein on that flipper – all with voluntary participation from that dolphin. It removes the fear of that procedure as it’s taught gradually, and is certainly easier and less risky for everyone involved than corralling that dolphin and herding her into some sort of restraint device that would enable them to get that blood sample forcefully, and good luck getting that done a second time! With positive reinforcement training, it became possible for trainers to get voluntary participation from the dolphins for complex behaviors.

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When I first became a zookeeper, very little training was done in the zoo setting. I was lucky to be a part of some of the early pioneering – zookeepers who realized that these same things might be possible, that training could enable keepers make animals easier to manage, more easily moving from exhibits to holding areas, for example, and even to participate in their own medical care.  At Zoo Atlanta, we had heard about the amazing things that were being done with orangutans at the Brookfield Zoo. These orangutans had some sort of need for injections (perhaps diabetes? I can’t quite remember right now, which shocks me, but anyhow…). They brought in marine mammal trainers, and worked with them to set up a program to shape behaviors like approaching the mesh and hanging onto it, letting their forearms be touched, and then touched and held for a period of time, then touching the arm with an empty barrel of a syringe, then building up to little injections of sterile water. Before this time, an orangutan might have had to to be darted, or made to enter a small “squeeze cage” that would hold them in a position that would enable a vet to poke them with a needle. Stressful, and certainly not practical for something that needed to be done every day.  As soon as we heard about this, we orangutan keepers at Zoo Atlanta jumped on this idea. Of course! We could do this too! We had to battle some pretty hard preconceptions against training (we appeared to be having a good time and “playing” with our animals instead spending our time doing more scrubbing and sweeping) but as we were able to ask the orangutans to open their mouths on command so we could see their teeth, and able to take their temperature with an ear thermometer, trim toenails easily, and even to convince the vets to allow us to give them their flu shots ourselves – no muss, no fuss, no fear – we started to get people to pay attention. We set up a training committee for keepers from all areas of the zoo to come and share ideas for how positive reinforcement training could be used and work together to achieve it – otters or lemurs could easily be taught to jump into a crate and moved to another exhibit – no nets, no gloves, no risk, no stress. Just fish for the otters or bananas for the lemurs and a little bit of time and everything becomes easier! Giraffe keepers were moving them easily through a narrow hallway that they had previously been frightened of using, which happened to be the only way out onto exhibit. The rhinos were already comfortable with being touched on their heads and hand fed, but were soon able to be positioned easily to present different areas of their body to be inspected and touched, leading to keepers being able to file their toenails or even treat and bandage a serious tail wound that the keepers and vets would never have had access to otherwise. They avoided a likely tail amputation by way of a risky immobilization and were instead easily able to ask Rosie the rhino to present her tail to the vet techs and keepers at the bars of her holding area and stay still for daily cleaning and bandaging of the tail, all for the price of a few pieces of fruit.  The animals really benefited from the enriching mental stimulation, and reduction of stress in their lives, as did the vets and the keepers. With every species, this sort of training almost universally started with target training. Each species had a target that suited the situation – the orangutans started with a wooden paint stir stick and moved to clips we could move around and clip to  the wire mesh of their holding area caging. The giraffes had a long pole with a plastic ball on the end (with keepers on ladders) , and for the rhinos whose sight wasn’t their strongest point, and were a bit frightened of sticks or poles, we made a flat, square target with a handle on the back for the keeper to hold and bright yellow and black diagonal lines painted on the front for visibility. (Look at this link to see lots of zoo animals across the country learning to target – it makes my heart swell to think about that change we envisioned becoming mainstream for keepers now, developing their positive relationships, enriching the animals’ lives, reducing potential sources of stress, and reducing the need for immobilizations. Keepers are drawing blood from veins, using ultrasound to check for heart disease or monitoring a pregnancy, etc. It’s a beautiful thing)

For dogs and cats, any household item can be used – the eraser end of a pencil, a wooden spoon, or even your hand. The clicker can be “loaded” – a trainer term that means you click the clicker and give them a treat, several times until you start to see them understand that the noise means treat, and that it is a good noise. If they happen to know a few behaviors, like sit, you can ask for a sit and mark the moment their butt touches the floor with a click, following it with a treat.  Then present your hand or your target object right to them and see if they’ll investigate it. If they touch dogtargetit with their nose (or whatever you’d like them to touch things with, like their paw. The nose is generally an easy place to start though), try to click the clicker at exactly the moment their nose touches the object, and give a treat. Do that a few times, and then do the same thing but stop an inch or two short of where you had it before, so that they have to move towards it slightly to touch it. You should, in a short time (short for a dog, probably longer for a fish) you’ll see what we like to call the AHA! moment where they tentatively stretch towards it – you’ll click and treat and next they’ll really seem to “get it” and touch the target with more intention. Yippee! Now you can start adding a word like “touch” as you present the target, and since they already know what you want when you present it, they’ll quickly come to associate that word with the behavior. Congratulations! You have now trained a new behavior and put it on command! Now see if they’ll move towards the target in another way, to the left or to the right,  eventually being able to walk towards a target to touch it. I wanted to show you just how easy this is by teaching my cat Otis to target and filming it for you. I’m using a clicker, holding the treats in the palm of my clicker hand and using the handle of a wooden spoon as my target. I don’t use the word touch until I see him “getting it”. I keep my session short so as to keep his interest, I use good treats he’s willing to work for, and I end on a good note. When I was really impressed with one of his touches, I gave him two treats. Notice: the first nose touch was just because I showed him something new – essentially an accident. Then he doesn’t know what we’re doing but knows it’s something good, so he weaves around happily, and because he’s a cat and he’s happy, the next thing he does is rub his face on the spoon handle, which I catch with a click at the moment he first makes contact. The 4th click is that tentative try with intention. Now we’re in business.

So what now? Dogs can take this sort of behavior to really great levels. Perhaps start teaching your dog to touch a yogurt lid with her foot. Then the lid can be moved gradually farther away – what fun indoor exercise to run to the lid, touch it with her foot, hear the click and run back to you! The cat can hop up onto other surfaces to follow the target to touch it – up to the couch and onto his cat tree and up to the mantle and back down to the couch and then to the floor. Exercise in disguise of fun tricks! Teach your pet to target a variety of objects and use it as a way to name them: “Touch ball” “Touch Frisbee” – make your dog have to think about which one you’re asking for once they’ve learned two of them. How many can she distinguish over time? They can learn to touch a colored sticker, and you can stick that to places in the house – a sticker on a drawer that’s slightly open has a dog targeting and learning to close the drawer, or the fridge, or turn on a light, etc.Targeting is a great way to teach “Heal” as they have to be behind the target for it to work! Lots of tricks are possible, and there might even be a few that are useful to you. Just remember, whether a behavior is “useful” or not is irrelevant – the points are to challenge an animal’s mind, create fun, build your relationship, and make you a better trainer by teaching you to have good timing (clicking at the right moment) and watching for ideal moments where you can catch the behavior, or even a very small version of that behavior over time. Target training can be a great confidence builder in a shy dog, and can even face their fears by slowly targeting closer and closer to something that makes them uncomfortable. There are oodles of links out there about clicker and target training. Here’s a good video I stumbled upon that shows someone teaching a trick (“Bow”) using only the clicker and the target. They happen to be using the cool new extendable target stick we’ve brought in to the store. This video is interesting to watch, as the leaving the butt in the air while bending only the elbows is “shaped” by clicking right at the very first moment the elbows touch, which technically happened before the butt sunk to the floor for a “down” type behavior. By concentrating on that specific moment, the dog is able to really hone in on the fact that that’s really what the trainer is after, and sinking down in the back end is irrelevant to the trick.

There’s lots of good info on this site about the process as well.

No matter what your pet is, if it has a spinal chord, it can be trained using these methods. (For you local folks, ask Doug Duncan at Doggie Business about his visit to “chicken camp”  where new dog trainers have to clicker train a chicken as part of their animal training lessons.) What a fun thing to try with your dog, and how useful when it’s nasty weather outside, or when your dog needs surgery and has to stay on bed rest – they can still be learning and challenged and having a good time, right from their bed.  Keep it short, keep it fun, and if they seem frustrated, ask for something easier and end on that high note. Then think of possible smaller steps you can take towards your goal, so that they are more easily understanding what it is you’re going for. Now you’re a trainer.

Birds need stimulation – why not try training?

cortezMost of my posts are about cats and dogs of course, as that is our primary focus at Green Dog. But I know some of you have birds out there, and today I ran across a few videos about bird training that seemed to really have value – I thought I’d pass along a few to you. (and anyone that enjoys training any species at all can learn from these videos, as the concepts of positive reinforcement training are remarkably similar between species. I’ve trained a lot of animals, from orangutans to rhinos using these exact same techniques, and they work like a dream on dogs and even cats).

Though I wouldn’t personally choose to own a parrot, my work with parrots in the wildlife show/education dept at Zoo Atlanta taught me so much about the value and the mechanics of positive reinforcement training, and it made me respect the intelligence of parrots and especially their great need for mental stimulation.  Parrots don’t do very well with down time – they’ve evolved to live in very complex environments, and their diet is incredibly varied, seasonally fluctuating, spread out over great distances. Not only that, but items in their diet are often difficult to process once they find them (hard shells, fruits with varying rinds and spiny protections, seeds embedded in plants, etc). Sitting around and eating chopped foods out of a bowl is certainly not how parrots are wired, and many difficult behavioral problems are born out of this sort of boredom. At the zoo we used enrichment techniques to introduce variety in their lives when they had down time in their cages, but most importantly we utilized positive reinforcement training programs. This was not only to develop behaviors that would ultimately help us bring educational messages to the public about parrot conservation in the wild, but more importantly to challenge and stimulate the minds of the parrots in our care.

First a fun one: Here’s a video of someone who has taught their parrot a fantastic array of tricks using clicker training. I find the music a bit unfortunate and distracting, but the training is great. Even dog and cat trainers can use most of these tricks as inspirations for the types of behaviors you can train at home – pick up items and put them in specific places, position your body in unique ways, target objects, open and close doors,  even match colors (check out the one towards the end where the parrot has to put a ring on the post of the same color. I once met a trainer who had taught her dog to sort light and dark laundry into two different baskets):

Then the mechanics of it all. I stumbled upon this woman that seems to really have made some good basic videos that would help to get a person started.
First the dos:

and the don’ts:

Going to the You Tube link on the video will show you lots of great videos to get you started like this one on beginning target training. This is a great place to start, especially with a fearful animal or one that is hard to handle.

Training any animal is a perfect way to stimulate their minds and to develop a closer, more positive relationship with that animal. Animals with behavioral problems can truly be helped with positive reinforcement training, both indirectly by providing more stimulation, and directly by allowing you to address issues like handle-ability, food or object guarding, learning to choose calm behaviors over impulsive ones, etc.   If you want tips about clicker training, the internet is loaded with them, and we also have some great books at Green Dog that will help you get started.

Fun video with some great dog training

Check out this great dog show video. There are some fun ideas in here for new tricks you can train (I always love the weaving through peoples’ legs, or jumping through a hoop you make with your arms), or it’s just a fun thing to watch!

Beautiful Canine Freestyle

Check out this beautiful Canine Freestyle video. For you horse people, you’ll recognize a lot of dressage moves – amazing that she could convey those to the dog – some fabulous training in action and really nice to watch

Dominance-based Training Leads to Aggression

do-not-want-dog.jpgAs a trainer and a retail pet supply store owner, I’m often in a situation where I can help someone through a problem. There are other times, however, where I see someone doing something so terribly wrong, so injurious to a dog’s behavior, and the person can’t seem to hear me when I try and guide them towards a new way. This is ultimately stressful to me, as I can see how much potential there is to fix a problem, and yet I can also see that this dog is doomed to have the problem worsen quickly. The culprit is always punishment of behaviors that are fear based. Take for example a man who came in the other day with his new dog. This little black fluffy dog had been kept in someone’s house for about 3 years, only venturing out to the back yard for potty, and now was hitting the streets for the first time. He was understandably a bit nervous, but was doing remarkably well, in my opinion. Mike and Julie had both offered him a little treat now and then while they were shopping and he was warming up quickly to both of them. I felt happy thinking that with a little encouragement he’d do pretty well after all. While the new owner was ringing up his purchases and not watching the dog, the customer behind them reached out to pet the dog, and the dog snarled and snapped at her. The owner swung around, grabbed the dog by the face, shaking him and berating him for his behavior. I swooped in and quickly suggested that we try a little something – I got down low and offered a treat to him, and his body relaxed a bit, he took it, and within moments he was approaching me and even had put his front feet up on my leg. “see that?” I said, “he’s just really inexperienced at meeting strangers – a little treat goes a long way when he’s frightened, and tells him that it’s OK to approach”. I gave the woman who had been snapped at a few treats, and had her throw one in front of him, then when he ate it, hold another out to him. Within moments the person that had been scary to him a minute ago now seemed pretty OK in his eyes. Then the owner says to her, “if I hold him still and turn him around, will you pet him?” and proceeds to restrain the dog and force him to be handled by the woman that was trying to befriend him, and he was becoming super agitated at the dog for not complying. I cut that right off, and tried so hard to point out (in the friendliest possible way) that if the dog is forced to be in a situation that he feels frightened by, then punished on top if it, that he’s going to think it’s a terrible thing to meet new people. He wasn’t asking my advice, but I sure was trying to offer it to him, as there was still time for this dog to come around. This was one of the very first places he’d ever been. I didn’t have time to explain the power of classical conditioning to help dogs, but I tried hard to tell him that he wasn’t being bad, he was just frightened. He managed to leave with treats in his hand, but we saw him right outside the store, jerking then grabbing, shaking, and chastising the dog as he barked at a group of people walking by. This to me is tragic. Will I see them again? If I do, will the defensive aggression he displayed have spiraled out of control, making the owner give up the dog, or just keep him at home like the last owner (that he saved him from)? Positive trainers everywhere are trying so hard to undo the damage of myths such as all bad behavior is linked to dogs needing to dominate those around them (based on a few small studies of unrelated groups of wolves in captive situations, who behave very differently in their natural social system), that you can just make a dog behave by insisting on it (whether the dog understands what is expected of him or not), and simply punishing out behaviors you don’t like, regardless of the reasons for those behaviors. This is very detrimental to dogs like the one above who just feel fear of the unknown and are trying to keep things that frighten him at a reasonable distance. If that dog felt more comfortable meeting new people, he would soon have no reason at all to bark at them and that “bad” behavior would go away. Punishing the barking/growling is like cutting the rattle off a snake – if he’s punished into suppressing those behaviors, he may be quiet but still feel incredibly uncomfortable with strangers approaching him. When someone comes along that does something he feels is terrifying, like reaching quickly for him, or grabbing his face from both sides and putting their face right up to his (“what a cute puppy! I just want to kiss you!) he may very well bite. How many times have you heard someone say “he bit with no warning at all!!” hmm – I’ll just bet it was a dog just like this one.  Oh yeah – the reason for my post:

Here’s an interesting article highlighting a survey that illustrates the correlation between using aversive, punishment based “training” is more likely to illicit additional aggressive behaviors:


Here’s another good site I just stumbled upon:


If you’re looking for a trainer, try looking for one who has an affiliation with APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) or the certification “CPDT” after their names (certified pet dog trainer), whose program is based on humane training techniques.

If you’re in Portland, I’ve got a nice long list of good trainers for you. Check out this one:

http://www.doggybusiness.net/ His first blog posting is on this very subject.

Fireworks — Fun for some people, but a nightmare for some dogs and their owners.


We couldn’t believe it when we moved to Portland and saw/heard how many fireworks go off here on the 4th of July. We’ve never lived anywhere with legal fireworks, and had no idea that it would be such a constant barrage of explosions for hours on end. This can be a very frightening thing for pets in our homes who can’t possibly understand what is happening, and can drive some dogs into a panic. I thought I’d put together some tips for how to get ready and how to deal with the 4th when it comes.

If this is your first 4th of July with your new puppy, this is your chance to set the tone for the future. This exercise can also help older dogs that are already frightened of fireworks noises. <! — more — >

       In the next week, try to desensitize the noise of random fireworks and turn them into a signal that something great is going to happen for the dog. People are always impatient for the 4th to come, and they end up setting a few off ahead of time. These can be very useful opportunities for you to work on getting your puppy happy with the noises instead of being frightened. First, get some sort of outrageous treat ready — something that will really blow your dog’s mind that he doesn’t usually get. Hotdog slices come to mind, or pieces of real meat. Cut them up and put them in a Tupperware in the front of the fridge, ready to grab. Any time you hear a bang outside, start your “puppy party”. React like something really exciting and fabulous has happened — “Lucky lucky puppy!! Oooh Boy!” Bounce your way to the fridge and grab your goodies. Sounds silly, but if you’re lucky enough to get some repetitions, your dog will soon associate the sound of the fireworks with an opportunity for a hotdog puppy party, instead of making up his own interpretation of what this big noise could possibly mean. Dogs are incredibly good at associations, and this sort of classical conditioning works well with anything that a dog has previously found unnerving. They will quickly come to associate a noise (even a scary one) with big fun if that’s what you seem to be saying it means. An industrious puppy owner could even come up with ways of getting some more repetitions under their belt in ways they can control and predict. Maybe you can get a hold of some fireworks and enlist the help of a friend or family member to set them off when you’re ready. Cell phones make this an easier exercise. Maybe they start from a block away and set one off — just a little pop. “Lucky puppy”! It makes you happily jump up from the couch and get him a hotdog. Then you settle down again. When you’re ready, maybe a few more pops, and a few more hotdog slices and maybe a little game of tug, or a new toy. Then your helper moves closer. Just a few repetitions a night can lead to some good associations for your dog. If your dog has an extreme case of fireworks phobia, consider occasionally working on this exercise throughout the coming year, and next year will be easy sailing for your dog. You might also be able to find a fireworks noises tape or CD, or maybe even a DVD (I found one online by Nova called “Discover the Explosive History of Fireworks”) In the cases of extreme fear, you want to start as small as possible — very low volume on the DVD, or just those little snaps you throw on the ground (someone can pop them outside in the yard for you, then build up to bigger bangs later). The key is to wait to increase the intensity until you get a good response at the level you’re at. It may seem like a pain, but it’s so worth it in the end to help spare them from such a stressful experience. You can also use this “Lucky Puppy!” response to help work on other noises for the noise sensitive dog. The other reason this works is that dogs play off of your energy. You might be inadvertently reinforcing the trembling terrors by cuddling a trembling dog, whereas if you appear to think a noise is OK, or even fun, they might believe you (especially a puppy).

        – Next, consider picking up a product to help ease the fear of a nervous dog. Homeopet makes an Anxiety Blend which is specific to fears about noise called TFLN (Thunder, Fireworks, Loud Noises). Homeopathy is extremely safe and can be given safely even in conjunction with other medications, so it might be worth trying. Other options include an herbal blend by Animals Apawthecary called Tranquility Blend to relax an animal, and Ark Naturals makes an herbal blend called Happy Traveler that might help to take the edge off. (We carry all three in the store, if you’re in the neighborhood).

         – On the day, make sure that you exercise your dog really well. A tired dog is much less likely to be stressed about the noises. Keep your dog inside, as more dogs are lost on this night than almost any other trying to flee from the noise. If you’re not going to be home, find a secure place in the house and draw the blinds (if your dog is crate trained, this would be a perfect time to use it).

        – Some folks have told us that drowning out the noises sometimes helps. One woman said she puts her dog in the laundry room with a meaty bone or a stuffed Kong and puts sneakers in the dryer, and it works well for her dog. You’d have to decide though whether that would add stress to your noise sensitive dog, or whether it might help. Of course it depends on your dog. Perhaps more “normal” noises like the TV or radio would work better for some.

        – Other people have had good luck with the T-Touch method of wrapping a dog in fabric to give it a greater sense of security. The easiest way to try this is to get a tight t-shirt, put it on the dog and tie the bottom in a knot to keep it snug around the dog’s body. (If it smells like you, even better.)

        Most importantly, don’t ever bring a dog with you to a fireworks display. Not only are they very crowded, but they are far too loud for your dog’s sensitive ears. While there are some dogs out there who might take an experience like a fireworks display in stride, it would be far too easy to traumatize a dog with this very extreme evening of smells, giant explosions overhead, the feeling of rumbling in the ground, and earsplitting noise. Once you’re packed into a crowd, it’s hard to make a quick exit if your dog isn’t handling the situation well, and the damage might already be done. Perhaps you could spend the puppy’s first 4th of July at home with him and make it a fun evening for him, so that future fireworks aren’t as scary.

Have any fireworks tips for others, or product recommendations? Please feel free to post a comment here and share your idea with others!