Dominance-based Training Leads to Aggression

Photo Licensed by Adobe Stock Photos

As 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 very often the 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 through fearfulness, 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? 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 might not growl or bark due to previous punishment, but may very well might reach a threshold where he feels terrified enough to defend himself and 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. He would be too frightened to growl to let you know he was reaching his threshold for what he absolutely can’t handle, because he knows growling gets him into even deeper trouble.
The dog in the photo above is a perfect example of a dog at risk of biting. She’s clearly trying hard not to lash out, but feeling extremely uncomfortable and frightened by all of the hands surrounding her. She’s displaying many textbook behaviors that say, “I’m really frightened by this”. The whites of her eyeballs are showing. She’s hunkering way down, trying to avoid the touching that frightens her so much. He ears are back, her mouth is very tense. These signs are all being missed by the kids surrounding her and whoever was taking the photo, and if she did bite, she would be blamed, even though she actually held out for some time and then perhaps felt she had no choice but to defend herself.

This is one of the very hardest things about my job.

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:

NOTE: Here’s an even better article than this blog post that I wrote later, with specific suggestions for how to help a frightened reactive dog:
To Treat Or Not To Treat?  (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part 2 : Choose Your Methods of Training Carefully, especially with Reactive/Fearful Dogs.

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:

Pit Bulls in the News


Photo by Julie Shearer, Property of Green Dog Pet Supply

Lately we’ve had a surge in sensational stories about pit bulls on the news. It’s a terrible shame, as * any * poorly socialized dog has the potential to be dangerous. Many bites from many breeds of dogs go unreported, and very few make the news. Pit Bulls almost always make the news, giving the mistaken impression that they bite more frequently that other dogs. This is false.
Here are some snippets I’ve found in the past few days:<! — more — >
Along time trainer and expert in Canadian dog bite statistics, Marjorie Darby, points out that “In Ontario, a pit bull killed another dog, and it was front-page news, that reappeared in the media for weeks. The owner was swiftly taken to jail. Around the same time, two Labs killed another dog, and attacked a pit bull without any real media interest. The owner of the Labs was not charged with any serious offense. There are other blatant incidents, as well. One weekend, two off-leash dogs (one of them being a pit bull) got into a squabble, and every major media agency reported the incident. That same weekend, a child was mauled by the family’s Golden Retriever, and not one media outlet covered the story.”

The truth is that Breed Specific Legislation is simply not a practical solution to curbing dog aggression. To quote Ms Darby again: “No matter what dog breed’ tops the dog bite statistics, the vast majority of bites are still attributed to other breeds.” Clearly, banning a single type of dog (instead of creating policies that enforce responsible ownership of any dog) would be ineffective at curbing the majority of dog aggression.
Breed Specific Legislation is also very unfair to the thousands of well socialized dogs belonging to responsible owners. “In the U.S., even extremely conservative estimates suggest that only 0.00002% of the pit bull population has killed. This is much lower than in the human population (men, in particular). Whatever someone’s views about pit bulls’ might be, it can’t change the fact that at least 99.99998% have never, and will never, kill anyone.”

Time and time again studies have shown that there is not a correlation between breed type and aggression. Take for example an excellent five year study which was published in the Cincinnati Law Review in 1982, vol. 53, which specifically considered both Rottweilers and “Pit Bulls” and concluded in part that: “The statistics did not support the assertion that any one breed was dangerous.
When legislation is focused on the type of dog it fails because it is unenforceable, confusing, and costly.
Focusing legislation on dogs that are “vicious” distracts attention from the real problem, which is irresponsible dog ownership.”

I could go on and on, but our wonderful employee, Julie says it best. Please read her beautiful letter in response to a call for Breed Specific Legislation in today’s Oregonian Opinions section:

Did you know that in the month of October, 2008 alone:

-A 2 year old girl suffered a bite to the face by a golden retriever/lab mix?
-A policeman was taken to the hospital after being bitten on the hand and arm by a police canine?
-A dachshund was viciously attacked and killed by a police canine?

These are only a few of the dog-related incidents that you probably heard nothing about. One major reason?

The dogs weren’t pit bulls.

Unfortunately for the dogs that were once America’s favorite breed, the media is playing a major role in fueling the public’s fear of pit bulls. Stories of pit bull attacks are sensational, and sensational stories sell. Often a dog attack that involves a dog that simply looks like a pit bull, or a dog that is a mix of a pit bull, is reported as a “pit bull attack”. This not only skews statistics on dog bites, but creates an obscenely biased view of the breed in the public’s eye. What the media fails to consider is that explicitly covering pit bull related incidents only makes it harder for responsible, caring people to own this loyal breed, while simultaneously making it even more attractive for irresponsible people to use and abuse this notably powerful dog.

That said, pit bulls are certainly a powerful breed. They are known for their excellence in weight pulling and their sleek muscular bodies. Yet pit bulls are obviously not the only powerful breed of dog, nor are they anywhere near as big or strong as some. While German Shepard Dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers, for example, are all quite similar in size and strength to the “pit bull type dog”, dogs such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, St. Bernards, and Bernese Mountain dogs dwarf pit bulls. Thanks to the media, you typically won’t hear about it if these dogs attack, but the damage is no less. And, for the record, there is nothing about a pit bull’s jaws that differs from the jaws of other dogs. Period.

One of the major factors influencing the number of dog bites per breed is the popularity of that breed at that time. Clearly, pit bull terriers are a popular breed, and, sadly, they are often popular with people who want dogs for the wrong reasons. In the seventies, the breed of choice for irresponsible dog owners was the Doberman Pinscher. In the eighties, it was the German Shepard Dog. Now, sadly, the breed of dog that was America’s first dog to be decorated a war hero has taken the hit as the target for the most horrifying dog abuse and neglect in our country.

What good will it do to ban pit bulls? People who want guard dogs will not simply give up the idea of having dogs as protection. Another breed will become the choice for abuse, and the aggression will continue. Breed bans worldwide are being overturned because they have proven to be ineffective. The best way to control canine aggression is by assessing dogs as individuals, and by forcing the owners of aggressive dogs to safely control their dogs. Stricter laws for aggressive dogs of any breed and their owners make sense. Banning a dog based solely on its breed does not.

If dogs are supposed to be our best friends, then we must be theirs. Proper, positive training and thorough socialization are necessary for all dogs, regardless of their breed. It is past time for people to educate themselves about responsibly sharing our lives with dogs and demanding that all dogs are treated with kindness and respect. Blaming a breed of dog is doing neither of us any favors.

Make your own pet bed

Times are tough and beds can be expensive. I found a couple of cute links for making pet beds out of things you might have lying around the house. Save money and recycle household items that might otherwise be landfilled.

Photo from video featured

An old suitcase can become an adorable bed

Check out this link for how to make a cat bed out of an old sweater.

Clever design for a comfy bed with great sewing instructions here

Here’s a nifty You Tube video about how to make a simple pillow out of jeans legs


Check out the Fremont Fest Pet Parade!


Photo property of Green Dog Pet Supply

What fun we had this year at the 4th annual Fremont Fest Pet Parade! More than 40 dogs attended, many of whom were in costume. The Fremont Fest Parade is made up of a firetruck, a few hundred kids on decorated bikes, some old cars, and of course the Green Dog Pet Parade! Another treat was that one of our customers organized a whole group of people with Boston Terriers into a drill team – matching outfits (human and dog) and worked out a little routine that they performed a number of times along the way.

A tip on getting your cats to drink more water

Photo licensed from Adobe

Cats often do not drink enough water to stay as hydrated as they should be. This is because cats in the wild would get a lot of moisture from eating raw prey, but cats who are fed dry kibble are not getting that valuable hydration from their food. Cats don’t generally have a strong thirst drive, as they have evolved to get the moisture they need from the prey that they eat. A mouse’s composition is close to 80% moisture. A tiger’s meal consists of meat, bone, organs and moisture. If they encounter a stream, they might have a drink, but they don’t have to seek out a water source to get the moisture they need to survive. A house cat is built the same way as a tiger, with a body that’s built to eat a meal of meat, bones, organs and moisture. (Please see the blog entry about the value of feeding raw food, especially to cats) Kidneys are organs that are especially vulnerable to disease in cats, and they need that extra hydration to help their kidneys  and their urinary tracts to be healthy, especially as they age. Canned food can actually go a long way towards helping them stay hydrated, especially if you add a few teaspoons of warm water to soup it up (kitties often like “gravy” like this, (bone briths can be useful for this as well) and the warmth helps to make wet food that’s coming out of the fridge seem fresher). However, it would be good to get them to drink more on their own. Many cats like to drink from faucets. I know there are many folks out there that leave a little water running in the bathroom, just for the cats to drink. This is of course could be very wasteful. For those cats, please consider a drinking fountain for pets that recirculates and filters the water.

Another nifty tip is one that we stumbled upon entirely by accident. One day Mike was drinking water from a glass down in our basement TV room, and Zoe kitty suddenly was very interested in what was in the glass. So, he showed it to her and she clearly wanted some – he put it down on the floor for her to check out. She drank about half the glass. We ended up refilling it and leaving it on the floor in the basement where it was, and every day she drank quite a bit from that glass. I had been trying to get her to drink more (she was about 20 years old, so I wanted her to drink), and though I thought it was silly, I figured “whatever works!” When she passed and Otis came to us, we set him up with a drinking glass on his favorite mantle, and it worked like a charm.
We have found that all cats tend to drink better if you move their water glass away from their food.  We believe that cats might drink better from glass or ceramic bowls than from metal, though our cats eat well from stainless bowls. Please note that plastic can sometimes be the source of skin irritation for cats around the mouth.  I have water bowls downstairs and upstairs and one in the bathroom, as well as one next to the food bowl

If you’re looking to get your cats to drink more, get a glass or ceramic bowl and put it in another area of the house than where the food bowls are, and let me know if you find that this works for your cats as well. Have any other tips for getting your cat (or dog) to drink more? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Perhaps a Little Activism on Earth Day??


Photo property Green Dog Pet Supply

I just took a flight out to the east coast to visit friends and my folks. I was fairly shocked to realize that none of the 3 airlines I was on recycled their aluminum cans. It may seem like a little thing to worry about, but according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 780 million people took a flight in 2007. In looking around the plane, it seemed that about 75% of passengers used an aluminum can. When they come around to collect trash, it would be super easy to have two bags instead of one. The end result would be the same volume of refuse, but the can bags could be easily sent to recycling. The key to this equation, I believe, is that the airlines could be making money from this practice. I know that there are plenty of recycling companies that buy aluminum in large quantities, and will even pick them up. In these days of collapsing airlines due to financial constraints, wouldn’t it just make sense to be looking for ways to stretch their dollar? Couldn’t they also be using this practice as a PR move, showing us they’re getting in on the Green movement?<! — more — >

So, during this Earth Day week, perhaps we can get involved in a little green activism by writing to a few of the airlines and telling them they should come out of the dark ages and get with the program. Recycling aluminum cans seems basic, easy and money-making. Let them know!!

E-mail Delta

E-mail United

Write to Southwest
Southwest Airlines
P.O. Box 36647 – 1CR
Dallas, Texas 75235-1647

e-mail US Air

Fun Aluminum Facts:

Aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times

The energy you save by recycling one aluminum can could power your TV for 3 hours.

40 aluminum cans equals the amount of energy of 1 gallon of gas.

The energy saved by recycling one ton of aluminum is equal to about the amount of electricity your house uses in 10 years.

If each consumer recycled on more aluminum can per week this would equal about 15 billion cans.

Now’s your chance to fight fleas through the whole season without chemicals!

If you have pets that come in contact with your lawn, Beneficial Nematodes are an excellent weapon to use against fleas and their larvae. These Nematodes are microscopic and live below the soil surface. They like a moist environment, so our warm wet springs are a perfect time to apply them. As flea larvae emerge, they are eaten by hungry nematodes. Nematodes do not harm worms, birds, plants or the environment, in fact they are part of the environment and are found the world over

Beneficial Nematodes are sold live on sponges that can be stored under refrigeration for a week or two before use. A few gallons of water is used as a carrying agent. This concentrate can be applied through a pump sprayer or with the use of a watering can.<! — more — >
Nematodes are available at local nurseries – I spoke to the nice folks at Portland Nursery for tips about applying in our region. The best time to apply them to fight fleas here in the Northwest is when the soil temp is over 50 degrees. Applying in late April or early May would be the perfect time to expose the emerging flea larvae to their nematode predators. Nematodes need moisture to establish themselves, so watering the lawn well before application is useful, as well as watering them in after applying. One sponge has about 11 million beneficial nematodes, which will cover about 1000 sq ft., and costs about $14- $16 dollars. Soak the sponge in a bucket of water to activate the nematodes, then put a cup or so in a watering can and fill up the can with water. there’s no real formula – you want to make your bucket of nematodes spread evenly around the yard one watering can at a time. You can use a clean pump sprayer for this as well, but if any chemicals have been in the sprayer, they will affect the nematodes. They will thrive as long as there are larvae to eat, but when there is no more prey, they die out. Some people reapply a few times during flea season to make sure they’re covering their bases.

Are you still on the bottle??

Photo licensed by Adobe Stock photos

It’s beginning to be outrageous to me that people are drinking so much bottled water without realizing its tremendous environmental impact. Though the nutritionally aware part of me is glad that people are drinking water instead of soda, the sheer volume of bottled water consumed has created a product with enormous impact. Though many other beverages also travel a great distance to consumer, these beverages do not flow from your home faucet nearly for free.
Things to consider:

You’re paying a huge amount of money for something that may or may not be as good for you as your tap water (and up to 40% of bottled water is simply tap water, bottled). If you’re worried about quality, you can buy a great faucet filter for not much money- if you add up what you’re paying per gallon of bottled water in a year ($1-$2 per bottle, vs. .0015 cents per gallon of tap water), you might be surprised at the total – what else could you have purchased with that money?

I love this quote from this fantastic article from : “In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.”


Reduce the chemicals you use by using more vinegar

It’s amazing how much we as a society have come to rely on stronger and stronger chemicals to get our cleaning done, and how much the simple remedies have gotten lost over time. One of the very best cleaners around is simple vinegar mixed with water. Try it on your windows or your kitchen floor. So many pets are suffering from itchy, rashy hotspot-plagued skin issues. Many people automatically assume that food is to blame (of course poor quality fats and proteins can cause nasty skin issues), but we forget that the chemicals we use to clean our floors, carpets, clothing, etc can really add up for the pets that live in such close contact with these surfaces. Check out this link that lists some of the many household uses for vinegar. Here’s another one!
*Raw Apple Cider Vinegar has many many uses for pets, both inside and out. Here’s a great link that discusses the benefits for skin and coat especially, and for combating yeast.

Honest Kitchen Prevails in Lawsuit to Proclaim Human Grade Ingredients

force.jpgThis is excellent news for Honest Kitchen – one of our favorite pet foods. They are the only food manufacturer in the US to have proven to the FDA that every ingredient they use is suitable for human consumption – they are even made alongside other products that are for human use. They were not allowed to sell in Ohio, as the Ohio Dept of Agriculture wouldn’t allow them to print “human food grade” on the package. They took them to court and won, as the statement is true. they do not claim that the product is for humans, only that the ingredients are of such quality that it would be safe for humans to consume. It is of course formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats. Here’s the whole article (thanks to Itchmo for this link):

News for cats and dogs – Court Rules That The Honest Kitchen Can Describe Pet Food As Human Grade On Labels