Category Archives: trainer

Smell Like a Dog

Every few years someone comes up with something actually new for dogs. This particular idea has the added advantage of leaving no one out. Anyone can do it and any dog will enjoy it.

Agility and the related competitive events are for the athletes. Obedience for the compliant and dedicated. There are a few breed based fun, instinct driven sports: lure coursing, terrier hunting, dock diving, even flyball has its breed biases in competition. But this event is for every dog.

K9 Nose Work has taken detection dog skills to the masses and made it fun. The one thing all dogs can do is use their noses. It’s also one thing humans can’t coach or correct. It’s why we needed dogs in the first place. So on Saturday I attended an introductory session for dog trainers to spread the word and methods for encouraging dogs to do what they do best and their human partners to learn to trust their gift of scenting.

Using a few cardboard boxes and a couple of friends, this game promises to be a boon for trainers, handlers, owners and even shelter dogs. After an introduction and short demo, I was hooked. I’m home today getting boxes from the garage just to play along.

In a few short sessions your dog will be finding his favorite snack or toy in toss away boxes. No cost, nothing lost if you decide you don’t enjoy it. But you will! You can’t do it wrong and neither can your dog. Of course, not all dogs will be the next bomb sniffer from a few weeks of practice but if you want to show off your dog’s gift, there are actually competitive events arranged around the country. This could be the next big thing. Especially since dogs work alone. The doggie park bullies and scapegoats finally have a place to play. And no clickers, harnesses or other fancy dog training is required. All dogs have noses, it turns out. Look for classes to pop up in your area or ask your local dog club to consider this. Really a great idea.

Dominant Paradigm

Recently, I attended a talk by Dr. E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD, arranged and hosted by Your Dog’s Friend here in Maryland. Dr. Meyer is a veterinarian and specialist in Behavioral Medicine, and presented an excellent two-hour workshop, “Dominance in Dog Training: An Outdated and Dangerous Approach”.
Many widely-accepted ideas about dogs and dominance evolved from a study done several decades ago, in which captive, unrelated adult wolves worked out a strict hierarchy to manage sharing space and resources.

A typical wild wolf pack does not consists of a loose association of unrelated adults like a dog pack, wild or domestic, but a family unit, a pair of wolves, their cubs from last year and their cubs from this year.

Dogs do not live wild in their family units. They form loose associations around resource-rich areas, and maintain fluid relationships, much like roommates.

But let’s say for the purpose of discussion that wolf “language” (Wolf) is comprehensible to dogs, that if we behave as a wolf would, the dog will understand what we mean.

Maybe your average toy doodlepug really does still understand enough Wolf despite never having seen or lived like a wolf, and bearing little or no physical resemblance to one.

But our Wolf may not be so good, either.

I don’t think that word means what you think it means…

Let’s say your dog has a bone and growls when you approach. You’ve heard this is “dominant” behavior and you need to show the dog that you are boss. You’ve heard Wolf for “I’m the boss” is to grab the dog by the scruff of the neck and shake.

A wolf cub might very well growl when the alpha male (otherwise known as his dad) walks by. Alpha walks away (probably thinking something like “isn’t that cute”), likely not that interested in his little bone anyway. Generally, he would not choose the ‘grab and shake’ which actually means “I’m going to kill and eat you now”.

“I’m going to kill and eat you now” may tell the dog you’re crazy; but you wanted to say “I’m the boss”. Much like people, a dog can live with a crazy boss. But she probably won’t do her best work.

What’s more, even if you know the right way to say “I’m the boss”, you may be prompted to do so in response to behavior you were told was “dominant”, when in fact it means something else. Dr. Meyer reminded us that “dominance” describes relationship behavior. For that reason, one cannot describe a dog as behaving in a “dominant” way toward strangers or unfamiliar dogs, where no relationship yet exists. One might describe a dog as “assertive”, “aggressive” or “arrogant”, but that’s not the same thing. So if the behavior you were thinking was dominant was aggression toward other dogs, for example, and the dog is really saying “I’m afraid”, yanking a choke collar, yelling, and generally acting mean could be more than counter-productive; it could be dangerous.

Some behaviors often mistaken for “dominance”


Might mean:

You might try:

  • walking in front of you
  • rushing the door
  • leash-pulling
  • the dog is faster than you
  • really has to pee
  • you’re going somewhere cooler than here
  • training
  • practice
  • “no-pull” harness
  • growling over toys, food or space
  • dog’s got something good s/he wants to keep
  • train the dog to trade for something better
  • approach repeatedly and add food/treats
  • doesn’t obey commands
  • dogs live in the moment; current activity is better
  • doesn’t understand command
  • doesn’t know why s/he should listen to you
  • practice
  • patience
  • mounting
  • too much excitement
  • distraction
  • calming activity: lying down, crate, something to chew
  • exercise
  • aggression toward other dogs
  • fear
  • insecurity
  • resource guarding
  • social exposure
  • positive associations (eg, treat when strangers approach)
  • practice
  • uninvited tug of war
  • hand-grabbing
  • refusal to ‘drop it’
  • it’s fun
  • you have something the dog wants
  • doesn’t know what to do instead
  • good tug toys
  • teach ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’
  • teach them to do it right and stop when it’s over
  • sleeping on the bed
  • the bed is comfortable
  • make a decision and stick to it
  • begging
  • you have food that smells good
  • give them some
  • give different command (eg, go to ‘dinner place’)
  • trim his nails
  • demanding attention
  • the dog is bored and restless
  • doggie day care
  • more exercise
  • puzzle toys


Ask A Trainer

Convincing Your Parents You’re Ready for a Pet

Kids, here it is. The ultimate secret to getting the pony or kitten you’ve always wanted even though your mom said no.

First, do some online or library research on the pet you most want to have. You can present your parents with your research when you’re ready.
What do they need and how much does it cost?

Not to much
Not to much
A Lot
A Lot

Does your neighborhood have an Association that makes rules for the neighborhood? If you live in a subdivision with a name on a sign with some landscaping, there’s a good chance there’s an association. If there’s an association, there’s a good chance of rules. Including rules about pets.

no_pets_leashYou should be able to find this information online by googling the name of your neighborhood, city and state.

If your family rents the house you live in, your landlord may have rules about pets. If your family owns the house you live in, their insurance company may also have rules about what breeds of dog are covered (some people think certain breeds are more dangerous than others). Just ask what company they use (Allstate, State Farm). You can look up their policy limitations on line.


Volunteer at the shelter to find out about caring for dogs and cats, hamsters and rats, and even the occasional farm animal. Volunteering at the shelter will also help you and your family understand why adopting or finding a reputable breeder is so much better than buying from a pet store.
If that’s all good, ask your mom what you could do to prove that you are responsible enough to take care of a pet. Offer examples such as keeping the lawn mowed and mulched for 3 months or the dinner dishes washed and put away for one month. If you do it, maybe she’ll at least concede that you know how much work it is and you can do it – even if that still doesn’t mean yes.
You’ll also have to get real about the money.

Adoption Fee

$ 50- 300 (sometimes includes spay/neuter, shots)
Spay/neuter, shots

$ 0 – 600


$ 50 – 200 (some shots have to be repeated throughout the pet’s life)


$ ???? Kinda depends on the pet. Find out.


$ Dogs need crates and beds and sometimes kennels. Cats need litterboxes and cat trees. Horses?
Better find a good online calculator.


$ See above

Petsitting and boarding

$ Of course, you’re going to be responsible for your own pet, but what about when the whole family is away? Can your pet go along? If not, who will take care of it?

You can get this money by pet sitting for neighbors or working at a local stable, babysitting or washing cars. Ask for money from relatives who give you birthday and Christmas gifts. Tell them you are saving your money for something big.

Even if your folks are willing to pay for medical care and food, it’s a good idea to do some chores around the house such as keeping the floor vacuumed once a week (dogs and cats shed!) as a thank you.
4HlogoIf you want a horse or dog, you may be able to co-own the pet and only have it part time, at first. Horse stables offer shared leasing of riding horses and dog breeders sometimes participate in 4H junior handling programs. Farmers may allow people to hatch eggs in an incubator or care for a young animal through 4H programs.

Keep volunteering, pet sitting, anything you can do to be around the animals you like. If you love it, consider an animal career.
I know it seems like forever but you’ll be grown up so soon, and you can definitely get the pet you want then.
This almost always works. Parents are so proud of you when you do stuff thoughtfully and thoroughly.
It makes them want to help you get what you want.