The Importance of Teaching Dogs to Be Independent — Part I

As a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT), I frequently face questions about clingy puppies and Velcro dogs. Devoted pet guardians want to know how to help their dogs have confidence and learn to be more independent. Certainly, some are concerned that their pets may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Fortunately, not every pup that struggles to see the value of “me time” is truly, clinically suffering from separation anxiety. For those who are, the safest, best approach is working with a certified professional. But, any pup can get a bit stressed at times if no one’s home or no one’s paying attention to his needs. In this two-part series on shaping confident, independent puppies and dogs, we’ll explore training and management options (with an emphasis on fun and games!) that will set you and your Inquisitive Canine up for success. In Part One, you’ll find general tips for life skills and confidence building first in puppies, then in adult dogs. The second part will address specific situations such as being outside alone, being alone at night-time and will review tips for preparing for transitions like back to school or heading back into the office after working from home.

To begin, let’s say you’re the proud pet parent of a new puppy – or are planning to be. As with most things, preparation is key. Plan ahead. Ideally, consult with a force-free trainer and start thinking about the skills you might want your pup to learn, so you can help your new family member start off on the right paw.

  • Teach your puppies well. Puppies are like sponges, learning everything they can to get more — or less — of what they want. Use this time to your advantage by lovingly teaching them what you want, what you expect, and the skills they will need to be able to thrive in our human world.
  • First things first. Keep in mind that not all attention seeking behavior (whining, pawing, mouthing, jumping) is for emotional needs (“I’m bored!”). First make sure they’re not scared, hurt, sick, or have a biological urge that needs to be met — hungry, thirsty, need to potty, for instance. If you want these needs to be communicated differently, those cues can be taught in time.
  • Good ol’ Life Skills (aka: Manners, aka: “Obedience”) can work wonders. Think about how many times and places you want your puppy to “sit” instead of jumping up, running around, barking etc. Take the time to teach these skills, and in a variety of locations. My favorite go-to outline for list of skills are those that Therapy Dogs need to learn. Love on a Leash outlines their requirements here.
  • Build Confidence. Explore enrichment toys for meals and treats. Chew bones are great, just make sure that they are safe and don’t cause tooth problems (check with your vet). Puzzle toys are problem-solving toys, which help build confidence. Remember, besides scavengers and predators, dogs are problem-solvers — if we don’t give inquisitive puppies “problems” to solve, they’ll find their own — sometimes this can backfire. We all have stories… (Care to share in the comments below?)
  • Socialize them so they learn to like other people and dogs — and other animals too. This way, they’re not always relying on you for everything fun, interesting and stimulating. It’s important that these brand-new interactions are positive and not scary. Consult with a force-free trainer if you have any questions about puppy socialization.
  • Gradually teach them to be alone in a safe place. Start with small amounts of time with you in the same room, but with pups in their own beds. Then move on to you being in another room of the house, building up to longer periods of time with you out of the room and eventually, with you out of the house. Go slow and steady, so puppy learns to trust being home alone. (More on this process in previous and future posts.)

Now, what if you’re not starting from puppyhood? Can adult dogs still learn new life skills? Can they “unlearn” old habits? Of course! As you’ll see, much of the approach to teaching adult dogs to be more independent is very similar to teaching puppies.

  • Think outside of the bowl. The emphasis of meal delivery should be with training or food enrichment toys. We know that bowls have their place, at times, but when possible,  feed meals outside of the bowl. It doesn’t have to be for every meal, but food can be used to allow them to use their predatory skills in a safe and productive way. As with puppies, popular activities such as enrichment toys/interactive food toys/scavenger hunts and games where they have to figure out how to get the food out can help promote independence.
  • Reinforce behaviors you want to see repeated. Reinforcing “independent” behaviors such as playing on their own and just generally being by themselves can also help. If they are constantly pawing at you for attention, do your best to ease up on returning the attention they’re seeking. You don’t want to be cruel or rude, but encourage them to spend time by themselves — even if it’s just in a dog bed in another room, or even the same room- just not your lap or at your feet. (At least all of the time! We get it – we love and appreciate the companionship too!)
  • Teach (and learn) alternative behaviors. If your dog is always in your lap, teach them an alternative behavior such as resting in their bed. Of course, you’ll still want to bond with your dog, but be aware of your own behaviors. It’s nice to have an interruption now and again, a furry reminder to step away from the computer and take a break. However, constant coddling can likely result in an increase in your dog relying on you – for everything – all the time.
  • Dogs are problem solvers. So, give them the opportunity to solve problems on their own sometimes. For instance, let’s say a toy is under a piece of furniture just out of reach. But you can see that if your inquisitive canine attempts at a different angle or uses their body in a different way, they could reach it. Let them figure it out — be their cheerleader! If you just go and get it, your dog has just trained you to do the work for them. Give dogs opportunities to grow and thrive on their own. Constantly hovering, fixing things for them, “doing their homework” for them, and being a “helicopter dog parent” interferes with their own thought processes and problem-solving skills. Trust your dog! They can do it!
  • Give dogs choices. As humans, we gain confidence through life experiences. We learn from them and grow. Being allowed to make decisions and have control over our own choices is what helps us to develop confidence. Even though dogs aren’t human, they are sentient beings, with emotions and a zest for life. Based on this, I would say that giving dogs opportunities to make decisions and have control over outcomes will help them build confidence as well. Even if your dog is well past being a puppy, continue to teach “life skills” that encourage decision making under different circumstances.
  • Unleash adventure! Allow dogs to learn on their own too. Encourage exploration (as long as it’s safe for them and others). Consider “hunting” games or sports that allow them to be dogs — meaning, the types of activities where humans aren’t telling them what to do all of the time. K9 Nose Work, herding, and tracking encourage dogs to use their doggy skills. We are there to give them a ride and make sure they don’t get injured (and marvel at how perfect and brilliant dogs can be).

Teaching skills for confidence and independence are essential to your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing. However, remember to enjoy your quality time together too. There’s no substitute for unleashing adventure and harnessing fun with your Inquisitive Canine.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this article, where we troubleshoot specific situations that can be challenging for some pets and their people.

Heading Back into the Office? Help Make It a Smooth Transition for Your Dog

As many of us start thinking about venturing back into the office after months working from home, there seem to be more questions than answers. One of those questions for loving pet guardians is, “Will my dog have separation anxiety after quarantine?” While every situation is different and hopefully most pets may not suffer from true, clinical separation anxiety, the transition is likely to present some challenges for the whole family, including your Inquisitive Canine. Here are a few tips to prepare your dog for when you go back to the office, ways to reduce stress, toys to provide, training concepts and advice about when to reach out to professionals.

Practice, practice, practice

A great approach dog guardians can take is to begin planning and implementing dress rehearsals sooner rather than later…as in now. Even if you are still working from home, pretend you’re going to the office sometimes. Go through all the motions as if you are leaving home. Each detail is important – your dog picks up on every cue -that’s what being an inquisitive canine is all about! So, think of all the sights (office attire? uniform?), sounds (car keys clanking?) and even scents (perfume? or- let’s be honest -freshly showered?) associated with heading off to work. This will help get the routine established, giving your dog time to transition gradually to the upcoming changes. Invest some time each day for practice. Leave your pups alone for short periods at first, lengthening the amount of time slowly, so they have a better chance to adapt more easily.  

Expect the unexpected

The truth is, even with advanced preparation, you may need to make some adjustments along the way. This is why it’s important to “train it before you need it.” By accessing remote cameras when you are away from home, you can witness your dog’s reaction to your absence. This information will help give insight into any training steps you may need to take. Your pooch may enjoy the “me  time” at home, without any issues during the work day. On the flip side, he or she might begin to stress out, realizing you’re not around all the time. Again, dress rehearsals can help identify and address some potential issues. 

Harnessing indoor happiness

Using enrichment toys, whether a dog is home alone or not, is key for building independence and self-confidence. For more on enrichment such as nose games and interactive toys, check out this post from TransPaw Gear

It’s okay to ask for help

If a dog truly has separation anxiety, toys and other distractions may not help. Pairing food puzzles with being home alone might even make it so your dog doesn’t want to eat at all when you’re gone. For true separation anxiety, seek out professional help (force-free only, of course).  If you intend to leave your dog home alone for longer periods, consider doggy daycare or a dog walker. Make time to introduce your dog to these outside resources before heading back to the office. This way, you are not rushed and can intervene if your dog seems stressed. Finding the right match for your situation is another place dress rehearsals can make a big difference, both for your pet’s comfort level and your own. 

Remember to have fun

Lastly, pet parents should make sure they are still providing for their dogs’ physical and mental needs at every opportunity. Down time is key, but so is bonding time. Who knows? A little fun and adventure with your bestie might be great for you during this transition too. So, when you are not in the office, here’s to unleashing adventures and harnessing fun with your Inquisitive Canine!

Is a Harness Right for Your Inquisitive Canine?

Why Choose a Dog Harness?

TransPaw Gear Dog Harness Lily

There are several good reasons you might choose a dog harness over a collar for attaching the leash on walks and adventures with your dog. Dogs who pull while wearing a collar can put pressure on their necks, potentially injuring sensitive structures of the spine, throat and neck area. Even without an injury, pressure on these structures can be uncomfortable for your inquisitive canine companion. In addition, dogs can easily slip out of collars that aren’t fitted properly, which is dangerous for them and you. A  great way to overcome these issues is a properly fitting dog harness.

Which dog harness should you choose?

So, how do you find the best dog walking harness? And how do you choose the right product for your pet?  It can be difficult to find the right product when there are so many options available. It’s important to pick one that is easy for you to use but also comfortable for your dog. Beyond that, choosing a harness with multiple adjustable straps will help you create the right fit for your pup. The amount of dog gear for sale can make a pet parent’s head spin! But, hang in there.

Harnessing Happiness

After years of working with dogs and their humans as a certified professional dog trainer and behavior specialist, and seeing the frustrations they experienced with other products, I developed  the Happy Harness.

The Happy Harness:

  • Does a great job of preventing chafing, because the patented design prevents the straps from moving around against your dog’s skin, especially in sensitive areas like behind the legs and belly.
  • Is easy for people to put on and take off their dogs, so you’re always ready for an adventure together.
  • Has two possible leash attachment points: The front clip helps prevent pulling for those dogs who are just too excited to get where they’re going, while the back clip gives you a more traditional connection point that keeps the leash clear of your dog’s front legs on hikes or other outdoor adventures.
  • Is easy to adjust for a custom fit.
  • Is water-friendly, allowing your dog to be an inquisitive canine!
  • Is built to last.
  • Has a nifty handle on the harness to help with dog sports and for those times you need to keep your dog close.
  • Was thoughtfully developed by a certified professional force-free trainer and devoted pet parent.

Dog harness shopping can be overwhelming. Do your research, read reviews, and learn everything you can about the products that interest you. Your canine companion will thank you. Here’s to harnessing happiness with your inquisitive canine!

From Dog Trainer to Dog Harness Creator: A Journey of Invention With a Cultural Shift

Joan Hunter Mayer TransPaw Gear

Since becoming a trainer and launching The Inquisitive Canine, I had always considered developing a dog harness thatwould not only help dogs and their owners enjoy adventures together, but that would also eliminate the need and use of more aversive equipment, such as choke and prong collars. (How fun can those really be?) I, along with my training clients, struggled to find a dog harness that would minimize their dogspulling without causing discomfort. Some dogs were hard to fit. Some clients struggled to understand how to put the dog harness on, or their fingers couldnt operate the clips. Worse still, some dogs had a finely honed talent for wiggling out of their harnesses. 

Joan Hunter Mayer Dog Trainer Santa BarbaraIn addition to these challenges, it seemed I needed two or three harnesses for my own dog when he and I headed out for adventures. I often joked that Poncho had more costume changes than Cher, with a harness for walking and running, one for sports, and another for those days when his exuberance was so great that I just wanted something that would prevent him from pulling me off my feet. I thought it would be wonderful if there was just one harness that met this diverse array of needs, something that was comfortable for him, easy to use, and functional for our needs — basically an all-in-one product.

When the time came to make that kernel of an idea a reality, I started looking at what it would take to develop a harness that actually had everything: functionality, ease of use, sturdiness and safety, and a no-frills design that still looked good. I had been telling clients for years about how much walking and adventuring can benefit the dog-human bond. I saw creation of this perfect harness as the first step in a broader cultural shift that I was committed to being part of.

TransPaw Gear Original Harness PrototypeAfter searching throughout the country, I found a group of experts who shared my vision. With the support of my friends and family, I traveled to Ohio to work with a team of soft goods engineers to craft my new product, bringing ideas, concepts, and dreams to fruition. Dog owners themselves, the engineers I met at Priority Designs were excited to help. Spending a week together, we developed 20 early designs that were slowly honed into one final concept. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, I collaborated with a few other soft goods manufacturers, producing prototypes based on the original. Each was tested with dogs and their owners. After years of R&D, I was proud to be able to say the TransPaw Gear Happy Harness was ready! The first manufacturer, based in Rancho Cucamonga, was kind enough to offer a small run (which is virtually unheard of in the soft goods industry, especially with something as detailed as the Happy Harness). TransPaw Gear officially launched in November 2017.

Although the product was beautifully crafted, the original manufacturer did not have the resources to produce higher quantities or meet a price point that most consumers could afford. I hit the pavement (and Google) again, searching for a company that would meet the same high standards, understand the TransPaw vision, and fulfill the needs of customers. Fortunately, I crossed paths with Mike Hexter, owner of HEXCORP, a California-based product development company that also offered soft goods manufacturing options for clients. The Happy Harness underwent another round of prototype testing before a new batch was produced. The Happy Harness is now being made overseas through HEXCORP, but it is still the same outstanding quality as when it was produced here in the United States.

TransPaw Gear Dog HarnessLike The Inquisitive Canine, TransPaw Gear is a small but mighty operation focused on the core values of integrity, transparency, and compassion, to name a few. With help from some great people, I run TransPaw Gear while always keeping one eye on the mission of bringing dogs and humans together. My goal is for people to love their Happy Harnesses almost as much as they love their dogs! I’ve thrown my heart and soul into the creation of the harness, and strive to continue to operate with the same values, integrity, and inspiration every day. The only difference now is that our current dog, Ringo Starr, has only one costume change for unleashing adventures and harnessing fun! 

Do Social Distancing and Severe Weather Look Alike? Dog Trainers Weigh In

Since The Inquisitive Canine is based in California, we realized we don’t really deal with many of the things that keep folks stuck indoors during the winter months. For those who are not as fortunate (in our opinion), we were curious to learn how they are able to find new adventures indoors, when the outdoors is not cooperating. While we recognize that self-isolation during a global pandemic is not exactly the same as inclement weather, there are probably some overlaps!

Could this sheltering-in-place be less challenging for those who endure long, arduous winters every year, since they might be used to having to be indoors? We reached out to colleagues and asked how they got through the winter blues, in the hopes that it will inspire you to soldier on during this more challenging time.

Here’s what we learned:

Maya Kolankowska

Student, The Academy for Dog Trainers, Quebec, Canada

TPG: What type of activities do you engage in with your dog when stuck indoors during the winter? This could be things you do with your dog, or enrichment activities to keep them busy on their own.

dog training fun outdoorsMK: My Boston terrier has arthritis in both front legs, so I cannot do lots of high-intensity play with lots of direction change indoors. We have to resort to training and mental stimulation. I have a lot of Nina Ottosson puzzles, interactive toys that are stuffed and frozen and given each day. I also do mini-training sessions, and I prepare surprise treat/kibble boxes, and up the level of difficulty gradually. Another favourite thing of mine is having her “go find” her food, which I hide. She is really good at it now. Finally, we also do tug sessions where we practice cues like drop, leave it, and take it.

TPG: What are some of your favorite things to do throughout the year?

MK: We enjoy hiking, either on a long lead or off leash, walking in the woods, meeting new doggy friends and practicing positive interactions. I have amazing neighbours who are more than happy to work with me and our dogs.

TPG: Are there any types of activities you save for this time of year? How do you change up your routine, if at all?

MK: I tend to do more mental enrichment during winter months since my dog does not enjoy winters. Once it is nicer, we practice outside with more distractions and do some refreshers on those behaviors.

TPG: How are things different with COVID-19 isolation compared to winter conditions where you are?

MK: We do not frequent dog parks due to my dog’s arthritis, but we are definitely missing out on social doggie interactions on our walks. At other times, I would usually tend to walk with neighbours, especially if their dog is “reactive”; this helps my dog and theirs.

Jennifer Pratt, CTC, CSAT, CPDT-KA

Owner, Wag the Dog and Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

TPG: What type of activities do you engage in with your dog when stuck indoors during the winter? This could be things you do with your dog, or enrichment activities to keep them busy on their own. 

Wag the Dog Puzzle ToyJP: I up the food puzzle rotation even more than we already do otherwise, and find new ways to teach him new tricks that are variations of using hand targeting as a base. 

TPG: What are some of your favorite things to do throughout the year? 

JP: Teaching him new tricks that I make up and find entertaining!  Working on husbandry training to up my game for both my dog and my clients.

TPG: Are there any types of activities you save for this time of year? 

JP: Honestly, no. There is just more time to devote to indoor use of feeders.  (We use them outside in the yard to up the hunting factor when it is nice out!)

TPG: How are things different with COVID-19 isolation compared to winter conditions where you are? 

JP: With me having less work coming in, Ed and I have been able to take longer sniffaris. 

TPG: What have you considered doing once the snow melts and you’re able to go outside? If you’re still under quarantine, how will things change for you? Will you keep up the same routine you use in winter, or do something else? 

JP: My dog loves being outside when it is nice out, so we will be adding in trips to go and find new sniffari locations for him to explore, and spending more time outside with me gardening and him sunbathing.

No matter where you are, or the conditions you may be experiencing, you can see that both physical and mental enrichment are important for your dog’s well-being. Maybe now is a great time to set up that indoor obstacle course, train that trick you’ve been wanting your dog to learn, or clean out your t-shirt drawer and make a new toy for them to play with.

Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive or adventurous canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and well Tweet ya back!

Tips for Staying Sane (and Staying Indoors) With Your Dog During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the past few weeks, planet Earth has spun into a surreal state. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the globe have been affected, leading many humans to transition into self-monitored quarantine status. This happened quickly, which meant we did not have time to plan. Now that a few weeks have gone by, we’re starting to settle in to our new normal. But, what does that mean for our relationships with our canine companions?

Fortunately, in many areas of the world, we’re still allowed to take our dogs for a walk outdoors. But what about indoor entertainment? For those of you who are spending more time indoors with your dogs, it can still be fun. Why not turn lemons into lemonade and go through that “If I only had more time…” checklist of some of the things you’ve been wanting to do with your dog.

Here are a few ideas to get you started!

    • Make your own dog toy. This is especially handy for folks who are cleaning out their closets — old socks and T-shirts make for good materials. Need some inspiration?
      • Here’s are a number of DIY dog toy ideas from care.com. When making my own toys, I prefer using old T-shirts, socks, water bottles, etc. Stay away from any items that could hurt the dog, like small pieces of things they can choke on. Always observe your dog with a new toy to make sure they don’t harm themselves.
      • Consider making a DIY snuffle mat. This wonderful toy encourages your dog to use their sense of smell to find treats hidden within the mat. It’s a great indoor energy burner for any dog since scent games are so mentally tiring for them.
    • In addition to toys, there are lots of indoor enrichment opportunities for your dog. These activities to keep them physically and mentally busy. Here are some ideas to get you started, or you can Google dog enrichment and find lots of information.
  • Read up on dog behavior and training! Dogwise is a publisher with tons of wonderful titles available for all interest levels. One of our favorites is The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. Inquisitive Canine trainer Joan Mayer calls it her bible!
  • Stock up on some new goods! Need training supplies to help get your game on at home? We love a supplier called Doggone Good Clicker Company.
  • Let the training games begin! Brush up on those most-needed skills at home — maybe it’s basic manners, such as sitting at doorways, down-stay on their bed while you eat dinner, sitting on a mat when the front door opens in order to welcome company politely, coming when called, or leaving things alone when asked
  • Get your groom on. Teach your dog to be comfortable having their teeth brushed and nails trimmed. Check out the Nailed It!! Program, where anyone can sign up and learn how to give their dog a pedi-pedi.
  • Create an indoor obstacle course. Set up stations throughout the house — sit in the bedroom, down-stay in the office, fetch in the hallway, tug in the kitchen, their favorite trick in the living room. Make a list of behaviors your dog knows, and set yourself a course. It’s like circuit training for dogs!!
  • Get fit with Fido. Looking to amp up your own workout routine? Pair up with your dog and become workout buddies. Have your dog do one behavior while you do another. For instance, you do sit-ups, push-ups, or squats while your dog does a sit-stay, down-stay, or puppy-push-up (sit to down to sit to down.). You do a burpee, your dog does a spin or jump. (Make sure you both are cleared by your respective medical professionals for your exercise program.)

Although these are difficult times for many people, and we are finding ourselves in largely uncharted territory, it doesn’t have to be difficult to keep your dog occupied when you’re stuck indoors. Comment to tell us what you end up choosing to do with your pup!

Top Tips to Make Training Your Dog a Breeze

Sometimes dogs can seem like alien creatures to us. They eat things we find gross. They don’t speak our language (even though it sometimes seems like they do). Dog training can look like sorcery to the untrained eye. Here we’ve provided you with key tips to decode your dog and get better results from your training program!

  • Know what you want your dog to do. Picture it as clearly as you can. We often focus on what our dogs are doing wrong, but it’s much more helpful to focus on what we would like them to do Is your dog jumping on guests? Perhaps a sit would be better? Begging at the table? Wouldn’t it be lovely if the dog lay calmly on their bed instead? Focusing on the positive, and actually visualizing exactly how you want the finished behavior to look, will help in several ways. First, it will give you a clear goal to work toward. Second, it will let you notice what your dog is already doing right, which you can then proactively reinforce so it happens more.
  • Know your dog. Dogs are individuals, with varied likes and dislikes, and distinct personalities. Knowing your dog really well allows you to create a training plan that caters to their strengths, making it easier for both of you. Seeing what really gets your dog jazzed – liver treats, a game of fetch, a trip to the dog park – can help you select the most motivating reinforcers when you’re working on new behaviors. Knowing your dog well will also help you have realistic expectations for what they can achieve. Your terrier (bred for barking) may never be totally silent at the sound of the doorbell, but three barks followed by a stay on their mat is totally feasible! Your hound may always walk with their nose to the sidewalk, but they can do that while at your side instead of pulling on their leash like a freight train.
  • Reward what you like. It’s easy to miss it when your dog is behaving perfectly, but it’s important that you “catch them in the act” of making good choices or minding their manners. As you reinforce the behaviors you like, they’ll happen more often. When your dog is getting good at certain behaviors, cue the dog to perform those behaviors instead of engaging in behaviors you don’t want.  A solid down-stay on a dog bed can keep a counter surfer under control, and a strong sit is, again, a great way to keep a jumpy greeter from jumping.
  • Set your dog up for success. Dogs are so incredibly adaptable that we often forget how confusing our human world can be to them. We can make things easier by setting clear rules and showing our dogs what is and is not appropriate canine behavior, rather than expecting them to guess. Managing the dog’s environment is also critical. It’s important that a dog’s world is interesting and enriching, but we also need to do what we can to prevent unwanted behaviors. This can include creating a safe area for a new puppy while they’re learning the ropes regarding what to chew and where to eliminate, clearing off kitchen surfaces to prevent counter surfers from succeeding on their quests, and anything else that staves off an unwanted behavior by changing the environment rather than trying to change the dog. In short, make your dog’s world as conducive as possible to helping them “get it right the first time.”
  • Plan ahead! Think about what behaviors you would like your dog to perform, and in what environments it will be important for the dog to perform them, and then practice those behaviors in those environments well ahead of time. Dogs need time to synthesize new information before it is solid, and even once they’ve got it in one context, they will likely need to relearn it in a situation that looks totally different. Have patience and plan ahead to make sure your relationship with your dog remains harmonious.
  • Think hard about the question: “Why is my dog doing this?” First, consider whether what’s happening is a normal behavior for the dog. Dogs eat, eliminate, chew, dig, and bark, and all of that is entirely natural. That doesn’t mean you must throw up your hands and accept whatever is happening. These behaviors can and should be directed to appropriate channels. The next thing to think about is whether an unwanted behavior is being reinforced, either by you, someone else, or the dog’s environment. Understanding the “why” behind a behavior from a dog’s perspective can help you sort this out. If your dog barks for attention and you yell, they may see that as good enough or “better than nothing” attention, and bark more often. Finally, ask yourself if you have taught your dog what you want them to do instead. Your dog may simply be doing the unwanted thing because no one has presented another option! This brings us full circle back to our first tip, figuring out what you want your dog to do, and then teaching them how to do it.

These strategies are the foundation of any good behavior program, and in fact, they are the true foundation of a strong human-canine relationship. If you’re stuck at any point along the way, contact us for help! We want you and your dog to succeed as a team! When you do, everyone will benefit.

Hidden Holiday Dangers for Dogs

People often recognize that the holiday season can present some additional dangers to our pets that they don’t face at other times. And this is true! During this time of year, dogs are more likely to have access to foods that are toxic to them, or larger quantities of nontoxic food than usual, as well as unfamiliar items they may be tempted to swallow. Cold weather can cause physical canine discomforts, and large numbers of houseguests or visitors in the home can increase mental strain on our dogs. Responsible pet owners are generally on the lookout for these dangers. But there are others that are much more subtle, making them easy to overlook entirely.

As a professional dog trainer, I am just as concerned about these three hidden dangers of the holidays:

  • Distracted Humans

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, folks tend to get overwhelmed and distracted. Routines are often disrupted as well. What does this mean for our pets? People aren’t able to pay as careful attention as they would otherwise. Sometimes it’s hard to pay any attention at all! This leads to some more of those practical dangers: food being left around for easy canine access, doors and gates being left open so pets can wander off, pet care arrangements not being made, and more.

This is the time of year when it can be very tempting to cut corners and rush through routines, but your pets need you to be on your best behavior so they can be on theirs. Double-check that the counters and table have been cleared before your dog is allowed free access to the kitchen and dining areas. Make sure that doors are fully latched as you come and go, including crate doors, gates to your yard, and the doors to your home. Confirm your dog sitter knows when to come, and have a backup in mind if the sitter needs to cancel last minute. If there’s any risk of family members giving your dog an accidental double-dinner, have a schedule posted somewhere that allows whoever feeds them to mark off what meal was given and when.

  • Unrealistic Expectations

People expect a lot from their pets, and we often do so without making much of an effort to help them adjust to our world. The holidays bring a number of potentially novel (and therefore potentially stressful) situations to our pets’ lives, including unfamiliar people in the house, travel to new places, or being left in the care of strangers (either at a boarding facility or with in-home care) when the humans are traveling. Folks tend to think animals will adjust immediately to whatever we throw at them, and the truth is that our pets can be very forgiving, so they often adapt easily. But, it’s unfair to expect this from our pets in every situation.

What should we do? Make sure your dog is getting enough quiet time, enough you-time, and enough exercise and playtime to help them shake off some of the more stressful experiences that come with this time of year. Have patience if your dog’s manners fall apart around house guests. And think about the various kinds of upheaval this holiday season will bring to your pet’s world, accommodate your dog however you can, and do your best to prepare them for these potentially stressful times. Which brings me to the last hidden danger…

  • Lack of Planning

Pet owners need to take the time to plan ahead for their pets during the holiday season. Traveling with your pet? Make sure they are accustomed to whatever mode of containment is required for the type of transit you’ll be using, possibly including a special crate if your pet is flying with you. Create and utilize a pet packing checklist so you’re confident you have everything they’ll need while away from home. If you’re using a new pet sitter, make sure the pet and sitter have bonded before you leave them. Sending the dog to a new boarding facility? It’s a great idea to do a practice “sleepover” so the dog gets used to going there, and you can make sure the dog is happy about these accommodations. Teach and rehearse the behaviors the dog will need to know in order to be a good canine citizen, regardless of where you take them or what other environmental changes occur.

Plan to have patience, as well. As noted above, you may need it! The behavior of stressed-out pets – which may include eliminating indoors, vocalizing repeatedly, and seeming to forget every bit of training you ever did with them – can exasperate even the most calm, collected human. Knowing ahead of time that you’ll have to be more patient than usual with your pet can go a long way toward reducing your own frustration, which will in turn help your dog’s stress levels.

Hang in There, and Take Time to Find Joy!

When all else fails, remember that this too shall pass. Try to find some small moments of joy in this hectic time of year. Buy your dog a special toy or treat, and take a moment to enjoy watching them relish your gift. Ideally, the holidays are a time for celebration and merriment. If you need to, you can turn to your canine companion to bring some light into your life. Dogs are good reminders that it’s the simple things – like a game a fetch, a little walk to get some fresh air, and cuddle time – that make life that much more fun.

Dealing with Cujo Canine, How to Make Dog Walk More Manageable

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I adopted Isla (German Shepherd mix) from a shelter about a month ago.  She’s approximately 9 months old now and she’s very sweet…95% of the time.  However, despite some prior exposure in her young life, to walking on a leash, we can be out for a walk or on a potty trip and for no apparent reason she will go all Cujo on me.  Writhing, bucking, and biting…anything that might work to free her from the restrictive nature of the leash.  There are no other dogs present, no people, no stimuli to warrant Cujo showing up.  She’s just royally ticked off that she’s on that leash and by golly, she wants to be free of it.

The best I can do at this point is to get a death grip on her collar, which affords me some protection from those pearly white, sharp teeth, and calmly talk her down off the ledge.  Sometimes that works on the first go, sometimes not.  Even if I have treats on me, for other pursuits (sit, down, stay), I feel like giving her a treat, once she’s calm from the meltdown, will give her the wrong idea.  I even bought a muzzle, but I’m 64 years old and getting that sucker on her is simply NOT happening.  I am in the process of de-weeding a fenced area in my back yard and giving her the supervised opportunity to burn off some pent up energy, but that may make it worse when she is leashed.

Any suggestions, short of getting one of those padded suits (which won’t bode well in a Texas summer) and toughing it out?

Thanks,

Isla’s Worn Out Mom

Dear Isla’s Mom,

Sounds like you’re both getting quite the workout! It also sounds like there are a few challenges that definitely need to be addressed. We’d be happy to provide a few dog training tips.

  • Triggers – although you mention there’s no apparent reason, if the “Cujo behavior” keeps happening, there is likely a trigger somewhere. Even if it’s an internal trigger such as, “We’ve been out here for X amount of time and now I’m bored and frustrated.” Consider the time-factor. Is it immediate? After she has gone potty? Is it the overall pace of the walk? Would she rather run than stroll?
  • Function of the behavior – Keep in mind that all behaviors have a function – to either get something or avoid something. Does Isla enjoy the Cujo game with you? If she does, and you don’t, then switch up the game. Reinforce the behaviors you like and want, before she goes into her whirling dervish mode. Walking nicely on leash is what you want, yes? Teach her that skill and reward her with treats, petting, praise, and anything else you can give her while out in public. (A game of tug or fetch perhaps?) If you teach and practice those skills first, then she’ll know what the right choice is.
  • Treats – what types of treats are you using? For a situation as challenging as leash walking, you might need to up the game. Higher value such as little bits of boiled chicken or steak might be more motivating for her. Isla will let you know what she prefers. And, make sure she’s hungry. (Not starving.) If you’re feeding her a big breakfast, then going on a walk, she’s less likely to want food. So, use her meals to your advantage while training her.
  • Shape her behavior – because of her age, and this particular challenge, you might want to start out with shorter but more frequent training sessions. Instead of 30 minutes, go for 2-3 10-15 minute sessions. This is especially true if she starts going Cujo at a certain point. For instance, if she’s fine up until the 12-minute mark, then go for 10 minutes. Give her a break then go again. This might be a bit more inconvenient for you, initially, but once she’s trained you’ll be able to venture out for longer periods. It’s also good to practice in lower distracting environments – around your home and yard, before heading out to the streets.

Remember to reward behaviors you like and want, teach Isla what you want, and set her up for success so she learns what the right behavior is and can make better choices.

Traveling With Dogs, Stress-Free Strategies

Summertime means vacation time. And for those of you with dogs, you don’t have to miss out. Traveling with your pet is both great for you and your furry friend, but there are a few things you need to consider before packing the treats and hitting the road.

Luckily, New York travel company AllTheRooms is here to help you out. The following are a few tips on how to make travel with your pooch less stressful while ensuring your vacation together is a barking success.

Take a Trip to the Vet

One of the first and more important things to do with your pet before going anywhere out of town is to schedule a visit with your dog’s vet. Ideally, you’ll want to do this with as much advanced noticed as possible (but still within any specifically required timeframes), in case advanced medical care is required. The doc will check to make sure your dog is in good health and suitable for travel. You’ll also want to notify them of where you will be traveling, as your dog might need specific vaccinations.

Confirm Your Mode of Travel and Requirements

The actual journey part of your trip may be the most difficult and potentially stressful time for your pet, so be sure to follow these simple tips.

  • If you’re driving to your destination, think about places you’ll be seeing – and potentially stopping at – along the way. It’s best to not leave your dog alone in the car, especially in a strange environment. Will you be able to bring your dog with you? Will someone be able to watch them? Having another human friend along would be best, so you can tag-team the supervision. Even during shorts stops, like filling up your tank, can cause anxiety if your dog isn’t familiar with their surroundings, so plan accordingly.
  • If you plan on traveling to your vacation spot by plane, train or boat, be sure to confirm with the transport company beforehand that your dog will be allowed on board. Follow any rules or regulations in place and your journey should be much more comfortable for you both. Planning ahead is key!
  • No matter which route or method of transportation, remember your dog’s needs along the way. Breathing some fresh air, stretching their legs, taking a potty break, drinking water – and maybe even consuming a snack can help them feel like they’re getting a little vacay in too.

Plan to Pack Smart

Like you would for yourself and the rest of your family, you also need to plan for what to pack for your pet. Important items we recommend include:

  • An ID tag: Make certain your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that contains their name and your current contact information. If locations you’re visiting require a license or rabies tag, make sure you have that with you as well.
  • Paperwork: Take any required paperwork for your pet while traveling. Check you have your pet’s passport allowing them to travel (if required), details of their immunizations and any documents outlining any health problems they have or medication they are taking. These will come in handy if you end up having to take your pet to the vet during your vacation as well.
  • Their favorite item: whether it’s a ball, a blanket or a teddy they’re fond of, be sure to bring it with you to keep your dog feeling happy and relaxed.
  • Something to walk them with: pack your dog’s leash and anything else they would wear for walkies, such as a harness.
  • Toiletries: shampoo in case your pal gets muddy, and their doggy toothbrush to maintain good dental hygiene. Keep any medications they take on you, rather than in a bag, so you can quickly access them if you need to.
  • Food: make sure you pack enough food for the duration of the trip, as well as any treats and chews to keep their tummy full and their spirits happy.

Praise Your Pet

Traveling can be stressful for some dogs and to help them feel at their best, give them lots of positive reassurance throughout the journey. You’ll also want to positively reinforce them for minding their manners during your adventures together. Behaving well in the car, going potty in the right spot, minding their manners in public places (hotels, restaurants, bustling tourist areas) should be acknowledged with lots of fuss! Send the message that they’re great traveling companions. Use toys, treats, and cuddles to reinforce them – maybe even buying them a souvenir.

If your dog acts in a way that’s abnormal for them, they may be slightly stressed. Remember to stay calm yourself so you can think clearly and create a training plan to help. Speak soothingly to your dog and take a break from the journey if necessary.

Bon Voyage

We hope these tips help you and your pet prepare and have a great vacation. Stay organized, positive and safe and you’re likely to have a stress-free getaway with your pooch.


Sage Fitzpatrick is a travel blogger currently living in London. She can be found drinking tea, reading and traveling the world. When she’s not traveling she spends her time blogging about her travels over at AllTheRooms, the world’s first vacation rental search engine.