It’s Valentine’s Day for Dogs, too. Show Your Love with Some Dog Training

The day dedicated to sweethearts is right around the corner. That means you’ll want your inquisitive canine to be feeling the love. Valentine’s Day often means chocolate, and lots of other, candy. Poncho and I want to send a gentle reminder to make sure you’re managing your environment, keeping all of those types of human yummy treats out of your dog’s reach. Yes, safety is top priority for pets – through management of his or her environment – but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your love in a multitude of other ways.

brown dog staring at human
Spending time together is one of the best ways to tell your dog “I love you.”

How about making it a scent-ual Valentine’s Day and setting up a Kibble Hunt? Poncho loves playing this as much as we love setting up the course.

A few tips on setting up Kibble Hunt:

  • Instead of serving his or her food out of a bowl, set up a scavenger course in and around your house.  In the yard or inside your home, or both. If your dog eats kibble, this will be easy! Just place pieces in strategic places around the yard. Or, if it’s an indoor arrangement only, place pieces of kibble around areas of your home. Behind doors, under corners of rugs and pieces of furniture, or wherever your dog likes to explore or is easy to explore. Note: If your dog eats wet food or out of a Kong toy then you can certainly “hide” these as well. Kong toys are convenient to hide around the yard or areas in kitchens. Wet food can be divided  into  smaller containers and hidden in various places.
  • Add a bonus. Although I usually hide Poncho’s regular kibble, I’ll also place a few pieces of his favorite treats. Why not? Makes the game that much more fun! Plus, it’s Valentine’s Day!
  • Set your dog up for success. If Kibble Hunt is a new activity for your dog, or if your dog is more of a runner than a hunter, consider letting he or she watch you set up. Leash and tether your dog in an area where he or she can watch you arrange the course. Then, “let the dogs out” to search and rescue all the goodies. You could also have your dog watch through a window, seeing all the steps you’re taking, in order to assist in the hunt.

Kibble Hunt is an excellent physical and mental stimulation activity for your dog and will help keep him or her occupied when spending time on their own. Providing opportunities for dogs to use their hunting skills helps build confidence. Also, it’s just darn fun! By the way, Kibble Hunt is just one of the many and very fun activities in our Out of the Box Dog Training Game!

What better way to say “I love you” to your inquisitive canine? Wishing you all a very happy and pawsitively rewarding Valentine’s Day.

The Inquisitive Canine Doggie Blog is written by Joan Mayer, a certified professional dog trainer based in Santa Barbara, California. Joan is also a human-canine relationship coach and frequently consults with Poncho, her 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about human and canine behavior.

Joan and Poncho love making new friends. Post snapshots and videos of your favorite Inquisitive Canine on their Facebook page

Does Your Dog Like to Share Their Food and Toys?

When it comes to resources – food, toys, and locations – many animals, dogs included, prefer to keep it all to themselves. Learning to share is just that, a learned behavior. Guarding ones resources, is an innate behavior – and one that is very handy for survival.

Teach Your Dog to Enjoy Alone Time

Dear Poncho,

Our dog Tessa is a wonderful addition to our family. She’s smart, lovable, and very obedient. Our only problem is leaving her alone. She cries, barks, and shreds her bed in the crate. If we leave her in the backyard, she chews at our fences, although eventually she settles down. She has also destroyed my car’s door panels when I’ve left her in there for even short periods of time (with open windows, in the shade, and with water, of course).

We don’t know what to do about her complete agitation when she is away from us, and I don’t have time for long and intense training. Please help!

Thank you,

Dear Miss Cara,

Sounds like your assessment of Tessa’s behavior is right on track: she’s agitated when left alone, as opposed to being bored or angry. I can totally empathize, because I used to dread spending time alone. Now though, after my folks helped me out, I have the confidence to do so, and actually look forward to it. Sure, it’s great being a mama’s (and daddy’s) boy, but frankly I need a break now and then. Allow me to provide my pooch’s perspective. Continue Reading “Teach Your Dog to Enjoy Alone Time”

Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group

Dear Poncho,

Help! We’ve had family staying with us all weekend, and our dog, Wiley, has had a hard time behaving. At the family’s request, when we go outside, we have to put him inside, in his crate. That’s because if we let him out when we go out to play, he jumps on and nips at us, the extended family, neighbors, the gardener and anyone else stopping by for a visit. When we are inside, Wiley must be sent outside in the yard.

Wiley is part of our family, and I want him to blend in and be able to play with us. When we try to ignore him by turning away, he jumps on our backs and also continues to nip. We just can’t have him doing that, especially to my 85-year-old dad or our 2-year-old granddaughter. We’ve tried lots of praise when he sits and we pet him, but then he jumps and nips. I hope you have some suggestions for us — we’re so frustrated, we’re happy to try anything you suggest!

Ellen (Wiley’s mom)

Dear Miss Ellen,

Sounds like Wiley is living up to his name — skilled and clever at getting what he wants. I’d be happy to offer some tips on how you can help your own inquisitive canine become part of the group, not left out in the cold.

Let’s talk about dogs and a few of the general behavior traits we possess: jumping to greet, having enormous amounts of energy (especially when we’re young or haven’t burned off the excess energy), using our mouths to explore the world, wanting attention (positive or negative), preferring to be around people than alone and always game for a good time.

Hmm, yep, sounds like Wiley is a full-blown canine extraordinaire! My first tip is to understand these characteristics and appreciate Wiley for who he is — a dog who loves people of all ages and wants to spend time with his family.

Continue Reading “Dog Training Basics to Prevent Fido From Being Left Out of the Group”

Home Alone Needn’t Equal Lonely for Inquisitive Canines

Dear Inquisitive Pet Parents,

As we head into the fall season and get back to our usual routines with school and work, it’s not uncommon for dogs to develop behavioral issues. Why? Because they go from being around us humans all of the time to suddenly being home alone.

In fact, most people think of the “dog days” as being the hottest days of the year, but I like to define that phrase as the ideal time of year for dogs — when they get loads of added companionship from house guests, from getting to participate in family vacations and outings, and from having the kids and parents at home more throughout the day! I’m sure you can see why it’s a tough adjustment for canines to go from basking in all that extra attention to waiting all day for the sound of the keys in the front door.

Whether you’re a seasoned dog guardian who’s coming off lots of togetherness time with your canine family member, or you’ve taken advantage of the summer’s relaxed schedule to newly adopt a pup, the tips Poncho and I present below will help ensure a smooth transition for all this fall.

Canine Attention Deficit Disorder?

The pattern of going from the center of attention to complete independence can be rough on a dog (no pun intended). As a certified professional dog trainer, I all too often am contacted from dog guardians telling me their pup is destroying their home and property, or that they’ve received calls from neighbors reporting that their dog is barking and howling incessantly. These are responses to a sudden attention deficit: Some dogs end up bored, some become anxious and fearful, and others don’t really care. To help determine if your dog is bored or anxious, take this inquisitive canine quiz.

So before you place the cover back on the barbecue, Poncho and I would like to provide a few training tips to help your pooch make a smooth transition into your new routine.

Training Tips for Teaching Independence

Unless your dog is accustomed to being left alone for hours at a time, being apart from family — especially for long periods — can lead to behavioral issues like those mentioned above.

Whether you’re taking steps to prevent these problems from rearing their ugly head, or trying to fix an issue that has already started, the course of action is similar:

  • Determine what you want: What’s your ideal situation? To come and go whenever you want while your dog is relaxed at home enjoying some alone time? If so, you’ll want to start with being out of the house for shorter increments of time. Even just leaving the room for awhile, along with ignoring and/or being “boring” as you come and go can help dogs adapt to being alone. Boring is good! Continuous interaction leads to continuous dependence — not healthy for either canines or their guardians.
  • Determine what you expect from your dog: If your dog has never learned to be alone, you’ll definitely want to take steps to train him or her to do so. For those who work from home or are stay-at-home dog parents, think about teaching your dog to be independent through confidence-building activities and outings with others outside the immediate family. You’ll also want to consider crate or confinement training, conditioning your pup to feel comfortable in specific areas of your home.
  • Create a fulfilling environment: Enrichment activities — to motivate your dog to spend time on his or her own — should be used for delivering meals and for mental stimulation. Interactive food toys, scavenger hunts and chew bones are just a few ideas to help provide recreation for dogs. These outlets should be made available when others are home, and even more so when he or she is left alone. Creating an engaging environment helps with building self-confidence, gaining independence, and prevention and handling of boredom-related issues like redecorating the house with their jaws or landscaping the yard through digging. For additional tips on providing enrichment for your dog, check out these blog posts on enrichment.
  • Set up play-dates with others: Scheduling activities for your dog with people other than primary family members is a great way to not only help with independence, but also assist with socialization and expending energy! Asking outside family members, friends and/or neighbors to look after or even walk your dog can be fun for everyone involved. Other options include hiring a pet-sitter or dog-walker, or doggy daycare.
  • Plan and practice: Once you determine what it is you want for yourself and from your dog, you can arrange your dog’s environment to implement the new routine. Begin with integrating training steps into your dog’s daily agenda before your own schedule changes. This way, you’ll be able to concentrate on your dog’s needs, without being preoccupied with yours and that of other family members. Dress rehearsals are key in setting everyone up for success!

Home Alone Dos & Don’ts for Canines

  • DO engage in planning, environmental management and training to prevent your dog from developing behavioral issues due to being alone.
  • DON’T make a big fuss before leaving, nor for the first few minutes when coming home.
  • DO teach your dog to look forward to being left home alone by providing enrichment activities.
  • DON’T go from constant to zero interaction if your dog has never spent time on his or her own, especially for longer periods of time.
  • DO seek assistance from a qualified professional if your dog appears anxious when left alone.

Canine Caveat
Be mindful as to whether your dog appears anxious while you’re getting ready to leave or exhibits any of the following behaviors:

  • chewing and/or digging at doorways and windows within the first hour of being left;
  • not eating when left alone;
  • howling or barking throughout the day; or
  • eliminating in the house when he or she is already house-trained.

If any of the above behaviors occur, we recommend you speak with a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate and help make the correct diagnosis and receive proper treatment.

Remember, dogs are social animals by nature. The transition period between current and post-summer vacations can be stressful on everyone. But you can still help your dog enjoy the last few dog days of summer, along with a new routine of self-sufficiency and enjoyment. All it takes is knowing what you want, realistic expectations, a little patience and some dress rehearsals.

Animal Behavior Webinar to Help Prepare for Certification Exams

We are proud to announce that Heather Mohan-Gibbons, associate certified applied animal behaviorist and owner of Collected Wisdom Animal Behavior will be presenting an in-depth webinar on animal behavior and learning – A perfect refresher course for any dog trainer or prep course for those studying for the CBCC certification exam.


Tuesdays.  Sep 6, 13, 20, 27
12:00 PST (1:00MST, 2:00CST, 3:00EST)
Duration: 75 minutes

Topics covered include: learning theory, applied behavior analysis, life stages of dogs and how that relates to development and behavior, canine senses and body language, ethology, and more. All information presented will come from books off the reading lists for the CCPDT exams. CEU’s pending.

Please see Heather’s Collected Wisdom webinar page for additional information and to register.

Painless DogTraining Tips to Help With Puppy Biting and Nipping

"Legal" Alternative for Chewing

I’ve been hearing a lot of this lately: “Ouch! My puppy’s teeth are like needles!” Yep – that’s what puppies do. Bite, chew, nip, shred and chomp some more. Their mouth is the perfect tool to explore the world and all that’s in it.

So what are new puppy owners supposed to do to help the situation? The following are a few simple steps those who may be experiencing this painful situation, in a pretty painless way.

  • Know your animal: Remember, dogs use their mouths to explore the world! This means, if it appears interesting, and it’s within reach, it will be investigated. Dogs also use their mouths (and teeth) to play with things, destroy things, and just for lots of fun! (Especially when he or she is teething).
  • Be aware of what you might be training: Attention, whether positive or negative, can cause a behavior to happen more often, so be careful of what you’re paying attention to – you may just be inadvertently rewarding a behavior you don’t want.
  • Provide “legal” outlets for your puppy or adult dog: Providing outlets for your dog to chew and play with will help redirect that energy to a more appropriate place. This way, he or she can get all of his or her energy out, while making the humans happy. Chew bones, playing tug with an actual tug toy, soft squeaky toys, and interactive food toys are just a few options for your pooch to get the attention he or she wants, in a way he or she wants, doing what he or she loves to do.
  • Provide play opportunities with other dogs: Most dogs enjoy playing with other dogs, but dog-play is a skill that needs to be practiced. Yes, dogs are born with instinctual play skills, but he or she still needs to practice. Set up doggy play-dates with age and play appropriate dogs so your dog can learn how to control his or her mouth with living objects, and not just toys and bones. For additional tips, check out this blog post on dog-play.
  • Make it clear your dog is making the better choice: To really help drive the message home, reward your dog with an extra special little treat whenever he or she makes the better choice of playing with these legitimate items, as well as for leaving forbidden items alone. This way, he or she figure out what works to his or her own advantage, while making you happy and proud.
  • Management Recommendations: Management means you’re arranging your puppy’s environment that prevents him or her from practicing behaviors you don’t want. If you haven’t taught your dog what you want, or if you don’t have the time or energy to monitor your dogs behavior, then you’ll want to keep him or her from making choices you don’t want them to make. This means, sequester your dog to an area with enrichment to keep his or her mind (and mouth) occupied. However, avoid giving a “Time Out!” by just sending him or her to a crate, yard or another room without anything to do. That would be too punishing. A bully stick or food enrichment toy in another area is certainly a fine option.

Remember, when developing your training and management plan for puppy nipping and chewing,  determine what you want from your dog, teach him or her what you want, provide appropriate outlets and reward heavily for making the better choice. This will make everyone happy, including your dog and everyone else in the household.

Include Your Dog During Easter Celebration

Easter Sunday is upon us this weekend. This often means family, friends, celebration of Spring and all that is new. It also means candy! Which includes those gooey filled chocolate eggs, and other delectable treats for children of all ages to hunt, in and out of the home.

Poncho and I wanted to send a gentle reminder to make sure you’re managing your environment, keeping all of those types of human yummy treats out of your dogs reach. And while safety is top priority for pets – through management of his or her environment – it doesn’t mean that your inquisitive canine can’t have some fun too!

Ever since Poncho came into our lives we have celebrated this holiday weekend with an activity sure to make any dog want to tap into his or her scent-skills! Yep that’s right, we set up a “kibble hunt”. Poncho loves playing, as much as we love setting up the course. (So much that this is one of the activity cards in our Out of the Box Dog Training Game!)

Here’s a few tips on how you can set your own adventures up for your dog:

  • Setting up a “kibble hunt”: What does this mean? Instead of serving his or her food out of a bowl, take your dogs meal and set up a scavenger course in and around your house  – outside in the yard or inside your home, or both. If he or she eats kibble, this will be easy! Just place pieces in strategic places around the yard. Or, if you have an indoor arrangement only, then place pieces of kibble around areas of your home. Behind doors, under corners of rugs and pieces of furniture, or wherever your dog likes to explore (or is easy for him or her to explore).
    • Note: If your dog eats wet food or out of a Kong toy then you can certainly “hide” these as well. Kong toys are convenient to hide around the yard or areas in kitchens. If you only serve wet food from a bowl, then you can divide  the food up into  smaller containers and hide those in various places.
  • Adding a bonus: Although I usually hide Poncho’s regular kibble, I’ll also place a few pieces of his favorite treats. Why not? Makes the game that much more fun!
  • Setting your dog up for success: If your dog has never participated in something like this, or if he or she would rather run than hunt, you might want to consider allowing your dog to watch the set-up. Leash and tether him or her in an area where he or she can watch you arrange the course. Then, ‘let the dogs out’ to search and rescue all the goodies. An alternate is to have your dog watch you through a window, seeing all the steps you’re taking, in order to assist in the hunt.

This activity helps set up a nice enrichment activity for your dogs mental and physical stimulation, as well as keeping him or her preoccupied during times when he or she needs to spend time on his or her own. Also, it’s just darn fun! (As soon as I find our videos from previous years I’ll post them!).

We realize that providing opportunities for dogs to use his or her hunting skills helps build confidence while creating fun times for all. We at the Inquisitive Canine are sure you’ll agree and wish you a very happy and pawsitively rewarding holiday weekend!

Dog Training Tips for Chewing Mouthing & Nipping

Dear Inquisitive Canine:

I recently purchased a Maltese/Pekingese mix. He is only 13 weeks old, but his biting habits are getting worse. No one can sit without him biting their feet or attacking their shoes. I have tried putting him in his crate after saying “no” to him. But nothing seems to deter him. Do you have any suggestions?

— Kathy

Dear Kathy:

Ah, yes, bees gotta sting, birds gotta fly and dogs gotta … mouth, chew and chomp! What a great question! Thank you for taking the essential steps in finding a solution for precluding those “Jaws” interactions with your puppy’s sharp, needle-like teeth. Isn’t it amazing how something that small can cause that much pain and discomfort?

I have a few suggestions to help you teach your dog how to use his mouth appropriately, including when, where and how. As a certified professional dog trainer, I like to first address why it’s important to provide dogs with appropriate outlets for chewing and mouthing. Then we will explore specific training exercises that are similar to the lessons I teach my private dog training clients and in my dog and puppy training classes.

Biting, chewing and mouthing are all normal behaviors for dogs, especially puppies since they will be teething over the next few months. Dogs throughout their lives use their mouths for exploring their world and all that’s in it. (It’s similar to how us humans use our hands for everything). Dogs also use their mouths for eating, play and passing the time away — chewing is just gosh-darn fun! In addition to play and activities, our beloved canines also use their mouths to indicate when he or she is stressed, or isn’t happy with something, someone, or a specific situation.

Regarding training exercises and a management plan, I’ve divided the following information into sections that cover the above topics, including chewing, mouthing and biting:

  • When it comes to chewing, it’s vital to set your dog up for success. You can teach and reward the behaviors you want by doing the following: Provide acceptable and rewarding chew items that your dog enjoys, especially when you have company and might not have enough time to interact with your dog. Chew bones (check with your vet to make sure items are safe for teeth), interactive food toys and other dog friendly (and safe) toys should be available for your dog at all times.
  • Reward your dog for making the right choices. You’ll also want to place emphasis in teaching your dog that chewing on those allowable items is the right choice. This means that you’ll want to reward him with extra treats, petting and praise whenever he is chewing on those items — at least initially, until you observe him in action choosing his doggy items and ignoring forbidden articles. Once he’s doing that, you can acknowledge with good ol’ praise. However, I’d reward with a treat on occasion just to provide extra positive reinforcement. After all, it never hurts to say “Thank you!”

You’ll want to experiment with different chew items until you determine your dog’s favorites. Just because we think our dogs should like something doesn’t mean he or she will. Observe and go from there. Then you’ll know what to stock up on.

  • Mouthing and allowable interaction through play activities: Tug and fetch are fun games as well as great outlets for extra energy. To help create rewarding times together, make sure toys are large enough for both your hands and his mouth to be on. If it’s too small, he might end up mouthing your hand. Reward your dog for playing nicely with both continued play and attention from you, along with a treat now and again. This extra bonus really boosts the message that he is making the right choice.
  • A positive way to teach “bite inhibition”: As a trainer, I have one specific rule for tug should jaws misfire — teeth hit skin, game is over! Similar to “hitting below the belt” and being “timed out,” our dogs need to learn it’s uncool for his or her teeth to come into contact with our skin no matter how tough or delicate hands are. If this should happen, you can certainly give a “time out” and stop playing. This type of penalty is one way for us to teach dogs “bite inhibition,” which is when he or she learns about controlling the intensity of his or her jaw pressure.

He will recognize, “Hmm, when my teeth hit her hand she just walked away. But as long as I kept my mouth away from her hand and on the toy, then we kept playing. I think I’ll do that from now on!” You’ll just want to make sure that these intermissions are only about 20 – 30 seconds. Afterward, you will want to resume play, ensuring you provide your dog the opportunity to make the right choice.

Another great way to provide your dog with activities in which he can use his mouth and learn about bite inhibition is through dog play. Puppy classes, puppy socials, puppy daycare and setting him up on “play dates” with other dogs of his size and temperament are ideal settings for him to learn how to use his mouth. Just make sure you are either there monitoring play, or that the instructors are maintaining a safe and friendly environment. For more on what to look for in dog play, click here to read a Dear Inquisitive Canine column on safe and friendly dog play behavior.

  • Determine if it’s play or if he or she is uncomfortable and/or unhappy: A dog that snaps or bites during times when he or she is not in a playful mood can often be sending a message that he or she is uncomfortable about something. It could be a health issue or something or someone in the environment that is causing your dog to feel apprehensive. If this is the case, you’ll want to investigate further, and even consider consulting with your veterinarian (for health-related issues) and a professional trainer such as myself for behavioral concerns.

As fun as it is for your dog to want to play with your feet, you’re not a human squeaky toy, so it’s great planning on your part that you want to take the time to teach him to make better choices.

With a little patience and understanding, taking the time to train your puppy to understand what you want combined with managing his environment when you’re not training, you’re sure to end up with a canine companion with the mouth that’s as soft and gentle as the rest of him.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine was written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. (Archived columns can be read here and on Noozhawk). Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail them directly.