Dog Training Tips for Fence Jumping Canine’s

It seems mom and I have been receiving Dear Inquisitive Canine emails from distraught dog guardians needing help with their “escape artist” dogs. It appears these pooches aren’t clear on boundaries at home. These dogs allegedly prefer to jump the fence and visit with friends and neighbors than stay put in their yard.

Being an inquisitive canine I would want to ask these inquisitive dog guardians a few questions before they start blaming the dog to want to find his or her own entertainment:

  1. Have you taught your dog the behavior you want?
  2. How often do you reward your dog with food treats, praise, petting and playtime for performing the behaviors you want?
  3. What type of motivation is there to stay in the yard?

Mom has taken her certified dog trainer skills to our Dear Inquisitive Canine column providing home management and dog training tips – the complete post will be published the beginning of August on Noozhawk. As for yours truly, I’d like to add in a few of my own canine suggestions:

  • Use the “bad” behavior to your own advantage: If your dog enjoys doing things that you’d normally consider “bad”, why not instead look at these behaviors as a way to reward? This way, you know you can motivate your dog and use the motivation to your own advantage. You’re just redirecting the activity to something safe.
    • For instance, if your dog loves to jump the fence for the purpose of visiting neighbors, then first ask your dog to do something such as play “Coming when called” games at home with the family, then instead of rewarding with food, put your dog on leash and walk him or her to friends and neighbors for a little meet and greet or play-date with the other dogs. Or host a get together at your own home.
  • Mental stimulation: Physical exercise is always great for energetic dogs that enjoy exercise. However, sometimes you end up with a better conditioned dog that finds more energy to do the things you don’t want. Many of us canines are similar to humans in that we need as much mental exercise as we do physical, along with social stimulation.
  • Dog training classes similar to what my mom teaches here in Ventura. Even a manners class would give a dog something to do that takes critical thinking skills. Plus it’s physical and social stimulation as well. Beside “obedience” classes there are other options such as dog sports like the dog agility class I take here in Camarillo with our friend Miss. Margie and the Seaside Scramblers. There’s also Flyball, Canine Freestyle, Rally-O and so much more. Doing an online search will certainly bring up lots of choices.
  • If you don’t have such resources close by or that don’t fit with your schedule, you might want to check out our Out of the Box Dog Training Game. Perfect for having fun with, and enhancing the bond you share with your dog while teaching the behaviors you want! Talk about a win-win.

Hmm, I wonder if the US Track and Field will ever consider having a dog team for hurdles…something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…

Take Your Dog to Work Begins With Planning Ahead

I am one lucky dog, for many reasons. One big reason is that I get to bring my mom the Ventura and Virtual dog trainer to work with me every day! Yep. Where we work she is allowed to be here with me. It’s a shame you humans aren’t as fortunate as this inquisitive canine.

The good news is June 25th is the national “Take Your Dog to Work Day” – mom will be bringing me to work with her. I just hope she gets to work at Ventura Pet Barn that day – cuz that’s one fun place to hang out.

I have found that this country is limited on locations where us dogs are allowed to go. Although I just had an awesome time going to Boston with mom and dad, it’s still seems there are lots of restrictions. I hope that if we can make this type of special occasion successful for everyone, then maybe it’ll turn into something even bigger! So let’s get ourselves prepared so us pooches can start going to more places!!!

There are a few points I’d like to address to ensure you have a successful time bringing your dog to work with you.

First: What can you expect from your dog?

Well, like you humans, dogs respond to novel situations much the same way. We might get really excited and want to greet anyone and everyone – person or dog. Or, we might become more uncertain and reserved, fearful, or “reactive” towards anything and everything.

If you’ve never taken your dog to work with you before, then the best thing would be aware of how your dog reacts to knew situations – including all the different people or conditions he or she may encounter.

Second: How can you make the experience run and positive one?

The first thing you’ll want to do is check to make sure your place of business is celebrating this special day. If so, praise your employer! If you can make it positive for everyone, he or she may invite your dog back 🙂

Ask if you can bring your dog to do some “dress rehearsals” beforehand. Spending a few minutes meeting and greeting everyone, sniffing around the office, learning where the “potty room” is (outside in a specific area), getting to know the surroundings, practicing some appropriate behaviors such as sitting and waiting at doors, elevators, office entryways etc…can help make the actual day go much more smoothly. As my mom the certified professional dog trainer says “Don’t wait to need a behavior to train a behavior.” Plan ahead!

Have other humans give your dog treats for good behaviors. If your dog is comfortable around strangers, make sure he or she gets treats from these folks too. Provide positive reinforcing moments so the dog will associate the workplace and employees with fun and pleasant times.

Do not force your dog to like anyone. If your dog appears afraid (backing up, barking and backing up, not eating and not taking treats) then I would conclude he or she is being pushed too far. Allow your dog to set the pace on how quickly he or she wants to meet people.

Provide a comfortable place for your dog to “work.” Meaning, a dog bed or mat or crate specific for him or her to hang out. Either next to you or at least in the same office/area.
Make sure your take your dog out for frequent potty breaks and fresh air. You may be able to sit at a computer for hours on end, but it’s not fair to put us dogs through it if we’re not used to it (unlike yours truly here who has to sit at the computer most of the day.)

Lastly: What are some dog training tips on how to prep your dog for office-appropriate behavior?

  • Determine what behaviors would be required for that specific office: meeting lots of new people? Remaining quiet? Lying down all day and having to be quiet? Running around? Driving around? Then whichever behaviors are going to be needed, begin teaching beforehand.
  • Know your dogs personality! Pay attention to how your dog is in new public places. What kind of work place is it? Cubicles or a ranch? Phones ringing all day or one other employee? If your dog has never been exposed to this specific workplace environment, the best thing to do is take your dog a few times beforehand  even if it’s just for a quick visit so he or she can get used to it.
  • Meet and greet appropriately: teach your dog to sit (or four paws on the floor) when meeting new people. You and the others can give treats for nice behaviors.
  • Down-stay on a mat/bed/crate: provide enrichment for the dog so he or she will have something to do while staying on his or her specific place all day. Bones, food stuffed toys, or whatever he or she likes. Sometimes a leash tethered to a desk is good, so your dog can’t just wander off while you’re on the phone. Of course, if you have to leave the room for any length of time, make sure you bring your dog with you or leave your dog with someone he or she is comfortable around.
  • Make arrangements with other staff members to take care of your dog if the guardian has to leave, even for a few minutes. You’ll need to know that your dog will be comfortable around strangers, or another known person, if you have to leave your dog.

Thanks to all of you responsible loving dog guardians who take the time to enjoy your dog. I know mom and dad enjoy bringing me to their office with them. Hmm, I wonder if mom would continue to work overtime for extra kisses? Something for this inquisitive canine to ponder.

Bicycles, Skateboards and Scooters Make for Adventurous Options When Exercising Your Dog

I was recently sent information from Mark Schuette and his company Dog Powered Scooter telling me about his inventions that enable dog guardians to exercise their dog, while at the same time the humans get some exercise, and everyone enjoys the great outdoors.

At first I was a little reluctant. Why? Because I was worried that if the dog got startled, or decided to go after something etc…that it would cause an accident. It’s important for dog guardians to keep their dog, themselves and the public safe when venturing out. My concern was also prompted because the “overly protective dog mom” kicked in – I envisioned vet visits, or ER visits – of which neither is preferred. How negative is that? Sorry Mark…not very positive of me.

Then the certified professional dog trainer and critical thinker part of me kicked in and I decided to write to Mark directly so I could educate myself! Nothing like being inquisitive! This is what Mark had to say:

Hi Joan – I’ve sold 1200 now in 6 years since i invented it- and I have never had an injury to rider or dog. The dog/bicycle/rollerblade/and any “dog out front” method of mushing products can’t say that!  its safer than most other dog sports that require quick directional changes and even safer than letting your dog off leash in a dog park or in the woods!

My systems are all straight line exercise under a small load- or no load if the rider chooses to do the work. And its hardly work- only 4-5 lbs of pull is needed to keep the rigs at speed once the rider gets it rolling.

I have several over 65 yr old customers, and also several kids and even some slightly handicapped folks. The trike is totally safe and stable and the scooter is very safe but more of a sport since some balance and riding skill is necessary- comparable to riding a bicycle (without a dog). And most of my customers are women.

Because the rider has steering and braking control over the dog AND because the dog can only go forward (they cannot turn to pull you over to the side) its safer than any other wheeled rig out there.


Well Mark I have to say all of the items sound impressive, and a nice resource for dog owners to have! I would most likely invest in one if I had a dog that enjoyed running for longer distance. Poncho is an energetic inquisitive canine for sure, but as for running, well, let’s just say he’d be more motivated to sit in a bicycle basket up front 🙂 Unless there was a mail truck attached to the front? Hmm, maybe that could be your next item!

To my friends and followers who have higher energy dogs that need a fun and safe outlet for burning off that energy, check out Marks website Dog Powered Scooter! I look forward to seeing my local friends out on the Promenade here in Ventura!

Reasons Why and Solutions for Paw Licking and Chewing Behavior in Dogs


I have a quick question for you. My dog is always chewing on her feet. I’ve heard it’s allergies to grass. Is that true? Also, is there something I can do to make her feel better?

— Emily

Dear Emily:

It’s a quick question, but one with an answer that is not as quick or simple. Regardless of the reason for your dog’s feet chewing, you’ll want to have your dog examined by a veterinarian, and possibly by one who specializes in veterinarian dermatology. That will help rule out any underlying medical causes. The paw-chewing behavior may have started initially because of a medical issue, but has since developed into a compulsory habit.

Allow me to make it clear that Poncho and I are not veterinarians. We’re canine behavior experts and would never work outside our scope of practice. My sidekick Poncho wanted to give his own spin on this subject. You can read his post on dog behavior regarding paw chewing and licking.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I’d like to provide you with questions to help you plan ahead for the visit with your dog’s veterinarian:

  • How long has your dog been partaking in feet chewing? When you say “always,” does that mean from the time she was a puppy or more recently? It would be a good idea to keep a log.
  • Does she chew on all four paws? Or just certain ones?
  • Is the area irritated? Inflamed? Swollen? Is there any hair loss? Drainage or oozing? Lumps or bumps?
  • Have you checked between her toes and around her nail beds?
  • Have you changed your dog’s diet? New medications? Shampoos? Flea medicine?
  • Is she chewing at the same time every day? The feet chewing could be a sign of stress. Maybe before being left home alone?
  • What situations are happening before and after the feet chewing occurs? Is it after she goes out and plays in the grass? After walking on hot concrete or icy walkways?
  • If it arises after she plays outside on the grass, do you use chemicals or a specific fertilizer on your grass?
  • Are there no apparent triggers? Paw licking and sucking also can be indicative of boredom, and it may help her pass the time. Or, she may just find it relaxing, pacifying and enjoyable.

If all medical reasons are ruled out, your vet most likely will encourage you to begin a behavior modification plan. It will take time, patience and consistency on your part. You will need to do the following on a regular basis:

  • Keep her busy so she doesn’t have the time or energy to chew on her feet.
  • Provide items that she would rather put in her mouth and chew, such as bully bones and interactive food toys.
  • Reward her with yummy treats for ignoring her feet and chewing on appropriate items.

Unfortunately, paw licking and chewing is one of those behaviors that can be caused by a multitude of factors, both medical and behavioral. And, yes, allergies to grass can certainly be one cause of this common canine issue.

The thought of irritated paws is unbearable enough for us humans; I can’t imagine how your dog must feel. I commend you for taking the first steps to resolving this issue, instead of ignoring it and thinking it’ll just go away on its own. It can take time and some investigative work to find a solution, but it will be well worth the effort to relieve your dog of any unnecessary irritation.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. 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 us directly.

Paw Chewing Behavior in Dog is Cause for Concern: Dog Behavior Advice for Alleviating Irritated Paws

Mom and I have received an interesting question through our dog behavior advice column about a dog that licks her paws. Although this question was addressed to my mom, who happens to be certified professional dog trainer, she and I both thought it would be better for me to address it, since I myself am of the canine variety. Plus I’ve been known to lick my paws now and again, so in this case, I’m more of the expert.

  • Q: My dog is always chewing on her feet. I’ve heard it’s allergies to grass. Is that true? Also, is there something I can do to make her feel better? – Emily
  • A: Well Emily, I’d say there is a variety of reasons why your dog might be licking her paws.

A few topics to consider:

  • If you think it might be allergies, or another medically related reason, you’ll want to have your dog checked out by her doctor. Mom and I don’t practice veterinary medicine, we’re strictly behavior, so we’d be working outside our scope of practice if we gave medical advice. You can certainly check between her toes and look closely at her skin to see if there is irritation, but there might be something you aren’t able to detect that only a medically trained professional can. If you’re in need of a vet, you can check out our Inquisitive Canine resources page for links to finding a vet in your area.
  • When/what time does she lick her paws? More often after playing in the grass? Or at specific times of the day? When she is left alone? Before going to sleep? (That’s when I lick my paws…right before going night-nights…mom says it appears similar to young humans sucking their thumbs before going to sleep…just her own observation).
  • Could it be boredom? Have you provided other items for her to lick/chew? These types of items are referred to as Enrichment. Us pooches like to chew and lick things, so her paws may be the outlet she needs. Providing an inanimate object that she loves might be your best bet for redirecting her feet chewing behavior. Something to try anyway.

Chewies like Bully sticks and antlers are some of my favorite. They last a long time, don’t splinter (I hate when things get stuck in my teeth or cause me to choke). Plus, they don’t stink up the place, and don’t stain the floor or furniture. (Mom is very happy about that!) This is a photo of me and all of my various enrichment!

I wonder if there have been studies on dogs licking paws before taking nappies? Hmm, something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…

Out of the Box Dog Training Game: All About Skill Level

The following is a most excellent question from one of my wonderful inquisitive canine students – thought I’d share it with everyone, just in case you have the same question.

Hi Joan – I have a question regarding your new Out of the Box Dog Training Game

When practicing with my dogs Ady & Ashley, I’ll want to take them from beginner to intermediate (and eventually to advanced) for certain behaviors, BUT I can’t remember what differentiated one level to the next, like the descriptions on the canine circuit training class posters. Are the cards detailed like the circuit posters? Thanks – Ady and Ashley’s mom
This is a great question, as I’m sure there are other inquisitive canine folks out there wondering the same thing. I’d be more than happy to answer this, and describe how I teach my inquisitive canine students in the various dog training classes I offer, as well as private dog training clients to make the behaviors easier or more difficult for his or her dog(s). 
The concept I teach and often refer to is “3-D Training” – Distance, Duration and Distractions. Adjusting each element on it’s own will make a behavior easier or more difficult for your dog to perform. 
When teaching your dog a new behavior, you’ll want to make it easier and increase only one “D” at a time. You’ll then either lower the other two ”D’s” or keep them the same level. To make it more difficult, or to advance your dogs skills, increase one “D” at a time. For those truly advanced dogs out there you can increase two “D’s” at a time while lowering or keeping the third one the same.  
I describe each “D” in the following way:
  • Distance: the distance between you and your dog, or your dog and the object/person you want them to go to or target. 
  • Duration: the amount of time you want your dog to hold a position. 
  • Distractions: anything, and I mean ANYTHING in the environment that your dog can be triggered or motivated by – this includes anything that can stimulate at least one of his or her senses in some way. 
A few examples related to skill level would include:
  • Distance using Recall (coming when called): Beginner level: Inside your home, no distractions, no other behaviors like sit-stay, from 5 feet away. Advanced level: 30 yards away outside at off leash dog park with a mid-way “stop and stay”. 
  • Duration using Waiting At Doors: Beginner level: Have your dog sit before being let outside, give release cue then immediately open door to let him or her outside. Advanced level, ask for sit-stay at door, open door, dog has to wait 5-10 seconds before release cue is given, allowing them to go outside. 
  • Distractions using walking on Loose Leash: Beginner level: inside home. Advanced level is walking outside with every distraction in the world. 
As a gentle reminder, remember to reward everything you want, and to increase the value of the motivator when you’re advancing those skill levels. (Motivation is another topic I bring up in the Guide Booklet” and throughout my dog training classes and private dog training sessions). 
This information can be found in the Guide Booklet of my newly developed Out of the Box Dog Training Game. It’s also part of my various dog training class welcome packets and workbooks. The great thing about understanding this concept is it makes it easy for anyone to play the game, plus you’ll be able to play it over and over, all you have to do is to adjust the skill level as you go. 
Happy training to you and your dogs, and thanks again for the question! I love when people are as inquisitive as their canines. 

Dog Training Steps For First Dog: SOCIALIZATION!

Congratulations to Bo Obama! From what my mom the dog trainer said, he found his way into the First Family via Senator Edward Kennedy – got him from a family that was having trouble caring for him… that’s questionable, but I won’t comment – mom did that for me

Okay, remember what happened with Barney Bush and nipping the (lack of common sense) reporter? Boy, Barney was called all sorts of names: dominant-aggressive, evil, annoyed – just to name a few, from many folks. The reported said Barney “wasn’t in the mood to be pet.” Well, I’ve never met Barney, but from what I saw on the Barney Youtube video, it seems like he was behaving more like a dog, and the reporter was behaving more like a human – and unfortunately, the greeting skills of each species just didn’t mix well. Oh, and yes, maybe he just wasn’t in the mood to be touched by a stranger!

As for me, Poncho the dog, I don’t appreciate someone I don’t know just coming up to me, reaching over me, and touching my head! You humans don’t like people just coming up to you and touching you, do you? Or strangers approaching your human kids and touching them? Even if you know the person, sometimes it isn’t appropriate or acceptable – why the heck do you think us dogs enjoy it?

Remember, you all have your own weird way of greeting. That hugging and shaking hands stuff is kinda strange to us. Us dogs’ never said we liked being hovered over and touched on top of the head. That is your silly interpretation. Sure, we get used to it, especially if you follow it up with something wonderful, like a treat, or that goofy baby-talk, or a belly rub – but it takes awhile for us to get to know you and make these associations. Please don’t assume just because we’re dogs that we like everything and everyone – you don’t, do you?

Okay, so what’s my point in all of this? Let’s hope that the Obama’s take the time to socialize Bo to all of the people that they’ll want him to like, all the places they’ll want him to enjoy going to. They need to help Bo create those pleasant associations with all of those things. Maybe a field-trip or two to different places – the girls schools with all of those kids. Mr. Obama’s office? Or to a press conference to get used to those pesky reporters…

Mom teaches her students about the importance of socializing their dogs…she says “Anything you want your dog to like or do as an adult, it’s best to get them used to it when they’re young.” She says not to force them to like something, but to “pair” the person or place or situation with something that the dog loves, then they’ll begin to “love” (more like “trust”) that person, place, or situation because they associate that one thing (person, place, situation) with something good. The following is a partial list of what mom recommends for good socialization:

  • People: different ages, races, genders, sizes, shapes.
  • Places: different scenarios, a variety. This would include where there are automobiles, different surfaces, such as outside to potty in the rain, vet’s office (just a drop-in to say hi), outdoor cafe, or a walk along the perimeter of a shopping mall (check the dog-friendly rules first). 
  • Sounds: loud noises, cars, trucks, buses, sirens, thunder and lightning, fireworks, wind. 
Hopefully, the First Family will take the right steps in taking Bo to a dog training class, or working with a private dog trainer, to help them properly socialize him – especially to being handled by reporters. 
Us dogs are a pretty good judge of character. I wonder if Barney was actually dialed in on this reporter and his true personality? Hmm, something for this intuitive, and inquisitive canine to ponder. 

Food-Stuffing Type Dog Toys: What the heck do I do with this thing?

You may have purchased one of those great interactive food stuffing toys for your dog, right? Maybe one of those red cone-shaped ones from the Kong Company? And you put some of your dog’s kibble with a little peanut butter in it, gave it to him or her, and left it at that. But what now? What else can you serve to your dog? OMG, there are many options. All you need to do is “think outside the bowl.”

I’ve always enjoyed feeding my own dogs’ using interactive food toys; scavenger hunts too. They enjoy eating their meals out of them as well – I can tell because their behaviors indicate excitement and joy.

The Kong Company is nice enough to supply you with lots of tips and advice on great ways to use their products. For me, I like coming up with my own “recipes” (okay, I think of them more of concoctions) with anything and everything that is safe and nutritious for dogs.

Because the Kong’s are relatively small on the inside, you aren’t able to put an entire meal in just one. So, like we humans have sets of dishes, I have purchased a few Kong’s of the same size and consider them “dishes” for our dogs’. I might just give one, along with other favorite food toys or scavenger games – or training sessions. Extra veggies might go in a bowl, if really messy, or included in his Kong, another food toy, or divided into pieces for training.

Okay, so what all do I put in it? And how do I do it? Simple…for the easiest “recipe” I combine the following ingredients*:

  • Dry food
  • Canned wet food
  • Veggies: canned pumpkin, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash etc…and anything else that might be around that he likes.
  • Fruits: apples, pears, berries (or whatever is around that he likes)
  • Grains: leftover brown rice, whole wheat pasta, couscous, quinoa, sweet and regular potatoes…and anything else leftover that he likes – plain, just a small amount to make it more interesting, and only if and when I need to use something higher value, as when training in a new location
  • Lean meats: a small piece or two to make the meal more high value

For food stuffing toys that are round shape, I mix it all together, making sure there is enough kibble and wet stuff to make it the consistency of a human type chicken salad. I add a little no-salt chicken broth or water to thin it out a bit. Then, I cover and refrigerate it overnight. This way, the kibble soaks up the water from the veggies etc…makes it a little stiffer, for easier stuffing.

Now I’m ready to prepare the meals. For Poncho, I would take one of his round-shaped Biscuit Ball Kong toys and using a small fork or spoon, I’d fill it tightly with his “casserole.” I’d then wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. This way, I can make a whole bunch of them, and keep them for when I need them. When they’re frozen, it takes him longer to go through one…instead of gulping down a meal in 10 seconds!

For Ringo, using the cone-shaped toy, I like to layer his meal. I’ll fill it halfway with dry food, the other half with wet food, and top it off by inserting a veggie stick into it – usually zucchini, carrot, cucumber or bell pepper. Because the Kong for his size mouth is pretty small, he gets not one but two Kong servings for dinner.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to have your dog go through all the “stages” – beginners level (pre-school) to “University.” If you start off with a more difficult level, your dog might get frustrated and not want anything to do with it. Making it easy gets him or her conditioned to loving their Kong – they begin to associate the toy with more excitement than just the food itself. It’s a fun game for them – plus again, this action taps into their predatory drive, and gives them something to do!

Here are some “level of difficulty” suggestions, which are based upon how quickly your dog can get the food out:

  1. Beginner: dry kibble (can add in some dry treats to make it extra tasty and enticing), top off the hole with wet food.
  2. Intermediate I: mix kibble with a little wet food, add any appropriate leftovers you want, loosely pack it – you still want to make it easy for food to come out.
  3. Intermediate II: kibble, wet food, any vet-approved leftovers you want to add (such as veggies), pack it tight.
  4. Advanced: Freeze it! Initially, you can thaw it partially before giving it to your dog, so as not to make it too difficult.

*Remember: there are some foods that are not healthy or safe for your dog – check with your vet if you are unsure. If your dog has never had a Kong, it’s best to supervise until you know he or she knows how to use it.

Updated September 9, 2018

This Dog Has Developed His Own Triathlon: Why enrichment is still important for your dog

Yep, me, Poncho-the-dog has now officially created his own triathlon! Not being a breed specific water dog, or a animal that can ride a bicycle, I’ve had to develop my own “course”. So here it is:

  1. Running with my mom the dog trainer 
  2. Retrieving my favorite toy du jour 
  3. Barking at trucks, big and small, especially diesel.
You’d think, just like my mom thought, that after getting me to my race distance goal of 3.11 miles today (yippee mom! I’m ready for my 5K), that I would have been tired enough not to do anything but nap… that was her goal after all, since she has to go to one of her private dog training sessions and wanted to leave me nice and tired so I’d take nappies instead of practicing event #3. But nope! I wanted to practice the other two events as well. 
Lucky for mom she went to plan B…giving me my lunch when she walked out the door, and managing the home environment: access to area outside to potty, but not the full yard to run amok in. Hmm, clever girl she is. 
This is how mom plans her days and works my meals and activities into her own schedule, to make it work to her advantage. You can do this with your own dogs too. Mom says instead of giving meals away for free, you humans should use them when you need them! 
For instance, if you’re going to leave your dog alone, provide some enrichment for them. It’s similar to leaving human kids at home with games, movies to watch, books to read, and snacks. 
You can leave interactive foods toys stuffed with your dogs meals. Or a “kibble hunt” – sort of like a scavenger hunt. Hide food items in safe areas of the house – inside or outside. 
You can’t expect us highly active animals to entertain ourselves all day
long without some sort of guidance? Cuz ya know many of us dogs will find our own entertainment – sometimes you humans don’t like the choices we make, so it’s up to you to help us make the right decisions. Look what happened with my friend Nellie. Her mom learned very quickly, and Nellie hasn’t done any redecorating since! 
I wonder when mom and I are going running again? I wonder if mom is ever going to organize a real custom triathlon event for me? Hmm, something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…

Tomato Loving Labrador Retriever Enjoys the Sport of Scavenging

Hi Joan

We have yellow lab/golden retriever rescue dog that we have had for 4+ years. He has a terrible habit of eating the tomatoes off of our plants when they are about ready to pick.  We have tried many things to stop this including a wire fence, cayenne pepper, etc.

He also likes to eat things off of our kitchen counters when not attended.  This includes bread in the plastic bags and the tomatoes again.  He doesn’t touch the bananas.

Can you give us suggestions on ways to stop this behavior?  We want to eat our tomatoes.

Warmest regards,

Kim Keheley Frye

Dear Kim,

I love how you don’t have an issue of getting your dog to eat his veggies (I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit) but I’m sure it can be annoying – especially when you’re unable to feed your own cravings when you come home! As a certified professional dog trainer I can offer a few ideas to help you save some of these tasty tomato morsels for yourself.

The first and all important note, according to the ASPCA website, tomato plants are known to be toxic to dogs (horses and cats too), so keeping your pooch away from these delicacies is critical. The tomatoes themselves are obviously fine for him to eat, but not the plants (leaves etc.) However, it’s a good idea to double-check all of this info with your dog’s veterinarian, just to be sure.

One way to resolve this issue is to simply get rid of the plants and hit the farmers market. But I’m sure 1) you probably thought about this already 2) you may prefer your own fabulous homegrown tomatoes! 3) your dog might find an alternate behavior that fulfills this one, but with something that could cause more harm to himself, or more damage to your yard.

Let’s talk about your current situation and the steps you’ve taken so far:

  • You have a dog living with you, and a retriever no less. This means he is hardwired to hunt and scavenge and put anything in his mouth that he can. Plus if it tastes good, why wouldn’t he eat it? However, it seems he doesn’t like everything, since he is leaving the bananas alone.
  • Your environment: Your dog has free rein in a lovely garden with enticing edible items, as well as access to a kitchen where the sport of canine counter surfing pays off. For a few tips on how to deal with this activity, please visit Poncho’s dog blog where he offers dog training tips from a canine perspective.
  • What you’ve tried: You’ve already implemented a few management techniques within your environment, and kickin’ it up a notch with the seasoning – although that might not have been your intention.

Now let’s narrow it down to the issues at hand.

  • What are the current undesired behaviors? Your dog eats all of the tomatoes in the yard and goes counter-surfing in the kitchen.
  • What are the desired behaviors? For your dog to be able to perform alternate behaviors in the garden while at the same time refraining from eating the tomatoes off the plants, and for him to be in the kitchen, behaving nicely, ignoring tempting items left out on the courter.

Okay, let’s start with an overall management plan since inanimate objects are easier to change than behavior of animals – human and canine. Then I’ll follow it up with a few training tips that could very well get you on the road to success.

  • The great outdoors: You mention you tried wire fencing. Well, you might want to revisit options for the yard. If you’re able to plant in a different location that is either out of your dogs reach of investigation, or that can have a larger, sturdier fence or barricade built around the selected tomato/veggie garden, then that might be the ticket to your happy ending.
  • Simple dog training tip: Reward your dog with petting, praise, and food treats every time he is in the garden ignoring the tomatoes.
  • As for him being allowed to eat tomatoes, why not use them to your advantage – unless you’re keeping them all for yourself. Try mashing them with some of his regular dog food and stuffing it into a food toy. This way your pooch gets the tomatoes, but in a way that keeps him busy, out of the garden and away from the kitchen counters.
  • The great indoors: I’m sure this seems obvious, but a gentle reminder to keep any items you don’t want your dog to get his paws or mouth on need to be put away. Another option is to limit his access to the kitchen. Baby gates and/or closing doors can help.
  • Simple dog training tip: Reward your dog for any and all desired behaviors he performs when in the kitchen, especially ignoring items that you inadvertently left out on the counter.  Secondly, teaching your dog to perform a down-stay on a bed or mat within the kitchen area gives him something productive to do while still being able to hang out in the kitchen area. Oh, and you can use the food toy that’s been stuffed with his tomato-kibble combo as his enrichment to keep him stimulated while on his mat in the kitchen! For more on enrichment activities that can keep your dog entertained and out of trouble, please check out our dog training tips blog.

A little planning while switching rewards around so they work to your advantage can offer a nice solution to your issues. You get to eat your tomatoes while still sharing them with your dog, when you feel like it, while all at the same time giving him “legal access” to the kitchen in a way that he will still enjoy himself.


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by certified professional dog trainer Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick Poncho the dog. Joan is the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.