Say NO To Weapons of Mutt Destruction – Choose The Best Dog Walking Gear

There is significant controversy over the use of aversive dog walking equipment such as choke, prong,
electric, and Citronella collars. Although research confirms that there are many negative side effects created by using this kind of punishment-based gear, the use of inhumane training equipment is unfortunately pretty common. Even large pet stores that claim to be animal advocates continue to sell aversive walking and training equipment.

AllisonColetteLamminen_DogTrainerAs an inquisitive dog mom, animal advocate, and certified dog trainer, I often wonder how and why gear that causes, as the ASPCA puts it, “physical discomfort and undue anxiety,” is considered acceptable. Haven’t we figured out that animals (which include us humans!) learn better in an environment that is friendly, trusting, and filled with love — not one that is ruled by anger, frustration, and pain?

Some may ask, “What’s the big deal? Haven’t those kinds of collars worked for decades now? Does it really matter how you get your dog to walk easily by your side, without pulling?”

Well, similar to outdated, ineffective medical treatments, there are high-risk side effects of using aversive equipment, which are absolutely not worth it. According to well-respected industry groups including The Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, and popular high-profile dog trainers like author and on-air personality Victoria Stilwell and Karen Pryor, world renowned animal trainer and author of Don’t Shoot the Dog, the use of aversives for training purposes must be avoided at all costs.

InquisitiveCanine_Sarah-Penn-LeashWalkingThe implications of using such equipment are enormous: from physical damage and unwanted behavioral problems including aggression to shutting down, learned helplessness and destruction of the human-animal bond, the negative consequences are both likely and also very serious. There is no reason to continue to use aversive gear for dog walking and training, especially now that we know better — because we have better information and better tools to use.

Now, I’m not saying that getting to the desired goal of getting your dog to behave nicely and appropriately while on leash is easy for everyone. It’s clear to see where challenges arise.

First off, dogs weren’t born knowing how to walk while leashed up. Secondly, humans weren’t born knowing how to operate a leash. Thirdly, add up point one and point two, and you often end up with a scene from a Three Stooges episode — but not as funny. With all the frustration coming from both ends of the leash, even I can understand why some of these aversive tools came about and why people continue to turn to them for help.

But wait! Just because I say I get it on some levels, doesn’t mean I think using punishment-based gear is a remotely good idea.

Refining walking on leash is a relatively simple and easily trainable activity that doesn’t require an iron fist. When you get a cold, do you treat it with rest, fluids, and over the counter medicine that takes a little time and patience to work – or do you turn to bloodletting to cut to the chase and get it over as quickly (and brutally) as possible?

We first need to remember that any walking equipment should be considered management tools, not training tools. Empower yourself and your dog to walk together nicely using the bond you share, communication, and a clear message — as opposed to the equipment.

InquisitiveCanine_NellieTeaching your dog to walk on leash is a simple, straightforward process. Our Leash Walking 101 post outlines some helpful tips to get you started.

As for useful dog and human-friendly equipment, I’m a proponent of the harness-leash system. For dogs that tend to pull unnecessarily on a regular walk (so I’m not talking about more complex activities like sports, Search and Rescue or Nose Work), harnesses where the leash attaches to the front is my first choice, as they tend to help reduce pulling. For dogs that don’t pull, or for specific sports and activities, a harness where the leash attaches to the back is ideal. Our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, which will be introduced in the coming months, has both – and I have designed it such that regardless of your canine’s situation, you will always have your harness bases covered.

In terms of leashes, I prefer regular four to six-foot leads — cotton, leather, nylon or whatever you prefer. Your dog and you should be walking together, so longer leashes should be necessary. Where leashes that are more than six feet long come in handy are for specific training exercises. Even retractable leashes can do the trick, but I’d only recommend them for very specific purposes and places, such as an open field with nothing the leash would get tangled on — including people, other animals, trees, bushes, etc.

As for collars, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: collars are like wallets — they’re meant to carry I.D. and complement your outfit. That’s about it.

I’m not here to chastise and point fingers. I will admit firsthand that when I adopted Poncho, I was taught to use a variety of training approaches, including collar-corrections. I never felt comfortable doing this — ever. And this was a primary reason I ended up becoming a trainer. To learn better and ultimately, do better. Instead of ignoring this dilemma, I trusted my gut instinct, questioned it, investigated, and turned to using better options that were actually easier to implement AND more effective. Talk about a win-win — for everyone, especially our beloved BFF Poncho. (That’s Best Fur Friend), but also for all of the inquisitive canines that I’ve had the pleasure of working with since then.

A recent L.A. Times article reported that the cancer rate has dropped by 25% compared to that of a quarter of a century ago, due to better diagnostics and treatment. This is a prime example of humans recognizing the treatment was as bad as the problem itself (maybe worse!), doing the research, checking old assumptions, and ultimately rejecting the status quo in order to make better choices and pursue more humane and effective treatments.

So my question to you, inquisitive animal lover, why do we continue to use and promote equipment we know can cause harm — these weapons of mutt destruction — when there are much better options out there for achieving the same goal?

A good friend mentioned there’s an update with one of the Golden Rules. It goes beyond treating others as you would want to be treated yourself. Instead, it now says we should treat others the way they want to be treated. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that dogs would prefer to be treated with a kind, loving hand over any other kind of handling.

In other words, you don’t have to be “ruff” to get the best out of your dog – humane and kind trumps ruthless and aversive any doggone day.
________________________

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

A Pawsitive Attitude is the Only New Year’s Resolution Needed for You and Your Dog

Inquisitive-Canine-Vinnie-LouieHello inquisitive pet parents, and welcome to 2017! I can’t believe we’re starting a brand new year. Time flies when you’re having fun… especially when hanging out with inquisitive canines.

When you think New Year, what’s the first word that springs to mind? If you couldn’t help but jump to “resolutions,” you’re not alone. Because who among us – human or canine – doesn’t desire and deserve a fresh start?

The key to getting your year off in a pawsitive way is to come at your goals with a dog trainer’s perspective: changes in behavior come from acting in a consistent, rewards-based, loving manner, NOT from sporadic, negative, punishing action.

My goal is to motivate, make it fun, and set everyone up for success — humans and dogs alike. So my New Year challenge for you is to shift your attitude towards your dog, and along the way, you might find you can apply some of these strategies in other areas in your life that can use some positive (pawsitive?!) adjustments.

The starting point is to first consider what you’d like to change about your canine, because
even though most of us have our dogs on pedestals and often think they can do no wrong, there’s usually one (or two) things they do that we might find annoying. And then once you hone in on what you’d like to adjust, you have to decide what’s realistic… and what’s not.

For example, do you ever have these thoughts about your pooch: “Do you have to bark at everything?” “Is it really necessary to jump on people?” “Why do you constantly have to chase everything you see, smell, and hear?”

These dog-specific behaviors are common and considered normal for the species, so for most of us, we tend to look the other way when our pets act as expected. But when these behaviors are so pronounced that we find ourselves constantly losing our tempers with our dogs, then it’s time to make a change. Because if we don’t teach them what we want, the annoyance level is likely to escalate, making us more sensitive and shortening the fuse each time they repeat the unwanted actions.

The main downside of this cycle is when you are focused on the negative, you get tunnel vision about your dog and forget all of the wonderful things he does the rest of the time. You also may forget that sometimes you actually want, expect, and appreciate some of the specific behaviors (i.e. barking) that you think you want to eliminate completely.

Here are the steps to take when modifying canine behaviors:

1) Watch what you wish for: This may sound ominous, but it’s actually a literal piece of advice: observe the behaviors you think you want to eliminate in your pet so you can honestly access how you feel about them, and also realistically, what you want to do about them.

We need to remember that these “annoying” behaviors are often what we find cute, endearing and funny. And, it’s also these behaviors that make dogs, dogs! Recognizing these factors can help bring us back to reality.

Conversely, we may be living with behaviors that aren’t serving our pets or us, and it’s then on us to take decisive steps to improve the situation.

inquisitivecanine-levi2) Make a list of realistic resolutions: Once you’ve taken some time to consider your dog’s normal behaviors, write them down divided into two categories: those that are wanted and those that are unwanted. For example:

  • Wanted: Sit, down, stay, come when called, leave things alone when asked, go-to-your-place.
  • Unwanted: excessive barking, jumping up on people (unless cued), pulling when on leash (unless cued), counter-surfing, chewing on forbidden items, digging around inappropriate areas, marking

For all the wanted behaviors, think about where and when you want your dog to perform these behaviors, for example, when sitting at doorways or to greet someone . Now’s the time to re-up your rewards game, and remember to say “thank you” when your animal makes good choices. Barking only once when the doorbell rings, keeping four-on-the-floor when meeting others, using appropriate greeting skills with fellow canines, walking nicely on leash , and eliminating in appropriate places are all worthy of acknowledgment and positive reinforcement. Give her a treat, a loud “GOOD GIRL!” and a snuggle when she is a model canine citizen.

As for the less desirable behaviors, let’s figure out if they are truly unwanted and need to end altogether, or if you need to teach your pooch when it’s okay – and when it’s not.

inquisitivecanine-dogtoyinmouthFor instance, barking. When someone is at the door or too near you personally or on your property, it can be very helpful for your dog to call your attention to the intrusion. My dog Poncho, for example, liked to alert me to “stranger danger,” when I would be loading things into the car and was a bit distracted. In this case, I appreciated his vigilance and would say “Thank you” when he did his job. On the other hand, during the more annoying bark fests, I’d ask him to be quiet, and positively reinforce him for staying silent. If he continued, I asked him to perform a more acceptable behavior, including picking up a toy and holding it in his mouth.

Other examples for teaching alternate behaviors to help keep that positive attitude might include: four-on-the-floor instead of jumping, laying on a bed or mat in areas where there are counters loaded with enticing items, and providing appropriate chew items your dog finds motivating.

3) Cop an attitude of gratitude – when you’re pawsitive, your pooch will respond in kind: What it comes down to is catching your dog in the act of doing what you want, make sure you say thank you. Express your gratitude! This alone could be one resolution that you could easily achieve. The other benefit of it is that when you stay consistent with your positive behavior of reinforcing the positive behavior of your pooch, you are engaging in what TIME magazine calls a “prevention goal.” Prevention goals are all about duties and the things that keep you on track versus “promotion goals,” which are the big, lofty, aspirational goals that are easy to dream about but are much harder to achieve. Your refreshed, pawsitive attitude, clarity and consistency around those canine behaviors that enhance, not detract from, your household are resolutions that are much easier to keep, all year long.

From all of us here at IC HQ’s, we wish you and your inquisitive canine a happy, healthy, doggone great New Year!


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

Managing Leashed Dog While Off-Leash Dogs Want to Visit

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

How do I handle the situation when I am walking my boxer on her leash and we are confronted by an off leash dog or two? It happens a lot in my neighborhood and my former street dog (she was rescued from a neglectful life of living on the streets of East Dallas) goes crazy and barks and lunges at the dogs. I have worked with her so she no longer lunges at dogs behind fences but she continues to go crazy at the off leash roamers.

Ellen G.

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for writing in! We appreciate questions such as these, since there are many in your walking shoes experiencing the same situation. The following are a few quick tips you can use to help with enjoying your leash-walks.

Poncho and Ferris Out for Walkies

Interrupt and redirect! It sounds as if you’re already initiating this dog training maneuver when encountering dogs behind fences – now you can take it a step further. An easy and fun game you can play is “Find it! All you have to do is say “find it” when she alerts to another dog, then toss a small treat on the ground in the direction you want your dog do walk. The intention of the game is to redirect her attention elsewhere while making it fun and rewarding – more than barking and lunging at the other dogs. (Using a treat she’d do backflips over would make an even bigger impact!) With proper timing and consistency she should begin to create an association of “other dogs” = “fun”! You’ll know she’s understanding the game when she sees another dog and then looks at you almost as if asking “Are we going to play now?”

If your inquisitive canine is more of an obedience expert, you can play the same game, but in leu of playing “find it”, you can run through her gamut of “tricks”. The principle is the same in that every time another dog appears life gets better for her!

Keep it loosey-goosey! Leashes can be restrictive when dogs are trying to communicate with others – dogs and people. However, they’re important when in areas he or she can run off and get hurt or harm something else. Plus, in many areas it’s the law. To allow your dog freedom of speech in her innate language with the other pooch’s, avoid tightening up on the leash. IF (and this is a big IF) it’s safe for her, for the other dog, okay with the other owner (if they’re around), the general public, an

Allow your dog to speak! Our domestic dogs have a language all their own. Allowing your dog the opportunity to speak her mind will help her convey her message to the other dog, and vice-versa. She might be using both her vocal and body language skills. Similar to when any two people are talking, especially in a language we’re not fluent in, it’s best to avoid interrupting. d you’re comfortable with it, drop the leash. Again, this allows her more control over her behavior – which we all want, right?

Learn to “speak dog”! In addition to allowing the dogs to communicate, you’ll want to take a foreign language course in “dog-talk”. This is helpful for watching your own pooch, as well as others you encounter – especially those who are unfamiliar. A dog whose body and face is relaxed and loose, tail wiggly-waggy in movement, mouth open with tongue possibly hanging out while walking towards you using a bouncy gait is more likely to be friendly. The complete opposite – body stiff, mouth closed with tense face, stiff gate, head downward but gazing towards you/your dog – is a dog you’d want to question – it doesn’t mean he or she would want to start a fight, but this type of language might be conveying more of a reserved greeting. When in doubt you can use the little trick of taking a handful of treats and tossing them at the other dog while you head off in another direction.

Paws and reflect: Make the experience fun and rewarding, versus stressful, and be prepared for what your plan of action is for those times you see another dog while on walks. Also, remember to allow your dog to speak her mind when other dogs are around.With time, practice and consistency, you can make the experience a walk in the park – or wherever your dogs leash takes you.

Building Trust with Your New Bashful Bow-wow

Dear Inquisitive Canine, 

Shy Puppy in Class

Our new Shih Tzu puppy hides from us, only coming out when no one is around. She also lowers her head when we pet her. I know it takes time, but I’ve heard some dogs will start interacting with their new environment after 1-3 days, and tomorrow will be her third day here. I just want her to be

a happy puppy. What should I do and how should I do it?

Renee T.

Dear Renee,

Poncho here! My certified dog trainer mom thought it best if I take this one. First off, allow me to say “atta girl!” for being inquisitive, aware of your situation and taking the time to ask questions about your new puppy. I’d also like to commend you for being such a keen observer of her body language and your ability to listen to what she’s “saying.”

Once a young pup myself, I can speak firsthand as to how learning to trust new people, places and situations takes time and practice. I’m happy to pass along a few simple dog training tips you can use to help your wallflower fido become the more confident canine you’d like her to be.

Treats, Love and Understanding

Let’s start with a few knowledge nuggets regarding the topic of fear. I’m talking about fear as it relates to her feelings, her emotional state and her ability to make her own decisions.

The primary stage of your dog’s life when she’s most open to new people and situations is 0-3 months — a very narrow window in which sociability wins out over being afraid. If your pup wasn’t introduced to a variety of people and situations during this time, then chances are it’ll be tougher for her to adapt, since the fear response starts to win the race as she ages. However, not all hope is lost. You can certainly teach her anything she is physically and mentally capable of doing, including trusting and enjoying her new life with you and all that’s in it!

Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Keep It Simple. During this crucial teaching time, you’ll want to keep things simple and fun. All you have to do is pair something your bashful bow-wow might be uncertain about with something she already loves! For instance, since we animals must eat, you and others can provide extra-yummy goodies for her, such as pieces of grilled chicken or steak (I love when my mom does that!), allowing her to approach you. If she’s still hesitant, try tossing pieces toward her, building the trail of trust till she is confident enough to approach.
  • Adjust Expectations, Little by Little. Believe me, you’ll want to take baby-steps when working with her. As long as she continues to advance toward you, accepting your kindness and that of strangers, you can keep forging ahead at a slow-and-steady pace. If and when she decides to back off, respect her wishes and allow her to make that choice.
  • The Triple-P of Giving Treats. Once she begins to show signs of confidence, coming toward you and being close to you, begin hand-feeding her. Others in your home can do this as well. As she gets more comfortable, you can begin the Triple-P Treat Training Plan: Pet, praise, then present the treat. Petting should begin with light touches under her chin, working your way around as she gets more comfortable. And — this is really important — all petting should be followed with a yummy nibble of treat goodness. I recommend making the top of her head the last location, since hands reaching over will cause her to pull back.

As for additional situations and locations, repeat the same steps in places you want her to enjoy hanging out. Over time, she should learn to believe that her new world is a fantastic place and her confidence should build, making it easier for her to accept and believe that novelty is the spice of life!

Paws and Reflect

Fearfulness is a normal reaction across many different species. Your pup is responding in a way that is innate — avoiding in order to survive. It can be difficult to not take it personally, but keep in mind that developing a relationship with strangers, especially those of a different species, is more about building trust and not about liking. With a caring dog-mom like you being patient, allowing her to set the pace, giving her control over her environment and being able to make her own decisions, your bashful bow-wow will begin to enjoy her life with you in time and blossom into that self-assured pup you want!


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, commonsense 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 and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, 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, please email them directly.

Real Simple Dog Training Steps to Make Life Easier on Dogs and Dog Owners

Poncho and Mama New Years Day 2012When it comes to dog behavior and training, it’s common for many to lose sight of the bigger picture of how great our dogs are. In general people tend to focus on the irritating things their dog does, even though these are often the behaviors that drew them to their pooches in the first place.

As a professional dog trainer I like to remind dog training students that for every day life, keeping it simple and focusing on the positive can help guide your training, as well as enhance the relationship you have with your dog. There’s a time and place for structured action plans, but for the overall, ongoing, every day stuff I suggest a few of the following:

  • Keep a more optimistic and positive outlook on your dog’s behavior. These are key elements in teaching and shaping their behavior.
  • Focus in on and reward the behaviors you like and want. This results in getting more of the desired behaviors, and less of the unwanted ones. Similar to us, our dogs can never be thanked too much, for the little things.
  • Visualize what you want from your dog, so you know what to teach them. This will help you look at your dog with a more positive attitude, and not the negative. Continue Reading “Real Simple Dog Training Steps to Make Life Easier on Dogs and Dog Owners”

Resolve to Help Keep Dogs in Homes and out of Shelters

Dear Inquisitive Dog Parents,

The new year is officially here. For many, this means creating lists of resolutions with intentions of modifying one’s behavior. In honor of this tradition, my sidekick, Poncho, and I have decided to join in, talking about resolutions to help dogs stay in their homes and out of animal shelters. We encourage you to team up with us and add the dogs of your community — whether your own or someone else’s — to your list of personal achievements.

Solutions Start with Preparation

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy on Reasons for Relinquishment of Companion Animals in U.S. Animal Shelters, the top reasons dogs are sent to shelters have to do with living situations, cost, time, owners having personal problems and behavioral concerns of the dogs themselves.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I can attest to this, as I commonly hear similar complaints. As for Poncho, he used to live in a shelter, so he knows firsthand the reasons he and his buddies landed there. Together, he and I have compiled the following tips to help dog lovers everywhere do what they can to reduce the shelter dog population: Continue Reading “Resolve to Help Keep Dogs in Homes and out of Shelters”

Old Dog, New Year, New Resolutions

Attention Dog Parents!

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – Wow! Welcome to 2012! As an inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human behavior, I’ve learned that many of you bi-pedals start the new year with a list of self-improvement goals for the next twelve months. I thought it would be the perfect time to jump on this little bandwagon, explore a few of the more common commitments found on these resolution lists, and apply them to life with a dog.

Here are my special tenet’s to honor the new year:

  • Get Fit: Looking for ways to stay in shape or lose a little holiday weight? What about your dog’s weight? Is he or she more on the curvy side? How about their endurance? If either or both are an issue, or if you just want to maintain your current condition, the new year is an ideal time to start fresh, don some new athletic shoes and begin an exercise program. You will find no better or more enthusiastic training partner than your dog. Walking, jogging, running, hiking, playing hide ‘n’ seek, attending a dog training class or joining a canine sport group, such as agility or Flyball, are all known to boost physical and mental health – for humans and canines alike!
  • Learn Something New: Think your dog is only able to absorb information when they’re a puppy? Newsflash, folks! You can teach an old dog new tricks! Yep – whether we’re old, young, big, small, male, or female, we are all eager to learn–and, we enjoy it! We’ll never argue about going to school, either! Dogs enjoy sharpening their skills, as well as learning new ones. Nowadays there are more options than ever for dog training classes and workshops. Once you’re done reading through your daily Edhat, head over to your Google search field and check to see what’s in your neighborhood or online in the virtual classroom. Continue Reading “Old Dog, New Year, New Resolutions”

Dog Behavior Quiz: Is Home Alone Stressful or Big Bore?

Now that the dog days of summer are winding down and we’re heading into the busy fall season, it seems that back-to-school means our dogs are left at home on their own with the responsibility of entertaining themselves. This sudden shift in routine – family around all the time to suddenly being gone all day – can sometimes lead to behavioral issues related to isolation.

Poncho and I developed this little quiz for you to take to help determine if your dog might be bored, be on the brink of isolation distress (a.k.a: separation anxiety), or just hunky dory about being on their own.

Q: As you’re going through your ritual to leave for work and/or school, your dog:

  1. Lies on his or her bed, watching you get ready, relaxed.
  2. Begins pacing around back and forth, clinging to you.

Q: You head out the door, closing the door behind you. Your dog:

  1. Stays behind, relaxed as if they’re saying “Have a nice day!”
  2. Whimpers, whines, and scratches at the door to go with you.

Q: You come home from being away for only a half hour or so. It appears your dog:

  1. Didn’t appear to care one way or another. He or she was happy when you got home, plus the food you left for them has been eaten up!
  2. Eliminated on the rug, chewed up the door and window frame, and left the bowl of food alone.

Q: You come home from being gone all day. It appears your dog:

  1. Didn’t appear to care one way or another. He or she was happy when you get home, plus the food you left for them has been eaten up!
  2. Eliminated on the rug, chewed up the door and window frame, and left the bowl of food alone, chewed up paws, and according to your neighbors barked and howled all day.
  3. Is excited to see you, as if running to say “Welcome home!” However, you notice that not only is the food in the bowl gone, but your dog went counter-surfing and dumpster diving in your kitchen, redecorated the living room by chewing up the couch and pillows, helped with laundry by dragging it all over the house and chewing up your new socks, and topped it off by re-landscaping the yard by digging up the flowers you just planted.

RESULTS:

If you’ve answered mostly 1’s in each question, then bravo to you! You’ve done a great job at teaching your dog to be independent and comfortable on his or her own! If you’ve answered mostly 2’s for each question then we recommend you consult with a certified professional dog trainer and/or vet behaviorist to discuss signs and symptoms related to canine isolation distress. There are medications and behavior modification plans that can be implemented to help with these issues.

If you’ve answered 3 to the last question, then consider your dog might be bored – scenarios such as this means your inquisitive canine is designing his or her own scavenger hunt! Providing enrichment is key to help prevent boredom related issues. Being passionate about this topic ourselves, we’ve blogged about it a lot! So click here to find out more about enrichment for dogs.

Keep in mind that our canine companions are social animals – they enjoy the company of others and often do not do well when left alone – unless you condition them to do so. Taking the time to teach them independence and coping skills are key in raising a healthy and happy dog! For help with these matters and more, feel free to contact us directly.

Training Tips for Dog-Eat-Dog Sibling Rivalry

Dear Inquisitive Canine:

I have two male Yorkshire terriers, Smokey and Charlie. They are about 2 years old, half-brothers (same father), and up until four months ago they slept together, played with each other and even ate and drank from the same bowls.

After breeding Smokey (in our home), we noticed that he started to become upset at various times toward Charlie — especially when Charlie was around my husband or our son. We’d give Smokey a five- to 10-minute timeout, and then both dogs would be fine.

Over time, we started to notice that Charlie would hide under the dining room table until Smokey would walk away from the food bowl — then Charlie would come out to eat. On occasion, Smokey would come running back, prompting Charlie to run back under the table, so we decided to use separate bowls.

We’ve tried desensitizing them (as our trainer put it), by placing each in their own crate, facing toward each other, barking and going nuts trying to figure out how to get out of the crate to get to the other dog. We’ve taken them to our vet, who says there is nothing physically wrong with either dog.

It has been nearly four months, both dogs are living in the same house but in separate areas, they no longer can be in the same room, nor can one actually see the other without wanting to charge at it.

I’m about ready to give up. Please help!

— Smokey and Charlie’s Mother

Dear Smokey and Charlie’s Mom:

Wow, this is indeed quite a doggy dilemma you have on your hands. I’m sure it’s a scenario you never imagined would happen.

I have to commend you on your keen observational skills. It seems you have become an expert in reading Charlie and Smokey’s body language. Bravo! I’d also like to acknowledge your efforts by having both dogs examined by your veterinarian. That’s a very important step to rule out medical issues when behavioral problems transpire.

Depending on what your goals, you might want to consider the following:

  • If you haven’t done so already, check with your vet on the option of having Smokey and Charlie neutered. There is a higher incidence of interdog aggression between intact males, especially those living under the same roof. There’s no guarantee, of course, but it could help.
  • Continue to keep the dogs separated until you can work with a professional certified pet dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist who has experience with aggression cases such as yours. For help finding a qualified professional, check out these resources for dog owners.
  • Each dog should still have walks, outings and play time with each family member. The only change in their routine should be that they are isolated from each other, unless you’re in training mode.
  • Another management tool is a plastic basket muzzle for Smokey, to help prevent biting. However, this should not take the place of training. A muzzle won’t train Smokey to like Charlie, but it can help prevent an actual bite incident.

You mentioned that you’ve worked with a trainer, but it sounds as if he or she suggested you use a technique called “flooding,” as opposed to “desensitization.” Depending on the individual animal, the anxiety-producing trigger, and timing of your rewards or punishments, can — often inadvertently — make matters worse.

The type of training steps will definitely revolve around the counter-conditioning and desensitization path. This is another type of “exposure treatment,” but one where the anxiety-producing trigger — in this case each dog — is delivered at very low intensity, while at the same time being paired with something each dog loves, such as steak. In a nutshell, the presence of Smokey will predict fabulous and wonderful things for Charlie, and vice versa.

Right now, the mere sight of the other causes emotional turmoil. To reverse that, you need to pair each dog with something the other dog loves, then they’ll learn to once again love each other.

It’s often best to follow a “slow and steady wins the race” plan. Think of it as learning to swim: looking at a picture of a pool, baby toe in the kiddie pool, sitting in the shallow end, wading in the shallow end, walking around the shallow end, face in the water for a split second, etc. As opposed to being pushed off the high-dive into the deep end with no lifeguard around. It’s not the most effective way for humans to learn, and I’m sure you’d agree that dogs don’t learn well this way either.

You’ve done the right thing by managing your environment. You certainly don’t want your dogs practicing behaviors you don’t want, or being subjected to more stressful situations than they have already. Because this scenario has gone on for some time, it doesn’t seem to be getting better and it appears to have put both dogs and humans at risk of injury, I would highly recommend seeking professional help so you can restore your happy canine home. To help find a qualified certified dog trainer, check the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website for a one who can offer services that pertain to your situation.