What Is Your Dog Saying? A Key to Canine Body Language


Stopthat get back here.jpg

Keys to Understanding Canine Body Language

Every dog, whether Akita, bichon, or beagle, knows the same language. You and your dog probably pick up on each other’s signals without thinking much about it. But if your dog begins to behave differently, if you are getting to know a new dog, or if you encounter a dog you don’t know, it helps to be able to read the universal body language of dogs.

If you and your dog landed in Tokyo or Timbuktu tomorrow and were greeted by a local person and his dog, it would take only a few minutes for the two dogs to understand each other. Hours later, you would still be wondering if you were bowing properly, making acceptable hand gestures, or using the right table manners. The dogs, on the other hand, would know just what to do – the lead dog eats first.

Signals Dogs Use to Communicate

Although a dog can’t speak and has no hands and fingers for gesturing as humans do, you can watch key parts of his body to determine how he’s feeling and reacting to the world around him.

Face. Although the dog’s facial muscles are not as refined as a human’s, he can wrinkle or straighten his forehead to show confusion or determination. If your dog wants you to give him further direction, he may raise his eyelids quizzically and tilt his head to one side.

Eyes. A dog’s eyes brighten when he looks at a creature he considers friendly and when he wants to play. If he is afraid, his pupils dilate and he shows the whites of his eyes. He averts his eyes to avoid confrontation. But if he is angry or ready to defend himself, his eyes narrow and follow your every move. At this point, it’s particularly important not to look the dog in the eye because he sees that as a challenge to defend his position.

Lips, teeth and tongue. A relaxed dog in normal posture may let his tongue loll out of his mouth. If he wants something from you, if he is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back in what appears to be a smile and show his teeth, an expression, by the way, dogs show only to humans and not to other dogs. But beware the dog that bares his clenched teeth and wrinkles his nose. He is ready to attack.

Ears. The dog’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours and even dogs with floppy ears have the ability to move and turn them to follow sounds. If a dog’s ears are raised, he is relaxed, listening, or showing acceptance. If they are back, he may be signaling submission and deference or may be frankly fearful.

Tail. A dog wags his tail when he is happy or wants to play. It is really an energy indicator. When he is submissive, he tucks it between his legs. A taut tail, held down rigidly behind him, may show that he is prepared to spring since he uses his tail for balance when jumping.

Voice. Dogs are vocal animals. They yip, bark, whimper, howl, and growl. The pitch or volume of their sounds can increase with their level of emotion. A bark may be playful or aggressive. Unlike body signals, dog noises can mean different things from different dogs.

Never tell a dog off for Growling.png

Dog Posture Speaks Volumes – What Your Dog is Saying

When two dogs meet, as long as their human companions aren’t tugging tight on their leashes, they carry out a series of actions that looks like a choreographed dance. With their bodies tense and tails taut, they circle and sniff each other, silently gathering and exchanging information, ready to defend themselves at any moment if necessary. They hold their ears back and the hair on their back may stand on end. They often avoid direct eye contact at first, sizing each other up to determine if the stranger is strong or weak, male or female, hostile or non-hostile. One dog may place his head on the nape of the other’s neck or nip at his nose. It seems they are getting ready to fight and then, one lies down. Soon, they may separate and urinate. At this point they have agreed on which dog is dominant.


Dogs learn body language from their mothers during the first 8 weeks of their lives and they test out this form of communication with their litter-mates. If a dog misses out on such training, he will have trouble communicating with other dogs throughout life.

Normal posture. The dog appears alert with head held high. His tail moves freely. His jaw is relaxed.

Invitation to play. The dog happily signals his desire to play by wagging his tail and dipping down into a “play bow.” His front legs are in a crouch and his backbone swoops up, leaving his rear haunches high. His head is held up expectantly to capture your attention. He may raise a front leg or lean to one side with his head.

Submission. The dog crouches down further and still appears relaxed. He may lift a front foot as in a play invitation, but his ears are back and his tail is down. He may yawn, scratch, or sneeze, which is meant to calm him and the dogs or people confronting him.

Fearful aggression. A dog who is afraid tenses his body and holds his tail rigid, though it may be wagging. His rear legs are ready to run or spring. He bares his teeth, draws back his ears and the hair on his back stands on end. He growls or snarls constantly to warn off the subject of his fear.

Dominance aggression. Teeth bared, this dog stares you down and advances confidently with his tail wagging slowly and his ears in the forward (alert) position.

Total submission. The dog drops his tail and curls it between his legs. He drops his head to avoid eye contact. He rolls over on his side and bares his belly, with one hind leg raised and urinates. If he isn’t afraid, he’ll tilt his head up a bit and raise his ears to show trust.



Are your dog’s hiccups just annoying or a real medical problem?

Dogs get hiccups.

DDB Puppies Log

Who knew, right? It turns out that this is a fairly common occurrence, especially in puppies. But what causes dog hiccups, and are there ever cases in which they actually indicate a medical problem?

Hiccups are defined by Merriam-Webster as a “spasmodic inhalation with closure of the glottis accompanied by a peculiar sound.” They occur when the diaphragm – the membranous divider of the abdomen from the thorax – spasms. The diaphragm receives its nerve supply from the phrenic nerve, which is a large, important nerve originating from the cervical (neck) spinal cord. The phrenic nerve receives information from and transmits information to the diaphragm, assisting in respiration.

If the phrenic nerve is immature (as in puppies) or becomes irritated (as in adults), then hiccups can result.

Does Your Puppy Get Hiccups?

Puppy hiccups are generally not a concern. As with human babies, puppies will hiccup in utero and after birth. This is because the phrenic nerve and diaphragm haven’t finished maturing and are easily stimulated. As puppies age, they should grow out of it. According to the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), most will no longer have these bouts of hiccups after about 4 months of age, although some can persist up to 6 months. If a puppy has hiccups and they are lasting a long time or seem irritating, you can attempt to place the pup on their back and roll them gently side-to-side a couple of times. Sometimes, this will stop the spasm.

Adult Dog Hiccups

Hiccups are much less common in older dogs, as the phrenic nerve and diaphragm are mature and less easily irritated. As with any scenario, a change in a dog’s normal health status should be evaluated by a trusted veterinarian. If your dog suddenly starts to develop frequent bouts of hiccups, a vet visit is in order.

Your veterinarian will gather a thorough history—asking details about when the problem started, how long the bouts last, and if anything seems to trigger it. Afterwards, a physical examination will be conducted. This includes vital signs, a weight, and examination of the major systems—skin, heart and lungs, lymph nodes, the orthopedic system, and the abdominal organs. If no abnormalities are found, your veterinarian may recommend simple observation at home. This might include recording the episode over the course of several days. Several different conditions may mimic hiccups including focal seizures, reverse sneezing, or reflux disease. A recording will help your veterinarian identify what is happening.

X-rays of the abdomen and chest might also be recommended. Since hiccups originate from phrenic nerve/diaphragm irritability, anything causing pressure on the diaphragm (from inside the chest or the abdomen) could lead to them. X-rays may help identify a cause.

If they do not, your veterinarian will likely take a wait-and-see approach. Chronic hiccups in humans have been linked to a host of disorders including lesions found in the central nervous system, pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart), cancers of the neck, chest, and abdomen, and electrolyte abnormalities. This doesn’t necessarily correlate to dogs, but it is helpful information to have if further investigation is pursued. Case reports of dogs with chronic hiccups are rare, so it is hard to know if they are medically significant. In most cases, they are likely not.

There is no real treatment for hiccups. Some home remedies include the rolling technique described above and putting a teaspoon of sugar on the back of the tongue. Whether these work or not has not been thoroughly investigated.

As always, when in doubt, check in with your veterinarian for advice!


How to choose the right breed and prepare for his arrival.

Shopping for a new puppy?

DDB Puppies Log


 Here’s how to choose the right breed and prepare for his arrival.

So you and your family have decided to add a puppy to your household! There are many things you’ll need to consider to ensure you buy just the right breed for your home, family and lifestyle. And you’ll also need to prepare for his arrival so that he becomes a valued member of your household as quickly as possible! Keep these tips in mind.


  1. Make a plan

First of all, establish that everyone in the family is on board with introducing a puppy.  Lay down some basic rules: who will feed him, take him out in the yard, walk him, train him, and groom him, where will he sleep, and so on.


  1. Choose wisely

Age matters

Most people think that getting a dog means getting a puppy, but for families with small children or elderly relatives, an older dog may work out better. An older dog will have outgrown his puppy silliness and boisterousness, be house- and lead-trained, and should have some basic manners. If this is your preference, let the breeders know when you make your inquiries, as they may have an older puppy or young adult, or even a retired show dog, available for a new home. Rescue groups for a particular breed may also have a suitable dog.


The right breed

Consider the size of the dog and the ages of your children before committing to a particular breed. A rambunctious large-breed puppy might accidentally knock over a toddler, whereas a very small-breed puppy may get hurt if children play roughly with it.

Many family-friendly breeds will happily welcome everyone into their homes. Some owners may be better suited with breeds that are known to devote themselves to just one or two people, and that will deter intruders rather than greeting all visitors indiscriminately with a wagging tail. Consider which temperament will suit you best.

Coat care

Long-haired or smooth-haired? Be prepared for coat care regardless of the dog’s breed, but know that long hair requires a grooming commitment. Be sure someone in the family is willing to take on this task. A short-haired breed will cut down on grooming time, but the house-proud owner should be aware that many dogs will shed profusely all over the upholstered furniture unless regularly and thoroughly groomed!

Busy or laid back?

Some breeds are very active and require lots of exercise – in their traditional working roles, these dogs have been bred to spend long hours outdoors and on the move. If yours is a couch potato family, then choose a breed known for its more laid-back attitude. An energetic puppy forced into inactivity will find ways to amuse himself, including wrecking your home out of boredom!

If you have ambitions for training your new companion for performance events such as obedience, agility or field trials, pick a breed known for its intelligence, trainability and suitability for such activities. Remember that these breeds are also likely to need a lot of exercise.

  1. Reach out

Once you have narrowed down suitable breeds, it’s time to contact breeders! If you have your heart set on a rarer breed, be prepared to go a long distance as you may not find a breeder locally; it’s also likely you’ll be put on a waiting list for a future puppy.

Ask questions of the breeder – she won’t mind sensible questions. Enquire how long she’s owned the breed, what dog-related activities she participates in, the guarantees and references offered, what health tests were done on the parents, and at what age she lets her puppies go to new homes. Also ask if you can return the puppy if he doesn’t work out or if you can no longer keep him. A reputable breeder cares very much where her puppies go, and if she cannot take the puppy back herself she should offer to help re-home him. Be prepared for many questions from the breeder too, regarding your suitability as a new owner.

The next step is to puppy-proof your home! Move houseplants up high (many are toxic), ensure trash cans are out of reach or have dog-proof lids, keep medications and cleaning supplies behind closed doors, hide electrical cords, don’t leave small or precious objects within his reach, and ensure he can’t get into the cat litter box if you have one. Puppies are curious and insatiable chewers – anything they can reach will go into their mouths.

Using a crate is a very effective way to housebreak a puppy. Dogs have an instinct to seek out a “den”. A puppy will consider the crate his den and will not soil it unless absolutely necessary. It will also become his retreat when he wishes to nap undisturbed. A crate is also essential when travelling: a dog is much safer in a crate than roaming loose in your vehicle.

What will you need for your new puppy? There are a number of things you should have on hand before you bring him home.

First, you’ll need the basics – a collar and lead, and an ID tag from your local municipality.

Some puppy food is necessary, of course – ask the breeder what food her litters are raised on – and food and water dishes, too.

He’ll need some toys for entertainment – try squeaky toys, soft toys and chew toys to determine which type he prefers.

Buy some basic grooming supplies such as a brush, comb, shampoo and nail clippers. Depending on the breed and coat care required, more specific items might be needed later if you are intending to look after his coat yourself – e.g. electric clippers and different kinds of grooming shears and brushes.

In your home, you’ll need a crate to confine him on occasions; it will also help housetrain him. Baby gates will help keep him out of certain areas of your home until he is completely trustworthy.

For bedding, use a towel or blanket that can be easily washed.

You will probably want some books to educate yourself on your new companion. A breed book or two and a basic reference book on behaviour and training will be useful.

Bringing home a new puppy is a time of excitement and anticipation for your family. Careful preparation beforehand will ensure your new pup has a great start in life.

silence is golden unless puppy

The Dog Nanny website

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Bordeaux Kiss
There are a lot of reasons why dogs lick people’s hands, feet or faces. It might mean your dog wants to show you affection, but it could also be because you taste good or that your dog is struggling with compulsive behavior.

dog kissing feet
If your dog is a foot-licker, chances are he just likes to taste the salt on them.

If you are wearing sweet-scented lotion, or come home sweaty, your dog might be licking you because you taste good. I know my own dogs are very excited to lick my hands if I’ve been eating something greasy or salty, like potato chips. People should not be alarmed by their dogs finding them delicious – they probably won’t take a bite out of you!

While most of the time dog kisses aren’t anything to be concerned about, there are times when the kissing might be a sign of something else going on with your dog. The caution is that there might be an underlying health issue “if the licking seems to be compulsive, excessive, or self-destructive; if it is difficult to redirect your dog or they are harming themselves, you should consult with your veterinarian for help addressing this issue.”

dog chewing paw
This kind of destructive licking and/or chewing warrants a vet visit. It indicates a behavioral disorder or perhaps allergies.

Are Dog Kisses Actually Signs of Affection?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to dogs’ intentions when licking their people, but it seems to come down to whether your dog is seeking you out, or if you are seeking your dog out.

“It’s helpful to look at the context of the licking to better understand and pay attention to other signals besides the licking or the kiss, such as the dog approaching the owner and choosing to engage in the behavior despite having the option to move away or leave; or was the dog thrust upon and looking away and licking his lips as well?” In other words, forced affection on the part of the guardian can warp the true intention of a dog’s kiss – a dog will “kiss” your face to appease you and make go away rather than to display their love for you.

Dog Kiss

dog kisses
The following important reminder: “it’s always best to invite your dog to approach you so that you feel more confident they’ve made that choice willingly. When you begin to respect your dog’s autonomy, you see more comfort and confidence in their behavior.” What you can count on as a result is knowing the way your dog behaves with you is genuine.

For safety reasons (and this is a hard one for many of us who share our lives with dogs), is that it is not recommended for people to put their faces up to their dogs’ faces. Although this is often done as a sign of affection from us, it is very commonly invasive to our dogs and they may not appreciate it. This is where we most often see dogs licking or “kissing” their person’s face as a way for the dog to avoid conflict.

This “Kiss to Dismiss”, as coined by the Family Paws Organization, is often paired with a look away from the person and licking of lips. If you would like to have a close moment with your dog, invite them to do so with you, and if they want to come up to your face, they will – but if not, respect it when they say ‘no’. Obviously we want our dogs to be comfortable so it’s important to be thoughtful of how we physically show emotions to our dogs, so that our dogs don’t feel pressured to appease us through kisses.

dog kisses
This dog is definitely not feeling affectionate right now: look at how the dog is looking away and licking her lips! The human’s head is way too close for her comfort.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking You
If your dog is prone to kisses and you or your family and guests aren’t fans of it, the best thing you can do is to be proactive with training your dog.

“If you see them approaching and you know they’re going to lick you, ask them to sit as they approach, then redirect their affection and energy onto a toy or other activity. If, when you sit down to watch TV, your dog tries to give you a tongue bath, give them a stuffed Kong or a bone to enjoy instead of your sweat or lotion.”

Getting ahead of the behavior is particularly important. “If you wait until they are already licking you to always redirect, you may inadvertently reinforce the licking behavior with a treat or chew,” . Simply this means your dog may increase his licking in order to get the treats you were using to redirect the licking in the first place.

If you have a hard time redirecting your dog or discouraging licking behavior, it’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to determine if there is something going on with your dog causing what might be obsessive licking behavior. Dog trainer Marcia Murray reminds us that, “Licking as in lip licking or tongue flicks are a sign of stress.” She also points out that it can happen quickly and that dog guardians may not even realize that their dog is stressed.

The Dog Nanny

The Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can’t Eat

Dog Diet & Nutrition

lab eat garden

There are human foods that are completely safe for dogs and also foods that are dangerous and even potentially fatal. Many pet owners learn about toxic foods only after their dog has ingested something and started having abnormal symptoms.

Dogs are naturally curious and have an amazing sense of smell. This combination often leads to them to get into purses, get food off counters, steal food from grills, get into trash cans, and sneak food from plates. Other times, well-intentioned pet owners offer tables scraps or human foods without understanding that they are toxic.

Below, we will review what can’t dogs eat as well as list what is safe. It is important to have healthy alternatives once you know what is not safe.


Safe Food for Dogs

There are many human foods that are “safe” for dogs. However, there are no human foods that dogs need. What dogs need is a good quality food formulated for the size, age, and activity of your dog.   However, I do personally think a varied Diet is better for overall health in the long run.


There are many human foods you can feed your dog safely. By safely, I mean these foods below are not toxic to dogs. However, large quantities of any food or food given to dogs with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts can lead to problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and/or pancreatitis.

Safe foods and treats for dogs:


Apples – small amounts without the seeds






Broccoli – cooked or raw clean/washed

Brussels sprouts


Carrots – cooked or raw clean/washed


Celery – cooked or raw clean/washed


Chicken – cooked

Cooked fish such as salmon

Cooked green beans. In fact, some pet owners give green beans to aid in weight loss.

Cooked ground beef or steak

Cottage Cheese


Eggs link


Freshly cooked lunch meat

Iceberg Lettuce







Popcorn (without Salt)

Pork – cooked

Potato – raw or cooked plain or sweet

Pumpkin – cooked

Rice or rice cake


Turkey – cooked




Specific foods that veterinarians commonly recommend NOT to give to dogs include the following:


Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums.

Ingestion of large amounts of stems, seeds, and leaves of these fruits can be toxic. They contain a cyanide type compound and signs of toxicity include anxiety, dilated pupils, labored breathing, fast breathing, and shock. Small pieces of cleaned apple without the seeds can be safe.


The leaves, fruit, bark, and seeds of avocados have previously all been reported to be toxic due to “persin” found in the fruit. However, recent studies have shown that the affect on pets isn’t great.

Baked Goods.

These products made with Xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol is a sweeter used in place of sugar primarily because it is lower in calories. Xylitol is also an ingredient in many different gums and even baked goods. It is in many products designed for people with Diabetes due to its low glycemic index. Xylitol can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs.



Baking Powder and Baking Soda.

Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents. A leavening agent is a common ingredient in baked goods that produces a gas causing batter and dough to rise. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder consists of baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar, calcium acid phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate or a mixture of the three. Ingestion of large amounts of baking soda or baking powder can lead to electrolyte abnormalities (low potassium, low calcium and/or high sodium), congestive heart failure or muscle spasms.


There are many bones that aren’t safe for dogs, basically if they are cooked/smoke in any way. This can be due to the danger of them getting stuck or caught in the mouth, sharp splinters injuring the intestines, risk of constipation when passing relatively indigestible bone fragments, as well as possible bacterial contamination on the bone that can lead to illness.

Bread Dough.

Dough containing yeast which rises in the moist, warm environments such as in the stomach. After ingestion, the rising dough can expand the stomach and decrease blood flow. Fermentation of the yeast can be reduced to alcohol causing signs of intoxication.

Chewing Gum.

Gums that are made with Xylitol can be toxic. Learn more with this article on Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs.


Chocolate, in addition to having a high-fat content, contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic to your dog in high amounts. Learn more about the specific amount of each toxin that is toxic based on body weight in this article: Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs.

Coffee (grounds and beans).

Dogs that eat coffee grounds or beans can get “caffeine” toxicity. The symptoms are very similar to those of chocolate toxicity and can be just as or even more serious.


Dairy Products.

Human dairy products are not highly dangerous but can pose problems for two reasons. One is their high-fat content and like other foods with high-fat content, there is a risk of pancreatitis. The second reason is that dogs poorly digest dairy products since they lack the enzyme required to digest lactose. This affects some dogs more than others and can cause gas to diarrhea. Small amounts of plain yogurt or cheese are tolerated by most dogs but it is probably safest to avoid dairy products altogether.

Diet Foods.

Foods made for weight loss or diabetes may have the ingredient xylitol.

Fatty Foods.

Rich and fatty foods are favorites of dogs. They often get them as treats, leftovers, or from getting into the trash. These fatty foods can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can affect any dog but miniature or toy poodles, cocker spaniels, and miniature schnauzers are particularly prone. Signs of pancreatitis generally include an acute onset of vomiting, sometimes diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Abdominal pain is often evidenced by hunched posture or “splinting” of the abdomen when picked up. The dog may become very sick quickly and often needs intensive fluid and antibiotic therapy.

Grapes and Raisins.

Ingestion of grapes and/or raisins seeds and skin, can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Some pet owners feed grapes thinking they are a healthy treat or give a piece of a cookie with raisins. Aggressive, and sometimes prolonged, treatment may be necessary to give the affected dog a chance at survival. Despite testing, the reason for the kidney failure and the amount necessary for toxicity remains unknown

Onions and Garlic.

Dogs and cats lack the enzyme necessary to properly digest onions and this could result in gas, vomiting, diarrhea or severe gastrointestinal distress. If large amounts of onion or garlic are ingested or onions are a daily part of your dog’s diet, the red blood cells may become fragile and break apart. This is due to the toxic ingredient in onions and garlic, thiosulphate.


Peanut Butter.

Some peanut butter manufacturers add xylitol to peanut butter, which is toxic to dogs.


Like bones, rawhides can also get stuck in the esophagus or stomach of dogs, causing problems. Although this is not human food, it is worth a mention with the goal to prevent your dog from getting sick. There is also a risk of bacterial contamination.

Table Scraps.

Scraps, especially those that are fatty can cause gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis in dogs. Some dogs tolerate table scraps well but others can become very ill.

The Dog Nanny Website

Why some handlers strive to empower their dogs to make more of their own choices.

Some 30 years ago, Karen Pryor wrote a small volume intended to be a self-help book for humans. That book turned the dog training world upside down. Don’t Shoot the Dog introduced the general public to the principles of operant conditioning and emphasized the benefits of positive reinforcement over punishment, with the goal of improving humans’ relationships with each other: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, etc. The book didn’t make much of a splash in the self-help world. But the fortuitous inclusion of the word “dog” in the title captured the attention of dog trainers, who, led by early positive training notables such as Dr. Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson, launched a positive reinforcement revolution in the world of dog training.

Thanks to the pioneers in the development of effective, force-free dog training techniques, there are now thousands of trainers (including me) who use, teach, and promote force-free training. In the past few decades, we’ve learned the value of creating relationships with dogs based on voluntary cooperation, built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect.


We learned about the “four quadrants of operant conditioning,” and realized that the tools many of us had successfully used in the past, such as choke chains and prong collars, and verbal and physical punishment, worked because they suppressed behavior. They taught the dog that if he did the wrong thing, we would hurt or intimidate him.

Do you ever give your dog the opportunity to decide which way he wants to go when you are on a walk? You might learn a thing or two about him if you do – and he will surely appreciate the opportunity!

We learned to ask questions. Not just, “Does this work?” but “Why does this work?’ and the very important “Is this something I am willing to do to my dog?”

We learned that there was an entire body of science behind dog training and behavior. We eagerly embraced the science, and learned about behavior analysis, unconditioned responses, classical conditioning, and much more.

The more we learned, the more we committed to our position that, while old-fashioned punishment-based methods may work, there is no need to use them, and no ethical justification to do so. We became operant conditioning junkies. We thought we had it all figured out.

Then the world shifted again.

Cognitive scientists turned their attention to dogs, and confirmed what we had suspected all along: that canine behavior is far more complex than what can be explained by Skinner boxes and Pavlovian responses. Our canine companions not only share a wide range of emotions comparable to our own, but also, they are capable of grasping and applying complex concepts, functioning on a higher cognitive level than we had previously been encouraged to believe. While positive reinforcement-based trainers had long come to value the role of “relationship” in training, to a blossoming new generation of trainers, “relationship” doesn’t just have a role; instead, training is relationship.

Positive reinforcement-based trainers have acknowledged the importance of relationship, in part, just by altering our vocabulary. Because they are a reflection of our internal processing, and because they influence our associations, words matter. Many of us now say “Cue” (a signal that indicates an opportunity to perform a behavior to gain a reinforcer) instead of “Command” (do this behavior or else!). We call our training classes “good manners” instead of “obedience.” We “ask” or “help” our dog do a behavior rather than “make” him do it. We recognize that, as the supposedly more intelligent species, it’s our job to get our dogs to demonstrate that they happily and eagerly want to do what we ask of them.

Some professionals are going one step further, calling themselves “teachers” rather than “trainers,” and suggesting that we are “educating” dogs in a broader, cognitive sense rather than just “training” them to do a specific set of rote behaviors. It’s a compelling position.

Our Dogs’ Choices and Empowerment

One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions; many live in social isolation, and when they do get out, their activities are on a tight schedule. Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night, including when and where they are allowed to poop and pee. Some of today’s dogs never get to run off-leash or socialize freely on a regular basis with other dogs. During any free time they may have, they are expected to just lie around and be “well behaved” (by human standards, not canine ones!). They have virtually no control over what happens in their world. Some trainers suggest this strict regimentation is a significant contributor to the stress and arousal levels of today’s family dog. Imagine how stressed you might be if your life was as tightly controlled by someone else.

What is Littermate Syndrome

Saw this article and thought it well worth posting:-

By-Kayla Fratt, CDBC

Searching Google Scholar for “littermate syndrome” + “canines” yields no relevant results. If the scientific community is silent on the issue of “littermate syndrome,” why do behavior consultants keep preaching about it?

I started to think more critically about “littermate syndrome” this January because I received a submission to my “Ask a Behavior Consultant” page on my website that detailed escalating aggression between 9-month-old Husky siblings. As I worked through my answer to the email, I posted on Facebook asking for people’s opinions.

What followed was a fascinating discussion of so-called littermate syndrome in dogs. Several people offered up the fact that they’d owned or raised several pairs of littermates, pointing out that most breeders do this all the time without issue.

So, why does it feel like behavior consultants see so many “sibling rivalry” aggression cases? What about the shelter dogs that panic, screeching and thrashing at the end of a leash if they’re separated from a sibling? Is there something to “littermate syndrome” or not?

When behavior consultants use the shorthand term “littermate syndrome,” they generally mean one of two behavioral patterns:

The two dogs appear panicked if separated. They may also be extremely neophobic, especially if separated.
The siblings start to develop intense aggression toward one another, especially beginning around social maturity.
The problem is that while these two behavior patterns are not mutually exclusive (I’ve heard reports from clients of siblings who fight viciously but also panic if separated), they are not one and the same. As usual, when using behavioral shorthand (labels), we need to define the behavior before going forward.

One of my favorite sayings is that the absence of evidence is not the same as the evidence of absence. Does the lack of scholarly research on littermate syndrome mean it doesn’t exist, or just that scientists haven’t gotten around to studying it? Or is this just another example of the file drawer problem?

DDB Puppies Log

Since the actual term “littermate syndrome” (and any science-y synonyms that I could come up with) seems to be one that exists solely outside of the scientific literature, our only options are to:

1) Rely on self-selected anecdotes of littermates being raised together.

2) Give up and stop attempting to understand littermate syndrome (until better research comes out).

3) Attempt to look at the problem indirectly through research.

I have chosen to rely most heavily on the third approach. Arguably, there’s a fourth option: get out there and study it yourself (if you’ve got funding, please go for it!). Without the resources required to do that, though, the third option is probably our best shot.

First, let’s investigate the aggression that is often reported as a risk of raising sibling dogs together. We’ll talk about the fear-based issues next.

Dominance relationships (as determined by which dog from a pair maintained access to a bone for at least 8 minutes out of a 10-minute trial period) varied widely between breeds in a study by Scott and Fuller (1974) on littermates. In this study, puppies were paired up and a bone placed between them for 10 minutes regularly, starting at 5 weeks of age and continuing through1 year of age. Puppies varied in their responses, which included sharing the bone, taking turns with it, fighting for it, or one puppy primarily possessing the bone while the other puppy was sidelined. The researchers also tested to see what happened if the bone was given to the puppy who had not possessed the bone in earlier trials rather than placed in a neutral place between them. If the subordinate puppy kept the bone when it was given directly to them, but could not gain or keep it when it was placed in neutral space, the relationship was classified as incomplete dominance. Some breeds showed a tendency toward consistent hierarchies, others showed mostly incomplete dominance, and others had no discernable hierarchies.

If a litter displayed a more complete dominance hierarchy, Scott and Fuller expected to see less fighting. However some breeds, such as basenjis, continued to fight each other at increasing levels from 5 to 11 weeks old, then showing another spike in fighting at a year of age. Other breeds, such as Shetland sheepdogs, fought the most at the age of 5 weeks, with fights being reduced to zero by the age of 11 weeks. Before we label Shelties as peaceable, though, the authors point out that the Shelties actually showed intense barking and chasing of littermates in order to gain access to open space and human attention. This behavior was generally led by just one or two littermates that controlled access to outdoor space. Often, one or two Sheltie puppies couldn’t leave the indoor enclosure without being relentlessly chased and barked at by siblings. The authors state that there was no clear dominance order in relation to food in Shelties, but rather one based on space.

Fox terriers fought so infrequently that Scott and Fuller couldn’t determine any dominance relationships within the litter—but they showed the most complete dominance of all breeds over the bone. Beagles and cocker spaniels also almost never fought, but they also were unlikely to have a clear dominance hierarchy (Scott and Fuller, 1974).

Finally, this same study found more examples of complete dominance (which also came with reduced fighting) in male-female pairs. In male-male pairs, the heavier puppy was likely to be dominant. In female-female pairs, there was no clear weight correlation.

This study shows us that it’s possible that the risk of aggression in siblings raised together may be have the dogs’ breed as a contributing factor. One might expect the basenjis from this experiment to show up at a behavior consultant’s office for aggression, while the beagles may cohabitate peacefully. Of course, this study is limited to a specific dominance test for the first year of the puppy’s life—hardly an adequate comparison for a lifetime of variety in a person’s home.

Since no studies that I found directly compare sibling pairs to non-sibling pairs, I also chose to investigate intrahousehold aggression through the lens of sex. If a given sex pairing is likely to produce aggression in non-siblings, that trend likely holds true in siblings as well. In other words, perhaps my clients’ 9-month-old huskies were having aggression issues due to sex rather than family relations.

Animal behavior databases show that male dogs consistently are presented for aggression more often than females (Beaver, 1999; Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors, 2005; Bamberger and Houpt, 2006). Males are also significantly more likely to display intrasexual aggression toward unfamiliar dogs—79.2% of 180 cases of intrasexual aggression were male-male in a study conducted by Fatjo et al. in 2007. In that same study of 1,040 cases of aggressive dogs in Spain, social intraspecific aggression (aggression between two familiar dogs) was observed at comparable rates in both males and females (Fatjo et al., 2007), but other studies (Beaver, 1999 and Bamberger, 2006) have found higher rates of social intraspecific aggression between females. Again, the study in Spain found differences between breed. Cocker Spaniel female pairs were more likely to have aggression issues, while Terriers were most likely to be aggressive if the pair were both male (Fatjo et al., 2007)

It’s possible that same-sex sibling pairs, therefore, are more likely to have aggression issues—especially if it’s two sisters. Female-female aggression cases are also likely to be harder to resolve than male-female pairs or male-male pairs (Wrubel et al., 2011).

Another common subset of the problems called “littermate syndrome” is the apparent lack of social skills or confidence in one or both of the siblings. This aspect of so-called littermate syndrome is even less well-researched.

It’s possible that the perceived increase in neophobia in siblings raised together is due to the owners doing less thorough socialization with a pair than with a single puppy.

Siblings that panic when separated are probably not much different from any other pair of dogs who have never experienced the world apart from one another. When I worked at Denver Dumb Friends League, we’d see a case or two of these so-called “bonded pairs” per month. These dogs would scream, flail, and alligator-roll on their leashes if separated, even if just by a few meters.

There’s not much in the scientific literature to explain these hyperbonded dogs. In fact, there’s little research on dog social bonding at all that isn’t human-centric or based on free-roaming dogs. Despite what I’ve seen in a shelter setting, intense dyadic pair bonds are unrepresented in scientific literature for dogs.

It’s possible—probable, even—that these intense interdependent relationships can only arise if the dogs are raised together for long periods of time, rarely separated, and rarely introduced to other dogs (or even people). My perception of most of the hyperbonded dogs I met at the shelter was that they seemed relatively socially deprived except for each other. If true, this explanation offers some context for why hyperbonded dogs (siblings or unrelated) are unstudied. There just aren’t very many of them, and it would be hard to recreate the relationship in a lab setting.

Clearly it’s not true that all littermates will inevitably experience aggression or neophobia. Many breeders routinely keep siblings or littermates as show or sport prospects. These dogs generally grow up to fit nicely into the show or sport world, free of serious aggression or neophobia. Anecdotally, it seems that sibling aggression or neophobia is mitigated somewhat by having an older third dog in the home—which would be the case in any breeder’s home. But is that the only key? Unlikely.

My personal hypothesis is that perceived littermate syndrome is actually generally a result of several specific conditions that often arise when people attempt to raise siblings together. Of course, all of these observations are, by necessity, anecdotal and based on personal experience.

Inadequate socialization, especially with other dogs. Many unknowing owners assume that letting their two puppies play together is an adequate replacement for dog-dog socialization. This misunderstanding is particularly understandable when the two puppies are the same age and breed. In other words, it’s particularly easy to fall into this trap when raising siblings. The owners I personally know who have successfully raised sibling pairs took pains to introduce the puppies and teenage dogs to other dogs, both together and separately.
Inadequate environmental management. It also seems that some owners are more likely to slip up on environmental management (removing food bowls, managing access to resting places) when the dogs are perceived as “best friends who have never been apart”—as is the case with siblings.
Insufficient “alone time” training. Many of the hyperbonded dogs I met at the shelter were crated together, walked together, taken to the vet together, and so on. The owners sometimes reported that they had “never been apart.” And therein may lie the problem. Just like we’d expect to see separation anxiety if a dog had never been more than three feet from their owner, it’s not surprising to see extreme distress in these adult siblings that have never been taught how to be apart. I’ve found that most of the owners that successfully raise and keep siblings do things with those dogs. They go to training class, shows, trials, and more with just one dog at a time. At the very least, the dogs are used to being trained and crated separately.
Failure to meet the dogs’ needs. Many of the cases of sibling aggression that I’ve seen are also paired with a clear lack of mental and physical enrichment for the dogs. In conversations with the owners, I often realized that they assumed that the two siblings could keep each other company. The owners didn’t see a need for puzzle toys, training games, long walks, and so on because the dogs “have each other.”
As always, we need to start with the bottom of the Humane Hierarchy. If the dogs are not having their basic needs met, we can’t start to blame their problems on an unsupported diagnosis of littermate syndrome. The dogs’ needs for socialization, mental enrichment, training, environmental management, and physical exercise all must be addressed before we can start grasping for other explanations.

Again, it’s possible that siblings raised together are more likely to show aggressive behavior toward each other or display neophobia—there haven’t been any studies published to show us either way. Tendencies toward aggressive behavior in particular may be further explained by breed or sex.

So, what’s the issue with a shorthand label of “littermate syndrome”? When we call something a “syndrome,” it automatically sounds very real and quite serious. Owners may perceive this label as an abdication of responsibility. Oh, it’s a syndrome, they may think. So there’s nothing I could have done. This perception stymies our attempts to make real improvements in the lives of our clients and their dogs.

Potentially worse, calling it a syndrome also makes it easy for us, the behavior consultants, to make another dangerous mental leap. I’ve seen dozens of conversations about littermates on social media where the prevailing response was, “It’s littermate syndrome. You have to rehome one of the dogs.” While it’s certainly unsurprising to see blunt and simplistic behavior suggestions being doled out on social media, the jump to rehoming seems, in my experience, to come especially quickly when an owner admits their dogs are siblings.

As behavior consultants who value the Humane Hierarchy, we can do better than crying “littermate syndrome!” and jumping straight to rehoming. Rather than immediately suggesting that struggling owners give up one of their puppies, perhaps we should focus on:

Teaching our clients about basic canine body language.
Helping our clients understand the importance of training, walking, and socializing the dogs separately at times.
Implementing management strategies for our clients, such as crate-and-rotate and muzzle training, when necessary.
Educating our clients on the necessary steps of desensitization, counterconditioning, and teaching alternative behaviors.
Behavior consultants should at least attempt to address the dogs’ social, physical, and mental needs. When necessary, it is our responsibility to implement environmental management, conduct counterconditioning, and teach the dogs obedience skills before suggesting rehoming.

Waht are The Signs of Cancer in Dogs

What are the most common types of cancer in dogs, and what are the signs? Early detection of cancer in your dog makes all the difference in his or her prognosis.

By Catherine Ashe, DVM

Cancer is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of dog owners. As human cancer deaths rise in the United States, you may wonder if a similar phenomenon is happening in our canine companions. According to veterinary oncologist Dr. Stacy Binstock, estimates show that 25%-33% of dogs will have cancer at some point in their lives. It is the number one cause of death in older dogs. Those are sobering statistics. The good news is that you can help with early cancer detection and early treatment of your dog.

The first step is semi-annual or annual examinations with your veterinarian. These are not just vaccine appointments. A visit is needed for a thorough physical examination. Your veterinarian will check your dog’s weight, vitals, lymph nodes, heart and lungs, palpate the abdomen, and perform a rectal exam. These are all essential to early detection of illness. Weight loss may be the first sign and can be easy to miss at home. Secondly, as your dog ages, your veterinarian will likely recommend bloodwork, urinalysis, and other diagnostics. These can detect changes in organ function, possibly indicating cancer.

Types of cancer in dogs are varied and include skin, orthopedic, blood, and bone malignancies. As a result, the symptoms differ wildly and depend on which system is affected. The four most common cancers and their clinical signs are listed below.

Lymphoma. This is a frequently diagnosed cancer in dogs. It can originate in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, or organs like the spleen. The first signs may be very vague and often include large knots that are palpable under the jaw, behind the elbows, and behind the knees. These are all locations of lymph nodes that can enlarge with cancer. Other symptoms may include lethargy, weight loss, and increased drinking and urinating.

Osteosarcoma. This is a type of bone cancer seen often in large breeds such as Great Danes and Wolfhounds, although it can occur in any breed. Osteosarcoma typically grows silently at the end of a bone (called the diaphysis) until the bone is severely weakened. Early symptoms may include swelling and tenderness. Often, there are no symptoms until the tumor destroys the bone enough to cause a fracture. When this happens, your dog may suddenly be unable to walk on the affected leg and demonstrate signs of severe pain.

Hemangiosarcoma. Another type of cancer that often has no obvious clinical signs is hemangiosarcoma. These tumors can grow anywhere—on the skin or in the spleen, liver, or other internal organs. In dogs, it is most frequently encountered in the spleen, liver, or heart. Usually, no signs are noted until the tumor grows very large and ruptures. This sudden, catastrophic rupture leads to internal bleeding, weakness, and collapse.

Mast cell tumor. Boxers are especially prone to these skin malignancies. Mast cells are normally found in the skin and react when an allergen is introduced. They are filled with histamine and other substances that are released in an allergic reaction, leading to the formation of hives. Unfortunately, cancer can arise from these cells. The hallmark of an MCT is a growth on the skin that waxes and wanes in size and character. They can be small and “quiet,” or they can become large, inflamed, and weep fluid.

Always observe your dog carefully for any changes. Any skin masses or lumps that you palpate should be checked out by your veterinarian sooner rather than later! Remember, early detection is critical in catching and treating cancer.

As some of you may aware Oxidative Stress is at the root of over 250 diseases, I have a solution to reduce Oxidative Stress, give me a call or E-mail me for more information.

What is Dominance?

Dominance is a concept we frequently encounter in discussions of companion animal behavior. Many pet owners believe that the most important thing they can do to ensure their animal behaves appropriately is to establish themselves as “dominant,” “the alpha mare,” or “the flock leader.” When behavior problems develop, these are rationalized as attempts by the animal to take control, or a failure of the human caregiver to command respect. Unfortunately, this mindset often leads to the use of positive punishment and the development of an antagonistic relationship between the human and animal.become part dog

The role of an animal behavior consultant is to use effective techniques to prevent, treat, and manage behavior problems so that their clients and their animals can live together. To do so, they need a proper understanding of the natural behavior of their chosen species, and of the most effective ways to teach their clients to change their animal’s behavior.

Animal behavior consultants therefore need to understand how the concept of dominance relates to animal behavior, so they can give clients the benefit of their expertise.


“Dominance is an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation. The status of the consistent winner is dominant and that of the loser subordinate. Dominance status refers to dyads while dominance rank, high or low, refers to the position in a hierarchy and, thus, depends on group composition. Dominance is a relative measure and not an absolute property of individuals.”

Any two individuals who repeatedly enter into conflict for any reason may establish a dominance status. The question for behavior consultants, then, is not whether the ethological concept of dominance exists, but whether it is a pertinent, useful concept for managing and treating the problematic behaviors the client’s animal is exhibiting.



Studies in flocks of captive psittacines suggest that social structure is organized around pair bonding. There is no evidence that dominance is a feature of individual birds’ temperament; social structure in flocks is fluid, not rigid or linear.  In companion parrots, the most common aggressive behaviors that are described as attempts to establish dominance are biting and screaming, but these are not features of typical agonistic interactions between birds in the wild or in group housing.


Research on social organization in domestic cats has concentrated on competition for resources like food.  Domestic cats can form social hierarchies through agonistic behaviors and are more likely to do so in a restricted environment; studies differ on how a cat’s relative position in this hierarchy relates to their access to resources. Giving cats space and sufficient access to litter boxes and food appears to be the most effective way to minimize this stress and lessen aggressive confrontations between cats.


Through the process of domestication, the social behavior of the companion dog has come to differ greatly from that of other canids; dogs lack many of the subtle agonistic behaviors wolves use to signal dominance and to de-escalate conflict. Furthermore, comparisons of breeds of dogs have shown that the frequency of aggressive behaviors and the possibility of establishing a stable dominance hierarchy in young puppies is highly variable.  Feral dogs may form linear hierarchies, with age as the single best predictive factor of social status.


Wild horses form natal bands, and bachelor bands composed of stallions that have yet to establish themselves within a harem.  There is some debate over whether these social groupings are led by one animal, who is responsible for decisions about herd movement, or whether these decisions are made collectively.  Domestic horses have been observed to form linear hierarchies when they are housed in small groups, and triangular interactions when kept in larger herds.  Aggression is most frequently observed when there is a limited resource like food.


When the concept of dominance is used to justify invasive or aversive approaches to training and behavior modification, then it is a problem.

Dominance is most often understood in the context of leadership. Pet owners often believe that it is imperative they establish themselves as the leader in their human-animal dyad. There is nothing inherently wrong with a client having the desire to assume a leadership role with the animals in their care, but ethical issues do arise when animals are punished, deprived of opportunities, or subject to ineffective, inconsistent behavioral interventions in the name of forcing submission.  Punishment-based approaches have been associated with an increased risk of aggression, which is a risk to public and client safety.  There is evidence that these methods also compromise welfare.

Thinking in terms of dominance may lead to misdiagnosis. Many behaviors labelled as “dominance aggression” are based in fear, pain, conflict, or resource guarding.  True dominance aggression, where an animal is repeatedly resorting to aggressive behavior to establish social status or priority access to resources, is described as extremely rare.

The use of constructs like dominance is based on the principle that animals understand us when we try to act like they do.  Many of the behaviors that comprise social interactions between individuals in competition for resources have the function of decreasing the likelihood of physical force being used. We humans cannot be sure animals are understanding what we’re attempting to communicate when we try to mimic their behavior; many social signals animals give to each other have no human equivalent, and other behaviors are only expressed in the presence of humans. Dominance, then, is not an expedient way to understand companion animal behavior or a useful framework to determine how to change it.


The best way to minimize stress; promote good welfare; successfully prevent, treat, and manage behavior problems; and help develop a strong bond for behavior clients and their animals is to focus on positive reinforcement within a LIMA framework.

Behavior consultants need to be aware of how all the animals and humans in a client’s environment can affect the development and maintenance of problem behaviors. When there are multiple animals of the same species in that environment, the behavior consultant may find it useful to consider the social structures and the potential for dominant-subordinate relationships to have developed between individual cats, dogs, horses, parrots, or other animals as part of their intervention design.

Even when dominance and rank are useful concepts in understanding the dynamics of a problem, they don’t justify a punishment-first approach to addressing the problem. An approach based on reinforcing the behaviors we want to see instead, and creating a context where these behaviors are safe and easy for animals to choose, is still the best chance of addressing a behavior problem.

The success of training behaviors based on the understanding of learning theory and the application of reinforcement has been well-documented across a huge variety of species and contexts.  Behavior modification plans for every problem, including resource guarding and other issues that have been diagnosed as “dominance aggression,” should focus on an operational understanding of the individual animal’s behavior: its antecedents, function, and consequences.

It’s up to humans to create a context for companion animals to thrive in their care, and the role of a behavior consultant is to give clients the tools to do this. Behavior consultants should focus on teaching animals what they should do instead of the problematic behaviors, and teaching clients how they can avoid reinforcing those problem behaviors and showing them how to be a consistent, caring leader. Dominance, and the attendant feelings of need to impose authority by force, are something we should move clients away from.

The Dog nanny Website

Is Our Dogs’ Behavior Genetic?

Or is it “all in how you raise them”?

Nature vs. nurture and raising a well-adjusted dog.

DDB Puppies Log

Dr. Ilana Reisner wanted her new Australian Shepherd puppy, Asher, to have a rock-solid temperament. She knew how tough it is to live with a fearful or aggressive dog because, as a veterinary behaviorist, she works with reactive dogs and their owners for a living. So she did everything that she advises her clients to do: she found a puppy whose parents had lovely personalities and whose breeder provided excellent socialization experiences; she brought the puppy home between eight and ten weeks of age; she continued his socialization herself; and she enrolled him in a well-managed puppy class so that he would have a chance to learn good social skills with puppies his own age.

Given that Dr. Reisner did everything that behavior experts recommend to create a confident, well-socialized puppy, she was surprised when Asher showed anxiety around other dogs in his puppy class – nervousness that only increased as he matured. Then she had some bad luck when, at age four months, Asher was jumped by an out-of-control dog, and it was a really scary experience for him. By the age of eight months, Asher was showing clear signs of fear of other dogs.

Dr. Reisner has continued to work with him over the ensuing years, but he hasn’t improved; she describes him as a whirling dervish when he sees unfamiliar dogs. And yet she did everything she could to avoid this issue. Is it possible that, due to genetics, Asher’s behavior problem was inevitable? How much influence did Asher’s environment have in the development of his temperament?


Our Dogs’ Genetics VS. Their Environments

In the complex interplay between genetics and environment, sometimes genetics takes the upper hand. Researchers have tested just how far genetic influences on personality can go by breeding animals for particular temperaments and absolutely nothing else.

This sort of study is, by necessity, very long term and therefore fairly rare, but there are two well-known examples in canids. A group in Russia has bred two lines of foxes over three to four decades, selecting one line for fearfulness of and aggression to humans, and the other line for friendliness to humans.

A similar long-term project in the U.S. has resulted in a line of pathologically fearful pointer dogs. In both these cases, the lines of animals breed true, meaning that if a fearful animal is bred to a fearful animal, all of the offspring are fearful without exception, even when raised by a non-fearful non-biological mother.

How relevant are these findings to pet or working dogs? It turns out that personality is influenced by many, many genes, and if you breed for any other traits in addition to temperament, like looks or performance, then your ability to guarantee particular results in the puppy goes out the window.

In the real world outside the laboratory, genetics rarely confers absolutes; instead, it confers risks. Outside the lab, behavior problems are almost never truly inevitable. They may, however, be extremely high risk.

Which leaves us with what we have: dogs who are bred for many different traits, and as a result produce puppies with personalities mostly similar to their parents’, but sometimes quite different. Sometimes the results are wonderful, and sometimes not so much. We can decrease the risk of unwanted traits like fearfulness through careful breeding, but we can never completely weed those traits out.

Our Dogs’ Experiences

Just as we don’t have complete control over the genetic contributions to a dog’s personality, we lack complete control over the puppy’s environment. By the time the breeder and then the owner are formally socializing a puppy, the little canine brain has already gone through massive amounts of development, and as a result has gone down some roads and abandoned others. The uterus is a rich source of experience for the fetal brain, which is profoundly affected by both reproductive and stress hormones. Early life in the nest with mom and siblings is also chock full of experiences that mold a young mind. The puppy is learning his place in the world and how to interact with other dogs from very early on.

All we can do, then, is our best. We can provide innumerable positive and varied experiences for puppies to teach them that the world, in all its sometimes unexpected variety, is safe for them.

Just as importantly, we can prioritize giving dogs as solid a genetic background as possible. Temperament should be the highest priority in breeding, closely followed by physical health. Animals with questionable temperaments should not be allowed to pass on behavioral problems, either through their genes, through stress hormones in the uterus, or through modeling fearful behavior to their puppies in early life. Temperament is more important than preserving stellar conformation or spectacular performance; in fact, in breeds with small gene pools, bringing in genetic diversity from outside the breed is preferable to breeding dogs with questionable temperaments.

So the question “Is this dog’s problem genetic?” may not be meaningful, because all behavior problems are caused by genetic risk plus life experiences. However, the question “Can this dog be helped?” absolutely is.

We have powerful tools at our disposal to help dogs live in this complex human world: thoughtful breeding practices, positive socialization experiences, and loving training and management. These are the tools Dr. Reisner uses with Asher to help him live a comfortable, happy life despite his fears. There’s a lot we can do to make good dogs from the raw materials we’re given.

The Dog Nanny Website

How to choose the right Breed

Do Your Research

Big or small, short- or long-haired, eager hunting companion or laid-back house pet – if you start looking, chances are you’ll find a breed that fits the bill. My advice is to take your time, do your research, and be willing to wait if what you want isn’t available right now. After all, the search itself can be part of the fun, Search the Internet (although be forewarned that lovely websites can be fronts for some deplorable breeding operations), go to the library, attend a dog show or canine performance event, such as an agility trial. Talk to both breeders and pet owners. Find out about warts, not just beauty spots.DDB Hug.png

Always remember that it’s important to look beyond outward appearances. You may know you want a medium-sized, long-haired dog, but if your idea of a good time is snoozing on the couch all evening in front of the TV, then the medium-sized, long-haired, but also rather high-octane Australian Shepherd will probably drive you crazy – if you don’t drive him crazy first.

I am a wash-and-wear sort of person myself, and I am attracted mostly to wash-and-wear sorts of dogs, thank goodness. Any breed requires at least a minimal amount of coat care, but some need a good deal more than others. If you’re not willing to either spend the time and do the work yourself or pay for regular clipping or grooming, then maybe a Standard Poodle or Old English Sheepdog isn’t the dog for you.

Get the idea? Whatever breed you choose, it has to be a good fit, or you and your dog will both be sorry.