Steps to Take When Your Dog Growls at You

never tell a dog off for growling

Growling is a valuable means of communication for a dog – something that dog owners should appreciate and respect rather than punish. Of course, we don’t want our dog to growl at us, but neither do we want him to fail to growl if something makes him uncomfortable; that’s very important information in a successful canine-human relationship.

It’s very common for dog owners to punish their dogs for growling. Unfortunately, this often suppresses the growl – eliminating his ability to warn us that he’s about to snap, literally and figuratively. On other occasions, punishing a growling, uncomfortable dog can induce him to escalate into full-on aggression.

So, if you’re not supposed to punish your dog for growling, what are you supposed to do? The next time your dog growls at you, try this:


1.) Stop. Whatever you’re doing, stop. If your dog’s growl threshold is near his bite threshold – that is, if there’s not much time between his growl and his bite, get safe. If his growl doesn’t mean a bite is imminent, stop what you’re doing but stay where you are. Wait until he relaxes, then move away, so you’re rewarding the relaxed behavior rather than the growl.

2.) Analyze the situation. What elicited the growl? Were you touching or grooming him? Restraining him? Making direct eye contact? Taking something away from him? Making him do something?

3.) Figure out a different way to accomplish your goal without eliciting a growl. Lure him rather than physically pushing or pulling him. Have someone else feed him treats while you touch, groom, or restrain him. If you don’t have to do whatever it was that elicited the growl, don’t – until you can convince him that it’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.

4.) Evaluate the stressor’s in your dog’s world and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible. For example, if your dog is unaccustomed to strangers, then having your sister and her husband and three kids as house guests for the past week would undoubtedly stress your dog. Noise-phobic dogs might be under a strain if city crews have been digging up a nearby street with heavy equipment or there was a thunderstorm last night. The vacuum cleaner is a common stressor for dogs. A loud argument between you and your spouse could stress your dog as well as you, and your stress is stressful to your dog. Harsh verbal or physical punishment, an outburst of aroused barking at the mail carrier, fence fighting with another dog. The list could go on and on.


Keep in mind that stress causes aggression, and stressor’s are cumulative; it’s not just the immediate stimulus that caused the growl, but a combination of all the stressor’s he’s experienced in the past few days. This explains why he may growl at you today when you do something, but he didn’t growl last week when you did the exact same thing. The more stressor’s you can remove overall, the less likely he is to growl the next time you do whatever it was that elicited the growl this time.

5.) Institute a behavior modification program to change his opinion about the thing that made him growl. One way to do this is to use counter-conditioning and desensitization to convince him the bad thing is a good thing.


Another way is through the careful use of negative reinforcement as in a Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT) program to teach him a new behavioral strategy when presented with the discomfort-causing stimulus.

If you need help to create and implement a behavior modification protocol, contact a qualified behavior professional who is experienced and successful in modifying aggressive behavior with positive, dog-friendly techniques.

The Dog Nanny


Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

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Puppy Vaccines: Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

Ever wonder why puppies need multiple shots” in order to become fully immunized? Here are the reasons behind puppy vaccine schedules and how best to strategize your puppy’s immunizations.”

The first rule of puppy vaccinations is that there are no hard and fast rules for puppy vaccinations; the best way to make sure a puppy is fully immunized against the most common contagious diseases totally depends on the health and past history of the puppy’s mother, his age, and his environment. A puppy being raised by a responsible breeder may require only one combination vaccination in order to become immunized; whereas a puppy raised in a shelter might be given as many as six or seven combination vaccinations before being declared fully protected.

There are several reasons why puppy vaccination protocols vary so wildly, but the most important one to understand is that every puppy is an individual, presenting a unique and unpredictable immunological history to his veterinarian. If you understand the reasons that veterinarians recommend multiple “puppy shots,” you will be better prepared to both protect your puppy from risky exposure to contagious diseases and, possibly, help reduce the number of vaccinations the puppy receives on the road to becoming fully immunized.

Few new dog owners understand why puppies need multiple “shots.” Most veterinarians recommend that puppies are vaccinated for distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus (hepatitis) a number of times, starting when they are about four to six weeks old, and again every three or four weeks, with their last “puppy vaccination” given after they are about 16 to 20 weeks old. The most common guesses as to why puppies need all those vaccinations?

A) Because it takes at least four vaccinations for full immunity.
B) Each shot “boosts” the immunity from the first shot.

The actual answer would be C) Neither of these. Repeated puppy vaccines do not increase or “boost” the immunity in any way. Vaccines are repeated in order to make sure the puppy receives a vaccination as soon as his immune system is able to respond as we want it to – to respond by developing antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines. Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

Dog Vaccination Terminology

Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

An antigen is a substance that induces a response from a body’s immune system. In this discussion, when we talk about antigens, we mean a form of the diseases that commonly infect puppies and dogs.

vaccine is a form of disease antigen that has been altered in some way so that his immune system will recognize it as a foreign invader and respond to it by destroying substances that resemble that antigen in the future. Some vaccinations are made with “killed” viruses; some are genetically altered so they resemble the disease antigen but cannot make the animal ill (“modified live”); and still others are highly weakened, live strains of the disease.

Antibodies are the immune system protective substances that recognize and destroy the agents of disease (antigens).

When we administer a vaccine to a puppy, we are in effect training his immune system to recognize the disease antigen and mount an immune response to it – to form antibodies that will recognize and destroy those antigens whenever the dog comes into contact with them again.

When a puppy has been vaccinated and his immune system has formed antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines he received, he is considered immunized against those diseases.

How Maternal Interference Affects Puppy Immunization

Immunizing puppies is a tiny bit more complicated due to a mechanism called maternal interference.

All puppies who are nursed adequately by their mother in the first two or three days after birth receive some of her protective antibodies from drinking her “colostrum” – the yellowish substance that the mother produces before she starts actual milk production.

The mother’s antibodies protect the puppies for a highly variable amount of time – anywhere from about three weeks to about 12 weeks. These antibodies gradually “fade” from the puppies’ systems as the puppies’ own immune systems develop.

When a puppy is vaccinated during the period of time that his mother’s antibodies are still active in his system, those maternal antibodies will detect and destroy the disease antigen in the vaccine, rendering that particular vaccine useless to the puppy. He can’t develop his own antibodies to disease antigens until his mother’s antibodies have faded from his system. Also, while some puppies may have received a whopping dose of antibodies from their mom, others may have received few or none. If the mother was never vaccinated herself, and never came into contact with those disease antigens, she would have none of these antigens to pass along to the pups in her colostrum.

So, should puppy owners just wait to vaccinate puppies, until the time when any amount of maternal antibodies are sure to have faded (12 to 14 weeks is generally considered as the outer limit of any maternal interference)? The answer is NO, because we don’t know when any given puppy’s maternal immunity is going to fade, and he would have no protection from disease in the period between the fading of his mom’s antibodies and receiving his first vaccination.

A mother’s antibodies might fade when he’s three weeks old, when he’s 12 weeks old, or any time in between. If the protection he got from his mom fades at three weeks, and we don’t vaccinate him until he’s 14 weeks old, he is vulnerable and without any protection whatsoever, until at least a few days after his vaccination. That’s too long to go without protection, unless you plan to raise him in a sterile bubble. And there are many compelling reasons having to do with his behavioral development to not just keep him home.

Why Puppies Might Receive Excess Shots

Instead, we give the puppy a series of vaccinations, about three to four weeks apart, starting when the puppy is four to six weeks old. The idea is to try to reduce the size of the “window of opportunity” when the mom’s antibodies fade (leaving the puppy unprotected) and the next vaccine is given, to reduce the chances that he comes into contact with disease antigen when he is unprotected.

It might be that the mother’s antibodies faded early, and the first vaccine was given at four weeks, and he developed his own protective antibodies. In this case, he doesn’t actually need any further vaccines, but we don’t know that, so he is given additional vaccinations every three to four weeks until he’s about 20 weeks old. It’s more than he needs, but at least he was protected.

Or it might be that the puppy was vaccinated at five weeks, again at eight weeks, and again at 11 weeks, but his mother’s antibodies were still circulating until he was about 12 weeks old. The mom’s antibodies would have neutralized all those first vaccines, so when the antibodies finally faded, he was left without protection from disease until his next vaccine was received at 14 weeks. This is actually the worst-case scenario, because many puppy owners are taking their pups into high-risk environments at this age, thinking, no doubt, “He’s had three shots already; he must have at least some immunity by now!”

There is no practical way to know whether the mother’s antibodies are still circulating in a puppy’s body or when they have faded. And each mother and each puppy is an individual; she will pass along a variable amount of antibodies, and these will fade at different times in each puppy. So we vaccinate several times, until we are past the point in time when any maternal antibodies can interfere with proper immunization.

Dog Shelter Vaccination Protocols May Vary

Puppies who have been bred and raised by a professional, responsible breeder are likely to be given far fewer vaccines than puppies who came from a shelter environment. In a professional breeding program, the mother dog’s vaccination status will be known, and her first nursing session will be observed, so better assumptions can be made about how much protection the puppies will receive from her maternal antibodies. Further, the breeder will likely have experience with keeping the puppies from being exposed to disease antigens, by requiring visitors to remove their shoes, wash their hands, and so on. These protections may allow the breeder to administer the first puppy vaccines at eight weeks or later, and perhaps just one or two more vaccines (with the last one given after 16 or 18 weeks).

Puppies who have the misfortune to be born in or surrendered to a shelter after birth may not receive any antibodies from their mothers; if their mothers were not vaccinated or otherwise exposed to the core diseases, they wouldn’t have antibodies to pass along. Also, puppies may not have had sufficient access to colostrum. In addition, shelters are often teeming with infectious disease agents. For all of these reasons, puppies who are born and/or raised in a shelter environment may be vaccinated much more aggressively – some might say excessively – than puppies who were born with more advantages.

Shelters often vaccinate puppies for the first time at just four to six weeks of age. At four weeks, the puppies’ immune systems are just barely mature enough to develop antibodies following exposure to disease antigens; this is done in an effort to immunize puppies who didn’t receive any maternal antibodies as quickly as possible.

Another vaccination protocol common in shelters is vaccinating every three weeks until the puppies are 16 to 18 or even 20 weeks of age. In this case, it’s the possibility that the puppies received far more than the usual amount of maternal antibodies than usual that causes shelters to take this tack.

If an unvaccinated dog contracts and then survives a disease like parvovirus, she actually develops far stronger immunity to the disease than she would had she been vaccinated against the disease in the first place – and she will pass along this very robust protection to her puppies (as long as they receive an adequate amount of her colostrum). Her antibodies will likely take the longest amount of time to fade in her puppies, so her puppies need to have their final vaccines a bit later in order to prevent this strong maternal antibody interference.

Finally, there is the sad fact shelter staffers often have to guess at the age of the puppies in their care. Shelter immunization protocols are usually designed with enough overlap to ensure that a puppy has every possible chance of receiving adequate protection from contagious disease.

Finishing Your Puppy’s Vaccinations

A puppy is considered fully immunized against the “core” (the most common, and most problematic) diseases of adenovirus (hepatitis), distemper, and parvovirus when he has received a vaccination for these diseases after the age of 16 to 18 weeks. (Note: Until recently, the “puppy shots” were considered complete when the last one was given at 16 weeks. New research states that final puppy parvovirus vaccine should be at or after 18 weeks of age.)

Rabies is another “core” vaccination, but it is not given to puppies before 12 weeks of age. A puppy can receive his first rabies vaccine at 12 weeks (but no sooner), and should be given another rabies vaccine a year later. A vaccination is required by most states every three years afterward. (This is a matter of state law, put in place for the protection of human health; a dog who has received two or more rabies vaccines is likely protected from that disease for life.)

Until the final “puppy” vaccines are given at 16-18 weeks, the puppy should be protected from potential exposure to disease antigens, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t ever leave the house until the time of his final “puppy shot.” It just means that his exposure to the outside world should be carefully considered. Do bring him to the homes of relatives and friends whose dogs are demonstrably healthy, vaccinated, and friendly. Do not take the puppy for walks in places that are highly trafficked by unknown dogs, such as sidewalks, parks (especially dog parks), pet supply stores, and so on.

Also, if someone in your home has tracked through places that are likely to be covered with agents of contagious disease – such as a dog park or veterinary clinic – keep their shoes outside the front door, and ask them to wash their hands before they play with the puppy.

If you attend puppy training or socialization classes, be sure the instructor takes the following precautions:

  • The puppy school should require each puppy’s vaccine records, to make sure all the puppies are in the process of receiving veterinary care and proper protection from either catching or spreading disease
  • A puppy with any signs of illness (such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or an increased temperature) should be disallowed from attending class.
  • There should be equipment on hand so that every “accident” that a puppy has in class can be quickly cleaned up with a proper antibacterial solution.

Passing the Puppy Titer Test

The vast majority of puppies will be successfully immunized after the series of vaccinations described here, but a tiny percentage will be what are called “non responders” – incapable of developing protective antibodies in response to vaccines. These dogs will be vulnerable to infection by these diseases, no matter how many times they are vaccinated, and thus should be protected from high-risk environments (wherever a lot of dogs congregate).

There is a way to determine whether the final vaccination (at least) that was administered to your puppy triggered his immune system to develop protective antibodies for the “core” diseases he was vaccinated for. At least two weeks after what is hoped will be the puppy’s final vaccination – at approximately 18 to 20 weeks of age – you can ask your veterinarian for a “vaccine titer test.” A blood sample is taken, sent to a laboratory, and tested for the presence of antibodies that protect the puppy against parvovirus and distemper. If these antibodies are detected, he’s done with his core vaccinations.

However, if the vaccine titer test comes back with a negative result, it’s recommended that the puppy be vaccinated one more time, perhaps with a different brand of vaccine than was used previously. Two weeks later, the vaccine titer test should be repeated. If the result is still negative, the puppy will be considered a non-responder, vulnerable to contracting any of the core diseases he may be exposed to.

Vaccine titer tests are being increasingly used by knowledgeable owners who want confirmation that their puppy is protected from disease, but there are still many veterinarians who are unfamiliar with the tests, and/or skeptical of their usefulness. Some clinic managers may be unable to quote a price for this test, or unsure of what test to order from the laboratory they use. We’ve heard of clinics charging as much as $200 for the test, which is ridiculous. In contrast, highly progressive clinics may offer a SNAP (in-office) test that will reveal the results within a half-hour.

Alternatively, ask your veterinarian to take a blood sample, and send it to the Dr. Ronald D. Schultz Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) School of Veterinary Medicine. Price for distemper/parvo vaccine titer test is currently $40 at the CAVIDS Titer Testing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

The Dangers of Essential Oils for Pets

Table of Contents:

Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

What Are Typical Symptoms of Essential Oil Ingestion in Pets?

What Should I Do If My Pet Ingests an Essential Oil?

How Do I Avoid Essential Oil Toxicity in Pets?

Essential oils are commonly used for holistic medicinal purposes, but have also increased in popularity for household use in diffusers or as potpourri. These fragrant compounds are extracted from plants and made through distillation or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing. Once the essences from the plants have been extracted, they are then mixed with oil to create a liquid compound.


These oils are used in transdermally in humans, meaning that they are absorbed through the skin or to inhaled through diffusers. They are not meant to be ingested (eaten), injected, or applied to the eyes. There are many proposed benefits of essential oils for humans, including relief of stress and anxiety, immune support, headache relief, and digestive health. Data in veterinary patients is slim, and there’s no proof that these benefits are shared with animals.


Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

Unfortunately, essential oils can be extremely toxic to cats and dogs if ingested. Ingestion can occur in many different fashions, including:

Application to the fur and subsequent ingestion during self-cleansing

Licking oil off of a person

Licking oil off of another pet in the household

Drinking oil from diffusers in the home

Some essential oils are more toxic than others for pets.


Here is a list of the most toxic essential oils for dogs and cats:



Bay leaf (W. Indian)

Birch (sweet)

Bitter almond

Boldo leaf



Clove Leaf








Pennyroyal (N. Am.)

Pennyroyal (Eur.)

Pine oil

Sassafras (Brazilian)



Savory (Summer)




Tea tree


Tree wormwood/large wormwood

Western Red Cedar






What Are Typical Symptoms of Essential Oil Ingestion in Pets?

The most common clinical signs that your pet has ingested essential oils include:

Gastrointestinal symptoms




Neurological symptoms


Low heart rate

Respiratory depression (low respiratory rate)

Ataxia (wobbliness)


There are a handful of essential oils that can cause specific organ injuries aside from gastrointestinal or neurological problems. Tea tree oils are one of the most toxic to dogs and cats. If an animal ingests tea tree oil, neurological signs can develop in addition to low body temperature and severe skin irritation. Pennyroyal, specifically the type derived from Mentha Pulegium, can cause liver failure in dogs. Also, wintergreen extract has components that are similar to aspirin and can cause liver and/or kidney damage, particularly in cats.

Some pets are more sensitive to inhaled oils and can have an allergic reaction. In these cases, pet parents may notice hives, facial or paw swelling, or skin redness. Pets that have respiratory disease can also be overly sensitive to essential oils and in-home diffusers, so please proceed with caution.


What Should I Do If My Pet Ingests an Essential Oil?

If essential oils have been accidentally applied to your pet and they are not showing any signs of toxicity, the first step is to bathe them with mild dish soap to avoid further ingestion or absorption. After bathing your pet, it is important to reach out to an animal poison hotline to discuss the oil and exposure. They can help direct further treatment and provide a list of clinical signs to watch for.

If your pet is showing signs of toxicity, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately to initiate treatment. Essential oil toxicity is an emergency and should be treated at first indication of toxicity. At a veterinary clinic, treatment will be focused on clinical signs, including gastrointestinal support, and medications will be used to combat neurological symptoms, if present. In some cases, intravenous lipid therapy is recommended, and your veterinarian will discuss this treatment option if necessary.


How Do I Avoid Essential Oil Toxicity in Pets?

The easiest way to avoid essential oil toxicity in pets is to avoid exposure to these products. Simply put, not purchasing these products or having them in the house is the easiest way to keep your pets safe. If oils are present in the home, then care should be taken to prevent inadvertent ingestion from diffusers. Prior to applying essential oils to your pet, a veterinarian should be consulted to assess safety and discuss the safest options. If essential oils are applied to your dog or cat, they should not be allowed to lick or ingest the topical products.

While essential oils are a nice accent to your living space and beneficial for holistic medical therapy, care should be taken with pets around these products, since reactions are common and can be very severe.

How to Teach Your Dog to Greet Nicely

moms home 2.8 seconds to hug

Calm and collected is the name of the game, whether you would like your dog to greet others or pass them by.



On any given day, depending on the circumstances, a dog might have a multitude of opportunities to meet and greet a number of other creatures: dogs, cats, horses, a variety of other species, and all sorts of humans. Some dogs seem to do it with aplomb, while others are clearly overexcited and unable to contain themselves. I suspect most if not all of us would far rather have the dog who’s calm, cool, and collected rather than the other option. So how do we get there?


Undermining Your Dog’s Success in Greeting

When our dog jumps on someone, we all tend to roll our eyes and apologize. A well-behaved dog shouldn’t do this! Why is learning to greet people without jumping on them such a challenge for so many of our dogs?


The answer is intermittent reinforcement – which means that the behavior is sometimes reinforced. “But wait!” you say. “I don’t reward my dog for jumping on people!” Perhaps not. But perhaps you aren’t aware of all the other times or ways your dog is being reinforced for the behavior. Every time your dog jumps on someone and they say, “Oh, it’s okay, I don’t mind!” and then pet and fuss over her, your dog is being reinforced for jumping up.


It’s also likely to be reinforcing for your dog every time she jumps on someone and he physically pushes her away – “Yay, he touched me!”


Intermittent reinforcement makes a behavior more resistant to extinction – harder to stop. It is the same force at work when a human finds it difficult to stop playing a slot machine; as long as you get rewarded occasionally (enough so that you don’t run out of money!), you may just keep playing and playing. Similarly, your dog may just keep playing the jump-up game, thinking, “Eventually I will win. Maybe this time it will pay off and I will get petted… Jackpot!!”


I’m going to describe three important elements to successfully teaching your dog to greet humans politely; the first and most important one is aimed at putting an end to that intermittent reinforcement.


Train your dog to greet

Most things in life with our dogs are easier if they’ve had some basic good manners training. A well-run force-free group class is my first choice for working on this; it gives your dog the opportunity to generalize her good manners to new environments and distractions, especially other dogs and humans. Your class instructor and assistants will also be able to give you feedback on your own skills – something you miss if you do all your training on your own.


A common goal for basic good manners training is for your dog to learn that her highly reinforced “sit” is a good “default” behavior (the best behavior to offer when she’s not sure what to do), which comes in very handy when teaching polite greetings. In addition, most good manners classes formally teach polite greetings to humans and provide coaching on how to help your dog behave appropriately in close proximity to other dogs.


3 Steps to Greeting Humans Politely

  1. Manage the situation.

In this context, “management” means controlling your dog’s environment so she isn’t intermittently reinforced for jumping up. This mainly entails always keeping her on a leash when she greets people, and providing very clear, simple instructions to everyone who wants to greet her – family, guests, and random humans on the street – regarding how they should interact with her to reinforce polite greeting behavior.


Sometimes, this may mean sacrificing politeness for firmness when you encounter one of those “Oh, it’s okay!” dog lovers. Be ready to tell him no, it’s not okay, and you’d love to have him pet your dog if he will follow instructions. If he scoffs or gives you the sense that he’s going to do what he wants to do anyway, be prepared to say, “Whoops! Sorry!” and do a quick U-turn with your dog away from the would-be management underminer.


When visitors come to your home, consider using a tether to keep your dog away from the door, or park her behind a baby gate, so you can greet your guests without worrying about dog-jumping. Once the initial excitement of your guests’ arrival is over, it’s easier to instruct them on how to greet your dog properly.


Another alternative, if you want your guests to be interactive with your dog at the door, is to set them up to succeed with treats, toys, and a few basic instructions on how to use these to help your dog practice good greetings. This is a fun way to enlist the help of visitors to teach your dog to sit to greet people at the door.


Place a basket of toys by your door – toys your dog really likes. Tape a sign next to it instructing visitors: “Take a toy before you come in. When Bouncy runs up to you, hold the toy at your chest. When she sits, throw the toy for her to chase. If she brings it back, you can do it again.”


For a dog who doesn’t get excited about toys, you can use high-value non-perishable treats instead. (Real Meat Treats are my favorites for this; see Break the treats into small pieces in advance, hang a reusable, resealable bag of treats by the door, and tape up a sign that instructs your visitor to take a handful, wait for Bouncy to sit, and then fling some treats behind the dog.


Both of these methods reinforce Bouncy for sitting to greet your guests and directs her energy away from them as she chases after the toy or treats. Plus, it’s fun for your dog and your guests!


  1. Reinforce her for sitting a lot – every chance you get!

In what I call a “Say Please Program,” your dog’s sit makes everything good happen. A sit makes her dinner arrive. A sit gets her leash clipped on and another one gets the door to open for your walk together. Sits also elicit a toy or a treat. This will help make sit her default behavior and increase the odds that she will offer a sit when she is approached by someone.


  1. Practice polite greetings.

You can do this yourself by tethering your dog to a solid object and repeatedly approaching and feeding her a treat when she sits. Have everyone in the family try it, too!


If she tries to jump up on you when she isn’t tethered, say “Oops!” in a cheerful tone of voice, turn your back and step away from her.


Bad dog greeting

You can also practice this with friends or anyone else who would like to greet your dog. Hold your dog’s leash firmly, not allowing your dog to stretch your arm toward the greeter. As your acquaintance approaches, tell him not to interact with or give your dog a treat until she sits.


No Non-Consensual Dog-Dog Greetings

Just last week I was sitting with my new dog Sunny in our vet’s waiting room, and a man walked in with his 8-month-old, 120-pound Great Dane, who immediately began straining to come see my 16-pound dog. To my amazement and consternation, the man walked forward, allowing his dog to approach. I held up my hand and said firmly, “Please, no!”


“No? He likes little dogs,” the man responded. “He lives with a Pomeranian and they are best friends.”


“No,” I answered firmly, not bothering to add that my dog doesn’t live with a Great Dane and was showing signs of concern about the giant canine looming just six feet away.


The man took a seat on the other side of the small waiting room, and I did a little counter-conditioning with Sunny while both of us regained our equilibrium. Then I engaged in polite chat with the Dane’s owner, suggesting that lots of little dogs don’t like being approached by big dogs. He nodded, seeming to understand.


A few minutes later a woman walked in with a dog half of Sunny’s size, and the man again let his dog approach. The little dog was even more worried that Sunny had been, crying out, backpedaling on his leash, and trying to hide behind his human. This went on for many long seconds, until the woman finally picked up her dog and took a seat just out of reach of the Dane. Sigh…


Not only do dogs who are routinely allowed to greet other dogs on leash come to expect being allowed to do so, they can become quite frustrated and aroused when their desire to meet and greet is thwarted. There is a whole class of reactive dogs who are known as “frustrated greeters.” These are often the dogs who seem to play happily with other dogs when they are off-leash, but when the leash goes on they appear to turn into Cujo.


Guidelines for Greeting Other Dogs Safely

In order to avoid creating frustrated greeters, or worsening the behavior of the dogs who are already frustrated, my rule for dogs in my classes (and for my own dogs) is, “We don’t greet other dogs on leash. Period.” I see far too many dogs who are routinely allowed to greet other dogs on leash and whose behavior is very problematic. As soon as they see another dog they bark, scrabble, and pull, dragging their human toward the other dog until contact is accomplished, whether the other dog likes it or not.


Hence my solution: Allow dogs to greet and interact only in a safely enclosed area, where leashes can be dropped with a “go play” cue when it’s evident the dogs are compatible. Leashes stay on for the first few minutes of interaction, in case the dogs need to be separated, but are removed as soon as it’s clear that the dogs will play together well.


I do understand that this isn’t always possible. Dog owners who live in cities may find safely enclosed dog-play spaces hard to come by, not to mention compatible playmates accompanied by humans who are willing to arrange play dates. Sometimes, the only social options of urban dogs are on-leash greetings. If you are in the “really have to/want to” category, here are some suggestions to help you avoid future problems:


Teach your dog to approach other dogs on a loose leash.

(See “Loose Leash Walking: Training Your Dog Not to Pull“.) Pulling and straining on leash to reach another dog can send unsettling body language signals to the other dog, making the encounter less likely to be successful. It also increases arousal in your dog, again making the encounter less likely to be successful.


Teach a solid “Walk Away” behavior so you can easily interrupt an encounter that seems to be getting too intense.

Even if the intensity is playful. Pulling a dog away forcibly on leash can add tension that causes an otherwise successful encounter to go south. (See “How to Teach Your Dog to Just ‘Walk Away’“.)


Greet other dogs only occasionally.

Most of the time, your dog’s job when she is on leash is to be with you. Just as you give her permission to go sniff when it’s appropriate to do so, have a cue that gives her permission to greet another dog – and use it sparingly. Far more often than not, you want her to “not-greet.”


Use high-value treats and consistently reinforce your dog for paying attention to you in the presence of other dogs.

If we have our dogs’ attention, we can get them to work with us. If we can keep their attention, we can keep them working with us in the face of distractions. (See “It’s All In Your Dog’s Eyes“.)


Know what type of dog yours is likely to be comfortable with.

Even dogs who do well with other dogs don’t necessarily like to engage with all other dogs. Size, energy level, and play style are just three factors that may determine play-pal predilections. Some dogs have breed or size preferences; a bad experience with a particular type of dog in the past can give your dog a negative association with that type for life.


When you see a dog you would like yours to greet, ask permission from the other owner first, and respect their wishes. If they say no, it’s a no – don’t try to talk them into it. Conversely, be politely firm with your “No” if someone wants to approach yours with a dog you’re not comfortable with. Be your dog’s advocate.


Ready to Greet

Here is how to proceed when you are ready to do on-leash greetings, and you see a dog who fits the bill and whose owner has agreed to the encounter.


Start out by doing some parallel walking first, so the dogs get a little more information about each other prior to actually engaging – and you get a little more information about the dogs! Watch both dogs’ body language throughout the entire encounter and be prepared to abort if appropriate. (For more information about canine body language, see “Listening to Your Dog’s Body Signals“.)


If their body language tells you they are comfortable walking in proximity to each other, coordinate with the other owner and give the “go play” cue.


As the dogs engage, keep the leashes loose! This is so critically important it bears repeating: Keep the leashes loose! If there’s tension between the dogs as they greet, a tight leash greatly magnifies the tension and can cause what otherwise might have been a very successful greeting to fail. This usually take some fancy footwork on the part of the humans; as the dogs circle, sniff, play bow, and bounce you will need to circle with them and always be prepared to move forward to give extra leash slack as needed.


Dog meeting horse

It’s a good idea to interrupt the encounter if play starts to get rowdy. You simply cannot manage leashes well enough if dogs are getting very excited. If the two look like they both want to be rough-and-tumble run-and-chase play buddies, you really do need to find that elusive “safely enclosed area” so they can play together to their hearts’ content.


Meeting Other Species

All of the tools and techniques described above can serve you in good stead when your dog has the opportunity to meet an animal of another species. Some dogs become quite overexcited by the opportunity to meet other species, while others are sometimes a little fearful, perhaps even defensively aggressive. A few rounds (or more!) of counter-conditioning and desensitization will serve you well in these cases, if your dog needs some help learning to keep his cool when a horse, or a cat, or a cockatiel looks her in the eye.


If You Love Dogs Jumping Up On You

There’s almost always at least one member of a family who likes the dog to jump up on them. (I’m not naming any names, but there’s a possibility I could be guilty of that myself…)


No worries – just teach your dog a cue that means “jump on me,” and reward her for jumping only if she does it when the cue is given. Choose a cue that is something people won’t do inadvertently, such as touching your hands to both shoulders, as opposed to something like patting your leg, which many people do when greeting dogs.


Then, if you encounter someone who really wants your dog to jump up to greet them, you can say, “If you want her to jump up, just touch your shoulders!”

The Challenge of Defusing Intra-Pack Aggression

The Challenge of Defusing Intra-Pack Aggression

My first choice with most clients is this: changing the dogs’ opinion of each other through counterconditioning and desensitization (CC&D).

CC&D for intra-pack aggression involves changing your dogs’ association with each other from negative to positive. The easiest way to give most dogs a positive association is with very high-value, really yummy treats. I like to use chicken – canned, baked, or boiled, since most dogs love chicken and it’s a low-fat, low-calorie food.

Here’s how the CC&D process works:

  1. Determine the distance at which your dogs can be in each other’s presence and be alert or wary but not extremely fearful or aroused. This is called the threshold distance. If one dog has a greater threshold hold distance than the other (often the case), work at the greater distance.


  1. With you holding Dog A on leash, have your helper appear with Dog B at threshold distance “X.” The instant your dog sees the other, start feeding bits of chicken, non-stop. Your helper will feed chicken to her dog, too, the instant he notices your dog.


  1. After several seconds, have the helper step out of sight with Dog B, and you both stop feeding chicken.


  1. Keep repeating steps 1-3 until the sight of the other dog at distance “X” consistently causes both dogs to look at their handlers with a happy smile and a “Yay! Where’s my chicken?” expression. This is the physical presentation of the dogs’ conditioned emotional response (CER); each dog’s association with the other at threshold distance “X” is now positive, so they can deliberately look at you to get their chicken, rather than staying intensely focused on each other.


  1. Now you need to increase the intensity of the stimulus by increasing the length of time Dog B stays in sight. Continue to feed chicken when they are in view of each other, occasionally pausing to let them look at each other again, and immediately feeding chicken when they do.