Disregard the 3-3-3 Rule

Why the so-called “3-3-3 decompression rule” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – and how to best help your shelter or rescue dog adjust to her new home.

Family taking home a dog from the animal shelter giving new home
This family is clearly happy to have adopted a new dog – but they are doing everything wrong to welcome him to their family, whether it’s day 1, 3, or 33! A dog should not be greeted in a scrum and should never be forcibly restrained when meeting new people or dogs. . Photo © kzenon | Getty Images

Have you heard about the 3-3-3 decompression rule? We’ve seen memes about it everywhere on social media. It says your new dog will likely feel overwhelmed for the first three days, will settle in and feel more comfortable in your home by the end of three weeks, and after three months will be feeling secure in her new home. By this time, according to the adage, you and your dog will have developed a secure loving bond and trusting relationship.

This sounds lovely – but there is a huge problem with it. It’s a formula, and dogs are living, thinking, sentient individuals who don’t follow formulas.

Certainly there is wisdom in the advice to give your dog time to settle in. He needs time to recover from the stress of life in a shelter kennel or foster home – and then adoption and rehoming! There is no doubt that most dogs will go through an adjustment period when they come to live with you. It’s important to know this before you adopt a dog; your new canine family member may ultimately act very differently than when you first met her.

Phases of a rehomed dog’s decompression

Rather than set expectations for specific time frames, let’s discuss how to help your new dog cope during three big adjustment phases:

  • The Shellshock Phase. When you first bring her home, your dog may be overwhelmed. She may shut down, refuse to eat or drink, soil her crate, vocalize, try to escape, and/or otherwise behave inappropriately. And it may take her much longer than three days to get through this phase! Try to let go of any forecasts you’ve heard for how long it will take for her to decompress and de-stress.

Do everything you can to minimize her stress: Give her space; don’t overwhelm her with attention; remove anything that is obviously fear-causing; be calm, quiet, and gentle with her; and do everything slowly – for as long as it takes. (Note that some dogs skip this phase altogether and walk in your door and start behaving as if they have lived with you their whole lives; that’s the best! – but not that common.)

  • The Settle-In Phase. Your dog has worked through her initial stress and is settling in, getting used to the routine and opening up more. If she was shut down in the first phase, you’ll likely see new behaviors now – the “real” dog! Some of these behaviors may be undesirable ones, so you might have to increase your management. On the plus side, now that she’s more comfortable, you can interact with her more and begin your force-free training program.
  • The Rest-Of-Her-Life Phase. Your dog has settled into her new life, and the two of you truly have that secure, loving bond and trusting relationship. It may have taken three months – or three years! In any case, enjoy the rest of your lives together.

Returning to work, what about our Dogs

I am very happy to Announce, that I am
for Group & Private Classes.
Our dogs have loved that we are home with them

The year 2020 & the beginning of 2021, was challenging for most of us, with one notable exception: pets. Not only did a record number of dogs and cats get adopted into new, loving homes, but established pets enjoyed the 24/7 companionship of their families. Many folks worked and attended school remotely, with everyone taking breaks throughout the day to lavish Fido and Fluffy with attention.

However, this new normal will eventually come to an end.

As province and city governments begin to lift COVID-19 restrictions and people prepare to return to the workplace, one big concern many pet owners share is how their dogs and cats will fare when they’re back to being left at home alone for most of the day. After all, many pets adopted during the pandemic never experienced the “old normal” and have no idea that in many households, family members typically leave for work or school in the morning and are gone the better part of the day.

1)   Crates – Making use of the crate while your home, for a bit each day.Your taking a Shower/Bath, Cooking, Helping kids with school wok, etc.So, they do not associate the crate with your absence.

 1a)   Then start introducing your absence, stand outside, start the car (noise recognition), go for a short drive (keep that car battery alive & noise recognition). Increase time slowly, until you reach just beyond what would be the normal amount of time your gone in a day.

(Remember, for dogs under 6 months, the expectancy is 1 hour per month of age).Dog Walkers & Dog Daycares are OPEN, for those that would need a Potty break.

 Social Skills:

As we have been distancing and keeping too our family units, our dogs are missing out on getting a full and proper experience of the world, sight, sound, smells, people, other dogs etc.

The crucial age for social skills starts to close around 16 weeks of age.  Thus why Puppy Group Classes are so important.

Keeping those Social experiences into and through in too Adult brain is also a major priority, as dogs will forget about some of those experiences, as the brain ages up into Teenage and then Adult.  Don’t forget training is a major part of maintaining that wonderful puppy you had.  Think along the lines of – How well would a child fair in the world in general if they only attended Kindergarten/Grade 1-2.

 A long term repeat client & close friend of mine Debra, has been working with a 5 month old, that had not been given the proper social skills and training. 

She provided this list for me of stores that allow Dogs in:-

 Pet Stores – PetSmart, Ren’s, Pet Valu, Global etc.

Other Stores- Canadian Tire, Rona, Staples, Winners, Home Sense, Bed Bath & Beyond, Designer Show Warehouse and Calbel’s

 So, if you need to go out to grab something from one of these, Take the Dog.

Dominance Term Defined

Dominance Term Defined
The use of dominance and pack theory in explaining dog behavior has come under a great deal of scrutiny as of late. The Dog Nanny wishes to inform the dog owning public about the ramifications of a reliance on dominance theory as it relates to understanding dogs, interpreting their behavior, and living harmoniously with our canine companions.

Theory and Misconceptions
Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an “Alpha Wolf” that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for “dominance.” Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild; consequently, wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack’s ability to survive and flourish. While social hierarchies do exist (just as they do among human families) they are not related to aggression in the way it is commonly portrayed (incorrectly) in popular culture.

As Senior Research Scientist L. David Mech recently wrote regarding his many years of study of wolves, we should “once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack.” (Mech, 2008) In addition to our new understanding of wolf behavior, study into canine behavior has found that dogs, while sharing some traits with their wolf cousins, have many more significant differences. As a result, the idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain human behavior. Unfortunately, this idea that dogs are basically “domesticated wolves” living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior counselors, as well as breeders, owners, and the media. Although, dogs are descended from an Asian species of Wolf and maintain a 99.99999% DNA sequence. Dogs have developed to work with and alongside humans.

One of the biggest misconceptions we find ourselves faced with is the definition of “dominance.” Dogs are often described as being “dominant” which is an incorrect usage of the term. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dominance is “primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals.” and moreover, “the use of the expression ‘dominant dog’ is meaningless, since “dominance” can apply only to a relationship between individuals. (Bradshaw et al., 2009) Dominance comes into play in a relationship between members of the same species when one individual wants to have the first pick of available resources such as food, beds, toys, bones, etc. Even between dogs, however, it is not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. In many households the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog when it comes to choice of resting places. Dogs that use aggression to “get what they want” are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners. Basing one’s interaction with their dog on dominance is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.

Living with Dogs: What’s Important?
When it comes to living and working with dogs, the concept of dominance is largely irrelevant. This may come as a surprise to many dog owners. The truth is, when working with dogs that have a training or behavior issue, the goal of the dog professional is to develop a behavior modification or training plan that will address the problem at hand. This generally does not require understanding a dog’s motivation and emotional state, but rather focuses on what the dog is doing (behavior), and what we want the dog to “do,” helping the dog understand how to perform the desired behaviors and then rewarding him for doing so.

Far too many times dog owners have been given advice to “show the dog who’s boss” and “be the alpha.” The unfortunate side effect of this thinking is that it creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and their dog with the belief that the dog is somehow trying to control the home and the owner’s life. Such misinformation damages the owner-dog relationship, and may lead to fear, anxiety and /or aggressive behaviors from the dog. Dogs cannot speak our language and they can find themselves thrust into situations in our homes that they find difficult to comprehend, by owners trying to behave as they mistakenly believe “alpha” wolves do.
Rather than dominance, it is most often a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to behaviors we find troubling. It is the human’s responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward them when they do the things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show them which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does not lead to further anxiety on the dog’s part.

Aggression is Not the Answer
Actions such as “alpha rolls” and “scruff shakes” have no basis in fact when studying wolf or dog behavior, and they only lead to creating unnecessary fear on our dog’s part toward us, fear that ultimately can lead to aggression because the frightened dog knows of no other way to protect itself other than using its teeth. We all owe it to our dogs to see the world from their point of view in order to create a more harmonious relationship. Whether we are looking at a dog or a wolf, actions such as grabbing a dog and forcing it into a down, growling at the dog, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a “fight-or-flight” response where the animal fears for its life. In this situation, the dog will either freeze out of fear, flee far away from the threatening animal or person if an opportunity presents itself to get away, or, fight to save itself. When we engage in such behaviors toward our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are “boss,” instead we are telling the dog we are dangerous creatures to be avoided or fought off. There is no “dominance” in these scenarios—only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.

Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance.

If Not Dominance, Then What Do We Use?
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance. Some trainers refer to the term “leadership” or other similar terms that are less adversarial than “dominance”. What these trainers have in common is a desire to explain effective, non-confrontational and humane ways of living successfully with dogs. These educated approaches aim to strengthen the bond between the owner and the dog and teach owners more effective ways of communicating with another species. For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” which works along the principal that the dog must “do” something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.) These programs are effective because the dog is issued a structured set of rules that are consistently reinforced and the dog learns what he needs to do in order to get the things that he wants such as food, petting, playtime, etc. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety can result when they are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world without guidance that makes sense. Just like with people, we behave better and thrive in a world that “makes sense” to us and has a clear structure.

The Stubborn Dog

Are dogs stubborn? Here’s what you need to know about training a ‘stubborn dog’.

I laugh whenever I hear someone refer to a dog as “stubborn.” It is patently unfair to label a dog as stubborn.

Dogs do what works for them (as we all do), and when they aren’t doing what we ask, they have a good reason.

When your dog doesn’t respond to your cue, perhaps he’s come to associate it with something aversive, perhaps he doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or perhaps he’s too distracted or stressed and your request doesn’t even register in his brain.

In any case, it’s our job, as the supposedly more intelligent species, to figure out how to get our dogs to want to do what we want them to do.

Some people believe dogs should do what they are told, simply because we tell them to. “Because I said so!” hearkens back to childhood, when parental directives were often accompanied by the implied “Do it, or else!”

In these days of a more enlightened dog training philosophy, this coercive approach isn’t what many of us want with our dogs. We prefer relationships based on a cooperative partnership.

If your dog isn’t doing what you ask, consider these questions:

Are you training competently?

Remember, dogs shouldn’t have to do what we say just because we tell them to – or just because they love us. We want them to want to do it. Make sure your reinforcers are valuable enough that your dog will eagerly offer the behaviors you ask for, and that you are marking and/or delivering the reinforcer with good timing so your dog associates the reinforcer with the desired behavior.

Is there something aversive about the behavior?

Years ago, my first Doberman, Karla, started refusing jumps when we were training for obedience competition. I didn’t punish her for not jumping – I took her to my veterinarian and discovered she had bad hips. It hurt her to jump.

A behavior can also be emotionally aversive.

If a car ride always means a trip to the vet, your dog could become very reluctant to jump into the car. Your challenge is to make car rides consistently predict “good stuff” – a hike in the woods, a trip their favorite canine pal for a play session, or? If he’s refusing to enter his crate because he has mild separation distress and associates crating with you leaving, alleviate the separation distress through behavior modification (and possibly appropriate medications), and then convince him that crating is wonderful.

Does he not understand?

You may have taught your dog to respond to a cue for the desired behavior, but perhaps you’ve used body language prompts in the past without realizing it, and now, absent the prompt, he doesn’t understand what you’re asking of him.

Fade all prompts if you want him to respond reliably to verbal cues. Perhaps you’ve always trained in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator, and so he thinks “Sit” means “Sit in the kitchen.” When you ask him to sit in the living room, he doesn’t sit because it’s not the kitchen. He’s not being stubborn – he needs you to help him generalize his behavior so he understands that “Sit” means to put his tail on the ground wherever you ask him to do it.

Your tone of voice does matter. If you usually give cues with a happy voice but your own emotional state causes your voice to sound different, he may not understand.

Is he distracted?

If you haven’t generalized your dog’s behavior to distracting environments, his attention will naturally be drawn to the multitude of exciting things happening around him. He’s not ignoring you; he probably isn’t even hearing you because he’s so focused on the fascinating world around him. Help him hear and respond to your behavior requests by training in various environments with gradually increasing distractions.

Is he stressed?

“Stressed” is an even bigger challenge than “distracted.”

When stress happens, the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) shuts down and the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) takes over.

We even have phrases in the English language to describe this phenomenon: “I was so scared I couldn’t think straight.” “I was out of my mind with worry.”

When your dog is so stressed, he can’t think straight, it’s unfair to blame him for not doing what you ask. Relieve his stress (remove him from the stressor, and/or do behavior modification to change his association with the stressor) and try again.

Your relationship with your dog will be so much happier when you stop characterizing him as stubborn and realize how you can help him be more responsive to your behavior requests. Now get busy helping him want to do what you want him to do.

How to Keep Your Dog From Stealing Unattended Food and Other Edible Items

Counter Productive:

How to Keep Your Dog From Stealing Unattended Food and Other Edible Items

Prevent your dog from helping himself to any unattended food or food-like items he finds on kitchen counters, dining room tables, and other accessible locations

Some counter-surfing dogs are after the one human-food item that they find irresistible – and reliably stocked in the same place on the counter at all times, like bread or butter near the toaster. Other dogs will settle for any molecules of edible items they can find. If this describes your dog, be extra careful, because dogs like this are prone to overdosing on medication, sugar-free gum or hard candies (xylitol is deadly for dogs), or other dangerous food-like substances.

One of the hardest canine behaviors for some dog owners to understand (or forgive) is counter-surfing – when your dog helps himself to some edible item that you or another household human left unattended. The behavior isn’t just limited to counters; some dogs help themselves to any food left on tables, desks, coffee tables, or any other unguarded surface. Some dogs specialize in finding any food you have hidden in your car!


Smart dog owners understand that canids are naturally “opportunistic eaters” – they are genetically programmed to eat food when they see or find it. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just let them help themselves to anything in the house that they can find! Dogs are genetically programmed to do a lot of things we don’t just let them do.

However, it does mean that we have to scrupulously manage our dog’s environment, in hopes that they never learn the joy of counter-surfing in the first place, but also so that if they already have, we can reprogram the learning (i.e., modify the behavior).

Management is pretty simple. It just means never leaving unattended food anywhere your dog can get it. Alternatively, you can restrain or put your dog away (closed in another room, behind a baby gate, tethered, or crated) if you must leave food out.

If you do this starting from puppyhood, so your dog never gets an opportunity to abscond with the deli tray or butter dish on the counter, there’s a good chance he won’t decide to leap onto counters when he reaches adulthood.

Still, it’s not a good idea to take good behavior for granted, or frequently present your dog with unnecessarily hard-to-ignore temptations.

Our two dogs have never counter-surfed; they are both small (under 35 pounds) and have reasonably good house manners, so we trust that our food is safe on the kitchen counter or dining room table (even though they are both quite capable of jumping that high, if they wanted to). I wouldn’t dream, however, of leaving food on our coffee table and walking out of the room; there’s no point in tempting fate!

If you choose to manage your dog, rather than keeping the counters reliably free of food, make good use of our usual list of management tools to prevent your dog from having access to food on counters and tables: Doors, baby gates, crates, exercise pens, leashes, tethers, and (last but least, as it has the best chance of failure due to human error) direct supervision.

Not Guilty

Some dogs seem incorrigible about helping themselves to any food they can find in the house – and some humans get hopping mad about it. “I’ve punished him many times for this,” they say. “He knows he’s not supposed to do it. He only does it when I’m not in the room, and he always looks guilty afterward. So clearly he knows better!”

The thing is, he really doesn’t know better. What he does know is that bad things happen (you get angry, or perhaps even a little violent) if he takes food off the counter when you are there. However, nothing bad happens if he takes yummy stuff off the counter when you aren’t there, so it’s okay – and safe – to do it then.

Generally, by the time you discover his latest transgression and punish him for it (we don’t recommend this), the punishment is too far removed from his action; he won’t associate the punishment with his taking the food. All he really knows is that sometimes you are grumpy when you enter the kitchen (or wherever the food had been).

So what about those guilty looks? If your dog doesn’t know he did a bad thing, why does he look guilty?

In 2009, dog cognition scientist Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Scribner, 2009) and Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell (Scribner, 2016), tried to answer that question with a study, “Disambiguating the ‘Guilty Look.’”

Horowitz set up a situation where the owner would put a treat where their dog could reach it, tell the dog to leave it alone, and leave the room. When the owner returned, Horowitz sometimes reported to the owner that the dog had eaten the treat even if he hadn’t (the researchers removed the food from the plate). In these instances, the owners most frequently described their dogs as looking guilty, even though, unbeknownst to them, the dog had not taken the treat. Additionally, if the owners scolded the dogs, the dogs frequently looked “guilty” – whether they had eaten the treat or not. In fact, Horowitz also found that when scolded, the most exaggerated guilty looks were frequently offered by the dogs who had not eaten the treat!

The behavior and expression that owners often think is an indication of guilt – a hunched, lowered posture, ears back, eyes averted, sometimes accompanied by a submissive grin – is actually appeasement behavior; it indicates that the dog is fearful. It means he has read your body language, understands that you are upset, and is trying to appease you so you don’t take it out on him.

If your dog’s counter-surfing and your anger about it is separated in time by more than several seconds, he has no idea why you are angry, but he doesn’t want your wrath descending on him. Even if you aren’t overtly angry, he can tell when you are upset about something, so he offers body language intended to deflect your emotions.

Note: While the dog’s behavior in the counter-surfing scenarios described here are not an indication of guilt, that does not mean dogs cannot feel guilt. We don’t know that yet. It’s possible that they can. But this isn’t it.


My own unproven and untested theory, based on anecdotal evidence alone, is that the truly dedicated counter-surfers tend to be smart, confident dogs with resilient personalities. Some are truly masters of the art of taking food – practically from under your very nose, without you ever noticing. You have to admire ninja skills like that! You might even be in the kitchen with your dog and you think you’re doing a good job of managing, but you turn your back for a second and oops! The holiday ham has been swiped from the counter.

There is certainly value in modifying counter-surfing behavior, especially if you have one of those expert surfers, or if management won’t be consistent in your household; perhaps you care for an elderly parent with dementia, or have distracted, spontaneous children roaming your home. When scrupulous management isn’t possible, by all means, use behavior modification!

Here are some useful training tools you can teach your counter-surfing canine:

* Mat training. Teach your dog that her place in the kitchen is on her mat, conveniently placed in the corner. Cue her to go to her mat as needed, and then watch for her to start going to her mat on her own, without a cue. When this happens, be sure to reinforce her happily and generously! (For more detail about teaching this behavior, see “Useful Matters,” WDJ January 2020.)

Work to increase the duration of time that you want her to stay on the mat, until she will stay there happily for long periods, with long pauses between reinforcers. Continue to reinforce her on her mat in the kitchen (or wherever food is present) to keep the behavior strong.

* Leave It. A well-trained, well-timed, cheerful “Leave it!” cue can work wonders, especially if it’s delivered right at the moment when you see your dog eyeing the turkey sandwich that one of the kids left on the coffee table.

I teach that “Leave it” means “forever,” so if you do have to leave the kitchen for a brief moment, your “Leave it” cue can help ensure the safety of any unattended food – but don’t count on it for more than a few seconds!

Start by saying “Leave it!” and putting a treat under your foot, then waiting for your dog to stop trying to get it out from under your shoe. The instant she stops, “mark” the moment with a signal, such as the click of a clicker or the word “Yes!” and give her a treat. Continue using the marker (click or “Yes!”) and giving her a treat every few seconds, in random durations (but not too long), as long as she doesn’t go back to the shoe. If she does try to get the treat again, just wait until she stops, then mark/treat again.

It’s a fun behavior to teach! You are setting up your dog to make the right choice, then reinforcing her when she does. It’s one of those rewarding-for-the-human positive-training moments where you get to see the light bulb come on, when your dog looks at the treat and then deliberately looks away. (For more instruction on teaching this behavior, see “Leaving for Good,” June 2018.)

*Walk Away. The “Leave it” cue tells your dog not to eat whatever she is coveting; in contrast, the “Walk Away” moves her promptly away from the food that she’s eyeing on the counter or table. In many cases, this is more effective, because it tells your dog what to do (and reinforces her for doing it) instead of just telling her what not to do.

Being able to teach your dog to move away from something when asked is an invaluable tool, both for your dog’s safety and for your sanity. It has become one of my favorite behaviors to teach and use.

We start teaching this behavior by tossing treats for our dog to chase and eat. When he thoroughly understands the “game” of watching to see where you toss the treats so he can pursue and eat them, you present him with a novel but neutral (uninteresting) item that may draw his attention for a moment. When he moves toward the item to investigate it with a sniff, you cue “Walk Away!” and run away, tossing treats behind him, so he whips a U-turn and pursues the treats.

There are more steps and more practice required for a reliable “Walk Away!” behavior, but you get the idea. For detailed instructions on teaching this behavior to your dog, see “Walk Away!” in the September 2018 issue.


Note: The leash here looks a little tight. Don’t pull the dog away from the novel item. After a couple iterations, when he hears the cue, he should be anticipating the treats and start turning and running away from the item with you.

In behavior science terms, you “extinguish” your dog’s counter-surfing behavior by not leaving any food on the counter for him to find – ever – thus removing all possible reinforcement. Behaviors that aren’t reinforced in some way eventually go away. But if your dog happens to score a sandwich or a savory pie while you are trying to extinguish the food-seeking behavior – even just once! – the behavior will be so strongly reinforced that it will be difficult to extinguish again.

So, if you really want to extinguish your dog’s counter-surfing behavior, your management has to be flawless. If your dog has access to a goodie on the counter every now and then, she will continue to search for random prizes that she can snatch when no one is looking. And each time she does, she’ll become even more convinced that the counter will eventually pay off. The behavior will become even more durable, and she will keep scouting the surface of the counter even longer.

Think about this: Let’s say you’re walking to work and you happen to glance at some pretty marigolds in a street-side planter. To your surprise and delight, you find a $100 bill tucked under the leaves of the plant. Want to bet you’ll check the planter again the next day? And the next?

If, four days later, you happen to find another $100 bill, you’re for sure going to keep checking the planter every time you go by, for a long time. Finding another bill in 20 or 30 days will only convince you to keep looking, even if there are very long gaps between finding one $100 bill and the next. In fact, you’d probably keep looking even if you “just” found a $20 bill!


Some dogs are more strongly motivated by the prospect of finding unattended food than others. You may never be able to turn your back on these dogs and expect to see snacks where you left them – so don’t leave snacks unattended! Management is that simple.

You’ve invested extensive time and energy into managing and modifying your dog’s behavior. He no longer snags food off the kitchen counter when you turn your back. In fact, he’s very good about relaxing on his mat in the corner when you are in the kitchen preparing food, and you’re very good about continuing to reinforce him for that. Congrats!

Can we say he’s “fixed” now? Is it okay to let your guard down and leave food on the counter even when you’re not there?

With some dogs, perhaps; but for most, probably not.

Some dogs have very strong food-seeking behaviors. For example, as most animal-care professionals are aware (and most owners realized early in their Labrador experience), Labrador Retrievers are notorious chow-hounds. It’s actually suspected of being a genetically inherited trait! In 2016, researchers found a gene believed to be responsible for the Labrador’s well-known magnetic attraction to food.

Your counter-surfing Lab – or any other dog with strong food-accessing behaviors – is likely to need management for the rest of his life, even after an excellent modification program.

Think back to that planter with the marigolds and the occasional $100 bills. If you went months without finding any more money, you’d probably stop checking every day – but you might still take a peek under the flowers every once in a while. And if at some point you found more money – even just a $5 bill – you’d likely go back to checking that planter regularly again, right?

When we modify behavior, the old behavioral response (neuron pathway) doesn’t go away; it just gets overlaid by the new behavioral response. If something happens to trigger the old response, the behavior can (and often does) quickly pop back up (this is called a spontaneous recovery).


In my Academy, we sometimes conduct a “Leave It Test” with trainers and their relatively well-trained dogs. The trainers place a bowl of food on the floor and tell their dogs to “Leave it!” Often, as long as the trainer faces her dog and watches, most of the dogs are very reliable about abstaining from eating the food.

Amusingly, however, if the trainers cover their eyes, turn their backs to their dogs, or step behind a barrier, more than 90% of the dogs will help themselves to the food within 10 minutes. Most eat the food within 60 seconds or less!

If your dog has a history of getting reinforcement for counter-surfing, and you’ve put effort into modifying his behavior so he’s far less likely to help himself to available food, keep up reasonable management protocols as well. Don’t waste all that effort by tempting him into transgression – just don’t. If you do – and he fails, it’s your fault, not his.

Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

saty alert thanks giving advise

Wondering when and how you should start training your puppy? Immediately!


March 20, 20203

“Catch her doing something right” whenever possible! When you notice your puppy doing anything you like, such as sitting calmly and quietly, or chewing on one of the toys you bought for this purpose, let her know she’s being a good dog! Offer her a treat, praise, and/or a little bit of calm petting.

When it comes to puppy training, it’s never too early to start. Puppies are more than ready to learn by the time they leave the litter and transition into a home. After all, they’ve been learning since birth, so why not keep the ball rolling as soon as you welcome a puppy into your family?

It’s our responsibility to teach puppies how to successfully live in our human world, which has a rule structure quite different from what they’re used to with their littermates. There are plenty of options for positive-reinforcement training starting at a young age: a well-run, in-person puppy kindergarten class; one-on-one instruction with a trainer; an online program; books and videos; your own knowledge of training; or a combination of options. No matter what you opt for, starting sooner, not later, is key to success. From the first day you bring your puppy home, have these three basic principles in mind:


  1. Have clear goals for your puppy’s behavior from day one and support his understanding of them every day.

It’s important to have some basic training goals before your puppy comes home, so you can create clear behavior contingencies from the very beginning.

Your puppy is constantly learning. From the moment he sets paw in your home, he will be learning which behaviors get him things he wants and which ones don’t. Make it easy for him to get what he wants when he does behaviors you like, and prevent him from getting what he wants when he explores behaviors you don’t want him to practice. The more black and white your expectations, the easier it will be for the puppy to figure out what works for both of you.


So, as just a few examples: If you don’t want a grown, 80-pound dog jumping on you to get your attention, avoid petting the tiny, 8-week-old puppy when he jumps on you. Instead, if he happens to sit or even just greets you with happy eye contact and all four paws on the floor, go ahead and tell him what a good puppy he is and lovingly give him all the petting he wants! If you want a well-housetrained dog, commit to paying close attention to your puppy’s need to eliminate, not giving him a single opportunity to “make a mistake” indoors. And if you don’t want your adult dog to sleep with you on your bed or your nicest sofa, don’t allow the puppy to do so, either.

Gray areas are challenging for dogs. It’s not fair to make exceptions to what we know our rules will be later (because the puppy is so cute!) and then change the rules as she grows. It’s also harder to “fix” unwanted behaviors than to train correct behaviors from the beginning. (For more about this, see “The Biology of Early Learning”)


  1. Make your interaction with your puppy rewarding and engaging.

Teach your puppy that spending time with you is fun! Be generous with rewards of food, attention, petting, and play so the puppy is eager to focus on you in anticipation of enjoyment.

Build a strong history of reinforcement (with treats, toys, praise, and play) for behaviors that you like from your puppy; she will strongly associate you with all these good things, helping cement a solid relationship between you.

A great strategy is to aspire to feed more of your puppy’s daily ration of food from your hand than from a bowl. This makes you the primary source of a pretty great thing and gives you plenty of calories to leverage to your advantage by reinforcing any behavior you’d like to see more of.

Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding. This makes it easier for the puppy to continue to choose you, and what you have to offer, over the environment. No need to worry the pup will end up “only doing it for the food.” Since the food comes directly from you, you gain value by association. Plus, when you pair praise and petting with the delivery of food, the food increases the value of your praise and petting, so it is more reinforcing in the future if you choose to use fewer food rewards in training.

Don’t forget to mix lots of play into your interaction. It’s fun (for puppies and people!), it breaks up training sessions, and studies show following learning with play can lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions, when compared to immediately following learning with an opportunity to rest. Playing with your puppy, in ways you both enjoy, convinces your puppy that you’re a blast to be around because you know how to play all the best games. Who doesn’t like hanging out with the fun guy or gal?


What you can expect?

With frequent, short training sessions, most young puppies can start offering simple behaviors like “sit” in anticipation of “good stuff” as early as 6 to 7 weeks old, even before they leave the litter. If you really want to stack the training deck in your favor, look for a responsible breeder or rescue that provides early enrichment and basic training opportunities to young puppies in an effort to set them up for success when they meet their new families.

If you’re starting from scratch with the basics, it’s still reasonable to expect a young puppy to quickly learn to offer a “sit” for a food bowl or when approaching people, or follow a hand signal to lie down. In fact, in many cases, people report their puppies readily respond to cues for “sit,” “down,” “come,” “leave it” and a parlor trick or two by the time the puppy is 3 months old.

The catch? This degree of understanding is generally limited to the home environment. Sound familiar? “But he does it at home!” is one of the most often heard frustrations among dog owners when attending a group class or otherwise asking the dog to perform seemingly “known” behaviors away from home. Learning to do these behaviors in the face of a highly distracting, enticing world takes a little more time and maturity.

Learning the physical mechanics of the behavior is easy. Adding duration, making the behavior resistant to distractions, and properly generalizing the behavior so the dog understands the same rules apply anywhere, anytime is a process that takes time and patience. Try to avoid thinking your puppy truly knows a behavior until you’ve seen him be successful under a wide variety of circumstances. Until that point, he’s learning a behavior. Working in a new environment, around new people, other dogs, interesting smells, etc. makes it harder for the puppy to perform correctly. People often become frustrated and view the pup as being “stubborn,” when really, he’s just not developmentally mature enough to concentrate for long periods and in the face of distractions. He’ll get there with patience, maturity, and continued training support.


  1. Keep training sessions short but frequent.


Like young children, puppies have short attention spans. The most effective training happens frequently throughout the day, but in short sessions each time, and with a high rate of reinforcement. Three to five minutes is perfect for a young puppy.

Try five repetitions of cheerfully saying your puppy’s name when she’s not looking, and rewarding her when she turns to orient toward you. Practice “sit” and “down” a couple of times, changing your position relative to the pup with each repetition to help her begin to “generalize” the behaviors, understanding that “sit” means the same thing whether you are standing right in front of her or next to her.

Bust out a toy for a quick round or two of tug, trading the toy for a treat to begin a “drop it” behavior, then playfully run away from the puppy, encouraging her to follow you with a happy, “Let’s go!” as you take off. Reward her when she catches up to you, with treats or another one of her favorite toys. Aim for three to five short sessions each day. Also, remember every interaction is an opportunity for learning, so be prepared to help her practice desirable behaviors every time you casually interact with her, too.

Formal training sessions that are short and fun keep the puppy’s head in the game. More importantly, they teach the puppy to enjoy and look forward to training sessions, creating a pup who exhibits a happy conditional emotional response (CER) – that is, she becomes visibly excited – when our behavior starts to predict a training session is imminent.


The Big ‘A’ (Adolescence)

Trainers who teach group classes have seen it a million times: Owners bring their young puppies to “canine kindergarten” classes and are delighted with all the cues and behaviors they and their puppies learn to do. After graduation, a few months roll by, and gradually, more and more of those formerly delighted owners start reporting that their puppies “don’t know anything anymore!” Sit, down, come, stay – all the basic behaviors the pups “knew” when they were tiny seem to be gone! What gives?

The simple answer is adolescence.

Adolescence is a natural part of canine development. It’s generally said to begin when the dog is about 6 to 9 months old and lasts until about 18 months old. (Different breeds mature at different rates. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Whereas a toy breed might be fully mature at 12 months old, a giant breed won’t fully mature until closer to 2 years old, so the adolescent phase will vary from breed to breed.)



If you don’t want your puppy to chew your shoes or any other household items, make sure you provide him with a large and varied assortment of “legal” chew items and toys, so he always has “good” choices available.

Dogs go through lots of changes during this time – physical growth spurts, hormone surges, and an increased need to chew in an effort to fully set adult teeth into the skull. These physical changes generally coincide with the secondary fear period, a developmental stage where dogs often react fearfully to things they’ve been fine with in the past.

Much like in human adolescents, a hallmark of canine adolescence is a push for independence. Dog owners often report the adolescent dog is “blowing them off,” “being stubborn,” or otherwise seems to have forgotten everything she’s ever been taught.

Although it can be a trying time, patience is a virtue. Find ways to foster success and prevent failure in training. For example, if your young adolescent is overly distracted by other dogs when in a group class, add distance or use a visual barrier between the dogs to filter the distraction. If the dog is clearly driven by his nose, avoid letting him off-leash in unfenced areas. Avoid scary or painful punishers, as they can erode the relationship you share with your dog. The good news is, this too shall pass.


The Bottom Line

When we bring a dog into our life, it’s our responsibility to teach them how to successfully live in our human world. Good training is a partnership. It’s not something we do to our dog, it’s something we do with our dog. It’s also ongoing. We get out of it what we put into it. With modern-day positive reinforcement training methods, it’s easy to make training an enjoyable way of life that creates treasured companions for years to come.

Understanding Bad Dog Behavior

toy destroy

It can be frustrating when you experience dog behavior problems. Dogs are very different than people. A dog’s actions sometimes don’t make sense to us. It’s hard to understand why a dog does what he does. So, what is it that’s behind common dog behavior problems and what can you do to correct these problems?

If you have a dog that is behaving badly, you need to correct the problem; but to do that, you need to understand your dog’s behavior.

First and foremost remember that a dog is a pack animal. Your dog sees himself as part of your pack. That’s why it’s so important that you lead him and make him understand that you are the leader of the pack. If you allow your dog to continue with certain dog behavior problems, he will think that he is the alpha dog, and your dog behavior problems will continue.

If you’re curious about why your dog does what he does, you’re not alone. Common dog behavior problems can be easily resolved, as long as you follow the right training methods.

How many times have you uttered the words, “No – bad dog!”, only to find it has no effect on your dog’s behavior? That’s because punishment doesn’t work. Most of the time, dogs don’t understand what they’re being punished for, and the behavior continues.

Changing dog behavior problems isn’t quick and easy – it can take weeks or months to achieve. The most important thing to remember is that any attention rewards your dog – good or bad. If you are trying to change your dog’s behavior, remember that punishment doesn’t work. To stop bad dog behavior problems, you must respond to the behavior in the right way. If you yell at your dog when he does something bad, you are still giving him the attention he seeks and telling him that his bad behavior paid off.

The key to changing bad dog behavior is not to allow him to be rewarded for it. Instead of yelling, give your dog the chance to succeed and reward him when he does. For instance, if your dog is jumping up, tell him to lie down – and when he does, give him a treat. This is the type of positive reinforcement that will eventually stop bad dog behavior. Your dog wants to understand what you want him to do, but it will take patience and time to make your dog learn what you expect of him.

When you are interacting with your dog, you are communicating with an animal that speaks a different language than you do. That’s why training is so important to help improve your dog behavior problems. Try to teach your dog a new command every week, and remember to keep practicing old commands. When your dog understands what you want him to do, you will have a much better relationship.

Also remember the old adage, “a Brain tired dog is a good dog.” It’s true. A Brain tired dog is less likely to exhibit behavioral problems. So make sure that your dog gets plenty of opportunities to work, run and play. Exercise is important for all dogs. It helps them use up all that pent up energy, so they’re less likely to direct that energy toward unwanted behaviors. If you work outside of the home and your dog is home alone all day, make sure to give him the opportunity to run around outdoors when you come home.

From aggression and barking to destructive chewing, nipping and separation anxiety, dog behavior problems can have a real impact on your life.


Potty/Crate Training

A lot of dog owners feel that crate training puppies is cruel. This thinking is wrong and it prevents them from taking advantage of the best house training tool – a crate.

If you can avoid some common crate training mistakes, your puppy will enjoy the time he spends in his crate.

You see, just like wolves, dogs are den animals. A crate provides them with the same sense of security that a den would have provided them in the wild.

The tricky part about crate training puppies lies in the fact that unless you use a crate correctly, you will not achieve the desired result.

What follows are some tips and suggestions you can use right away. Further down, there is a page where I talk more about crate training your puppy.

So, without wasting any more time, let’s review some…

  • The first step in crate training puppies is to decide where to place the crate. Because puppies are social animals, it’s best to keep the crate in an area where your family spends a lot of time, but avoid placing it next to air vents or in direct sunlight.
  • Put a soft blanket inside the crate. To make your puppy feel more secure, put the crate next to a wall and cover the sides with a towel. Or get a Crate wear Pet Dreams 3-Piece Complete Crate Bed Set that includes a mattress, padded bumpers and a crate cover.
  • Though buckle collars are generally safe, it’s not a good idea to use them when crate training puppies. Why? Because even a flat collar can get stuck between metal bars and injure your puppy.
  • The best time for crate training is when your puppy is hungry, bored, or… both.
  • Never force your pet to enter the crate. If he needs some encouragement, put some of his favourite toys or food inside the crate (from my experience, food works better than toys).

    Initially, leave them near the door and leave the crate door open. As your pet becomes more comfortable, you may move the toys further inside his crate.

  • If the above doesn’t work, try another approach…

    Some puppies get anxious when encouraged to enter the crate but will venture inside on their own if there is an incentive.

  • One of the most difficult parts of crate training puppies is locking your pet in his crate for the first (and second, and third, and… times). Here is a trick I learned a long time ago.

    With my dog inside the crate and eating, I lock the door, but only for the duration of his meal. Even if he notices that I locked the door, most likely, he will be too busy eating to express his displeasure. As soon as he finishes eating, I open the door. As you repeat this exercise, keep the door locked a little longer each time.

  • Always praise your puppy for doing things right. Did he just enter his crate for the first time? Or maybe he didn’t cry when you locked the door? I am sure you’ll agree these milestones deserve some praise and a treat or two!
  • Don’t try to accomplish too much too soon. As you begin crate training your puppy, keep the sessions short and gradually increase the training time when your puppy is ready.
  • A crate is the most valuable tool for training puppies. But to get the most benefits out of crate training, your puppy can’t associate his crate with anything negative. So, never use it for punishment.

Housebreaking your new puppy is going to take patience. You should begin to housebreak as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Puppies need to relieve themselves approximately six times a day. A puppy should be taken out immediately after each meal since a full stomach puts pressure on the colon and bladder.

A puppy is not physically able to control the muscle that allows him to “hold it” until he is about 12 weeks of age. Before this time, good housebreaking routines should be practiced to avoid having your puppy urinate and defecate all over your house. Watch for signs of urination or defecation, such as turning in circles. Take your puppy out often. Using a crate or confining your puppy to a small part of the house that has easy clean up floors are some ways to ensure your puppy does not urinate all over your house. It is much harder to housebreak a puppy if he smells is urine in places you do not wish him to relief himself.

There are many different methods in which you can housebreak your pet, however I find Crate training the most effective. Whichever way you choose, it is important to understand your puppy. Dogs want to please; the trick is to make them understand what it is you want from them.

Dogs do not think the way humans do. When you are unhappy with your dog, it assumes that whatever it is doing at the exact moment you show disapproval – is the thing that is upsetting you.

For example:

If your puppy relieves himself on your floor and you show your disapproval five minutes after he has committed the act, the puppy will think that the mess on the floor is bad. He will not relate to the fact that it was the act of relieving himself on your floor that you disapprove of. The dog will eliminate, see the mess and get worried; you are now going to be unhappy. This is the reason so many dogs will relieve themselves in inappropriate places and look really guilty about it, yet they continue to do it. Dogs want to please, right?

Some owners start to think that their dog is being sneaky when really it does not fully understand what it is doing wrong. It knows the mess upsets you but does not understand that it should stop “making” the mess. To your dog, these two things: “the mess” and “the act” are unrelated.

The trick is to catch your dog in the act and make him understand. You do not need to hit your dog. The tone of your voice is enough to make the dog see you are unhappy.

A firm “Eh! Or other correction sound.  You are not allowed to go in the house. “Eh!” or other correction sound is all that is needed.

Immediately take your dog outside to the appropriate place. Wait for your dog to go again and when and if he does, praise him. Important: Always praise your dog after he eliminates in the appropriate place.

Crate Training Caution:

Before you crate train, please be aware: a dog that is left in a crate all day long, gets let out in the evening after work for a few hours and put back in the crate for the night can become neurotic, destructive, unhappy and noisy.

If you work all day, it is recommended that you find someone who can take your dog out for a long walk in the afternoon. If this is not possible only use the crate at night.

If you must leave your dog all day long every day and you have nobody to let the dog out during the day, you should find a room without a rug, put down Pooch Pads Reusable Housebreaking Pads, food, water and toys.

You should set up the room so that the bed and food are at one end and the pee pads at the other. Spread the toys in the center of the room. Dogs are not fish. They need to find something to occupy their mind, so give your dog plenty of toys. It is said that dogs are den animals and like the crate, but even a den animal would go crazy if it was lock up all day long.

You must be willing to invest time and energy for just a few short weeks in housetraining. The effort you put in now will last for the rest of your pet’s life.

The crate training method is as follows. Buy a crate and for the first 3 to 4 weeks keep your puppy in it when you are not with him. Make sure the crate is not too big. It should be large enough for the puppy’s bed, but no larger. Dogs do not want to soil their bed and the use of a crate teaches them to control their urge to eliminate.

You must maintain an eagle eye at all times. As soon as you see him pacing, sniffing around, and turning in circles, immediately take him outside. He is telling you “I am going to go pee pee somewhere, and this carpet looks like as good a place as any.” NO, you do not have time to put on your shoes, just go.

Be patient and do not rush the little guy. He may have to go several times in one “pit stop.” Give him about 10 minutes before taking him back inside. Do not play with him while you are on this mission. Let him know this is a business trip.

Make sure you take him out after every meal and play session BEFORE you put him back in his crate. Be consistent and establish a schedule. Pay attention to your puppy’s behaviour so you can develop a schedule that works for you and the pup. When does your puppy naturally defecate? In the morning? 10 minutes after eating? Around bedtime? You may have to make some compromises.

Be fair to your puppy. He cannot be expected to stay alone in his crate for endless hours and not relieve himself. During your work days, you will need to have someone go to your home at least once (lunch time is good) to let the puppy out. Take him for a long walk. Your dog is not a fish and he needs something to occupy his mind.

Make sure everyone who is involved in the housebreaking process is using the same spot in the yard and the same word. Everyone should agree on the place they will take the puppy. The odour from the previous visits will cause the puppy to want to go in that spot.

Use a simple word like “Potty/Weewees” when taking your puppy to the chosen spot. Use this word consistently and later this word will help build communication between the family and the dog. When you notice him going toward the door and you say “Potty” he can say “Yup, that’s where I need to go,” or, “Forget it. I am getting back up on the couch for some shut eye.”

Until your puppy is about 5 months old you will need to take him out frequently and keep that eagle eye on him. But before you know it, you are going to be able to trust and communicate with your new pet. And he will learn that when he pleases you by going out to do his business, he gets more freedom in the house.


Copyright 2000,
Dogs (Canines) communicate by Scent, Body Language and Sound. Learning, how we as Humans sometimes give mixed messages due to our way of using Body Language & Sound, is the key to a successful relationship with our Dogs.

First let’s talk about Scent:-

For years people have said dogs can smell Fear and “Whatever you are feeling goes down the leash to your dog”. Well science has now confirmed that our Pheromones (Scent), does change dependent our mood. So yes your dog can by smell figure out your mood. Thus why a Calm Scent is most beneficial. Your BUDDA ZONE, as I call it.

Dogs learn to put your individual scents into emotional boxes, which they divide up into multiple levels of the basic emotions. Anger, Fear, Happy & Calm. To help them determine which box each scent goes into they look at your body language and listen to the tone of your voice. And here is where we get confusing to them.

Body Language:-

To a Dog (Canine), large, up-right, tall, big body language means large and in charge, calm and confident. Making yourself look smaller, means you are unsure, nervous or afraid.
Therefore, bending over is not a good body position for us. There are two other messages bending over can convey, and that is Dominance (if over the top of your dog’s body) or Invitation to Play (our human equivalent of a Play Bow).

How important is body language, well it’s one, we can control and need to think about. The amazing fact is dog’s have learned a lot about Human Body Language, by watching us (but the basics remain). Dog’s do realize we are not able to move our ears as they do and that we do not have tails and that we do not move around on all fours. Did you know science has confirmed that dogs are the only animal on the planet that has figured out if Humans close their eyes they cannot SEE. Even the Great Apes our closest genetic cousins have not figured that one out. SO DOGS HAVE LEARNED TO WATCH EVEN OUR SMALLEST MOVEMENTS.
So Body Posture becomes very important.


To a Dog (Canine), a high squeaky tone, means Excitement and Play.
A Low, Deep, bark or growl is a Warning or Correction Tone.
Think of the tone of that “Oh My God, Throw the Ball” Bark, compared to that “I don’t Like that” Bark. Some of you with vocal dogs, and/or Large Breeds, will surely have noticed the difference, and may even to able to recognize, a third and fourth level of tone, for other communications.

So, how do we use tone and what do we need to know about Human Tones. Well, did you know when you raise your voice, you actually go up an octave or two or more, from your normal tone.

So the scenario is this:-
You get angry with your dog for chewing let’s say your brand new Shoes, Couch, Rug or any other object. So you “Address” the Dog (Bend forward), Start Shouting and/or raise you voice. You may even Wag a Finger or Shake your Fist at the dog (rapid irregular movement is an Invitation To Play).

What does your DOG read from this:-
1) Your Scent says your angry
2) Your Body Language says you are Unsure/Nervous/Afraid – Inviting to Play – Dominating
3) Your Tone says you are Happy/Excited
Well, you’re making perfect sense are you not ? being every emotion in the book all at once, and the look you get is not one of GUILT, but of APPEASEMENT. Basically, you are having a mental breakdown, right in front of your dog.

If you remember how Dogs (Canines) Communicate, you will give a clear message.
1) Scent Angry/Upset/Annoyed
2) Body Language Tall and Straight -Large and in Charge
3) Tone Low and Deep, Warning or Correction.

I use the phrase “Sargent Major, Buddha Zone”

Sargent Majors stand very up-right, issue orders and do not make requests, Buddha Zone reminds you to remain Calm not matter what. Good Leaders are Calm and Consistent.

When I say Sargent Majors issue orders and do not make requests, it’s because as Humans, when we start repeating a Cue/Command to our dogs, we naturally, start bending, rapid fire words and start to get frustrated. We stop making sense. Also, we start teaching our dogs they do not have to listen to us UNTIL………… and that’s just not going to work in the long run. If, we do not have to SIT UNTIL……… Then why do we have to listen to COME straight away, and that could become a major safety issue one day.

Marcia Murray-Stoof
Canine Behaviourist B.Sc.
Certified Professional Dog Training Instructor
Authorized Mentor Trainer-Animal Behavior College Inc.
Professional Dog Trainer-Canadian Association of Pet Dog Trainers
Director of Evaluators-Therapeutic Paws Of Canada
Canine Good Neighbour Evaluator-Canadian Kennel Club

If you’ve owned a dog, one of these phrases has probably slipped past your lips. Here’s why it matters.

When it comes to dogs, owners sometimes have tunnel vision, seeing the world only from the perspective of their own dog or their own dog-training experience. This often leads to owners tossing out sentences that, in an ideal world, would never be uttered. Yet these words are clues to a bigger issue, or a situation that’s about to become an issue, including not fully understanding dog behavior, social cues, body language, or simply good manners toward other dogs and dog owners.
Training yourself is the the most productive strategy for improving the behavior of your dog — as well as other dogs that your dog socializes with — because you are such a big influencer of behavior, even when you don’t realize you’re influencing your dog’s actions.
Dr. Patricia McConnell writes in her book “The Other End of the Leash-Why we do What we do around dogs”, “Focusing on the behavior at our end of the leash isn’t a new concept in dog training. Most professional dog trainers actually spend very little time working with other people’s dogs; most of our time is spent training humans. Take it from me, we’re not the easiest species on the block to train.”
But it doesn’t have to feel daunting. Training yourself can become easier if you’re truly seeing your thought process about your own dog and dogs you pass on the street. Once you recognize how you think about them, you can more easily influence what you think about them. And once you do that, better interactions will follow.
All dog owners have been guilty of saying at least one, if not several of the phrases below. Of course none of us are perfect, and “should never” is basically an impossible aspiration. But if you catch yourself saying one of the phrases below, it might be time to ask yourself why you’re saying it and use it as a training opportunity to fine-tune how you’re really viewing your dog and his behaviors. Here are 11 examples of things dog owners often say that should spark wariness about what’s really going on.
“It’s okay, my dog is friendly.”
This is often said by an owner whose dog is approaching (or charging up to) another dog or person. The owner is perhaps trying to calm potential fears that their dog has negative intentions, because maybe that other owner or dog looks nervous. Even worse, the owner uttering this phrase may not have any control whatsoever over how their dog is approaching others and is just hoping that everything goes well.  If you need to say this phrase, then it’s possible you’re letting your dog get away with some bad, potentially dangerous manners.
This is also a common response from an owner whose dog is approaching another dog/human pair that is actually asking to maintain some distance. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if your dog is friendly or not — if someone asks for space, it’s for a good reason. Their dog might be fearful, reactive, injured, in training, or simply not want anything to do with your dog.
Just because your dog is “friendly” doesn’t mean he automatically has permission to approach another dog or a person, nor should his unlikeliness to bite or pick a fight be an excuse for poor manners. If you find yourself assuring people that your dog is friendly, then it may be a good opportunity to look at the bigger picture about what exactly is happening and if your dog is being, well, far too friendly.
“Oh, my dog would never bite.”
Famous last words — and words every UPS delivery person hates to hear because they are filled with naive confidence. Your dog might be the world’s most goofy, loving dog but to quote a favorite song, “Never say never.” (The irony of saying this in light of the title of this article isn’t lost on me.) In fact, saying your dog would never do something is a red flag signaling misunderstanding, or worse, denial, about what your dog thinks or feels about the world and how that might change with age, illness, new family members or other experiences. But assuming your dog would never bite is perhaps the most dangerous assumption to make, since it makes you lax about monitoring interactions that could have serious consequences.
If your dog has a mouth and any sense of what is going on in the world around her, she can and just might bite if pushed. It’s better to know this fact and respect your dog’s capabilities, comfort zones and boundaries just in case, than act as if the scenario could never pop up.
“It’s not my dog’s fault.”
Maybe it isn’t, but maybe it is. On the one hand, there are a lot of dogs that get the blame for reacting to the instigation of another dog. The biggest of the dogs, or the loudest, or the one of a certain breed, or the one that ends up on the winning end often gets blamed. However, there is a large portion of the dog-owning population who say, “It wasn’t my dog’s fault” and they are totally, completely, and utterly wrong. Not only wrong, but as much at fault as their dog who indeed started the altercation.
This phrase is uttered too often by people who have little experience reading dog body language, and aren’t interpreting, or simply aren’t paying attention to, the signals their dog is sending out into the world. Small dog owners are an easy example; because the dog is small, many owners think it’s acceptable — or worse, cute — when their dog stares at, postures at, growls at, or lunges at other nearby dogs. Their dog is small and can’t do a whole lot of damage (or is easy to drag by the leash or pick up off the ground) when they act out. Sadly, though, it is indeed this dog’s fault when something happens, even though they might be the smallest of the suspects.
So if your dog tends to be in the middle of problems, start paying attention. It might be your dog that is drawing in the trouble.
“Let them work it out themselves.”
This is one of the worst things you can hear (or do) in a social situation with dogs, especially at a dog park. There is an over-reliance on the notion that dogs have a built-in pack savvy that they’ll revert to when they’re among other dogs, so humans don’t need to or shouldn’t step in to manage social interactions. But many expert dog trainers and behaviorists will point out that a group of new dogs meeting at a dog park isn’t a pack in the true sense of the word. Further, individual dogs might not know how to give or receive cues from each other to keep a situation from escalating. So as the social tension builds, the humans simply standing by creates a recipe for a fight or psychological trauma.
Some dogs are bullies, some are fearful, some aren’t so great at picking up the cut-it-out cues from others or just ignore them, some have overactive play or prey drives, some are resource-protective. Putting dogs with varying personalities together and letting them “work it out” is like taking the teacher out of a third-grade classroom and letting the kids figure it out among themselves. It’s probably going to get chaotic, and someone is going to get hurt.
Letting dogs figure things out among themselves is important, but to an extent. Professional dog trainer Marcia Murray-Stoof points out, “Socialization is the process of a dog teaching another dog about proper behavior. So yes, a little education here and there about bite inhibition or being too bossy is a critical part of canine socialization. But any escalation beyond that, where you let dogs sort it out, teaches your dog two things. First is, ‘I can’t rely on my human to protect me or standup for me.’ And second is one of these two lessons: ‘Fighting works (so I’ll do it again and again),’ or ‘I hate other dogs, they are scary.’ Any of those messages are the exact opposite of why you wanted your dog to socialize with other dogs in the first place.”
Leaving aside the possibility of a serious fight, when a situation escalates and an owner doesn’t step in, there is an erosion of the trust and confidence the dog has in his owner which can lead to other behavior problems. Responsible dog owners don’t let dogs “work it out themselves” — rather, they help their dogs have positive social interactions by managing the play situation, making sure all is calm and not letting things escalate. And if things do escalate, they step in to stop it.
“There was no warning.”
There’s always warning. You just didn’t see it.
“Communication is a critical ingredient in any relationship, yet as our human interactions show, even between two members of the same species speaking the same language, this is not necessarily an easy matter,” writes Suzanne Clothier writes in “bones Would Rain from The Sky”: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs“. She explains, “The language of Dog is not unlike our own human language. It is filled with nuance and subtleties, the sum of which — examined within a given context — provide a total communication. Like our dogs, we can communicate volumes without uttering a word, though doing so with great clarity requires awareness of our own bodies and the subtle meanings behind gestures.”
Dogs have an intricate though sometimes subtle body language through which they tell you and other dogs everything they’re thinking or feeling. Sometimes dogs give warning after warning after warning before finally lashing out, and the human just didn’t know what the dog was saying or that the dog was communicating at all.
When someone’s dog is attacked at a dog park by another dog and says, “There was no warning,” what that person is really saying is, “I wasn’t paying enough attention or didn’t know enough to see the signals my dog and the other dog were sending each other and step in before things escalated.” Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t see it. Dog body language can be hard to read and “conversations” can happen lightning fast. But don’t say there was no warning. Instead, ask how you missed the warning and how you might catch it next time.
“He just wants to play.”
This might be the case if your dog is play bowing to another dog, enticing another dog into a game of chase with a toy or fake-bolting. But it could also be a lot more complicated than that. This phrase is often said by owners whose dogs are being overly exuberant, being a bully, or are otherwise pushing the boundaries of acceptable social behavior. And often, the person saying this doesn’t know enough about dog body language and social cues to understand when another dog is getting fed up with their own dog’s antics or, equally as problematic, their dog is not being playful at all.
Perhaps the dog who “wants to play” is showing nervousness about the pecking order and is being overly submissive by face licking another dog and rolling over in a submissive posture. Perhaps the dog who “wants to play” is being a bully by nipping, barking at, or standing on another dog when their “play” partner is showing signs of frustration or fear.
Saying that a dog just wants to play too often gives an excuse for bad or potentially dangerous social behavior. If an owner is constantly pawning off their dog’s annoying, mean or awkward behavior as trying to be playful then it might be time to study up on canine body language and find out what’s really going on.
“Dogs love me.”
Cue the eyeroll from every person who owns a dog that doesn’t like other humans.
Most dogs might love you, but not all dogs do. It’s just a statistical reality. Even if most dogs seem to think you’re made of tennis balls and treats, some dogs won’t love you. Not even if you really were made of tennis balls and treats. So, if someone asks you to keep your distance from their dog, please, for the love of DINOS, don’t respond with this phrase. (A DINOS is a dog in need of space, and an owner knows best when their dog will be uncomfortable with you, no matter how convinced you are of your lovability.)
By assuming that a dog will appreciate your approach, you’re opening yourself up to real danger for a bite. And even if a dog doesn’t bite you, you may be causing psychological distress to a dog that doesn’t want you so close — distress that could potentially lead to a bite later on down the road when the dog feels it needs to protect itself from people who come charging up saying, “Dogs love me.”
“My dog is great with kids.”
All kids? All the time? Or kids of a certain age or behavior? Kids act differently at different ages, and your dog who might be amazing with an infant may be less confident or patient with a bumbling, tumbling toddler with erratic, unpredictable movements. Or your dog who is tolerant of slower toddlers might have an over-stimulated prey drive when 7- or 8-year-olds are yelling, running around and jumping over furniture. Or your dog who is a saint with your kids and even the neighborhood kids might not be great when a new child comes along and joins the group; you just don’t know until the situation pops up.
Yes, your dog might be great with kids. And if that’s the case, then wonderful and three cheers for your dog! We all want to have Lassies and Old Yellers and Good Dog Carls. But a dog who is great with all kids, all the time is rare. What family dogs are good at is having a high tolerance for most children, which is quite different from being a perfect playmate or nanny. It leaves the possibility open of your dog being pushed past their patience limits or comfort zones. So think carefully on the various boundaries you may need to put on this statement before you say this.
“He’s a rescue so [insert excuse for behavior here].”
Some rescued dogs come from horrific pasts. They may have been saved from serious neglect or abuse, or have spent time as a stray on the street. Because of this, sometimes their past experiences are the reason why they have certain behavior issues. But as one of my high school teachers used to say, there is always a reason but seldom an excuse. Not all adopted dogs come with dark pasts, and not all adopted dogs have behaviors that can be waved away or excused because of previous experiences.
Personality traits like shyness, timidity and mistrust are sometimes just that: personality traits. And behavior issues like poor manners with other dogs, reactivity, or barking at strangers can’t always be attributed to the mysterious past of your dog. Sometimes they’re simply learned behaviors that need training to improve. If you’ve adopted a rescued dog, then you earn a big high-five! But only if you aren’t dramatizing the dog’s status as adopted and letting poor behavior sneak by.
“He’s doing that to try and be dominant.”
The whole “dominant dog” thing has frankly gotten out of control. The word is flung around as a way to explain practically any misbehavior from jumping on a person to digging through the trash to urinating on the bedspread. If your dog jumps on you or crawls on you when you’re sitting on the floor, it’s more likely that it’s out of overexuberance and lack of solid training than because he’s trying to show you who is boss. Even resource protection isn’t necessarily a “dominance” issue — a dog just doesn’t want to lose what he considers valuable, like a certain toy or a bowl of food. The fear and anxiety about that loss is as much a possible cause for a growl as a drive to be the leader of the pack. Assertiveness, confidence, a lack of confidence, pain or illness, excitement, exuberance, fear, mistrust, a lack of training … there are far more accurate ways of interpreting a dog’s actions than the tired old line of “trying to be dominant.”
McConnell writes, “Understanding social status is particularly important because misunderstanding what ‘dominance’ means has led to appallingly abusive behavior. So much old-fashioned obedience training could be summarized as, ‘Do it because I told you to, and if you don’t, I’ll hurt you.’ The assumption seemed to be that dogs should do what we say because we told them to; after all, we’re the humans and they’re the dogs, and surely humans have more social status than dogs.” However, as McConnell goes on to point out, social status isn’t all about dominance; it is a far more complex concept than one member of the family “pack” being the leader.
Whittling everything down to a dominance problem means losing sight of the complexity of social dynamics and creates blind spots for understanding behaviors. Don’t let the real reason for behaviors, and therefore appropriate and effective solutions for training, get ignored because the word “dominance” springs to mind ahead of anything else.
“He knows better than that.”
Does he? Or does your dog know a certain way to behave only in a certain context? Dogs can have a hard time translating behaviors learned in one place, like your living room, to another place, like inside a pet store or a dog park where smells, sights, people and energy levels are completely different. A dog that has been taught to sit politely at your front door before exiting probably won’t translate that to sitting politely in front of any door before exiting, unless you’ve gone through that exercise at tons of different doors and been consistent about it. It even goes for a different side of your own body; if you’ve taught a dog to sit on your left side but never practiced on your right side, then getting that dog to sit on your right side will take a little more time.
To get a certain behavior from a dog consistently despite where you are or the specifics of what you’re asking takes training the dog for that behavior in a wide variety of settings, under a wide variety of conditions, so your dog knows that “sit” doesn’t just mean “that movement I do right before I’m about to get a leash put on” but rather means “put my rump on the ground no matter where I am or what is happening and keep it there until told otherwise.” So before you get upset with your dog because “he knows better” or “he knows how to do that,” take a look at the training history and ask, does he really?