Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Ages and Stages
Adolescence is only a stage

The puppy was leaping all over the adult dog—batting the older dog’s ears, crawling across her neck, nudging her muzzle and generally acting like he had no idea that she might prefer to rest after their long play session. It’s the kind of scene I’d heard people describe countless times, but this client had video. As we watched, she said, “See, she was so sweet to him. He could do anything to her and she would just let him.”
But then the story took a turn: “It’s different now. Sometimes they have so much fun, but other times, she’ll growl at him, or even nip his nose,” she told me, clearly bewildered. In a more recent video, the adult dog was indeed growling and baring her teeth at the exuberant youngster (now more than twice his former size) after he pounced on her head. The younger dog immediately stopped and scuttled away. Though the dramatic difference between these two scenes distressed my client, she felt better when I explained that this new development in her dogs’ interactions was completely normal.
Well-socialized, stable, adult dogs typically indulge puppies, allowing them to get away with just about anything. They offer no objection to a young pup who slams into them while they’re resting, walks over them or takes the toy they are playing with.
But when the puppy reaches early adolescence at five or six months, the adult dog will often react differently. This change is not only normal, it’s desirable. There’s no better way for a young dog to learn some manners than to have a socially skilled adult dog set clear boundaries.
As I told my client, the relationship between the adult and the younger dog wasn’t in trouble—rather, it was just that the little guy’s “puppy license” had expired. The older dog was letting him know that jumping on her head would not be tolerated, and that invitations to play must be offered politely by play-bowing or presenting a toy. Relieved, the woman said that when the puppy did this, the adult dog usually played with him.
Essentially, the puppy had reached the age at which other dogs were inclined to let him know what would and would not be allowed. Humans also do this boundary-setting. When a baby grabs at earrings or pokes an adult in the eye, the adult’s response is minimal. But a seven-year-old who does this is likely to receive instruction on appropriate behavior. Ideally, such instruction is given kindly and fairly to young humans and young dogs alike.
Teaching is a gentle art. It’s reasonable for an adult dog to warn a puppy with a quick growl or a highly inhibited nip, but not okay for the adult to attack or scare the puppy. Dogs who allow puppies to have their way with them probably have enough self-control to set appropriate limits with an adolescent, and are unlikely to be too rough and overdo it. That said, generalizations aren’t always true, and a young dog should be protected from excessive force, however unexpected. It’s not good for a youngster to be frightened or hurt, even mildly, by an adult dog teaching him manners.
Conversely, it’s not good for that dog to spend tons of time with an adult dog who doesn’t set limits. He’ll never learn that other dogs expect him to behave with more decorum, which means he won’t have opportunities to practice making good choices and inhibiting objectionable behavior. Worse, when he interacts with other adult dogs, some may correct him harshly, or even attack him.
Having been told that an adult dog’s behavior is not a problem, the client’s response is often one of relief, followed by the question, “Why didn’t anybody warn me?” It’s a fair question. Why indeed?
The answer is that we generally don’t think about age as having much of an effect on dogs’ behavior. Sure, there are a few exceptions: Most people realize that puppies can’t control their bladders as long as adult dogs, even if house-training is progressing well and the pup seems to grasp the basic idea that the bathroom is outside, rather than inside on a clean pile of laundry or the rug. It’s also generally accepted that dogs in their golden years tire more easily, and that a strenuous three-hour hike should be reconsidered.
However, the situations in which dogs’ behavior is influenced by their age far outnumber those in which their age is taken into account. This discrepancy creates the possibility of misunderstandings and frustration, which are counterproductive to developing and enjoying a close relationship. In fact, relationships between people and dogs can be tested during adolescence, and it’s no coincidence that dogs are the most vulnerable to being surrendered to shelters and rescues at this stage.
Like human adolescents, some dogs have a rather mild time and others have a more extreme experience. Still, the “teen” period can be a shock, coming as it does right on the heels of the adorable-puppy stage. Sure, during a dog’s puppyhood, there are usually some accidents and interrupted sleep, but puppies’ cuteness largely distracts us from viewing this as a terrible part of our dog’s life. People are rarely blind- sided by the trials and tribulations of puppyhood—nobody is surprised by the occasional chewed-up shoe.
Not so adolescence. This is the time when many of the kindest, most patient guardians in the world are left wondering where their sweet puppy has gone. There’s an understandable urge to say, “Who is this monster, and what has he done with my dog?”
People are often surprised by the sudden independence of their adolescent dog. The lovable pup who always wanted to be with you and gleefully dashed to your side at the “Come!” cue now seems not to hear you. There’s no reaction—none at all, not even an ear twitch. Sigh. The perfect recall that brought you such pride seems to have disappeared. The same dog who loved to lie down when asked now looks at you as though considering his options: “Hmm, is that really what I want to do right now?” Often, teenage dogs seem to have forgotten everything you worked so hard to teach them.
Don’t panic when you see a training slump in early adolescence; it’s a common, and temporary, phenomenon. The work you’ve put in with your puppy will pay off later. The well-trained, responsive puppy is likely to mature into a well-trained, responsive adult, even if the adolescent in between bears little resemblance to either. As professional baseball player Earl Wilson said, “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.”
Besides behaving like classic human teenagers, it’s common for adolescent dogs to become more fearful than they were as puppies. At around six to 10 months, some dogs suddenly act timid in situations that they’ve seemed comfortable with previously. New people, loud sounds or going to a new park may cause a dog to hang back, hesitate or startle. Mild cases of this “juvenile-onset shyness” are just a phase, and many dogs pass through it no worse for wear. (This is in sharp contrast to dogs who are truly fearful. Dogs don’t simply outgrow fear, though with knowledge, patience and hard work on their guardians’ part, they can overcome it.)
Though many dogs move past juvenile-onset shyness without assistance, it’s wise to be proactive in helping a dog through this challenging period by associating whatever triggers the response with something that the dog loves. For example, if an eight-month-old dog suddenly seems nervous when a man approaches, I would pair that approach with something the dog adores, such as a ball or the best treats ever. This conditioning goes a long way toward preventing shyness from escalating into a deeper fear.
Dogs’ behavior is not static. Many differences are predictably related to age, with especially big changes occurring during adolescence. They’re easier to handle if we recognize these changes for what they are: a normal part of development. We naturally do this with humans, but often fail to accord the same courtesy to dogs, though age is relevant to behavior in both species. Adult dogs understand the change from puppyhood to adolescence and react accordingly. Perhaps the best course of action is to follow their lead.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sheepherding Bunny [Video]
Self-taught rabbit takes on the role of sheepdog

I love watching Border Collies herd sheep. They're so graceful and efficient. But a talented bunny in Sweden is giving sheepdogs a run for their money.

You may have seen the YouTube video of a tiny rabbit herding sheep on a farm in Sweden. Champis, the 5-year-old mix-breed bunny, has become an online celebrity in the last two weeks. More than two million people have watched the video clip in the short time it's been online.

Champis started showing herding instinct last spring. Now, he regularly herds sheep and chickens, adjusting his style as needed. Champis rounds up his subjects and can even stop them from escaping. Despite the bunny's tiny size, he commands respect from the sheep that are much bigger than him.

Nils-Erik and Greta Vigren believe that their bunny learned to herd after watching their sheepdogs work. They never gave Champis any training.

The Vigrens' neighbor, who also happens to be a sheepdog breeder, is in awe of Champis' talent and is the one who posted the video. He says that Champis does the job better than many dogs.

Champis is one amazing bunny! I have an even greater appreciation for his skill since I'm currently trying to teach my Border Collie, Remy, how to herd sheep. Remy has a lot of natural instinct, but he's not exactly stopping any sheep from escaping any time soon!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Will Work for Toys
Kong's Mark Hines on toys and training

It’s not surprising that retired sport dogs Kaya and Dakota are well behaved, polite and respond phenomenally fast to a wide variety of cues. They live with Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for the Kong Company, who’s logged thousands of hours with them, and thousands more consulting with service dog organizations, shelters, military and law-enforcement handlers, prison programs, behaviorists, breeders, and veterinarians, to name a few. At heart, though, he’s just a guy who loves his dogs. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Mark about using toys as a training tool.

Q: Why do you like training with toys?

A: Basically, because it’s fun! You see more desire on the dog’s part to work, more passion and willingness to perform when you train with toys.

Q: Is one type of dog more receptive than another to this method?

A: High-drive dogs tend to respond well to toys. By drive I mean high arousal, easily stimulated dogs who are willing to work and have the motivation and desire to work. Dogs with drive are dogs who are rarin’ to go. When I see drive, I see so much happiness. I know I can shape a behavior and get a beautiful response.

Q: How do you advise people to begin using toys as training aids?

A: Find a toy the dog likes and that is stimulating. Then, teach a good foundation, which includes a solid “out” so there’s no conflict over the toy. The dog can spit it out on the ground, drop it or trade it for a treat. If you are having trouble with this, try switching to a toy that the dog doesn’t want as much. You can also go up in size to a bigger toy that the dog can’t get into the back of the mouth, an area I call the “power zone.” Or, go to a harder toy that’s not as self-rewarding. For example, a Wubba with tails that flop around is harder for many dogs to give up than a toy that has no movement. If the toy is self-rewarding, the dog may not release it as easily, especially early in the training process. Once a dog has a clean “out,” any toy should be fine.

Q: Not all dogs are interested in toys. What then?

A: Dogs can be taught to enjoy toys, even dogs who seem to be the least playful or toy-motivated. I once worked with a Beagle who was only into food, not toys. I started giving him treats every time he made a toy squeak, and it evolved into play even after I stopped using food as reinforcement.

Q: What about the dog who’s more interested in the toy than in you? How do you stimulate that interest?

A: You have to be engaging. What’s the point of trying to interact with the dog if he doesn’t even want to be with you? Be the gate to play—a clown with gadgets, toys and fun.

Q: You also use food rewards; why do you incorporate both types of reinforcement into your training?

A: Using toys as a reward instead of food is kind of like taking your child to an amusement park rather than taking him out to dinner. Which do you think your child would choose? I consider food as a way to focus the dog (especially puppies) and toys as a way to stimulate play and create drive. Sometimes toys bring out arousal and frustration, which can actually cause a dog to lose focus, so you need to balance toys and food. When working with a low-drive dog, it’s possible to do more repetitions with food than with a toy. High-drive dogs will work for a toy all day long.

Q: Can you use toys to increase a dog’s drive?

A: Yes. Movement is your friend. Show excitement, be active and animated, make an idiot of yourself. Make a toy desirable by holding onto it. Make it something that your dog finds fascinating and really, really wants. Build frustration just a little. Play hard-to-get in order to build the dog’s energy and motivation. Toys on ropes create even more drive because they move faster and are unpredictable.

Q: What would you say is the most common training mistake people make?

A: Not using markers, either a clicker or a consistent “Yes!” Don’t use the toy as a marker. Say “Yes!” or click before presenting the toy or the treat. Otherwise, the dog will only watch the toy.

Q: How much time should a dog be allowed to play with the toy as reinforcement?

A: Train with a pattern of “drive, exercise, drive.” Start with a toy in your training vest or under your arm, then ask the dog for a behavior, and as a reward, offer the toy for a few seconds to rev him up. Ask him to release the toy, then ask for another behavior and continue that way throughout the session. The toy is a reward just as a treat would be a reward. So, it’s sit, yes! toy, out! Then it goes back in the pocket for another exercise. These are not play sessions in between. In training mode, the dog is working for that toy, and he works fast because you are withholding the reward and he really wants it.

A play session at the end can serve as a jackpot for exceptionally good work, and that can be as long as you have time for. At the end of a session, I say “free dog,” which means work is over and we’re having fun.

Q: How can you use toys to help a dog learn a variety of skills?

A: Presentation matters. The dog has to take toys from all over: high, low, different positions. Be versatile. This also helps dogs learn to target. If the dog gets too near my hand and bites by mistake, the game ends immediately. Dogs can be very careful with their mouths, but not enough people require them to be.

Always have the dog come in to you—move the toy away to attract him in. This is especially true with recalls. Throw the ball behind you as the dog approaches, sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other, to keep the dog coming in with good speed and in a straight line.

Q: In addition to fun and training, do you use toys in other ways?

A: Toys are great tools to help dogs recover from something scary—a fallen jump or loud noise, for example. You can take the dog right back to a state of drive with a toy.

Q: Lots of people like to play tug with their dogs, but sometimes struggle to play it correctly. What advice do you give people about this game?

A: If you give an inch, dogs will take a mile. When playing tug with dogs, pull forward and out, not up and down or side to side. To keep the dog from creeping up the toy, keep the toy moving. Dealing with arousal is important. You need to decide when the game starts and ends.

Q: What are your favorite toys?

A: I love the Kong, of course, and the Kong on the rope is my key toy. I also love the large Goodie Bone to train good “outs.” I can hold onto both sides while the dog has it in his mouth, and it is not self-rewarding because it has no motion. To create intense drive, many agility or dock-dog trainers swear by the Wubba.

Q: What other training advice do you wish everyone would follow?

A: Train in short sessions, especially with young or inexperienced dogs. “Short” means just a few minutes, or even one minute for puppies at the very beginning. Multiple sessions throughout the day that add up to 15 minutes are better than 15 minutes all at once. Make it happen every time. It’s better to ask dogs for a behavior 50 times and have them do the behavior 50 times than to ask 100 times and have them do it 75 times. Have fun! The minute a session turns into work for you, give it up because it’s not going to go anywhere. Finally, always, always, ALWAYS end on a positive note.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Boxer Greets Herd of Cows [VIDEO]
Video reveals an extraordinary dog

Trainers sometimes bring in one of their own dogs to puppy classes to help shy puppies feel comfortable around other dogs. It takes a special type of dog to do this properly. Very few dogs can handle this social situation without causing more harm than good. The dogs who succeed are emotionally stable themselves, capable of remaining calm no matter what the puppies do and socially savvy enough to adjust their own behavior based on what the puppies seem to require. The right dog can help the puppies learn to greet other dogs properly and to feel more comfortable in social situations with other dogs.

This six-months-old boxer in this video is just the sort of dog that I would LOVE to have around shy or timid puppies and dogs, though the video shows a greeting with cows rather than with puppies.

Notice how even in the first moments of the video, the dog moves slowly and calmly. She is not leaping, jumping or showing any other signs of arousal. She approaches the cows calmly, and when, about 7 seconds in, the black cow on the right seems unsure and backs away, the dog reacts by immediately stopping her forward motion and making herself less imposing. Specifically, the dog lies down and stays calm, even ceasing her tail movement and lowering her head, all of which seems to give the cows confidence to approach her.

For the next three-quarters of a minute, the dog remains still except for movements of her head as she sniffs the cows who come close to her. Though she is not moving, her body is relaxed (rather than being still in a rigid way), which likely helps the cows to feel relaxed, too.

She starts to wag her tail again at around 55 seconds (I’m guessing the time based on slight movement of the body since the tail is out of view until 57 seconds when you can see it wagging) and this is right about the time that the cows become more confident. In fact, they come so close to her that just about any dog would have backed up from the pressure. This boxer, however, simply retracts her neck as much as possible and continues to let the cows investigate her.

I’m impressed by what I see in this video—a stable dog who is confident and composed. She’s a dog who stays relaxed, which indicates tremendous emotional control, particularly in a young dog. She’s also quite social with a clear interest in greeting this other species, and willing to proceed in this greeting at the speed at which the cows are comfortable. I even like the way she periodically checks in with the person holding onto the leash by looking that way. It’s hard to know, but it seems as though she would have been responsive to a cue from that person at any time if one had been given.

It’s just a short video—barely over a minute long—but it’s enough to show some really interesting body language and to reveal a dog who’s really something special.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Three-Legged Surfing Dog
What a joy!

Dogs bring us joy. It’s that simple and that beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a dog I know for the happiness to come my way. This weekend, I read about a three-legged dog named Onyx who is learning to surf. To surf! I have all the legs nature originally gave me, and I have to tell you, my experience with surfing is far more about falling in the water at strange angles and velocities than it is about smoothly riding the perfect wave.

I felt such joy learning about this dog enjoying himself on the water, when surely many would have doubted that it was possible. Onyx is in a happy home, now, but when he was found five months ago, he was attached to a wooden post and his leg was a bloody mess. The veterinarian and orthopedic specialist who is now his guardian was worried he wouldn’t even make it to surgery much less survive it because he was severely dehydrated and septic. And now he’s romping, playing and surfing.

His story tells of a more dramatic turnaround than many dogs experience, but he’s not alone in doing things that seemed doubtful at one time. Over the years, I’ve had many clients whose dogs had behavioral issues and were able, after hard work, to do things that they wouldn’t have believed possible. To hear someone express joy that they can take their dog out on uneventful neighborhood walks now even though the dog used to bark-lunge and go crazy at the sight of a dog even a block away thrills me. And the happiness people feel now that their formerly frightened dog accepts visitors to the house without shrieking and hiding is a happiness I share with them.

Anytime a dog achieves something, it’s a cause for celebration, but that’s especially true when it’s the end result of an uphill battle. What does your dog—with however many legs—do that you or other people might have considered unlikely or even impossible, but that is now a source of joy to you both?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Differences in Behavior of Big and Little Dogs
What do you think?

Are there differences between the behavior of big dogs and the behavior of little dogs? There are obviously all sorts of influences on behavior, some of which may be confounded with size while others are not, and there are statistical issues with asking about size, but that doesn’t take away the fun of thinking about the differences in the behavior of large and small dogs.

Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska has asked me to address this subject in my next behavior column, which I’m really excited about! Though I have some thoughts about this, I’m most interested in knowing what YOU think.

I’m particularly interested in observations by anyone who has worked with a lot of dogs of all sizes—trainers, behaviorists, groomers, veterinarians and any other canine professionals as well as people who have been guardians to many dogs. But if you have comments based on just one or a couple of dogs, that’s great, too!

I’m so curious what you think, and your opinions on the following questions or any insights at all will be most welcome.

DOES size influence canine behavior, and if so, how?

What does being a big dog person versus a small dog person mean to you?

Do people treat large and small dogs differently?

How does guardian behavior toward dogs of unequal sizes influence their dogs’ behavior? (This question is of interest to scientists. There’s a 2010 research paper called “Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog”.)

Are there different expectations of dogs based on their size?

If you were seeking a dog of a certain size, was behavior a factor in that wish?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Popular Because I Brought a Dog
Social facilitation alive and well

When I have a dog with me, I am more popular at the elementary school than on any other occasion. At times, I have brought cupcakes and other treats to school, and the dog is a bigger draw by far. Marley came with me when I went to pick my kids up from school last week, and it became apparent that dogs may just be the best social facilitators ever.

I met some parents I’d never talked to before. Some said something along the lines of, “He’s very well-behaved” or “I wish my dog were so easy to have out in public,” but the conversations often moved on to unrelated topics. As a result, I made one new friend who I am meeting for coffee next week, and there are more people I can greet by name at school pick-up and other events than before.

Nearly every child I know and many I don’t came up to talk to me, and to tell me stories about their own pets. I love when kids ask if they may pet my dog, which is a lesson that more and more children seem to have learned. It’s charming when kids say, in that endearingly simple way of the young, “I like your dog” or “Your dog is cute.” My kids love showing off Marley’s training skills by asking him to perform a trick such as high-five or crawl.

Does your dog cause smiles and social mingling?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Lessons from Sheepdogs
The source of a lifetime of learning

As I write this, I have just come back from a day at the 2011 World Herding Dog Trials in northern England. I was in the UK once many years ago, watching the International Sheepdog Trials. I was just getting started with sheepdogs and had not yet begun to work as a behaviorist. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot, and I hope to learn a lot more in the future. But the lessons I’ve been taught by herding dogs are as timeless as they are valuable, and are a fitting subject for my last regular column for The Bark.

Rewind the video to 1981, and imagine a dog and a sheep, nose to nose. Kate, a tiny, all-black Border Collie, and Number 437, a fluffy, white Cheviot sheep, are having a discussion about where the ewe should go next. This is where it all started for me: watching a Border Collie face-off with a sheep who had no intention of backing up.

Still in school, searching for a topic for a senior honors thesis at the University of Madison, I tumbled into the world of sheepherding much like Alice fell down the rabbit hole. Dr. Jeffrey Baylis, the professor who later became my dissertation advisor, suggested that I investigate a “natural form” of communication between humans and other animals rather than communication with dolphins as I had initially suggested.

Days later, I stood in a field a few miles north of Madison and watched Kate streak away from trainer/handler Jack Knox toward a flock of sheep on a far hill. As is so often true for each of us, I didn’t know that this one brief moment would change my life. All I was aware of at the time was the way my heart swelled as I watched the little dog run in a wide, sweeping circle up an emerald-green hill, stopping behind a cloud of wooly white sheep. I thought I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Thirty years later, I haven’t changed my mind.

It was sheepdogs who got me started in dog training and behavior, and sheepdogs who continue to inspire and instruct me. Herding may be a relatively rare activity — it’s hard to raise a flock of sheep in downtown Chicago — but its lessons are relevant to anyone who loves dogs. I offer them here in the hope that, in some way, they will mean as much to you as they have to me.

First, and perhaps too obvious to mention, dogs need clarity. Since we don’t share a common language, that’s not always easy. Heaven knows, it’s hard enough for two humans to communicate clearly, much less individuals of different species. Here’s an example from the world of sheepdogs of the challenges we face. Years ago, I had nothing but trouble when I was learning to work with a dog to split off (or “shed”) some sheep from the main group. It’s hard enough to develop the finesse required to separate a couple of sheep from the flock, but you also have to let your dog know which group he is required to move away. Time after time, I’d “tell” Luke to drive away one group and like clockwork, he would focus on the other. I’d be left standing open-mouthed, thinking, No, no! Not THAT one, the other one! How could he get it wrong? I’d use a crystal-clear sweeping arm movement, look directly at the group I wanted him to move and say “That one.” And Luke would make a 180-degree turn and drive away the other group.

It took someone who knew dogs far better than I to sort it out. “Where are your feet pointing?” he asked, after watching me unsuccessfully attempt to shed off some sheep at a clinic. “My feet? Do I have feet? I’m too busy with my eyes, my head and my arm to think about my feet.” Agility handlers around the world are smiling here, having learned, as I finally did, that dogs will most reliably go in the direction your feet are pointing, not where your arm or face directs. Sure enough, although I’d been pointing and looking toward the chosen group, my feet had been pointing the other way. To Luke, it was obvious which group I wanted; I can only imagine his frustration when he followed my instructions and then learned that, somehow, he hadn’t done what I wanted in spite of my “clear communication.”

Examples of inadvertent miscommunication between a person and a dog are endless. I have a litany of my own, which prevents any smugness I might be tempted to feel as I watch clients confuse their dogs. This issue of clarity of communication is surely the most basic and critical aspect of a good and respectful relationship. It is not a simple one, involving as it does many aspects of behavior — from understanding canine ethology, being able to “read” dogs, knowing how to use operant and classical conditioning and teaching dogs how to behave in an alien society.

The second lesson is best illustrated by yet another mistake I made, albeit a more amusing one. At least, it’s amusing now — not so much then. Picture a blue-sky autumn day and a festival of all things Scottish outside of Milwaukee. My friend, Nancy Rafetto, and I had been asked to do a herding/ retrieving demonstration for the Milwaukee Highland Games. It was great fun for everyone: people enjoyed watching the dogs and Nancy and I got to teach under-the-radar science by illustrating the genetic predispositions of different breeds. Her Golden Retriever returned any objects that she threw but play-bowed to the sheep, while my Border Collie, ignoring the balls, collected the sheep and returned them to me. First, we’d work each dog separately; then we’d throw a ball into the middle of the flock, send out both dogs simultaneously, and watch the retriever barrel through the sheep to retrieve the object and the herding dog gather the flock together again. At least, that was the plan. We’d done it before in a variety of environments and it was always a crowd-pleaser.

However, this time, I violated a basic rule of working with animals: be prepared. I had forgotten my whistle, which allows us to communicate with dogs when they are a good distance away and is far better than using vocal commands in a noisy environment. I remembered my whistle on our way to the festival, but thought, Oh, it’ll be fine. Famous last words in behavior and training, hey? It probably would have been fine, since Luke was well trained to verbal signals, but just before I sent him to gather the flock, a marching band struck up right behind us. I couldn’t hear myself think, much less communicate with Luke. The sheep were about 100 yards away, and I paused; they were enclosed by a tall, dense hedge, and I thought they would stay on the field until the band took a breath and Luke could hear my signals.

To my abject horror and the obvious amusement of the crowd, the sheep melted into and through the hedge like cartoon animals moving through a solid wall into another dimension. Nancy was left to entertain the crowd while I ran across the field, pushed through the hedge with Luke and looked desperately for my sheep in what was now a suburban neighborhood complete with sidewalks; multicolored, one-story houses; and two-car garages. We finally found the sheep on the porch of a blue ranch-style house. We pursued them into and out of the garage (I swear I heard someone say “Marge, I think there are sheep in our driveway”) and eventually drove them back through the hedge. The crowd had given up by then, and Nancy and I tucked our tails and drove home. We were not asked back the next year.

Not everyone has been as foolish as I, but it is universally true that one of the most important differences between professionals and the general public is the level of preparation. People experienced in the world of dogs think ahead: They think about where the new dog will sleep at night and are ready with X-pens or crates. They have treats by the door for dogs who are fearful of strangers. If they have a puppy, they have a toy in their pocket so they are always ready to divert the pup’s attention from the slippers to something more appropriate. They close the door to the guest room to prevent accidents, and are ready to neutralize urine smells if they find a puddle. It becomes second nature to always have something available to reinforce good behavior and, if possible, to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

The third lesson from sheepdogs comes from a friend, who was on the U.S. National Team for the 2011 World Sheepdog Trials. Peg Anderson had taken her two dogs, Silk and Spot, to England early enough to be able to practice for several days on the hills with local sheep. Although she lives on what I consider to be the perfect farm, with a large, open field ideal for competition practice, she and her dogs needed time to adjust to the new conditions of an unfamiliar country. For the first time in their lives, Peg’s dogs were doing exactly what they had been bred for. Not just herding sheep any which way, but gathering a large flock of sheep scattered like polka dots on a green hill that rose up so high it hurt your neck to look at the top. The dog streams up and up and up like water in reverse, coalescing the sheep into a unified group at the top. Then the entire flock flows down the hill like a wooly white ribbon.

There’s something about the scope of it all that takes your breath away, and apparently it had a profound effect on one of her dogs as well. Peg reported that Spot gained confidence and enthusiasm every day he was there. Like my Willie, Spot didn’t like the pressure that Midwestern sheep and tight spaces often put on a dog, but the f lighty sheep on the big, open hills of northern England brought out the best in him. He came home with more confidence than ever, and has retained it ever since.

The lesson here is not that we should feel guilty if we can’t go to England to work our Border Collies, or arrange for our Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to break ice to retrieve ducks. It is, however, a cautionary note with two parts: One, dog breeds were created not for looks but for behavior, and we need to do a better job of matching a dog’s needs with the environment in which he or she will ultimately live. Two, all dogs, no matter how pure or eclectic their breeding, are individuals. Spot blossomed on the big hills of northern England, but Peg’s other dog, Silk, changed little. She may have enjoyed her time across the pond, but it didn’t affect her like it did Spot. Two Border Collies, two individuals.

Understanding both aspects of canine behavior — breed-related predispositions and unique individual natures — should perhaps be common sense, but in my experience, common sense isn’t actually very, well, common. “No,” I’d say to far too many clients, “please don’t get a German Shorthaired Pointer for your elderly parents who live in downtown San Francisco,” and “Yes, I know that Labradors are generally friendly, social dogs, but your Labrador is a bit shy and sound-sensitive and will not enjoy flyball, no matter how hard you try.”

The final lesson is perhaps the most important of all.

Sometimes a sheep will face off with a dog: head to head, eye to eye, just inches between them. She will put her head down so far that her nose is almost touching the dog’s muzzle, and then feint forward. Insecure dogs panic and charge, causing the sheep to scatter like deer or, worse, to fight the dog in a nasty contest between sharp teeth and an anvil-like skull. In sheepherding circles, we call that a “wreck,” because rarely does any good come of it. But the best dogs, the great dogs, stand motionless, never flicking an ear or withdrawing an inch. It may take one second or it may take 20, but eventually, the ewe will sense the dog’s commitment, and turn her nose, twitch her ears and back away.

These dogs are models for those of us enmeshed in the controversies surrounding how best to raise and train our four-legged best friends. Those who believe that dogs deserve to be treated with respect and understanding need to stand firm, quiet and confident in our commitment. If I were queen and could change one thing right now in the dog world, it would be to give people the confidence they need to be openminded and not over-reactive to challenges, while standing strong for what they believe is right.

Like great sheepdogs, those of us who believe in knowledge and respect need to be calm but confident, patient but resolute. One by one, day by day, the naysayers of the training world will turn their heads and find their way into the fold.

With gratitude and thanks to the editors and readers of Bark magazine, I say, “That’ll do, friends, that’ll do.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
10 Tips to Help Your Child Raise a Behaviorally Healthy Dog
Did you and your child get a new puppy?

Even though most experts think it’s not a good idea, many children receive puppies as holiday gifts. Whether or not a child’s new puppy was a surprise or planned well in advance, there are many ways to help children raise the new family member so she will develop into a happy, healthy dog. Here are ten tips for doing right by the new puppy in a child’s life.

1. Help your child. Don’t rely on a child to do all the care and work. Always supervise, even though all parents know that it’s sometimes more work to monitor what your kids are doing than it is to just do it yourself. Adults must be a big part of the dog’s care and training. On a related note, if everyone shares the less popular jobs (backyard poop, anyone?), most kids respond favorably to the fairness.

2. Help your puppy to succeed. Limit her access to just part of the house and thoroughly puppy-proofing those areas. It’s easier to prevent bad habits from forming than to try to change those bad habits later on. Encourage your children to be responsible about closing doors and gates.

3. Take house training seriously. At all times, a puppy who is still learning where the potty is should be: 1) Confined to a crate or small puppy-proofed area, 2) Outside with someone who is ready to offer excellent treats along with praise as soon as she eliminates, 3) Inside being watched constantly for any signs that she needs to relieve herself. What about other situations? There are none!

4. Play with your puppy. Play provides so many benefits—fun, mental exercise, learning life skills, training possibilities, exercise, and the opportunity to develop a great relationship with your puppy. Few activities offer the bang for your buck that playing with a puppy does. Among the best games for kids and dogs are fetch and hide-and-seek. Tug and chase games are best for adults only since they can result in puppies who are highly aroused, which can lead to trouble, even with nice kids and nice dogs.

5. Provide toys and chews. Puppies tend to be very busy, and it’s always wise to teach your dog what she is allowed to put in her mouth and what is off limits. Teach kids to leave dogs alone when they are chewing on something. Many dogs tolerate people bothering them when they have a treasure, but even if yours does, it’s unwise to let a child think that approaching a dog with a chew toy is okay, because another dog may react badly. Children should learn to respect dogs’ space and puppies should learn to entertain themselves.

6. Train the puppy. Training a dog to be a polite member of society is an ongoing process, but it’s never too early to start. Get off on the right paw by prioritizing and starting to teach your puppy a few cues. I like to begin with teaching a new puppy her name, to come when called, to sit and lie down on cue, and to wait at the door. Also important are greeting people properly with all four paws on the floor, walking nicely on a leash, and to stay. It’s ideal to have adults teach the puppies new cues before the kids use the cues with the puppy.

7. Have each child be in charge of teaching one trick to the puppy. Great options include roll over, high-5, and crawl. Trick training is fun and great for the relationship between kids and puppies, but it’s low pressure since there’s not a lot riding on whether or not the puppy can perform the trick well. It allows kids to be involved in the training without any risk of setbacks on something as important as a reliable recall.

8. Take a family dog training class. Everyone can attend and learn how to train from an professional, which means that the kids have an outside person, rather than Mom or Dad, who is instructing them. Choose a class that is taught by a qualified person using humane training methods.

9. Provide opportunities to exercise. Typical puppies need a minimum of two 45-minute sessions a day of high-level exercise, plus many additional short walks or backyard play sessions. Off-leash romps in safe places are ideal.

10. Let your dog make new friends. Arrange for canine play dates with one or two social, polite dogs or puppies at a time. Not just any play partner will do. They must be dogs who play nicely and never frighten or overwhelm your puppy. The risk of that is too high at the dog park, so I would avoid such places with a puppy. Adults must supervise play sessions, as it’s unfair to ask a child to monitor the emotions and arousal level of the puppy.

If your family was blessed with a new puppy this holiday season, congratulations to you! Enjoy this magical time with an individual who has only been on the planet for a short time. Treasure moments such as watching the joy on your child’s face match the joy on the puppy’s face. As for the moments that are less joyous, such as leaving a cozy bed at 5 AM to head out into a snowstorm with a puppy who needs to pee, remember this: Puppyhood is brief and wonderful, but it’s okay during rough moments to consider that it is wonderfully brief.


News: Guest Posts
Why Is a Stranger’s Crotch More Interesting Than Mine?
Part 2

Here is a recap of the study we discussed in Part 1, Oh, hello! Why yes, that's my crotch *:

Crotch factoid #1: A dog enters a room, sees his owner lying on the floor, and he gives considerable attention to his owner's upper body.
Crotch factoid #2: A dog enters a room, sees a stranger lying on the floor, and he initially goes for the crotch.

Why the difference? Why is a stranger's crotch initially so much more interesting than mine?

Let's first consider why owners' crotches were initially not sniffed. It's possible that dogs do not sniff owners' crotches because owners have taught them not to!

For many humans, crotch sniffing is considered irritating, embarrassing and offensive. Not surprisingly, 1,009 people "like" the facebook page, I Hate Dogs That Sniff My Crotch.



In response, the web suggests ways to prevent crotch sniffing. Some suggest teaching the dog to perform a behavior incompatible with crotch sniffing (such as lying down) and others suggest using words or actions to dissuade the dog from crotch sniffing. Regardless of the training method, it is plausible owners could eliminate crotch sniffing from their dog's owner-directed behavioral repertoire.

At the same time, it seems highly unlikely that an owner would train a dog not to sniff the owner's own crotch, yet allow dogs to continue sniffing strangers' crotches. Since the study under consideration found lots of stranger-directed crotch action, what could be going on?

A better explanation comes from the olfactory content of the human body. We are aware of some of our odors, such as BO, and others evade our consciousness. This is where dogs come in.



Dog + Stranger's Crotch
Upon coming across a stranger, dogs are interested in doing an ID check, similar to when you are at a holiday party and you ask someone for their business card. This little piece of thick paper (which you examine visually) provides initial information about the person standing before you. Putting the business card in your mouth or sniffing it offers no information about the other person. As a human, you can look, talk and listen to learn about others (although olfaction can play a role, particularly when someone puts on too much perfume, or, ahem, not enough).

For dogs, crotch sniffing had nothing to do with getting to third base. Instead, it is more akin to looking over a business card. One of the places we humans keep our business cards is in our crotches, in a set of glands called the apocrine glands. While apocrine glands are found in a number of hairy regions of the human body, they are heavily concentrated in the anogenital (crotch) region. These glands secrete pheromones **, chemicals that enable olfactory communication with others, particularly concerning identity. Investigating a stranger's crotch simply orients a dog to the individuality of that person.

Dog + Owner
On the other hand, when a dog enters a room and sees an owner, through the gift of sight, the dog registers, "Person I know well is right there!" The dog knows who they are dealing with and does not need to go for the crotch. They can move on and gather more general information about you, the owner, such as where you've been and how you're feeling (unlike teenagers, our bodies don't lie).

Of note: You, the human reading this blog, release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs***. Your breath, for example, contains many VOCs which are both generated by your own body and picked up from the environment at large. In a sense, you are a walking science experiment, picking up odors and producing them on your own, and a dog who knows you is immediately interested in smelling your chemicals.

Whether a stranger to a dog or its owner, we humans are odorous sacks of information, and dogs will sniff many different parts of our bodies. But during an initial interaction with either a known or unknown person, dogs differ in their preliminary points of contact.

This holiday season, will you be sharing your business card with dogs?


Many thanks to Tom Brownlee for always setting me straight when it comes to scent and olfaction.

*Filiatre et al., 1991. Behavioural variability of olfactory exploration of the pet dog in relation to human adults. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 30, 341-350.

**Grammer et al., 2004. Human pheromones and sexual attraction. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 118, 135-142.

***Martin et al., 2010. Human breath analysis: methods for sample collection and reduction of localized background effects. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 396, 739-750.