Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Restorative Effect of Sugar
Study looks at sugar, self-control and performance

We ask a lot of our dogs. We ask them to resist food on the counter, to stay inside when the front door is open and to be quiet when dogs are barking next door. With my new puppy, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-control, which is the foundation for everything from household manners to agility skills.

In humans, research has shown that there’s a relationship between the brain’s glucose supply and self-discipline. A recent study found that this is true for dogs too.

The experiment, published in this month’s Psychological Science, looked at the length of time a dog worked at an impossible task.

In the study, some of the dogs were put in a sit-stay for 10 minutes to “deplete their fuel reserves” and the rest of the dogs were put in a crate for 10 minutes. The dogs were then given a treat dispensing toy, known as a Tug-a-Jug, altered to make it impossible to get the food out.

The dogs who exerted self-control in the sit-stay gave up after less than a minute, as opposed to the crated pups who gave up after over two minutes. 

The scientists hypothesized that the self-control needed for the sit-stay depleted the dogs’ blood sugar supply, weakening their ability to exert “goal-directed effort.”

To test this theory, the scientists repeated the experiment with one difference. Half of the dogs performing the sit-stay got a sugar drink before going on to the Tug-a-Jug task. As a control, the other half got an artificially sweetened drink.

Amazingly, the sit-stay dogs that got the sugar drink performed just as long as the crated dogs. The pups who got the artificially sweetened drink showed no improvement.

Most of us will probably never give our dogs a performance-enhancing drink, but it’s interesting to know how taxing the behaviors are that we ask of our dogs. When I’m training, I usually alternate between practicing impulse control and playing games like tugging. Now I see why it’s so important to keep training sessions short and fun! 

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Can Sign Too
And they have much to say

An amazing event occurred recently at AnimalSign Center. There, I teach dogs, horses and cats enhanced communication skills. I use AnimalSign Language, which is much like Baby Sign or Gorilla Sign, but it’s made for domestic animals. I think nothing of seeing dogs K9Sign that they need water, want specific foods or naming people at the door, or on the phone. But a few weeks ago, I was awed by Chal, my German Shepherd, who K9Signed a startling communication.

Chal had been limping on her right hind leg. I couldn’t find her problem, nor where her pain was. I wanted to know where the problem spot was, to fix the problem, make her more comfortable and to be able to tell the vet at our upcoming appointment. So, I simply asked Chal to tell me where she hurt. I signed to her ‘Where’s Your Ouch?’ I fully expected Chal to answer by tapping a spot on her right leg. She didn't! Instead, Chal signed ‘Here’ by pointing to her right, lower nipple area. She tapped it, and then looked right back up at me.


I listened to her response and checked the spot. Near her slightly red nipple was a small bump. I thought this tumor surely would be a cancer, just like the left-sided tumor (low-grade malignancy) I discovered a few years before. I had that whole mammary chain removed, and now, wanted her right chain to be removed too. Read more about the situation and Chal’s status in my blog (www.animalsign.org/blog.php). I’ll be tracking her progress physically, and cognitively as we learn more K9Signs to keep her mentally stimulated during recovery.


Chal and I had begun K9Signing since she was one year old. One exchange we worked on (when she had an infection) was the K9Sign ‘Where’s Your Ouch?’ where Chal responded with ‘Here.’ She learned to tell me where she hurt. Now, Chal has demonstrated that dogs can not only tell you where they hurt, but also detect and communicate the location of their own tumor spots. They have done this for humans, now we know they can do this for themselves, too.


Dogs can tell you what they sense in as much detail as they’ve had training to. Imagine what your dogs could communicate with K9Sign training, perhaps: A mouse is in the wall; Smoke is in the hall; Francois has fallen and has low blood sugar; Basement all water; I am thirsty; My hip hurts; Blood under the rock; or Jacque is coming home!” Dogs have their own natural communications that needs to be respected, but they can expand and build on that core skill. Doing so would stimulate their minds and develop their brains—as it does in humans. We humans are provided years of language education; dogs should get some, too!


K9Signing is useful for many dogs: working, assistance, service, shelter/rescue, companion, older, those in rehabilitation, or with special needs. K9Sign is now used by companion pets, dogs aiding the deaf or hard-of-hearing, and by therapy and other working dogs (for mold detection, etc.). Dogs have K9Signed to indicate water, food, chicken, liver, toys, play, go potty, keys, help, and many other objects, and discomfort/pain. The K9Sign gestuary includes signs for fire, names of people, position of people (on the ground or up), bed, crate, phone, household objects, and more. The K9Sign Gestuary is 100 words long and growing.


K9Sign benefits people (personally and scientifically), dogs themselves, and the human-canine relationship and bond. People benefit by improving the communication with their dog for companionship, play, work or services. Instead of dogs just alerting by fetching, barking, sitting and pawing to signal something, K9Signing dogs can be specific and tell you what they are alerting to. This enhances the dog’s skills.


Imagine what details a dog might express about the environment. A dog for a blind person might sign ground has big step-down, a search and rescue dog might sign number of people, dead, alive, or blood about people trapped under rubble, or your companion dog might sign fire, heart attack, seizure type, and who is in trouble.


K9Signing gives us a tool to further understand and study canine communication potential. Many organizations examine canine expressive communication-vocalizations and natural body language. AnimalSign Center is the only organization that educates, trains and studies dogs who are in intensive communication (especially expressive) training, or better education.


Dogs benefit from K9Sign. Imagine how empowered dogs might feel if they could tell you what they want and need, where they hurt, why they bark, what dangers are, or what they smell (that could fill a book). Successful communication reduces frustration, enhances joy and provides mental clarity, stimulation and brain development. 


The benefits of enhanced communication include a deepened human-animal bond, as well as increased wellness for humans and animals. These alone are worth the effort.


Most dogs can learn to K9Sign, if they want too and can move (at bit). Dogs with movement issues or in rehabilitation can do this, and it keeps them mentally active, while reducing boredom. The most challenging dogs to teach are those who don’t have respond to typical reinforcers. They may not consider food or toys rewards. I’ve met only a handful. Dogs with IBD (irritable bowel disease), who can’t eat much, can be rewarded by licks, or even just smells, of food.  Non-food rewards such as scratches and pats sometimes work. Very obedient dogs tend to take a longer to teach spontaneously use of K9Signs. These dogs wait for instructions to sign, rather than spontaneously offer signs. Once they realize they are free to offer signs, they do, and love it!


Dogscan learn as many signs as they can differentiate thoughts and make moves. I predict that in the next year my Border Collie, Starlight, will have learned 100 K9Signs. She now knows 10 K9Signs, but will surely ‘out-sign’ Chal soon. Most clients are happy with less than 10 signs, other clients are going all the way and adding to their vocabulary regularly. They send me signing stories often. Read more on that in my book and blogs.


Chal helped me create K9Sign and has known 50 signs. With her hind leg problems, she now K9signs mostly with her head, front legs and body movements. My horse Princess knows how to EquineSign, and she has 100 up her hoof! She was the one who got me started with AnimalSign in the mid 1990s.


My book, Dogs Can Sign, Too: A Breakthrough Method for Teaching Your Dog to Communicate to You, explains the background, foundations for and history of K9Sign. It also includes a how-to section with 25 K9Signs and pictures, with elaborate instructions on how to teach each sign. Each sign includes tips to help you get through typical challenges and milestones.




Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Making Obedience Class Mandatory
NY sought to require graduation from obedience school

In a perfect world, everyone would have great relationships with their dogs--teaching basic manners, providing lots of exercise, and participating in an activity together like agility or therapy work.

Last week, a bill was proposed in New York that would require people to successfully complete a basic obedience class with their dogs or risk having their pet taken away. 

The goal of the bill is to “minimize vicious dog attacks, the destruction of property and unnecessary human or canine deaths; to better acquaint dog owners with their dogs; to teach dog owners proper obedience techniques, which will help owners to have better control of their dogs; and to minimize aggressive dog behavior and negligent dog owner behavior.”

At first glance, the bill seems like a great idea. I only wish more people would take a basic obedience class and spend dedicated time each week bonding and working with their dogs.  But I can see many potential problems with the legislation. 

For one, not everyone lives in an area like New York City where there are many training classes available. Cost or distance could make a class prohibitive for some people. 

Second, the bill would allow the state to establish requirements for dog obedience schools. What and who would define successful completion?

Last of all, I could see this bill making people resent dog training. All of us positive trainers know that the fastest way to get someone to hate something is to try to force them to do it!   

New York’s bill has since been defeated, but what do you think about making obedience class mandatory?



News: Guest Posts
Meet the Trainer Behind the Amazing Jesse
Simple advice from a training wunderkind

If you’re a dog lover, you’ve probably seen “Useful Dog Tricks performed by Jesse.” The YouTube video has clocked more than 9-and-a-half million hits to date—so someone is watching the wirehaired Terrier with Cleopatra eyes chew the scenery (metaphorically, only).

With an always-wagging tail, the tri-colored Jack Russell merrily opens and closes drawers, turns a lamp off and on, cleans countertops and windows, pull off his booties, opens a wallet, closes a door, helps someone off with her sweatshirt, shoes and socks and retrieves her sandals, and on and on.   Who is the wise and seasoned pro behind the scenes? How many years of study and practice went into helping Jesse discover his inner superstar? Well, there’s no pro and not a lot of years either. The woman behind the clicker is 21-year-old Heather Brook of Litchfield Park, Ariz., who before Jesse came into her life had never trained a dog. Clearly, what she lacked in experience, she made up for with patience and love.   Heather got the 8-week-old puppy when she was 16, and discovered early on, he needed an outlet for his boundless energy. So she turned to trick books and Karen Pryor’s clicker-training website. Always relying on positive reinforcement, she helped Jesse master an impressive variety of tricks that she captured in videos that went viral and eventually landed the duo appearances on The Rachael Ray Show (“Amazing Animal Tricks”), The Late Show with David Letterman (“Stupid Pet Tricks”) and in several commercials. While the attention has been exciting, Heather says, “the time spent together is what made it worthwhile.”   What’s her advice to would-be trainers?
  • Bond with your dog. “We have a relationship first,” she says. “We’re best friends, so the training comes naturally.”
  • Dedicate time and be patient. Brook says she doesn’t set a specific time to train but works on tricks for about five or ten minutes, twice a day. She also mixes it up. “He’s better not always doing the same thing,” she says.
  • Find a reward your dog LOVES—whether it’s a toy, treats or praise from you.
  • Finally, and most important, Heather says, “Just do it. If you have a dream, you will succeed.
    News: Guest Posts
    The Canine Supernanny Is Back
    Victoria Stilwell returns for another year in Bark, and a third season on TV

    New year, new challenges, new solutions. We’re thrilled the calm, compassionate and straight-talking Victoria Stilwell returns to answer reader questions in 2011. In our February issue, she tackles one dog’s new habit (acquired during the holiday) of counter-surfing. As per usual, Stilwell’s prescription requires seeing the situation from the dog’s point of view and employing a combination of positive training and smart management strategies—and no “scat mats.” She’ll be responding to readers’ questions—one per issue—all year, so send your canine puzzler to editor@thebark.com with the word “Stilwell” in the subject line.

      And while you’re waiting for your next issue, check in on the new season of It’s Me Or the Dog, which premieres on Saturday, January 8 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT). Among this season’s collection of out-of-control owners is Jill Zarin, best known as one of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” who can’t reign in her cantankerous Chihuahua, Ginger. There’s plenty of solid training advice and more than a small dose of family therapy. We also hear there are a few surprises, including training a micro-pig!


    News: Guest Posts
    Are You Tipping?
    Don’t miss your daily dog tips from DogTown

    Sometimes I get overwhelmed reading about training and behavior. It feels like there is too much to know and absorb. That’s one of the reasons I’m loving the daily updates from Dog Tips from DogTown. This sneak, one-tip-a-day peek is rolling out on TheBark.com this week and next. My current favorite is “Tip 3: Because dog’s don’t wear mood rings,” a simple, illustrated guide to reading my dog’s moods.

      I also respect the source: the trainers at Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary. Is there any better measure of trainers’ commitment and skill than turning around the lives of dogs the world has turned its back on? I’m inspired and motivated by their example.  


    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Dogs Have Difficulty “Unlearning”
    New research on canine cognition

    A recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition shows that dogs have a hard time “unlearning” certain tasks that they have been trained to do. In Minding the gap: spatial perseveration error in dogs, researchers Britta Osthaus, Donna Marlow and Pippa Ducat demonstrated that dogs who have learned a specific sort of detour behavior have trouble deviating from that behavior once the set up has changed.

      The researchers trained 50 dogs to go through a gap in a barrier in order to reach their guardians and receive a treat. Approximately 80 percent of the dogs learned this task in just a single trial. After 1 to 4 training trials, the dogs were confronted with a slightly different task. The gap in the barrier was no longer in the original position, but in a clearly visible alternative location along the barrier.   When tested with this new task, dogs consistently went to the original position of the gap rather than to the new opening that would allow them to reach their target. This error was made by 46 of the 50 dogs. The more times they had gone through the original gap, the more likely they were to make the error once the gap had been relocated.   This study shows that dogs have trouble “unlearning” at least certain sorts of spatial tasks and that they tend to persist with behavior that has led to success in the past, even when the task had changed. The researchers point out that this has implications related to both dog training and to future cognitive studies of dogs.


    News: Editors
    Mad Men’s Training Advice
    The benefits of positive reinforcement, illustrated

    For all you Mad Men fans—hope you caught “Tomorrowland,” the final episode of season 4 because I don’t want to give away the ending. But there was something in a pivotal scene that struck me as a perfect example of best practices for both child and dog raising.

      So there is Don with his two children and Megan, his lovely, young secretary/nanny, lunching somewhere near Disneyland. Sally and Bobby are arguing when Sally knocks over her milkshake. Don, with a furrowed brow looks ready to snap at the kids (like ex-wife Betty or even worse), but then as quick as you can say “positive reinforcement,” sweet Megan calmly reaches over with paper napkins to clean up the mess. She says something about it being “just a milkshake.” Don looks at her all dewy-eyed and smitten, getting it in a flash that there is an alternative approach to dealing with these messy kiddy matters.   A perfect lesson for trainers who promote “alpha assertive” and “hands-on” methods, it really is so much better for everyone—dogs, kids, parents, owners when you can accentuate the positive and forgo the negative—as Mad Men demonstrated in its “engaging” final scene.  

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Halloween Trick-Or-Treaters
    Is this a good training opportunity?

    It’s common for even the sweetest of dogs to be little devils when visitors come to the door. Some dogs are afraid of visitors, which can cause them to bark, lunge or even bite. Others are simply wild with excitement when people arrive, which often leads to leaping, jumping, barking, spinning and generally being out of control. Either way, it can mean that every time the doorbell rings, people cringe knowing that what’s about to happen may not be pretty.

      The day of days for doorbell ringing is, of course, Halloween. Not only are there loads of visitors, but those visitors are dressed as, among other things, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are costumes with flashing lights, giant mouths, battery-powered sound effects, and all sorts of weird colors, shapes, sizes and behavior. When dogs are not at their best with visitors anyway, trick-or-treaters are unduly challenging.   Everybody knows that for dogs who struggle to contain themselves when visitors come over, practice dealing with that very situation is a necessary part of improving it. So, I am often asked, “Should I use Halloween night as a training opportunity?” The short answer is “probably not.”   One reason for answering in the negative is that while practice is an essential part of training doors to be polite when visitors arrive, that practice must be in a situation at a level that the dog can handle. Large numbers of excited children will be beyond what most dogs can handle, which means that most dogs will just end up practicing their undesirable behavior rather than practicing the polite behavior we’d like them to exhibit.   Another reason that practicing greetings of visitors on Halloween may be ill-advised is that many dogs react badly because they are fearful of visitors. Trick-or-treaters are bound to be terrifying to dogs since people whose silhouettes are unusual seem to scare most dogs. Masks, capes, giant costumes, carrying bags and other elements of trick-or-treating fashion change people’s silhouettes are scarier to most dogs than the typical tool belts, hats, clipboards and backpacks that fearful dogs react to.   It is especially critical not to use Halloween night as a training session if there is any risk of the dog behaving aggressively to visitors. Most dogs who react badly towards visitors are merely impolite or excessively exuberant, and even that could inadvertently lead to trouble. Trick-or-treaters should not be exposed to the small minority who may actually intentionally try to hurt them.   There are a very few dogs who can benefit from training session on Halloween. Those are the dogs who have worked up to being polite when trick-or-treaters arrive by already showing great success when greeting every other type of visitor, including large groups of people, children, loud people and people dressed a bit oddly. If you’ve worked up to this Holy Grail of training with your dog, perhaps Halloween is an opportunity for you both. If you’re not sure if your dog is ready, the best course of action is to assume that he’s not.   For most people, the only way to make a dog be like Lassie on Halloween is to put him in a Rin Tin Tin costume. So unless your dog has worked up to being ready to handle these toughest types of visitors, don’t plan on training during the trick-or-treating hours. 
    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Just For Fun
    Tricks for kicks

    A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

      Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?