Tag Archive: canine behavior

Having lived with a dog for 10 years who was very reactive when he saw another dog and quite aggressive if another dog came up to him, I understand the challenges faced by people who have dogs with this issue. Many people have asked me why some dogs simply don’t like other dogs and react so strongly. 

There is no easy answer because it could be a learned behavior (something that has happened over time). But we do know that four things can possibly make a dog react to other dogs. 

  1. Genetics – Heredity is a powerful thing for humans as well as animals. Just as we can inherit traits and characteristics from our progenitors, so can dogs. Aggression can be inherited from the lineage of either parent. This is one reason why I am so passionate about choosing a good breeder if you are considering getting a puppy. The best breeders will not breed a dog with known aggressive traits. Puppy mill breeders and many backyard breeders, on the other hand, do not care or may not even pay attention or be aware that genetics plays a role in behavior traits.
  2. Lack of socialization – If a puppy is not consistently exposed to other dogs at a young age continuing throughout adolescence, the dog may not develop good social skills with other dogs. Because he hasn’t learned dog-to-dog communications, the pup might fail to recognize signals from other dogs resulting in a possible fear-based reaction. If dogs are not socialized, they may be fearful or misinterpret another dog’s intentions.
  3. Attacked by another dog – A perfectly happy, non-reactive dog can change to a reactive, aggressive dog with just one scary incident with another dog. An attack that makes the dog feel vulnerable or resulting in a painful injury can permanently scar a dog and alter behavior. Consider yourself in a similar situation. If you get attacked by a certain breed of dog, you will more than likely fear that breed whenever you see it.
  4. Shock collars/prong collars/choke chains – Dogs learn by association. When aversive (punishment) training techniques are used, detrimental effects are sure to occur. The use of shock collars, even for electric fences, may result in inadvertent aggression. Here’s why. The dog sees another dog across the street and runs to see it. The shock collar from the electric fence delivers a zap. The dog learns to associate getting the shock with seeing another dog. The same scenario applies for people who use prong collars or choke chains, especially incorrectly. The dog sees another dog and gets yanked around the neck. The feeling is uncomfortable and the dog will associate that feeling with seeing another dog. People love to argue that prong collars and choke chains are appropriate, but they fail to understand the associative issues that may cause or amplify aggression.

It really does not matter how a dog came to be reactive to another dog. What matters is how to work with the issue. Use of counter-conditioning techniques with a qualified trainer or behaviorist is the only way to help the dog overcome the problem and learn how to be around other dogs. My dog was able to live with other dogs because I diligently worked with him. It took time and patience. There are no quick, easy fixes like some TV show trainers lead you to believe. And if you are getting a puppy, remember to be aware of these things that can create a reactive dog.


Canine Senility

Just as medical science is extending the human lifespan, veterinary science is doing the same for our pets.  But with longer lives come problems that were uncommon years ago when we and our pets didn’t live as long. Dementia, or senility, is becoming more prevalent. Human dementia seems easier it diagnose – forgetfulness, loss of short-term memory, and difficulty recognizing people.  Dogs and cats don’t exhibit these exact symptoms. They show other signs. 

One of the most common signs of canine senility, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD), is loss of housetraining. Dogs who have been reliably housetrained and start to “lose their manners” may have CCD. This may be considered forgetfulness, as they “forget” to give the signal that they need to go outside. (Cats who stop using the litter box may also be showing signs of dementia.) First, rule out that a health problem such as a urinary tract infection is not the cause of the housetraining accidents before deciding it could be CCD. 

Other symptoms are usually present. Barking for no reason, sleeplessness during the night, staring at nothing, pacing, and either a withdrawal from the family or overly-clinginess are all possible symptoms. Some dogs may even have a change in personality where they become aggressive, have separation anxiety or other issues when before they did not. Just like housetraining problems, first rule out any health issues that may be the underlying cause of any of these symptoms.  Problems such as thyroid disease, brain tumors or cancer could also produce these symptoms. 

Depending on the severity of these issues, it could be quite difficult to live with a dog who has CCD. Continued housetraining accidents, non-stop barking and getting up in the middle of the night may tax even the most loving and patient dog-parent. There is a medication to help with these symptoms but it is quite expensive. Anipryl, used to treat humans with Parkinson’s disease, has shown effectiveness in improving symptoms of CCD. 

Little if any research has been done to see if mental activity slows dementia in pets as it can in humans. Dogs can’t do crossword puzzles but, as you know, I always advocate for lifelong training with dogs. It keeps them from being bored, tires them out and ensures good manners. It can’t hurt to try! Start now if your dog is still young. An active dog is a happy dog, and may keep your dog from forgetting who you are when he gets older.

What if people told you to shut up every time you tried to speak?  As you run up to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and exclaim, “I’m so happy to see …,” your friend shouts, “Quiet!” Doesn’t feel so good, huh?  Well, that’s what we do so frequently to our dogs when they bark. Barking is a natural behavior for dogs and it’s very unfair to ask them never to bark. Our job as dog-parents is to teach them when it is appropriate to “speak” and when to stay quiet, no different than guiding a child who is just discovering his voice.

We frequently are the perpetrators in teaching our dogs to bark and making it worse.  I recently watched a 4-week-old litter of nine puppies and the alpha male whimpered persistently for attention. His whimpering escalated to the cutest little puppy bark I’d ever heard. I also watched the natural human reaction as my friend picked up and coddled him, thinking that he would stop once he received attention. Not!  It made him worse – the behavior was reinforced and no doubt this puppy will grow up to be an attention-seeking barker.

My first dog would bark when she saw a car going down our sleepy street, and she went into a frenzy when our next-door neighbor turned into their driveway.  But I was a novice dog person back in 1988 and I encouraged her. I would run to the window when I saw my neighbors coming home and shout their names. My dog would come running, sounding the alarm. Very quickly, my dog would come on command when I called my neighbor’s names excitedly.  She barked out the window even though nobody was there. I thought it was funny and made it a game.  Her barking at anything out the window was fine because we lived in a quiet country setting. However, when I moved to an apartment a few years later, her barking was not so funny. We had a lot of activity around us and her barking brought complaints.

Barking is a complex problem and not easy to correct.  Sadly, for that reason and because many people don’t want to bother investing time into training their dogs, several punishment-based collars have been invented.  Shock collars, citronella collars and collars that emit a tone can be purchased.  I found a very distressing web site that claims to help people stop nuisance barking.  They sell these kinds of collars and advocate methods such as shouting “NO!!!” when the dog barks and spritzing him in the face with a water bottle and even smacking him on the nose with two fingers.  Ack!!  I not only don’t advocate any of these methods, I abhor them and the people who sell, recommend and utilize them. Talk about destroying the trust in your relationship with your dog

Dogs bark for various reasons and to address the problem, we need to break it down into situations. Not all barks are the same.  Before we can address how to stop barking, the source needs to be understood. Here are a few general categories of barking.

Excited or Alert or Fear Barking: Many dogs bark when they hear noises, see people or other animals. I don’t know of very many dogs who will not bark when they see someone out the window or hear the doorbell or knock on the door. This barking is often driven by cortisol and adrenaline which are emitted as the result of the classic “fight or flight” response. Or the dog could simply be excited to see someone, which also creates an adrenaline response.

Territorial Barking:  The dogs who are behind fences, physical or electric, can easily develop the habit of barking at anyone or anything that passes by. This type of barking is self-rewarding because the object they are barking at often is walking by the property and will eventually disappear down the street. In the dog’s mind, he is thinking, “I bark to get them to go away…and they do!” 

Attention Seeking: I covered this often-annoying habit that some dogs have of barking to get attention in a post on May 2.  See that post for solutions.

Boredom and Separation Anxiety: In my post on separation anxiety, I discussed how it is a sad fact that so many of our dogs have to be left alone for hours every day due to our busy lifestyles. They don’t get the exercise and mental stimulation required to keep them happy and bark-free.

Play Barking: Some dogs express their delight by barking. And we humans can inadvertently reinforce this habit when we laugh at them and encourage the behavior. Unless the barking annoys you too much, I would hate to squelch your dog’s happiness by trying to eliminate the barking during play.  This is a tough one to tackle!

In my next couple of training tip posts, I will discuss methods – all positive! – to help extinguish nuisance barking. Woof!

Are your kitchen counters and tabletops pristinely clear and clutter-free? Do you have to cool the brownies on top of the fridge? Had to replace your TV’s remote control more than once because it became your dog’s chew toy? If these apply to you, then you must live with a thief!  A canine thief that is.

Counter surfing is the term that dog trainers use to refer to the actions of dogs who like to steal things off of counters, tables and others places where tempting objects can be found. Mostly an issue with dogs who are large enough to reach the counters, smaller dogs can still be guilty of larceny from lower furniture.

Counter surfing can be a dangerous problem, resulting in dogs getting sick from what they’ve eaten or needing surgery because they ate something that caused a blockage. It can be a very challenging and difficult behavior to stop.

First, if you live with a counter surfer, you know that you must be diligent with keeping temptation away from the dog. No food can be left on counters and tables, and even dish towels must be kept out of reach or else they get swiped and chewed. Management of the dog’s environment is the easiest step to take to prevent unwanted behavior.

Next, ensure that you never, ever, ever chase your dog when he steals something. More than likely, this is how he became a counter surfer in the first place. He stole something he wasn’t supposed to have and someone chased him. He thought it was a cool game (because he got your attention), thus an unwanted behavior was reinforced.

I realize that it is incredibly difficult not to chase your dog if he has just stolen your expensive shoe. Instead, try to distract and divert your dog’s attention from the object.  Shake the box of dog treats, ring the doorbell, pick up his leash and ask if he wants to go for a walk, yell “squirrel” out the window. What dog can resist any of these?!  If your dog drops the stolen object and comes running, give him tons of praise and a treat.

When your dog begins to see that he gets no attention when he steals things, the behavior should stop – as long as everyone who interacts with him is consistent and never chases and scolds him. Remember that any behavior that you give attention to will be reinforced.

You can also train your dog the “leave it” command (see the Dog Training Tip of the Week – Leave It). Place a treat on a table where your dog can see it and use the “leave it” command to instruct him not to touch it. Yes, this takes a lot of practice, but a well-mannered dog is worth the investment of time. Whenever you catch your dog attempting to surf, tell him to “leave it.”  Remember to praise him when he responds.

One last thing – if you regularly feed your dog scraps when you are preparing food at the counter and you have a very smart dog, he will soon learn that yummy things come from that counter area. It’s best not to feed your dog from the counter. Put him into a “stay” in an area away from your food preparation. If you still want to give him a snack, place it in his bowl.

If you are diligent with keeping counters and tables free of temptation and not giving attention to your dog when he steals things, you stand a good chance of extinguishing the behavior.

It’s still March and my town has already experienced two evenings with thunder booms. Having lived with a severely thunder-phobic dog for the last 8 ½ years, I completely sympathize with people who also have dogs who quiver, drool and freak out with approaching dark clouds and the first raindrop. I originally wrote an article in 2007 for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue’s newsletter called April Showers Bring…Thunderstorms and it has subsequently been reprinted in Our Havanese magazine. I have updated it for this blog, and will divide it into two posts as it’s a lot of information for one post. 

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when you hear the forecast that many dog owners dread – chance of thunderstorms.  People lose sleep and often time from their jobs in attempts to be with their dogs during storms.  Houses get destroyed when dogs frantically try to escape the noise.  I even heard of a dog who jumped out of a second story window in an attempt to find safety.  Consider yourself among the lucky ones if your dog does not completely freak out during a storm.  Even though your dog may not have problems now, many dogs develop thunder and noise phobias later in life.  Let’s first review how to ensure your dog does not become thunder-phobic.  Then we’ll take a look at what can be done to work with dogs who react fearfully during storms.

It only takes one incident for a dog to learn to fear thunder.  You may be in the middle of some particularly loud and house-shaking boomers when you dog’s ears go back and he runs under the bed.  Being human with the instinct to nurture, our first inclination is to tell the dog that everything’s okay.  We even hug the dog and comfort him like a child.  The problem with this approach is that dogs don’t think like humans. Telling a dog that “it’s okay” is not understood.  Dogs, instead, may read this comforting as a reinforcer for the behavior. In the dog’s mind, he’s thinking, “Hmm, I act scared and I get comforted which feels good.  So I’ll keep on acting scared in order to receive more comforting.”  A dog cannot reason that “it’s okay” means that the thunder will not harm him. Researchers are divided on this theory, however. Some believe that comforting a dog during a thunderstorm reinforces fear while others think that it’s cruel to ignore a dog who is reacting fearfully. 

I prefer not to comfort the dog but instead to redirect him to something fun and distracting if possible. But all dogs react differently. Some like to find a safe place to hide; others prefer to be close to their people. Most dogs have a place in their homes where they feel good.  If your dog gravitates to this area in a storm, allow your dog to go there undisturbed.  But if your dog does not seek a safe place and instead comes to you, act like nothing is wrong.  Try to engage him in play or distract him with his favorite treats.  Have him do sits, stays and other obedience commands that show your dog that you are in charge and in control of the situation.  Plus it also serves to distract you from the scary storm!  After all, we may have the tendency to react nervously ourselves during a bad storm. Our dogs pick up on our reactions. I have a friend who bakes cookies during a storm and her dog loves it!

 Next time, we will get into what to do if your dog is already thunder-phobic.

I follow the Facebook pages of several national dog magazines. Recently, one of them posted an article about a tiny Chihuahua who had been euthanized at a shelter because he was aggressive.  This story caused a lot of people to post judgmental comments about the shelter and its workers. It was obvious that these people have never been exposed to the difficulties that shelter workers deal with every day. And that it is very, very challenging to find adoptive homes for aggressive dogs, no matter how small. Instead of outraged indignation, I hope that people will read on and then make an effort to educate others.

The shelters in the U.S. can be divided into three general groups: the very wealthy ones such as New York’s ASPCA and North Shore Animal League, the moderately funded ones who have adequate facilities and sufficient staffs, and the very poor community shelters who run on a shoestring with little staff. Shelters also can be further divided into no-kill and kill shelters. No-kills shelters, as a rule, have a limit to the number of pets that they will accept and they keep it at a manageable level.  The pets who get turned away have to go to kill shelters. And that’s a lot.

The wealthy shelters and many of the no-kills, in general, have the time and the resources to work with the animals if they have behavior issues. A great example is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah who has been rehabilitating the Vick dogs. They have the funds and the staff to keep these dogs forever and enough trainers to dedicate time to their rehabilitation. Even still, some no-kill shelters will euthanize pets due to behavior issues.

 But on the other side of the spectrum, the much underfunded kill shelters are usually inundated with homeless pets and do not have the space to keep pets unless they are highly adoptable. Highly adoptable means two things: the pets are young (over 5 years is considered old at a shelter) and are well behaved. It’s a known fact that in shelters, most adopters are looking for young pets. Sometimes, the highly adoptable pets need to be euthanized as well due to lack of space. It’s a heart wrenching situation.

The shelter workers in these underfunded shelters must make daily decisions about which pets live or die. They hate it. Most shelter workers are in this job because they love animals and want to make a difference by helping them. Contrary to what some posters on Facebook and a few bloggers may lead you to believe, the shelter workers are not demons who take pleasure in killing the animals. Of course, there are some bad eggs who are sick and enjoy torturing and killing the animals but they are the exception. I hope.

A typical day for a shelter worker involves constant cleaning of filthy kennels, feeding the animals, dealing with customers (some are courteous, some can be quite rude), seeing people carelessly surrendering nice animals, taking in strays who have been dumped, seeing pets who have been hit by cars or abused or starved, and dealing with people who lie about the pet’s behavior to assuage their guilt about surrendering them. You’ll hear many shelter workers say, “I hate people.” It’s because of the terrible things and the indifference they see constantly.

Many shelters workers have had little or no training in pet behavior. They also have very little time to work with the animals to help resolve behavior problems. Some shelters have the funds to hire a behavior specialist or trainer to work with the animals, but these positions are rare.

People may say, “Why doesn’t the management of the shelters make sure that the animals receive training to resolve behavior issues?” The issue is partly due to lack of staff because of underfunding but it’s also a problem with uneducated management. Many shelter managers have come up through the ranks and are unaware of the various programs and best practices to rehabilitate pets. And sadly, some managers are simply burned out and the effort is too great to make changes.  The attitude can be: it’s easier to euthanize than to try to change. 

Animal sheltering is a burn-out business because the pets just keep coming in the door – and some of them have suffered indescribable atrocities. Some people become numb from working in this distressing environment.

I’m seeing evidence that the message to adopt and not buy is gaining credence. More people than ever are coming to shelters and rescue groups to find their pets. That means that the pets they adopt need to be good emissaries for adopting and for their species/breed. Pit Bulls illustrate this fact.  Only the best of the best behaved Pits are kept in shelters – because there are so many of them and because shelters know that if an aggressive Pit is adopted and bites someone, the breed’s reputation gets further sullied.

The sad reality is that most people want a perfect pet.  They don’t want to take a lot of time and money to train the pet. When a pet who was adopted from a shelter has a behavior problem and the adopter decides to bring the pet back, unfortunately it leaves a bad taste in the adopter’s mouth. The bad experience is likely to discourage them from adopting again, and they will tell people about the experience. The shelter will suffer because people may stop donating when they hear stories such as these. This bad press directly affects the forward momentum of the “adopt not buy” agenda as well.  These people will be more likely to turn to pet stores to find their next pets.

Obviously, our country’s sheltering system could stand an overhaul because they all operate with different standards and rules. There are no governing bodies to oversee them. No, the Humane Society of the United States does not have jurisdiction over animal shelters, contrary to many people’s beliefs. Changes, therefore, must be at the grassroots level. Our shelters won’t change unless we demand it. More people need to become foster parents so that pets get out of the shelters and have a chance to be trained. People need to accept that their adopted pet may not be perfect and that they will need to invest some time and money into getting the pet trained. And the issue closest to my heart is that people need to let go of the desire to have a puppy (or kitten) and opt for a previously owned pet. There’s nothing like the gratification of saving and living with an older pet.

Sorry for the long post and I could have gone on further. It’s a very complicated issue. I’d love to hear your opinions.  Please send your comments!

In my last post, I talked about how there are more than 6 different titles for jobs associated with training dogs or helping owners to resolve behavior issues.  I covered trainer, CPDT and KPACTP, the positions that deal with mostly the training aspects.  Today, let’s review behavior consultant/counselor, CAAB and veterinary behaviorist.

Companion Animal Behavior Counselor/Consultant: I was certified as a CABC (certified animal behavior counselor) through a group called the Association  of Companion Animal Behavior Counselors.  It was a very promising organization with a prominent president and board of directors at the time.  CABC’s attended two years of college-level courses in animal behavior, learning theory, behavior modification, pharmacology, training techniques, and even family interventon skills.  It was a very demanding curriculum and the organization had the right idea – to train people to work responsibly with dogs and their families.  Unfortunately, the organization could not compete with others like APDT and as a result, CABC’s are rare.  Other organizations have formed, such as the International Assocation of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Associaton of Animal Behavior Professionals, but they do not have an educational curriculum available.  They are membership and certification groups.

When to use a behavior counselor/consultant:  These people specialize in working with dogs who have mild-to-serious behavior issues such as fears, phobias and separation anxiety, as well as minor issues like housetraining, barking and jumping.  These professionals may be qualified to work with dogs who have aggressions issues, but that will depend on the individual’s experience and tenure.  Behavior counselors/consultants will also train dogs in obedience.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist: Many trainers like to call themselves behaviorists but this is completely inaccurate and does a disservice to anyone who has earned the credentials of a CAAB.  To qualify for this title, CAAB’s must have a Master’s degree or a PhD in animal behavior. There are only about 100 CAAB’s in this country. If someone calls themselves a behaviorist, ask where they received their graduate degree and in what field.

When to use a CAAB: Many CAAB’s concentrate on research and education.  They may work at large humane societies or have their own businesses as educators.  However, some will take on private clients.  If you wish to consult with one, your dog’s issues usually are challenging enough that a trainer or behavior counselor could not help.

Veterinary Behaviorist: This is the Big Kahuna of the group.  Veterinary behaviorists are licensed veterinarians who have attended additional classes in behavior and pharmacology and are board-certified.  Veterinary behaviorists are the only pet training professional who can prescribe medication for behavior issues.

When to use a veterinary behaviorist: Dogs with severe issues such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), extreme fears and phobia and extreme aggression are often referred to veterinary behaviorists.  They do not train dogs in obedience, however.

I hope that this little primer has been helpful.  If you have friends and family with dogs, please refer them to these two posts.  And most of all, send your veterinarian to this blog!  From my experience, they are not well-versed in all of the pet professional choices.  The more education we all have, the better for everyone.

When your dog needs training, who do you call?  Or when your dog is having behavior problems, do you hire the same person? If you don’t know the answer, you’re not alone.  Many new jobs have sprung up over the past couple of decades that deal with dog training and behavior.  There are more than 6 different titles of pet training professionals. How is the average dog owner supposed to sort it all out?  Good luck, not even most veterinarians know the difference when asked to give referrals.

In today’s post, we’ll review three professions and finish it up in the next post. I know I may have missed some but these are the most common.

Dog Trainer: Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a trainer.  Some people think that if they can teach a dog how to “sit” then they are a dog trainer. But a truly qualified trainer has years of experience with teaching and has an excellent grasp of dogs’ language and how they interact with humans and each other.  Dog training goes beyond teaching commands.  Good trainers are constantly learning about new theories and techniques by attending seminars and reading literature.  And more and more trainers are educating themselves about dog behavior, a specialty that we will talk about in the next post.

As the popularity of the dog training profession grows, various schools have popped up around the country, offering anywhere from very short courses to lengthy and comprehensive curriculums in how to be a dog trainer.  One such organization is Bark Busters, a franchise dog training business.  On their web site, it says under the FAQ area:

Q: I don’t know much about dog training. Can I still be a Bark Buster?

A: Yes. Bark Busters provides a [sic] comprehensive training at the launch of your business. This four-week long class provides a great deal of hands-on work with dogs, as well as providing practical knowledge about how to successfully operate a dog training business.” 

As you can see, anyone can be a dog trainer after just 4 weeks.  If you hire individuals with this organization, you could be getting someone with very little experience.

When to use a trainer: If you want your dog to learn basic and advanced obedience, competitive dog sports such as agility, and animal-assisted therapy work.

Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT): The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a very large organization for dog trainers and they have created an excellent certification program. To be a CPDT, trainers must have a certain number of years and hours of teaching time, pass a rigorous test, submit professional references and maintain a designated number of yearly education credits.  Trainers with the CPDT title are generally very well-qualified.

When to use a CPDT: Hire a CPDT for anything that you would hire a dog trainer (above) plus they can help you to resolve many behavior issues such as housetraining problems, jumping, barking and other nuisance behaviors.

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPACTP): Karen Pryor developed a method of training for dogs called “clicker training” first used in the 60’s to train dolphins.  Trainers who attend her academy are certified in training methods using clickers as well as behavior modification methods.

When to use a KPACTP: KPACTP trainers are very specialized and excel when training dogs in competitive sports as well as training dogs in basic and advanced obedience and behavior resolution. Their methods are very dog-friendly but may take a little more time for training.  Their methods are excellent in training dogs to do very specific activities such as when training service dogs to help the disabled.

Are you confused yet?  Just wait until the next post!  I’ll talk about Behavior Counselors/Consultants, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists and Veterinary Behaviorists, then try to sum it all up.  Stay tuned!

Easy to Slip

Is it human nature to go for the quick fix, the shortcut?  I guess it is, but the easy way may not always be the best.  I wrote about dog training methods in my March 2 post and after reading a column called Puppy Diaries in the New York Times on May 3, I feel I need to revisit the topic because of what the columnist wrote. I’m as passionate about positive dog training methods as I am about eliminating puppy mills.

Even the most well-meaning and informed dog owners who know all about positive training methods and have implemented them successfully can still be lured to slip to the easy shortcuts.  As I read Puppy Diaries, the 1972 Little Feat song was playing in my head:

“It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall…”

The author of the column bought a Golden Retriever puppy and took the dog to a positive rewards puppy class.  She did the right thing from the start – yay!  But…now that the dog is a year old and pulling hard on the leash during walks, the columnist decided to take  the shortcut and hired a ex-police dog trainer.  This “trainer” who is nicknamed Cujo (that should have been a clue!!) placed a choke chain on the dog, instructed the owner to scold “No!” when the dog pulls and then jerk the dog back in place.  Forced submission.  Punishment.  I was so disappointed to read that this columnist, an influential New York Times editor, slipped and is now jeopardizing the relationship she has with her dog.

Nothing evokes more emotional reaction in the dog training world than the polarizing topic of positive versus punishment.  Positive reinforcement can require more time and patience as dogs are motivated to learn.  The end results are a happy dog, a better bond between person and dog, and a trusting relationship.  Punishment methods in general take less time because the dog is forced to perform behaviors, then punished for doing something wrong.  It’s a devisive topic because the end results may seem the same for each method – a trained dog.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Your relationship with your dog and the psychological health of the dog are what really matter.

Need to find a good dog trainer?  I recommend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  On their web site, you will find a trainer search feature.  Enter your zip code and you will get a list of trainers in your area.  But just because a trainer is a member of APDT doesn’t guarantee that he/she uses all positive methods.  It’s best to call and interview several trainers.  I wrote an article several years ago for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR) called Is a Good Dog Trainer Hard to Find?  Included in the article are some questions to ask trainers when interviewing them.

I’ve never been someone who idolizes other people, especially celebrities and definitely not reality TV “stars” and I don’t indulge in the gossip that surrounds them.  But I do enjoy watching the Academy Awards to see who’s who and to stay current.  While watching the show last Sunday, I was impressed with Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech.  She was humble and appreciative, and projected the down-to-earth image that we have seen in many of her characters.  Her choice of Jesse James as a husband raised  many eyebrows because he appears to be so different from the person we think she is (although I must admit that I don’t know much about him). Ms. Bullock thanked her husband in her speech, of course, but one thing she said struck a huge chord with me.  She said, to paraphrase, “for the first time, I know that someone has my back.”  And that has helped her to do what she loves and to be successful.  Wow.  As an unmarried entrepreneur, I have long-wished for someone to “have my back,” to have that support.

I’ve been going it alone for 10 years and although I have been successful, I wonder if it had been easier if I had a husband to help me, even if he was just there to listen or give advice.  Maybe I’m idolizing the role of a husband because I don’t have one now.  I think back to when I was married many years ago.  My husband was a nice guy but he wanted me to do what he wanted and he was very adept at convincing me of that.  But then one day, I realized that I was squelching my needs.  I suppose that if had stayed married, I could never have started my own business and followed my dreams to be a full-time writer.  So even though I had a husband, I still wasn’t assured of him “having my back.”  Which takes me to my original statement – I don’t idolize people.  Having a husband is no guarantee that he would support my dreams. Only I can do that.  Throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, I found help with following my dreams from the writing and teaching of  Dr. Wayne Dyer. His blog post of January 15 2010, he says that if you can dream it, you can become it.  I agree.