Tag Archive: pet dog training


Why I Have Baaaaad Dogs

From the moment I met Gizzy on November 16, 2002, my life has been about bad boys. Three to be exact, all Golden Retrievers. And who knows how many more there will be in the future. I love them. They’ve been the loves of my life despite all of their foibles, and the very best teachers as a result. 

Prior to adopting Giz, I had Caper for almost 14 years. She was a very typically sweet, smart Golden Retriever. She was perfect. But as my career of working with animals was developing, so was my need to experience first-hand what it was like to live with and try to rehabilitate a dog with behavior problems.  Oh boy, that was Gizzy!  

I hadn’t intended to adopt Gizzy. I was going to be his foster mom. Caper had just passed away and I was depressed and lonely. I needed a dog in my life.  I was told by the rescue group in Quakertown, PA that he was “not good with children” and that I would be the perfect foster home for him because I had no children.  Great, I could definitely deal with that!  I travelled an hour and a half to meet Gizzy (his name was Gizmo at the time). He came bounding out of the grooming room, jumping and kissing in a tornado of blonde fur. He took my breath away, he was so beautiful and friendly – and he looked almost exactly like Caper, except the face. Same coloring, same long white feathering down the legs and tail.  How could I just foster this dog? He was mine forever; I signed the adoption papers on the spot.

Then we got home and I gradually uncovered his true personality. He was not Caper, that’s for sure. (Lesson number one from Gizzy: Never adopt a dog to replace your deceased dog based on looks.  They will be entirely different personalities!)  In addition to being bad with children, I discovered that Gizzy was violently reactive to other dogs. Like a stealth bomber, he would let them approach and as soon as the dog got into his face, he attacked. Ferociously. Wow. They didn’t tell me about this… Okay, I can deal with this. I learned all about working with dog aggression in school and had worked with clients on the issue.

Next came the bones. Gizzy growled at me one night when I tried to take his bone from him. Hmm, they didn’t tell me about this either. And finally, he growled at me when I tried to move him off of the sofa. As it turned out, my new dog had just about every behavior issue imaginable! Oh yes, he was also afraid of thunderstorms, a problem that grew into a full-blown phobia. I guess I got what I wished for when I said I wanted a dog to show me what my clients go through.  Little did I dream that it would be wrapped up in one doggie package!

In our 8 ½ years together, I have learned more from working with him and understand exactly what my clients are dealing with when they call me for help with their dogs. I am completely empathetic. Now that he’s an old man of 13 years, his behavior problems are all but gone.

In 2004, along came Donner, the old stray who had been at the rescue’s shelter for 9 months. Besides being older, he had a limp and a major nipping problem. He was on the verge of getting put down when I stepped in and adopted him. When Donner got excited, he liked to hump you then chomp down hard on your arm, leg, rear end – whatever was in his reach. He was pretty obnoxious. And I still have the scar on my arm to prove it. But I loved him dearly. And I learned a great deal from him about how to deal with his kind of behavior problem, especially the benefits of keeping a dog calm.

Donner only lived for 20 months after I adopted him, succumbing to a tumor on his heart in May, 2006. As he was slipping away from me, I wrote the story, The Old Dog Nobody Wanted, published in the book Pets Across America.

A year later Archie arrived, my joyfully amusing 9-year-old with the stumpy wagging tail. He was a happy, loving dog – until you touched his feet. He turned into the Incredible Hulk, a snarling, snapping changeling. He was inspiration in writing my article, Grappling With Grooming. Archie taught me the benefits of counter-conditioning dogs to tolerate something that they had previously hated. In the 2 ½ years that we were together, he learned that wiping feet and nail trims were not so bad.

My three bad boys. I will love them dearly forever. What they have taught me cannot be underestimated. I admit I often long for a sweet creature like my Caper, a dog without behavior problems who is easy to live with. But for someone like me, with the training and knowledge to help dogs who maybe cannot live with others, I’m the perfect home and will greet more with open arms in the future. Bad dogs are the best teachers!  Thanks boys!

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Training Dogs Using Hand Signals

In my obedience classes, I’ve always taught the accompanying hand signals for all commands. Some dog trainers wait until advanced classes to include this lesson but I believe it’s important even for beginners and puppies.  Dogs respond reliably and often quicker to hand gestures versus voice commands. 

Because of variations in our speech, it seems that dogs prefer the consistency of gestures. So many of us talk to our dogs in sing-song voices, often asking or pleading instead of telling.  I hear, “Can you si-it?” instead of “Sit.” No wonder the dogs blow us off!  Hand signals are clear and lack the intonation and emotion our voices may convey.

Why else are hand signals important? Many dogs go deaf as they age.  My dog has lost most of his hearing and the only way to communicate with him is through hand gestures. In addition to the signals for the basic commands of sit, down, stay and come, he has become adept at knowing where I’m pointing.  My one index finger can mean so many things to him.  And a “thumbs up” has become recognized as “good boy!”

I just met a dog who was rescued from a shelter and his foster mom quickly realized that he is deaf. In just one day, she taught him “thumbs up” and he is well on his way to learning more signals.  Dogs are amazing at watching our visual cues and I’m confident that she will be communicating effectively with him before long. 

If you have read my book, Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, you’ll remember that Molly is deaf (and was disgracefully breeding puppies who are probably deaf as well ).  Her adopters taught her many hand gestures. It doesn’t take long. 

Consistency is important.  It really doesn’t matter what signal you use, just so you always use the same one for the same command or meaning.  Try it!  Your dog will love the challenge and it will impress your friends. Nothing wows people more than when I raise my hand over my head and my dog lies down. It takes some practice but the results are worth it.

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.

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.

Dogs and Egos

If you’re reading this blog, I’m betting that you love dogs (and other animals too). And I really doubt that you’re reading this because you love menopause! Thank goodness, there are so many people who put their passion for the animals into action by working or volunteering for animal-related organizations, shelters and rescues in particular since they tend to be the most cash-strapped.  These incredible people are so needed because there are millions of homeless pets in this country who need care and help in finding new homes.  In my 10 years as a volunteer and employee of several shelters and rescues, I have found that most people approach this work with selflessness, to help the animals and derive a sense of satisfaction that they are of service.  But there are a few – and I’ve encountered them at every organization – who believe that they have a “gift” with animals, dogs in particular, and that they know more than anyone else.  Instead of getting satisfaction just from being of service, they need to have their egos stroked by being viewed as something better than everyone else.  They come in various forms – the credit-grabber, the bossy know-it-all and the “I can do it all myself.” I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “I’ve been told that I’m a dog whisperer.”  I just chuckle inside.  That may very well be true but so are the other 50 people who are volunteering here! 

People who really know about dogs (and other animals) are humbled by them and understand that we always have something to learn from the animals.  In my work with dogs and their owners, I have learned that every dog, every person and every situation presents different interractions.  I found that when I started to get cocky, a situation presented itself to me that smacked my ego back in check – I didn’t know it all and I never will. 

I try to remember and appreciate every lesson and be an example as a leader.  A good leader allows others to learn and thrive without needing to force their knowledge and position on others.  So, even if I am not in charge, it’s a good practice to allow others to learn – be it from their own mistakes or successes.  Each and every day, I tell myself that the satisfaction from working with animals must come from within.  And I have a great opportunity to be an influence even if I’m not the boss.

Check out the blog of Michael Hyatt for a great post about being a leader and letting go of pride (also known as ego!).

Old Dogs – The Finest Kind of Love

What motivates us more, our fears or our dreams?  I’d like to think that our dreams have more power over us, to inspire us to do great things.  I believe that fears can be more motivating so that we avoid the dire consequences of our worst-imagined circumstances.  For me, I have a fear of becoming an old, homeless bag lady. It may seem irrational, and my friends laugh at me when I tell them this, but when I pass a woman sitting on a bench with all of her possessions either on her person as a threadbare coat on an 80-degree day or stacked in a three-legged, rusted grocery store shopping cart with room to spare, I wonder how she got there. She has no collections of crystal stemware, flat screen TV’s or $25 scented candles to make her world smell wonderful.

This fear of mine has generated one of my deepest desires and ambitious dreams.  One day, I hope to establish a “retirement community” for old dogs – because I simply cannot stand the thought of old dogs who had once been in loving homes ending up in shelters, homeless and scared.  Old dogs are the last to be adopted and frequently the first to be euthanized.  Most people want a younger dog or a puppy.  Not me!  My first Golden Retriever was my last puppy, 21 years ago.  I loved her with all of my heart and still own the cookbooks with frayed bindings and teeth marks from her adolescence. I cherish the memories of our 14 years together.  While her younger years were fun, nothing replaces the calm contentment of a mature dog.

My current dog, Gizzy, is a 12-year-old Golden Retriever.  I adopted him at age 5 because he was unadoptable, very naughty, and I was best-suited as a behavior specialist to deal with him.  After I rescued Giz, I adopted Donner at 10 years old (also unadoptable!) and Archie at 9 years old (somewhat unadoptable), and they have both passed on.  I loved them dearly for the 20 months and 30 months, respectively, that we had together and I’m hoping to continue rescuing older dogs.  It’s part of my life’s work – to save a few dogs from the confusion of being sent to the park bench with just an old collar around his neck.

Please check out the Old Dog Haven – http://www.olddoghaven.org/ and The Grey Muzzle Organization – http://greymuzzle.org/ to learn about a couple of groups who are putting their dreams into action.

My name is Chris Shaughness – welcome to my blog.  I call myself the Menopausal Entrepreneur because I left the corporate world at age 47 to start my own business, a 180 degree turn from years of working in information systems, to being a pet behavior specialist, dog trainer, pet massage therapist and author.  Phew!  It wasn’t enough to be in almost constant anxiety over quitting the security of a full time income but I also embarked on menopause through this phase with all of its rollercoaster hormonal highs and lows.  

 I attended a writers’ conference in New York City during my second year of self-employment and pitched a book idea to an attending literary agent, a women probably in her thirties.  I told her that I was going to write a book called “The Menopausal Entrepreneur” based on my experiences.  She made the most unpleasant face and told me not to bother, that it would be too narrow of a niche to sell profitably.  Okay, I thought.  But I know there are a lot of other women who are doing exactly the same thing as me – leaving a long-time career to follow a passion.  Just you wait, Ms. Agent!  Menopause is right around the corner, lurking in a niche somewhere.

I originally wanted to make this blog just about animals, as that is my forte, but I realized I have lots more interests and things to share.  So, please expect to see posts mainly about animals and life as an author, but you might get a sprinkling of philosophy, spirituality and just plain old observations of human behavior.  As I study animal behavior, the parallels with human behavior are undeniable and educational.

I look forward to your comments and discussion; we have so much to learn from each other, and from the animals.