Archive for the ‘Getting a New Dog’ Category

How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #2

June 23, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #2 at

"I'm so glad we're having this talk. If all owners were as smart as you, all dogs would be as good as me."


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How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 2

June 19, 2010

After a long day at work, cuddling on the couch with Hazel is heaven. But what if you don't like your dog up on certain furniture? Read on.

The Myth: Dogs know the same rules apply whether a human is present or not.

The Real Deal: Dogs can easily learn that a specific experience has a different outcome when you’re absent vs. when you’re present.  They will then behave according to which outcomes work best for them in the moment, not according to “rules” you have set.

Let’s get back to this great question by Real Deal reader, Tracy.  She wrote:

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

In part 1 of this post we talked about why Tracy’s dog, Chiller, goes on the couch only when she’s not home.  We also examined the simple rules dogs learn from their experiences and how these drive their behavior.

Now, using this example, let’s talk about how to prevent unwanted behavior when you’re not home and what Tracy can do about the fact that Chiller’s already learned: the couch is wonderful – as soon as everyone leaves.

First, the best time to establish rules such as “don’t go on the couch” is right at the beginning of your relationship. If you have a puppy or newly adopted adult dog, it is MUCH easier for him to learn a rule if you start from the beginning and then stick to the rule.

Sticking to the rule means that you don’t allow the rule to be broken when you’re not watching. This is probably the biggest mistake dog owners make. I suspect this is how Chiller learned that the couch is a delight as long as no one else is in the room.  Remember this: Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding. MANY experiences can be rewarding WITHOUT you being there to provide a reward.  Rewards come from everywhere – not just you!

Here are a few classic examples of rewarding experiences that dogs have when unsupervised, all of which can lead to unwanted behavior patterns:

  1. Peeing on the floor/carpet: dog feels, ahhhh, I’ve relieved myself, that was rewarding! I LOVE peeing on this surface, it’s always SO RELIEVING!
  2. Jumping on the counter and eating a sandwich found there: dog feels, YUM, that is the BEST thing I’ve EVER tasted!  I love jumping on counters – I can’t believe I haven’t tried this until today.  I’ll check this spot every day!  Hell, I’ll check it THREE TIMES a day!!!
  3. Resting on forbidden couch or bed: dog feels, mmmmm, this is SO COZY!  Whenever no one’s around to disrupt me, this is heaven!!!

Are you seeing how it works?  It’s when we’re not paying attention that dogs learn these behaviors pay!  Behaviors unwanted by owners end up being rewarding behaviors for our dogs.  So what do we do?  Let’s start with problem prevention (always the best way to raise great dogs).  We’ll use our couch example.  Here’ a recipe for getting your dog to permanently follow the rule of NO couch, whether you’re home or not:

  1. When you’re in the room you ALWAYS body block your dog’s access to coming up on the couch or immediately put him back on the floor when he tries to come up.

    X-Mat: Just leave this bumpy mat on any surface you don't want your dog to rest on.

  2. When you’re not in the room, you put up a barrier to deny access to the room OR you make the couch otherwise inaccessible/unpleasant.  You can use these bumpy X-Mat to do that.  No dog wants to lie on THAT.
  3. Give your dog an alternative option that is always available, very comfortable and ALWAYS rewarding (a cozy dog bed or old blanket).  Of course it is always rewarding if it’s comfortable, but you can enhance the experience even further by giving your dog positive attention when he is lying in his bed (belly rub!) or calmly bringing him a treat/chewie/stuffed Kong when he is relaxing on the bed.  This will seal the deal that this dog bed is THE PLACE to BE.

If you follow this recipe and maintain consistency for several weeks then your dog will quickly eliminate the idea of couch chillin’ from his behavior repertoire.  Your dog will essentially look at it this way: There’s a couch.  That’s something people sit on.  Dogs don’t go there.  I never have.  Any experience I’ve ever had trying to go on there has been unspectacular at best, a waste of time.  That’s just another dull object in the room.  Now here’s an idea, I’ll go lie on my comfy bed or my favorite spot in the sun by the window.  That’s a great place to be.


This will work without fail for any new dog.  A new dog is especially easy to set rules with.  Ah, but what if it’s NOT a new dog?  What if it’s a dog who already has the unwanted behavior pattern of going on the couch only when no one’s around?  Like Chiller does.  That’s a little trickier, and I’ll cover it in Part 3 of this series.

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Shout Out of the Day – What’s Up Dads

June 18, 2010

Ok, I admit it, I’m a just bit biased because it’s about me, but I love this week’s article by Lisa Begin-Kruysman! It’s a Father’s Day piece about being a Dad to kids and dogs.  Thank you, Lisa, for being an enthusiastic fan of The Real Deal on Dogs. Everyone, check out Lisa’s Blog on Her Book About National Dog Week and this week’s article: NYC Dog Trainer knows “the real deal” on how a Family Dog can influence the Fathers of the Future.


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How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #1

June 15, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #1 at


The Housetraining Myth – Can’t Miss Tips for Puppies #3

May 6, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: The Housetraining Myth – Can’t Miss Tips for Puppies #3 at

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How to Choose a Great Dog (The Checklist)

April 20, 2010

Note to dog enthusiasts who use this to find their new best friend, please send me an email to let me know how it worked out for you!  Thanks, David

A great dog is the one that’s great for YOU and YOUR LIFESTYLE.  I recently brought home a wonderful 8-month old dog from a shelter.  Was it luck?  Not really.  I knew exactly what I was looking for.  After using Petfinder and talking to a lot of friends and rescue workers, I evaluated several dogs that looked like good candidates.  Using my “Choose a Great Dog Checklist,” I was able to identify the characteristics I was looking for.  Today I’d like to share my method so you can have the same success when you’re looking for your next dog.

The Myth: Most dogs are the same.  We all know the obvious differences like size, energy level, and shed vs non-shed, but other than that, a dog is a dog.  Whether or not my dog turns out to be great for me is mostly luck of the draw. I’ll find out whether I was lucky or not once I get home with him and we spend a few weeks together.

The Real Deal: Not only are breed types very different, but within every breed type, individual dog personalities are VERY different.  You CAN figure out what kind of dog you’re getting before you bring her home!  Follow my “Choose a Great Dog Checklist,” and spend time getting to know the dog you are considering.  You will greatly increase your chances of finding a dog that is an excellent match for your life.

Again, before we start, remember the best dog is the one that matches up well with your personality and your lifestyle.  Here’s how you find him.

The Overview:

1. Define exactly what you want in your ideal dog.

2. Define exactly what type of dog fits well into your current lifestyle (consider your living space, schedule, activity level, ability to be a leader, and more.).  Be realistic.

3. Write out your answers to both points above.  Yes, write it out.  No, you cannot skip this step.

4. Print the  “Choose a Great Dog Checklist” below.  Bring it with you to meet your two most important sources of information: 1) the dog, 2) and the person who knows the dog best (the current caretaker for the dog).

5. Use the checklist to evaluate the dog you are considering.  Interact with the dog in every way listed.  If needed, take notes on what you see.

6.  Now go over every item on the checklist with the person who knows the dog best (rescue worker, breeder).  Listen to their experiences and opinion.  Take notes if needed.

7. Trust your own impression just as much as that of the rescue worker, breeder, or current caretaker.

8. Take your time and be honest with yourself about the results of your evaluation.

9. Make a choice.  Wait a sec.  Take a deep breath.  Now, look at numbers 1 through 8 again carefully.  Okay, now make a choice.

(By the way, your choice could be to wait until you meet another dog.  That’s a perfectly smart choice.  There are a lot of great dogs out there.  More than you could ever imagine.)

The Choose a Great Dog Checklist (Print the Checklist)

Each item below will give you a characteristic to evaluate, then a listing of example responses to help you “see” the different reactions the dog is displaying.  (The entire range of possible responses is not listed.)  Two things to remember: 1) If you are uncertain of a dog’s response to being touched/examined/hugged, or to being disturbed while eating or playing – do NOT perform those components without the aid of a professional (the rescue worker or breeder should be able to help); and 2) If you are unsure how to interpret the behaviors you are seeing in the dog, hire an experienced, impartial, dog professional to assist you in your evaluation and decision-making.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

And… trust your gut, on everything.

Okay, here we go.  Let’s have some fun and get to know some canines.  Look at your candidate dog in all of the following categories:

1. Interest in people (you). Reaction to strangers. Friendly, shy, disinterested, scared, aggressive?

2. Style of approach to you, then others. Respectful, gentle, fearful, jumper, physical, threatening?

3. Response to petting and touch. Loves it, wants more, could care less, doesn’t like?

4. If safe, give the dog a hug. Then try restraining the dog in your arms.  Tolerant, not tolerant, fusses then relaxes?

5. Response to body examination. Tolerant, not tolerant, fusses then relaxes, threatens you?

  • Lift gums, look at teeth, open jaws
  • Look in ears
  • Lift, squeeze paws
  • Lift, squeeze tail


Let's See How Hazel Responds to a Gentle Paw Squeeze. Good Girl, What a Sweetie!

6. Play drive. Chases a toy, grabs the toy, no response to toy, knows how to fetch, response to squeaker?

7. Mouth control and bite pressure. Bites your hands/clothes, allows you to open mouth easily, bites hard, bites soft, takes treats gently, takes treats hard, has no care for where her mouth goes, controls her mouth precisely?

Holding a Toy Over Hazel's Head to Test Play Drive and Mouth Control. She's Waiting Patiently.

8. Possessiveness/Resource guarding. Relaxed about the removal of food and toys from his possession, shows signs of anxiety or aggression if food or toys are approached or touched? Signs of possessiveness may be subtle.  These include: Tenses up, direct stare, turns/runs away, growls, shows teeth, snaps, eats faster, escalates intensity.  Non-possessive dogs will be indifferent, relaxed, have a loose body and facial expression.

How Does Hazel Respond to Me Putting My Hand on Her Kong Filled with Cheese? She's Cool as a Cucumber.

9. Response to stern voice/verbal correction. Interrupt an action with your voice.  Stops for a second, stops completely and looks at you, cowers, hides, no response, barks at you, growls at you?

10. Sensitivity to noise. Drop your clipboard on a hard surface or bang a food bowl.  Stops for a second, stops completely and looks at you, cowers, hides, no response, barks at you, growls at you?

11. Reaction to you running. Run away from the dog to invite chase.  Chases you, grabs you, jumps on you, barks at you, ignores you?

12. Interaction with children. If you have any, bring them.  If not, try to see the dog with other children.  Respectful, gentle, fearful, jumper, physical, threatening, mouthy?

13. Dog to dog interactions. See 3 different types of dogs if you can.  Social, non-social, friendly, knows how to greet politely, does not know how to greet, knows how to play, does not know how to play?

14. Dog to cat interactions. This is a tough one that is not always available.  I would still ask and find out as much as you can, especially if you have cats.  Respectful, gentle, fearful, chasing, grabbing, injuring, obsessed, can’t distract?

15. Walking on leash/outdoors

  • Pulls you or lags behind/stops?
  • Pays attention to you or you don’t exist?
  • Response to other people?
  • Response to other dogs/animals?
  • Response to environmental stimuli such as cars, loud noises?

16. Housetrained/crate trained.  History of going potty in the owner’s chosen place?  History of accidents in the wrong places? Any involuntary urination such as submissive or excitement peeing? Response to being separated in their own area such as crate, pen, or separate room?

17. Response to separation. History of response to being left alone in the home?  What happens when someone leaves the room?  Has there ever been any separation from littermates or other dog she may have been boarding/living with?  (If not, initial transitions are tough, be prepared to work on this.)

18. Vocalizations.  By the time you’ve done all of the above, you should have an idea of this.  What kinds of vocalizations did you hear in your evaluation.  As always, you will also ask the person who knows the dog best in order to learn about other situations where vocalizations may occur.  Barker, whiner, howler, bayer?  Loud or soft?  High-pitched or low-pitched?  What triggers these vocalizations?  Attention-seeking barking?  Excitement barking?  Territorial?  Separation? Etc.

(Print the Checklist)

Okay, so now you have a MUCH better idea of the kind of dog you are considering.  How does it match up with the ideal you defined for your personality and lifestyle?  Most people are willing to accept or work on a few of the items that don’t match up with their ideal.  Some characteristics, on the other hand, are deal breakers.  For example, a resource guarding dog is not a fit in a house with young children.  A very barky dog is a tough fit in a city apartment.  Don’t be a fool when it comes to those deal-breaking factors.  But, for a great all-around dog, you may want to compromise on a few of your ideal characteristics.  After all nobody’s perfect.  Least of all us humans.

Note to dog enthusiasts who use this to find their new best friend, please send me an email to let me know how it worked out for you!  Thanks, David


In a future post, I’ll cover more on the special considerations for young puppies and also other resources for behavior evaluations.  In the meantime, if you are finding the above guidelines helpful, check out this story as well: I’ll Take a Large Pie, Two Orders of Fries, and a Dog

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Sunshine on a Rainy Day (Hazel’s Story Part 3)

April 17, 2010

It’s dawn.  I hear the sweet sound of a Cardinal singing outside our window.  My heart leaps before my eyes even open.  A smile crosses my face as I remember.  For a few seconds I work on going back to sleep – slow, deep breaths – I want the sleeeeep, neeeed the sleeeep.  But I’m not going back to sleep.  I’m way too excited.  Every day is a gift but today is one of the special ones.  That way-too-cool-to-be-true-pointer-mix I’ve been telling you about, she’s gonna become a member of our family today.  The one who takes a treat from my child’s fingers as gently as a butterfly lands on a flower.  Her name is Hazel.

Somehow the man who had her on hold, who had the first option to take her before me – his wife opted out when the decision was on the line.  She brought the grandkids and everyone to meet the dog.  And they liked her a lot, saw how sweet she was and were keen on her smallish size.

Then the resident cat came out from behind a desk.  They saw our little pointer get a little too perky then.  I’ll tell you what they saw.  They saw a wild child kick in.  They saw her chase that kitty around the room in sporting-dog style, zig-zagging with moves like Michael Jordan gliding through an entire defense.  They must’ve imagined their own cats trying to stop Jordan.  They could hear Marv Albert calling the game in their heads, “Oh!  Slam dunk!  Michael Jordan is on FIRE!  OH!  Look at the moves, slicing through defenders with ease!  Oh!  MJ’s TOO-TOUGH-to-STOP!”

The wife started to look worried, nibbled her fingers, talked about her cats, voiced doubts, looked at the pointer pouncing around the room, and then back at her husband, “So you definitely haven’t found anyone with a Shih Tzu?”

That’s when the shelter manager dropped the guillotine, “I don’t think this is the dog for you,” she said, and sent them on their way.  I love that cat.

Let me tell you what I saw when I later watched Hazel interact with the cat.  I saw a super-playful adolescent with a lot of self control.  First she invited the cat to play, with lovely play-bows (butt in the air, front end down), with adorable side-shimmies, and with an excited bark that was low-pitched and not too loud (oh, so acceptable).  When she did chase the cat she always stopped a foot or two away from it, she never touched it.  I let Hazel keep going, wanted to see her get worked up.  Then came the best part.   As she was dancing around the cat, percolating in the predator game, I made myself heard.  “Hazel STOP.  Get over here.” I said firmly but not loud.  She ran right over to me and sat at my side.  Too good to be true.  I tested it again.  “Ok, go play with the cat,” I said.  She got back into it quickly.  Ran right to the spot she left off and started her predator play dance again.  Then I called her.  And again she came right away.  Just lovely.

Here is a video of how I began bonding with Hazel when we got home.  Play is the name of the game.  Look at how respectful she is of my space.

The people who had the first shot at this dog saw a feisty hunter getting wild over a cat.  I saw a playful 8-month-old with a lot of impulse control.  To each their own.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And we all see differently.  It’s what makes life interesting.  I’m so grateful this dog lasted two weeks without anyone seeing what the shelter manager and I saw in her.

Now it seems kind of crazy for me to put it out there, to say I found a wonderful dog, a great fit,  just by spending a couple of half-hour sessions with her over two days.  Especially crazy to put it in writing here.  I mean, I could be wrong.  I could be eating my words right here on this blog in a few months if this dog turns out to reveal traits I’ve overlooked, or couldn’t see.  It’s quite possible, I assure you.  She’s certainly not going to be perfect.  There will be issues, of course.  For example she pulls on leash like a bat out of hell.  And she’s REALLY distracted outside.

But I feel as good as you can feel about our decision to adopt Hazel because I defined exactly what I wanted before going into this.  Then I did a thorough behavior evaluation.  Comp – re – hensive.  That’s how I roll (most of the time, anyway).  Is it dorky or cool to show up at the shelter with a clipboard and a checklist?  I say cool.  There is no place for self-consciousness in big life decisions.  I followed my behavior eval checklist with pride.  In the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I did to evaluate Hazel.  I know it will help you and many others to find a great match next time you are looking for a dog.

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I’ll Take A Large Pie, Two Orders of Fries, and a Dog

April 13, 2010

This article about ordering puppies over the Internet can now be found at the CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!  Click here to read.

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