What is the best dog for my kids?


There is enough love to go around. (Photo by Jabrina Robinson.)

Have you decided to add a dog to your family? You may be wondering what the best way is to go about it. To be honest, there is no magic formula to ensure you will get the perfect dog. Much about the outcome is not under your control. Life is interesting that way! I think it’s important to acknowledge that in order to take some pressure off you, your dog, and your family. Having said that, I also think your wise efforts before, and after, you choose your dog can stack things in your favor for happy relationships and safety.

With that in mind, look for the following qualities when you visit with doggie candidates you are considering.


Why it’s so important:

  • A dog who prefers to be close to children is likeliest to be a safe, fun companion.
  • One who voluntarily wants to be in the kids’ space is less likely to take offense when one of them gets on her nerves.
  • You’re likelier to bond with a people-oriented dog and therefore help her with training challenges that crop up.
  • A dog who loves to connect with people will be a joy to include in family activities.

What does friendliness look like? If your doggie candidate enjoys toys, romps with another dog, or has an adorable appearance, it may look like friendliness because those things make us smile. However…

  • The key is to look for a dog who approaches your kids and maintains contact with them.
  • Look for loose, open body language and a tail held at spine level or lower.
  • Pet the dog and then stop, and have your child do the same. A friendly dog will ask for more by stepping closer.

No matter where you get your dog, friendliness should be the top priority.


Ideally your new family dog will be a young adult, about 1-2 years old (or older).

  • Parents with young kids usually find it stressful to housetrain a puppy, teach him or her to accept confinement, learn the right things to chew on, and how to sleep through the night.
  • It is challenging to teach children to interact gently and safely with a teething, energetic puppy.
  • By selecting a more mature dog, you’ll be able to see the dog’s grown-up personality when you meet, making a successful match that much likelier.

Settles down easily

Children have a lot of energy, come and go throughout the day, and have emotional ups and downs. When evaluating a dog, run around, play with a toy, or lavish the dog with excited attention for a couple of minutes. Choose a dog who simmers down when you become quiet.

Attentive to you outside

Interact with the dog outside. If the dog pulls moderately on the leash, training can turn that around. But if the dog fails to check in with you (without you coaxing), tunes you out when you try to get his attention, gets the leash twisted into a spiral, nearly drags you over, or leaps and mouths incessantly, he or she will likely be a challenge to integrate into your family.

Relaxed around other dogs

Picture your new dog walking beside your kids as they tell you about their school day, and imagine how stressful this will be if your dog habitually barks and lunges at other dogs. Arrange a mock leash walk with a helper who will walk one or two different leashed dogs past you to see how your candidate reacts. Whether the barking is out of aggression or frustration, helping a dog overcome this issue takes more time and training than most people wish to invest. Choose from candidates who are more blasé about canine cousins they see coming down the pike.

Not overly possessive of food or toys

Snacks and toys are a normal part of family life, so choose a dog who is not upset by a person approaching or reaching for valued items. While you will coach your child not to do this, it is impossible to always prevent your child and dog from being interested in the same items.

It is risky to assess a dog for possessiveness, since he may escalate quickly from keep-away to a frozen, hunkered body posture, growling, snapping or biting. It is best to get professional assistance with this, or follow the tips in the book Successful Dog Adoption.

Easygoing about everyday situations

An easy going dog will take in stride household routines, play dates and outings. Try to assess how calm or jumpy your candidate is.

  • Drop an item like some keys when the dog is looking away.
  • Have someone knock and enter wearing a hat or holding an open umbrella.
  • Sit quietly and simply hold the dog by the collar for one minute.

Choose a dog who remains nonplussed by these common events.

Consider your children, too.

Are they rough-and-tumble or quiet? Do they typically follow instructions or do they have trouble following through? Try to match the personality of the dog such that he can enjoy your kids. If they are well matched, your job will be so much easier, and their friendship will be much likelier to flourish.

After You Bring Your Dog Home…

No matter which dog you choose, be a kid-canine coach. Successful kid-canine coaching requires that you:

1) Guide your child to respectful, kind behavior. That means no approaching the dog when he’s resting or chewing, and no imposing on his space by following him, sitting on him, or hugging him. Dogs may tolerate hugging, but unlike human family members, they rarely like it. Coach your child to play games like fetch and tricks, to read to the dog, and to show affection (when the dog solicits it) by kissing their palm and petting the dog on the chest. (If you find your dog is great and “will let the kids do anything,” read this.)

2) Monitor your dog’s signs of relaxation and tension. Loose, open body language, a partly open mouth, and choosing to be close to your child are good signs. Stiff body language, a tense mouth, or turning away from your child are signs you should separate them. This is Ruff Love. Otherwise your child may learn it’s okay to touch someone who is saying “no.” Your dog may defend himself when his pleas for space go unheeded.

3) Use a Safety Zone when it’s not a good time to coach their interactions.

Choose your dog wisely and be a kid-canine coach, and the friendship between your child and your new family member will be off to a dreamy start.

To blend a dog of any age into your family, see Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. If it’s not yet time to get a dog, have fun with Don’t Lick the Dog in the meantime!


In good hands. (Photo by Celeste Huntington.)

The Best Dogs for Kids: Myths and Facts

Myth: It’s better to get a puppy.
Fact: You cannot raise a puppy to have a certain personality. Puppies are no more blank slates when they are born than people are.

Myth: Some dogs are hypoallergenic.
Fact: There is no such thing as a dog who poses no allergy risk. All dogs shed hair and dander, so talk with your doctor before getting a dog.

Myth: Certain breeds are better with kids.
Fact: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Certain personalities are better with kids. Get a friendly dog and teach your child the dos and don’ts.

Myth: Shelter dogs have too much baggage.
Fact: It is possible to get a really great or a really difficult dog or puppy from any source. Carefully assess any dog or puppy you’re considering, no matter the source.

Housetraining in Horrible Weather: A Tip to Help Your Dog Go Outside in the Snow

Little Ruby models her super-deluxe winter potty area.

Snow, ice and slush are not the most helpful ground covers if you’ve got a puppy to house train, or a diva dog who recoils at the thought of her tiny feet getting cold and wet. I can understand our dogs being too distracted to do their business, on our schedule, especially in extreme weather. But what to do?

One solution is to teach your pooch to go potty on cue. That helps when you want to take them out, get it over with, and return to the cozy indoors. (See Chapter 9 in Puppy Savvy for easy instructions on how to do this. Through 1/25 it’s 15% off with code JANSAVE15 at Lulu.com checkout.)

If you don’t have cardboard handy, a tarp or large trash bag will work.

A simple trick that you can start using today is to keep a preferred potty area dry by covering it with a sheet of cardboard before the frozen stuff accumulates. When it’s time to go out, just lift the cardboard and offer your dog a familiar, inviting spot to go. Clean up afterwards so your dog will continue to want to eliminate there.

Puppies form strong substrate preferences (surfaces that they seek out to pee or poop on) by about 9 weeks of age, so be sure to give your pup opportunities to eliminate in snowier areas, too. This is particularly important if you live in a climate where snow is a sure thing each winter.

Stay warm, and happy housetraining!

The Surprise Factor

Surprise your dog with rewards after he or she has done something you like. This video clip shows me calling my dog and then surprising him with a toy he’s never seen before. His speed and focus as he approaches show the results you can get by using surprises in your training. Powerful stuff!

To teach a great come when called, start with the Gotcha Game.

How can you incorporate the surprise factor into other behaviors you wish would become automatic for your dog?

Surprise! Enter code NEWYEAR30 and save 30% on Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs through December 31. (The coupon code is case sensitive.)

Ruff Love Part 3: Are You Trustworthy, Or More Like Godzilla?

First, two quick announcements. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Karen London, PhD, has just reviewed Puppy Savvy for The Bark magazine. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough, today’s blog post comes with mindblowingly life-like sketches by yours truly. 

No one wants to seem like Godzilla to a dog. I mean, the smell alone of that monster breath is hardly what a dog lover would aspire to replicate. And yet, even when we want to seem most trustworthy to a dog, we sometimes do a mean impersonation of that giant, havoc-wreaking creature. The previous Ruff Love segments advised how to interact with a dog using the new understanding of what dogs need in order to feel at ease with humans. To recap: it doesn’t matter if you love dogs or think all dogs love you. Showing respect and kindness means asking permission of the dog (not only his person) before making a physical connection. We talked about why sticking a hand out to sniff is not asking. (Here’s what to do instead.)

Now here’s the rub, and the focus of the final installment in this series. What if your job as a helper of dogs requires that you touch them? What if the dog is signaling, “No thank you, I would rather you not touch me,” when the dog’s person has hired you to groom them, recheck their ear infection, hold them still for an injection, train them, or take them to be kenneled? What if the dog is at the shelter or day care and needs to be walked or trained? One thing that these contexts have in common is that they are very busy places. There is not enough time, there are too many dogs, there are multiple demands on each staff member, and there is pressure to perform the service from both bosses and clients. While you may want to take the dog’s feelings into account, someone who has power over you may simply want you to get the job done. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: “So far, this is a super uplifting blog post.”

How to seem like someone a dog could trust

As you know from experience, there are lots of ways to get the job done with a dog who is nervous about being handled, from forceful restraint to distracting a dog with food. After all, in the past your goal may have been to just get through the appointment. But is merely getting through it a good long-term solution? And, more importantly, do these methods take into account how the dog feels? The good news is that you can choose to behave in a manner that signals you are non-threatening. This choice can help you and the dog right then, and it also serves as an investment into future positive encounters.

Some perspective and some tips

First, some perspective. As someone who has helped a lot of people change their dogs’ emotional reactions to all kinds of challenges, I do not make the following statement lightly: the dog does not have to be perfectly relaxed for it to be a successful interaction. Think about how you feel at a doctor’s appointment or even getting your hair cut. You are placing yourself in the hands of a stranger, and you may be more nervous than usual. It is utterly reasonable to feel that way, and a little stress is not the end of the world. The trick is to think of it this way: a doctor who looks at you, listens, and tells you what they are going to do next probably makes you feel calmer than one who faces their laptop screen, is in too big of a hurry to listen, and who touches you without warning. As a caretaker, the choice is yours; you can decide to be the kind who signals to the dog your trustworthiness and good intentions.

And now, some tips. The key is the first impression. Let’s go back to the doctor analogy. When the doctor knocks, walks in, smiles and says they are glad to see you, that sets the tone for the whole appointment. If a doctor came on too strong with a lot of kissing and hugging, how at ease would you feel with being touched and tested later in the appointment? If the first impression they gave off was so wackadoodle, would they later be able to convince you they were trustworthy? Here are some subtle-yet-powerful ways to make a great first impression on a dog. No matter what the layout of your facility is or what you’ll be doing next, you can’t go wrong by inviting the dog in rather than mowing the dog down, whether physically or emotionally.

Quick Fix looming

  • Smile
  • Stand sideways
  • Look at the dog’s shoulder or ear (use peripheral vision or a quick glance to view the eyes)
  • Say hello to welcome the owner from afar, then walk away from the dog to go to the area where you’ll need to interact, not toward the dog to “meet” him. He has long since sized you up. Moving toward him is much more intimidating than moving away, which invites him into your space.
  • Ask the owner to follow you with the dog. (Think Aerosmith.)
  • Keep your hands hanging naturally at your sides (Velcro your hands to your pant legs if necessary. Read this if you’re in the old habit of holding out a hand for the dog to sniff.)
  • Stay standing up. This is a tough one, but it’s so important. And if it is a tiny dog, stand sideways before crouching sideways so you don’t end up looming over the little dude.
  • Don’t take the dog out of their person’s arms or take the leash of any size dog. Let the owner place a new leash on (if necessary), or ask them to transfer their leash to your hand as you all walk forward together. Pick tiny dogs up from the ground or have the owner hand you the dog, butt first.
  • standingsidewaysSay encouraging things like, “You’re looking great!” “What a beautiful collar you have!” or “What a brave girl you are!” Rather than “Oh Pookie, you’re shaking, it’s okay, don’t worry, are you okay?” This is not comforting or confidence building. To the dog, it sounds like you are losing it.
  • For dogs who need to be weighed, if the dog is already unsure, do it later. Think about it from the dog’s perspective; it’s pretty weird to walk straight into a wall onto a wiggly platform that is oozing with the scent of nervous dogs (their pads sweat from stress). Here’s one smooth way to take the weirdness out of it: you or the owner can step up onto the scale with the dog as if you were walking over a little bridge together. Reward the dog (praise is great), continuing to reward as you step off with the dog still on. With many dogs, just stepping up and over it with them (even without a food reward) makes a lot more sense and takes the strangeness out of it. Can you affix a little container of treats on the wall near the scale, to reach for after the dog is on the scale? Even better.
  • Do not coax, lure or bribe with a treat—it will likely backfire either then or at the next appointment, as the dog can readily see he’s being set up and may become even more nervous. Reward after the dog shows bravery, and you will witness more of that kind of behavior as well as a pleasant association being made between the treats and the scale.
  • After most humans have completed doggie restraint or some other interaction, I’ve noticed they pat the dog’s head or tousle his ears, or give him a good pat on the side. It’s almost as if the human is relieved it’s over and wants to reassure the dog (or convince themselves?) that they are still friends. However, the dog’s perspective is what counts. The way to seem trustworthy is to create space for the dog. Don’t earn the dog’s trust and then pull a Godzilla move on him (if I could insert the sound of Godzilla roaring, I would put it here).

  approaching Make It Stick

  • Get the owner to do two extremely easy tricks the dog knows (“sit” twice in a row counts as two tricks) and reward with special treats (either or both of you can reward). This is not show-off time for anything fancy, rather this allows the dog some control to make a choice. It can reframe the whole appointment.
  • Next, do easy things like just being in the room getting treats from owner, then picking up dropped treats around the room. Being free to explore the room and get rewarded for it is a lot better first impression than being glued in the corner with a nervous owner. One veterinarian I know has the technicians advise owners to remove the leash right off the bat, even with dogs completely new to the practice, so the dog can check the room out as he wishes. The tech drops a few treats on the floor while taking history from the owner. Finally, she drops a handful of treats on the floor on the way out to get the doctor. By they time they come back in, the dog is at ease in the space and happy to see the tech reappear. There are risks involved in this approach, but talk about building a good first impression.
  • When preparing to touch the dog, approach from the side and slightly behind.
  • Use underhand motions, with a scooped arm, when preparing to restrain head, body or legs.
  • As much as possible, work from back to front.
  • With nervous dogs, rather than poisoning your first impression with invasive maneuvers like taking a rectal temperature or lifting onto a scale, save those for slightly later in the appointment.
  • When touching sensitive areas, work from further away to closer (for example, don’t just pick up a paw. Pet the dog’s back, then run your hand down the dog’s leg to lift the paw.)

  Walkingaway Extra Slick

  • Teach a nose touch and warm up with it at each appointment. Use it during the appointment to remind the dog he can make choices, you have a common language, and your hands predict good things. Cue a nose touch to objects like a brush, leash, empty syringe, ear scope…anything that may make the dog raise an eyebrow. Soon you’ll be able to use the nose touch to position the dog, move the dog, or get the dog to hold still, all without touching him. Less invasive = less stress. Correct use of a nose touch is one of the best kept secrets in dog training and dog handling. (For easy peasy instructions see Puppy Savvy.)NoseTouchCueNoseTouchtoHand
  • Give the dog’s human a simple protocol to follow at home to get the dog comfortable with touch. (Like the one in Puppy Savvy and in this how-to video. They can even adapt it for veterinary and grooming appointments, as in this video.)
  • Encourage clients to drop by your space during your least busy times to practice tricks for special treats for 5 minutes. (Heck, create a contest with a dollar donation for each 5 minute visit, and you will have client dogs who love to be touched, a fun promotional event, and a nice donation amount for the local shelter.)
  • Encourage clients to teach relaxation games at home and then practice them in your setting. In the shelter, 5 minutes of The Nothing Exercise can put dogs more at ease, which improves their quality of life and makes them more attractive to adopters.
  • Get a dog trainer or two in your community to offer a 90-minute workshop once a month: part one on teaching staff how to put dogs at ease, and part two on teaching owners to help their dogs to love being handled by the vet/groomer/trainer. Everyone should see the whole workshop so staff and clients can work as a team to create a great experience for all involved.
  • Be open to the suggestions and homework your clients bring from a qualified trainer or behaviorist. A team approach can mean dogs who improve with each visit, clients who have confidence in you, and referrals to friends and neighbors.

How to get started

If you think you couldn’t possibly implement these changes in your workplace, I offer you one last piece of ruff love. Just pick one of the Quick Fix suggestions and try it for two weeks. It won’t take any more time than usual to do your job. You might feel good having true conversations with dogs, even mini ones, that make your job better and improve the dogs’ experience. When you see improvement in the stress level in the dogs in your care (which you likely will), or if your work becomes more efficient, well, maybe try a second tip. I bet your clients will notice how at ease their dog is with you. If you think your clients will be puzzled by what you’re doing, use the opportunity to make this exceptional approach a selling point. Let your clients know you care, and tell them ahead of time what you’ll be doing differently and why. How many other grooming shops, veterinary clinics, training centers and doggie daycares truly put the dog’s feelings first? You’d certainly get my business with that message!

Once you get the ball rolling, you can use safer and more stress-free handling and restraint techniques like those taught here and here, and master simple techniques for defensive handling here. Wouldn’t it be great if your boss added these resources to your library at work? To learn more about all of this, and to brainstorm with your fellow professionals, check out the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

Every single time we show kindness and respect to others, it matters. It’s important. And it rubs off on those around us. You can choose to be trustworthy instead of reminding dogs of Godzilla. Why not give it a try?

Car Karma: Solutions for Dogs Who Go Barking Mad On Car Rides

A covered crate helped this puppy relax in the car rather than erupt in barking at the sight of pedestrians or dogs.
A covered crate helped this puppy relax in the car rather than bark at pedestrians or dogs.

Imagine that you’re driving down the road with your best four-legged buddy. Sporadically you see him in the rearview mirror as he watches the world go by. All is well, that is until you pull up to a stop light. A pedestrian comes into view, perhaps walking a dog. Your stomach clenches; you know the jig is up. Fido goes berserk, barking, lunging, and covering the back window with slime. Your peaceful outing just became a hair-raising, aggravating and potentially very distracting driving experience. Your dog probably doesn’t feel all that great either.

It turns out that being confined sometimes makes otherwise easy-going dogs feel vulnerable, so they get their britches in a bunch when they see people or dogs outside the car and drama ensues. The object of their annoyance goes away when the pedestrian moves on or the light turns green and your car moves on, coincidences that potentially reinforce your dog’s overreaction (as though overreacting was what made the person go away) and make it likelier that a pattern is born.

If you have kids in the backseat, your dog may unwittingly smush or scrape them in his uproar. He may even be one who, frustrated and unable to reach his intended object, seeks an alternative onto which to redirect his emotional outburst, resulting in a bite to your child or another dog traveling with you.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live like this any longer. If you put just a little good energy into it, you will reap the karmic reward of a zen-like driving experience with your dog.

The following tips are designed for dogs who engage in this behavior only in the car, not when they actually meet people in real life (which calls for in-person professional assistance). Readers of Puppy Savvy will recognize the range of training options to choose from: Quick Fix, Make it Stick, or Extra Slick. As always, each previous level builds on the last, but you can choose any level you wish and stay there depending on how much time and energy you have.

Quick Fix

Drape a lightweight sheet over your dog’s crate so he can’t see things that upset him (this is a fine time to start crating your dog in the car if you don’t already, after introducing it indoors first). If needed, arrange a folded blanket underneath the crate to create stability. Boom. Done.

Make It Stick

Let your dog enjoy a stuffed Kong on each car trip. This will help replace his old habit of patrolling out the window to a new habit of relaxing while lying down. The long-lasting goodies will likely create a pleasant association with the car, and give your dog an outlet for any nervous energy he may have in the car. (He should be crated and covered as above.) Why not stuff and freeze the number of Kongs you’ll need at the beginning of the week? Then you can just grab-and-go.

Fifteen minutes before you leave the house, spray the bedding in your dog’s car crate with Adaptil spray. This can have a calming effect on dogs , especially those who react to challenging situations by barking. Or just use the Adaptil leave-on collar. (It’s thin, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive.) It can make a dramatic difference for some dogs.

If for some reason your dog cannot be crated, accustom him to wearing a calming cap (which reduces vision) during mealtimes at home, then transfer its use gradually to the car.

Extra Slick

Teach your dog to go to his spot on cue. This trick has so many uses around the house, once you teach it you’ll wonder how you lived without it. If your dog can relax on a dog bed or mat at home, and stay there for the time of an average car trip…you guessed it! He can stay on the mat in the car. Some dogs relish a job to concentrate on. This job will replace the old, upsetting habit of barking at passersby. As an added bonus, Go to Your Spot promotes relaxation and prohibits your pooch from gawking out the window.

To transfer it to the car, use the same mat you used indoors, at first rewarding him as usual with the car parked. Here’s the nifty part: to reward your dog with the car in motion, you’ll need a method that is both safe (since you’re driving and not training your dog at the same time) and efficient (since a sheet is covering the crate, it won’t be possible to toss a treat to him. And the thrown treat would likely bounce away if your luck is anything like mine). What is called for here is the world’s gentlest pea-shooter. Measure the length from the console between the front seats and slightly into your dog’s crate. Have a home improvement store cut a length of skinny PVC pipe, with a wide enough diameter for you to get a scrumptious-yet-dry treat like a Buddy Biscuit soft treat to roll down through the pipe. Make a cut in the crate sheet to pass the pipe into the crate, affix with a clothespins or twist ties, and angle it such that you can easily pop a treat in at your end and have it roll out for your dog on his end (I first heard this clever idea from agility trainer Melanie Miller). Then you can transfer your normal reward process into your travel set-up by stashing a cup of treats in the car’s cup holder. Use your normal reward word and pop a treat into the pea-shooter!

Somewhat more fancy training with professional help would involve teaching relaxation exercises and a Look At That game to your dog, which you then transfer to the car. But you may be pleasantly surprised at how well the above tips work.

Using any of these options, your dog may graduate to uncovered car rides, but it’s perfectly okay to use the Quick Fix as your sole method, indefinitely. Better that your dog should enjoy fun outings with you than be left at home because you feel the Extra Slick training is required. I hereby absolve you of that burden.

I’ll be interested to hear what success you’ve had with other gentle methods that curb this vexing issue. Happy training!

Puppy Savvy Holiday Happenings

ScooterSled copy

This is the time of year a lot of people bring dogs and puppies into their lives. If you know of someone who might appreciate a little help with the transition, Puppy Savvy may be just the thing to surprise them with. Lulu.com is offering it 30% off plus free shipping through December 15 when you use the coupon codes from the snowy photo above at checkout. This is a banana-town discount that will leave you with plenty of moola left over for dog treats…

…dog treats that you can buy, freshly baked and in the form of cookies, cupcakes and even cakes, at Oliver’s Collar Treat Bakery and Boutique on Saturday, December 14th! I’ll be there from 11-1 giving out advice on new dogs and puppies and signing books. Mostly Puppy Savvy, but hey, if you’ve got the autobiography of James Madison and really want it signed, I will do my best to do an authentic-looking forgery. And if that’s not entertaining enough, Santa and a professional pet photographer will be at your service as well. I hope to see you there!


Shark Attack! How to Use A Toy to Prevent Puppy Biting

If you have a new puppy, you probably have pulled up your sleeves to show your veterinarian teeth marks covering your forearms. Puppy bites are painful. And most people are shocked to discover the degree to which their puppy bites them.

For a puppy under the age of 5 months old, most biting is perfectly normal. Puppies need to bite to explore the world and to learn about social interactions with humans. A puppy who did not attempt to bite would be like a toddler who did not attempt to put things in her mouth. Just as the toddler is not being bad and in need of reprimand, your puppy is doing only what comes naturally as a part of his normal development. 

But do not despair! The incredible thing is that you can meet your puppy’s normal behavioral need to bite while instilling in him the ability to make alternative choices to biting you. That’s kind of amazing when you think about it.

As you’ve discovered, puppy biting most commonly occurs when you attempt simply to pet your puppy. (There is also leash biting, biting at your clothing, biting your shoes and feet, biting at kids when they’re running or just sitting in a chair, and more—phew!—solutions to all of which you can find in Puppy Savvy.)

If your puppy bites your hands when you pet him, get relief starting today by assuming this will happen and proactively changing your interactions to the following:

  • Attempt snuggle time only when your pup is very relaxed or even drowsy. Anything else will invite a bite fest.
  • Before you settle in to snuggle, hold a plush toy twice the size of your puppy’s mouth. The pup will bite the toy while you pet him or her. Should the pup miss the toy and bite your hand, yelp once, quietly stand up and silently leave the room with the toy. Return after 15 seconds and try again (this usually works after three days of being consistent, and sometimes after just a few repetitions).
  • Play with a toy attached to a line that you flick along the ground to keep teeth at a distance. Keep the toy touching the ground to prevent your pup injuring himself by leaping and landing awkwardly.
  • Interact in constructive ways that bypass biting; teach the puppy fetch, find it, nose touch and come-when-called games.

If the puppy bites when you wrestle with him, pet his face, tussle his ears, or pat him on the head:

  • Don’t touch him like that. I hate to say it, but that kind of touch explicitly invites biting; puppies get other puppies to bite and play with them by grabbing each other’s faces and ears. Instead, pet your puppy gently on the chest. Show others how to do this, and feed your pup a few treats to keep his mouth occupied while they pet him (that’s a great way to prevent leaping during greetings, too).
  • Meantime, teach him to be relaxed about being touched on the head and face because, let’s face it, it’s going to happen when humans want to show affection or when your pup needs to be examined. Just do the super quick and easy body handling exercises in Puppy Savvy. Here is a one-minute video that shows how.
  • No wrestling. Wrestling will sabotage a lot of important skills the puppy needs to get along well in the world, like accepting being touched, restrained, reached for, caught and calmly patted. Instead, get physcial by playing chase, tug, or and hide and seek games (the pup chases the person, never the other way around).

Notice which times of day your puppy is wired so that before the shark attack begins, you can initiate constructive activities or confine him with a chew toy. This simple but powerful change in your routine rewards the pup for behavior you like. Otherwise you risk not only his rehearsal of biting (ouch!), but also him being rewarded if you have been handing him a toy after he bites (gack!).

If you are consistent, you should be bite-free in about a week. Personally I think you should treat yourself to a reward for all that work…perhaps a new, short-sleeved top to show off those teethmark-free arms!

Double the Fun: Thoughts on Training Two Dogs at Once

I’ve been thinking lately about my two dogs, and how fun (and funny) it is to live with them both. Their personalities could not be more different, yet they are amazingly compatible. As you can see from the video Ruby (the tiny one) is the Queen and Bodhi (the black and white one) is the Court Jester.

For training purposes, there are a few things that make having two dogs more interesting. Here are a few tips I have found work well when both dogs need training:

First Things First

For an issue in which both dogs need much improved skills, like leash manners or responsiveness to their names, start by teaching each dog individually. This is super efficient, because you can devote your attention to one dog and visa versa. Trying to train them at the same moment may create unnecessary pandemonium and confusion. Get the skill looking sharp and then put both dogs together, first for a simple challenge (walking up the driveway and back), gradually working your way to trickier situations (going on your full walk together).

Spot On Training

Teach both dogs how to lie on a mat or dog bed on cue, and stay on their spot until you release them. That way you can train them individually, yet both in the same training session. While you work with one dog (around one or two minutes is plenty), the second dog can be chilling out on her dog bed. When you are all finished with the first dog’s session, cue him to go lie on his bed, then release the other dog for a short session. Repeat having them take turns until you are finished training. (For instructions on how to teach a dog to go to her spot and stay, see Puppy Savvy.)

I Am Free and You’re Okay

Give each dog his or her own release cue. Bodhi is released from whatever I have cued him to do with the word “okay.” Ruby’s release word is “free.” Those two words sound nothing like each other, so I am able to release one from their dog bed without the other hopping up, I can release one to race out the door to the yard without trampling the other, and I can do fancy training things like having them stay side-by-side but calling them separately (that’s fancy because it is harder to stay when your buddy takes off full-tilt, and because they run faster when they are trying to beat the other to get to me, which improves their come-when-called performance). 

Double Dog Dare

Here is a challenge for you that I just started with my dogs. (You can do it even if you aren’t yet ready to train both dogs in the same session.) I picked a trick that neither of them knows, stepping through my legs from behind and placing a paw on each of my feet, both of us facing the same direction. The interesting part is that normally in any given week I am teaching them different things, but this time I am teaching the same trick to both them. It is raising my awareness of different habits I have with each dog, revealing fascinating differences in how they learn, highlighting choices I need to make as I roll out their learning plan, and helping me appreciate the quirky and hilarious things they do. (I can only imagine what they are saying about me when they compare notes!) For example, Ruby is much likelier to offer me novel moves that I can quickly capture, whereas Bodhi is likelier to offer me a slew of things he already knows. We’ll see what happens as we progress!

What do you learn about yourself and your dogs as you try this? You can also pair up with a friend or neighbor and each teach the same trick. How do you do things differently? What do the dogs pick up on similarly or differently? As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Happy training (for two)!

How Your Puppy Is Just Like an Alligator (And I Don’t Mean Because of All the Biting)

alligatorPuppies and dogs drive us bonkers, what with all their leaping, biting, pulling and indoor peeing. It can be challenging to live with a dog, no doubt about it. Why is it sometimes so difficult?

Imagine that you and your family have decided to adopt a pet alligator. First you would find out a little about alligators, then you’d visit ReptileFinder online to look at photos and pick the cutest one, and finally you’d bring the little dickens home.

Soon the alligator would start exhibiting her normal behaviors. She would slip into the goldfish pond in your garden and wreak havoc (pretend you have a goldfish pond). She would hide under the couch to take a nap, ripping the underside of the upholstery with her pointy back. She would open her huge mouth, holding it wide in a toothy threat display because you approached her too fast. The sight of her gaping, massive jaws would probably scare the you-know-what out of you.

Obviously you would not say to yourself, “This is a naughty alligator! I need to learn how to discipline her!” You would think, “Well, duh. Alligators need to do alligator things. I had better get a kiddie pool, a raised platform underneath which she can nap, and, to put her at ease, I need to learn to move differently around her.”

But it is not so obvious with a dog who appears to be naughty. Why not? It is because, unlike with an alligator, or for that matter literally any other animal on earth, the natural histories of dogs and humans are specially intertwined. Some scientists would even say humans and dogs have co-evolved. We “get” each other in ways that no other human/non-human pair understands each other. We have emotions in common and enjoy many of the same things. Dogs can read our body language and facial expressions, and even anticipate and fulfill our needs. It’s not your imagination.

However, we tend not to return the favor by trying to understand what our dogs are feeling and what they’re trying to tell us. Why? Because we are in charge, so we don’t trouble ourselves with it. We generally consider dogs’ needs and opinions less valuable than ours. When you think about it, that is a pretty arrogant attitude (some would call it “speciesist”). That’s not the kind of person most of us want to be. Golden Rule and all, if you see what I mean.

Honestly, there is no harm in giving your puppy the same consideration you would an alligator. It might even teach you and your kids something about yourselves, and about how we treat those who are similar yet different from us.

Granted, it is not always easy to live with another species. I don’t blame you one bit if at times you get emotional with your puppy, or try to explain to her the rules in the way that makes sense only to a human, or feel like she should know better. We all get sucked into that, partly because of how much we have in common with dogs. The connection we have with dogs is downright amazing, but it is no wonder the lines get blurry about what we expect they should automatically know. We have given them the role of family member, fashion accessory, disposable project, worker, best friend, menu item, hero, and hat trim, just to name a few. It’s confusing, to be sure. They are so like us, and at the same time we could do a lot better job of understanding and respecting our differences.

Perhaps we could meet our dogs halfway. If we make even a tiny effort to see things from their point of view, to learn to read their body language and meet their needs, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more harmonious life can be. We may even learn a thing or two from them.

Oh and the alligator thing was just a made-up analogy. I really doubt it is a good idea (or, you know, legal) to live with one.