“No, David!” Confusion Does Not Teach.

I was covering a second-grade class. The teacher asked me to read No, David! by David Shannon. Throughout the book, David, a young child, makes bad choices. One student yelled out “David needs a spanking!”  I immediately recognized a teachable moment. I asked questions about David’s behavior. The class erupted in chatter. The answers all revolved around how David was being bad.  I calmed the class and asked another question. “What is David’s mother doing?”  The students all said she was telling David “No!”  Now, I wanted to get the students to think.

“When David’s mother was saying ‘No, David!’ was David learning better behaviors?” The answers were all “No, because he keeps doing bad things.”  I asked the students did his mother tell David what he could do?  I saw a few students begin to think.  I continued along this line. “How could David know what a good behavior was if he was not told and shown what good behaviors were?” The entire class grew quiet. A few piped up: “David did not know.” Then the boy who started this lesson on confusion commented, “Just like when we are told to make a better choice but no one tells us what a better choice is!”  How does this apply to our pets?

My client had a difficult time understanding how confusion brings about undesired behaviors. The woman was not teaching, she was not proactive. Instead, she was reactive, just like David’s mother. I took her into the kitchen and directed her to get me something. It was hot so she got me water.  No. Then she added ice.  No.  Maybe I was hungry so she went to the refrigerator. No. She went to the cupboard where they keep snacks. No. I kept this up for several more minutes. I asked how she was feeling. Frustrated and confused. Now, I changed tactics and gave her a clear direction: “Please go to the kitchen island and get me the red candle Yankee Candle next to the pile of mail.” My client followed it perfectly. I asked how she felt now. She answered much better because she knew what I needed. Then she got that “Ah HA!” moment. She realized how confusing she was being for her dog.

I evaluated a dog who was described as manic. His greetings were horrid.  He jumped, body slammed and grabbed people. He was always pacing and panting. A previous trainer said ignore the dog until the dog gave a better behavior. Another trainer said the dog was “over trained” because the dog was trying too many things to get attention. Then they were told to send the dog to his boot camp manners program, which they did.  The dog came back worse. The advice from both trainers was not proactive. The boot camp trainer used painful methods (shock collars and punishment) to whip the dog into shape. Now the dog was even more anxious. The dog was panicking trying to figure out what to do. Just like David, how was this dog supposed to know what he COULD do when no one proactively taught what was a desired behavior? The dog was not bad. He was confused. I showed the people what to do in a humane way. As we gave clarity to the dog, his behaviors improved.

Please, go read or listen to “No, David!”  You can find the story online. Think about how you interact people, children, and pets. Are you clear or confusing? What actions from us will bring about better responses from them?

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern, Virginia.

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The Faces of Fear – and what to do

Fear is an emotional and physical response to a threat. It is important to learn the signs of fear based on the species of pet you have. Dog owners may be familiar with trembling, ears pinned back, tail tucked, and the dog cowering. However, what about other signals? Behaviors called “dominant” may be manifestations of fear including lip lifting, growling, lunging, snapping, barking.

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Many factors play into temperament and behaviors, including fear. Genetics, maternal stress, and nutrition while pregnant can affect a developing fetus. From here is the work done before the pet is placed in a home.  Next is the quality of work you do after acquiring a pet.  Simplistically: Nature gives is what we have, and we Nurture it along.  What happens during a fear response?

When a stressor is present, chemicals are released which prepare the body to react. There will be physical changes such as pupils dilating, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, hyper vigilance (think cheerleader in a slasher film), etc. From here, the animal will either fight his way out of a situation, flee it (flight), or freeze (become very still). As the threat passes, more chemicals are released to help the organism recover. This takes longer to happen than the fear response. Too much fear and stress can eventually alter body chemistry. Animals can feel anxious.  Anxiety is the worry of future danger based on previous experiences. How should we handle fear?

No matter how silly the fear seems to us; it is real to the fearful. Fear drives behaviors. Fear is a survival mechanism.

Punishing fear does nothing to help. For example, punishing a growling dog may stop the communication, yet the emotions are still there.  I must not stop communication. Now what happens? The dog gives me less and less warning. The dog may become more apprehensive of me. The dog loses trust in me. How can I work with a fearful dog if I am making the fear worse? So what SHOULD we do?

Provide comfort and security. You will not reinforce fear. Your pet needs you to respond in a manner that will help the best. If the critter is fearful of you, give him space. If the dog is showing signs he is not comfortable with me, I will back off. Standing my ground or showing the dog he is wrong or trying to physically comfort the dog may increase the chance of a bite. I need to give the dog SPACE. If the critter is fearful of something else, get him away from it and help him feel safe. Forcing the fearful to suck it up and deal with it can make things worse.

Be proactive. This may mean different things.  Avoiding situations while you slowly work your pet up to handling them. Managing the environment to reduce the chance of an incident. Advocating for your pet when it comes to other people and animals.  

Avoid ANY trainer who insists you need to punish the dog, use shock or prong collars, etc. You will not help the fear. It is possible to make things so bad the dog becomes increasingly dangerous to live with. Then what happens?

Learn to work with your pet to help her handle more of life.  Counter Conditioning and Desensitizing protocols can be effective if done carefully. Medication is a tool that should be considered along with a good behavior modification program.

Fear is real.  It is complex. Signs of fear may be misinterpreted. Fear is something we need to learn to recognize and work with in meaningful ways.  A good, positively based trainer who understands the science behind learning or a veterinary behaviorist should be contacted. The more you understand what fear is and how to work with it, the better off you and your critter will be.

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From the Ground Up – it’s not all how we raise them

Over the summer during Covid-19, I have gone to multiple (carefully managed) dog events in Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, and North Carolina.  There were various skittish puppies and adolescent dogs at each event. The excuses made by the handlers were “This is a Covid Puppy.”  We have a Covid puppy too.  Why is she not a nervous mess? Why is she what I would expect for a puppy of her age?

Lilith was born June 10.  I know the challenges posed to socializing during these times. Earlier in the pandemic I covered socializing and social distancing in this blog and my newspaper column. Did these puppies get what was needed early on? Or is there something else to consider? Temperament begins at the molecular level, long before the puppy is born. It begins with the dogs we are allowing (intentionally or unintentionally) to breed. It starts with genetics. Think about building a home or a skyscraper or any building. There are many similarities. With all good construction we start with the ground.

Genetics would be the ground. Would you knowingly build where sinkholes are a problem?  Sinkholes occur when the type of rocks, such as limestone, are easily dissolved by groundwater. Would you knowingly build upon an unstable bluff? Not if you could avoid it. Why do you think the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans? The ground. Stunning architecture but the ground was not sound. Understanding the importance of good temperaments in dogs being allowed to breed is important. Breeding dogs with behavioral concerns (intentionally or accidentally) is like building on unstable ground.  The house may be pretty but is it going to be as stable as we would like? Maybe not.

For decades we have been taught behavior is all in how the dog is raised. Heck even I taught for years that puppies were blank slates. However, science has proven this false. Some of my favorite videos are of young puppies showing their inherited traits. One video is young English Setters already pointing.  There is no training yet.  It is genetics.

There are other influences such as maternal nutrition and stress. If the dam’s stress hormones are high during pregnancy, the offspring can be born with higher stress hormones. (Impact of Maternal Prenatal Stress on Growth of the Offspring, Aging Dis. 2014 Feb; 5(1): 1–16). Think of this as the way the ground is prepared after a building site is chosen.

The foundation would be the first 8 weeks or so with whomever has the litter in their care. We can build a great foundation or we can kludge one together and hope it holds. This includes how long the puppies stay with the mother and littermates and the early exposures done. If the person caring for the litter is not doing the work during these weeks, it is analogous to a poorly prepared foundation. 

Next is building the framework.  This is where the person acquiring the puppy takes over. The optimal window for socializing closes at about 16 weeks of age.  Some puppies are sooner, some are later. If the framework is not carefully built, there will be a greater chance of problems into adolescence and adulthood.

From here, for the life of our dog, we keep adding on to what was started.  Think of the Winchester House.  Throughout her life, Sarah Winchester kept adding on to the eight-room house she bought in California. At her death, Winchester house had about 160 rooms.  We are always building and working with our dog’s behaviors throughout their lives.

What is the takeaway? The behaviors we see are a combination of genetics and environment. Even pet owners should have some rudimentary understanding of breed traits (even if looking for a crossbred dog). Then understanding the steps needed in building a good canine companion is crucial. The sad thing is many people do not do the research or put in the time with many things in life. Do not let this be you with your dog.

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The Fallout of Punishment

From pet owners, dog sport enthusiasts, people who have working dogs, to many trainers, groomers, and veterinarians, punishment-based teaching is still common.  But do you understand the fallout these methods can have?  Here is one such case.  All names have been changed for privacy.

As a pup, Maggie was the first to race outside ahead of the other dogs. Once out the door, she would pounce on the other dogs as they exited. Maggie was trying to play. The humans she lived with yelled at her to stop.   Maggie stopped targeting the other dogs for a few days. Then the behaviors returned.

long coated white and brown dog

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A vet told them to spray the pup with a squirt bottle. Other trainers and dog people they knew chimed in with comments like “You need to really let her know she is wrong.” The pup was labelled dominant, defiant, self-willed, trouble, a handful. The levels of punishment increased.

Once again, the tackling the other dogs stopped for a little bit.  However, other behaviors were cropping up: behaviors related to anxiety. Maggie was becoming a manic barker, she was skittish, she would spin and bark at other things, not just the dogs.

She had issues being groomed.  Part of grooming was being misted with water before her people brushed her. Why? Think: she was being sprayed with water to stop her assaults, she was also misted with water at grooming time.  Spray bottles had a very negative association. Then, the targeting of the other dogs came back – but worse.  Now she was going after them if they barked at other things or were called for anything. Maggie would begin targeting them as the other dogs let the people know they needed to go out.  Why?

Dogs are very good at putting together patters or chains of behaviors.  Maggie learned the steps leading up to the scary things happening.  She was now focusing on the first step: dogs indicating to humans they needed to go out.

Maggie was now a young adult. She was stressed around the dogs.  She was stressed around the back door. She was stressed.  Finally, I was asked to help.

I spent several days working with the couple.  First I taught management to prevent the behaviors from occurring. Every time Maggie was in a position to be stressed or “rehearse” (exhibit) the undesired behavior, work would be undone. There are only so many times we can get things back on track. It is important during work that we manage the environment. For Maggie I suggested gates and leashes and a change in routine.

photo of dogs near fence

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Then I addressed how to change Maggie’s emotional response to triggers for her behaviors.  Counter Conditioning and Desensitizing lessons were taught. Next, I taught desired behaviors that were incompatible with when Maggie was doing. Finally, I addressed the other aspects in the lives of all the dogs that added to the other undesired behaviors.  However, as many will, her owners returned to their old ways. Maggie’s behaviors returned. Eventually it was determined that Maggie would be better off in a different home.

I am what is called a crossover trainer.  Back when I started out, dog training was physically punitive, scary, and even painful for the dog.  I saw a lot of fallout as I grew in my skills. Sadly, as many of us learned the science behind training, many people stay in the dark ages.  Dogs are not out to dominate us.  They are trying to learn to survive with us.  Maggie was doing what she needed to do to stop what scared her.  She was not trying to show the other dogs she was alpha or anything. Maggie was reacting to her environment.

Here is one fallout of punishment: the dog associating something else with the bad thing happening.  Punishment may for the short term stop an undesired behavior but it does not really teach. At no time was Maggie ever taught better behaviors. She was only scolded. Maggie had no idea what she was doing was wrong. All she was doing was playing.

I knew Maggie when she was a pup, but her people sought other advice and they were older school trainers like those they knew from early on – when I was much younger. Back then training was all about stopping and correcting, less about teaching in a way that is meaningful. Maggie was never taught “yes” or good behaviors. All she got was punished.  She was confused, she associated the other dogs with scary stuff.  Maggie was working to stop the scaries. Simple as that.

I have seen the same happen when electric shock fences, prong collars, shock collars, correction-based and “balanced” training are used. Training is not stopping undesired behaviors.  It is humanely, and in a way not confusing or painful/scary to the dog, teaching desired behaviors from the start. Back to Maggie.

In her new home, Maggie was taught alternative behaviors. Her stress was addressed. There was management. Will she be perfect?  No.  No dog is perfect. However, Maggie is a different dog.  Additionally, Maggie has lived with other dogs, cats, and various species over the years.

Her previous owners were not bad either.  They did love her and loved her enough to realize she was not happy where she was. However, they were not evolving.  They were older and set in their ways.  They had a hard time changing what was decades of their habits with teaching dogs. Additionally, people they trusted gave behaviorally bad advice.

Here is the takeaway: you can train a dog without older school techniques IF you are willing to learn and make the changes. No breed or type needs punitive methods. If I can work with a 140 pound, leash reactive Mastiff type dog without punitive means, you can teach your 20 pound terrier the same.  We can raise well-mannered dogs without fear and force.

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Just Peeing in the Rain

As I originally covered this topic for the local paper, we were in the midst of a rainy spell.  Right now we are facing days of more rain.  Luckily this will be on and off. As I was putting my dogs out to get them to potty, I began singing “Just peeing in the rain!” Then I started thinking, it really is important that dogs learn to potty in the rain.

water rain wet drops

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If a dog is not comfortable being out in the rain, it can be harder to teach him to potty in the rain.  If a dog does not want to relieve himself when it is raining, what is his other option?  If you do not want your dog relieving himself inside when the weather outside is bad, then what do you need to do? You have probably guessed it!

First let’s look at how we often make rain not such a good thing.

It is annoying enough for people who have a securely fenced yard to have to deal with wet dogs.  Muddy paws, trying to towel the dog off before he shakes, etc.  It can be frustrating when you live in a place where you have no option other than to walk your dog when it is raining.  Who wants to be out in the rain?

Now not only do we have a wet dog, but we have a wet, unhappy owner. We get stressed, our tone and body language changes. We want our dog to do his business and fast. We rush him. We get flustered. Our dogs pick up on this. Then we wonder why Sparky refuses to potty in the rain.

It has also been hypothesized that since dogs have better hearing that the sound of rain is worse for them.  This would make sense though some dogs love going out in the rain.  So, though I see the validity in this, I would like to see some serious research into it such as breed/physical structure (floppy vs upright ears), owner behavior, etc.  Low cloud cover can amplify sounds.  When the local marine corps base is training with heavy munitions, it is much louder (and shakier) here when it is overcast.

It is also thought that dogs are affected more by barometric pressure changes.  I know when there are changes that friends of mine get more headaches, my body aches more and joint issues flare up.

Though both of these make sense, many dogs have to go outside in order to potty. How do we change this?  I think you know where I am going with this train of thought. We need to make being out in the rain a good thing.

boy holding clear umbrella

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How can we make being in the rain at least less stressing if not outright fun?  We get out and make it that way.  Now, this is NOT to be used as an excuse to leave your dog out in the rain just because you think he likes it.  All I want to do is try and change the attitude towards going potty outside when it is raining.  Let’s get started.

When it is raining lightly, get outside and play with your pup.  Walk him, feed him high value treats, get silly.  Dampened grass, hoses on mist, lightly running sprinklers, etc., can all be used to help mimic falling water (rain).  Do not spray the dog directly.  Do not force him into the water.  He needs to do it on HIS terms and at HIS speed. Your job is to be fun and reinforce going in the mist or light rain as good. Do not stress or get upset.  These behaviors from us can undo progress.

Now look at what we carry or wear or expect the dog to wear when we are outside in the rain

Going outside then suddenly popping open an umbrella can be scary. Do you wear a flappy rain coat?  Rain coats and booties are not normal things for dogs to wear.  Slowly acclimate your dog to anything they or you may use to stay drier in the rain.  Make them all as positive as possible.

When our dogs are less stressed about being out in the rain, it becomes easier to teach them to potty outside when it is wet.  The more comfortable they become relieving themselves in the rain, the easier it becomes for you.

So, let your inner child out.  Play in the rain and mud.  Make it fun.  Yes, you will end up with a soggy dog and having to wipe paws.  However, would you rather have a dog who willingly goes out in the bad weather to potty or one who fusses about and may refuse to go at all?

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Online Dog Training and Covid-19

As I type this, we are in the three millionth week of staying at home. Many businesses are closed. For those who are still working out of the house, the fear of exposure to Covid-19 is a major concern.  My husband is essential at work at a lab in a large medical facility.  They are working on a modified schedule to reduce contact.  I am missing the students at school.  As a substitute teacher, I am not doing online classes like regular teachers.  My work is primarily in one school and has been for 11 years.  The only time I see students now is if they wave out of windows as I am walking the dogs.

animal apple device background blur

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Various pet services are feeling the crush of social distancing. Veterinarians, groomers, dog day cares, and trainers are all feeling the effects of stay at home and social distancing orders. Group dog classes are shuttering. Even private, one on one sessions are being cut back or eliminated for now (depending on the situation). However, there is something many trainers, including myself, are utilizing to help people and their pets – technology.

When I started in dogs back in the early 1980’s, remote training was not a possibility. Mobile phones were cumbersome bricks. Though smart phones came out in the early 1990’s they were far from the small, handheld computers they are today. Computers were nothing new but were not commonplace in homes. They had extremely limited capabilities. The first real handheld digital camera to be made for the public was not released until 1990. Video recording was done on VHS tapes with larger cameras. The World Wide Web (www) came out in 1993. Internet was nothing like it is now. YouTube did not exist until I had been in business several years. Internet Explorer came out in 1995 and Google in 1998. Now we have Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Ringcentral and other programs that allow us to communicate in real time and see what the other is doing. All these advances have made distance coaching of humans and dogs a possibility.

There are many things trainers and behaviorists can assist with through remote learning. A few things that come to mind are housetraining, crate training, name recognition, basic manners and behaviors, muzzle training (teaching a dog to accept a muzzle), body handling, nuisance barking, and other things. We can coach with behavior modification, counter conditioning, and desensitizing.

As a trainer, moving to online work has its challenges. First, I cannot be hands-on. I am not able to work directly with your critter and personally show you what needs to be done. I am not able to observe your environment as well as I can in person. I cannot see your yard, what stimuli is in your community, how people interact with your dog. Second, my view is limited to the screen and what clients have in the frame. I cannot look over my shoulder and see a child behaving in ways that could trigger the behaviors of concern. However, there are things we can do to help with distance training.  Again, thanks to technology.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true, then I feel video is worth a million. Record your concerns, how you and others interact with your dog, training sessions you do, etc. Sending videos to your trainer a couple days before a session is beneficial. This way we can review what you are doing and give feedback.  Is it the same as being in the house?  No.  However, it is far better than relying on interpretations and descriptions of what is happening.

Now, direct email of video files may not work due to the size. Luckily, there are many places you can upload the video to such as Google Drive or YouTube (set the video privacy so only those with the link can view) and email the link.  Again, please do this a couple days before the session so your trainer can review it.  Trainers may have a schedule for when they want you to send videos between sessions.  

Though it is beneficial to have a trainer in your home, right now we are under stay at home recommendations. Therefore, online training is better than allowing a concern to go on for the next weeks and months.

So, whether you have brought a new canine companion into your home or have a concern with your old friend, reach out to a positively based trainer. Though we may not be in your home, there are still things we can to to assist you in ways we could not even think of a couple decades ago.

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Socializing Puppies During Stay at Home – Covid-19

Here we are, a month into stay at home orders during these weeks (months) of Covid-19. My area has had nonessential businesses closing pushed forward another few weeks.  Stay at home orders through early June (two months from posting this blog).  People are being encouraged to go adopt pets as they now have time to devote.

brown and white short coated puppy

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Concerns have been raised about how to properly socialize puppies.  The first 16 weeks are important for development.  Friends with litters are worried about what they can do to get their pups off on the best foot before going to homes.  Though we are in times where social distancing is recommended and enforced to varying degrees depending on where you live, there are still many things we can do to help socialize.  Here are a few (or more) ideas:

SURFACES – It is important we expose puppies to different surfaces.  Look around your yard.

In my yard there is: grass, mulch, dirt, paving stones, sand, flag stones, wood decking, areas with gravel and stone, pavement.

Inside we have: wood, tile, carpet.

Now, get creative with other things around the house!

Baker cooling racks upside down on the floor can be used to mimic grates.

baked pastries

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Put down plastic sheeting/tarps and let pups explore.

Use boot trays (or similar things) for holding different surfaces (sand, dirt, gravel, etc.) for your puppy to walk over.

Put a little water in trays or make puddles for pup to check out.

With these surfaces, do not force or drag your puppy on them. Do not put the puppy on these surfaces!  Allow him to wander on and off at will.  I allow puppies to wander across them at will.  I scatter treats and food stuffed toys on and around them to encourage the pup to explore.

SOUNDS – If you have a computer, TV, radio, smart phone, etc., you have SOUNDS.

boy tuning transistor radio

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Start with things on a low volume.  Play with the puppies, feed them good things, give a positive association with the sounds.  As the puppies develop those associations, gradually increase the volume.  If the puppies (or puppy) seems apprehensive or uneasy about the sound/volume, stop.  Start again a little later with a lower volume.

A few things to play: storm sounds (gentle rains to raging thunderstorms), fireworks, talk shows with different voice tones (from soothing to argumentative), animal sounds, doorbells, knocking, vehicle sounds, sirens, laughing, crying, temper tantrums.

Play different kinds of music (even if it is something you do not normally listen to): classical, rock, pop, rap, oldies, techno.

Different movies from children’s movies to horror should be played.

If you have children with toys that make noise, use these too!  (Many also have flashing lights and movement) – start at a distance so as not to frighten your pup.

Listen to your neighborhood!  Is someone mowing a lawn, using a chainsaw, making other noises like construction work? What about wind causing trees to creak?

SIGHTS – There is a lot of things to look at while social distancing.

Take your pup to areas where different things are going on.  You can do this while maintaining a good distance.  In my area right now, I have multiple construction sites.  One is sewer main upgrade and the other is an addition to a high school.  I can sit across a parking lot from the work, no one else is there, and give puppies a positive experience.

Drive to rest areas, park and observe.

Sit in parking lots and watch people going in and out of home improvement, grocery, and bog box stores.

Many outdoor shopping centers are extremely quiet, go for a walk.

Where I live, we took our dogs into the Georgetown area of Washington, DC for a change of view.  We walked the quieter streets away from the tourist area (which was still quiet). Walking through different, quiet neighborhoods may not seem like much to us, but it is a LOT for puppies.

adams morgan architecture beautiful buildings

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Walk around while carrying bags, wearing hats, umbrellas, masks, etc.  Think about what a puppy will see outside the home and work to recreate it inside.

PEOPLE – We tend to think that socializing to people means everyone must handle our puppies.  This can be stressing for puppies.  That wiggly behavior we assume is happy may be stress.  Though it is not safe for people to interact with your puppy due to social distancing, have your puppy observe people.

Sit and watch deliveries.

Are there people walking or riding bikes past your house?

Go through the drive-thru at local fast food places.  A couple of times a week go to a different one.  You can help your pup learn to accept people being around the vehicle.  Same with carryout meals.

person holding starbucks coffee tumbler

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GET CREATIVE!!!  There are many ways you can help your puppy adapt to people in the vicinity even if they cannot touch.

Remember, expecting your puppy to allow everyone to touch as part of socializing is stressing.  In the long run, you can do more harm than good.

MORE THINGS – Use this time to help your pup learn to remain calm as people move around her.  Work to help teach calm behavior around moving children and others.  Teach greeting manners.  I put greeting and not greeting on cue.  Work on body handling. Walk around different things in your home. Do you have PVC pipe laying around?  What about pieces of 2×4?  Place them out and encourage pup to step over them. Feed your puppy in the bathtub.  You want pupper to love the bathtub as part of teaching him to enjoy grooming. When he loves the tub, progress to feeding with a TINY bit of water in the bottom.

Socializing while social distancing is a concern, but it is not impossible.  Look around your house and in your community.  There are so many things you can do that will benefit your puppy (or puppies if you have a litter) while still being safe.

And you know what?  Even when we are not asked to socially distance ourselves, you should still do these things.

  • Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training.
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Training Treats and Lessons for your Children

During this time of Covid-19, many of you are trying to find things to do at home with your children. Many of you may home school anyhow and be looking for other ways to teach lessons.  Some may simply want homemade treats.  If you are a parent, you can make multiple lessons from this activity. So, I am going off on a tangent to explain a few lessons you can do while making treats. Then I will give several things I do from training treats to dog cookies.  First, the lessons in baking (and cooking in general).

photo of kids playing with flour

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Sequencing: Following recipes teach how to follow directions and how to sequence.  What do we do first?  Second?  Third?  Then, next, following, finally.  Talk about what may happen if things are done out of sequence.  Are there times we can or cannot change a sequence?

Math: Take the dry ingredients and measure them into separate bowls.  Give your child a tablespoon and count how many scoops it takes to put them into a larger bowl.  Fractions lessons! 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup, how many do you need to equal a whole cup? Can you add the fractions?

Science: Are we making mixtures, solutions or suspensions? What do we get when we mix the dry ingredients together? What about when we add the wet?  Is mixing a physical or chemical reaction?  Is cooking a physical or chemical reaction?  How do you know the answers to these questions?

Observation and language: What do you see happening?  Tell me about the colors, smells, texture, changes you see.

Motor Skills: Scooping, mixing, scraping, and unmolding.

Now, onto my variation of semi-soft training treats. (For the original blog I learned from please go to www.Eileenanddogs.com)

To mold the treats, you will need a pyramid or circle, non-stick baking mat. You can find these online or at different stores.


Image – stock – credit unknown

For the batter:

1 cup of dehydrated powdered meat for dogs.

Half cup flour – any kind will work. (I use All Purpose Flour as my dogs have no food sensitivities)

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl then add:

1/4 cup pureed pumpkin (you can also use squash, green beans, unsweetened apple sauce, etc.)

1 beaten egg

Enough water, bone broth, or low sodium stock until you have a mix the consistency of cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Turn the baking mats upside down on a cookie tray. Put some of the batter on the mat.  Start with about 1/4 cup at a time. Using a spatula begin to spread the batter into the wells.

Scrape as much of the batter off the top of the sheet between the wells as possible. If there is batter across the silicon between the wells, the treats will be attached together. Keep adding batter until the wells are filled.

I do not go all the way to the edges of the mat.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes.  For semi-soft treats you want them firm but not crunchy.  You can bake longer to make harder treats.

Let cool, flip the mat over and pop them out.  Store in an airtight container or zip top bag in the refrigerator or freeze.

I use Spot Farms meat powder.  I bought a 3-pound box last summer on a whim when I saw it at a local pet supply store.  It is easier to travel with.  A box this size lasts 2 – 3 months with my dogs.  In the long run it is cheaper than cans.  Less waste.  No refrigeration needed unless I mix it up. It is also smoother than some of the other freeze-dried meat mixes.  If you do not want to do this, use canned meat (chicken, salmon, tuna, etc.) and puree until smooth.  This is where I would refer to Eileen’s blog linked above. Adjust the flour as needed.

Here are some other dog treat ideas.

I start baking with this base:

1 cup rolled oats

1 ¼ cup hot water or any type of stock

Soak the oats in the liquid until softened and then let cool for safer handling

¼ cup wheat germ (optional)


To the base mix, add ¼ – ½ cup of any of the following: pureed vegetables, peanut butter, apple sauce, pear sauce, mashed bananas, dried parsley, pureed meats or baby food.

Avoid chocolate, coffee, grapes/raisins, macadamia nuts, onions and garlic in dog/cat treats. To this, add any type of flour (rice, whole wheat, spelt, potato, etc) ½ cup at a time, mix thoroughly after each addition until you get to the consistency of sugar cookie dough.

Knead the mixture for 5 – 10 minutes on a floured surface until smooth.  Roll out until ½ inch thick and cut with a floured cookie cutter. Roll thin ropes (1/2 thick) and braid into longer cookies.  You can add chunkier bits like frozen peas or carrots, dried blue berries, carob chips, ground meat, finely diced fruit, roll the dough into balls and flatten to about ½” thick.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 250F until dry.  Check the cookies after 15 minutes and then every 5 – 10 minutes after that.  This may take up to 40 minutes.


To the base mix, add a beaten egg and flour until you have a mix the consistency of cake batter.   Grease and flour the muffin tin.  I use a mini muffin pan.  Fill cups half way.  Bake at 350 until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Start with 15 minutes.

Meatball treats

1lb ground meat (any type)

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup cooked brown rice

2 eggs

½ cup parsley

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup peas

Roll into small balls, place on a baking rack over a tray so the fat can drip off and bake at 350F until cooked through.   Cooking time will be based on the size of the balls.

Dried meat treats:

Remove all fat from meat.

Slice thinly with the grain of the meat – less than ¼ inch thick.

Preheat oven to 180F.

Place on a wire rack over a baking sheet so the meat will not sit in moisture.

If you have a convection oven, turn on the convection fan.

Bake for several hours until the meat is dried and rubbery feeling.

Alternate method: Cut meat into 1/8 inch strips, microwave on medium until rubbery.  Start with a few minutes and keep adding time until done.  This works well for beef liver.

All these treats need to be stored in the refrigerator.

Frozen treats:

You can make a variety of frozen treats using plain yogurt blended with honey, canned dog food, fruits or vegetables.  Freeze overnight in an ice cube tray.  If you make a thick mixture, you can fill hollow toys, freeze and let your dog lick the mix out.

My children have enjoyed making treats for our dogs and cats.  This is a great rainy day project to do with children.

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Covid-19 – Reducing Separation Anxiety for When This is Over (and other times too)

Right now there seems to be no end to the Covid – 19 crisis. We are still trying to adapt to the “new norm” with no school and work being cut back or eliminated for many.  When we finally return to some semblance of normality, what impact could this have on our dogs? Many trainers online have been expressing concerns over a possible increase in separation anxiety when schools and jobs open again. Here are a few things you can start now to reduce the chance of separation issues. And yes, start NOW. (Please note, this information is good for any time to reduce the chance of Separation Anxiety beginning).

Make being away from you interesting. This is where things like scatter feeding and putting toys, especially food releasing ones, around the house helps. I want my dogs comfortable being away and wanting to explore.  I do not want a “Velcro dog.”

Throughout my house are things my dogs will want to seek out. In the back yard they get to hunt for kibble and this is where they get beef shanks. They chase squirrels, patrol, watch the neighborhood from a raised lookout we left when a swing set was removed.  Being away from us is not a bad thing.

Please note, this does not mean we are teaching dogs not to come when called.  It means I am teaching dogs they do not have to be glued to me all day.  Exploring brings good things too!


Splash hanging out in the tower – (c) West Wind Dog Training

Dogs are excellent at putting together patterns of behaviors. This includes things you do in preparation to leave. Think about what you have with you as you leave the house. for school, work, or even to walk our dogs. Walk around while wearing your jacket, carrying your keys, purse, briefcase, school bag, etc.  Use your travel mug for your morning coffee. Put on work clothes for a bit then change to your regular clothes.  Break up your morning routine.  If your routine includes the pattern of get up, shower, get dressed, make coffee, get breakfast, change it up. Every day change your routine.

If you walk your dog every morning before you leave, the leash and collar or harness may be associated with the getting ready to leave routine. Carry your dog’s leash around the house. Practice leash work inside.  Walk your dog around the house on leash.  Get rid of the association that leashes mean morning walk which links to preparation to leave.  (This can also help reduce the over excited behaviors some dogs have when we prepare for a walk.)

Multiple times a day go to the door you would use to leave the house. Play with the handle, open the door a couple inches, shut it and walk away.  If your door has a screen or storm door, open the inside door all the way. Jiggle the handle to the outer door. Every time you pass the door, do something with it. Progress to stepping outside and coming back within a few seconds.  Keep all your exits and entrances low key.  Please, be careful.  We do not want your dog dashing outside!  If your dog is a door-dasher, contact a good trainer and learn to positively prevent this behavior.

Set up a crate or safe confinement area.  Multiple times a day, place high value food, treats and food stuffed toys inside.  Do this when your dog is not watching.  Do not call him over as you do this.  You want your dog exploring it in his own.

Without telling your dog to go in, allow him to explore the space.  Once he is comfortable with the area being the provider of good things, I begin teaching to go in and come out on cue.  Then I progress to closing the door or gate.  I step away, step back give my dog something, repeat. In the area my dog has something to entertain himself: food stuffed toy, safe chews I know my dog can have, etc.  I also make sure I have met his physical needs before doing these exercises. If my dog has excess energy, confinement may become harder.

Now I begin putting confinement on cue.  My dogs learned “Go crate” means this is where I need them to go.  Crates are seen by them as a safe place to rest.  No one is to bother them while crated.  If you allow other pets, children or other people in the house to annoy a dog while confined, this can create aversions to the crate or increase aggressive behaviors while crated.


free pexels image

Give a cue that you will be back such as “I’ll be back.”  In my house, for the dogs that do not need confinement, we use “Behave” and “Don’t eat the cats”.  Walk away for a few moments in the beginning.  Gradually increase duration.  Sometimes you come back soon, others it is a little longer.  CALMLY walk past the crate, reinforce quiet, walk around, take your dog out on cue. We want dogs to learn to wait for a cue before they are released and not the act of our walking by the confinement area.

If your dog starts to act up as you return, step away.  Quiet gets you to return.  Do not stay away so long that your dog starts fussing. Allowing a dog to scream it out until he “settles” only builds up stress. Make sure your dog is comfortable being in the space when you are home, so he does not associate it only with your leaving.  Progress to walking out of your home for a few minutes at a time.

Exercise your dog well before you leave the house. Give him 15 – 20 minutes to relax before confining.  A few minutes before you go, give him a well stuffed food toy. Leave the house for a few minutes and come back.  Gradually build up to longer times away then go back to short ones. Build up the ability for your dog to be alone.

Please do not wait until a few days before we hopefully get back to life as we know it before you begin preparing your dog for your being away.  The time spent working now will benefit you later.

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The Positives of Social Distancing for Your Dogs and Meeting Your Dog’s Needs

In this time of Covid – 19, Social Distancing, is a phrase we hear dozens of times a day. This seems to be difficult for many humans.  I am seeing many people congregating at local parks, the Tidal Basin had to be closed because of thousands of people checking the cherry blossoms, groups of kids hanging at school playgrounds, pick-up soccer and basketball games, etc. However, Social Distancing is GREAT for our dogs.  Wait – we are supposed to socialize our dogs, what am I saying???

SOCIAL DISTANCING IS GOOD FOR OUR DOGS! (louder for the people in back).

Please, do not stop carefully and properly socializing puppies or working to teach our dogs the skills needed to live with our species.  I am saying we also need to respect a dog’s needs to be away from a crowd.  Even if a dog looks happy surrounded by dozens of people and dogs, if you look at all his body language, you may see definite signals of stress.  Just because a dog looks happy does not mean he is.

My dogs are used to walking around busy places when we are at dog events.   In general, most of the dogs and people there are relatively to very well-behaved. However, my dogs also get ample time to do walks well away from other people and dogs.  Social Distancing.  These walks are very important and I find my dogs much more relaxed on this type of walk.  Why would a dog, even a dog used to being in busy places, like Social Distance walks?

The answer is simple: they are not worried about other dogs lunging at them or strangers rudely ignoring requests to give the dogs space. Even though my dogs are used to walking around hectic areas like dog events, and they like visiting Bass Pro Shop and Cabella’s, this does not mean they always enjoy walking in areas with other people and animals.


No one around but us. – West Wind Dog Training

What is a Social Distance Walk?  It is a walk well away from other people and dogs. Forget the government recommended of six feet for Social Distancing, get many yards away from others.  Better yet, work to be the only ones walking in the area. We will drive past areas with more than a couple cars in parking lots.  We are avoiding the local boardwalk through the marsh and even the national forest because so many people are flocking there.  We are going to the out of the way places and then moving away from others.  Our dogs are able to be out without worry.  Also use these walks as a way to give your dogs a chance to safely roam about.  Safely means leashed!

Retracting leashes are not a safe option for allowing your dog to roam about while still being leashed.  Instead, get a long leash.  You can find ones up to fifty feet on Amazon or other online retailers. I use shorter leashes with my dogs.

Foster gets a 12-foot lead.  He is almost 13 and does not range out as much. Splash and Uhura get longer ones. We go to a quiet area, put the long lines on, and let the dogs be dogs.  They can move about a wider area, sniff, investigate, etc.  They cover a lot distance even when we are not walking a long ways.


Uhura on a 15 ft lead.  She chose where to walk. – West Wind Dog Training

However, be aware of national, state, community park regulations for leash length rules. If you cannot use a long line, you can allow your dog to be a dog while on a shorter lead.  I teach two cues to dogs: one for walking with me and one giving permission to go sniff while the human follows the dog.

If you can not or will not leave your property, there are other ways you can try to meet your dog’s needs.

This is a perfect time to get rid of those food bowls and use toys for food delivery! Food is an excellent tool for various things.

Sprinkle kibble around your house and yard (if your grass is not treated) to get your dog sniffing and moving to eat.

Buy or make a snuffle mat. There are many online resources for making food releasing toys.

Consider using a flirt pole. For my dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs and a Standard Schnauzer, I use a horse lunge whip with a floppy toy tied on the end.  You can also make one out of PVC pipe, rope (elastic rope used for bungee cords is great), end caps and a floppy toy.  There are many online resources with instructions.  Alternatively, check Amazon and Chewy and order one.  Here are a couple videos showing dogs with flirt poles.  One is a training video by a great trainer and the other is our dog playing with one during a rough winter and walking was limited.

Use this time to teach silly pet tricks.  Consider preparing for a Trick Dog title.  This is open to all breeds and crosses. https://www.akc.org/sports/trick-dog/.

If your dog has basic behaviors down, start Rally training. My daughter has started working two of our dogs for hopeful Rally competition.

Nose work is another great activity you can start on your own.  You can use the competition scents, or you can make your own games using treats or a little vanilla extract for the scent. There are many online resources for these activities.

The next weeks or months are going to be a big change for us.  This means changes for our dogs.

These are also activities you should do even when we are not under recommendations to self-distance.  Your dog will be happier for it.

Finally, when this is over and we can get back to our old routines, remember your dogs.  Take the time to help them re-adapt when their life changes again. I will be covering this in another blog.

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