The Economic Benefits of Dog Events

This is an expanded version of a piece published in Northern Virginia Today, Feb 9, 2017

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Annually, in Virginia, there are over 100 AKC sanctioned events of varying sizes.  These events include conformation, obedience, rally, agility, herding, lure coursing, field trails, etc.  There are also events run by the United Kennel Club, United States Dog Agility Association, North American Dog Agility Council, and other groups overseeing dog events.  What many people do not realize, unless they are involved with dog activities, is how much they benefit local economies. According to American Kennel Club a dog event may contribute $1.5 million dollars to a local economy in a larger four day show weekend. Smaller events put several hundred thousand dollars into a local economy.

How do dog events benefit the economy?  Lets first look at the need for sites to hold events. If you own property capable of hosting dog events, you get rental money. I have been to events at Oatlands Plantation, Keepstone Farm, Fredericksburg Expo Center, Prince William County Fairgrounds, Dude Ranch Pet Resort, Rockingham County Fairgrounds, Salem Civic Center, etc.  Over the years I have attended shows not only in Virginia but also in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Quebec, Canada.  I have either shown or gone with my children as they showed.  Currently the main exhibitor in my house is my daughter who shows two dogs regularly and a third as a Junior show dog.

Are you a food truck owner or someone with a business that could have a set up at a dog show? Every dog event I have attended has had anywhere from one to dozens of different vendors. Dog grooming supplies, dog food, human food, leashes, toys, various training equipment and toys, scissors sharpeners, massage therapists for humans and dogs, books, antiques, woodworking, even non-dog related items and advertisements for local tourist attractions, local businesses and what-not have all set up at dog events. Stand in the middle of a dog show and look on the surface how many businesses benefit from our events.  But wait!  There’s more!

Where do out of town exhibitors and judges stay?  HOTELS!  The more pet friendly a hotel is, the more likely exhibitors are to stay there.  If your hotel can host dog shows, even better.  You get not only people staying there BUT people coming to the event who may eat in your restaurant, etc.  Then dog shows may attract spectators who may…. eat at your restaurant.  When word gets out your place is friendly towards dog exhibitors you will get referrals.  I know I tell people where I stay when we are showing.  If your facility is able to host shows in a ballroom, etc., once word gets out you may get requests from other clubs to host shows there.  But wait!  There’s more!

When judges are brought in from far distances there are airlines involved. Some exhibitors fly cross country to compete.  This means needing rental cars, taxis, Uber, Lyft, etc.  Hmmmm….  But wait!  There’s more!

How do we enter dog events?  We get premium lists!  Premium lists can be electronic or printed.  This means people have to program the entries or print the paper ones.  Larger events often hire professional superintendents to manage all the paperwork and print catalogs, etc.  Wait!  What was that?  Yes, printing catalogs of who has entered and in what class.  Judging schedules may be needed depending on the event.  Again, if you are a printer, this can benefit you.  Do you own an awards company?  How many ribbons, rosettes, plaques, trophies and other things will be awarded at shows?  Now long before we even consider entering an event the exhibitor has to prepare!  The type of event determines what we do. Sooooo…  BUT WAIT!  There’s more.

Before we are ready to do any event, there is preparation.  This may mean buying various training supplies and equipment to building our own.  In my back yard I have agility things my husband has made.  I buy training rewards, toys, grooming supplies, shampoos and such I would not get otherwise.  There are classes and seminars we attend.  What about vendors who are getting things together to sell at a dog event?  Where do those supplies come from?  BUT WAIT – yes you know the rest…

What about all the other things we consume while heading to a dog show: Coffee, donuts, fast food, gas for our vehicles.  Think of the sales tax and meals taxes, parking fees and other things we pay for that we would not do if not for dog events?

I have attended many larger “cluster” dog events.  Some have been over a period of a week.  Some have had numerous competitions during these days and drew over 2,000 competitors.  People from all over the region and out of state will attend.  If not for the event, we would not be in the region: we would not be renting facilities, hotel rooms, buying supplies, going to classes, etc.  If not for the event, we would not be spending our money in your area.

It is becoming increasingly difficult in many areas to exhibit and compete with animals. Animal rights activists are trying to shut everything down.  Ask yourself: if we shut down dog (or any animal) events, how will this affect my community?  Support your local dog event – support your local economy!

Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.

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But He’s Friendly!

You are enjoying a quiet walk. Suddenly a stranger races up and envelopes you in a huge bear hug.  He lifts you of the ground and screams “Wow!  Hi new friend!  How are you?”  What would your response be?  Would you yell and scream? Would you throw a punch or at least push the friendly assailant away?  Would you call the police?  What would you do? This behavior coming from a stranger would be unacceptable.  If we would not tolerate it, why do we think it is OK to let our dogs behave in such manners?  Why are we shocked when the target of our dog’s exuberance snaps or when our dog snaps at a rude dog?

“Oh he’s friendly!” called out an owner as her loose dog charged into the face of a friend’s dogs.  My friend was furious.  One of her dogs was reactive and the rudeness of this strange dog set back months of intense work.  Forget the fact that the dog was off leash and the owner was breaking the law.  Even if there was no leash law, allowing a dog to race up to a strange dog is dangerous.  You have no idea how the target of your dog’s attention will react.

I was at a garden center with my oldest dog when a larger dog on an extending leash was allowed to pull across an aisle (on an extending lead) and go after my dog. “Oh he just wants to be friends!” the owner laughed.  Then he became irate when I told him he had to control his dog.  My dog was threatened by the actions of the much larger animal.  He can be reactive thanks to issues when he was younger and a few very rude dogs, but he loves to be out and about.  He is a great little dog both my kids worked with.  My daughter still shows him every now and then in Juniors.  Foster tolerates a lot and will ignore a lot, however a large dog targeting him is not such a situation.  We had been enjoying a lovely outing prior to.

I watched a loose dog tear into a group of children.  The owner yelled the dog is fine and wanted to be friends.  Some of these children were terrified of the dog. They began screaming, trying to drive the dog away, etc. Their actions could have made the dog go from happy and playful to defensive.  I remember a story from Florida where a friendly dog bounded to the edge of his un-barrier fenced property (shock fence).  His target was an elderly pedestrian.  As the frightened woman stepped back, she stumbled off the curb and broke her ankle. The owner insisted the dog was just being friendly.

A wagging tail is not a happy tail all the time.  I have seen many people say their dog is being friendly when in reality the body language is scary.  I was at a vaccine clinic when a woman allowed her dog to pull into a group of dogs and owners.  When I stopped her, she became irate.  “He needs to say ‘Hi’ he is friendly.”  That was not what the body language was screaming.  The dog was stiff, hackles raised, hard stare indicating bad things are brewing, etc.  He bee-lined right into the faces of the other dogs without stopping.  It was scary.  His owner assumed a wagging tail meant friendly.  No, this dog was going in for something else and eased up only when the targets cowered and moved back. Had one of the dogs risen to the challenge, I am certain there would have been blood.   For more on tails, visit this link.

Even if your dog is friendly, not all humans and animals may tolerate his exuberant greetings.  If I am working with a fearful dog, your friendly dog’s approach can create behavioral setbacks.  A dog who feels threatened may defend himself.  A friendly dog can cause damage as he pounces on another animal or human.  I had a client neglect to keep her dog from the front door as requested.  The dog joyfully lunged and sent me down several steps.  I have watched people knocked over by exuberantly greeting dogs as owners cry out “Oh he’s friendly!”  Are you willing to cover medical bills if your friendly dog injures someone?  Will you blame a dog owner if his controlled dog on a short leash fights back as your out of control dog jumps on his head?

I am a dog lover, however; I do like a well-mannered greeting. I love it when people make sure their dogs are not allowed to be rude to mine when we are out.  It is safer.  Your dog can be friendly!  Just make sure the dog is under control and you are respectful of others. .

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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Why Does Your Dog Hate Me?

“Mrs. Peak! Why does your dog hate me?”  The boy, about ten or eleven at the time, lived several houses up the street.  Yes, one of my dogs had serious issues with this child.  My other dogs avoided him.  The sad thing was two of my dogs took part in many child-focused dog safety programs and career days.  These two adored working with children. So why did one of my dogs go into a frenzy when this boy or his cousins were near?  Why did my other dogs move away from him?  My dogs did not hate him, they feared him.

The months this boy lived up the street were a nightmare.  He and his cousins caused trouble for many people.  They thought nothing wrong with going into yards to play on swing sets, even if it meant climbing fences.  They would be found at the opposite end of the street, jumping on a trampoline when the home owners were gone. They would go into side yards to play around and on vehicles that belonged to others.  They would be seen on top of cars and vans.  A kindergartener was often found almost half a mile away from home with a toddler walking along streets that could get busy.  They would pick flowers and vegetables from gardens.  The oldest boy was the ringleader of the pack.

Now, before these kids moved in, here is the set up we had and still have for our yard and how we manage the dogs.


Back yard – large area where the dogs like to play.  The front half is divided into a pool, deck, kennel area.  All sections are fenced and the fences latch.

Our yard has a six foot privacy fence with No Trespassing signs. Our dogs only are allowed in the back yard. The only way to get to the fence is by trespassing through our side yard, maybe forty feet, to get to the back fence.  Alternatively the kids would have to climb their back fence and come through the county easement between the back yards of our street that borders a main street.   This meant going through thorn buses and poison ivy.  And yes, sometimes they would do this.  More often they would climb the fence dividing their yard and a neighbor’s, cut through and climb the neighbor’s fence into the next yard and come to my yard.


Our yard is divided into four fenced sections.  This way we can confine the dogs to one section of the yard while we have a gate leading outside the yard open.   We have a large play area, an area for the pool, an area for the deck, and an area we can use as a dog kennel if needed.  All are four foot fenced within the six foot fence.  Finally, the dogs are not outside unless there is someone responsible home or awake.  Nor are they outside all day.  They love to be outside and will often demand to go out.  But they are not outside dogs by any means.

We take care to keep our dogs safe and confined.  So why did my dogs fear this child?  Let’s look at what the child would do.

Several times a week I would see this boy and his young cousins in my side yard. Rocks and sticks would be thrown at the dogs.  They would kick the fence and hoist themselves up to the top and harass my dogs.  I could not go to the bathroom for risk of the kids coming after the dogs while I was occupied.  I would have to bring them in.  As soon as the boy and his cousins saw my dogs outside, they would bee-line to my yard.  I had to sit and watch the side yard where the kids trespass to get to the back yard.  Even If my dogs were inside I had to watch for these kids.  Why?  Well the oldest said his mother said he could use our pool whenever he wanted because we had one and he did not.  I spoke to one of the women living there and said he was not allowed to be in my yard or in my pool at any point.  But back to the beginning when the all moved in and the fun started.

I was nice at first.  I would stop the kids and ask if they wanted me to get a dog and they could visit.  But they had to give me certain behaviors and not trespass.  Then the kids saw the pool and started to escalate with the dogs and their targeting my yard.  After a couple weeks or so, I became a bit of a banshee.


When the kids realized how closely my side yard was monitored, they started coming through neighboring yards to get to my fence when the neighbors were at work.  This meant climbing fences (between 3 – 4 feet high) to trespass through other properties and coming through two yards.  At one point another neighbor also had a small pool or large hot tub.  This was one of the yards they would trespass through.  They would come into the neighboring yard, find lawn chairs, ladders, etc. and climb my fence to harass the dogs.

There were numerous times we would be doing yard work and the kids would walk right through the gate to look at the pool and tease the dogs.  Yes, we were outside, we were in the yard and the kids did this in front of us.  Nothing we did or said to the kids (nice words to flat out yelling) or informing the adults at the house what was going on stopped the kids.

Eventually I did what other neighbors did: called the police.  I was sick of having to bring my dogs inside when they wanted to be out.  I was worried what my liability would be of one of the kids fell over the fence and was bitten.  What if one fell into the pool? The mother of the oldest boy said he could not swim at all.  He insisted he could go into a pool.  The police checked my set up and said we  exceeded what was required for safety in the county on all fronts.  Our yard had previously passes county inspections for the pool and fence.  The inspector was very pleased with the care we had taken for safety.  We had the yard marked “No Trespassing.”  Add in talking to the other grown-ups, if anything happened, the police would not hold us liable.  Then they went up the street to talk to the adults at that house – yet again.  Yes, this house had been visited numerous times before I made my first call.

Sadly it took numerous police visits after various neighbors called officers to get the grown-ups to respond.   By the end of the fall, the oldest cousin and his mother, followed a few years later by the rest.  Once he left, the issues greatly eased up.  Back to the boy’s question: “Why does your dog hate me?”


No matter what I did to remedy the situation, the boy did not stop. He encouraged the younger ones to cause trouble in the community.  My dogs love being outside when the weather is good.  Active dogs  relegated to inside as much as they had to be due to the kids does not make for happy dogs.  Even if I was out playing with the dogs, the kids would come over the top of the fence.  If we were doing yard work, the boy would saunter in; go to where the dogs were confined and yup…  They would tease, throw things at the dogs, swing sticks at them and harass us while on walks.  You tell me why my dogs feared this boy and his cousins.

Dog owners, observe your dogs, secure your yard, use good fences.  Do not hesitate to stop children from annoying your dogs.  Do not leave your dogs outside when no one is home or awake to intervene.  It is amazing even when you are around how fast kids with an agenda can cause trouble. I used to manage outside time around when the older kids were at school – but summer did not give that luxury.  I have watched dogs in neighborhoods where I have lived develop severe aggressions towards children when owners failed to work to protect their dogs and manage the environment and when other parents allowed their kids to cause trouble.

Luckily the damage done those months was not lasting. Not all dog owners will be so lucky.  Some dogs may have lifelong fears of children.  Please, if a dog really fears a child, maybe there is a reason.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

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Don’t Shame the Dog – Look at Yourself (addressing boredom and “bad dogs)

When I see various “dog shaming” posts online, I do not see bad dogs.   I see bored dogs not having physical and mental needs met.  Who is responsible for alleviating boredom?  Ultimately, the dog owner is responsible for addressing boredom in meaningful ways. Are you doing enough?

Take a look at the video. These dogs are not bad.  They are bored.  Nor are they feeling guilty, this is a response to what the humans are doing.  They dogs are indicating stress.  They are very perceptive.  So, this video is bored dogs, dog who were not well-managed, and dogs who are responding to what the humans are doing.  I am not going to discuss guilt in dogs.  Dogs do not feel guilt as humans define it.  They respond to what we do.  When we catch them at something, they respond to our behaviors and not what they were doing to cause them.  But that is another topic for a different blog entry!

When I am called to advise on a destructive dog, one of the first things I look for are things for the dog to do inside and outside.  Often destructive dogs are dogs needing more mental and physical activity.  Add in a lack of supervision and teaching dogs to seek out appropriate activities, and well, a lot of trouble can happen.  When we are not in a position to observe and teach, this is when we need a safe place for our dog to stay.  This safe spot must be carefully chosen.  If not, well, it is amazing what a bored Jack Russell Terrier puppy can do when he is confined to a bathroom and his toy of choice is that water pipe behind the toilet.  (Yes this happened to the cousin of a former client to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the house before she got home from work). I prefer to crate train my dogs who are not able to safely be out when I am not home or awake.  Crates are not cruel if used carefully.  You can also use a long-term confinement set up such as a small kennel set up with a potty spot, bed, and area for toys.  These areas should not take the place of proper supervision.  They are to keep your dog safe when you are truly unable to supervise your dog.

When I look at toys provided for the dog, I look at what behaviors do the toys encourage? Will they engage the body and mind to complete a task?  Are they toys that the dog seems to like and seek out? Toys and activities that engage body and mind are beneficial to all dogs.  Some of my favorite, easy games with dogs involve feeding times.  Toys like the Omega Paw Ball or Kong Wobbler for all dry meals gets the dog working to eat.  There are puzzle bowls that dogs have to work kibble and canned food through.  Buster Cubes, Squirrel Dudes, Tug-a-Jugs, and activities such as in the following video are great ideas.  Now with the video, you do not have to get that elaborate.  You can do things such as put the bottles between two cinder blocks for outside activities or hang the bar between a couple of chairs, etc.

Also, provide toys for your dogs to have quieter time with.  As I am typing this my dogs have come in from hanging outside and are working on bones.  As I edit this, they are now out back with my daughter as she cleans the yard.

Classic Kong toys are great for stuffing food inside.  There are other similar toys such as the Sumo.  I take canned food, pureed fruits and veggies, kibble, peanut butter, squirt cheese, etc, stuff the toy and freeze it.  One of my favorite things to keep on hand if needed in a pinch are Purina Beyong and ProPlan meal enhancers.  They are pureed foods in pounches.  No additives.  A few minutes is all it takes to squish some into a Kong, add some kibble and I run out.  The night before I am going to sub teach for a whole day, I layer the toys with things and freeze them.  My dogs will work on these for some time and then nap.  As the stuff inside thaws, they can work some more.

Since some dogs will become frustrated if the food does not work out easily, I will leave space at the large opening and before giving to my dogs, I will put some unfrozen food on top.  If you stuff your Kongs or similar toys and do not freeze them, that is fine too.  Make sure you do not pack them so tightly the dogs become frustrated and using the toy.  This can happen with dog cookies the dogs cannot work out.  I will take peanut butter or a little squirt cheese and coat the inside edge.  Then I will add some kibble, add a later of goopy stuff, a little more kibble and a later of something like peanut butter to hold it in.  I feed my dogs half of their breakfast this way.  They get a little kibble in their bowls.  Then more of their ration is scattered in the back yard for some great work sniffing out food, the rest is in a Kong they get when I leave.  If we are going out for an evening, they get a little kibble in a bowl, some food finding games outside and the rest in Kongs.

When buying toys for use with any food, make sure they have two holes.  If there is only one hole, the dog can build up suction while licking and do serious damage to his mouth and tongue.  You can always drill a hole to help reduce the risk of suction.  Choose carefully and observe your dog.

For outside activity, platforms the dogs can climb up, tunnels, ramps, tug ropes ties to posts, areas framed off with sandy soil for digging, wading pools, etc., can help alleviate boredom.  (Keep these things away from fences so your dogs do not use them to escape). Two of our dogs love the ramp to the playhouse and slide on our old swing set.  Uhura (the Standard Schnauzer), uses the play house on a daily basis. The human kids no longer use the swing set so we will be removing the swing section but leaving the ramp and slide.  The climbing rope will be removed and a tug station will be hung from where the rope ladder is.  Bungee cords holding the tug rope will give a good tug.  I have done similar tug set ups with tree branches and fence posts.  Get outside and teach the dog how to play with these areas.  The more you give your dog to do outside (and the more you teach him to use these areas), the happier he will be.  Make some agility equipment and get playing.


Ravyn sleeping on our teeter.


Splash hanging out in the play house.


Now, along with mental activity we must address exercise needs.  What is enough exercise?  This varies dog to dog.


For me, a good activity session is one where my pet is not looking for more to do. He is not so tired he cannot function and he becomes less tolerant of things in his exhaustion.  Nor is my dog manic, demanding more activity or destroying things out of boredom.  My dog is relaxed, may go rest or calmly find something else to do such as chewing a bone.  There are many ways to meet your pet’s physical needs:  free play with dogs he likes, swimming, formal activities like agility or nose work, chasing things (flirt pole work or formal lure coursing), hunting for kibble scattered through the yard or house (do not do this on chemically treated lawns) are a few ideas.


Old picture of Hunter and my son, Connor.  Hunter loved to swim.


What about walks?  Walks are important but your dog needs time to be a dog while on them.  I am not saying allow rude behavior like barking or lunging, etc., but allow your dog to poke at things, sniff and investigate.  Go to a safe place where he will not annoy people or get into danger, put him on a long leash and let him roam about.  Walk in new places.  This area has a host of county, state, and national parks with great trails.  Teach him to carry a backpack.  Look at urban mushing or skijoring!  Teach your dog to pull a cart.  Physical activity is more than tossing a ball in your back yard.

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Sarah and Uhura when she was a pup, exploring in Tennessee.


Determining your dog’s physical needs is ultimately determined by your dog. To help determine daily needs I often recommend journaling the date, duration of the physical activity, type or activity, and how was the dog after.  Keeping track of things is important.  I had a client who was convinced her small dog was getting at least 30 minutes a walk.  This was twice a day.  This combined with games should have been adequate.  However, when my client began charting what her dog was getting for exercise in reality, and mental stimulation, it was a fraction of this.  When she began to increase what she was doing and changing up walk routes, different games and toys, etc., the dog became easier to work with.  Each dog is an individual when it comes to needs.  One person’s higher energy dog is the other person’s moderate energy dog. It is not fair to expect a higher energy dog to be a couch potato all day.  I have done evaluations where owners refused to understand the needs of a high energy, working breed.  It was assumed that all the dog needed was training in order to learn to be calm.  Well that and a large fenced yard, a couple hours of human-led activity a day, things to alleviate boredom in a breed bred to problem solve and ideally, a formal activity and owners willing to meet all his needs.  They insisted he was a bad dog and not trainable.  No, he was a dog and nothing more.  He was the exact dog you would see on dog shaming pages.

No pet is trying to be bad.  In the majority of cases I have found destructive dogs were bored and had energy to burn.  Dogs will work to meet their needs if we do not.  There is a good chance you may not like what the pet chooses to do.  Instead of shaming your dog, address what he needs instead.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, VA and the founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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Why I Do Not Discipline with a Spray Bottle

A shorter version of this was in Inside NoVA/Prince William Edition in Oct 2016



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“If your cat scratches furniture, stop him with a mist from a spray bottle.” “Your dog keeps barking: spray him in the face with water.  He will learn to stop.” These are two very common training recommendations made by well-meaning veterinarians, trainers and other pet owners. In my early days as a trainer back in the 90’s ( I have been working with dogs since 1982 but began working towards my own business in the 90’s), I recommended squirt bottles.  Almost every trainer and even some behaviorists did too!  However, as we learned more about behavior and learning, many of us have stopped using averse training methods. Let us look at a couple of examples why using a water spray to discipline should be avoided.

Mr. Whiskers is happily amusing himself. Jane is not happy her cat is attacking her new fuzzy throw.  Mr. Whiskers is a cat.  Cats claw and scratch.  This fuzzy throw is just what the cat wants to engage with.  So Jane pulls out the spray bottle as recommended by her vet.   Hey, it works!  Jane squirts the cat and he stops mauling the throw.  However, Mr. Whiskers keeps attacking the fun, fuzzy throw but running away when he sees Jane approach.  Jane assumes he knows the throw is off-limits and is trying to sneak a scratch when her back is turned.  Over time, Jane notices Mr. Whiskers avoiding her.  He no longer sits on her lap or greets her after work.  He runs away from food when Jane is near.  She walks into a room and he scoots out. Mr. Whiskers has not learned the throw is not a toy. He has only learned Jane is not a person to be trusted. Jane has not taught Mr. Whiskers appropriate scratching toys.  She has damaged their relationship.

Alice uses a spray bottle to stop Angus’s barking. Every time Angus barks, Alice yells “NO” and mists him in the face.  Now, Alice grooms Angus herself.  Because of his coat type, she needs to mist his coat before brushing.  Over time, Angus begins to struggle and panic when Alice pulls out the spray bottle for grooming. Alice does not make the connection as to why Angus no longer likes being brushed.  She does not realize his grooming fears are related to how she disciplines.

Why do owners use spray bottles when behaviorists and good trainers advise against them?  I see three main reasons. First is water bottles are ingrained in our minds as being a safe and less damaging alternative.  People are afraid of change even when there are better ways. I know how hard it is to change minds.  But if I can learn newer and less behaviorally damaging ways, so can others. Second, people assume because a behavior stops when a pet is sprayed that he has learned the behavior is bad. The pet stops because the human is near and the pet is trying to avoid something that scary. When the human is bottle are gone, the behaviors are back.  The critter has learned a pattern and not one the owner wants. Third people owners are told to trust still recommend squirting.  Obviously if someone is a professional, they must know what they are talking about.  Again, if I as a canine professional for years can learn to change, so can’t others.  The way I trained in the 1980’s and early 90’s is much different than how I work now.  As a trainer it is my duty to stay current on science and learning.

I do not want my pets to fear me. I must teach desired behaviors and manage my pet’s environment as he learns.   Also, I need my pets to associate sprays with good.  Grooming, medicated sprays, dental sprays, etc all require pets to have positive associations with a spray bottle. How fair is it for me to demand they tolerate something also used for punishment?  It is not fair at all.

Now, how many people are aware for some pets – especially some dogs – spraying with water may positively reinforce the behavior you are trying to stop.  Say Sparky’s favorite thing to do is catch water sprays.  The hose, water pistols, he chases the sprinkler, Sparky loves chasing water sprays!  He revels in the spray!  How is spraying him in the face going to stop an undesired behavior?  Sparky may associate the behavior with the coming of his favorite game.  Now what?  You have reinforced something you do not want.


picture will be credited when credit can be found



There are methods to stop undesired behaviors that will not negatively affect your relationship with your pet. Please seek people out who will teach these better ways.  Leave the spray bottles out of it.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

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Happy Holidays – now watch that door!

Between October and January, there are many days where festivities and family are focused upon. For many humans, celebrations will be in full swing over the coming months.  In the past I have covered the risks various holidays pose to our dogs (and cats).  This time, I want to focus on something that pet owners need to consider year-round: that opening door.


Door safety begins with management. Baby gates, crates, leashes, areas to secure pets are important.  Your pet cannot escape through the door if he cannot get to it. Set strict ground rules:  no one can come in unannounced; they must wait until you secure the pet before they leave.  It is better to hurt a few human feelings with rules than it is to recover a lot pet or cover bills when someone is injured by your pet racing out an open door.  Also, every time a dog is able to scoot out a door, it undoes previous training to various degrees. You need to set up for safety before you start training.

My first lessons are the behaviors I need before I can teach no door dashing. These often include good leash manners (leashes are important for safety and management) stay or wait in place, exiting through a door on cue, and impulse control. Training is done in stages and it takes time.  I often work first on teaching the leashed dog to walk to the door, sit, and walk away with me.  Then I work in the stay/wait as I open the door a little at a time.  I need to set the dog up for success.   Baby steps in training.  Do not rush it! My goal is to get him to wait at the door while guests come in OR until I tell him it is time to walk through the door.  Now I have to be realistic.  This is a dog, not a programmable robot.  Higher stress situations may require management instead of struggling to get the desired behaviors to happen. The rule of thumb with any training is: there is always something that will override training.  If you have any concerns, manage the situation instead of chancing it.  For example: Halloween night or Thanksgiving if you are hosting dinner are two times I personally, even as a trainer, would opt for management.

Even if your dog seems well trained to stay inside an open door until told to exit, do not assume he will always remember. Recently a dog of mine decided to happily greet the pizza delivery guy. You can read that blog here in Conversations With My Dogs For years this dog has waited at the threshold while we pay. Foster is a dog, he has a thought process, he thought, he acted.  Foster is 9 ½ years old and waiting at any door – including his crate, car doors, etc, is a behavior I am always reinforcing.  Even at that, this one day, with something that is a regular occurrence; Foster chose to walk out the door. Never put 100% if your trust in your dog – unless it is to trust 100% that he will behave like a dog!

Start training now for the upcoming festivities. If you are concerned you do not have the time now, opt for careful management then start training when the holiday season is past.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

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Bare Naked Doggies (do they like to dress up)

Halloween is drawing close. Since Labor Day I have seen candy, decorations, and costumes on store shelves.  Some will decide to dress up their dogs (and cats).  Truthfully, the average pet does not enjoy being dressed up for Halloween.  They would much rather celebrate naked. Though naked partying may get us arrested, chances are your pets would prefer to be costume-free.

All over the internet we see videos of dogs and cats walking funny while wearing costumes. Look closely at the pet.  Some are standing frozen.  Others are whirling around trying to remove the clothing.  Yet others are sitting, head hung, not looking happy at all.  Many costumes are uncomfortable, cumbersome, and not designed to be easily maneuvered in.  These animals are showing signals of distress. If you still think it is funny, learn about pet body language then review the videos again.

Let’s think of behavioral fallout. Consider the “Dog walks funny in boots” videos.  If you have not watched the video above, please do so.  All it takes is one bad experience to create an aversion to something.  Here is someone slapping things a dog normally would not wear onto the creature’s feet.  The dog is not happy and the owner is laughing and carrying on.  How does this teach the dog to trust humans handling his feet?  Now, owners and others need to trim nails, treat infections, injuries, and other things requiring foot and body handling.  Why would I want to make foot handling unpleasant? I have rehabilitated dogs with foot handling aversions; it is easier said than done.  Two dogs were mine who had bad foot experiences with other people.  Unless you are willing to take the time and make the effort to help your pet enjoy wearing costumes (and respect it if they do not), leave outfits on the store shelves.

Now onto some general Halloween safety!


My house!

What about animals around our festivities?  Humans in costume can be frightening. Decorations at many houses (like mine) can be overwhelming.  Since Halloween is only once a year, it is safest to keep your pets away from festivities.  Baby gates, crates and closed doors are important. A barking dog lunging at the door can be very scary for children.  My cats have safe areas where they can escape in the house. I would rather them hide in the house than dash out the front door as they panic. My dogs are crated in a quieter room, with food releasing toys.  Kong and similar toys stuffed with food.  This year I will be freezing the Kongs so they last longer.

Leave your pet at home if you go out with your kids.  There are many stressors with Halloween that can trigger reactions we do not want.  When the triggers pile up too much, they become more than the pet can manage.  This is when trouble may happen. Never assume your pet will be fine.  It is not worth the risk.  If your pet is very stressed during this time, consult with a trainer to create a plan to help get through this night.


Finally, chocolate and many of the treats children will be looking for can make your pet quite sick. Decorations can be chewed and cause intestinal damage. Keep these all away from your critters.

I love Halloween; however, some of my pets do not. I must respect that the costumes, parties, and ghouls are not in their best interest.

Karen Peak is the owner and operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County and owner of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project

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