Keep Your Cat Happy

Along with dogs, I live with multiple cats.  Feline enrichment is important.  This is based on an article submitted to the Inside NoVA – Northern Virginia Today in winter of 2020.


Each morning before I leave for work, I set up food releasing toys for my dogs. Weeble, our youngest and special needs kitten, loves tackling Foster’s maze ball while he goes after a stuffed Kong.  Weeble stalks, rolls, pounces on the ball as if she were hunting. Drusilla will often check out stuffed Kongs before the dogs get them. Violet and Linus often hang out in the dog crates. Stig is one for climbing and chasing.  Just as we enrich our homes for our dogs, we must do the same for our cats.  You may look around your home and think “Well I have some catnip toys and a laser pointer, that should be enough.”  No, it is not.  What can we do to better enrich our cats’ environment?

If you have a laser pointer, be cautious. Laser pointers can build frustration and obsessive light chasing behaviors. Imagine chasing something. You think you have it in your hands and then it is not there. Then you see it again and the same thing happens grab, but it is gone. If you use laser pointers, limit sessions to a couple ties a week for a few minutes each time.  Always end with the dot landing on a toy to tackle or a food releasing ball. Toys, like teaser toys and flirt poles (also called cat fishing poles) are a better alternative to laser pointers.

Here is an excellent piece on the risks of laser pointers.


Getting rid of food bowls and using food releasing toys helps meet physical and behavioral needs of your cat.  Use a variety of toys.  Choose ones that need to be rolled and rocked and others that the cat reaches in to pull out kibble.  Cats should have wet food as part of their diet. Kong toys may be harder for cats to lick canned food out of.  However, there are toys that are shallower and easier to use.

One easy food toy to make uses a muffin tin (not the disposable foil ones) and rubber balls.  Put a little canned food in some of the wells.  Cover all the wells with balls that must be moved to find the food.

Some great food releasing toys for cats include:

Kong Interactive Treat Ball
Catit Treat Ball
Funkitty Fishbowl Cat Toy
Catit Food Tree
Legendog Cat Slow Feeders

There are also small food releasing toys for dogs that can be used with cats.  Such as:

Busy Buddy Twist and Treat
Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball (I invert the funnel inside the ball and cut it shorter so the toy is less frustrating – you will see this in one of the above videos)
StarMark Bob a Lot
Orbee Tuff Mazee Ball by Planet Dog (also in one of the above videos)

Not only are cats predators, but they are prey for larger predators.  Cats need plenty of areas to get several feet or more off the ground.  The more places your cat has to move around rooms without touching the floor, the better. This helps them feel safer and encourages natural behaviors.


Drusilla (top) and Stig on their cat tree

Cat trees with multiple surfaces and platforms, hiding cubbies, adapted shelving units, wall shelves, etc., can all provide this. Hiding treats and toys and sprinkling catnip on the shelves further enriches these areas.  Put several scratching areas in the home.  Use both horizontal and vertical scratching areas.  My cats love the corrugated cardboard scratchers and I can easily rub catnip in them.  (Please note, not all cats are responsive to catnip, it is a genetic thing).

Plain paper bags and boxes are great toys.  Cat tunnels (especially with food toys tossed in), crinkle sacks, etc., encourage activity.

Place different balls in your bathtub or in wide, lower sided boxes.  Let your cat bat the toys around.  Hide toys and treats in boxes and cat tunnels.  Leave your cat carrier out and open.  Hiding toys and treats in the carrier helps your cat develop a positive association to it.

Window perches or shelves and tables allow your cats to watch outdoor activities. My cats love to watch birds at feeders. If you are handy, build an outdoor cat enclosure with things to climb and hide in.  Make sure it is covered and secure, you do not want kitty to escape.

Rotate some of the activities you use for your cats.  Do not change them all at once but do a few at a time.

Cats need more for their physical and mental well-being than many owners provide.  Do more for your cat, she will be all the happier for it.

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Be The Squirrel!

“Dogs have interests… And if we do not make that a reward in training, that will be a distraction.”  Dr. Ian Dunbar.

“Be the squirrel.” Karen Peak

My daughter’s dog was handed a wonderful, meaty beef shank, as she grabbed it, a squirrel scurried across the fence.  The bone was dropped, and the squirrel was chased.  Where was her interest focused? If we were training, the squirrel would have been a distraction. However, what if humans worked to be the squirrel?

wood nature forest eating

Photo by Mike on

A client was having trouble with her dog.  His desire to sniff on walks was annoying. Sniffing is important for dogs for a variety of reasons. However, this dog was dragging his human all over the place.  Neither species was having a pleasant time on walks. The smells all around the dog were too much to ignore.  The human kept yanking the dog’s leash and becoming frustrated.  The dog would look at her and move as far away as he could.  Then he would decide to follow yet another sniff.

No matter what I said, another client repeatedly allowed her dog off leash.  Something of higher value distracted caught the dog’s attention and she took off.  All demands to come back were ignored.  When the dog did return, she would punish him for running away.  Then she wondered why the dog would not come when called when she repeatedly made sure the dog knew running off was bad.

At this point, many people would assume their dogs are being defiant and need to learn to obey. Next, they may be told the dog needs to know you MEAN IT when you say “heel” or “come.”  This is one reason training devices that work using anything from mild irritation to pain are still popular: the assumption is they will fix your dog’s failure to know you are master and commander.  Hmmmm, let’s think a moment.

Imagine every time you did something wrong, I poked or yelled at you.  Would you be learning because you wanted to work with me? Or, would you be obeying because you were trying to get something to stop?  Would you trust me?  What if the option to escape was present?  Would you take it?  Would you shut down and give up?  Would you be happy working with me? Recently I watched another trainer working a fully shut down and miserable dog.  They were in public and the dog was on a shock collar.  The dog’s body language was painful to watch.  The dogs I had were all relaxed and enjoying our fun outing while maintaining good manners.

My old Hunter loved to play ball.  When outside his ball was often worth more to him than a treat.  So, when practicing in the yard, his ball became the squirrel.  We would work a little, then I would stop and throw the ball. Tug games are good reinforcers for dogs who like these games.  The ability to stop and sniff on cue after taking a few steps on loose leash or chasing and grabbing a toy at the end of a flirt pole are other things we can use to be the squirrel.

How powerful is being the squirrel? A client would not stop popping her dog’s leash during a session. The dog was a type others, including some trainers, insist needs choke and prong collars. I put the dog on a twelve-foot lead attached to a body harness and gave instructions not to take up the slack. The human had no choice but to become the squirrel.  The dog’s leash manners began improving. If she practiced and following the program, the dog would improve and be happier.

This video shows the beginning of loose leash work and a person becoming the squirrel.

This video shows a game I call “It’s Your Choice” and I want the choice to be me because I am better than anything out there.

In the 1980s, when I first formally began working with dogs, almost all training was done with choke, prong and shock collars.  As a trainer, I find being the squirrel not only far more beneficial for any dog (from Chihuahua to Great Dane) but more enjoyable for me.  So, instead of allowing something to become a distraction, use it to your advantage.

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Dog Sports

Over thousands of years man has developed different breeds of dogs to perform needed jobs. Even in modern times there are jobs dogs do more effectively than man or robots. People who work with dogs know the importance of physical and mental activity. The average pet is not going to be protecting sheep from coyotes, sniffing out accelerants at an arson scene, or helping people in the frozen north transport things.  However, some undesired behaviors dog owners report can be a symptom of needs not being adequately met.  One way to address physical and mental needs is through sports. Here are a few to consider that go beyond competitive obedience.

Rally – Sometimes called Rally-O or Rally Obedience, you and your dog follow a numbered course with various stations.  Each station has a task to perform before moving to the next.  The tasks may include stays, sits, downs, turns, spirals and figure eights.

Rally Nov 24 06 (3) sm

Agility – Dogs and handlers run through a numbered course with obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, A-frames, dog walks (raised plank they go across). Though some breeds seem to excel at this sport, all dogs can do this if they are physically capable.

connor agil0004 sm

Tracking and Nose Work – Dogs are expected to follow a scent trail (tracking) or find a hidden scent (nose work). Tracking and Nose Work are based on something dogs love and need to do – sniff.  Even “sniff walks” are beneficial activities for dogs.

Lure Coursing – Dogs follow a lure pulled through a course.  Dogs are scored based on how they follow the lure and time. Some tests are open only to sign hounds (think Whippets, Borzois, etc.). Coursing Ability Tests are open to all dogs and are a pass/fail. Fast CATs are hundred-yard dashes after a lure and is also open to all dogs.

Herding – Tests a dog’s ability to work sheep, ducks and other livestock.  There are herding instinct trials which tests the dog’s natural ability for this job.  From there training is done to hone the instinct for working, competition, or both.

Sarah and Foster

Mushing – This is not just for huskies anymore nor do you need snow!  Check out urban mushing, skijoring, and similar sports.

PD snow Skijour 20030003

Barn Hunt and Earth Dog – These mimic what a dog would do in the barn or going into holes to find vermin.

PVSSC 10-19-14 Barn Hunt (4)

Weight Pulling – Dogs are asked to pull weighted carts or sleds on ground, rails, or snow.  This is not a big dog only sport. I have watched Papillons, Chinese Cresteds and other small dogs compete and love it.  The key here is asked to pull.  Dogs who want to do this will be most successful.

Dock Diving – Dogs run across a “dock” and leap in to a long pool.  Often, they are encouraged to do so by chasing a tossed toy or retrieving dummy.  If your dog likes to swim and is good at it, you may wish to check out Dock Diving.

Nose Work – Dog are trained to find and signal when a specific scent is located.

Then there are events like the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (and there are several levels), the UKC’s SPOT test (similar to a CGC and the AKC Farm Dog Certification (think CGC for farm environments).

Over the years I have done various sports including competitive obedience, Rally, Agility, Skijoring, packing (dog carries a back pack), conformation showing and lure coursing with my dogs. Currently my daughter and I are involved with conformation, junior handling and Fast CATs.

The big thing with sports is to train positively and respect it if your dog is not keen on a sport. Just because you want to do something does not mean your dog does.  Find something he enjoys better.

– Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training

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Is Your Dog Bored?

The exasperated caller complained that his dog was escaping his yard, digging and fence running. The dog was becoming a neighborhood nuisance and driving him crazy. I pressed a bit and asked about the environment the dog lived in. All I got was the dog had a yard to play in. I asked about toys, attention, opportunity to get out with other dogs if he had dogs he liked to play with, etc. The owner grew silent. He thought all a dog needed was a yard to run in. Sadly, this is a common misconception.


Dogs are not lawn ornaments. Dogs without stimulation become bored. Boredom leads to undesired behaviors. The dogs are not bad!  They are not vindictive.  They are trying to fill a void and may do so in ways we do not want.

Dogs are thinking creatures with natural instincts such as digging, chasing, sniffing, and tearing. Dogs are also social creatures.  This does not mean they will want to hang out at a dog park.  In fact, dog parks can be stressing for many dogs and have dangers humans may not realize.

This dog was escaping the yard because he was bored. He had no toys, little interaction with his people. Outside the fence was a world of possibilities. I explained to the owner what a dog should have to help enrich his yard and life.

Again, silence and then: “Well, the dog is too much work, maybe I should get rid of him.” Obviously even simple steps to helping his dog was too much for this owner. But recognizing boredom and working to prevent it are part of responsible dog owning. In zoos, creating a stimulating environment is called “Enrichment.” And at home, we must enrich.

Part of enriching our dogs’ lives is proper socialization based on the needs of the dog.  Please watch this video:

Living in the suburbs is great as we have the best of both worlds. Yards and open space but the luxury of having shopping and other amenities nearby! I can get dogs  who need it to quieter areas as well as areas with more activity as the dog is ready.

Many suburban and rural dogs lack in adequate socializing as owners have the luxury of a yard. There is no need seen to walk the dogs. Personally, my dogs have about 5,000 square feet fenced for their use.  Why should my dogs get out?

Walks are vital for learning opportunities. How else can the dog learn that the world does not have to be feared? It is amazing what dogs will view as a threat and either shy from or snap at trying to escape that threat. Often, I get calls from people who will not walk their dogs as the dogs lunge at bikes, other dogs, etc. By denying the walks, the owner is denying a great training and socializing opportunity. The owner develops a cycle – dog lunges, owner stops walks, dog does not learn to ignore bikes, owner tried again in a few months hoping dog grew out of it, dog lunges, owner stops walks…

Dogs also need to get out and sniff.  This is important for dogs.

Dogs who are bored tend to develop destructive and annoying behaviors such as barking, chewing, and digging. The dogs are not getting back at humans; they are just trying to entertain themselves. Dogs who spend all day alone and isolated from the family may develop barking problems as well as become escape artists. The owner views the dog as hard to handle, trying to “get back at me” and refuses to take him out even more as a form of punishment for not behaving. This does nothing but exacerbate the situation.

Let’s look at some enrichment ideas.

A toilet paper or paper towel tube with some kibble put in it and the ends crumpled allow the dog to tear into a toy. A clean milk jug with the top off and kibble dropped in lets the dog throw and tear and tackle.

Buster Cubes and similar toys have various compartments inside that kibbles rolls about in. Sometimes the kibble comes out. Feed your dog one of his daily meals or even both in this fashion.

Find the kibble games are great.

Games of hide and seek are wonderful! One person hides and another gets the dog to go find. Once the hiding person is found, a toy gets tossed for the dog. Or hide a toy for the dog to find.  This is also a great way to improve coming when called. Start simple (behind a chair in the same room) and build up the complexity (up the stairs and down the hall and under a box in your room).

Take a bunch of plastic or paper cups and lay them out mouth down. Put a treat under just one cup and encourage the dog to find the treat.

Play with flirt poles instead of fetch.

How about enriching our yards for our dogs? A strong rope tied to a tree with heavy bungee cords lets the dog pull and tug. Big boxes make great tunnels and many dogs will fit through the play tunnels sold at many human toy stores. Small logs and lengths of PVC pipe (4″ and 5″ diameter) can be laid down for the dog to walk and jump over while playing. (For safety, dogs under 12 – 18 months of age should have all jumps very low).

Do some backyard agility!

Make a digging area for your dog! Lay down a 4’x4′ box and fill it with a soft sand and dirt mix. Encourage your dog to dig here and not in your garden. Use landscaping timbers to mark off the dog’s digging box.

A toy buried or some kibble sprinkled over the area can help redirect his digging from your Azaleas to his personal digging spot! Build a couple platforms for your dog to jump on and crawl under (just keep away from fences as some dogs will learn to use these as means to escape). Get out and play fetch with various toys to allow your dog to engage in chasing behaviors.

Take a box, hide treats in it and drag it through the yard on a rope (you stay still, just drag the box). This allows the dog to chase and tackle! These are all things that we can do to help enrich our dogs’ lives.

And if you have a higher- to high-energy breed, these games are wonderful for burning off that energy! Get creative. However, monitor toy use and if you suspect a toy is not suited for your dog, do not use it. There is no toy ideal for all dogs and safety with toys is essential!

Boredom in dogs leads to undesired behaviors. However, enriching their environment, getting them socialized and understanding that we make our dogs what they are goes a long way in making our lives together happy and healthy.

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Lazy Training

Training your dog is not a luxury nor is it an option. Training is an obligation. However, some of the instructions owners are given may be overwhelming such as set aside 3 – 5 sessions of 15 – 20 minutes every day for training.  First, these recommendations can be overwhelming when owners think of busy schedules. Second, these recommendations forget dogs learn something every moment they are interacting with anything in their environment.  Hmmm.  So, how can we address training with busy schedules and use every opportunity possible to teach?

Holiday 2002 auto level

Connor at 3 with our gang. West wind Dog Training.

I prefer to focus on the fact that every interaction a dog has in his environment is a learning experience. This means many teachable moments for me! Ask yourself “How often am I in the house with my dog? Why should I pass up so many opportunities to teach my dog something?”

A lesson can be as simple as reinforcing a desired behavior my dog is giving even if I have not asked him to do it.  For example, Sparky comes up to me and sits.  I will reinforce the behavior some how as it is good manners.

Many lessons can be worked into our daily routine – and should be – without setting aside of lot of extra time. Here are some things I like to teach my clients:

Leashes are great for helping manage my dog as he is with me in the house.  Plus, I can work on leash manners at the same time in a highly controlled environment. Keeping my dog tethered to me allows me to be proactive. It can help improve house training and reduce the chance of nuisance behaviors. I can teach my dog what is desired instead of coming across him doing things I do not want then having to react only.

After my dogs’ physical and behavioral needs are met, I spend time writing. I can use this time to work on relax on mats, crate training, just hanging out quietly with me. When I get up, I can do some name games, a couple stay reviews, a quick show stand, hand targeting, etc. This only takes a few minutes to do with all my dogs as I take a writing break.

How many times do you pass your dog as you walk around the house? I can ask for a quick sit or down.  I can do a recall as I walk around a corner.  I can work on sitting or keeping four feet on the floor for attention instead of jumping.  I can reinforce the good behaviors I am seeing as I walk past to go to the bathroom. Let’s walk to the front door and sit nicely.  I can do any or all of these as I walk from one room to another.

As I sit and watch TV, I can work on trade games to teach my dog it is good to let me take things if needed.  I can work on reducing the risk of resource guarding as I channel surf.  During the evening news I can practice body handling and grooming.  I can take commercial breaks and do some more formal work for Rally competition.

Now of course, I cannot be lazy when it comes to meeting my dog’s physical or behavioral needs.  My dog will need time to be out, running, playing, sniffing, etc.  If I am training for a formal sport, then I need to set aside time to devote to that.  However, many behaviors needed for life with humans can and should be worked into our daily routine.

Along without having to dedicate blocks of time throughout the day for training, a big benefit of Lazy Training is it helps me teach my dog desired behaviors all over the house and helps me work on other behaviors I will eventually need outside the home.

Take every chance you have to teach your dog what you want and be lazy about it!

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Recently I was at a smaller pet supply store with my daughter and two of our dogs.  I decided to take the dogs there because it is often much quieter than the big box stores.  There are often fewer pets there and less risk of encountering an out of control dog.

person touching brown puppy

Photo by Helena Lopes on

While there, a patron with a dog on a retracting lead allowed his dog approach ours.  I asked the patron to please shorten the lead.  He looked at me, I pointed to his dog approaching mine and repeated a little firmer to get his dog closer to him.  He said his dog was friendly.  I replied he had no idea if the dogs his was wants to greet will feel the same.  And no, his dog was not friendly.  The body language expressed was a dog on alert and debating on engaging. Just because the owner assumed his dog was friendly, my dogs do not like strange dogs approaching.  With the body language his dog was giving, I knew my dogs were now preparing to respond.  I advocated for the dogs and had my daughter take them away as I checked out.

As pet owners, it is important we advocate for our critters.

Advocating is an important part of management, training, and helping our pets feel safe. Expecting any pet to tolerate things humans will do or allow their animals to do to ours is not fair for our pets. Allowing others to be rude to our pets may lead to undesired behaviors, undo training, injury to our pets or others.  Reducing the chance our dogs are in positions they are not ready for increases the chance of long term successes with training. How can owners become better advocates for their animals?

The first step with advocating is learning how to read stress signals. The more we wait until a pet is showing higher stress, the greater the chance he will learn to go to the higher-level signs first.  For dogs, search online for the Canine Ladder of Aggression.  There are many great graphics illustrating how much your dog will say before you begin to recognize it. All pets will speak volumes before resorting to things like lunging, scratching, biting, etc. It is our duty to learn and respect these signals.

ladder of aggression 2


The next step is the ability to say, “Please don’t” and not give in.

Many of us do not want to upset people.  This can be particularly true with family and friends.  However, the ability to help our pets feel safe is a big part of reducing or preventing behavioral concerns. The more a critter feels overly stressed in situations, the greater the chance of fears developing.

One way I have found effective when advocating for your pet is tell people what they can do instead of always saying “No.”  For example, “Sparky takes time to accept guests so please ignore him for now.  When we think he is ready, we can see if he will say ‘Hello’.”

Be polite when you advocate “Thank you for asking if you can pat Spot.  His body language is telling me he is not ready, so I need to say ‘no’.”  Now, there are times when you may have to become firm.  Remember, you are trying to keep your pet’s anxiety levels lower.  Would you rather upset a human or set back all the work you have done?

Finally, do not hesitate to say, “I SAID NO!” Sometimes you need to be firm.

As a trainer, I advocate for the best interests of the dog. For example, I am called to work with a dog with fearful and aggressive responses to other dogs.  His human wants to continue taking him to dog parks even after several incidents.  My job is to advocate for the needs of the dog.  He does not need a dog park to be happy.  I also advocate when it comes to using training methods based on science and research into how organisms learn the best.  No animal needs punitive, scary, painful methods to learn.

Advocating is an important part of working with any animal.  Please, do not hesitate to be your critter’s best advocate, I know I will!

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Leashed is Loved

There is an old saying “Leashed is Loved.”  Personally, I do not like it.  The saying implies people failing to leash their dogs do not love them.  I want to replace this saying with “Leashed is Safe.” Why?  Many people who allow their dogs to run loose really do love them.  Many think they are doing something good for their dogs. However, there are risks which often outweigh the benefits. Let’s look at a few.

Sarah and Uhura 4

Sarah with Uhura on a long lead.  This allows the dog to roam and poke but not be loose. (c) West Wind Dog Training.

A couple years ago there was a story from the western part of my state.  A dog owner allowed his dog to walk off leash, unsupervised, in the front yard.  The dog wandered off the property.  The dog was picked up and brought to a private rescue.  By the time the owner tracked where the well-meaning finder took the dog, the critter had been transferred out of state and adopted.  Had the dog been on leash this would not have happened.

A former neighbor had a dog struck and killed by a car.  Her dogs were often allowed off leash. One day the dogs went for a walk. The owner assumed they would return as always. The dogs managed to cross a major four lane road then headed towards the highway. One dog was recovered safely.  The other did not make it.

I have had various clients discuss plans to move to the country.  They all said something along the lines of “It will be great to open a door and let Rover run in the woods and fields out in farmland!” I have also spoken to people with livestock.  Many have had family dogs repeatedly harass and kill their animals.  In many places it is legal for farmers to shoot loose dogs going after their animals.  I remember talking to a family friend who was an animal control officer.  One shift she had the task of explaining to a family why their beloved pet was killed.  The dog was found in the act of attacking livestock.  Since it was not the first time and the dog was in the act, the dog was shot.

There are risks loose dogs pose to wildlife and wildlife poses to them. I have watched dogs disappear to chase deer.  I have been in a vet clinic when a dog allowed to run loose tangled with a porcupine. Skunk spray is nasty. We have venomous snakes around here. Loose dogs can harass and kill wildlife.  Not to mention the dangers of allowing a dog to roam in areas where trapping is allowed.

“But my dog is friendly!” is no excuse for allowing dogs to be off leash. I have seen too many owners misinterpret body language and assume arousal was friendly.  I do not like seeing a dog in a heightened state charging up to other dogs.  You do not know how the leashed dogs will respond.  One of the first cases I consulted on was a situation where a loose, smaller dog ran up to three large leashed dogs.  The smaller dog snapped at the larger dogs.  It ended tragically.

Finally, in many regions leashed is the law no matter what you want to do.  In my area of Virginia, Prince William, Stafford, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Spotsylvania counties all have leash laws. All National Parks and National Forests have a leash law with a six-foot maximum length.  Unless your dog is in an area where being off leash is permitted or participating in an event where off leash work is needed, your dog needs to be leashed.

However, many people still think this is not fair for dogs to be leashed.  Well, neither is being taken by a well-meaning person, shot because he is chasing farm animals, getting in an altercation with a leashed pet, etc.  There are things we can do to make leashed walks more dog-friendly.  Please read Are Your Walks Meaningful? for more on this.

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Your Dog Training Journey

Training and behavior work with any species (even humans) is a journey.  The journey may be short.  It may be long.  It may be easy.  It may be difficult.  There is a destination in mind but no solid course.  All we know as trainers, therapists or whatever professional you seek, is the journey begins with the first contact.

Splash and Sarah herding crop

Splash at a herding instinct test


This first contact is often information gathering.  You tell us your concerns. We get background information.  We look for various factors that could affect our journey.  We ask questions. We may ask you to prepare and assign preliminary work.  This preliminary work before the real journey begins is important.  It is part information gathering.  We need to determine things such as exercise requirements and your dog’s daily needs.  We may look at things like boredom and confusion and give beginning exercises to address them.   You may be given charts to fill out so we can see what is being done.  In order for us to begin, we need this preliminary work started.

Your first task may not seem like much, but preparation is needed. I would hate to hike the White Mountains in January with just flip-flops and a sweatshirt.  If you have problems with your preparations, let your guide know, we will help you. Guides are not mind readers. Nor does the journey end with this initial preparation. That Golden Fleece is not a gift for beginning a journey.  It is part of much more.

After the initial contact and preparations have been started, your guide will begin creating a map. We can begin to set serious goals. No, we cannot pick up any map and follow it.  We cannot grab an atlas or a guide book and wander off.  Yes these can help but your journey is personal to you.  Our map needs to be drawn up and customized for you.  As your guides, we should know the science behind what we do and follow it.  However, there are things that will have to be specific to you.  Each client is different even if the concern is the same.

Our journey is neither a straight road nor a set path.  Along our trek we evaluate things: the climate, the geography, the progress made or not, do we need more supplies or to step back and reevaluate our maps? Something may happen and cause us to change our entire route.  Weather may get bad and temporarily hinder progress.  We may get to the end and see more paths are opening.  We may hit a complete impasse and have to discuss alternatives.  Sometimes, yes sometimes, the journey must be halted.  These are the hardest ones.  They will hit your guide hard; we may feel it a lot more than we let it show. It is part of being your guide – the good and the bad. We hope for the good but understand sometimes…

There are no miracles or magic.  We cannot wave a wand or listen to an enchanted hat. We need your help, your honesty.  If something is too hard or has affected progress when we are not there, let us know.   Secrets do not help.

The work we do with behaviors in any species is a journey.  Please understand that there are variable and no guarantees.  Just come along with your guides and let’s see where we go.

Karen Peak

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Detective Work

A big part of helping owners with their canine concerns is doing detective work. Listening, observing, taking notes, looking for the obvious and not so obvious are all things that allow me to help owners uncover possible causes for why dogs are doing what they are.  Let’s look at three cases (details changed for privacy).  Right now, you will be given the same information I got at the initial phone contact.

adorable blur breed close up

Photo by on


1) Sophie was refusing to walk on leash.  The behaviors started within the past few weeks and were worsening. Previous training was positive reinforcement. There had been no incidents her owner could remember that could trigger the behavior. Medical had been ruled out.

2) Spike’s owner called me at the recommendation of another trainer. Spike was doing great with coming when called in class as well as during formal training sessions in and out of the house.  However, outside formal training sessions, Spike was ignoring the cue.

3) Bingo, a mid-adolescent dog, had begun attacking the older dog in the house. Bingo was given plenty of enrichment things, so the older dog was not the sole focus for playing.  Bingo had been neutered.  The older dog was neutered.  As Bingo hit adolescence, his attitude was changing towards the other dog.  His owners wanted help before things escalated.

Stop reading, go get a snack and a cup of something.  Sit and ponder the three cases and see if you can come up with possible reasons for the concerns.  (Insert Syncopated Clock – aka Jeopardy music here – and time is up). Let’s go over each case and see how you did.

1) This case was straightforward once I saw one thing many owners would not consider a problem. Sophie’s owner had attached a poop bag holder to the leash.  As they walked, the holder swung in front of Sophie’s face.  This was unpleasant for the dog.  Once removed, Sophie began enjoying walks again.

2) Spike’s trainer was one well known to me and someone I refer to for group classes, sports training, and play groups. I asked his owner how Spike was trained to come when called.  The trainer taught what I call a “competition recall.” Competition recalls start with the dog at a sit.  He is told to stay. The handler walks away, turns and calls the dog. This way of training a recall gives a set of behaviors that need to happen before the dog comes to you. Spike could not figure out what to do when most of the sequence was absent.

3) Bingo was perplexing at first. The history indicated things were great until they were not. During the evaluation, Bingo signaled to go outside.  Before opening the door, one of his humans put a shock collar on him.  Since the collar was not out when I got there, I had no idea they were using one.  It was information left out. I asked why it was used.  Bingo only wore the shock collar when outside with the older dog. If the owners felt he was getting too rough in play with the other dog, Bingo got zapped. The reason for the behaviors was very clear.  Bingo was associating the older dog with pain and was working to keep him away so there would be no pain.

So, how did you do? A lot of dog work can be detective work.  The more information we have through what you tell us and what we observe, the better for us.

  • Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training
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The Importance of Management

While waiting for my daughter to leave an event at a local high school, I observed a franchise trainer working with a very anxious behaving dog. The dog was clearly overwhelmed as dozens of kids ran out to meet parents.  He began pulling away from the growing throng. The trainer took the dog’s lead from the owner and went into action. A prong collar was put on the dog. Harsh corrections were given until the dog stopped trying to escape. Any good behaviorist or trainer knows that this is unacceptable training.  It is based in suppression of behaviors and does nothing to address the emotional well-being of the dog.  The dog can end up learning to be helpless.  Also, dogs learning to suppress behaviors I need to see as a trainer become dangerous.  We have nothing to read, nothing to go by, we end up with a dog that will “suddenly” go off because there is no warning given.

monochrome photo of border collie barking

Photo by Immortal shots on

With this dog I observed, there was no management of the dog’s environment to help reduce is stress. There was no way the dog was ready for the situation in which the franchise trainer put him in. Meaningful work begins with careful management of the environment and the situation into which the critter is placed. Though the owner looked pleased the dog was no longer trying to escape, there was no truly meaningful work happening.

Behavior is a response to something. The behavior can be something we want or do not want. Managing the environment around my dog increases or decreases the chance of the behavior happening or not. I am going to use leash lunging as an example of why management is important. Leash lunging, for whatever reason, is a common complaint of owners. Before I begin teaching better leash manners, I must begin by putting the dog in a position where he can succeed. This means managing the environment while I get back to basics.

I will work with the owner to identify what triggers the behaviors. Avoiding situations that will trigger a response is an important first step. If there is a dog down the street I know my client’s dog will bark and lunge after as the yard is passed, in the beginning we avoid walking that direction. While doing this, I teach how to recognize early signals the dog is entering a situation he is not ready to be in. I need to keep the dog below the threshold where he feels the need to carry on. Managing a dog’s threshold levels allows me to begin cultivating a better emotional state and the ability to humanely change the behavioral response.  It removes the assumed need for harsher methods of “training” – which in reality suppress.

Management also means controlling what I allow people to do to or around my dog. I cannot help a dog learn to be calm around children when children are allowed to behave in ways that are stressing. I cannot teach a dog to be comfortable in his crate when parents allow children to torment the crated dog.  I advocate for the best needs of my dog which may mean refusing to allow someone to greet if my dog is not in a state where greeting is desired or safe.

Sometimes owners decide it is easier to manage things than it is to work them through. Depending on what is going on, there may be times when it is easier and safer to manage behaviors instead of trying to work them through. Dogs do not need dog parks to be happy. Is it saner and safer for a human to try and force a dog to be happy and relaxed at a dog park or find alternative means to meet his needs? What about resource guarding? It may be easier depending on the situation to manage it instead of trying to work it through.  With my own dogs, I avoid big box pet supply stores. There are often too many poorly managed dogs there. I do not need my dogs charged by dogs on retracting leads. Instead, we go to places where this is less likely to happen.

Management is an important part of working with any species of animal. A good trainer will understand this and include management in a training program.

– Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training.

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