When Someone Loses a Pet

This was published in a shorter version in Northern Virginia Today – it did not make it to the paper’s website so I am blogging it.  The loss of a beloved pet is never easy.  However, what you do as a friend or relative of someone who has makes a huge difference.  What should you do when someone loses a pet?  Note, though I discuss mainly dogs, the information goes for all animals.



D’Argo, (c) West Wind Dog Training

After the loss of a pet it is not uncommon for people to weigh in with what they think you should do. You may get advice on when to get another pet. You may be grilled on where you should get your pet. You may get “guilt-trip” messages on social media about pets needing homes and you needing a pet.  If you have lost a pet take this to heart.

Only you know what is best for you.  You need to make that choice, no one else.

For those who may do the pushing, please take this to heart.

You may mean well but your actions, may make things worse. 

It is not fair to push someone to “replace” a lost pet when they are not ready. Your social media posts to that person and comments “Look who needs a home” may push the person who suffered the loss into adopting a pet they really are not prepared to have.  People who are grieving may not always think with their heads.  The hole in their heart may speak louder.  Well that may not be a good thing.  What if that critter(s) you keep pushing on them have medical or behavioral concerns that have not shown up or you are not aware of?  It is fair to push an animal on someone who may not be in a position for whatever reason own one?  You mean well and you want that animal to have a home and you know your friend is hurting, but is pushing and posting and “suggesting” the best thing to do?  No.

The timing of when to bring in a new animal is up to the owner suffering the loss, if the person decides to get another pet at all. The reasons not to get another pet will vary. There may be financial concerns.  Some may not want to suffer the emotional toll of another loss.  Pets can be a huge time commitment.  The person may need some freedom.  The choice of timing is personal.  Your job as a friend is to support the choice even if it would not work for you.  What do I mean by this?

What if the person cannot live with the hole in their lives and the next day is searching for another pet?  Just because you think the person did not mourn long enough please do not accuse them of replacing a pet as they would a pair of shoes.  It is not disrespectful to the departed pet.  It is what the person needs.  Hold your opinions about when the person decides to bring in another pet.   I am more concerned that the person is choosing a good match for him/her instead of how fast they are “replacing” the lost pet.  For example, a laid back, not active person recently lost a small, low-key dog and they adopt a larger, high energy dog in their grief. If they know what they are getting and what the dog needs and will be able to sanely own the dog, this is where my concerns are.  Timing is personal.  It is not my decision to make nor my place to judge.  My job is to support them when they decide to bring in a new pet.

What if the person decides not to bring in a new pet?  That is fine!  It is the person’s choice, not yours!  I have spoken to people whose friends were very upset because they made the decision not to bring in a new pet after suffering a loss. Yes they were lonely and missed a companion but the people were making the best decision for them.  They did not like people pushing them to get a new pet. The pressure others put on them to replace the lost pet was draining.  If you are doing this, even if you mean well, stop.  Just stop.  You may pressure someone into getting a pet they really do not want at this time.  Yes, people will give into pressure.  It takes a lot to tell someone to stop.  The person may not want to hurt your feelings or affect your friendship therefore will not tell you to quit it.  However, in talking to people I have learned the pressure is painful and not respectful.

Do not judge the source of the new pet. Do not tell people choosing to adopt that these animals have too much baggage and are not good pets.  Do not tell people choosing to go to a breeder that they are condemning a shelter animal to death.  No matter how you feel about the source of the pet, it is not your decision.  Years ago I used to be very judgemental of where people went for pets.  However, over the years I have mellowed and gotten a different perspective.  This perspective came through years of experience and talking with people about the reasons behind the source of any pet. Though I may not agree with the source, the decision is not mine.  I should be more concerned about the ability of the owner to care for the critter as that is what really matters.  If I am asked my opinion of sources I will give the pros and cons of each.  Even at that the ultimate decision is not mine.

What about surprising the person with a pet? You may mean well by gifting a pet to fill that void, but is it a good idea? What if the timing is not right? What if the owner cannot keep the pet or afford the pet?  What if the animal is not what they want? It may make you feel really warm and fuzzy, but the recipient may not be ready.   It is really fair to the human or the animal to do this?

I had a client couple who lost a pet, their kids were all grown and the last one had moved, the two were recently retired.  Though they missed the pet and the kids, the couple was happy.  In fact they had made plans to travel in an RV all over the US.  The trip was going to last about six months or more. They had NO pressure for anything now.  Without asking, the kids surprised Mom and Dad with a puppy.  The parents were not happy at all.  Here they were having to change months of travel plans.  They could not rent an RV as planned because many do not allow pets, etc.  None of the kids were able to keep the puppy for the duration of the trip.  So here the couple was, with a puppy they did not want and having to give up a trip they had planned for months.  Luckily this worked out and they turned out to be great owners BUT it was FAR from what they wanted.   In other situations the gifted pet was not as lucky.

Lastly, please never say “It was just a pet”, “Not like you lost a relative” or “You can always get another.” Studies have shown the loss of a pet can hit people harder than the loss of a relative.  You may have an idea how important the animal was but you are not that person.  Though you may be trying to ease the pain or think you are putting things in perspective, pet owners who lost pets have told me these are some of the most upsetting comments people make.

What should you do when someone loses a pet? A simple “I’m sorry” may mean a lot.  Take the person out for coffee, dinners, heck even a drink. Be a shoulder to cry on. Give a listening ear. That is often all someone who has lost a pet wants.  In simple terms: be a friend.

Karen Peak is owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern Virginia and developer of the Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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Safer Use of Extending Leads

In the past I have covered the risks of extending (also called retracting) leashes which allow dogs to get up to twenty-five feet or more from the owner depending on the brand. Most people know I do not like these leashes.  However, I realize people will use them no matter what is taught by trainers about the risks.  Even knowing the risks, should you decide to use one let’s look at ways to reduce the risk these leads pose.


First consider the leash:

  • Buy the size up from what is recommended for your dog.
  • Get a well known brand from a reputable dealer.
  • Look ones where the entire lead is the same material.  These are sometimes called tape leads.
  • Pull the lead out and make sure it is attached to the spool inside.
  • ­­­Make sure the buttons work.  These units will break down so inspect regularly for wear and tear.
  • Buying discount brands and used retracting leads is not advised.

Now look at your dog:

  • Your dog should have great leash manners on a flat buckle collar or a back attaching body harness as well as a high tolerance to things around him.
  • If your dog pulls hard on leashes, chases passing things, does not come when called, etc., do not use an extending leash. A dog chasing something can get to the end of the lead before you can respond.
  • It is not uncommon for locking mechanisms to fail at some point.  This will allow a dog to get into a road, target another dog or human, trip someone, etc.
  • The sound of the unit hitting the ground if pulled from your hand can cause a dog to panic and run.
  • Your dog needs to have a solid recall even under high distractions.  These leads do not retract and pull your dog in as many people assume.  Your dog gets closer to you only because he wants to when on these leads.

There are specific areas where these leashes should not be used or where you can consider their use:

The risks of bad things increases when extending leashes are used in densely populated or closed in areas.

  • Avoid using them in stores, busy parks, near roads, on bike and hiking trails, veterinary/groomer waiting areas, etc.  I have watched dogs end up in traffic as they tried to chase something across the street.
  • Cyclists on trails have been flipped and dogs hurt as bikes hit leads stretched across trails.
  • I watched two dogs walking towards each other on extending leads become tangled and fight as they panicked.
  • I have seen severe injuries as the leads get pulled across skin.
  • Check park regulations (national and state), many have policies restricting the length of leashes.

When you walk your dog, use a short lead to get to where you are going. Put the extending lead on and remove your short lead.  Be aware of your surroundings.  If you see people or other animals, call your dog close and put on the short lead.  When you return home or to your vehicle, put your dog on the short lead for the return walk.

I know that people will keep using these leads.  Even clients of mine will use extending leads even when I advise against them.  Though I am not a fan of them and do not use them with my dogs, I am also a realist.  I want to reduce the risk these leads pose.  You as dog owners determine the safety of these leads.  If you use an extending lead, please do so only with a well-trained dog in open, quiet areas.  They are not suited for general use.

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If You Think Training is Expensive – Check the Alternatives

I have consulted with owners who were facing problems because a dog was put in a position where something happened.  Some incidents involved the dog going after someone.  Some cases involved a bite.  Other cases involved damage dogs did to rental property when owners were not home.   In each situation the owner was told by a landlord, home owners association, animal control/law enforcement, etc., to find a trainer.  In some cases once contracts were discussed the next words were “Oh that will cost too much” or “Let me discuss the costs with my spouse and I will call back.”


It is best to work to prevent problems. This means choosing a dog that is the best match for your life and choosing the best source possible. From here you start early socializing and work. Find a good trainer to help get you started on the road to prevention.  No matter how much work we do, these are still dogs.  Sometimes things happen which are best addressed with a professional.   Now come the monetary concerns.  Yes you will have to pay for a trainer.  Yes we love dogs but we also have expenses we must cover.  We have bills just like you.

Before you say you cannot afford professional to help address problems, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I afford to pay increased premiums for my homeowner’s insurance?
  • Can I afford to lose my homeowner’s insurance?
  • Can I afford to cover all bills for injury my dog inflicts?
  • Can I afford to be evicted by my landlord?
  • Can I afford to be sued?
  • Am I willing to risk losing my dog if something else happens?
  • Are there places I can cut back to afford help?

Let me give you a couple examples. I consulted with a man who allowed his dog in a position to easily escape the property and attack a pedestrian’s leashed dog.   The county decided to label the dog dangerous due only to how he was being managed. All the owner was told to do by his county was adequately fence the yard and show he was working with a trainer.  As soon as this was done they would lift the designation.  He said it was too expensive to do either so he hired a lawyer to fight his county’s decision.    The owner ended up spending almost three times in lawyer fees and court costs than he would have if he fenced the yard and worked with a trainer.  The owner called me several years later and complained about the lawyer costs and how he should have fenced the yard in the first place.

Some owners take a “wait and see” approach due to the cost of a trainer. Waiting to see if the issue is grown out of can increase your cost and work.  One owner let problems go for 8 years due to cost.  Over those 8 years the dog caused thousands of dollars in damages to various properties.  What prompted the owner to seek a trainer was the dog doing $10,000 in damage in one day to the owner’s new apartment.  This was on top of thousands of dollars in damage to various homes during this time.  The owner said training was too costly.

Sometimes the cost is a case of prioritizing how funds are allocated in life.  I got a call from a woman needing help with vet bills.  Her puppy was in a serious accident and needed surgery. She thought animal lovers would help pay for the puppy.  Then she started talking about how she really needed to replace her Lexus because it was older and she wanted to buy a larger house (she lived in a very affluent area) because she felt her current home did not suit her.  Also she was taking a European trip and wanted to pay in cash so she could not use the money for the puppy and…  All this would mean no extra money to fix her puppy.  I confirmed the story with her veterinarian.  Priorities.  Yes this is for vet bills but I have had people tell me dog training is too expensive and in the next breath discuss going shopping at boutiques where I know one dress often costs more than a series of group classes at a local facility.

Sometimes money truly is an issue.  Owners lose jobs or are facing costly medical bills, etc.  I have worked with people on seriously fixed incomes who were honestly having to choose sometimes between grocery shopping and vet bills.  If money is truly tight, discuss management options with a good trainer. I would rather an owner learn to manage a situation than do nothing at all.  Some owners decide to opt for a lifetime of management while others eventually move on to training.  Management is a big part of any program but the dog should have some additional work for the best chance of good results.

When you get a dog, training is an expense you must consider.  When you look at the big picture, a dog trainer may be cheaper than the alternatives.

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

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He Was Not Having Fun

It was tough. At home mom with a military contracted spouse who travelled a lot.  Three younger children and a puppy.  Mom wanted the puppy to help teach the kids responsibility and such.  However, Mom also described her children as spirited and fun-loving.  She encouraged them to express themselves creatively.  The problem was the children were allowed to have fun and express themselves creatively in ways the puppy did not find fun.

The client was out of my travel range but I took the family on as a favor to a friend who was an animal professional.  She knew I did child/dog safety work.

When I entered the house I saw the puppy’s crate (large crate for a puppy that would grow to be a large dog) decked out and made into a play platform.  A child was sitting on the crate singing and kicking.   Another child was running around the puppy while the critter was trying to eat.  When the puppy nipped another child would run up and yell NONONO!  Then the children proceeded to host a show – on top of the “crate stage.”  Then a child tried to get the puppy involved in the play.  This all went down while I was trying to take a history.

Mom was upset because the children only wanted to have fun with the puppy.  The puppy was described as a nasty brat.

The puppy was trying to survive.  The children were allowed to play inappropriately with him because Mom assumed a dog should learn to tolerate anything a child does.  If a child wants to have fun, the dog should accept it.

Here is the flaw with that – what the child thinks is fun the dog may find threatening.  It does not matter what the child’s intentions or parental assumption is if the dog is not having fun.  Humans do not determine what is fun for the dog – that is personal to the dog.

This pup was not having fun. The kids wanted to play but the pup needed security and respect.  Just because you and your child thinks the crate is a great play area and a stage does not mean the puppy will feel the same.  No, crates are supposed to be a safe place.  Puppies and dogs should be able to eat and chew toys in peace.  When I pointed out all the stress signals the pup was giving preceding a nip, Mom was shocked.  However, she was still loathe to teach her children different ways to play because they were spirited and she did not want to break that.

Over the weeks, I tried to show her how the kids and pup could have fun.  I encouraged and outlined safer games.  I tried to make the pup’s crate a quiet zone where he could retreat and be given breaks from the kids.  We worked on self-control exercises for the puppy and kids.  We rearranged things so the puppy and children could have fun together in a more appropriate way.

Here came the issues though – Mom felt the kids should dictate what they did for fun and not the pup.  She was not going to intervene and stop them because that would squash their creativity.  So I brought my daughter to show her how well children and pups could do with boundaries – boundaries are needed for safety.  My daughter was younger than her children.  We all went for a nice walk, we showed how much fun they could still have with set safety boundaries.  Mom’s only comment was “Well I am not a dog trainer and my children need to express themselves. My kids must have fun.”

The puppy was having fun with my child, she was properly guided and given boundaries.  The puppy was encouraged to take breaks and given needed breaks.  This was nothing the mother could not do if she wanted.




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Be Our Guest – Hotel Etiquette with Dogs

The more I travel with dogs, the more I see an increasing number of hotels and motels are becoming less pet friendly. Some complaints I hear from dog owners include hotels they used to love no longer allowing pets and hotels seriously increasing pet fees.  When I talk to hotel managers, it is easy to see why there are problems with allowing dogs and why they charge what they do.  As dog owners, we are to blame for higher fees and bans.  How we act at hotels will play a big role in how hotel management views how they handle allowing pets.


2009 – Sarah and Ravyn bedding down for the night while at the ASSA National in Perry, GA.  – picture by Karen Peak

In order to have good canine guests at hotels, we start with training and socializing. Some behaviors I want include: ignoring various sounds in the hall, relaxation when inside (yes this can be taught), good leash manners, sitting or waiting at doors, not lunging at people, etc.  My dogs need to quietly ride elevators or walk nicely up stairs.  They need to pass other guests, housekeeping carts and room service trays left in the hall.  They will need to handle the numerous sounds at a hotel without barking at every little noise.  We have stayed at hotels near airports and less than 100 yards from commuter rail tracks. What seems like an easy thing for us can be overwhelming for our dogs.  Now, we cannot stay at hotels to work on training and socializing but getting our dogs out and teaching what we need will go a long way.  Teach them to be in small areas with you to help prepare for riding elevators.  Some places like Bass Pro Shop are dog friendly and have elevators.  We would go there often for socializing and elevator work.  There is a lot we can do at home to prepare our dogs for hotel stays.

I make it a point to talk to managers when I stay at hotels. The complaints management have about what dog owners do (or not) and permit are lengthy.  Here are a few. Not cleaning up poop from hotel and surrounding grounds is a major problem.  It is disgusting how many owners to not clean up after their dogs.  This is not only unsightly but a health issue.  Many things we do not want can be transmitted through dog poop.  Always have a poop bag on hand.  If you forget one,  the bags used to line ice buckets work great as do the bags in your room’s trash cans.

Out of control dogs who are not managed in rooms is another concern.  One hotel manager told me about a severely damaged guest room. A dog was allowed to chew holes in walls, destroy a handicapped shower bench, relieve himself over the carpets, etc.  The damage was done in one night (owner was with the dog).  The owner completely ignored what the dog was doing.  The damage cost thousands of dollars and a room for disabled guests had to be taken out of service for a week for repairs.

Another manager said dogs who are allowed to bark all day and night is a major complaint of guests.  Some guests treat hotels and boarding kennels – leave the dog all day alone in the room.  The dogs bark and disturb people.  When the manager calls owners to return to the room, many cannot be reached.  Yes sometimes we will have to leave dogs in the rooms while we run to get breakfast (please bring it to your room) but leaving for a 6 – 12 hour day to see the sights and leaving your dog in the room is irresponsible.

Another complaint came from a manager at a hotel where people were staying for dog shows.  I was not at this show but knew club members who were contacted by the hotel management after. One group left the rooms they booked a disaster as they decided to do a full show grooming on their dogs and not clean up after they were done. They were all friends and all the same breed.  These exhibitors were banned from all shows hosted by this club.  Luckily the club did a lot of damage control to keep good relations with the hotel!  I have been at shows where announcements were made letting exhibitors know just what will happen if they are irresponsible at the host hotels.

Crates are important for the safety of your dog. All it takes is one housekeeper or maintenance man to open the door for your dog to escape.  I never rely on “do not disturb” or “dog in room” signs to keep people out.  All it takes is the owner not to be in the room and a housekeeper or maintenance person to enter and the dog to sneak out.  We often stay at hotels with kitchenettes so we have the option of cooking meals.  It is not uncommon for there to be various cleaning agents left in lower cabinets. I have dogs who can open cabinets.  A dog who is comfortable and likes a crate is safer in hotel rooms.

Along the same idea is make sure your dogs do not dash out open doors.  It is frightening to be coming down the hall, see a door open and watch a dog come barreling out with an owner screaming for the dog to get back.  If your dog cannot maintain a wait while a door is opened, crate him or leash him before opening the door. One hotel trip we had this happen (the dog was on an extending leash, dashed out of the door and pulled down the hall, the owner made no move to stop him).  We were close enough for him to get at our dogs.  Luckily I was able to get them into the door as the owner began to realize there was going to be a problem.

Do not walk your dogs on extending or long leads in the building or on the grounds. Short leashes are safer.  One recent trip (May 2017) we had to wait ten minutes before an owner acknowledged her dog (not a nice one either) was blocking the lobby doors.   His lead was extended across the entire doorway. He was roaming around while his owner stood and smoked, texted, etc.)  People could neither enter nor exit.  The owner saw people waiting.  She chose to be rude. Extending leads have no place in a hotel or on their grounds.  Because of the body language I saw in the dog I was not going to attempt to pass him.

When in hotels we have to address physical activity. Be considerate when you play with your dogs in your rooms.  The noise may disturb others.  I have heard dog games sound like they were playing fetch in rooms near us – really loud, raucous games.  Not fun when you are trying to sleep.  To help burn off energy (if the dogs are not tired from an event) we will find a back staircase and jog up and walk down a few flights. Stairs are great ways to work out your if you are careful and your dog physically healthy. Walk your dog around the halls if they are well-mannered.  Start at the bottom floor and work up to the top.  We use stair cases at the ends of the halls.  If the area around the hotel is nice we will do laps outside.  We may look for areas we can explore.  If there is an open field then we can use a long line in a safer manner if no one is around.  Alternatively we tell the dog to go sniff and we follow the dog around as she does dog things.  Last summer we drove into Colonial Williamsburg after a dog show and walked around.   The dogs enjoyed sniffing around and checking things out. We have walked the dogs in New York City when at Westminster.  Scatter feeding your dog will help too and is a quiet game.  Take his kibble and scatter it around the room.  He has to be active to find his food.  Then give him a Kong or similar toy stuffed with food in his crate (to help keep the floors clean) for quieter activities.

As dog owners, we determine how pet-friendly places will remain. Being able to be at a hotel with pets is a privilege I want to continue to enjoy.  Sadly too many people are irresponsible and are making it increasingly difficult for hotel staff to stay dog friendly.

Lastly, please do not lie and state your pet is a service dog so you can gain access with him to a hotel that has a no-dog policy.  This is a growing problem.  If your dog is a pet he is a pet.  If you choose to fake a service dog and certain behaviors happen, the management can have the dog removed and the law will be on his side. If you are in a hotel and you see someone with a service dog, keep your dog well away and under control.  It is not fair to working dogs to be tormented by your pet.  Move down the hall and let the handler and dog get to their room before you proceed.  Give them respect and a wide berth so they can do their work.

This is a greatly extended version of a piece submitted to Northern Virginia Today’s print edition for publication shortly.  – Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training.

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Giving a Choice – may I touch?

Expanded version of pieces written for Northern Virginia Today and published in May 2017.  These are sister articles regarding touch and our dogs.  The same applies to cats!


Would you race up to a total stranger and give a big bear hug? Probably not because it is rude and not safe; you have no idea what the recipient will do.  Yet every day we force ourselves on animals without their consent.  We give animals no choice regarding being patted simple because we want to pat the dog.  I have had clients think it is fine to allow everyone to handle a pet because the owners felt the pet should do it.  These same owners were outraged when the pet said “No” his way.  I worked with a boy who was encouraged by a relative to run up and greet all dogs with a big hug and kiss.  When he did this to another relative’s dog, the child was seriously mauled.  I was called in to help his parents learn how to teach him self-control and better behaviors with dogs. This child was so attracted to dogs it was scary.  Being a child he had no understanding of body language.  His parents assumed all dogs liked attention and would accept a human hug because that is how we show affection.  They thought since dogs did not move away that they were accepting of the child’s attention.

First, never assume an animal who does not want to be touched will move away. He may choose not to and instead give body language indicating he wants you to back off.   Think of the cat sunning himself on the back of the couch.  You pat him and he smacks your hand. If you are lucky he has his nails sheathed.  You were invading his space and giving attention he did not want at that moment.  He chose not to move and I will bet gave some indication he wanted none of your touch.

As you approach the critter, check body language. Is the animal indicating he is interested?  Is he moving into your area?  Does he move under your hand when it is by your side?  Does he look relaxed?  Does he try to initiate more when you stop?  Does he lean against you?  Or, when you go to pat him is he leaning away?  Does he tense?  Does his face look tight? Is he giving you the whale eye (whites of eye showing)?  Is he stiff and looking away?  Cowering?  Growling?  Each species has different signals indicating they are not happy with something going on.  It is our duty to learn them and respect them.

When my pets want to be scratched or patted, they will let me know. When I see one approach I will put my hand down.  If the critter wants to be patted, they will move under my hand.  If not, they move away.  One of my dog likes being shown and does not mind judges touching him. He is fine at the vet too. However he is very particular about being handled outside shows.  He can go days without wanting to be handled.  It is all his choice.  We ask many times a day if he wants a pat or scratch, he is allowed to say “No thank you” and walk away.  He will hang out with us, sleep at my feet when I am typing, join Sarah on the couch where he may or may not cuddle.  When my oldest is home from college he will investigate the room and hang out.  But he may not want to be touched. It is all his choice unless it is a time when touch is a must.

Foster Best Jr Handler

Foster is an awesome little Juniors dog for my daughter, but when out of the ring, he is particular about being touched – picture from Hunter Run and property of Karen Peak


I have other critters that are very eager for attention and will ask for scritches and scratches many times a day.  However, I have taught them to ask in a polite manner.  That is another blog for another day.

As pet owners, it is OK to advocate for your pet and say “No, he does not want to be touched.”   Touch needs to be with consent unless is it a situation where it must happen.  When we force situations on our pets when they do not want it, we can create trouble for our critters.  If you want to pat someone’s pet and are told “No” it is your duty to respect that.  No matter what you think, not all animals love you or want your attention.

The more we respect our pets, the happier they will be.

Obviously I am an advocate of allowing pets decide when and if they want to be touched – especially by a stranger when we are out somewhere.  However, there are times handling is a must: home checks for lumps, bumps or parasites; grooming by owner or professional; veterinary exams; canine events where a physical exam is needed; etc.

Before I continue, if your pet is tough to handle, if he bites or scratches, is fearful, showing stress, etc., it is a good idea to contact a good trainer or a veterinary behaviorist to help you get on the right track.

Teaching pets to enjoy handling begins with the source of your animal. This means the breeder or rescue group with the babies must start the foundation.  Failing to do this work puts the new owner at a disadvantage.  It is important that the little ones learn hands are good and to be touched all over.  If you are a breeder or work in rescue there can be no excuse for not doing the early work to set the foundation.  If you are not willing to do the work and do it well, then you should rethink what you are doing when it comes to placing dogs.  Owners builds upon what you do, please make sure they have a solid foundation!


Foster is being shown and he happily accepts handling by strangers here because it is his job.  He was taught this is a time when touch is must.  Picture by Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training


Be aware of how your hands are used. How can I teach an animal to trust my hands f I am using them to hurt or intimidate? This means I should not be hitting, scruffing, alpha rolling, etc., as part of my training.  It is easier to start off right than it is to retrain and regain trust later. Feeding while touching, licking peanut butter from a spoon or a unit like the Chase and Chomp Sticky Bone I can fill with things for my dog to work on while I begin handling lessons can all help my pet associate my touch with good things. If my pet begins to stress, I will ease up, take a break and try again later.

I will add gentle grooming to my handling work. It is easiest to teach grooming before your pet actually needs it.  Waiting until he is shedding or has tangles that need removing is not recommended.  As I am fighting with knots and heavily shedding coat, it is harder for me to make this a positive experience for my pet.  I cannot make grooming pleasant when I am trying to yank out fur.  I will start gently – soft bristle brush or wiping with a cloth.  I will work up to whatever I need to get the job done with my pets.  With clippers, I will not immediately clipper the pet. I will have the dog see the clippers.  I will make the clippers great in his eye.  Then I will touch him with the clippers but they will be OFF.  When the dog likes this, I will start having the dog listen to the clippers and give positive associations.  Then I will move to gentle touch so the dog feels the vibration and eventually to clippering.


Sarah at age 4 learning to groom. D’Argo was way too big for show and no amount of grooming would bring his size down.   But he learned from a young age to enjoy grooming.  Sarah was taught from a young age how to gently groom.

Please, as a pet owner, no matter what species, take the time and work to get your animal able to be handled. There are times it is a must.  This is a safety thing for your pet and people who need to handle him.  Remember, this is not the same as every Tom, Dick and Mary wanting to pat your dog while you are out.  This training is for when touch has to be done.

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Stop That Begging!

Yes, another piece from Northern Virginia Today I expanded for here.


“My dog won’t stop begging,” is a common owner complaint. You are eating or cooking, Sparky comes over to investigate what you are doing. This is normal.  My dogs do it all the time.  However, my dogs are not rude beggars.  Why?  What did you do to stop these behaviors?  The answer is not “why my dogs are not rude beggars” but WHAT I did to get better behaviors.  What you do when Sparky comes to check out that great smell determines what Sparky will do next.  Will he become a rude beggar or a patient waiter?


Uhura as a puppy at an outdoor café.  What do you not see?  Rude begging while we were eating.  Why?  Training! (c) West Wind Dog Training


Dogs do what works for them. While you are eating, Sparky approaches and poked you.  You toss Sparky food thinking he will go away.  Sparky starts these behaviors again.  Once again, you give him something to make him go away.  In reality you have reinforced these begging behaviors.  You showed Sparky what he was doing gets him what he wants.  Sparky comes up, he pokes you, you feed him.  If you do not feed him, Sparky tries harder. The behaviors worked before so he will try them again and again. He is not being rude; he is simply giving the behaviors you have reinforced.  Now what? Do you yell at him?  Hmmm, this negatively affects our relationship with our dogs.  I do not want my dog to fear approaching me for anything. Do you give him more hoping he will go away once satisfied?  Every time you do this you are teaching Sparky these behaviors will work to get him food.  You have taught Sparky to become a rude beggar.

I feed my dogs from my plates or from the counter as I am cooking.  YES!  I DO. Feeding your dog from your plate does NOT create a rude, begging dog.  Tossing your dog food from the counter as you cook will NOT create a dog who counter surfs.  Dogs will counter surf even if we do not feed them from the counter.  Dogs smell stuff and they will investigate it if they can get to it.  They are dogs.  So what is the trick to getting a dog that does not beg while you are eating or cooking?  Here is the trick – it is not a trick really – decide what you want from your dog and train for it.

DoG street grill lettuce

Lady, I am not a rabbit.  (c) West Wind Dog Training


I want a dog who waits politely.  This is what I work towards.  Give your dog a mat and teach him to remain there while you eat or cook.  While he is remaining there, toss him things.  This reinforces “If I stay here, I will get food!”  If you toss your dog food while he is doing something you do not like (rude begging) that is what he will continue to do.   Again, decide what you want and train for it.  Now, you have done this and the behaviors keep falling apart.  What could be happening?

It is easy for the desired behaviors to be undermined.  Great Aunt Edna comes for a visit.  You have explained the rules for when humans eat and how Sparky can only get things when he is in his place.  Since Edna is a newer person, Sparky may not give the behaviors to her that he does you.   If Edna gives Sparky a snack from her plate while he is not giving desired behaviors, your work has been compromised.  This is where management and showing visitors what needs to be done to keep your training going. Assuming you can retrain the dog after is not fair.  It is confusing to the dog.  If you are worried visitors will not respect your work, keep Sparky away while they are eating.

For those who cringe at giving dogs “people food,” many are safe for dogs. It is easier to make a list of things to avoid than it is to list all the people food dogs can have.  Avoid: chocolate, anything in the onion and garlic family, avocado, caffeinated things, macadamia nuts, citrus (the peels, leaves and stems contain oils), coconut and coconut oil in large amounts, grapes and raisins, anything with Xylitol, and a few other foods.  Also, make sure meat is lean and no bones from your plate.  An internet search will provide good lists of foods to avoid and foods that are safe.

Begging need not be a problem if you are willing to decide what behaviors you want from your dog and train for them.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern Virginia and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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