8522BE73-564B-4DA8-BCC1-DB9B667C767DThis started out as a very different post called “Oh the sad sweetness of the very senior dog” — a melancholy review of the passage of time and the impact on my old girl Tawny (age guess around 16 years). The fatigue, the wandering, the peeing, the wobbling, the panting, etc. etc. Oh sadness, oh sorrow.

Then everything changed when the seizures started. I went from oh well to CODE RED in a heartbeat. Caring for the old dog turned into a panicked, sleep-deprived dive into Oh My Gawd.

I know a bit about seizures, having had a fair number of clients over the years who have had dogs burdened with them. Plus my last dog seizured the last day of his life (he was 17), so there was that terrifying thought leaping around my amygdala. I know there are usually only a few possible causes in an old dog, and most aren’t good: growth/tumor, general body/organ breakdown.

But there was also this possibility: inner-ear infection. Which has no visible symptoms.

I also am intimately familiar with (some might say OCD about) Tawny’s body and health history. She came to me as a foster with a bad ear infection that took 6 months of daily cleanings to clear up. After that, I was obsessive about checking/cleaning to make sure it never recurred. And at the time the seizures started, she was on antibiotics. So an infection wasn’t possible in my view.

Still… Tawny’s unique ears feature corn-maze-like passages that are difficult to keep clear. So was it possible she had not an infection but a blockage? Would that be enough to trigger a seizure?

Crossed my fingers and started flushing (fueled by massive amounts of ground turkey for tolerating it. I mean for Tawny of course). Warm compresses (more turkey). Massages (no turkey needed for this one!).

What happened? A miracle. The seizures stopped.


I nervously started counting days. They’d been happening a week apart. A week passed. Eight, nine, 10 days. Two weeks. Three. Though I never saw a smidgen of dirt flush out of her ears, something was happening. (I did once see a tiny bit of yellow glop from one ear which may have been a blockage.)

As the no-seizure days piled up, I started allowing myself the feeling that I had addressed the problem. Relief washed over me and sleep started returning.

But this story isn’t over. Because the miracles kept coming.

To my delight and astonishment, other changes emerged. Tawny perked up, becoming more aware of her surroundings, more engaged with me, even starting to play again. She was less wobbly. The limping she exhibited in her front leg that caused me to put a brace on her went away. The incontinence stopped. And most astonishing of all, a growth that appeared on her inner eyelid shrank and disappeared.

I thought these were all old-dog things that just had to be managed. I could not have been more wrong.

How long had that inner-ear problem been going on? How could we (me, vets) have missed it?

Know what? I don’t care. All I care about is treatment worked, the seizures are gone and her health is still improving. How far can she go? I have no idea. I am just going to continue to observe, challenge and adjust as needed.


What a gift.


You would think, after being with darling girl Tawny for 14 years, I would have run out of mistakes to make with her by now.

You would think.

Today I stand before her, head hanging, with the realization that I have made the mistakiest mistake there is, and I have been making it for years. It is this: underestimating my dog.

How? By repeatedly telling people she is not the brightest bulb in the lighthouse; not saying she’s dumb, but she’s no border collie, knowwhatImean?

So. Totally. Wrong.

What she is, is sensitive and resilient. Picks up on every shade of mood I have and adjusts. Puts up with all my crap with a wag of the tail and and patient “when’s dinner” check-ins followed by “okay not yet, returning to nap” sighs. And sometimes, because of how I’m acting, she stops reacting altogether. Which makes her…a lot smarter than I am.

This is what she has learned/accomplished in 14 years with me:

• Gone from rocket on leash to best walker on planet

• Gone from most reactive dog on planet to completely manageable

• Gone from largely unsafe around people to completely safe

• Gone from would not go out when drizzling/could not be bathed to goes out in thunderstorms and totally bathable

• Gone from noise-phobic to who cares (before hearing loss of course)

• Stopped door dashing, jumping, mouthing, destroying my belongings, anxious when I left, snapping at people, unable to be bathed, unable to be contained, humping, stealing, guarding her bed

• As my “test subject” helped me develop all the kind techniques I use today including no less than 7 iterations of walking (along the way putting up with all manner of newbie-trainer screw-ups)

• Learned brand-new things like Trickility (Tricks + Agility) and different training techniques I experimented with over the years

• Adjusted to numerous equipment changes and experimentations

• After losing most of her hearing learned a plethora of hand signals and other new ways to communicate non-verbally

• Acted in nearly all my videos (making surprise cameos as well — big surprise that I have a video ham)

• …and more I am sure I’m forgetting.

So who’s the dimbulb for underestimating her?

Today I stand before Tawny, head hanging. But also, I stand resolved to never make that mistake again. I’ll find a new one instead. And Tawny, just like always, will give me that funny look, wag her tail and roll with it. Because she is brilliant.

“My dog needs to learn how to behave.”

“My dog needs to learn some behaviors.”

On the surface, the previous two statements seem to be talking about the same thing. Both have a version of the word “behave” in them, so they must be closely related, right?

Actually, no. In fact, these two sentences are as far away from each other in meaning as Pluto is from Earth in light years. (Okay, maybe not quite that bad; I just wanted to say Pluto, ya know, the dog thing. Anyway, they are not closely related.)

This may seem a bit trainer-geeky, but it is soooo very important to understand the difference between behavior and Behavior (capitalization mine), whether you are teaching your dog to Sit or dealing with a problem.

Allow me to define both and explain the importance.


This is one of the newer ways of talking about what used to be called “commands” — Sit, Down, Come, No, Heel etc. — and also “tricks” like shake, roll over, etc. We think of “tricks” and “commands” as two different things, and we tend to teach them differently, but they are the same thing: single-event actions, generally taught with words. Say the word, the action is performed, and some type of reward is usually provided.

Anyone can teach behaviors, and any dog can learn them. I sometimes call them “circus tricks” because of the automatic/rote nature of them. To avoid confusion in this post, I will also refer to them that way here.


Thisis what happens between the circus tricks, and it occupies the vast majority of your dog’s day! It is the stuff your dog does when you are not specifically telling her what to do; it’s what you are expecting or hoping she already “knows.” Though we differentiate between Good and Bad Behavior, your dog doesn’t — to her, Behavior is simply how she conducts herself in our world. Behavior is what happens after the walk but before dinner, while you are working on your computer or running the vacuum, when you are helping the kids with schoolwork, when you are fixing a snack and leaving it on the counter. While you are doing other things, your dog is Behaving.

Why it’s important to know the difference

When our dogs fail to do what we want them to do, we jump to unhelpful human conclusions. Many of us like to say our dogs are “stubborn” when they don’t perform the circus trick every time or Behave the way we’d like. Let me be clear: Dogs generally are not being “stubborn” when they don’t do what we want. There ARE reasons for their improper response — and they can be very different depending on whether it’s a behavior or Behavior.

Your dog may not perform a circus trick/behavior reliably because:

• there have not been enough repetitions,

• rewards haven’t been consistently provided,

• there is too much else going on around the dog (ie distractions),

• the teaching technique isn’t sound (eg punishing your dog for not Coming will make him less likely to Come).

In this instance, cleaning up and committing to your teaching procedure should get your dog performing reliably (80-90% for most things; dogs aren’t robots!).

Your dog may not Behave because:

• he’s scared,

• he’s overstimulated,

• he’s confused,

• he’s learned bad things happen to him under these circumstances,

• it’s a new place/person/thing,

• he’s being bullied by another dog,

• it’s night,

• it’s day,

• it’s noisy,

• he smells something funny,

• his brain is tired,

• he’s sick,

• something hurts,

• he doesn’t trust you,

• he doesn’t feel protected,

• he’s learned how to get what he wants without doing it,

• he sees no benefit to doing it,

• Behaving a different way benefits him more,

• he is expected to Behave though no one has taught him how to Behave.*

In this instance, as you can see, it’s a wee bit more complicated. Which is why it’s fascinating for me and other pros, but so frustrating for many POGs!

Behavior is internal. It comes from within, not without. It isn’t created with a word. Behavior is impacted by personality, life experience, environment, nutrition, breed(s), etc. etc. It is where DogJoy can happen, where the true connection/bond between human and dog is formed and where understanding, communication and mutual respect blossom.

To impact Behavior, you need to understand your dog on a deeper level. To create Good Behavior, you have to understand Dog Behavior in general, and your dog’s Behavior in particular. If you take the time to do that, both of you will be richly rewarded.

For some good places to start learning about dog Behavior, visit my Recommended Reading page.


*For the record, despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs still have no clue how to operate in our world, and since they don’t have ESP or a chip in their heads that is preprogrammed before they arrive in your home, they need us to supply the missing information in a way they can understand and properly process.

If your dog has it, you may be making huge handling mistakes

Smart. Sensitive. Insecure. Three little words that, when put together, can make or break the quality of life you have with your dog.

Do these words describe your dog or one you know? Then please, please read and share.

There are many common mistakes POGs make with their precious pups, but I would argue these three words cause them to make some of the biggest and most damaging ones.

I have seen dogs returned, rehomed, punished relentlessly and destroyed because of these three words. I have seen dogs make horrific mistakes because of these three words.

I desperately hope POGs will take this message deep into their hearts and take a hard look at how they are relating to their dogs so not one more tragedy happens.

Why this is important

Since the beginning of my career, I have been fascinated by behavior and have concentrated on solving tough behavior problems.

Any experienced trainer worth his/her salt is very cognizant of how important it is to notice patterns while working with the hundreds of dogs s/he sees. Studies/Research can only get you so far; at a certain point, you have to add data you’ve collected through your own experiences to flesh out your abilities.

The Troublesome Temperament Trio is one big pattern I’ve identified that contributes mightily to behavior problems, big and small.

I realized that virtually all the dogs with the worst problems were really sharp brainwise, that is they quickly processed all the information they got — no matter the quality of the information.

Also, I realized that they were taking in a lot of information because they were also very sensitive. So they were noticing everything about the situation they were in. Everything. Every. Little. Detail. And quickly processing it, and trying to make sense of it so they could solve their problem, whatever it might be.

Now, those two qualities, smart and sensitive, can be a great combination — say you have a border collie herding sheep, or a search-and-rescue dog, or an agility champ, or a service/assistance dog. Smart dogs can be challenging to train, but the rewards for both dogs and humans can be tremendous.

However, dogs with those two qualities can also turn into disasters if misunderstood/mishandled. Not just problems, but unsafe, unpredictable timebombs with hair-trigger detonators.

The main determinant of the outcome, in my experience, is the final word in the trio: insecurity.

The smart, sensitive dog that is confident (secure), when faced with a confusing situation (Hey all that information that just blew through my processor doesn’t make sense), will work to figure it out, look for more information/guidance to figure it out, and will generally hold himself together while doing so.

But the smart, sensitive dog that is unsure/nervous/anxious/fearful (insecure) will be quickly overwhelmed by the situation, his anxiety level rising to the point where he can’t process any more information, resulting in all manner of unacceptable results like unresponsiveness, frustration barking, snapping, biting, destruction, running away and more.

Compounding this bad reaction is the human, who doesn’t realize what’s going on and, thinking the dog is “misbehaving,” turns to corrections or other inappropriate reactions that only serve to make the dog more anxious, which escalates the unacceptable behavior, which increases the bad reactions, which makes the dog more anxious, and — well, you get the idea. Simply put, it ain’t gonna end well.

How to go from ‘insecure’ to ‘secure’

The first step is changing our attitude toward the dog suffering from TTT. We have to get rid of our anger/frustration as well as our commitment to correction, neither of which will help us reach a solution. Learning to treat our dogs like friends who need help rather than a “bad” dog will create the trusting bond needed to create the long-term fix.

That fix is contained in this additional, extremely important word: socialization.

Allow me to define it so the connection is clear.

Socialization is PROPER exposure to all types of environments so dogs know what each is and what to do with it, so they are not afraid of it.

It means giving the dog all the information he needs so he doesn’t have to figure it out on his own. When he knows what to do in any given situation, his confidence rises.

If you don’t provide this information, your dog will eventually figure it out himself, but not always in the way you approve of. He may find, for example, that barking incessantly at people who make him nervous gets them to go away. Or he may find that snapping works.

He may find the best way to get your attention is to take something of yours and run off with it. Or jumping on you, maybe grabbing your arm or clothes.

If you yell at him or smack him for things like that, you erode his trust, making him more nervous about his situation. Which leads to a more inappropriate behavior the next time the same or a similar situation arises.

Security is important to good mental health for people. Is it any wonder that it is also important to our dogs?

If you have a dog with TTT, start working on her confidence today!

How? Click here for an excellent article from Partnership for Animal Welfare: http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Shy.php

This morning, Tawny wandered out of the back yard through an open gate. It was closed when I checked. The landscapers scrambling around beoootifying my itsy yard must have opened it in between check and release. I saw movement out my side window that alerted me something was up.

Tawny got out.

Any of you who have a reactive dog know the gut punch those words can deliver. Tawny reacted to everything — people (worse with males), dogs, cats — with lunging, snapping, snarling etc. aka full display.

The male workers were right there. My stupid neighbors let their cats roam. Disaster???

Ahhhh, no. As I kicked off my slippers to head for the back, I saw Tawny walk up to a worker, tail wagging happily, and he bent over and stroked her on the head (previous snapping trigger). By the time I got to the back door, he had ushered her back into the yard and closed the gate. Tawny sniffed, squatted and peed, then saw me, wagged and looked like she was saying “Hey Ma, what are you doing out here?”

I smiled, I laughed, and I realized I had actually expected her to act that way. Because we have done our work. And it worked. Oh, what a feeling.
We have done our work. Have you?

This comes a little too late for me to call this a Christmas Wish, so instead I am labeling it a New Year’s Wish.

What is this Wish? Those of you who know me well may guess it’s that everyone finally stops blaming all dog problems on dominance issues (good guess — that one is always at or near the top).

However, I’m on a different soapbox at the moment, and this Wish comes courtesy of an ad in the coupon section of my local paper.

It features an adorable little girl facing a big fluffy dog, noses nearly touching. The girl’s hands are on the dog’s throat, her eyes are closed, and she looks like she is about to kiss him. The ad suggests this is a good way to celebrate the holidays with this member of the family.

So my Wish is this: I hope to never see another ad, photo or video like this.

I am not going to get into whether or not this dog is safe or comfortable in this particular photo (he doesn’t look happy, but not knowing what was going on when it was taken, I won’t comment further).

What I must get into is that this type of photo shows exactly what a child should NEVER EVER EVER do to a dog. This company is clearly ignorant of the potential disaster of the act itself and the irresponsibility of encouraging such behavior. I am going to contact them privately.

But I’ve also got to address this publicly and strongly so it reaches as many people as possible. This is an unsafe situation. Children should NEVER have their face that close to a dog’s. I don’t care if they’ve known the dog for 2 seconds or for all their lives. I don’t care if the dog is as sweet as honey and wouldn’t hurt a fly. NEVER. EVER. DO. THIS.

Here’s why:

1. Dogs are not robots, and any dog can have a bad day.

2. If kids are allowed to do that to their own dogs, they might think it’s okay to do it to all dogs. They will never learn the proper way to approach a dog.

The usual scenario

I’ve trained hundreds of dogs since 2004, and I have been in my share of homes where a dog has clocked a kid in the face, resulting in a bruise, scrape, tear or bite. The parents were shocked — shocked! — that their Sparky would do such a thing. And saddened to think they now may need to re-home Sparky (though who they think would take Sparky after he has bitten a kid in the face is beyond me).

The story I usually end up with involves one or more of these facts: the dog was “okay/fine” with baby until baby started crawling/walking; the dog has rarely/never been around a baby/toddler; the dog is “good” with older kids and/or adults so they assumed he’d be fine with baby/toddler; the baby/toddler was allowed to do anything to the dog; the baby/toddler was at times unsupervised with the dog; the dog is nervous/hyper; the dog was chewing his bone/sleeping/cornered when it happened; the baby/toddler stepped/fell on him; etc.

So in essence, the causes of the incident the adults never saw coming were 1) POGs never taught manners to their child or raised the tolerance level of their dog and 2) Dog took it as long as he could, waiting for help, then finally took care of it himself, in his own way.

If you ever have taken a basics group class from me, you would have attended one entire lesson devoted to this topic: how to prevent handling problems, and why the human-dog greeting sequence is inappropriate at just about every level from the dog’s perspective. In this lesson, you would have learned exactly how to approach these situations so you minimize your chances of having something bad happen.

If you had told me you were expecting or had a new baby, I would have sent you my Baby/Toddler Prep Sheet so you could put things in place immediately to avoid/fix problems like this.

Start creating a safe environment TODAY

You can and should make changes NOW to start reducing the chances of injury. The last thing anyone should do is allow/encourage kids to hug, kiss, stare at or otherwise bother a dog around the head. I don’t care how cute it looks. It’s not worth the risk! Stitches, skin grafts, blood, bruises and scars are not cute.

Also important is that the adults get better at reading dog body language so you know when there could be trouble brewing. (Hint: If the dog looks uncomfortable, s/he probably is uncomfortable.) If you see uncomfortable or hear a growl, immediately direct your dog away with a bright Come, Leave it, Move, etc. DO NOT use a sharp tone, punish or correct your dog — this is not the time to fix it (if you do, you will make the problem worse!!). This is the time for safety, so if the dog doesn’t respond, calmly walk toward him/her and gently shoo him/her away. Then call in a kind trainer/Dog Life Skills Instructor to help you fix it.

For a proper way for toddlers to interact with dogs, and also how to prepare your dog if you have a baby on the way or in your arms, download my Baby Prep Sheet.

For more information on how to read dog body language, get my ebooklet Read Body Language!

Have a safe day!

“If our goal is a happier, more peaceful world in the future, only education will bring change.” — The Dalai Lama

Don’t tell me you don’t have time to teach your dog how to behave! If you have five minutes to spare, you have time to help your dog learn DogLife Skills (aka “training” which is such a yesterday word).

I am a big fan of short, fun sessions with lots of repetitions and lots of rewards; it leaves everyone feeling great and wanting more! Is there any better way to get your dog to love doing things for you?
Weave them into your day whenever you have a few minutes (while microwaving something, waiting for a phone call, commercial breaks, etc.).

Still unsure? Here’s a short list to get you thinking:


• Practice sits, downs, waits, comes, or just about any other behavior

• Conduct a rapid-fire workout: randomly call out instructions (sit, come, etc.) in a playful excited tone, and as soon as your dog does it, call out another. Rain treats down after three in a row, then do another rapid sequence. See how many in a row he can follow. If he gets lost, laugh and start again!

• Five one-minute stays, two two-minute stays, or one five-minute stay

• Socialize by introducing one new object, sound or being (human or otherwise) to your dog or pup in the proper way (i.e. let him sniff/investigate; praise forward movement, not retreats; if he’s freaked out move him away till he calms; stay by him in a relaxed stance to comfort and calm).

• Pick up and put down your dog’s leash over and over so you can get him to calm down before a walk (and by the way, it would really help if you stop saying “Want to go for a WALK?? HUH??” which is what’s jacking him up in the first place!).

• Let your dog munch on some of his dinner, held in your hand, while you gently handle ears, touch feet, etc. When food is gone stop touching.

• Sprinkle treats around your dog when he is eating at his food bowl, and when he is chewing a bone or other chewie. Do it as you walk by: call him name cheerfully, sprinkle, keep walking. Hear a growl? Don’t sprinkle — walk away, wait a minute, walk back BUT stay farther away this time. No growl? Go ahead and sprinkle treats. That’s the distance to work for now. 

• Give your dog one more potty opportunity before bedtime.

• Do a Follow Me jog through your house. Wave a treat at your dog, say LET’S GO and take off! When your dog catches up to you, say GOOD and drop a treat. As he grabs it, take off again, saying LET’S GO etc. Great walking practice AND great exercise!

• Charge up a marker word (eg GOOD/YES/YEP/YAY) to start communicating simply and efficiently. (How? EASY: Say word, treat; say word, treat; say word, treat; repeat, repeat!)

• See, mark vocally (GOOD/YES/YEP/YAY) and reward as many behaviors as you can (including “doing nothing” — aka being good).

• When frustration bubbles up, give yourself a time out so you can cool off and not bring anger into the teaching process.

• Let your dog calm down and try again.

• Let yourself calm down and try again.

There’s lots lots lots more you can do — What can you add to this list?

And hey — if you can do all these things and more in five minutes, think of what you could accomplish in 10 minutes!!

Don’t have time to teach, huh? Think again! You’re done reading, now get going. Time’s a-wasting!

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