Training | Training http://www.dogster.com/training Training en-us Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss Orion <![CDATA[5 Rules of Picking Up Dog Poop]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/picking-up-dog-poop-etiquette-tips-professional-pooper-scoopers As a dog sitter, I clean up a lot of poop. I'm always in awe of the amount one dog can produce. And, my daily multi-dog hikes can't even get going until everyone has spent the necessary time finding and using the perfect poop spot. 

Because of my occupation, I consider myself a poop expert. Turns out, there are actual animal-waste specialists who know far more than I do. I asked Timothy Stone, co-founder and treasurer of aPaws: The Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists, to help me put together these rules of etiquette for picking up dog poop.  

1. Always pick it up

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It's not a fun job, but it is your responsibility. (Picking dog poop up off of a concrete sidewalk by Shutterstock)

Seems fairly obvious, and yet we all know dog owners who choose not to exercise this common courtesy. Somewhere in my neighborhood, there is a pup who seems to only find release on my front yard, and his owner consistently skips the "pickup."

If you regularly ignore this rule, and often the law, consider why it's important to pick poop up in the first place.

"The most important issue is sanitary cleanliness," Timothy explains. "Next would be the higher concentration of parasites like giardia, roundworm, hookworm, and all those other intestinal worms [that can accumulate in areas where poop is not picked up]. Pet waste also has an effect on groundwater from urban runoff and can contaminate it if left unattended."

I say pick it up because poop is disgusting. I don't want to walk down a sidewalk or trail and smell an offending odor, only to realize I've stepped in your dog's mess and will now have a reminder of your poor poop manners for the rest of my walk. Don't even get me started on the pups who stay with me who like to eat poop they find on the trail. Gag!

2. Responsibly dispose of poop 

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Use these! (Dog waste box by Shutterstock)

So, how exactly should a person responsibly dispose of dog waste, I asked Timothy.

"The greenest way to dispose of dog waste would be to compost it and throw it in your garden," he says. "However, due to the chemical makeup of dog waste and the associated parasites, this would be detrimental to plants. That being said, you should check with your local municipalities as to the preferred method of pet waste disposal. Most scoopers simply bag it and throw it in the trash can. As for biodegradable bags, due to recent FTC rulings, no plastic bags in the U.S. can be classified as biodegradable."

Honestly, I'm just happy if you pick it up. Where it goes after that is of little concern to me. I read once that the best way to dispose of your dog's poop is by flushing it down the toilet. I suppose this is true, but I'm afraid with the amount of poop my guests produce I'd have the plumber on speed dial.

3. Deal with diarrhea by preventing it

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Keep people food out of your dog's reach. (Dog sneaking sausageby Shutterstock)

Timothy offered these tips for dealing with the dreaded loose stool.

"The best way to deal with loose stool is to avoid it to begin with by keeping your pet healthy and feeding him healthy foods," he recommends. "Once that ship has sailed, what we do is sprinkle a little dirt or sand on it before scooping it up."

That's really great advice there. Solid good person, that Timothy, doing the right thing, offering suggestions. I say run, and I realize that makes me not the Emily Post of poop.

4. Pick up and dispose of poop even when in the great outdoors

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My friends, along with their dogs Sadie and Beaux, drop their poop bags for just a minute to pose for a picture during a hike. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

When hiking, can you just kick it over the side, I asked Timothy.

"When you’re out on the trail, the old adage 'pack it in, pack it out' also applies to pet waste," he says. "You don’t want to hang it in the bushes like some folks do. That’s just plain rude."

I agree with Timothy, you have to pick it up. I realize it doesn't seem fair that the coyotes, squirrels (I've never seen squirrel poop, that I know if, but I assume they do poop somewhere), and horses don't have to have a human following them around and scooping up their excrement, placing it in a hand-dandy plastic bag that they pulled out of a plastic bone-shaped container, but life isn't fair. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be!

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Left-behind bags of poop are so common around Bernal Heights in San Francisco, one resident has used them to create a series of artistic photos.

5. Seek professional help if necessary

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Timothy Stone hard at work! (Photo courtesy of Stone)

If you need to hire a professional to help with picking up your dog's poop, do so!

"The best time to call in a pro is when you’re sick of picking it up, you don’t have the time to pick it up, you’re too lazy to pick it up," Timothy says, adding "or due to health reasons, like a bad back or gag reflex when dealing with dog poop."

What he said. 

Let's hear from you, readers. Do you always pick up after your dog? If not, why not? Do you have neighbors who turn your yard into a poop minefield? Please share your stories, as well as any other etiquette rules or tips for picking up poop, in the comments.

Read more about dog poop on Dogster: 

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/picking-up-dog-poop-etiquette-tips-professional-pooper-scoopers
<![CDATA[As a Dog Trainer, Here Are Three Things I Wish Veterinarians Would Do Differently]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/veterinarian-veterinary-school-dog-behavior-training I adore veterinarians. I also respect and admire them. They are among the hardest-working individuals in the pet-care industry. I call many veterinarians friends, and most of my referrals for dog-training clients come from these fine human beings. Having said that, there are three things that I wish veterinarians would do differently for the sake of dogs everywhere.

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Our trainer LOVES veterinarians! She still wishes they would do a few things differently for their clients.

1. Improve the waiting room

Most veterinarian offices do not provide any kind of visual barrier that stops dogs from seeing (and often lunging) at one another. It is heartbreaking to sit in the wide-open waiting room and watch owners try to corral and control their already stressed-out pets. Going to the vet IS stressful for most dogs, not only because of the many smells in the building but because things veterinarians must do to keep our animals healthy sometimes involve pain. 

Even something as routine as a toenail clip can freak out many dogs. Why add to the dog's (and the owner’s) stress by allowing dogs to stare each other down in the waiting room? I know that veterinarians often stagger their appointment times, such as human doctors do. Nonetheless, every time I have a vet appointment for one of my own dogs or a foster dog, we run into other stressed-out dogs in the waiting room. My own dogs are not reactive, but I don’t want them to have to face off against a dog in the waiting room who is aggressive or overly stressed.  

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This is not how most dogs act while in the veterinarian's waiting room! It would be better for these dogs to have visual barriers and more individual space.

Solution:  Create solid walls, much like a cubicle set up in offices, and allow each dog and owner to wait in the mini stalls. They don’t have to be fully enclosed rooms -- often a visual barrier is enough to keep dogs calm and not lunging at others. Or veterinarians can do what my local wonderful vet does. She has four exam rooms, and right when we arrive for our appointment, we are escorted into our own private room to wait on the vet.  

2. Have a complete understanding of the behavioral impacts of thyroid disease

Obviously I am not a veterinarian, and because of that I do not give medical advice to my dog training clients. I have read, however, a ton of information about how being low in thyroid hormone can have an impact on canine behavior. My knowledge comes from veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, through her groundbreaking book on the subject matter, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog.

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I work every week with aggressive dogs, and the first thing I ask my clients to do is to get a complete medical checkup with a veterinarian to rule out any possible health condition that may be contributing to aggression. I suggest to some of my clients (based on behavior I observe in the dog) that they ask their veterinarian for a complete thyroid test. At least half of my clients' veterinarians scoff at the client and refuse to do the test. What’s the harm in ruling out a thyroid problem? The client requested a simple blood test that she or he is willing to pay for. Why not thank the dog owner for being involved and do the test?

Here are a few of the potential behavioral impacts a wonky thyroid can have a dog -- from Dr. Dodds’ excellent book: 

  • Fearfulness
  • Whining
  • Nervousness
  • Schizoid behavior
  • Aggression
  • Disorientation
  • Erratic Temperament
  • Hyperactivity
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Submissiveness
  • Compulsiveness
  • Irritability 

Solution: Help those of us who do work with unwanted canine behavior issues and run a complete thyroid test when an owner requests it. Ruling out a potential medical reason for behavior changes is smart, compassionate, and the only fair thing to do for an animal who can’t speak up and tell us how he is feeling inside.   

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The non-speaking veterinarian customer could have an improved visit to see their doctor.

3. Understand canine behavior

How much does your veterinarian know about canine behavior? They are required to study it in order to become a DVM, right? Not so fast. The general answer is NO; understanding canine behavior is not a requirement for graduating from most U.S. vet schools. I’ve asked the veterinarians I know -- they range from fresh out of school to being in their late-60s -- if they had to take even one class in animal behavior to become a veterinarian, and they all say no, although some schools include one elective course. 

I called a few veterinary schools to see for myself what is required. The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine reports: “There is currently a one-hour course on animal behavior in the first year.” You read that correctly: a one-hour course! The school's spokeswoman added, “Because of the importance of this area in veterinary medicine, a prerequisite in basic psychology was added a few years ago for students applying to our college.” 

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California does a little more, requiring one week of behavior training in the first year of vet school. Its spokesperson says that in the third year, “Students taking the small-animal emphasis have a three-week integrated block that is Wellness/Behavior/Nutrition.” It’s better than most schools do, but because behavior is such a complicated subject matter and can be so instrumental in reaching the right diagnosis, it would seem every veterinarian should be well versed on it. 

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Every small animal veterinarian should read this important book.

Solution: Require vet students to graduate with a broad knowledge of how animals learn and a solid knowledge of behavior. Require students to (at least!) read and be tested on these books written by veterinarians: Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats by Dr. Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB. This brilliant doctor has more upper-level degrees than anyone I’ve ever met! She is a champion for animals, and she has said her life’s mission is to help fellow veterinarians understand the importance of animal behavior in veterinary medicine.

Also require veterinary students to read the late Dr. Sophia Yin’s book Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavioral Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits.  

I have one final request that may seem small but is, in fact, huge. I wish veterinarians would ditch the boring, dry dog biscuits some hand out in the exam room to their patients. Bravo for having a treat, but in order to have a canine prayer of pairing a dog’s experience at the vet’s with a good thing, it actually has to be a good-tasting thing. Replace those dry biscuits with dehydrated meat and see how many tail wags that creates in your patients!  

Do you feel the same as I do about these issues? Tell us in the comments what you love most about your veterinarian and one thing you wish he or she would do differently.

Read more by Annie Phenix: 

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.  
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Thu, 19 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/veterinarian-veterinary-school-dog-behavior-training
<![CDATA[How I Trained My Dog to Always Come When I Call]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/off-leash-recall-come-command-dog-training-tips Off-leash dogs are a touchy topic, and pretty much every dog owner I know has something to say about it. We've all encountered a rampant pooch running wild, or a distracted and inconsiderate owner who claims his dog is "friendly" while she lunges at everything that moves.

Still, there is something to be said for watching my beloved four-legged friend, Kira, run free with the wind flapping her ears and a big goofy grin on her face. We love our dogs, and we want them to be happy.

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Kira, my Border Collie/Husky mix, running on a snowy road. (Photo by Maya Bastian)

If you could effectively train your dog to have great recall, to listen to you no matter what, and to have fun within given boundaries, such as an off-leash park or other safe area, why wouldn't you? Here are five tips that can help you achieve this. 

1. Be repetitive and consistent 

When I first started training Kira, my Border Collie/Husky mix, I walked with her on a short leash, directly by my side. Every single day, every time we walked. For about nine months. My goal was to teach Kira that her place was by my side. I never strayed from this method, not even once. Eleven years later, Kira rarely strays from my side, and when she does, she will turn on a dime at the sound of my voice.

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I trained Kira daily. Now she's my closest companion. (Photo by Maya Bastian)

A reliable recall "takes consistency and repetition, and consistency and repetition, and more consistency and repetition,” says Noelle Blessey, co-owner of Los Angeles-based dog trainers Thank Dog! Blessey believes that owners need as much training as dogs in order to achieve effective results. “It starts on-leash in a non-distracted environment, and slowly, through methodical steps, reaches the point of no leash in a distracted environment. If you are an owner who is interested in working through every step with your dog, get started right away and work it. There are no shortcuts." 

2. Know your dog's limitations and predilections

Not every dog is capable of off-leash play. There are certain breeds who I would be more hesitant to let loose. My dog, a Border Collie mix, is a breed well known for attention to vocal commands. She may be easier to off-leash train than say a hound, whose nose tends to lead them astray more often that not. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Get to know the specifics of your dog’s breed and personality before you attempt off-leash training. 

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Off-leash fun at the dog park. (Photo by Shutterstock)

3. Learn how to use training tools

As a former dog walker, I have many gripes about the ever-popular extending or retractable leash. Though it may seem awfully convenient to let your dog wander at will while still being tethered to you, extending leashes are actually teaching your dog nasty habits -- and are even dangerous. The dog is learning to pull you when he wants to go somewhere. He is also learning that he has free reign to go where he wants when he wants. Neither of these will help you with on- or off-leash training. Instead, I have had great success with 30- and 50-foot-long leashes. Take them to the dog park and allow your dogs to roam, pulling back the leash if they don’t respond to your recall. In my experience, puppies benefit greatly from this tactic.

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Extendable leashes are my least favorite training tool -- and they can be dangerous. (Beagle on extendable leash by Shutterstock)

Using treats for recall is a popular tool as well. I have seen this work incredibly well for food-focused dogs; however, it never worked a lick with my fussy Border Collie. Blessey also suggests that you learn how to use any tool properly before attempting training. She stresses, “Any tool can be misused in the hands of the uneducated. Any tool. Treats and leashes are tools, but your voice is a tool, too.” Learning how to use a specific tool is just as much your responsibility as which tool you choose. 

4. Be aware of the other dogs

No matter the situation, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. When I'm at the park and a new dog enters, I watch that dog's behavior, and I watch the owner's behavior. If the dog looks threatened or her hackles are up, if the owner is keeping her distance or restraining the dog, or if there are any other signs that the dog may not be comfortable in the park, then I call my dog back and put her on the leash, or keep her by my side, until I can confirm the situation. As friendly and well-behaved as my dog is, there is no accounting for other people or their animals. It is always better to err on the side of safety. The responsibility lies in our own hands.

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Your dog may be fine off-leash, but always keep an eye on other dogs at the park. (Happy Beagles at the park by Shutterstock)

5. Get help from a training pro

Blessey is a firm advocate of the commitment to professional training. “Seek out a professional and be ready to do some work. Your results will be directly correlated to your commitment and consistency. But you can have so much fun with it and be rewarded by the bond you build with your dog during this kind of training."

Unless you have an unending amount of time to spend training your dog, a professional trainer can ease your way into this challenging task.

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Friendly off-leash dog on a forest hike—no owner in sight! (Photo by Maya Bastian)

It is an incredible thing to watch a pack of dogs tumble and wrestle. Equally beautiful is to see your best dog-friend streak past you in a blur. My dog runs like the wind. To see her take off in a wide circle, her black-grey fur streaming behind her, brings so much joy into my heart. I'm glad that I spent the time and effort to train her well, so that I can have the confidence necessary to let her run free. With commitment, sensible goals, and consistency, you can do the same thing.

Read more about off-leash life with dogs:

About the author: Maya Bastian is a dreamer by nature, a wanderer at heart, and an artist when the inspiration strikes. After almost a decade of spending every waking hour working and playing with a bunch of furry, four-legged friends, she realized she was never going to be able to pee outside as well as they did, so she quit and started traveling the world. Now based out of L.A., Maya works as a documentary filmmaker and video artist. She misses those days of canine connection and wrestling in the park, but she doesn't miss picking up all that poop.

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Wed, 18 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/off-leash-recall-come-command-dog-training-tips
<![CDATA["Lucky Dog" Star Brandon McMillan Also Trains Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/lucky-dog-trainer-brandon-mcmillan-veterans-service-dogs Animal trainer Brandon McMillan is well known for his work on the CBS show Lucky Dog, but it’s his off-camera work as one of the founders of Argus Service Dog Foundation that has earned this TV personality the title of Dogster Hero.
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“These veterans had a part of their life taken from them, and I’m giving it back to them. I’m giving them independence,” says McMillan, who trained dogs for film and television for 15 years before one phone call convinced him to put his skills to a different use.

“A few years back, a buddy of mine called me up, and he asked, ‘Could you train a service dog for a disabled veteran who stepped on an IED in Afghanistan?’ The veteran had lost both legs, and he was learning to walk again on prosthetics,” explains McMillian, who contacted the young veteran named Tyler to assess what a service dog could do for him.

“I talked to him for a while, and I said, ‘Tell me about that day in Afghanistan,’ so he did. He told me the whole story.”

McMillan never asked Tyler what he would need a dog to assist him with. Instead, he asked the young man what his life was like before he was hurt, and what challenges he was facing now that his body had been changed so drastically.

According to McMillan, the former soldier explained that he’d been an avid athlete all his life. He said that curbs and steps were now frustratingly challenging. The loss of independence was difficult for him to accept.

“After that conversation, I knew everything that I could train a dog to do for him. He didn’t even know the possibilities, but I did,” McMillan recalls.

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Brandon trained Apollo to help Tyler tackle curbs. (All photos courtesy Brandon McMillan)

To help the veteran tackle curbs and steps, McMillan had one command in mind.

“I trained the dog to brace,” he explains.

“The brace command is when the dog stiffens up, and you can actually put pressure on the dog’s shoulders and the dog will support you up much like a cane.”

Walking up steps wasn’t the only mobility challenge the veteran faced. According to McMillan, Tyler sometimes used a wheelchair to get around, but found it difficult to get home as he lived on a hillside.

“I taught the dog to pull his wheelchair on command. The dog could also open doors if necessary and turn light switches on and off,” he says, adding that Tyler eventually decided to not have the dog turn the lights on as his helpful companion would inadvertently scratch the wall while flipping the switch.

The dog, a Doberman named Apollo, may not have had a delicate touch when it came to light switches, but he had a knack for a type of retrieving that McMillan says is one of the most technical and advanced commands humans can ever train in a dog.

“Teaching a dog to pick up keys, cell phones, and wallets -- that’s a whole new ballgame,” explains McMillan, who notes that this kind of skill is much more advanced than what most dog guardians think of as retrieval training.

“Toys and tennis balls are very fun for a dog to pick up, but keys are very awkward. It’s metal, the dog does not feel comfortable with it.”

When Apollo had mastered the delicate task of fetching keys from the ground, among many other advanced skills, McMillan headed to Washington, to bring the dog to Tyler at Walter Reed Medical Center.

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Brandon with Tyler and Apollo in Washington.

“I was expecting to basically deliver the dog and shake his hand, thank him for his service, and fly back to California,” McMillan remembers. “But when I got to D.C., I was swarmed by hundreds of veterans just like him. They saw what I did for this kid, and they all said, ‘I need a dog like that.’”

McMillan couldn’t stop thinking about those vets, and called up his friend Mike Herstik.

“He trains dogs for law enforcement and military. He’s a very, very good trainer. He’s actually a mentor of mine,” McMillan says. “I told him what I saw, and I broke down. I said we’ve got to do something about this.”

Together the two men began researching nonprofit service dog organizations, and found a void they knew they could fill.

“There are service dogs for the slightly disabled, and there are service dogs for PTSD, but there’s almost none -- we couldn’t actually find even one, to be honest -- that train dogs for the severely disabled like we do.”

The duo devoted themselves to the creation of the Argus Service Dog Foundation, which is as dedicated to helping dogs as it is to helping people. Many of the dogs who train to serve veterans are pulled from shelters -- just like the pets on Lucky Dog.

“We mainly rescue, and the ones who aren’t rescued are donated,” explains McMillan, who carefully profiles shelter dogs for physical, mental, and psychological suitability before bringing them into the program.

McMillan says that, historically, service dogs have been bred for the job, and using rescue dogs instead can be a bit more challenging. While Argus doesn’t buy purpose-bred dogs, the organization will gladly accept donated dogs from breeders.

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Brandon is committed to finding the right dogs for vets in need.

Whether the dog is donated or rescued, they all end up with the same training. McMillan says he hopes donations will help the organization continue to grow, and plans on having veterans eventually become the trainers.

“Our main goal for this nonprofit is to train veterans to train dogs for veterans. That actually is going to be very easy. Veterans have been through the military, they know how to listen, lead, and be led.”

McMillan is committed to making Argus work for America’s heroes, and that dedication makes him a hero himself.

You can follow McMillan on Facebook and Twitter; follow the Argus Service Foundation on Facebook.  

Read about more Dogster Heroes:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

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Mon, 16 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/lucky-dog-trainer-brandon-mcmillan-veterans-service-dogs
<![CDATA[Did the Digital Dogsitter Ease My Pup's Separation Anxiety?]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/digital-dogsitter-review-dog-separation-anxiety-behavior-training I’ve tried sneaking out of the house. I’ve tried distraction with toys, highest-value treats, and interactive puzzles. I’ve tried desensitization training and counterconditioning. I’ve read every book on the market and every blog on the web, but none of my efforts to cure my two-year-old Vizsla, Finley, of her separation anxiety have worked.

Just when I thought I had tried every option available short of hiring a professional behaviorist, I stumbled upon the 21st century’s answer to leaving your dog home alone: Digital Dogsitter.

With the tagline, “Train Your Dog to Stay Home Alone. With Love,” the computer software is designed for dog owners whose pets become highly anxious, often to the point of being destructive, when they’re left by themselves. Desperate to try anything that might help alleviate the problem with my pup, I immediately downloaded the free trial and hoped for the best.

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Finley has separation anxiety and becomes very upset when we leave the house.

The idea behind Digital Dogsitter is to allow owners to communicate with their pets when they’re gone by correcting any barking or loud vocalizations. The system “listens” to the dog while the humans are away and then plays a recording of the owner's voice if her furry friend breaks the volume limit. Users are instructed to record corrections -- such as “Quiet!” or “Shhh!” -- so that the dog will hear the command and consequently calm down.

I quickly discovered that the program is fairly user friendly (despite its somewhat technical appearance) and pretty straightforward. After testing my computer’s microphone, I set the threshold fairly low so that it would capture any sounds of distress. Once I had recorded a few of my own Finley-specific commands, I put the program in “Watch” mode and left my pup alone in a closed-off living room while making my usual "leaving the house" noises, opening the back door and letting it slam shut.

As expected, she began pacing and whining immediately. But her soft, high-pitched whimpering didn’t exceed the volume threshold.

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Digital Dogsitter records your commands and plays them for your pup when you're away.

After six minutes or so, she suddenly barked twice. I have to admit, it was funny hearing my recorded voice say, “Finley, no! Shhh!” through the computer on the living room table. But much to my shock and awe, Finley immediately stopped making noise.

A few moments later, I heard another whine and another bark, followed by another one of my recordings, “Quiet! Shush!” Then another two barks and some additional commands.

Then came the familiar "thunk" of magazines and envelopes through the mail slot. The mailman had made his afternoon visit, which usually sets Finley off in a tailspin of barking and frantic panting as she follows his silhouette from window to window, jumping up at the blinds. Only this time, she became quiet after just three or four barks. She didn’t have an uncontrollable meltdown. I was shocked. With me nowhere in sight, I guess she didn’t see a reason to warn the entire household of the potentially threatening mail carrier outside the door.

Then there was silence. Absolute quiet. No more whining or pacing. Just complete and utter calm.

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Our dog can become very destructive when she's left alone, even for only an hour.

I figured she must be just starting out the window, wondering where I was and how I could have been talking to her from inside the house after she heard me leave. This, of course, pleased me to no end. My smart-as-a-whip dog was just outsmarted by a computer program! And, best of all, she wasn't scratching furiously at the door trying to escape the house to come find me, which is her usual response when she knows I've left.

Over-the-moon happy with the success of the program so far, I decided to go outside and let Finley see me walk down the driveway and into the street. This would be a true test of Digital Dogsitter since Finley usually gets the most worked up when she can physically see the distance between her and me.

As soon as I made it to the end of the driveway, she let out a chorus of shrieks and barks -- her usual hysterical display when she realizes how far away I am. After letting her throw a fit for a few minutes, I waited for a moment of quiet and then walked back up the driveway. The recorded commands didn’t seem to have as strong of an effect once she passed the point of no return in her tantrum.

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Finley watches and waits before getting upset.

When I got back inside and reviewed the log, I found nine recordings of Finley breaking the volume threshold. That wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but the software didn't seem to have captured every single staccato bark during her outburst. System overload, I think it's safe to say. So I think the key for me (and probably some other pet owners with a similar problem) is to trick my dog into thinking I'm still in the house, or to prevent her from seeing me leave by going through a window. That’s not a difficult thing to do, but it definitely requires a little extra effort.

I can imagine this kind of technology would work nicely for owners whose pets bark intermittently during alone time and need a simple correction as a firm reminder. And for the price ($18 for three months; $44 for a full year), Digital Dogsitter is one of the more affordable options when it comes to dealing with separation anxiety.

Overall, I was impressed with how effective Digital Dogsitter was with Finley’s first isolated protests. She really responded to my recorded voice and seemed genuinely convinced I was still nearby. If I had just closed the front window shades or put her in a room without street-access windows, I’m confident she would have done very well long-term. That said, I plan to keep using the program in conjunction with more rigorous desensitization training. From now on, I'll try putting her in the basement with my portable laptop whenever I leave so she can't see me out the window. And I don't have to see those sad puppy dog eyes begging me not to leave!

Does your dog experience separation anxiety? Would you use a product like this? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Whitney C. Harris:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

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Fri, 13 Mar 2015 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/digital-dogsitter-review-dog-separation-anxiety-behavior-training
<![CDATA[Monkey the Saint Bernard and His Friend Try Out the Puller ]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/puller-dog-training-toy-review-saint-bernard It's no secret that I chose a Saint Bernard as my best friend because the breed is notoriously lazy. Just like me. Still, even the laziest of dogs needs exercise, so I was curious to try out the Puller, a dog-training device claiming that 20 minutes of its three simple exercises is comparable to 5km of intensive running. Now, Monkey has never run that far in his entire life, so I was super-stoked to try this out. After all, he sleeps for three hours after 30 minutes of play at the dog park; if I could get him to actually do the exercises, the Puller would likely tucker him out for the entire day. And let's be real: As much as we love our dogs, we REALLY love them when they're sleepy.

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The Puller, which consists of two rings, also promises to develop all muscle groups, provide physical development for puppies, and keep their attention on one thing rather than every single -- ooooh! Pine cone!

Unfortunately, when I received the Puller and watched some of the amazing training videos of dogs using the system effectively, I realized there was no way Monkey was going to be able to do those things. Yeah, my dog is amazing, but jumping through the air and off of walls just isn't really his jam.

The people behind the Puller recommend three exercises:

1. Running

You basically roll one Puller, and your dog fetches it and brings it back to you, at which point you immediately switch and throw the second one. The problem for Monkey? He doesn't fetch. Or bring things back. 

2. Jumping

Same idea, but you let your dog catch the Puller in the air while jumping, and then you make him jump for the second one while you're still holding onto the first one. The problem for Monkey? He's not allowed to jump. Also, he can't really jump. But that's fine because I promise no one wants a 140-pound Saint Bernard leaping through the air. 

3. Pulling

This is basically a game of tug, but you want your dog to bite with his back teeth. Tug? Monkey can totally do that. And he did. And we had fun.

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Still, I didn't feel like it was fair to fully test the Puller out on Monkey when clearly it wasn't really his thing from the start. So I called in reinforcements in the form of Monkey's good friend, Cassius, a German Wirehaired Pointer-black Lab. Unlike Monkey, Cassius loves to fetch AND has endless amounts of energy.

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When it came to the running exercise, Cassius was definitely down to chase the rolling Puller. Getting him to bring it back presented a slight problem, but he got plenty of exercise in the form of keeping the Puller away from Monkey, who will never chase a toy, but will always chase another dog chasing a toy.

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Cash was also great with the jumping, as there is possibly nothing more in life that the little guy likes to do than jump. It would take some training, but I think eventually he would really like the way quickly switching between the two Pullers would keep him engaged.

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It also makes a great necklace for dogs who enjoy accessorizing on the fly.

As far as pulling goes ... I mean, what dog doesn't like to pull? Unfortunately, I didn't really get to try out switching between the two Pullers for this exercise because Cash and Monkey were much more entertained trying to yank just the one Puller out of each other's mouths. Note: This is NOT how the Puller is supposed to be used. Like, the website specifically says not to do this. Oops?

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Frankly, the Puller isn't for me and Monkey, but I would say a lot of that is because Monkey just isn't interested in running and fetching, but more of that is because I don't have dedication it would require to actually work with Monkey five days a week so that he would get the most out of the training device. And hey, that's on me. Luckily, between our walks and the fact that I bring him pretty much everywhere I go, he sleeps just fine at night. And in the morning. And most of the afternoon.

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Dogster scorecard for the Puller

  • Quality: The Puller is made of high-purity polymer, which is very light, so even kids can easily throw it. It didn't lose its shape or have too many teeth marks in it after a ton of play.
  • Style: Well, you're supposed to hide it when it's not in use so that your dog gets excited to train with it, but if it did happen to be laying around my house, I would be fine with that. I do wish it came in other colors besides purple though.
  • Function: The Puller floats and is odorless, so it doesn't leave an odor on your hands, which is apparently important when it comes to training. It's also specially developed not to hurt your dog's teeth
  • Creativity: This concept is totally unique, and if you have a super active dog who loves to run and fetch, he would love this training device 100 percent.
  • Value: The Standard Puller (pictured) comes with two rings and sells for $25 on Amazon. There are also mini and maxi Pullers, so there's one for dogs of all sizes.

Bottom line

If you have an energetic dog, plenty of space (I'm lucky I spend time in Tahoe because I don't know where I would have tried this out in San Francisco), and are the type of person who is willing to commit to really teaching your dog how to use the Puller, then this is a super affordable option you and your pup will appreciate.

Read more Dogster Reviews:

About the author: Daisy Barringer grew up in San Francisco and didn't let the fact that she's a city girl keep her from getting her dream dog: a Saint Bernard. She and Monkey love to romp in the snow in Tahoe, visit dog-friendly bars, watch 49ers football, and drool. Yup, both of 'em.

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Thu, 12 Mar 2015 08:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/puller-dog-training-toy-review-saint-bernard
<![CDATA[How Artist Lili Chin's Dog Inspired Her Career in Positive Training]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/lili-chin-dog-illustrations-positive-reinforcement-training-sophia-yin I recently wrote about how my dog, Riggins, lead me to my current career. Lili Chin had a similar experience. Her Boston Terrier, Boogie, inspired her to become a pet portraitist and illustrator/educator of positive reinforcement dog training.

Chin came to the U.S. from Sydney 10 years ago. Her partner and she had sold an animated kids series to Warner Bros., and they moved here to work on it. Chin began creating pet portraits as a side project, drawing people's dogs in exchange for a donation to Boston Buddies Rescue. The Southern California group was close to her heart -- she was an active fosterer and eventually adopted Boogie from them. 

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Lili Chin and Boogie. (All photos courtesy of Lili Chin unless otherwise noted)

Chin's fundraising efforts soon became a side business and then a full-time job. Her love for Boogie and her need to find effective dog-training methods led her to those on the cutting edge of positive reinforcement training. 

"I adopted my dog Boogie from Boston Buddies; he was three or four. When I adopted him, I was told that he was put in the shelter by his previous owners because he had bit somebody. I didn't believe it at the time because he was so sweet and the perfect dog. Then it happened. He bit someone." The incident almost caused Chin and Boogie to be evicted from their apartment. "It was bad. It was really bad. A real life-changing experience."

In an off-the-cuff comment, her building manager offered her a way she may be able to stay. He suggested seeking out dog trainer Cesar Millan's advice and getting on his popular television show, The Dog Whisperer. As it turns out, Chin was a big fan of the trainer: "I thought he was God's gift to dogs." 

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A just-for-fun illustration by Chin.

She made some calls and actually got a call back from a producer. They felt Boogie's story would be a great one for the show, but they needed footage of him being aggressive before they were able to move forward. In order to get any footage, Chin would have to make Boogie aggressive, and she did not feel comfortable doing that. "I didn't want to put anyone's life at risk, and I didn't want to aggravate Boogie," she explains.

Her unwillingness to get footage of Boogie's problem left her without the trainer she so desperately needed. "In my naivety, I Googled and picked the first name that came up." Boogie and Chin enrolled in a doggie boot camp. With her home or her dog on the line, it was an extremely stressful time, and she was determined to be a good student. "I did everything the trainer said." This included having Boogie in a prong training collar 24/7, keeping him tethered to her, and using harsh jerking movements with the leash to get him to obey.

The strict training wasn't working. In fact, Boogie was getting worse. "He [Boogie] became really shut down and was afraid of everyone." Chin went back to the trainer with her concerns, but was told to keep going. During a training session when she was told to push Boogie on his side and force him to lie down, she knew it was too much. "All sorts of alarm bells were going off in my head. It just felt like I couldn't continue with the program. It was just too stressful, and Boogie was upset and not getting any better."

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Chin would soon learn that positive reinforcement training was a much more effective and humane approach.

As it turns out, Dogster actually played a part in Chin's journey. Not knowing what to do, she wrote to us seeking guidance. Dog behaviorist Grisha Stewart responded. She told her to ditch the prong collar and look into positive reinforcement training.

Chin did just that and realized how little she knew about dog training and the different options. "What I was being taught by my trainer was old school and out of date." Through her research, she found trainer Sarah Owings and started doing illustrations of Boogie's lessons on his blog. Chin says, "It was the first time any of those training methods had been represented visually." 

Seeing her work, Stewart reached out and asked if she would be interested in illustrating her new book introducing BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training), a training method that she developed for dogs who experience fear, frustration, and aggression. Chin agreed.

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Chin also created illustrations for Stewart's DVD series.

Chin moved on to work with the late dog behaviorist and vet Dr. Sophia Yin and was her illustrator for three years. "She [Yin] got into behavior training because a lot of dogs were being euthanized due to behavior issues." With Chin's drawings, Yin helped owners understand how to handle dogs and cats in a stress-free way.

Not only was Chin working with some well-known positive behavior trainers and advocates, she herself was becoming more knowledgeable and realized that what she was learning, and helping to teach with her illustrations, was information that could help so many other dog owners. "I didn't realize this was all really common." As she puts it, her illustrations went viral because they "touched a cord with a lot of people."

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One of Chin's most popular illustrations.

Allowing some of her most popular teaching and learning tools to be downloaded for free from her website seemed like the obvious next step. "It's useful information that is really important. It needs to be out there." Chin set up a PayPal Donation button on her site for those people who wish to give money in appreciation for the work.

You also can find Chin's work being used to teach students, prison inmates, and police officers dog body language. And she provided the illustrations for the recently released DogDecoder app, created by dog trainer Jill Breitner. 

Visit Chin's Facebook, Etsy, and website to see more of her illustrations and products.

Read more about positive training:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Thu, 12 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/lili-chin-dog-illustrations-positive-reinforcement-training-sophia-yin
<![CDATA[Adjusting Your Clock for Daylight Savings Might Mess with Your Dog's Head]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/adjusting-your-clock-for-daylight-savings-may-mess-with-your-dogs-head On Sunday, March 8, it's time for us to "spring forward," adjusting our clocks one hour ahead to segue from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time. Does that lost hour of sleep affect our pets?

"Of course it does," says dog behavior expert Sarah Wilson, author of Dogology: What Your Relationship With Your Dog Says About You (follow her on Twitter). "The next day you and your dog will be dreaming deeply in your 5:30 a.m. sleep cycle when the alarm says it is 6:30 a.m. -- and wakeup time."

How can we help our dogs cope?

"If your dog wants to sleep in, let them for as long as you can," she advises, adding, "Don’t you wish someone would do that for you?"

Creatures of habit, dogs love consistency in their daily schedule. When the old familiar routine is disrupted, the change can affect a dog's behavior.

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Just let me zzzzz!

"Getting up an hour earlier or later causes stress," explains William Berloni, author of Broadway Tails and director of behavior for the Humane Society of New York. "For instance, they have to 'hold it' an hour longer, wait an hour longer to eat, and wait an extra hour for you to come home from work. All that is stressful to dogs.

"But if we start adjusting their schedule in 15-minute increments a few days before the time change, it makes the transition easier."

Dogs have adjusted themselves to humans' wacky behavior since the first wolf let itself be domesticated. For the most part, they're used to training and otherwise synchronizing their routine to ours; but sometimes, they could use a little help.

When he's not working at the Humane Society, Berloni runs William Berloni Theatrical Animals, Broadway's go-to provider of animal talent. He travels often with his performing dogs, who must deal with the schedule changes in different time zones.

"We purposely never feed or walk our dogs at exactly the same time," he explains. "It's always slightly different: Dinner at 8 or 8.30 or 9, for instance. It's roughly the same window of time, but not the exact same time every day. This slight variation keeps the dogs accustomed to their lives being somewhat unpredictable, so they don't experience 'jet lag' and they're always ready to go. It reduces stress on them and us."

Obviously, those of us who are self-employed have an easier time of this because we create our own schedules.

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Walk meeeee! Begging dog by Shutterstock

"If you have a barky or reactive dog, prepare for a bit more of both on your first walk of the day," Wilson says. "The combination of darker conditions outside and being in a different brain space may be what combines to create this phenomenon I’ve observed through the years. I just bring extra treats and proactively help my dog connect with me to help them through this temporary readjustment phase."

Another helpful hint: "The local wildlife don't get the DST memo and can be wandering around when you are; keep an eye peeled for them so you don't have to do a gagging Google search on 'removing skunk odor.'"

Of course, the one-hour time difference could mean your dog isn't quite prepared to do all aspects of her business just yet. You know how it is when you're dealing with jet lag -- things don't always, ahem, move along the way they do on your usual schedule. So, it's a good idea to carve out a few extra minutes in your morning this week to take your pup for an additional outing, just in case it didn't get around to doing number two. If that still isn't forthcoming, don't be surprised if you're met with a little accident when you return home (and do be nice about it -- it's not the dog's fault that the clock got reset).

Incidentally, when it's time to "Fall Back" to Standard Time come November, while we get that extra hour in bed, it means our dogs awaken at their usual time wanting to relieve themselves. Some dogs are nice enough to just snuggle in and let us sleep. But very young or very old dogs might not be able to hold it. Again, it's the same drill: Don't be surprised if a little accident happens while you're enjoying that extra hour of snooze time. It's not your dog's fault.

Readers, what changes have you noticed in your dog's routine at the advent of Daylight Saving Time? Please share info and tips in the comments!

Photo Credits: A man and his dog, sleepy pup, begging dog supplied by our friends at Shutterstock

Read more about dogs and sleeping:

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Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:05:00 -0700 /lifestyle/adjusting-your-clock-for-daylight-savings-may-mess-with-your-dogs-head
<![CDATA[Mia the Australian Shepherd Can Read -- And She's Not the Only Dog Who Can]]> http://www.dogster.com/the-scoop/mia-australian-shepherd-reads-dog-trainer-maureen-ward Australian Shepherds have an innate desire to get things done -- and that includes learning words. Some of them know hundreds and even thousands of words. It was only a matter of time before one of them started to read.

Meet Mia, a mini Australian Shepherd who reads.

She's not up to books, yet. Mia reads words printed on cards, thanks to her dog trainer, Maureen Ward. The pair recently visited the Brown School in Louisville to show their stuff, according to Wave 3 News.

wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather

In an auditorium, Ward held up cards with words printed on them, and Mia reacted accordingly. One read "High 5."

What's that say?” Ward called out. 

Mia raised a paw. 

And so it went: Mia jumped at the "Jump" sign, sat at the "Sit" sign, spun at the "Spin" sign, and so on and so forth, even when a volunteer shuffled up the cards. 

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Mia's best friend, Bauer, can also read. She's a Bernese Mountain Dog. Ward taught her to read. Ward is teaching a lot of dogs to read.  

"When I say by week four your dogs are qualified to read, and they're like no way!” Ward says of other owners, according to Wave 3. “And sure enough the dogs are reading by four weeks and their jaws are just dropping to the ground." 

It's not rocket science. It's dog training. The dogs learn a vocal command, a hand gesture is added, the letters are incorporated, and the dog is reading. 

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Ward says it's really no different from how people learn to read. 

“Basically the same thing,” Ward said. “Taking your letters and spelling them out.”

Dogs are really going places. Combine these dogs with the one who shoveled show the other day, and you've basically got a municipal government. 

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Read more dog news on Dogster:

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Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:15:00 -0800 /the-scoop/mia-australian-shepherd-reads-dog-trainer-maureen-ward
<![CDATA[Have You Ever Complained About a Neighbor's Barking Dog?]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/barking-dog-complaints-nuisance-barking-separation-anxiety-behavior-training When I came down with a horrific cold recently, I found myself clinging to the couch and willing the German Shepherd who lives above me to stop barking. The dog was clearly home alone and anxious.

I turned the TV on, but it was as if the program I was watching had been muted. All I could hear was barking. Next, I listened to some ambient noise of waves crashing as I tried to rest and let my cold meds kick in. That didn't do the trick either.

Getting a grip

Admittedly, I was already in a bad mood, because when I get sick, I feel like I am on an island alone without chicken soup and hugs. However, on this recent afternoon, my neighbor's dog's incessant barking and howling was about to push me over the edge into a canyon of complaint. Before my nasal congestion and impatience led me to pick up the phone to voice a grievance to the landlord, I got a grip on myself.

Two years ago, I was the one fielding complaints about my dog, Toby, barking in our small, fourth-floor walk-up apartment in New York City.

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My parents dogs, Bella and DiDi (center and right), don’t have separation anxiety like Toby does. Spending time with them made Toby feel safe. (All photos by Margot Ahlquist)

Bella and DiDi (my fur sisters) don't like when my parents or guests leave the house, but they don't have serious separation anxiety. The most irreverent thing that happens when the Bella and DiDi are left at home is DiDi spitting out the treat that my mom hands out to take her mind off the departure.

With Toby, it was a different story.

Dog parenting skills put to the test

In September of 2012, as I headed back to work after some time off to adopt Toby, I closed the door to a crying and howling furball. Soon, I learned that in order to calm Toby down when I left the house, tools such as a frozen Kong stuffed with goodies and relaxing music in the background were necessary.

Before walking to the subway, I would stand in the courtyard of my apartment building to monitor Toby's noises. A lot of those mornings, tears would run down my face as I heard my dog calling out not to be left. The guilt and worry I felt consumed me.

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In our old apartment, Toby would fixate on my departure and keep track from his "lookout."

So that my neighbors didn't think I was an emotional basket case (even though I clearly was at that time), I would throw my sunglasses on to hide my tear-filled eyes. Even though I had sought the help of a respected trainer to get Toby’s barking under control, I felt completely alone standing outside willing Toby to settle down.

Madness randomly ensues

After a few weeks passed, I stopped crying and Toby barked a maximum of five minutes after I left. By November, we got to a point where he curled up on his bed waiting for the Kong as I was about to leave. Toby let out 30 seconds of barking after I closed the door and then was silent (I left a sound recorder, with my dog walker’s knowledge, to track his barking).

Of course, just as the dog had vastly improved on his anxiety-driven barking, a neighbor who had never said one word about Toby after living in the apartment across the hall from him for three months raised hell with building management about Toby and me.

It was ironic and maddening. This neighbor, who had not been in my apartment or met Toby, and didn’t know my name, spent weeks making my life a living hell. She threatened to call the ASPCA on me because Toby’s bark sounded so unhappy she claimed I wasn’t treating him humanely. Nothing makes a dog lover who treasures their dog full of rage like a false claim of inhumane treatment.

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Toby used to give me the saddest looks before I went to work.

Then, I was accused of leaving a negative comment about her business via an online review service. I didn’t even know what she her profession was! Her accusation was completely ridiculous!

Next came the late-night knocking on my door, which of course Toby would bark at, as any dog who is not deaf would have. This was followed by a barrage of notes on my door and more complaints about the dog and me to building management. And on and on ...

I felt like a prisoner in my own home and couldn’t understand why this woman was acting out now when Toby was barking less.

Standing by my dog

In dealing with my unhinged neighbor, nothing brought peace. Venting to my mom and friends helped a little, but I was still so bothered. 

Then one day, my dog walker, who knew Toby almost as well as I did, told me to be firm. She charged me to stand up for myself and end this nonsense. Because she understood Toby and why dogs bark, she was able to connect with me in a way others couldn't on this topic. 

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Toby has adjusted beautifully since I adopted him. His anxiety-driven barking is now a rarity.

Finally, I sent the building owners the "Toby Tapes," aka the recordings I made of his drastically reduced barking, and a firm note threatening legal action if this woman didn't stop harassing me.

The madness stopped. Toby resumed his life as a happy and less anxious dog.

However, I had a new understanding of how the world is full of some good neighbors and some not so good ones who will make other people's lives hell because they are unhappy.

So, on that recent afternoon when the dog above me was barking out of anxiety, I chose restraint. If the dog does continue to bark a lot, I vow to be a nicer and more understanding human than the one who caused me so much grief two years ago.

Let's hear from you, readers. Do you have a dog whose barking bothers your neighbors? Or does a barking dog disturb your peace? How do you handle it? 

Read more about dog barking:

About the author: Margot Ahlquist is a dog mom, Professional Life Coach and Creator of Paws to Talk where the motto is "Life Support For Dog Lovers." She lives near Boston with her dogs Bella, DiDi and Toby. Margot recently released a product kit entitled Paws By Your Side which helps dog lovers cope with the loss of their dogs. Follow Margot's blog and get more info on Paws to Talk's services and products here

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Wed, 25 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/barking-dog-complaints-nuisance-barking-separation-anxiety-behavior-training
<![CDATA[Meet the Directors of "Dogs on the Inside"]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dogs-on-the-inside-documentary-movie-prison-dog-training From a dog’s perspective, the inside of a prison doesn’t look much different than the inside of an animal shelter. They are still surrounded by bars, concrete, and a chain-link fence. The scenery may be similar, but when dogs are fostered by inmates in the prison system, the animals are gifted with something they simply can't receive in overcrowded shelters -- the one-on-one love and attention of a human guardian.

The story of how dogs are fostered inside a Massachusetts correctional facility is the topic of a new film by directors Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup called Dogs on the Inside.

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The dogs may be behind bars, but they have freedom they'd never know in a shelter.

The idea for the film began when Cunningham heard about an organization called Don't Throw Us Away, a mutually beneficial program that matches rescue dogs with inmate handlers for eight weeks of rehabilitation and training.

"I reached out to Michelle D. Riccio, the founder," says Cunningham. "She loved the idea of a film being made about her program."

The resulting documentary follows along as rescue dogs come into the prison program lacking the skills many potential adopters look for in a pet, and eventually leave with a good training foundation in basic obedience. The inmates who work with the dogs develop skills and a sense of purpose.

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The inmates work with their dogs every day, with the goal of passing a training test at the end of the eight weeks.

"The dogs reminded the inmates that they're human," explains Seirup, a lifelong dog lover himself who witnessed the transformative power the dogs have on their convicted trainers. 

"The dogs return the love right back to the inmates. I could see it -- the restored confidence, the second chances," he explains.

While the inmates develop relationships and skills as dog handlers, the rescue dogs get a chance to learn that human hands don't always hurt them. The film shows dogs who were abused, neglected, and abandoned entering the program and finally getting the love they deserve. The inmates have something positive to focus on, and dogs who may never have found a foster home on the outside flourish under the undivided attention. 

"What was really cool about the prison as a potential foster home is its available space," says Cunningham, whose film notes that rescue organizations can only help as many dogs as they have foster homes for.

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The dogs sleep in their inmate's cells during their two months behind prison walls.

In the future, more dogs may may be able to be fostered inside prisons. According to its website, Don’t Throw Us Away is seeking to expand into new institutions.

The making of the film

The story of dogs and inmates helping each other is uplifting, but getting it shot wasn't so easy.

"There was quite a bit of red tape to gain access to the prison," explains Seirup. "But once we did, it went really well."

Because the filmmakers wanted to build trust with the inmate handlers, they made their first visit to the prison without any camera equipment. At that time, the inmates were just finishing a training cycle with a group of dogs slated for adoption.

"The dogs served as the broker of that trust, and the dogs really served as that general common interest and relieved any kind of tension," explains Seirup.

Once they had permission from officials and the trust of the inmate handlers, Seirup and Cunningham were able to film the men over the course of eight weeks, documenting as the inmates trained, fed, and bathed their canine companions.

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The bond between the inmates and the dogs is strong -- even if it must be severed at the end of eight weeks.

While entering a prison for the first time was stressful, it was probably not even the most dangerous location the filmmakers visited. The film shows how dogs who entered the prison were initially rescued from rural areas in the South. The animal rescuers the camera crew followed reported being shot at while trying to save dogs -- an activity others viewed as trespassing.

"I think initially there was a little bit of fear because it's a little bit more of the Southern culture of walking onto someone's property -- they're going to question why you're there," explains Seirup.

"We were a little leery about it," explains Cunningham, who adds that the experienced animal rescuers they were documenting put the filmmakers at ease.

"It was almost like we could just follow them and we knew that we were in good hands. They're fearless, and they're confident about their mission and what they're doing."

While documenting the mission of those dog rescuers, Cunningham and Seirup were pursuing their own mission as filmmakers and friends of animals. 

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The film documents how the dogs -- and the inmates -- learn to trust.

"We hope that people are touched in the heart, feel more compassionate, and see the benefits of having a dog in their life," says Seirup.

"I just hope we can stir people to get involved with helping to tackle the animal overpopulation issue," he explains, adding that adopting, fostering, and spaying or neutering pets can all help the cause.

Dogs on the Inside was released digitally on February 10 through iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and Vudu. The DVD comes out February 24. You can view an exclusive clip below: 

Read more about prison dogs:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

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Fri, 20 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-on-the-inside-documentary-movie-prison-dog-training
<![CDATA[DogDecoder App Helps People Interpret Dog Body Language]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-decoder-body-language-behavior-app Dogs don't speak human. No matter how many times I ask Riggins, "What's wrong?" he doesn't respond. I have to read his body language for clues as to how he is feeling.

Recently I had hiked up to the Observatory in Los Angeles' Griffith Park with him and two other dogs I was sitting. We got to the main building before it opened for the day, and I did what I always do: pose the pups for a cute picture. As I secured the dog's leashes, I heard a woman behind me yell, "This isn't a good place for dogs." I turned around and asked what I felt was an obvious question, "Why?" She answered, "They might bite someone."

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My very unhappy dog at the Griffith Observatory. Excuse the blurriness. I needed to snap fast and get him out of there!

I looked back at the dogs, around the park at other dogs hanging out, and then at her. The woman had her granddaughter with her, and she was projecting her obvious fear onto the girl. Refocusing on the dogs, I noticed my pup had changed how he was standing. Responding to her new energy, he was curled up with his back up and his tail tucked, his eyes were big and round almost pleading with me. There was no doubt that his body language said, "Mom, this woman is cray cray. She better not get any closer!"

"Well shoot," I thought, "now he might bite you!"

Jill Breitner, a dog trainer for more than 35 years, explained to me that knowing how to read a dog's body language is extremely important and a skill everyone should have. The knowledge can save you from getting bit and can save a dog who was just being a dog from being unnecessarily villainized and possibly euthanized. 

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Jill Breitner and one of her dogs, Oscar. (Photo courtesy of Jill Breitner)

Upon hearing about my experience at Griffith Park, Breitner identified more signs that my dog gave me that day, ones I hadn't noticed. The "tongue flick," "tense body," and "head lowered" behaviors, which Breitner says are additional signs of stress, were all present.

To help humans better understand what their dogs are trying to say, Breitner worked with Jeff Bellsey, a technology expert, and Lili Chin, a professional artist, to build a smart phone app called DogDecoder. It does exactly what the name suggests: It helps you decode what your dog's body language is telling you. 

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The app goes through approximately 60 different dog poses, pairing each with one of Chin's illustrations. Each pose includes a descriptive title; an info page explaining what the app's dog, Diamond, is feeling and how he may respond if ignored; and a detail page that points out exact body language to look for. 

Going through the poses, I quickly found one that mirrored what my dog looked like at the observatory. The pose is titled Anxiety. From the info page I learned, "Timidity is the first step toward aggression." That bit of info is certainly one that any owner should know.

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Although all the poses from DogDecoder are important to learn, Breitner chose three poses from her app that she wanted to talk about in particular:

1. Warning -- Space Invader

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This is the body language of a dog who is about to bite. In the DogDecoder app, it explains it as Diamond the dog screaming, "GET AWAY!" 

This is the warning position that finally led Breitner to move forward with designing the app. In 2012, KUSA anchor Kyle Dyer was bitten in the face by Max, an Argentine Mastiff, who was part of a news story interview Dyer was conducting.

"The warning pose shown on the app is exactly what happened," Breitner explains. "I looked at the video, and I looked at it in slow motion, and it was very clear that dog was going to bite."

For Breitner, that incident was the last straw. She knew that she had to find a way to reach more people and teach them how to read dog body language.

2. Guarding Toy -- Space Invader

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DogDecoder details that pausing is an important signal for parents to learn, as children will sometimes misinterpret a dog's pause as an interaction when, in fact, it is a warning sign.

Families with children are often at high risk for misinterpreting dogs. Family pets are often expected to happily tolerate pulling, chewing, grabbing, and other actions from their human brothers and sisters. Breitner warns, "While some dogs will tolerate it, that doesn't mean it's OK." 

Breitner relives an example of a child and dog interaction that she witnessed, one that ended badly. Breitner was at a park when an 18-month-old boy spotted a Lab who was tied up against the fence by the child's play area. Instead of heading to play with the other toddlers, the child went straight for the dog.

"I was in slow motion at the other end of the park, thinking, 'Oh, no. Please don't let this happen. Please let the mother catch this kid first.'" The child wasn't stopped. "He [the toddler] walks over to the dog and gives the dog a hug, and the dog rips the side of his face off."

After running over to help the child and family, Breitner learned that the toddler's family had two Golden Retrievers, which the child hugs all the time. "That doesn't mean they can do that to any other dog." Breitner believes that educating children about dog body language can stop these kinds of dog bites from happening in the future.

3. Playful Biting a Person -- Prey Drive/Play

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DogDecoder explains that "this is one of the most misinterpreted interactions between dogs and humans!" Many times, a new dog owner will believe the dog is being aggressive. Putting herself in the mind of the dog, Breitner explains the pup's thinking, "I'm only eight weeks old, and the closest thing to my face is your leg so I'm going after it."

To the dog you are playing tug-of-war, and it's just a game. Since it isn't a game you want to encourage, in her app Breitner tells the owner to simply stop moving. "A dog's prey drive is activated by motion." You stop moving, and the dog will stop "attacking" the pretend prey.

Breitner and her team worked hard on DogDecoder and have a clear goal for its use. "The mission for the app is to have less people bitten because they understand dog body language, which turns into less dogs euthanized." 

You can purchase and download DogDecoder through the Apple store or Google Play. It costs just $3.99.

Read more on dog body language:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Wed, 18 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-decoder-body-language-behavior-app
<![CDATA[Dog Fitness and Agility Classes Challenge the Body and Mind]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-agility-behavior-obedience-training-for-active-dogs-martial-arfs I love my dog, Finley, more than I ever could have anticipated loving any non-human being. But most of the time, I feel more like a camp counselor or cruise ship director than a pet parent. Living with a two-year-old Vizsla means constantly coming up with new ways to occupy a highly curious dog's time and attention.

Finley requires at least an hour of off-leash running and wrestling with other doggies in order to settle into her morning nap. And by mid-afternoon, she's ready for more action, whether or not I have deadlines to meet. I usually resort to taking her on a run or letting her loose at the park again, but I've come to learn that fulfilling a dog's need for stimulation isn't all about physical activity. There's the mental element as well.

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Finley is an active dog who loves her off-leash time outside.

So, like any modern-day pet parent, I took to the Internet to find a solution for my puppy problem. When I discovered The Martial Arfs dog training and fitness center, I nearly tripped running to the phone. The program requires no prior training and offers classes for dogs of all ages, abilities, and temperaments. The combination of physical challenge and mental stimulation sounded like the perfect outlet for Finley's excess energy. (And while most Martial Arfs students are highly active dogs, many owners bring their pets specifically to slim down, which is not surprising given that 53 percent of canines are overweight.)

The 4,200-square-foot facility on Long Island opened its doors in October of 2013, and it offers 12 classes, each with its own unique focus on aspects of canine wellness, and an introductory private session. CaPawEra, for instance, combines disc dog training and injury prevention to improve strength, stabilization, flexibility, body awareness, coordination, and rhythm. Meanwhile, TaiPoochi is a low-impact option for senior, arthritic, obese, or physically limited dogs. Finley and I attended a KaRuffTe beginner class, which covers basic physical conditioning for health and behavior modification.

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The Martial Arfs sells toys, treats, and stability equipment so you can recreate the challenging exercises at home. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

Our first challenge as new Martial Arfs students was for me to lure Finley onto four stability surfaces -- a succession of FitPaws inflated discs atop rubber donuts, each one more inflated than the last -- using a few of her favorite treats. Within moments, I could actually see her leg muscles twitching and practically hear the neurons firing in her brain as she attempted to steady her shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips.

As Martial Arfs Founder Jeris Pugh explained to me, dogs place about 60 to 70 percent of their weight on their front legs, so one of the goals of the movements is to force them to shift backward. Jeris also indicated that one of the primary purposes of the exercises is for dogs to improve their focus. Because of this, I was instructed to resist giving my dog verbal commands because it can be confusing and the idea is for your dog to do the hard work of learning how to earn the treat.

And work hard is just what Finley did. As I moved my goody-filled hand in, down, out, and up along her silhouette, she achieved various stances -- some imitating puppy pushups and squats, others more like modified stretching. Once Finley was comfortable on the free-standing stability equipment, we moved on to a dog balance beam that Jeris assembles specifically for his students.

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The Martial Arfs Founder Jeris Pugh lures Finley onto some shaky surfaces to test her balance. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

From the moment her fourth paw lifted from the ground, Finley became intensely shaky and nervous about following the lure, so we let her take a break. The point isn't to make your dog feel forced into a scary situation; the activity should be a positive experience. 

After the hour-long class filled with more dip, turn, and stretch postures than I ever thought imaginable, I chatted with Jeris to learn more about the inspiration and methodology behind his programs.

Essentially, The Martial Arfs is the marriage of his wife's career as an emergency and rehabilitative veterinarian and Jeris's own professional expertise in personal training. Dr. Eve Pugh, DVM, CVA, came up with the idea to help pets stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight to fend off arthritis, obesity, and other issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Given her husband’s more than 15 years of experience teaching martial arts to kids (many with issues such as ADHD), the couple was poised to combine their knowledge to benefit four-legged students.

The goal, at least for most pet owners, is to redirect their dog's attention to something physically productive and mentally challenging, while discouraging misbehavior as the result of hyperactivity.

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Finley demonstrates a puppy push-up with Jeris Pugh as I watch. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

Granted, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to dog "academies" and "universities" for training, but The Martial Arfs stands out from the pack in how it combines health and fitness with behavior modification. Jeris refers to it as "Obedience Through Exercise." So while your dog can learn to "sit," "stay," and "come" at any run-of-the-mill training class, the coordinating physical activities are what make the curriculum far more challenging.

These elements come from Jeris's experience in dog agility and sports, like disc dog and flyball, along with specific aspects of canine rehabilitation from his wife's practice. What also makes The Martial Arfs different from other programs is that everyone (and his or her dog) is participating at the same time, whereas traditional programs typically have dogs working one at a time while others simply wait. 

This was probably the most valuable part of The Martial Arfs experience for Finley and me -- the constant activity to occupy her attention. I was surprised to see that she seemed less interested in what the other dogs were doing (she usually can't resist other pups) and more interested in working with me on maintaining her balance on an inflatable peanut.

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I help Finley stretch at the end of class. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

In fact, it's that very special dog-owner bond that The Martial Arfs works to strengthen. "Obedience training always works best when the owner works with the dog to improve behavior," Jeris said. "I can train anyone's dog, but then their dog would listen to me better than the owner. I'd have to teach the owner what to do, regardless, or their dog would never maintain the good behavior." What's more, the bonding experience during class helps build a trust between pet and person. The stability equipment and exercises can be daunting, but a benevolent leader assures the dog that everything is okay.

Beyond confirming my suspicion that owner-led training would solidify communication between Finley and me, Jeris told me exactly what I need to hear when it comes to my usual daily routine: "Taking your dog to the dog park and letting her run around with other dogs is great to burn off energy, but [it] doesn't improve your dog's behavior or the dog-owner relationship," he said. "When you create a positive structure that teaches your dog interacting with you is the most fun they can have, they'll want to do whatever you say."

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Finley and I indulge in a rare shared moment of rest.

I left class with renewed optimism that my only option wasn't just letting Finley run herself ragged at the park for hours every day. I could take what I learned in class and recreate it at home with inflatable gear bought at The Martial Arfs, or even using pillows, boxes, or chairs around the house. Since Jeris recommends making this kind of exercise a lifestyle, not just a once-a-week-at-class activity, I owe it to Finley and myself to challenge ourselves with the balance and coordination exercises we learned in KaRuffTe on a daily basis. I have a feeling she's more than up for it.

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

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Wed, 11 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-agility-behavior-obedience-training-for-active-dogs-martial-arfs
<![CDATA[8 Dog Park Etiquette Tips]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-park-rules-etiquette I've been taking Riggins to the dog park since he was a puppy. He grew up in a one-dog household with me as his only constant companion. I credit the socialization he got at the dog park, in large part, for the happy, playful, and sweet boy he is today.

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Riggins takes a break at the Silverlake Dog Park in Los Angeles, California. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Now that Riggins is nine years old, his activity at the dog park has changed from seeking out friends for wrestling matches to chasing the balls I throw with my trusty Chuckit. Recently, I've witnessed a number of dog park faux pas and thought it might be a good time for us all to brush up on etiquette. Here are eight tips for having a happy dog park experience. 

1. Take a pre-park walk

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Clover shows how a calm dog enjoys Hermon Dog Park in Los Angeles while Beaux serves as an example of an overexcited dog.

With our busy schedules, we dog owners often use a trip to the dog park as a way to poop out our energetic pups. That means the dogs coming in are at their peak level of energy. This may be the first real exercise they have gotten in hours, sometimes all day. You know this is what happened whenever you see a dog charge through the gate and head face first into trouble. 

The dog park should be used for socialization as well as mental and physical exercise, and to do that safely a pup needs to come in calm and relaxed. If your dog is unable to enter the park without the energy of a kid in a candy store, take a pre-park walk around a block or two. 

2. Mind the gates

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Damsel and Dexter take a lap around the Laurel Canyon dog park in Los Angeles.

Most dog parks have two or even three gates you have to go through before getting in or out of the main park area. One of the reasons for these gates is to keep unleashed dogs inside. No matter how eager your dog is to get inside and join the fun or to go home, make sure you enter and exit safely. You should only go into the "leashing and unleashing" area when there is no one, or no other dog, inside. If someone is already in the process of going in or coming out, stop, step aside, and wait your turn. 

Always close and secure each gate behind you as you move through it. Just because your dog is ready to move on safely, that doesn't mean a dog on either side of the gate is ready to do the same.

3. Go leash-free

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Shadow enjoys some off-leash fun at the Griffith Park dog park in Los Angeles.

If a dog park is off-leash, you need to take the leash off your dog. Do so in that area between the two gates when there is no other dog around and you can make sure your dog is calm, cool, and collected before heading in to be with the masses. 

A dog on a leash, when all others are off, can cause trouble. A leashed dog is a magnet for other dogs to come check out, and when that happens the poor pup on the leash can easily get scared because of his inability to react the way he wants: to get away. This can be a recipe for a brawl.

4. Stay calm

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Riggins and Shadow wait patiently for me to throw the ball at the Griffith Park dog park in Los Angeles.

Us humans can really be a cuckoo bunch, especially when caged together in a dog park with our furry babies next to us. I've seen rational humans morph into insane lunatics in reaction to something or someone.

Calm down, take a deep breath, and walk away -- do anything that helps you NOT become "that guy." When you put a bunch of dogs together and then add very opinionated owners, you are bound to have a scuffle now and then. As long as no one is hurt, pick yourselves up, shake it off, and move on.

Dogs will react to the emotions of the humans around them, especially THEIR humans. When you go crazy, your dog is sure to follow, and that isn't good! 

5. Follow the rules regarding age and keep kids close

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Shadow and her running buddy at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

Many dog parks prohibit children under a certain age from entering. Even if they are allowed, they need to be closely watched (as in stay right next to them). Just because your dog is good with your kid, that doesn't mean other dogs will be. Letting a child be unsupervised around unfamiliar dogs, who are just being dogs in a park designated for their kind, is unfair to both species.

6. Keep the party small

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Shadow, Asscher, and Riggins enjoy a water break at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

Be aware of any rules your dog park has limiting the number of dogs one person can bring inside. Even if there isn't a rule, only take as many dogs as you can watch at once. 

7. Leave human food at home

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Sadie is pretty sure that the human has treats, and she is going to get some.

Don't bring human food into a dog park -- ever. You are just asking for trouble. 

And be very careful with dog treats. If you MUST have them for training reasons, keep them wrapped up tight so other dogs can't smell them, and only treat when no other dogs are around. You don't know which dogs at your park are food-possessive, and triggering a fight isn't a great way to find out!

8. Let the dogs teach each other

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Asscher and her dog park BFF wrestle at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

The BEST thing that ever happened to Riggins at a dog park was when he was a puppy. He pissed off an older dog by not heeding his "get back" warnings and found himself at the bottom of a dog pile. He was yelping, but it was obvious he was not being hurt. He was being taught a lesson. When I got to him, I did a quick check to make sure he was okay and told him to walk it off. Now if there is a scuffle at a dog park, Riggins does not run toward it like many dogs do. Instead he glances up and then goes on with his important job of peeing on things.

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Asscher is a big fan of the Chuckit!

If you tend to be overprotective of your pooch and don't let dog lessons happen, you may be inadvertently teaching your pup to be afraid of other dogs and react negatively. Which is the exact opposite of why you are going to the dog park in the first place!

Do you have any tips for the dog park? Share them in the comments below!

Read more stories by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Fri, 06 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-park-rules-etiquette
<![CDATA[5 Steps to Get Reliable Recall in a Multi-Dog Household]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/reliable-recall-multiple-dogs-dog-training It can be no easy feat getting just one dog to come back, but getting four to return all at once can be close to a miracle.

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One member of my pack, Otis, and me.

Just standing still and yelling my dogs' names in tandem with the word "come" and crossing my fingers wasn't cutting it. Sometimes I'd get one dog, sometimes three, but never all of them at once. Sometimes I'd get someone else's dog. Then I'd be left standing there wondering if one of my dogs was missing.

You've likely been to a dog park or at least in an area where your dogs can have some safe, well-deserved off-leash time. If you're like I once was, when that leash comes off, your dogs' listening skills seem to completely disappear. It's like those furry ears turn to stone. As a completely blind person with four dogs as beloved members of my household, recall is something that is even more so of a necessity for me.

So, how do you get multiple dogs to reliably come back all at once, even with distractions? Here are steps to take based on experience training my pack.

1. Gather your supplies

If you have any experience training your dogs, you know that the first thing to figure out is what they consider a highly desired reward. For most dogs, a nice, smelly treat broken into bite-sized pieces is perfect. For my dogs, I use dehydrated beef liver. You are also going to need a whistle. It really doesn't matter what kind of whistle, but make sure it's small enough to fit in a pocket or on a key ring and that it can be heard from a distance.

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Can't you see I'm busy here?

2. Plan training sessions

Next, set aside some time to train with your dogs in a non-distracting environment, like your living room. Two to five minutes is plenty of time. You will want to work with each dog individually at first. Add dogs into the mix as the concept of "whistle equals treat" starts to sink in.

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Still busy.

3. Load the whistle and treat!

With your treats, whistle, and dog all ready, the training can begin. If you have read about or done any clicker training, this will be easy for you. Even if you haven't done any clicker training, don't worry -- this will still be easy. The idea is to "load" the whistle. In plain English, that means you want the dog to associate the sound of the whistle with getting a treat from you. Instead of clicking and treating, you are going to toot the whistle and treat. Repeat this whistle tooting and treat feeding until you are out of treats. It's that simple. Each dog will learn at a different pace, so be patient. My black Lab, Roscoe, who is my retired guide dog, for example, only needed one loading session, whereas, Otis, my French Bulldog, needed about five.

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Did you call?

4. Reinforce the training

The key to this exercise is to gradually up the distraction level of the environment. A fun and easy way to practice inside is at feeding time. Put your dog in a sit-stay and walk away with the food. Place the bowl in front of you and blow the whistle. Watch your dog tear toward you, and dinner, the exact thing you want to have happen when you are at a dog park. Once your dog comes back to you in the house off-leash, move the training outside on a regular-length leash. Eventually the dog will learn that "toot" means treat, and the situational deafness will subside.

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Did someone blow a whistle?!

5. Up the stakes

Now you know that your dog will come back to you in the house, and you've loaded the whistle outside. Now it's time to really test your dog. As I'm sure you've heard from dog trainers, you want to set your dog up for success. If you think returning to the whistle outside when completely free might be too much of a challenge at first, put your dog on a lunge line, a much longer leash, and practice from various distances. Start with a couple of feet and slowly give your dog more room. If you are consistent and put in the time, this technique should work.

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This recall stuff is hard work.

Some trainers say that eventually you can stop treating your dog, but I prefer the interval approach instead. This means that when the dogs are returning reliably, only give them a treat every second or third return. This will keep the dogs guessing as to when a treat will be delivered. For me, recall is so important that giving out an extra few treats to ensure the game stays fun is okay with me. Gone are the days of "Nala, Roscoe, Otis, Hermione ... come" and having no response.

Also gone are the days of standing there helplessly, feeling like an idiot while my dogs did whatever it was they were doing. Now when I take my dogs out for off-leash fun, I feel confident that I can keep track of them even though I can't see them. The whistle recall has brought back a yellow Lab-Golden Retriever who was determined to jump into a muddy pond. It has pulled a French Bulldog out of play with other dogs, and it has even brought back a black Lab from a pile of bread he was about to eat. There's no other feeling like blowing your whistle and having four dogs, large and small, stop on a dime and come thundering back toward you, ears flapping and tongues lolling. It's not just about pride, though. It's about safety as well.

Do your dogs have good recall? How did you accomplish it? Tell us your techniques in the comments!

Read more dog-training stories on Dogster:

About the author: Jessica Hodges, a full time Masters of Social Work student, lives with her husband, four dogs, and two rescue cats. Her first puppy, a yellow Labrador given to her at age six, sparked her love of dogs. Not only does she have the joy of sharing her home with four unique and loving pups, but she also has the privilege of traveling through life with a Golden Retriever Lab mix named Nala as her constant companion and eyes. Upon graduation, Jessica hopes to incorporate Animal Assisted Therapy into her practice and make the world a better place, one tail wag at a time.

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Fri, 06 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/reliable-recall-multiple-dogs-dog-training
<![CDATA[Are You One of the Few Who Train Their Dog?]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-training-statistics-benefits-force-free-training As a professional dog trainer, I find it tragic that less than five percent of owners take their dog to a class. I don't find it tragic for business reasons, as I live in a dog-crazy mountain town where I run at a fast pace to keep up with demand. The tragedy is that dogs who never receive proper socialization and training can end up paying for it with their lives -- after being abandoned, turned in to a shelter, or seized because of a bite incident. 

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Puppies don't arrive on your doorstep knowing what behaviors we want from them. It's up to you to train them with patience and without pain.

According to a recent American Pet Product Association National Pet Owners Survey, four percent of the dogs in the U.S. take a training class. An article in the Journal of the American Animal Hospitalization Association seems to confirm that dim percentage, noting that only 4.7 percent of puppies in a particular study had attended a socialization class. Meanwhile, 1999 research found that 25 percent of owners participate in classes with their dogs.

That all means that as many as 75 percent of the dogs in this country never receive professional training -- with more than 83 million dogs here, that works out to 62 million dogs. Dogs are dying in the millions at shelters, and bites continue to increase.

What can change these two horrible scenarios? Education. But the education needs to be salient and of real-world value to the owner, convenient, and -- for the dog's sake -- pain-free. A couple of organizations make an attempt to get owners to classes with their dogs. More can and should be done, but here's what happening now:

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Are you part of the five percent that ensures their dog receives professional training?

The Association of the Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) for the fifth year in a row has declared January to be National Train Your Dog Month. The organization offers free owner handouts on such important topics as busting dominance myths and tips for kids and pets. The group also has a Train Your Dog Month social media contest for its members. 

APDT Chairman Amber Burckhalter, CDBC, CNWI, says, "APDT offers a wealth of information to the pet owner via our website, social media live chats with training experts, links to training books and DVDs, and so much more. Many APDT members host local Train Your Dog Month events and feature training discounts as well." While this effort is not a large or necessarily loud one that many dog owners seem to know about, it's a start.

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January is Train Your Dog Month -- so did you?

The American Kennel Club is a nonprofit organization that makes millions of dollars every year. The group attempts to reach owners with one day of the year with its Responsible Dog Ownership Day. One day a year? Really? How about 365 days a year?

The AKC does have a link on its website that "promotes responsible ownership," and it suggests 101 ways to be a responsible owner. Some of the tips are good indeed, such as "clean up your dog's poop" and "spay and neuter your dog," although the AKC is a breed registry that makes money from its membership ... of breeders. It would go broke in a hurry if members stopped the breeding as suggested.

Tip No. 75 is way, way, way out of date, however: It urges owners to "be the alpha dog." That's known as the dominance theory, and it has been totally rebuked as not relevant to how dogs learn. Dogs are not trying to dominate you. Period. Please Google "dominance theory rebuked" if you have any doubts. Scientists and behaviorists with advanced degrees galore have posted information pleading with dog owners not to listen to that outdated information.

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Dogs need clear communication AND motivation to learn, just as humans do.

A relatively new organization, The Pet Professional Guild (of which I am a member), provides a terrific amount of education and member benefits at no cost to pet owners. Membership is free, and it has more then 10 areas of handouts, videos, and articles on its website. The PPG also puts its money where its mouth is and sponsors an International Day of Celebration for Force-Free Training and Pet Care in February each year. Owners and trainers can enter the competition, and there are some great prizes to be won, including a first place prize package valued at $2,000.

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Our trainer is BEGGING you to take a positive reinforcement class -- ANY class -- with your dog.

I applaud these organization for trying to reach into the hearts and minds of dog owners. We need to do more, however, because the current rate of only five percent of dogs getting professional training is beyond dismal. We need owners to look at their precious puppy and recognize that pup did not come to them trained. It is up to the human being in this partnership to get thee to a class with your dog, preferably before she hits the 20-week mark. If you don't get into a class and aren't properly socializing your new best friend by the time his brain is 20-weeks old, you are literally playing catchup for the rest of that dog's life.

I challenge Dogster readers: Take ONE four-week class with a force-free trainer. Just ONE.

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Training Armani. (Photo by Tica Clarke Photography)

Take the class when your dog is a puppy, and you will be putting a solid foundation on your dog for the rest of his life. The Pet Professional Guild has a free directory, and it is the only dog trainer organization that demands its members never use force while training. To truly be a responsible dog owner, please take your dog to a class -- even if you are a rockstar dog trainer in your own right. Dogs need to learn in the presence of other dogs, as they will be encountering dogs in the real world for the rest of their canine lives.

Have you attended a class with your dog? Are you going to? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Annie Phenix 

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page. 

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Thu, 05 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-training-statistics-benefits-force-free-training
<![CDATA[8 Ways Having a Dog Can Get -- and Keep -- You Fit]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/fitness-exercise-tips-working-out-with-dogs-personal-trainer Ask anyone who owns a dog, and they will tell you that there is no need for a gym membership. Why pay money, get dressed up just in case your treadmill is in front of the cute guy or girl, and drive to another location when you live with the best trainer in the world?

Here are eight ways my dog and those I dog sit keep me fit. They can work for you, too!

1. Alarm clock

There is no sleeping in when you are a dog owner. Every morning at approximately 6:30, there is a cute pup standing next to my bed, with his head resting on the mattress, staring at me with big pumpkin-colored eyes, whining. I can tell him to go back to bed, pull the blankets over my head, and try to ignore him. Nothing will deter him, though, from doing his job of getting me out of bed and into some yoga pants. 

2. Daily walking coach

I suppose you don't have to walk your dog, but if you don't you will most likely be sorry. About the time you are ready to curl up on your sofa for some quiet TV viewing, your pup's crazy, which has been growing inside him all day, will come bursting out! There is nothing worse than trying to watch NCIS while a pup is running figure eights through your house, taking out everything in his path, only pausing when he is directly in front of the TV to stare at you and bark. The only cure for the crazies is to leash up, head out, and start burning calories.

3. Deep knee bends

I recently dog sat a pup whose dad told me that the chance of the sweet furry family member pooping while on a walk was 99 percent. He isn't alone. To a dog, walking means pooping. And who can blame them? They are out and about, free to stop when the urge strikes, over and over and over again. Each time it's your job, as the human with hands, to grab a plastic bag and position yourself next to the pile, kneel deeply, scoop, and swoosh back up, all while flipping your wrist in such a way that the poop is contained and the bag is neatly tied off. When done correctly, you should feel a burn in your upper thighs and glutes.

4. Arm strengthening

This doesn't apply to dogs who are leash trained, but to those who aren't quite there yet and are still getting the hang of walking politely. Take advantage of your dog's training period to tone those arms. The bigger the dog, the stronger the pull and the need to reign in. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that just happens to be your arms doing their darnedest to not pull out of their sockets. Try to keep the work in your biceps for the best results. Leaning back and using your entire body as a counterbalance is cheating.

5. Additional calories burned

Small dogs are genius at adding additional weight to your walk, allowing you to burn more calories. Just walk until your dog is pooped and/or begging to be held. Scoop him up in your arms, turn around, and walk home. Little dogs are often the best trainers and will take every opportunity to help get you reach your fitness goal faster.

6. Balance work

To get the best balance workout, you will have to bring in some additional help in the form of doggie friends. Don't go too fast. Start small with three or so leashes. Preferably, one or more of these dogs should be trained in the sport of "wandering," where he zig-zags around the other dogs and you. During your walk, at random times, it will become necessary to untangle yourself from the leashes that will be trying to tie and trip you up. Stay calm and breathe through it. As you get more skilled and a faster response time, you can add more dogs.

7. Stamina

The more your coach and you go out together, the stronger you will become. It won't take long for a half-hour walk to not tire your partner out enough. You will have to extend your daily outings to an hour, then maybe twice a day. While this may seem overwhelming at first, just remember how great your Fitbit "steps taken" chart is going to look.

8. Mental agility

Your body isn't the only thing that needs a good workout, your mind needs attention as well. The more social your dog, the more training you will be giving your brain, strengthening your ability to focus. The older woman with a walker, the casual cyclist, the little girls playing hopscotch, the neighborhood dog bully, an outdoor cat -- all and more require you to pay attention, analyze, and react. If you really want to push your mental workout to the next level, go out for walks during high traffic times when, for example, young skateboarders are cruising the neighborhood. There is nothing that will heighten all your senses more than hearing the "chunk, chunk, chunk" of small skateboard wheels coming toward you.

After a few weeks of this ongoing fitness routine, your friends will be asking what you have done to look so good and who they can call to get similar results. Just point them to their nearest shelter. Their own personal live-in trainer is waiting for them.

Read more about dogs and personal fitness:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Fri, 30 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/fitness-exercise-tips-working-out-with-dogs-personal-trainer
<![CDATA[How Do Dogs Show Affection to Humans?]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dogs-affection-humans-dog-behavior-body-language As a professional dog trainer, I am immersed in teaching dogs and their humans. It's rare to get a question I haven't been asked many times before -- but I did recently, and not from a client but from a cat-fanatic friend who has never had a dog.

She asked: How do dogs show affection to humans? Great question! Even those who have lived with dogs can sometimes misread canine language.

Before I share the top ways that dogs show affection, though, please keep in mind that something occurring to a dog IS aversive if the dog feels it is. In other words, it's not just children who need to ask if they may pet someone else's dog. Even if given permission to say hello, please not only be respectful of the dog's space, but also watch his body and face closely to make sure that your petting is pleasing. Not all dogs want to be touched by strangers!

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This puppy is unsure about being touched in this moment. His worried brow, wide eyes, ears forward, and closed mouth are small but powerful communication signals that he is not 100-percent comfortable.

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Are these dogs ready and wiling to be petted by a human? Find out below.

Here are four ways dogs show affection:

1. With their tails

A wagging tail speaks volumes (although what is communicates isn't as important to canine language as is a dog's face and overall body posture). I love seeing what I call the big, windy helicopter tail on a dog I am meeting. My Border Collie, Radar, gives a big, circling tail wag when he meets people. If you tried to move your head around in the same way as his tail moves, you'd get dizzy quickly.

A dog with a wagging tail can bite someone or another dog, by the way, but it won't look like Radar's big wag. A dog's tail that is up over his back and stiff is not a come-let's-be friends tail. Walk away from a dog showing such stiffness, as it is often a warning flag. Look for the big, circling tail and wagging butt, especially if the dog is like my dog, Monster, who doesn't have a tail so much as a stub. He waggles his entire butt when he is happy and meeting a new person.

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This is not a happy, relaxed tail for my Border Collie, Radar. He is on high alert here, and it would not be a good time to pet him.

2. With their faces

What's happening with a dog's face when she is happy with a human? Dogs can smile or grin, like the one in the photo below. In general, you want to see an open, relaxed mouth and not a shut-tight grimace. Panting can be a sign of stress, so a happy dog might have her mouth open toward you, but shouldn't be excessively panting  -- unless it's a hot day or she has been exercising. Canine language must be taken in context.

The I-love-you dog eyes are not hard but soft, round, and probably looking you right in the eyes, which is completely different than a hard stare with little to no blinking coming from a dog -- that's a warning to back up. You also don't want to approach a dog showing "whale eyes," where the eyes are wide and you can see the whites around the pupils.

Watch out for "cheek puffing," as well, where his mouth is closed and he rapidly blows air out of his mouth, causing his cheeks to go in and out. That's often a sign of nervousness.

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My dog, Monster (who really isn't a monster at all), has a lovely smile that indicates he is happy to receive human attention.

3. With jumping

Not all humans, of course, like to be jumped on, but often dogs do so to get closer to your face and give you a big "Welcome home, friend!" lick. The human face is incredibly important to dogs. They are so attuned to us that they know us better than we know them. Most humans like to see an exuberant dog greeting them when they get home, but we trainers like to give the dogs different greeting ritual behaviors, like a lovely sit with a happy tail thumping on the ground.

Please be aware that sometimes dogs jump on humans for other reasons, such as those who suffer from separation anxiety and only get relief when their humans walk through the door. Frantic jumping tells you something a bit different than happy-camper jumping.

Also, some dogs can jump and boink you in the face hard with their muzzle. That is not a friendly greeting. It's hard to get a good look at a dog's eyes and mouth position as they are jumping toward your face, so while jumping up can be an indicator of happiness that you have returned to the home castle, it can mean others things, as well.

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My parent's mini Dachshund, Bitzy, shows her apprehension here with a closed mouth, worried brow, and ears slightly forward. The next photo shows an even more dramatic worried look.

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Here Bitsy looks back to her owner for support and guidance. Her whale eyes -- the whites showing around her pupils -- as well as her paw tentatively in the air and the ears back are telling me she isn't sure of my getting too close to her in this moment.

4. With leaning

I've worked with some large Labradors and Rottweilers (as well as other breeds) who love to lean on their human's leg while getting a scratch hello. The dog is often looking up and into the their humans' eyes during the lean in, looking all smiley with a mouth open and soft eyes. On the other paw, sometimes an insecure dog leans in for comfort and support. Nothing wrong with that.

Once, however, I met a "junkyard dog" who the owner proudly told me he had bred himself and that the dog was a combination of about five perceived tough-breed dogs. That dog never growled or put his hackles up when he met me. He gave me a hard stare on his way over to lean against my leg. It was not a loving lean. It made my blood run cold. He didn't bite me, but he warned me for sure. His body was stiff as a board, and his eyes told me that one wrong move and he'd dispatch me.

Take a look at what the face, body, and tail are doing as a dog leans in. You want to see an open mouth, rounded and relaxed eyes, and a relaxed body with a swooping big tail or butt wag.

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Radar is ready for human interaction here. You can tell by his relaxed, open mouth and soft eyes.

It's helpful to dogs everywhere for humans to slow their approach when meeting a new dog and to consider: Does this dog really want to greet me? Don't take it personally if the dog isn't interested. Petting such a dog is harmful to that dog, and who wants to be pushy to another species? Do take it personally, though, if you get any of the signs of affection noted above.

Read more by Annie Phenix:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.

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Wed, 28 Jan 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dogs-affection-humans-dog-behavior-body-language
<![CDATA[5 Guidelines for Enjoying Off-Leash Dog Areas ]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/off-leash-walking-hiking-dogs-tips Despite the fact that it's not a popular opinion, I am a pro-off-leasher -- in designated areas, of course. I realize that the statement alone will send some dog lovers into a tailspin and earn me negative comments. As someone who is verbal on the subject, I've gotten pretty thick-skinned, so hit me with your best shot. Don't hold back. Put me in my place.

But, before you do, I ask that you hear me out by reading my five Ws for correctly enjoying off-leash dog walks and hikes where legally allowed.

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My dog Riggins and I enjoy a break from our off-leash hike. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

1. Who

Not all dogs are candidates to go off-leash, although more are than you might expect. As a professional dog sitter, the pups under my care often have their first off-leash experience with me, and 99 percent of the time it's a success. That one percent of failures aren't even horrible failures. The dog may show aggression toward human male runners who pass by. Perhaps they aren't socialized and want to play too roughly with the other dogs. I also have had a very small percentage who decide they don't want to listen to me and won't come back in a timely manner, or even stay close. Members of that one percent are put back on leash and have to stay there. 

If you are uncertain if your dog is a candidate for off-leash walks, then do a test run at an enclosed dog park. After heading in, start to walk circles. If your pup tends to stay with you as you move around, will come when called, and is social with other dogs and humans, there is a good chance he will do great off-leash outside of that fence.

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Bella is a therapy dog and very smart. I knew she would do great on her first off-leash adventure.

2. What

Off-leash does not mean out of control. An off-leash dog should be socialized and well-behaved around other dogs and humans. Unfortunately, you can't guarantee that all dog owners are as familiar with these common-sense rules as you are.

One of the best reasons for keeping dogs on-leash is to keep them safe from other dogs who may attack them. If you are looking at a leash, hardware, and human strength to keep an overly aggressive dog from attacking, you are an impressive gambler. If a dog's prey drive is strong enough and he is untrained and unsocialized, he will find a way to attack. Dogs are strong, leashes and hardware can break, and owners can only hold on for so long. 

When I'm walking dogs on- or off-leash, I always have a deterrent spray with me. These sprays come in different types, from compressed air to citronella spray. These types of dog-deterrent sprays won't harm the animal, but it may give you enough time to break up a fight and get better control of the dogs involved.

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Part of the pack, Mckenzie, Shadow, and Wallace never wander far away from each other or me.

3. When

Since I live in a state where off-leash areas are strictly controlled and rare, I tend to think of those areas as "for the dogs." In my mind, if you are hiking in a dog recreation area and don't like or are afraid of dogs, that is on you. There are thousands of miles of hiking trails where dogs are not allowed off-leash. Use those if you can't handle a four-legged hiking companion. 

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Monkey wants you to know that off-leash fun isn't just for big dogs!

If you live in an area where off-leash areas are more abundant, you are one lucky dog owner. You need to be aware of your surroundings when you take advantage of this great treat, though. If trails are too crowded or the sun is in a position that makes it difficult to see rocks and roots, it's best to keep your dog on-leash and out of people's way.

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Riggins and Asscher pause a moment before hoping over the roadblock to catch up to the rest of the pack.

4. Where

Location is key. It's what separates us cool pro-off-leashers from those folks who are just being irresponsible. The correct time to take your pup off-leash is either on private property with permission from the owner or in a legal off-leash area.

Off-leash should never happen on a residential or business street, parking lot, or any other location where vehicles are within close proximity. I don't care how well-behaved your dog is. My pup is a dreamboat when it comes to behaving off-leash, but if he saw a cat in the neighbor's yard, he would leave my side with the speed of a revved-up racecar. People who deny that their dog could possibly take off if the right prey presented itself give us good off-leashers a bad name!

I find that off-leash works best when on hiking trails. You are far away from cars and there is plenty of open space for dogs to run around while still keeping you in their sight.

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Shadow and Huxley enjoy the freedom of an off-leash trail.

5. Why

I've been told by naysayers that the reason I like to have my dogs off-leash is because I'm lazy. They have a point. Due to my occupation, I'm usually walking a number of dogs at once and, unfortunately, the majority of dogs are not leash-trained well. It is indeed much easier for me not to be pulled like a human dog sled. 

Still, my pup is leash trained very well, and yet I prefer to have him off-leash. He has a blast running around free, and that freedom he enjoys allows him a higher level of exercise than if he had to stick by me.

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Luna is deaf and one of my best off-leash clients. She always keeps me in sight and is always smiling.

Finally, most dogs tend to be less aggressive off-leash than on. I know that is difficult to believe, but I've seen it over and over again. When on-leash, whether being walked or tied to a pole, a dog cannot move away or even run from what frightens him. The only response that is available to him is to fight. When off-leash, a dog can enter into a situation at his own pace and always has the ability to move away, if need be.

There you go. That is my pro-off-leash argument. What do you think? Are you willing to give it a shot? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Read more about walking dogs and dog sitting from Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/off-leash-walking-hiking-dogs-tips
<![CDATA[5 Dog-Training Techniques That Could Also Work on Humans]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-training-techniques-methods-humans-treats-trigger-stacking-awareness January is National Train Your Dog Month, which led me to reflect upon some of the things I've learned in dog-training classes. I recently enrolled in a Reactive Rover class with my foster dog, Crystal, who has leash aggression. During the training, we've learned about several concepts that are useful in redirecting unwanted canine behavior. I couldn't help but relate them to my understanding of human behavior. In fact, the more I thought about the dog-training techniques I was learning, the more I wondered why we don't train humans the same way we train dogs. 

Here are five dog-training concepts I think could work well for humans, too.

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Our dog friends. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

1. Using treats freely

When discussing program outcomes and achievements at work with my boss, I always ask if we can have a pizza party as a reward. My pleas so far have remained ignored, but the idea fills me with delight.

I am fairly certain that my motivation in any area of life would improve if I were to be rewarded with pizza. For example, if I were to receive a slice of pizza immediately after paying my cell phone bill, I might be more inclined to do so in a timely manner. And I hope that if I ever date again, my suitor will use treats lavishly when trying to win my heart.

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Although pizza is my preferred treat, onion rings and curly fries will definitely do the trick. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

2. Being aware of trigger stacking

Why was this concept not taught to me years ago? This idea should probably be a part of any life-skills class. When trigger stacking was explained to me, I was 100-percent certain that this same kind of awareness of human behavior would be beneficial to us all.

In my case, I had to take certain life-skills classes when I was on welfare many years ago. You are taught common sense about paying bills, the value of work, etc. But one thing I wasn't taught was the concept of trigger stacking and how to manage accordingly. As humans, we hear about the importance of self-care, but rarely do we discuss becoming aware of what can trigger a stress response, which then leads to unwanted physical or emotional reactions.

As a single mom with a full-time job, I often feel trigger stacked. For all the children who are being raised in less than ideal circumstances, I imagine this is also a very common experience.

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My dog, Lilly, and me. My animals help me de-stress. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

Unfortunately, we live in a time in which school shootings have become common. I work for the largest urban school district in my state and have a child enrolled in the public school system. This means I have become desensitized to lockdowns, shelter-in-place events, and news releases announcing threats in, or near, our schools. Add busy commutes, trouble paying the bills, drama from a person's ex, and you can see how trigger stacking affects humans on a daily basis.

What if we had a language for and awareness of this as a society? Might be able to prevent more public violence if we paid more attention to the everyday stresses experienced by children and families and did more to reduce them, like we do for our dogs.

3. Taking plenty of walks

The importance of a daily walk cannot be underestimated. A common saying is, "A tired dog is a good dog." This can also be said for humans. A tired child is a good child. My son, Justin, is the most physically energetic person in our household. I know it is as good for him, and the rest of us, to get out for a walk with our dogs. Although I also know that what it takes to make one dog or person tired is different than what it might take another dog or person to get tired.

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Walking May Belle, Crystal, Lilly, and Daisy. (Photo by Zinnia Willingham)

In the spring, summer, and early fall, we are a lot better about taking our dogs out for longer walks and visits to both dog and human parks. In the cold, rainy season, my dog Lilly has eaten more pairs of shoes than I want to think about. And my son spends more time playing Nintendo games than is ideal.

4. Ignoring unwanted behavior

I should probably do more of this with my own children -- however, with one child who likes to take risks, such as climbing on furniture adjacent to third-floor windows, I am also aware that simply ignoring an undesired behavior is not always the best choice. I've also observed that if I don't say anything to the teenager about a litter box that has not been scooped, then it does not get done. So there needs to be some thought invested in which undesired behaviors are ignored and which aren't. In regards to my own behavior, I would be very favorable to the billing companies choosing to ignore the fact that a particular bill is a little late as opposed to charging me extra for it.

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Justin playing Nintendo DS while Lilly hangs out with him. This probably happens too much in winter. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

5. Rewarding desired behavior

This principle connects back to the first one, but one cannot underestimate the power of the treat. I wouldn’t mind receiving a treat for every load of laundry that I wash, fold, and put away. Or for paying my bills on time. Or every time I ask my children to do something in the nice-mommy voice. Unfortunately, real life doesn't reward desired behavior in the moment. We have to learn to let the reward be a sense of integrity, I guess.

But treats would definitely work for me! And I know they work for my kids, too.

How about you? What training techniques have you tried on your dog that would work on the humans in your household? Let us know in the comments!

Read more by Kezia Willingham on Dogster:

Read more about dog training on Dogster:

About the author: Kezia Willingham is a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works as a Health Coordinator for Head Start. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and multiple anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, which includes a number of rescued cats and dogs. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Fri, 16 Jan 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-training-techniques-methods-humans-treats-trigger-stacking-awareness