Category Archives: Dog Behavior

Match Game – Adopting the Right Dog Part 2 — Adjustments and Accommodations

Sometimes, there is that moment when your eyes lock onto an adoptable dog’s eyes and there is an instant bond just like in the movies but that is a rare occurrence.  For a majority of the animals in a shelter you are going to see a sometimes shut down, scared or anxious dog.  It’s loud, often smelly and, did I mention, loud in shelters.Woman Rubbing Noses with Puppy

Then there is the cuteness syndrome…there are reasons we ooh and ahh when we see a cute animal or human baby.  When we see those cute little faces, our brains are washed in a wave of dopamine which is the same chemical reaction we have when we fall in love, have sex or use drugs.  So, the cuter the dog, the more our brain tells us we need that animal. Big eyes, round, bulbous foreheads, wrinkles of skin…all these trigger this thing in our brains that makes us feel good and want to protect these “babies.” Some of the cutest dogs I’ve known have been extremely fear aggressive and are not a good match for anyone but the most experienced dog handlers and guardians.

So, as hard as it might be, we need to fight off the dopamine and cuteness factor when choosing the right right dog for the family.  When you find the right dog for you, I guarantee he will be the cutest looking after a while.  All human babies, to me, look like Winston Churchill with their big bald heads and rolls of fat but human instinct of the moms always say their baby is the cutest.

One of my friends, Laurie, went out to shelters one weekend looking for a Yorkie or Silkie Terrier or something that was scruffy and fluffy.  She came home with a large, red, short-haired dog that looked like a Vizsla or Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. and has since adopted three more largish, red dogs!  The point is that looks are really only a small part of that bond you will establish with the dog in your family.

This is the advice I give people who are visiting a shelter to choose their next family members:

  1. Look at less subjective things about your new family member rather then how cute he is.
    1. Energy level – I always use the example of a border collie who is adopted by a family of couch potatoes.  Neither dog nor humans will be happy in the situation.  The dog wants to work and herd whatever it can.  The people want to lie on the couch and watch sports or movies…not participate in them!
    2. Sociability – if you are looking for a furry companion that loves all people and dogs and can join your family on outings and vacations then you probably don’t want the dog cowering at the back of the kennel who is terrified of all around. But, please, keep in mind, that shelters often are scary and a dog is not himself there.
    3. History with Children – if you have kids or grandkids then you want a dog who can be around them and interact with children.  Some dogs are so frightened by children that they shut down so you want to make sure your new dog is comfortable and unphased by the lively antics of a kid!
  2. Ask if the rescue or shelter has a “Foster to Adopt” program.  This allows you to see how the dog lives in your environment and allows the dog to show you their true selves.  But there is generally about a two-week “honeymoon” period when bringing home a new dog.  This first two weeks is where everyone is on their best behavior and not quite accustomed to their new situation.  Humans aren’t habituated to their new family member and the dog is getting adjusted to this new life.  As an adoption counselor I want to make sure my adoptions stick so if there are any variables in the situation like other pets, disabled individuals in the home, etc. then I suggest we try a Foster to Adopt first.  One couple came to adoptions and fell in love with a lovely pitbull mix we had available for adoption.  They let me know that the husband had done several stints in Iraq with the Army and is now suffering from PTSD.  We knew that the bond was already starting to form with him and this young girl pup but we all wanted to make sure that the daily stress of keeping a dog wasn’t going to make the husband’s PTSD worse.  I’m happy to say it was a match made in heaven and they are all living happily ever after.
  3. If you can take a few days off when you get your new dog everyone will be happier! There are a few days needed for adjustment period for both you and your new dog. You can ease that adjustment by taking a few days off to acclimate your new best friend to your house and your rules.  We see a lot of new puppies in the spring/summer time and that’s a great time for adoptions during vacations!

Bringing a new family member into your home is not something that should be a spur of the moment event.  You want the best family member you can get and your dog wants the best family he can get!  Do your homework and you’ll soon have a great new member of your family.

Need advice on training, dog selection, behavior or dog sports?  Hit me up and maybe your question will be my next blog!  –the Kritter Keeper


What does CPDT-KA Mean?

In my field of pet services there are not any hard and fast rules as to who can put out their shingle advertising their services as a dog trainer.  Sometimes you luck into finding a wonderful trainer who has read everything under the sun, has mIMG_2623any years of experience and has a wonderful rapport with the animals.  And sometimes you find a “trainer” who taught her own dog to sit so therefore she’s a dog trainer. So I became a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA).

Since there is no legal standard, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) was established in 2001.  The CCPDT is the leading independent certifying organization for the dog training profession. The CCPDT is the leader in the development of rigorous exams to demonstrate mastery of humane, science-based dog training practices. Thousands of dog training professionals worldwide maintain the CCPDT’s certifications as a mark of high professional distinction.

Before I could even sit for the test, I had to prove I had the following qualifications:

  • A minimum of 300 hours’ experience in dog training within the last 3 years.
  • Provide a signed attestation statement from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian

The last requirement was to sign the CCPDT’s Code of Ethics.  This, to me, was one of the most important pieces of becoming a CPDT-KA.

A certificant of the CCPDT pledges to abide by the following:

  1. To operate as a certificant without discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, physical limitation, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, religion, or political beliefs.
  2. To assist clients in establishing humane, realistic, training and behavior goals in accordance with the CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.
  3. To understand and fully comply with the CCPDT Training and Behavior Practices Policy.
  4. To use training and behavior modification methods based on accurate scientific research, emphasizing positive relationships between people and dogs and using positive reinforcement-based techniques to the maximum extent possible.
  5. To always provide for the safety of clients and animals in training programs and behavior consultations.
  6. To act with honesty and integrity toward clients, respecting their legitimate training and behavior goals and the autonomy of their choices, provided they conform to societal and legal standards of humane treatment for their pet.
  7. To refrain from public defamation of colleagues, respecting their right to establish and follow their own principles of conduct, provided those principles are ethical and humane according to the CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.
  8. To provide truthful advertising and representations concerning certificant qualifications, experience, performance of services, pricing of services and expected results; to provide full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest to clients and other professionals.
  9. To refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training.
  10. To use properly authorized logos and credentials provided by the CCPDT when marketing in print or electronic media.
  11. To obtain written informed consent from any client prior to photographing, video or audio recording a dog training session.
  12. To work within the professional boundaries of the CCPDT certifications and individual expertise and refrain from providing diagnosis, advice, or recommendations in areas of veterinary medicine or family counseling unless certified to do so. This does not preclude referring the client to a veterinary or behavior consulting professional.
  13. To maintain and respect the confidentiality of all information obtained from clients in the course of business; to refrain from disclosure of information about clients or their pets to others without the client’s explicit consent, except as required by law.
  14. To be aware of and comply with applicable laws, regulations, and ethical standards governing professional practices, treatment of animals (including cases of neglect or abuse), and reporting of dog bites in the state/province/country when interacting with the public and when providing dog training or behavior consulting services.
  15. To keep accurate and complete records of clients, their animals and the training and behavior services provided; to ensure secure storage and, when appropriate, confidential disposal of such records.
  16. To continue professional development as required for maintaining the CCPDT credentials in accordance with the policies of the CCPDT.
  17. To refrain from making material misrepresentations as part of the application for certification or recertification.
  18. To maintain and respect the confidentiality and security of the contents of any and all certification examinations of the CCPDT including, but not limited to, refraining from: stealing portions of, or the entire, examination(s); removing written examination materials from a test or meeting site without authorization; reproducing and/or disseminating examination materials without authorization; using paid test takers for the purpose of reconstructing an examination; using improperly obtained test questions to prepare person(s) for the examination; cheating during an examination; impersonating an examinee or having an impersonator take an examination.

If you are looking for a dog trainer in your area and you can’t come to see me please go to the CCPDT website to find a certified dog trainer in your area!


The Pros and Cons of Board and Trains

As much as I like to portray a gruff personality, the truth is I can’t say no, especially when it cscoobyomes to animals.  Opening Kritter Keepers Club is a dream come true for me because it will allow me to say, “Yes!” more.

I’m saying yes to board and trains where I can exclusively work with a dog 5-7 times during the day at their lessons. Board and trains are great for learning basic obedience, housetraining, puppy basics but I don’t feel like they are good for extensive behavior modifications for aggressive or fearful dogs.

Lately, those are the clients that want a board and train. Depending on the dog’s triggers, being in a strange environment can send him over the edge. When a dog shuts down there is not a whole lot of learning going on and what can happen is the opposite of what trainer and owner really want — now the dog’s fears are associated with a facility or the trainer or the method of training. Then there’s what happens when the dog gets home…

We are always learning more and more about how our animals learn and retain information which is a great boon for the dog training world.  Misconceptions about fear-based or aversive training can be argued against using data from studies rather than emotions.  So what we do know is that consistency is key so when a dog returns home from a board and train it is essential that the humans are trained as well as the dog is!

Everyone should be using the same verbal cues, same visual cues.  A dog’s humans should practice these newly gained behaviors all over the house.  And don’t forget the rewards!  If you want to get a dog to continue to do these behaviors rewards are a must!


At Kritter Keepers Club, we will offer board and trains in our dog-sports oriented facility. To help facilitate the transition to the family environment, we will have different Kritter Keepers working with your dog and we will proof each behavior.

Board and trains are not inexpensive so before you sign up, make sure you understand what you are getting.  You should not only understand how much one-on-one training your dog is getting but how much time he’ll be alone, how much time will be dedicated to teaching the humans and and how long you have to follow up with the trainer if issues occur.  Your board and train trainer should be able to provide you with a schedule of what your dog is learning and that should coordinate with the skills you are trying to build with your pup.

shepherdMake sure you get all the info you need and make the best decision you can!

Do dogs seek vengeance?

dog_urine_in_houseI do it all the time…I assign my dogs complex thoughts.  I used to believe they know right or wrong. I would say things like “he knows better than to steal that wooden leg!”

I see the videos where the dog has a submissive grin when the guy asks who stole the cat treats or who got into the garbage (and the trashcan lid is around the “guilty” dog’s neck). It sure feels like they are vindictive when I’ve just taken them home from the boarding place and they look at me and pee on the carpet in the bedroom!  In Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash, she states that dogs are completely and innocently selfish.

“Although some of their behaviors are socially facilitated, there is no good evidence that they have the all-purpose Swiss Arm Knife imitation tool that humans have. Here is the important point: this does not make them stupid or any less valuable than they would be if they could think more like us.”

Assigning these very human behaviors to dogs or any other species besides humans is called anthropomorphizing.  It’s pretty easy to do when you don’t really understand how small the dog’s brain is and how they really can’t think up these complex thoughts.  In Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash, she tells the story of a dog owner, John, who came to her with a male Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester who didn’t like to be corrected.  When John said “No!”, Chester would run into the bedroom, jump on the bed, wait for his owner to come and then, staring directly at him, lift his leg and pee on the pillow.

That has to be a vengeance pee, right? Well, in a nutshell no. John had been warned that Chessies are often stubborn and willful dogs.  The breeder had advised him to yell, “NO!” at    Chester and grab him by the scruff and shake him.  John was a good student and did what was advised. Chester was freaked out frightened and flattened his ears, rolled over and peed some more.  John realized he’d gone over the top with his correction.

For the next few days, the same scenario ensued.  John would yell, “No!” and run toward Chester.  Chester would cower and urinate.  John would stop realizing it would just make the dog more anxious.  Chester learned that if he peed, John would stop his offensive movement.  Later Chester learned to combine his peeing with a game he’d been teaching John called “Tag, I’m It!” As with a lot of adolescents, it was pleasurable to be chased and to watch Dad go gaga (Chester had found the right button to push!) but the trigger to this behavior was John yelling “NO!”bedpee

The behavior was turned around with John changing his correction word from “no” to “wrong”.  Chester learned that if he stopped what he was doing when he heard “wrong,” something good happened. John and Chester lived happily ever after.

So the next time you think that puddle in your bed is a vengeance pee, think about all the things that might have led up to it.  Dogs just don’t think in terms of justice and vengeance.

A Dog Is a Dog Is a Dog: Reading Body Language and Vocalizations

Gertrude Stein may find that “…a rose is a rose is a rose” rose_1_bg_030703but in the canine world a bark is not always just a bark! We can learn a lot from how dogs are vocalizing. Paired with the visual cues a dog provides, there are some very clear messages Fido is trying to provide to a human.  We just need to recognize these signals and sounds.

In the picture below, Oscar, my foster dog, exhibiting some Fearful Barking. I wish I had some audio of this picture of Oscar because he is clearly frightened of the camera lens. IMG_2087Notice he is avoiding eye contact.  If you heard his bark I would most liken it to a fear bark.  He was barking in a high pitched, wooing noise.  The position of his ears were back on his head. After this picture was taken, he jumped off his perch (he likes to sit on the patio firepit table) and paced back and forth on the deck for as long as I had my camera with the long lens attached.  As soon as I switched to a prime lens (a short one that doesn’t move) he quieted down and was fine.  He even let me take his picture.

In Barking the Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas, she identifies several types of barking including Excitement Bark, Warning Bark, Fear Bark, Guard Bark, Frustration Bark and Learned Bark.  The book is available through Dogwise Publishing and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get some more detailed information on dog vocalization and behavior.

Excitement barking also has a high frequency sound and can sound a little hysterical or constant.  The dog will be very aroused and have a higher stress level.  This is the ADD dog who can’t sit down at all or be still.  He might be jumping up and down, tail up and wagging excessively and his ears could be back or perched forward.  During an excited bark, the dog probably won’t acknowledge a command.

You might see a dog from behind a fence and hear on short, sharp “Woof.”  This is a Warning Bark and simply means that the enemy is coming.  If you hear this bark, it is wise not to attempt to pet the dog!  You might evoke the flight part of fight or flight but some dogs find it necessary to guard the homestead and defend his space.

Guard Barking is usually accompanied with growling noises and people immediately react to it as a form of aggression.  The dog will make lunging movements and has a very high stress level.  He is definitely in the defensive mode so he may “fly” or he may try to scare something or someone away by showing teeth, growling, lunging forward, air snapping and barking.  If that something or someone still doesn’t take the hint, you may see this dog bite but as a last chance effort.

Frustration Barking  is often what you hear in a shelter.  It is endless static barking with the same tone and sequence over and over. Behaviors that accompany could include digging, chewing, licking, chasing shadows or tail.  Frustration barking is often caused by long-term stress like a dog in a shelter, or chained or hungry.  This is maybe the most heartbreaking sound I can hear.

The last type of barking Rugaas discusses is Learned Barking.  It often starts out as one of the different types already described but it is something that the owner has consciously (or subconsciously) reinforced with the dog.  An example might be a dog barking at you to pet him. He won’t stop barking so you give him what he wants – you pet him.  Now he is learning that if I stand in front of Mom and bark at her, I will get something that I want or a reward. Learned barking could also be at the command, “Speak!” A reward is coming if I bark on command.  Sometimes, this is not a great idea as the dog will try to claim their rewards by barking even if you haven’t given the command!

Next time your dogs barks, stop and think about the triggers, his body language and the vocalization.  A bark is not a bark is not a bark!

What can you see from Oscar’s body language here and what do you think he’s communicating?


If dogs could talk…

Have you ever wished your dog could talk or that the collar that Dug the dog wore in the animated movie, Up, was real?  Working with a lot of foster dogs, I often don’t have any clues as to why they act the way they do.  Most often, we see pups who are fearful at first – and who wouldn’t be picked up as a stray or worse, turned in from a nice family home to a barking, awful cacophony of cages.

Going into any shelter, no matter how nice it is, is an assault of the senses for us humans. Can you imagine how a dog feels?  Visually, they now have lots of eyes staring them down.  The stare down is usually a sign of aggression when dogs meet naturally.  A new resident in a shelter is sort of like Sean Penn doing the Dead Man Walking walk to the electric chair.

From an auditory sense, a madly barking shelter is like sticking your head in the Liberty Bell and someone ringing it.  While humans hear 12 Hz to 20 KHz (less as you get older!), dogs have an auditory perception ranging from 40 Hz to 60 kHz.  While their range is about 3X that of a human, they also have 16 different muscles in their ears to help them more precisely locate a sound.

How scared would you be basically going to jail with lots of scary prisoners who were yelling all the time?  The thought actually makes me pee a little so I really empathize when we get a new dog in the program coming into our shelter at Mostly Mutts.

How do I make a foster more comfortable in the Litt Palace of Puppy Love?  For me, the first step is to get a pup to start to trust. Once introduction to the pack is done (always do dog to dog intros on neutral space with no snout to snout contact) I like to take the newbie in a room by ourselves and I lay on the floor.  The new pup is not pressured to do anything. He can smell me, play with me, lay next to me, cautiously wait across the room.  I don’t call them or even acknowledge them as this is about them figuring me out.

I may have a few, super delectable treats in my treat pouch that I will reward them with if they initiate contact. I do all of this on the dog’s comfort level.  For more nervous dogs, it may take a couple of sessions.  It is also very helpful to have a happy and confident dog in your pack who can help a scared one gain some confidence through play, walks together, etc.

I talked to a fellow foster mama this morning (which is what initiated this article) who has a new foster. He’s coming directly from animal control into her home.  He’s very sensitive and still scared after a few days in her home.  Marilyn feel like he wants to trust her — he’s just not there yet.  Everytime she calls him, he cowers.  When she pets him, it takes a while for him to relax.

Since we don’t have Dug the Dog collars yet and we don’t know what these guys have gone through, our only remedy is to wait and let them get used to a loving home. You can’t force a scared dog to become unafraid but through patience and understanding and some very yummy treats you can reward your scaredy dog to confidence!

Torture is six weeks away from the royal family…


See mom? Everyone can learn a new trick!

I’m leaving on Saturday to drive up to New Jersey for a six week dog training extravaganza!  I’ll be staying in a dorm which will be different.  I stayed in a dorm overnight and then went and got an off campus apartment way back when I was still considered a teen.  My training program is being held at St. Hubert’s Animal Sanctuary and we will be using shelter dogs which is great.  I’m hoping I can utilize some of the logistics of the program to set up our own volunteer training program (i.e., teaching volunteers to train the dogs).

Staying in a dorm means no residents of the Litt Palace of Puppy Love (LPPL) can attend with me.  My previous dog training hands-on classes had you training on your own dog.  I’m glad to be able to help shelter dogs but six weeks without one or two or five bed warmers is a long time!!!! I think I will have terrible withdrawal issues from not having a dog curl into the curve of my sleeping body.

Because I’m staying in a dorm, I’ve had to think of a plethora of items I’ve got to take with me from bedding, towels, shower shoes to items that I can’t live without the comforts of like how do I watch my shows, Outlander and Game of Thrones, in a dorm?


Sophie carries her clothes in her own backpack!

But mostly I think, how can I smuggle a dog into the dorm room?  Oscar would be hard to camouflage but surely I can come up with a plan for Sophie?  She’s little and if I can travel with a dog, she’s usually the one I bring.  She even has her own luggage!  And her pup tent folds down and fits into my luggage.

I’m sure I’ll have lots of snuggle time with the residents of St. Hubert’s but I’m really going to miss my prince and princesses from the LPPL!