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Archives for November 2015

Your Guide to a Dog-Safe Thanksgiving

Turkey Day is here!

Happy Turkey Day!

Normally, I am a huge sap and write a Thanksgiving blog where I let my inner love-child rip free and shout to every corner how awesome my staff and clients are and how intensely grateful I am for the existence of dogs and other pets in our lives. I love you all! Well, consider the sappy part of the blog done.

This year, I am going to chide you and nag you about management with your naughty and not-so-naughty dogs. Why? Because every year, after a holiday like Thanksgiving, I usually get several calls about horrendous events that occurred and now the owner is scared of their newly anointed Aggressive Dog.

furious dog

I don’t know what happened! Yesterday he was so sweet!

It doesn’t have to go that way. So, read this, be dutifully chastised and send this to your friends and family who have That Dog or That Party that you know will lead to mayhem and possible bloodshed.

The crux of the issue is that you have forgotten that your dog is an animal, evolved and domesticated but still AN ANIMAL. He is capable of ripping through flesh with those flashy teeth. You’ve been going about your routines for weeks, maybe years, and the dog has been absorbed into the family fabric and everything is smooth sailing. That’s great! But do not forget that you are not normally hosting huge parties…or going to huge parties where everyone wants to bring their dog.

Your dog, who doesn’t understand English, has suddenly been thrown from his normal sitcom life into an episode of Scandal. Tension is in the air, he sees his people rushing about, delicious food things are sitting on the counter, strange people are flooding into the house. DRAMA.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner…so much pancreatitis!

Wow. I’m already feeling a wee bit over-stimulated from just thinking about it!

Basking in the aroma of roasting meat, having strangers absentmindedly petting him and slipping him snacks under the table – he’s feeling very excited and it’s wonderful and crazy and stressful all at once.

But wait, this is not the whole picture. We’re missing pieces. What about your brother’s dog? The 1 year old Lab who loves everyone and is coming for the weekend? What about your aunt’s elderly Shih Tzu who doesn’t like anyone and sometimes pees on people’s shoes but has to come because she can’t be left alone for too long? What about the five nieces and nephews under the age of 10 who, newly reunited, will be tearing around the house with an energy level high enough to intimidate a six pack of Red Bull?

What about your dog-loving friend who decides to surprise the resident and visiting dogs by throwing a handful of meat and bones on the porch?

Now we have a fight. Now you are picking up one dog and another dog is lifting off the floor, still attached to your dog’s neck and refusing to let go. Or worse, you have a relative with a gash in his arm because he thought he could break it up.

Folks, fighting over bones is only one scenario. We also have dogs biting because they have never been touched by so many people and are totally overwhelmed. We have dogs snapping at kids, baring their teeth in an effort to express their stress (to no avail). It’s a mess.

You expected your dog to somehow intuit that life was about to change dramatically and he should adjust accordingly. Well, or maybe you just forgot your dog in the business of the holidays.

So, here I am to help you remember.

Your dog is an animal. Evolved and domesticated but still AN ANIMAL (sound familiar?). He is capable of ripping through flesh with those flashy teeth. Whatever quirks or limitations his temperament has will not magically disappear at a party because it’s socially unacceptable. On the contrary, they will be in full bluster thanks to adrenaline and cortisol.

Be smart so you don’t need to call me in a week, crying, because your beloved dog put holes in you or your child or your niece or your aunt’s Shih Tzu.


  • If your dog is not used to any element of your holiday on-goings (big crowds, little kiddos, food everywhere), arrange to have him somewhere else. This could be a crate in your bedroom, a boarding facility, the car, the basement – wherever is safe and relaxing. Make sure he’s practiced being there before so it’s not an unpleasant surprise and he’s miserable.
  • Load him up with enriching chews and toys so he is not bored. (ahem, I don’t need to tell you that he should be separate from unfamiliar dogs if he has toys/food, right?)
  • Exercise him before the festivities begin.
  • Don’t expect your guests or hosts to understand or be compliant with your requests regarding the dog. Everyone is running full octane with the holidays and the ability to follow instructions is flimsy at best. It’s your responsibility to make sure your dog is safe and behaves safely. Telling people not to pet him or not to feed him is a recipe for disaster. Don’t open the door for “Oh, don’t’ worry, dogs love me”, “I’m not scared of dogs”, “but I can tell he wants me to pet him”, “just let the dogs work it out…they’ll be fine!”.
  • If you are hosting multiple dogs, have a plan. Arrange a space where dogs can be crated separately. Rotate them out individually or with other dogs they have great relationships with.
  • And don’t forget, large amounts of fatty meat (like turkey skin) can lead to pancreatitis in dogs. Chocolate, onions, raisins, grapes, caffeine and alcohol are all toxic for dogs.
Prepared snacks! Tracheas stuffed with yumminess!

Prepared snacks! Tracheas stuffed with yumminess!

Keep ‘em safe, people. Then, on Friday, you can really be thankful that your holiday did not include a trip to the ER for any family member – canine, feline, porcine, or human!





The Myth of the Friendly Wagging Tail

Our barometer for measuring a dog’s friendliness is often checking out that tail. Is it wagging? If yes, all signs are clear for friendly play. No wagging? Proceed with caution.

It’s a myth – that friendly wagging tail stuff. Right up there with the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny. Take a moment to digest that fact, shed a tear or two for the now-lost belief system in friendly wagging tails…and read on.


Pretty happy tails – level, in motion. But look at the other signs too. Squinting eyes, open mouths, etc.

All is not lost. The tail is definitely still a barometer you should pay close attention to. But, instead of thinking about it as measuring friendliness, think of it as measuring level of arousal. The higher it is, the more worked up the dog is. The stiffer it is (think a cat flicking fast in preparation of pouncing), the more coiled and tense the dog is feeling. Likewise, a low tucked tail is equally as concerning (but most people know that).

I’m gonna switch gears for a sec because I like to fill your head with haunting analogies related to people. So, think of the sociopath that is hoping to get you alone so he can attack you. Is his body language threatening or alarming? Nope. He’s enjoying the process of drawing you in for attack. My friends, a tiny percentage of dogs genuinely enjoy aggression. They will give you soft body language with few hints as to their true motive. They are not being manipulative. They are honestly enjoying the hunt. So, yeah, maybe that tail is wagging…just like that sociopath is smiling and laughing warmly to invite more contact with you.

Imagine the socially awkward person who is trying but, man oh man, is truly so conflicted. She’s laughing and making some socially appropriate gestures….butttttt you’d feel in your gut that something wasn’t right. So the obvious signs of smiling wouldn’t put you totally at ease. You’d be looking for other signs. The whole picture. I’ve got a great video of a dog (a golden retriever – gasp) who I evaluated in his kennel at a shelter. Golden Retriever guarding food from foot (note: there is a lot of other body language here, but for newbies please notice the wagging tail..the soft, even wagging tail).

The whole picture with reading a dog matters, too! The eyes (hard or soft), the body (tense or relaxed), the mouth (pursed/tight or slightly open and soft)…so on and so on. Who is controlling the space? Are the hairs on your neck standing up? Do you simply feel like you don’t really LIKE this dog and you have no idea why? That is probably your intuitive understanding of the dog/human bond. You might not be able to put it in words but pay attention to that feeling.

So, how do you know if a dog is friendly? The answer is more complicated than you might think. You know why? Dogs are often more complicated than we give them credit for. Again, think about people. A person might be a total nightmare in the workplace but the most loyal, loving friend a person could have. A friend might be sweet and a mushball with you on the average day…but after finding out some bad news you might suddenly find him sullen, hostile and hurtful.

The truth is, you’ve been trained since birth in the fluency of human body language. Without even thinking about it, you are equally adept at hearing the words they say and simultaneously hearing what their bodies are saying and assigning value to it. Then, you make your decision about how proceed.

Ah, so the last question is, how do you learn to get fluent in Dog so that you can make good decisions about protecting your dog and choosing the right playmates? That is like learning any new language. Check out dog body language videos, especially ones with narrative, and watch them more than once.

There are books and videos…a simple search on Google, YouTube or Facebook will pull up lots of good stuff. Sophia Yin had some gorgeous video analyzing Cesar Milan videos. Ah! So much fun stuff out there.

And it will all make your relationship with you dog so much better…and make your dog so much happier!


Fabulous Fall Training Discounts!

November/December Specials!

25% off your next Day Training Package with an Assistant Trainer. Have you done a Day Training Package focusing on puppy basics or foundation obedience? Are you looking for your dog to get a head start on some amazing training? If so, you’ll eligible to take advantage of this great special! It’s the perfect way to get ready for the holiday season. Giving your pup three weeks of intensive training will mean you can relax and enjoy the holidays with a well-behaved canine companion!

For those of you that have worked with me before, I am offering a unicorn special of 25% off Board & Train refreshers. That’s a one week B&T focusing on whatever skills and/or tricks you want to cement. Again, this is a great way to polish skills and impulse control that might be a little rusty at the moment. I only have eight slots open so reserve yours now!

Here’s our standard Contact form so you can get started right away! You can also email me directly at

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