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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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September Newsletter

willow outside

Running out of summer and into the fall!

The change in seasons is coming. Here at PBC, we are looking forward to cooler temperatures and all the beauty that Fall brings to New England! Here are the latest updates for you…



Brenda Aloff Clinic

The Brenda Aloff Clinic is right around the corner! Join us for an amazing clinic on the weekend of October 3rd and 4th. Brenda Aloff is one of the nation’s most charismatic, down to earth and experienced trainers and behavior consultants. An expert in solving problems and helping dog owners get what they want from training/behavior with their dog. Whether it’s basic obedience, dog sport work like scent detection or issues with reactivity – Brenda can help! Get the details and link to registration here!



Kai telling other dogs to stay away

Reactive Dog Workshop

The reactive workshop has been postponed until November 21, 2015.  So, here’s the chance for everyone who wanted to come but couldn’t make it in September! Here is the link for details and registration.


Workshop for Temperament Testing & Fostering

Scheduled for 10/10/15 in Chicopee, MA. we’ll be taking the afternoon to practice how to evaluate and successfully foster dogs for rescue groups and shelters. Interested in attending? Here’s the link for details and registration.


Internship Openings

Are you or someone you know interested in animal behavior, running your own pet caregiver business or training dogs? PBC has two available internship openings. Designed to prepare interns to take their certification exam to become a professional dog

Studying hard!

Studying hard!

trainer, it includes time to observe consultations and lessons, opportunity for hands-on training and learning, an exciting curriculum complete with reading and assignments. It covers learning theory, classroom safety, working with difficult people and the business side of things. Time commitment ranges from 8-20 hours each week and reliable transportation is a must. Click here for an application!

Staffing Changes

We are super excited to see Sharon Wachsler starting her own dog-training business, At Your Service Dog Training. specializes in service dog training. Of course, we will miss her as part of PBC’s training staff. She’s wonderful to work with, a lovely trainer and great person, and we wish her the best of luck. We look forward to future collaborations and seeing what inspiring contributions she’ll bring to the field! Sharon will be wrapping up her work with her current clients and plans to phase out gradually at the end of the year, as cases are complete.

Becky Garriss is returning to school for another full-time semester (her senior year – yay!!) and will not be available for pet-sitting. We’ll miss her energy and charisma and wish her the best of luck. It’s been fantastic having her as part of the team for the past year and we know she will do great with her future adventures and endeavors.

For pet-sitting, we have Tiffany Kellogg and Cody Paille-Jansa on staff currently. You can check out their bios on the website if you don’t know already know them. Their availability is limited due to work and school schedules.

Other updates

My house is still on the market as I continue the search for an bigger property in Belchertown or Granby. This may impact forsaleboarding in the case that I sell my property before finding my next one. The good news is that once I move, I’ll be expanding boarding and building a training center. I can’t wait!






A choke chain and cheese

When I was 8, I trained my Siberian Husky with a choke chain and a slice of American cheese. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I was using “people food” or that she would start begging because she had some cheese or that I was training a dog that only worked for cheese and not out of her undying love for me and all my instructions. She was a husky and I was 8 so, let’s face it, training was a precarious mission and I was certainly going to use any and all the help I could get.

This is where it all started

This is where it all started

But this is not a blog about using food to train dogs or how I still encounter people who resent using food in dog training. I was actually just musing about how far I’ve come since using a simple slice of cheese. When I train now, I have no fewer than five types of food and I still seem to be perpetually missing something.

Check it out.

I use hard, dry biscuits when I need something that hits the floor with a thud. I use white treats on dark floors and dark treats on light floors. I have small, soft treats for rapid-fire shaping sessions. I have long dangly treats to hang off of ring gates and cones. I have hunks of meat to make a serious impression. I have meatballs when I need something that rolls. I use brightly colored treats that the dogs can easily find in tall grass and always have sample bags of kibble for when I need some tiny but not too high value training treat. I have paste and rollerball treats when I need to encourage licking versus chewing.

I’m forever seeking out treats that don’t get crumbly in my pocket, that don’t leave my hands slimy and disgusting, and that are seriously exciting for my dogs. I still forget about food in bait bags and find moldy horrific things growing in them. Sometimes I play the game, What in the world did that food used to be? as I stare at some mold that is completely unrecognizable.2_signs-you-re-living-nightmare-flatmate

I have baggies and Tupperware containers in various sizes. I was super psyched when I found the Tupperware with tiny ice-packs in the lids to keep food fresh longer.

I have texted people for the express purpose of alerting them that a certain treat is in stock or that they *need* to try some new product immediately.

My dryer lint consistently has treats in it, left over from pockets I forgot to check before tossing clothes in the wash.

I am always a little embarrassed and surprised when a client tells me that they’d rather not put food in their sweatshirt pockets. Um, isn’t that what they are for?! I’m also taken aback when clients ask me, “Don’t you want to wash your hands?”. Honey, I live with hot dog hands.

So, it only makes sense that I buy clothes that I think will specifically make holding and delivering treats easy. I buy gloves that make it easy to get treats when it is cold outside.

My opinion of people always goes way up when they pull out a cool treat I haven’t yet seen. I definitely suffer from Treat-Envy.

My grocery cart looks like I live on pepperoni, string cheese and meatballs (the rest of the cart has peanut butter, yogurt and cans of pumpkin for stuffing Kongs).

A super special reward for me is a trip to Clean Run with a credit card.




And that’s just the food! Don’t even get me started on toys, marker signals, tugs, collars and harnesses.

To think, once upon a time I was just a girl with a choke chain and cheese.

Top Ten Treats:
1. Happy Howies Gourmet Meat Roll-Turkey or lamb


2. String cheese

3. Hormel’s Mini-pepperoni


4. Meatballsbravo

5. Paneer cheese

6. All-beef bologna

7. Hebrew National hot dogs

8. Charlie Bears

9. Buffalo Bites

10. Bravo freeze-dried treats


Fall 2015 Events

Hi all! I hope everyone is enjoying the summer with their canine and feline companions. Fall is just around the corner and with it come some great events. Registration is open for all of them so get your place in now!



Saturday, September 12th from 12PM-4PM
Are you very busy with your life? Are you part of the Midnight Dogwalkers Club (where no one else can see you)? Are you desperate to learn how to rein in your dog’s reactivity but not sure where to get started? We work on what owners need to know in order to succeed and teach dogs what they need to know in order to cool it. Ideal for dogs with arousal issues, hypervigilance, motion sensitivity and general impulse control issues including a history of snapping, lunging, basically just freaking out. Ideal for owners that are committed to their dogs and are looking for some efficient ways to help their dog reach the goals of walking nicely in a neighborhood, seeing other critters and not losing their mind, and more.
The first part of the day will be lecture and discussion about body language, your own experiences and we might toss in some science to help you understand how the reactive canine brain works. Then we’ll move into hands-on work! You will be introduced to several exercises that are key for getting your reactive dog to behave better. Registration will be for auditors and handler/dog teams. All working dogs in seminar must have a crate and be comfortable in it.


October 3rd and 4th, 2015 from 9AM-5PM

Join us for a remarkable two day experience with one of the country’s most amazing dog behaviorists, Brenda Aloff. Brenda’s CV is too extensive to put here, but you can check out her information on her website,

October 3rd will focus on performance work. October 4th will focus on problem behaviors in dogs.



October 10, 2015 from 12PM-4PM

Learn how to evaluate dogs in a way that is safe for you and low-stress for the dog. I will also be covering transitioning a foster dog into your home, successful fostering practices, multi-dog issues and more. NEBCR volunteers come for free! Other folks – please join us for a small donation of $25 (all proceeds go to New England Border Collie Rescue).



Saturday, October 24th from 1PM-5PM at Dakin Humane Society

Litterbox Issues – How to Create a Lifelong Relationship Between the Litterbox and your Cat
Does your cat miss the box (or doesn’t even try to get in the box)?  Has your sink or tub – or anywhere else – become a litterbox substitute?  In this one hour mini-seminar you will learn how to help your cat learn to love his litterbox.  You will leave knowing what cats like and don’t like with litterboxes, why they don’t use a box… and what you can do to change all of that!

Krazy Kitties! – How to Keep High Energy Cats From Destroying You and Your House
Do you have a cat that launches at you or your cats from perches and from under beds?  Has your cat made you bleed in the past week?  Does he wake you up in the middle of the night meowing?  This one hour mini-seminar is for cat caregivers who are at their wit’s end with how to deal with their cat’s energy.  We will discuss cat schedules, exercise, discipline, and how to get your cat under control.

Claws & Paws – Having Your Dog and Cat Get Along
Have you recently added a new cat or dog to your multi-pet household?  Is the fur a flyin’?  This one hour mini-seminar will go over proper introduction techniques as well as offer solutions for the common issues that come up between cats and dogs.  We will cover barking, chasing, scratching, as well as other problems pet caregivers encounter.

The Meow Wars

Do you have two cats that used to get along…but now, not so much? If your cats are fighting or having issues in the home, this one hour mini-seminar will arm you with the knowledge to understand what’s happening and the tools to fix it!

This CATerrific afternoon is only $65!




Reactive Dog Workshop

Hi all!

Just a quick note to let you know I still have two working spots available in this month’s reactive dog workshop. Lots of room for auditors, as always. Details are on the website and Facebook if you’re interested. Please feel free to share with anyone you know that has a dog struggling with reactivity, impulse control or fear. Here’s the link for the details:

Where: Exercise Finished Dog Training Center in Chicopee, MA

When: July 18, 2015 from 12-4PM

What: Lecture and hands-on practice for working with reactive dogs

Pre-reqs: Must have worked with me, Tibby Chase or another reputable trainer. Dogs must be able to tolerate being in a room with other dogs and people. I highly recommend auditing if you haven’t done a workshop before. It’s pretty intense.

Cost: $25 for auditing and $75 for working teams

Questions? Email me at

Understanding How Your Dog Understands You

I just read a blog on the use of language by Eileen & Dogs (here it is if you want to check it out – – good stuff). It got me thinking about the most common questions I get asked by clients about language.

This dog is stressed! Not happy about having space invaded and head grabbed.

This dog is stressed! Not happy about having space invaded and head grabbed.

“But you don’t say anything??”

“When are we going to be able to say the command?”

We people, we looooove talking. We love talking to our dogs. We tell them the good, the bad and ugly. We talk at them, to them and, sometimes, for them. So much talking. Despite knowing that dogs don’t know English, we continue to talk to them.

What dogs do know is body language. Years of human-canine relationships have honed the ability of a dog to interpret and respond to what our bodies are saying. In essence, when we interact with our dogs, we are double-talking. We are saying things with our mouths and also speaking to them with our bodies.

Can you imagine trying to listen to someone who was speaking to you in two different languages – simultaneously? It’s enough to make your head explode. Yet our dogs, such magnificent creatures, manage to do a pretty amazing job filtering through the cacophony.

Let me give you a few examples to illustrate what I’m talking (1)

You’re at a business meeting. Your boss is sitting with his arms folded across his chest, scowling. He leans forward, a little too close for comfort, and mutters “great job today” while giving you a hard stare. His body language is telling you he’s angry even though his words are praising you. Would you believe him? How would you respond?

Have you seen Office Space?

Have you seen Office Space?

You meet your aunt for lunch. She looks you up and down, shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Taking a step back, she says, “You certainly are aging well!” Is she really giving you a compliment?

Here’s one more. Your partner gives you a warm, long hug. While holding you close, they say, “I was so mad at you earlier. Don’t ever worry me like that again”. Do you feel good or bad? Loved or shamed? Both?

Like dogs, we are trained from the get-go to pay attention to body language. Here’s a blog/video I just read on human body language if you’re interested. When people’s body and tone of voice or words don’t match up, there’s usually a problem. We might be confused or it might trigger us to evaluate the situation more closely rather than taking things at ‘face-value’.

I sound like a broken-record telling my clients that the best training relies on giving the dog clear information and predictable outcomes. Your body language and tone should line up, you should reduce useless babble (both with your body and words) and the formula of antecedent (cue) –> behavior –>consequence (reinforcer or punisher) should be rock solid as much as possible. The other day I was training my dog and my instructor pointed out that I was fidgeting with the treats in my hand, therefore making it a lot harder for my dog to know what to do. He was waiting for a signal, trying to watch my face and my hands and there I was making all this ‘noise’ with my fidgeting. I didn’t even realize it, it’s so easy to be oblivious to the bad habits we have with our dogs [they are so forgiving, after all].

Good dog owners listen to their dogs. They take the time to learn their dog’s language. When you do this, you’ll find that the connection, the bond and the harmony are exponentially better. Both your stress and the dog’s stress will be reduced because you’re on the same page.

Some examples of body language conversations with our dogs.

You lean over your dog, getting close to his face and enthusiastically tell him what a good boy he is.

Leaning over – threat, invading space – threat, enthusiastic tone – reward

Do you think your dog feels good in this moment?


Shot of a TV reporter leaning over a police dog. The dog bit him within a minute after this moment.

You gently clasp your puppy’s muzzle and softly tell him that biting hurts and to be gentle.

Clasp – interaction/attention, soft tone – reward

Do you think he will stop mouthing you?


You are sitting on the couch, typing a blog on your computer and your border collie keeps nudging you for attention. You push him away, not saying anything (this example might be happening at this very moment).

Pushing away – interaction/attention

I can tell you with certainty that this border collie will not stop nudging for attention.


Tally trying to get me to play ball.

To conclude, I am going to emphasize three points.

  1. Your dog does not speak English. He can learn that certain sounds are linked with behaviors you want to see. Sit means put my butt on the floor. Shakehands means touch my paw to her hand…and so on.
  2. Your dog is always going to respond to your body first and your words second. So, pay attention to what your body is saying and learn how your dog interprets your body language.
  3. Your dog is talking to you constantly with his body. Learn his language and you will be amazed at how much better your relationship with your dog will be. They are absolutely poetic!

Interested in learning more about dog body language? Check out these great resources:



Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

Dog Ethogram by Sue Sternberg

Canine Body Body Language by Brenda Aloff

Dealing with Fleas & Ticks

During my 11+ years of working with pets and their owners in the Valley, I’ve had the good fortune to build some great relationships with local veterinarians. They’ve educated me on so many topics including how pain effects behavior, illnesses that manifest behaviorally, and so much more. I’ve sent them my reactive and fearful dogs and cats, knowing that they would receive the kindest, most humane treatment out there. So, it’s safe to say – I adore the vets I work with. Another amazing thing about them is that they get back to me almost instantly when I have a question.

Adorable Sadie, a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy

Adorable Sadie, a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy

This week, I started working with a young Bernese Mountain Dog pup in Montague. In my first lesson with her, I pulled off 14 ticks. Some were huge and bloated, others were freshly attached. This poor puppy tantrummed and cried, it was not the ideal way to begin our relationship. It was a LOT of restraining and unhappy handling (despite the hot dogs pieces she was given to off-set the negative part of the experience). The owner is very committed to holistic treatment and really wants to avoid the topicals that deter and kill fleas & ticks. Additionally, she has children who are cuddling and kissing the dog and, obviously, no one wants their kids ingesting toxic topical treatments!

Divided by the split interests of wanting to keep Sadie flea & tick-free while keeping things as holistic as possible, I decided to reach out to my local posse of veterinarian friends and get their opinions. I contacted three of them and within 24 hours had a plethora of useful knowledge. I wanted to share it with everyone since the flea and tick issue is HUGE and on-going. One quick disclaimer – this is my interpretation of what they told me. ALWAYS check with YOUR vet about what treatment is best for your dog.

Everyone agreed that, hands-down, the topically applied treatments are the most useful for handling fleas and ticks. K9 Advantix was listed as the most effective, with Frontline being a close runner-up.

K9 Advantix

K9 Advantix

The 14 ticks I pulled off of Sadie in our first lesson

The 14 ticks I pulled off of Sadie in our first lesson

There are some newer products on the market, which I was excited to learn about. There are two oral treatments your dog can take – Nexgard and Bravecto. Nexgard is given monthly and Bravecto is given every 12 weeks. These are great options for families where the dog is getting lots of love from the kids. However, there is a major drawback, which is that these don’t deter fleas and ticks, they only kill them. So, that means that your dog will still have lots of creepy crawlies coming in from walks. The kill time is about 30 minutes (yay!) but if they fall off alive, they’ll be looking for another host and guess who that’ll be? Yep, some human!

There’s a collar called Seresto. If your dog goes in the water, it’ll last about 6 months. If not, it’ll last up to 8 months. It’s non-toxic if ingested by humans or dogs, but otherwise works the same way as a topical. It slowly releases chemicals that deter and kill fleas and ticks.

Lastly, there is a vaccine for Lyme Disease. It’s probably about 80% effective at preventing transmission. However, it does not prevent the other tick-born illnesses out there and also doesn’t deter fleas and ticks from getting on your dog.

On the holistic side of things, there are some options, as well. There’s a Parasite Dust which you can put on the dog and in the house (I sprinkle it in doorway thresholds, for example). You have to reapply every time the dog goes outside but it can make a big difference. It’s a diatomaceous earth product.

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust

Using Cedar wood oil sprays can also deter ticks. That’s an easy one to spritz into the environment.

I’ve included links on all of the products I’ve mentioned so you have access to them. Remember, check with your vet about what the best option is for your dog. There’s a lot of stuff I’m not getting into like seizure-sensitive dogs, nursing dogs, geriatric dogs and more.

Common Pitfalls of Dog Owners/New Trainers

Today, I got an email from Sarah, one of my clients in Agawam. She said she was feeling a little defeated because her reactive dog, Guinness, was still growling at people on walks. A few months back we did a basic lesson package – which is five lessons over a course of two months. Assuming she practiced (which she did), we’re talking 5 hours of professional coaching and maybe 10 hours of self-practice. That’s a total of 15 hours. For a dog that is quite fearful and reactive to strangers, I can’t imagine only 15 hours being enough to turn that around. Have you ever changed a habit in such a short time?

Which brings me to today’s blog subject about the top pitfalls pet owners fall into.

  1. Unrealistic expectations. We are all animals so you should be able to relate to your dog in regards to breaking a habit or building up an alternate coping strategy. Have you ever switched from regular soda to diet? Given up dairy or sugar? Made a commitment to exercise daily? Decided to learn to love spiders even though you’re deathly afraid? It’s hard, right? It’s just as hard for your dog, folks. When you are asking him to like kids when he thinks they’re the horrifying or be around other dogs when he’s convinced they all want to kill him – you’re asking a lot! You need to be realistic about how much your dog can change and how fast he can change.
  1. Novice trainers training novice dogs. Only in the world of pet dog ownership exists this bizarre dynamic where it’s considered normal for a brand new trainer (dog owner) to train an untrained dog. If you had never ridden a horse, you wouldn’t start with a wild stallion. Nope, instead, you’d be started off on a mellow, well-trained horse. It makes sense that only experienced horse riders would work with an untrained horse, right? Yet, dog owners are tackling difficult, complex training problems with little to no support from a professional. And then, like Sarah, you’re feeling defeated and hopeless. Make life a little easier for yourself and invest in a good trainer. Have the trainer work directly with the dog as much as possible – they will get the job done much faster and (honestly) probably much better. Then, the trainer can teach you how to work with the [now] well-trained dog. It will feel so good for both of you!
  1. Trying to train the behavior in the moment. You cannot – I repeat – CANNOT train a new behavior while the dog is literally doing the old, familiar one. Dog owners are always trying to fix the problem right when it’s happening. That would be like saying you are going to train for a marathon… by running a marathon. So, Sarah is trying to fix her dog’s growling behavior on a walk and it’s not working. She needs to train a new behavior long before trying to have Guinness give up the old behavior (growling) for a new behavior. There is definitely a time and place to ask your dog to difficult things like stay focused on you when what he really desperately wants is to lunge and bark at another dog. But, that time is after you have given him a skill set he can use instead of lunging. When he is trained, then you can ask for him to offer the behavior you’d like to see in place of spazzing out. Does that make sense? You can’t ask a dog to do a behavior he doesn’t even know – especially when he’s not exactly thinking straight because he’s exploding over a trigger.

These pitfalls are common for a reason. It’s natural to respond to your dog’s behavior in the moment and to do what you can to change it. Dogs are usually pretty good about doing what you want for relatively little effort. So, I know it’s overwhelming and frustrating when suddenly there is a behavior you can’t seem to change. I hope I’ve shed some light on what’s happening and how to get out of where you’re stuck. Truly good dog training is a skill and an art like any trade. If your pipes burst, you might grab a DIY manual and tackle the project…or you might call a professional plumber. But, one thing is for sure, you wouldn’t feel defeated because you couldn’t fix the problem right away. You wouldn’t expect yourself to inherently know how to fix your pipes – seems almost absurd, right? Well, problem dog behavior is no different.

Time to stop writing and go do some training. Hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather! Get out there and have some fun with your dog today.

Who’s Sleeping in Your Bed Tonight?

My bed in 2012. Four on the bed, one in a crate.

My bed in 2012. Four on the bed, one in a crate.

One of my Vermont clients asked me about my thoughts on dogs on beds:

Have you written a blog article about dogs on beds vs crate training vs sleeping some place else in the house? Would love to hear your thoughts and reasons on any of the above”.

So, let’s talk about where the dog sleeps.

Sleeping on the bed is like many of the other “rules” that’s gotten caught up with the mythical and faulty logic of dominance theory. Your dog sleeping on the bed won’t make him think he’s boss. No specific behavior – going out the door first, walking in front of you, eating before you eat – sends your dog the message that he’s in charge. It is your dog doing things and you allowing those things to happen, which enforces the message that he’s in charge.

Here’s an example. I had an elderly client who owned a Shih Tzu. The woman called me because the dog was not allowing her on the bed at night. At night, the dog would run into the bedroom and hop on the bed. When the woman tried to get into bed, the dog would snap, growl and bite until the woman retreated. She had been sleeping on her couch for over a month when she called me. Was this dog in charge? Absolutely. Was it because he was sleeping on the bed? No way. It was because he was controlling his owner’s behavior through aggression. Was he trying to control her? No. He is a dog. He was not conniving and conspiring ways to control things. He was in a pattern of practicing a behavior (guarding the bed from the owner), getting a result (owner retreated) which strengthened the behavior, thus the behavior got stronger. Both the dog and the owner were stressed out and unhappy [I’m happy to report the owner has been back in her bed for some years now].

A boarding dog and a resident dog napping in 2009

A boarding dog and a resident dog napping in 2009

When I talk to clients about what they should allow their dogs to do, I encourage them to think about what is respectful and what nurtures a healthy relationship between dog and owner. You don’t need arbitrary guidelines, you need things that are practically useful. Eating is a great example. It’s very common that my puppy owners tell me that their dog is barking and being obnoxious during dinner. I advise them to give the dog his dinner in a feeder toy like a Kong (frozen is even better) so the dog is happily occupied during dinner. The family is happy to not be barked at for the duration of the meal, dog is happy and, best of all, dog is practicing calm, appropriate behavior. These people love their dog and the relationship is positive. No where in this scenario do we need to think about who’s doing what first just because they heard from their uncle’s brother’s friend that you always have to eat before your dog.

So, when you are looking at any given behavior with your dog and wondering if it’s ok, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If the dog does this for the duration of his life, would it bother you?
  2. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress you out?
  3. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress out your dog?

If you answer NO to all three questions, then that behavior is probably ok. If you’re answering YES, then you need to do something to change the behavior (management, training, or both). It’s that simple. If you don’t know the answer to one of the questions, hire a professional to help you sort it out. Let’s run through a few examples.

A boarding dog and my heart dog, Kai, napping in 2009

A boarding dog and my heart dog, Kai, napping in 2009

My dog hogs the bed and I’m not getting sleep because of it.

  1. If the dog does this for the duration of his life, would it bother you? YES
  2. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress you out? YES
  3. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress out your dog? NO

Answer: Dog should not be sleeping on the bed. Crate-train, train to use a dog bed or shut the dog out of the room at night.

My dog growls at my other dogs when he’s on the bed.

  1. If the dog does this for the duration of his life, would it bother you? YES
  2. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress you out? YES
  3. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress out your dog? YES

Answer: Aggression is not okay. This dog can’t handle being on the bed and should be sleeping elsewhere. Training or conditioning could also be applied so that the dog is more tolerant of other dogs being in his space.

My dog snores in the bed.

  1. If the dog does this for the duration of his life, would it bother you? NO
  2. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress you out? NO
  3. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress out your dog? NO

Answer: Fine for the dog to sleep in the bed.

My dog keeps getting up during the night.

  1. If the dog does this for the duration of his life, would it bother you? NO
  2. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress you out? NO
  3. Does the behavior (or related behaviors) stress out your dog? YES
Couple Of Dogs And Owner

Under the cover dogs…the best!

Answer: This dog needs a better sense of containment. A lot of dogs that are immature, easily aroused or over-stimulated need some extra help with boundaries. So, although not directly related to sleeping on the bed, I’d recommend that this dog sleep in a crate. This is an example I wouldn’t expect a new dog owner to know, this is where having a trainer comes in helpful.

I’m focusing on bed questions, but you can apply this to almost any behavior – pulling on leash, jumping on visitors, barking out the window, snapping at people – whatever! Every family unit has norms about what is acceptable. My dogs sleep in the bed and I love it. They are also totally comfortable sleeping on the floor or in crates.

The point is that you need to look at your family system, your dog’s individual temperament and needs, and make thoughtful decisions about what is and is not permitted. From there, choose training plans that are easy to implement and maintain (or choose a trainer who can help you with this) and be consistent. You also want to be fair and kind to your dog. He is at the mercy of whatever you decide the rules are. So, just because you love wrestling and hugging your dog for hours on end doesn’t mean it’s not totally stressing him out. This is where that third question comes in handy. And, again, utilizing a trainer to help understand your dog can enhance your relationship like you wouldn’t believe.

To end, I’ll mention a video I got earlier today from a friend who’s pretty serious about dog training. A couple of months ago, he implemented a lot of changes (read: LOTS of rules) in his multi-dog house. Today, the baby gates came down and everyone was together for the first time. The video almost made me cry – everyone was so relaxed and happy together. Amazing!

So, where will your dog be sleeping tonight?