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Love is in the Air

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. February is a time for lovers and showing our special someone how much we love them. How about your pets? Did you know that February 20th is Love Your Pet Day? Mark your calendar so you can spend some quality time with your furry family members.

February is also Responsible Pet Owner’s Month. Deciding to get a pet is a huge responsibility. There are dozens of things to consider and too many people rush in to getting a family pet without thinking through the responsibilities that come along with them.

Neat Freaks Beware: If you are fussy about a clean house, consider that there may be some pet fur, muddy footprints, chewed or scratched furniture, housebreaking etc. If this is something you would not be able to accept in your home, then you may want to consider certain no shed breeds, maybe you can consider a rescue dog that is a little older and perhaps house broken. Puppies are quite messy and it takes a lot of time and patience to work with them.

Consider the Future: If you are thinking about starting a family soon, you may want to wait to get a pet when your children are older. Shelters are full of dogs and cats that have been dropped off because of a new baby. Either the parents didn’t want the extra responsibility of the dog or cat, or they were concerned that the new baby could get harmed, or many other reasons. Your pets think they are your babies and when you get rid of them for the real thing, they don’t understand why their lives have had a sudden upheaval. You may think your pet has a second chance for a good home, but many shelters will euthanize your pet upon arrival if they are full or if they are a certain breed.

Financial Responsibility: Pets are not cheap, even if you get them for free. You still have the responsibility to keep up with their vaccinations, grooming, healthy food, toys, beds, crates and training. You also need to consider that your pet may not stay healthy with just vaccinations and may get an injury or need surgery. Are you able to keep a nest egg of money just for your pet’s well being?

Exercise: Dogs especially need exercise. It depends on breed and age of the dog as to how much. Keep energy level in mind when searching for a new pet. If you are a couch potato, don’t get a high energy dog. If you are an active person, don’t get a couch potato. Do your research and don’t pick a breed just by looks alone. If you can’t exercise your dog enough, consider getting a dog walker or other means of exercise. Your pets also need mental stimulation to burn off energy. Find interactive toys that can challenge your pet without driving them crazy.

Spaying & Neutering: It is responsible to keep your pets healthy and keeping them from adding to over population. Millions of pets are euthanized every year and it is irresponsible to allow your pet to breed to add to that number, unless you are a registered breeder. Many parents want their children to experience their dog giving birth. Some people just get squeamish about their dogs being neutered.  Keep in mind 80% of dogs hit by cars are unneutered males. Whatever the reason, it is my personal opinion that you set up an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Spaying & neutering not only keeps the population down, but it also can prevent health and behavioral issues.

The intention of listing all the less desirable things about owning a pet is not to talk people out of getting a pet. It is just a big responsibility for possibly 20 years, so it is important to think it through and make the decision as to what kind of pet would fit best into your family.

Owning a pet is an incredibly wonderful experience. The unconditional love that they give you is worth the extra responsibility. Pets are also good for your health and peace of mind.

I can’t imagine my life without a pet. I’m looking forward to February 20th to spend some extra special time loving on my dog, Lydia and cats, Paul & Silas.



How well do you know your dog? This is a question I like to ask my clients. Most people think they know their dogs well, but do they really? I would like to challenge trainers to start making this a primary focus of their training. The more someone knows their dog, the easier it is to train, work with behavioral issues and avoid possible dangers.

Learn Standard Body Language
I encourage my clients to learn all they can about canine body language. Not only their own dogs, but in other dogs as well. In doing so, they will learn when it is safe to approach another dog and also know what dogs are safe to allow their dog to meet. I believe in socializing dogs, yet, I lean on the conservative side as to being careful and choosing your social moments wisely, especially with puppies. If you allow your puppy to meet a dog and have a negative reaction, then you have a set-back that might cause your pup to struggle to trust the next dog they meet. If people do as much as they can to learn canine body language, it will make a world of difference in socializing their pups. I tell my clients about different facial expressions, what do their eyes look like, how are they holding their ears, their tail tells a story, just because it is wagging, doesn’t mean they are friendly. There are many resources out there, books, articles, videos, etc., for people to learn what they can about body language. People should learn more about human body language too. It is just as important for dogs to have a positive encounter with humans as well as other dogs.

Learn Your Dog
Clients say to me all the time “everything was fine, and the next thing you know, he bit someone”. I hate to say it, but I find this to be a very untrue statement. The clients may have thought everything was fine, but they were missing a myriad of signals their dog was giving off before it led to a bite.

There are all the standard signals to study and learn, but each dog may have their own signals that make them unique. A case in point is a client I have been working with. They are wonderful owners for their skittish/anxious dog, mainly because they know her body language well. She is mostly white and they have come to learn that when she is anxious, her nose gets pink, sometimes different shades of pink. Her eyes also dilate and the owners know the moment she is aroused and stressed and are able to distract her away from what she is anxious over. This helps her to not only feel relief, but to trust her owners to have her back and they will get her out of a bad situation and keep her safe. I feel the more they work on these things, the more her confidence will build and she will have less things that stress her out. I love working with these clients because she is a great dog, but also because they are in tune with her and it makes all the difference with her training and desensitizing.

Taking Action
When seeing a stress signal, action needs to be taken immediately. It is easier said than done, but it is something that can be practiced to where it can become second nature for a dog owner. When you see a stress signal, learn to act fast. Be it distracting your dog with something they like, working on a touch command, or simply getting them out of the situation. If you choose the latter, you must be upbeat and positive. Don’t acknowledge the stressor, just create safe distance between the stressor and the dog. Always be careful not to send your own signals down the leash. If you are stressed, your dog will know it. Don’t tug, yank or pull your dog, just trot away and be sure to use a lot of praise for good focuses.

Never scold a growl. So many people train their dogs not to growl by scolding them every time they do. People are so concerned about their dog acting rude that they are taking out a very important warning signal. If your dog learns not to growl, then you lose the crucial signal between “being fine” and a bite.

Watch While You Schmooze
People need to pay more attention to their dogs. We tend to get lost in conversations with people we meet on the street, the dog park or company we have over, and we forget to notice our dogs and what they are doing and how they are handling each situation. The more you get in tune with your dog, the more you will help your dog to find a healthy balance with human and animal kind.



Rose, asked me “why does Frankie jump on me all the time? He is such a bad boy!” I asked Rose if she had experience with Jack Russell Terriers. Her reply was “no, I saw him at the shelter and he was small and cute”.  As a trainer, I see many dogs that are, poor matches for their owners. Rose is in her late 70’s and Frankie is a 2 year old Jack Russell. He isn’t a bad boy. JRTs tend to be a high energy, jumpy breed, not a good match for an elderly woman. Especially if you take into consideration, that Frankie can quite possibly live longer than Rose. Consider seniors for seniors, it is a win, win situation. The shelters are crowded with really great senior dogs that just want to hang out with their owner and enjoy the remaining years of their lives.


When thinking about adding a dog to your family, there are many things to take into consideration. It is important not to get a dog because of their looks. If that were the case, I would have a Border Collie. They are beautiful, brilliant dogs but if you don’t keep them active, they can be destructive because of a lack of outlet for their very strong instincts. Maybe someday, but for now, I know that isn’t the best choice for me.

Breed instincts can be hardwired, so choose your breeds carefully. If you are an active person and like jogging, maybe a Labrador or Pointer will be a good match, a Pug would not be a good jogging buddy. If you are a couch potato, then a Basset Hound might be a better choice for you. If you have small children, then small breeds would not be a good choice, they can be fragile. Puppies take a lot of work, if you have a 9 to 5 job, I don’t recommend a puppy. There are many things to consider: the dog’s coat, grooming, size, energy level, temperament, age, etc. Do your research on the breeds. There is never a guarantee that every breed will have the specific traits, but it can definitely narrow down your chances for a good fit.


My personal opinion is that families wait until the children are old enough to interact with their dogs. Babies, toddlers and puppies are a lot of work. Having both at the same time is stressful. If puppies don’t get the attention, socializing and training they need, then behavior issues will creep in. It is cute to see toddlers with pups, but it is also dangerous. Many people don’t know canine body language well and miss a lot of signals before a dog bites a child. This is why I recommend waiting until your children are grown up so that they understand how to care for a dog and can be a part of the obedience training. When that time comes, don’t expect them to take full responsibility for the dog. Their doggie chores will fade off and you will be the one taking care of the dog. Parents will then end up with resentful feelings towards their kids and the dog. If you take responsibility for the dog and give your kids small tasks, then your household will be a much happier place.

If your kids are begging for a dog and your circumstances won’t allow it, get them involved with a shelter to give them an outlet and at the same time it teaches them more about dogs and how to care for them. This way, they will be ready to be involved with the dog’s care when they can have one.


Sometimes having multiple dogs can be a good thing. Dogs that get along well are good company for each other. They can also teach good habits. However, they can teach bad habits too. Resource guarding becomes an issue when the dogs want to fight over food, toys, and family members. Dogs can become very bonded to each other and get anxious when the other dog is not there. Be very careful when introducing a new dog to the household.  As a rule of thumb, try not to get same sex, same age, same demeanor, or same breed. Issues can arise, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Always do several meet & greets between the two dogs. Make sure they like each other. If they ignore each other, it is probably a sign they won’t get along. I recommend that if you have a senior dog, you don’t get a young, rambunctious dog. It will only make your senior miserable. I personally wouldn’t get another dog until the senior passes. It is a nice way to respect your old dog’s life and cherish the time you have together.


Getting a new dog is not a good idea when you are going through a life change. Examples are: moving, new baby, new job, divorce, newly married, or new roommate. Give yourself time to settle in with the new changes. I recommend a year if the life change is a big one. It is much less stressful for a pet to be brought in if there is a regular routine already in place.


Do your research! Some people prefer to get their puppy from a breeder and some prefer rescue. With either decision, be sure to research as much as possible. If you choose a breeder, make sure that you find a reputable one. A good breeder will be open to many questions. They will also allow you to come and see their kennels and meet the mother and father of the pups. Good breeders will have a contract and will take your puppy back if it is not working out. If you choose a shelter or rescue, then you have the wonderful opportunity to give a pet a second chance at life. Not all rescue dogs have issues. Many of them are already housebroken and have good manners. Many rescues have fosters for the dogs that can fill you in on any issues the dog may have, so you know what you are getting in to. A good rescue will be truthful and not try to push a dog on you. They will also take it back if it is not working out. Good rescues will do a home visit and vet check on you because they want their dogs placed in a great home that is a good fit. There are many breed specific rescues if you don’t want to go to a breeder. is a great resource for finding a specific breed.


Dogs are wonderful for so many reasons. They are good for our health. They are great company. They keep us social. For many of us, they fill a hole in our hearts. Please always take into consideration if it is a good time in your life to have a pet. Do your research and if needed seek the help of a professional. When you get a dog, don’t forget to get them into a positive reinforcement obedience class. Even if they know basic commands, it is a great way for you to start a strong bond with your new family member.




By Judi Hales, ABCDT & ABC Mentor Trainer

I want to start by talking about Max, a recent client of mine. Max’s owner (Marsha) told me that she needs to use a prong collar because he is too strong for her. Max is a Pit-bull / Bulldog / Boxer mix.  With these genetics, obviously Max is a very strong dog. Marsha is a single woman in her 60’s with bad knees. When I told her that I have serious concerns with these collars, she told me that the rescue she adopted him from told her to use this kind of collar. I’ve found that several Pit-bull rescues promote using prong collars and choke chains.  Max’s owner signed up for one of my basic obedience classes. When people sign-up for the classes, I go over what equipment they need for classes and I always tell them, “no prong collars or choke chains.”

Max was very reactive on his first day of class, especially when seeing the other dogs. He displayed quite a bit of frustration that he couldn’t go meet the other dogs and I could tell that over time his frustration was starting to border on aggression. He is a very sweet dog and loves to play, but when being held back from greeting, he was developing bad behaviors toward other dogs. Marsha had told me that when he is off leash around other dogs he plays nicely. I fitted Max with a chest harness (Premier Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness). This style of harness is different from regular harnesses with the clip on the back. The Easy Walk has a clip on the chest, so when the dog starts to pull, the harness stops them from pulling. It is what I like to call one of my “Magic Wand” tools. I let Marsha use mine for a week to see how things worked out for him. She was very pleased with the results. The following week I had a new harness that I just purchased (Halti).  The harness has a similar design to the Easy Walk harness, but there was an added safety feature; a clip that goes from the harness to the dog’s collar, just in case the dog gets loose from the harness. I let Marsha use that harness for the following week, in which she ended up ordering her own. This other harness raised her confidence level greatly because she wasn’t as worried about Max getting loose.


As a trainer, most of the concerns I get from clients are about their dog overreacting on leash towards other dogs or people while on walks. There are so many things that people do wrong without meaning to, that cause this behavior to escalate until it is very hard to control. It starts by the dog receiving signals down the leash from the owner. The owner may inadvertently tense up, or pull the dog back from another dog. A dog automatically senses stress from the owner.  The dog then develops a negative association toward the other dog. This negativity starts to grow each time a dog or person is passed. Dogs are very sensitive around their necks and they receive many signals from their owners through their leashes and collar corrections. Walks start to become unpleasant for the owner and the dog, and in a desperate attempt to fix the problem, the owner starts to do research. Unfortunately, due to internet searches or advice from friends, some breeders, some rescues and even some trainers, people will purchase a prong collar or choke chain to try to stop the pulling behavior, not understanding there are alternatives.


When people purchase a prong collar, they are thinking like people. They need to try to think like a dog instead. If a person had a prong collar on and started pulling toward something they wanted, they would stop pulling because of the irritation, and they would learn from that. People tend to think dogs think like they do (anthropomorphism). What happens when you put a prong collar on a dog, is when a dog starts to pull toward something, let’s say another dog, the dog doesn’t think “hey, maybe I shouldn’t pull towards that other dog because it bothers my neck.” Instead, the dog is developing a negative association toward the other dog because as its vision is zoned in on the other dog he is feeling irritation and pain around his neck. To the collared dog, the other dog is causing the pain vs. the dog realizing the fact that he is pulling and the collar results in pain from pulling.

I get upset when breeders and rescues suggest these collars because that is one of the reasons why there are so many aggressive dogs being repeatedly re-homed and even put down, especially Pit-bulls. Just because a dog is strong, doesn’t make it necessary to resort to harsh methods to try to break down their strength. There are better, positive methods that can help your dog become a better balanced dog.


Now, let’s go back to Max and Marsha. I worked with her on the signals she was giving down the leash; mainly her insecurity and fear of him pulling her down or him getting away. When she changed up her equipment to something more positive that totally took any negative messages away from his neck, she started to feel more confident. She learned to walk with a purpose, instead of fear. This change in Marsha’s behavior, because of the harness, helped Max to settle down immensely. Honestly, I would have never suggested that a sixty-something year-old woman get a strong breed like Max, but I see it happen all the time in this business.  All I can do is teach the owners more about the breed instincts and hope that they can learn to work together so that they both can find a healthy balance.

I was so proud of Max on graduation day, and Marsha was beaming. He actually did better than the rest of his classmates! When I got home from class that night, Marsha had already sent me an email about how happy she was with the class and the difference she saw in Max. It is clients like this that make me love my job so much! It is so rewarding to see such an extreme change in a dog in the matter of a few weeks; mostly because of changing equipment from a harsh to a positive style, but also because of Marsha’s love and dedication to Max, who adores Marsha just as much as she adores him!



Jim decided to get his girlfriend, Sally, a puppy for Christmas. He found just the right pup and bought him, he was the cutest puppy ever!  He went to the store and bought some puppy food, a bowl, a collar and leash, a few toys and didn’t forget the big red bow to put around him when he presented the cutie to Sally. When he gave the pup to Sally, she was instantly smitten. The puppy was the sweetest gift she ever received… until she brought the puppy home to her parents. Jim and Sally had plans to marry someday, but it wouldn’t be for a few years, so that meant the puppy was to live with Sally at her parent’s home. Unfortunately, her parents were adamant that she get rid of the puppy. She was devastated and Jim felt horrible. He just didn’t think it through.

With the holidays upon us, many pets are given as gifts and people need to be informed. Don’t give a pet as a gift unless it is well thought out with the person receiving the gift. Never give a pet as a surprise. Too many pets are impulsively given as gifts, and dumped into shelters shortly afterward because it wasn’t a good fit, or it was more work than they thought.

Pets are a huge responsibility and expense that can last up to 20 years. People tend to buy the pet gift as a novelty by living in the moment and not thinking about the life of the pet. Take everything into consideration before getting a pet. Is the living arrangement acceptable? If in an apartment or condo, are there rules about pets? Does the person receiving the pet have a busy schedule? Pets need a lot of our time, care, companionship and exercise. Are there other pets in the household that may not want another pet to share attention? Multiple pet households can be difficult to achieve harmony. Older dogs don’t really like young puppies. If you have cats or other pets, be careful about the dog you bring in. Always try to do a meet & greet with your potential new pet to see if everyone will get along before making a commitment. If you have children, don’t expect them to take full responsibility for the pet. Parents should take full responsibility and give children small tasks with the pet, it is the best way to keep from resenting the pet or your children for not doing what was expected of them.

A good idea instead of getting a pet as a gift is to give your loved one a gift certificate to cover adoption expenses. Never buy a pet from a store as they are from puppy mills. I am a huge proponent of rescue. Shelters and rescues are overflowing with pets. Most of these pets are wonderful pets that need a second chance. Some people believe that shelter pets have baggage, but many of them are there for non-behavioral reasons. Shelter pets are all worth checking out. One of the best bonuses of rescue is that if they are in a foster home, you will have better knowledge of the pet’s behavior and temperament. You can also go to breed specific rescues if you like a certain breed. Do your research. Don’t get a pet that isn’t a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

It is a beautiful thought to give a pet, but it isn’t a good idea. Don’t jump into it. It will make everyone happier in the long run.




The holidays are upon us! What an exciting time of year for friends and family! Sometimes we get caught up in the hubbub and we tend to lose track of our pets and their safety.

Dogs can enjoy having visitors or it can be stressful for them. Be alert when guests are coming and going that your dog or cat doesn’t dart out and run off. It is best to take your dog out to potty on a leash, extra stress can tempt them to bolt. Inside, always provide a safe place for them to flee if they tend to be anxious around people and the noisiness of the holidays. Give them a Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter or canned pumpkin. This gives them something positive and enjoyable to do while guests are visiting. You can also try Rescue Remedy or DAP.

Remember to keep an eye out for the signs of stress. Panting, drooling, lip licking, eyes darting, fleeing, etc. are all signs of stress or fear. Don’t force your dog to do anything that makes them uncomfortable.

There are many things that can endanger your dogs and cats during the holidays:

Turkey bones, chocolate, walnuts, sage, raisins, onions, alcohol, raw bread dough and rich foods are some things that you should not allow your pet to have. These foods are all capable of causing serious health issues.

Keep your pets away from holly, mistletoe, poinsettias & lilies. Parts of these plants can cause severe illness or death. Tree water sometimes has fertilizer from the tree, also avoid putting aspirin in the water, which can kill cats. If at all possible, try to keep your pets away from the tree and gifts by blocking it off with a baby gate. Also consider anchoring your tree.

Decorations can be dangerous too. Tinsel, ornaments, ribbon, scissors, candles, cords, snow globes  (contain antifreeze), flock or artificial snow. Some of these items can cause blockages or intestinal damage. If your dog consumes something sharp, contact your veterinarian immediately. In the meantime, feed pure canned pumpkin for bulk. Keep the closest emergency veterinarian’s number on speed dial. Saving time, can save a life.

Take time during the holidays to enjoy your pets. They are part of the family after all. The more positive interaction you have with them during the hubbub, the better they will adjust each year. Happy Holidays!!