Category - Q&A

Becoming Pack Leader

pack-leaderDogs need leaders. They operate on a “pack” system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, somebody needs to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there, because no one else in the household has demonstrated clear leadership.. To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honors. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter sources and they have dibs on the best stuff. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays.

Some breeds of dogs tend to be more dominant in nature. Others are more submissive or easygoing. To start out right with ALL dogs, leadership needs to begin in puppyhood. This leadership isn’t nasty or violent, but it is always firm and fair. Some behaviorists may discuss shaking a dog up or alpha rolling. These methods have a place ONLY in a fair and non-violent way, and should NEVER be started with half-grown or adult dogs. . With most dogs your leadership position is easy to have and maintain. Other dogs must be reminded daily, if not more often.

The following leadership checklist includes things every dog owner should follow. How strictly the list is followed depends on how pushy the dog is. Most of the items on the list, however, should be followed to some extent; some people don’t realize how dominant their dog really is. Many dogs are quietly (or not so quietly) pushy.

Most items are very self explanatory. Most items you can start today and do yourself. If you have ANY trouble understanding anything, or if your dog growls or snaps at your for any reason, you need to enlist the help of a trainer who has knowledge about leadership behavior.

Your dog will thank you for the structure and leadership you provide!

Leadership Checklist

  • Feed scheduled mealtimes (No free-feeding) – dogs need to know their food is “earned” from you, the leader, and their bowl is picked up after mealtime is over.
  • Feed after humans eat – leaders eat first.
  • “Sit” and “wait” while you set the food bolw down, and then release to eat. (“OK!”)
  • Dog goes after humans through doorways. (“get back!”)(“Wait!”) This is mostly to enforce control and manners, rather than “leaders always go first”. Actually, true leaders have the -option- of going first, and everyone waits for the leader’s direction.
  • Never play tug-of-war with overly pushy dogs. All other dogs must have an excellent “OUT!” command, and leaders both start the game and end the game. The tug toy is never available for the dog to shove at you, either.
  • If you establish eye contact, dog must avert gaze first. Casual glances are OK.
  • Dog is NEVER allowed to bite or mouth ANYONE, ANYWHERE! (this includes play)
  • No sleeping on the bed with anyone.
  • Petting or attention to the dog should be given when the human decides attention is to be given (absolutely NO PETTING when the dog nudges or paws you or your hand). Leaders designate petting and attention times, not the dog.
  • Puppies or small dogs who demand to be picked up and held and/or demand to be put down should not be picked up until they sit or give some other acceptable quiet behavior and should not be put down until they settle quietly in your lap or in your arms.
  • Games with toys, especially fetch, are initiated AND ended by the human.
  • Never put yourself in an equal or lesser height position than your dog (i.e. – kids don’t get to lay on the floor to watch TV when the dog is out and no one plays on the floor with the dog)
  • Also, dog is never allowed on furniture, especially if uninvited. (“OFF!”) Leaders have all the best resting and sleeping spots.
  • Enforced time-outs in crate – no reason, and not used only when dog misbehaves! (“Kennel-up!”) Crates are also not only used when you are not home, which can foster separation anxiety.
  • Obedience commands are NOT requests – if the leader says “sit”, then the dog should offer a “slam-dunk” sit. Not mean, not nasty! PRACTICE daily compliance. Leaders always follow through when their dog is given a command.
  • A simple obedience command, such as “sit” should be obeyed before any pleasurable interaction (eat, pet, play, etc.)
  • Dog should be taught NOT to pull when on leash. (“Easy!”)
  • Dog should NEVER be left unsupervised with children or anyone who cannot maintain leadership over dog.
  • Dog MUST MOVE if in your path on a floor or stairway, etc. even if you are able to step over him. (“Move!)
  • When on a walk, dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wants (for males, one mark against one tree is enough!) (“Leave It!”)
  • Everything belongs to you: the toys, the crate, the bowls, the bed, etc – they are only on loan to the dog! You should be able to clean, move, handle or remove any item at any time without hassle from the dog.
  • Dog should be taught an “out” or release command (“give”, “release”, “out”) for things in his mouth. Dog should not be allowed to steal things and if that happens, they should be able to release item on command.
  • Remember – appropriate leaders are NOT mean, and are NOT nasty or angry. They are firm and fair, and often even fun! Leaders never hold grudges, and are always appropriate.

* Words in parentheses are suggested commands you can work to teach your dog. *

Renaming A (Rescue) Dog

Puppies in a litter are often named by the breeder reflecting a physical attribute the pup has (“Big Boy”, “Socks”, “Brownie”), or because of a specific collar color the breeder has put on them (in the case of dogs looking the same, like Golden Retrievers).

Rescue dogs either come with the name they had at their previous home (if known), or a name given to them by the shelter or rescuer.

Should You Rename Your Rescue Dog?

There is no reason not to re-name a rescue dog or new puppy that you adopt into your home. If you use that name in a positive manner and always associated with good things, the dog will quickly learn to understand that name means HIM!

I own 2 rescue dogs. Both came from not-so-bad situations. Mickey lost his Dad to cancer, and Remington was too much attitude for his previous owner. These dogs have their original, given name. I chose to keep their names because they never had any terrible experiences associated with their name.

I fostered a Border Collie rescue for Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue who was kept in a corn crib for a year and had much baggage come with him into rescue. The instant he left his previous owner’s hand he got a new name, Kip, and will never hear his name from his previous life again. He got his new name to not only symbolize a new life for him, but also to shed all the bad things associated with his previous name.

Getting your dog to understand his new name is easy: his name is used when training and reinforcing commands, and is also used when giving treats (“Good Kip!” treat “What a good boy, Kip!” treat). The new name is ALWAYS used in a positive manner.

What To Name Him Or Her?

That’s the fun part – and it’s completely up to you! If you need some inspiration, check out’s Top Dog survey:

Popular Dog Names

Why You (Always) Need To Use A Dog Leash

I’ll explain this this by means of a story:

We were up north at my family’s cottage for the Christmas holidays when Bailey, my Golden Retriever, was just a year old. Back then, we had two dogs: Bailey and Betsy, a seasoned Shepherd Mix. One cold but bright and snowy day, we ventured to the Ocqueoc State Park trails for a walk and a romp in the wonderful northern Michigan snow.

Both dogs were off leash and having a grand time running ahead of us and back, never venturing far – our voice commands kept them close. We had fun exploring the frozen waterfalls and river, and walked down the ungroomed cross-country ski trails until we became tired and cold.

Dog Leash

Our walk back towards the parking area started uneventfully, until a cross-country skier loomed up behind us and rushed past – never saying a word; not “excuse me”, “coming through”, nothing. To my Golden puppy, he was an ALIEN! She saw him coming and turned and ran down the trail ahead of him. Both dog and skier were quickly out of sight, with us yelling for Bailey after them. The skier NEVER stopped! We ran through the 4-6″ of snow as fast as we could, hoping to find Bailey off in the woods.

We came to a fork in the trail and one of us went one way, one the other, both calling Bailey’s name constantly. Betsy chose to stay with the person I was with, and they made it back to the parking lot before me. Breathless, she asked the people there if they had seen a dog run through. They said they had, and that she had continued OUT of the lot! Quickly she got into the truck and drove in the direction she thought Bailey had taken.

As luck would have it, she found fresh tracks in the snow on the road and followed them to where they turned down another road. This road led directly to the main highway! Turning down the road, she finally caught sight of her, STILL RUNNING. She quickly drove closer and called out of the truck after her. Bailey turned her head and kept running. Stopping the truck, she sent Betsy off after her, and that is what got Bailey to stop, look and come back to her.

I am telling you this story so you can learn from my experience. There are several morals to this story:

  1. If your dog is not leashed, you have NO control.
  2. No matter how trained you feel your dog is, when an unfamiliar situation occurs training leaves and instinct takes over.
  3. Not all people have sense or manners concerning dogs. (If I were the skier, I would have stopped!)

The lesson is simple – always keep your dog on a leash, unless you are in a completely secure, safe environment. If you have trouble handling your dog on a leash, read our leash training guide.

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How Long Does It Take To Train A Dog

When will my dog be TRAINED?
“I can’t wait till my dog is TRAINED!” — as if that is an END?!
..and when will TRAINED be?

When he sits?
When he lies down?
When he always comes?
When he doesn’t jump on people?
When he doesn’t get into the trash?

When he can heel off leash?
When he can do a directed retrieve?
When he can track a missing person?
When he can herd sheep into a pen?

You must decide what TRAINED means to you and your dog. To me, TRAINED, is NOT an end – it is a lifelong journey. Kind of like my own education – I learn new things daily. TRAINED is not magical – it won’t happen without outside influence.

How long to train a dog

If YOU are NOT that outside influence, other things WILL be (i.e.; the dog won’t wait for you to train him!):

  • You put old bread out on the ground for the birds – your dog finds it and eats all of it. He has just been trained to eat the bread – food is a strong reward for behavior.
  • One of his toys is partially under a bush in the garden. He uses his paws to get to it and digs a hole in the process. He gets his toy and the garden gets a hole. He was just trained how to get a hard to reach object he wants. The object itself (the toy) was his reward.
  • A delivery person comes to the door with a package while you aren’t home. Your dog, who is learning to alert when strangers come to the door, jumps at the picture window, barking and banging on the window. The delivery person leaves the package and walks away. Your dog has just learned that the barking and lunging “chased” the stranger in uniform away.
  • LACK of training on your part is STILL TRAINING!!

Your dog shows fear of thunderstorms, fireworks and gunshots.

During a nasty thunderstorm, his eyes bug, ears go back – he paces and pants with his mouth wide open. You go to him and stroke him calmly, murmuring, “It’s OK, it’s ok.” The next thunderstorm happens a few weeks later, and he acts worse. He tries to dig under the dresser or hides in the tub. You go to him, hug him and pet him and again tell him “It’s OK, you’re alright.”. You wonder why his fear reaction has increased when you are working so hard to calm him. He IS learning – and you ARE teaching him! You are teaching him to be afraid of storms. Petting, stroking, hugging, soothing talk – all are ways to PRAISE your dog (more about this in an upcoming article). In this example, the dog is being inadvertently praised for his fearful behavior.

“He acts JUST FINE at home. I don’t know WHY he gets so crazy here at dog school.

I’ll tell you why. When you do your training sessions at home, you chase the kids outside, turn off the radio and TV (because it distracts you), go to a quiet room or basement and just train. Then, when the dog encounters all the external stimulation at dog school, he can’t handle it because he wasn’t TRAINED with it. In order to have a TRAINED dog, he must be taught to behave correctly in ANY situation he will encounter: crowds, groups of dogs, vet clinic, groomer, front of your house, down the street, in your backyard, at the park during a ball game, when it is sunny, rainy, snowing, blowing, cold, hot, with birds, cats or squirrels around – ANY situation or place you can think of.

TRAINED is what you accept, promote and control.

  • “If I leave him outside for a while, what can he get into?”
  • “If he isn’t be crated when I’m not home, what can happen that I cannot control?”
  • “I know if I leave food on the counter, he will eat it when I’m not looking. How can I work to change this?”
  • “If that loose dog runs up to us in the park, how can I handle the situation?”
  • “I see a squirrel/cat ahead on our walk and I know my dog will want to chase. How do I control his actions BEFORE he gets out of control?”

TRAINING means working and thinking one step ahead of your dog.

Your dog loves to fetch. Balls, toys, anything will work. He always tries to get you to participate by jumping on your lap and depositing a toy. This time, you are reading the paper and your dog jumps up with his toy and crumples the paper. “NO!, I don’t WANT to play!”, you say as you toss the toy away. Your dog retrieves the toy and comes back (he thinks “that throw was OK, but let’s try for a better one!”) This time, he doesn’t jump on your lap, but nudges under the paper at your hand. You push him away several times, telling him “NO!”, until finally you get angry, take the toy and throw it and tell him to go away. Your dog has just learned that patience is a virtue. If he pesters you long enough, he’ll get to play!

You meet up with a friend on your walk with your dog, and you stop to chat for a while. Your dog is impatient, and starts to pace and prance. You are busy talking, but want him to sit quietly at your side. Telling him firmly to SIT, you go back to your conversation and don’t realize he never sat. Your dog has just learned that he can ignore your commands. Seeing later that he didn’t SIT, you tell him again. Again he ignores your command. Finally, you break away from your conversation and angrily command him to SIT. Well, he has learned he can ignore your commands UNLESS you have a hissy and get mad!

Eating dinner, or even snacks, causes your dog to sit at your feet, drool and stare.

You wish he wouldn’t be such a beggar. After several minutes of enduring the stares and getting no response to your commands to “go and lie down”, you give in and hand him some food from your dish. Dogs learn very well to be patient (and persistent) to get what they want.

TRAINING means consistency and meaning what you convey both verbally and non-verbally.

TRAINING means following through with your commands.

When your dogs does what you want, when you want – LET HIM KNOW!
You certainly let him know when he is bad – you need to concentrate on when he is GOOD, so he will know and learn.
TRAINING means praise when something is correctly done.

There is a law in dog training that says: YOU HAVE THE DOG YOU WANT

…Think about it…

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At What Age Should You Start Training Your Puppy

Formal obedience training – puppy training in a class situation – can start anywhere from 9 to 12 weeks of age. Most schools like to see the pup receive a series of 2 vaccinations given before starting in a class – for the pup’s protection, as well as the protection of all other pups in the class. A Bordatella (a type of kennel cough) vaccination and negative stool sample also need to be done beforehand.

when to start puppy training

TRAINING of your puppy – the stuff you teach them at home – should start the DAY you bring your puppy home! This does not mean training needs to be intensive right away. Training at this stage should be done in many little lessons, in short spans of time (5-10 minutes per session). Then it goes on from there!

Puppies and dogs learn from the instant they are born. At first their world is small and their learning comes from their mother, other littermates, and the whelping box (their environment). By the time they are weaned and sent on their way to new homes, they have learned a vast amount of things – all from their mom, their littermates, and from any environmental influences they had. Hopefully, if the pup comes from a reputable breeder (or from a mixed-breed home with understanding about raising puppies), they have had a good foundation set for future learning. This is one of the biggest reasons to purchase a pup from a knowledgeable and reputable breeder.

Learning Comprises Many Factors:

  • Socialization – positive exposure to many different people, animals, environments, surfaces, situations, sounds, etc, and teaching the pup how to best react to new things
  • Innate personality – there is a set type of personality all animals and people are born with.
  • Environment – an enriched environment will provide positive experiences and socialization.
  • In-home work with potty training, crate training, leash & collar training, teaching appropriate stuff to chew on, your household routine, words, basic home manners.
  • Training classes outside the home – where you teach your puppy the essentials of obedience commands, manners, and ability to do everything with the distraction of other people and dogs.
  • Serendipity – what the up learns on his own – a huge part of early learning!

As you are reading this article, YOU are learning, but so is your dog! What is your dog doing righ this moment? One big thing pups learn is that when your are busy or distracted, they are free to make their own decisions, good OR bad!

At what age should training start? The answer is “RIGHT AWAY!”

Checklist For A Well-Behaved Dog

Think you’ve got your hound well-trained? Measure up again our 17-point checklist for well-behaved dogs and let us know how you scored in the comments section below 🙂

  1. Good dog checklistAble to walk on a loose leash without pulling
  2. Able to greet friends and strangers without jumping or shying away
  3. Able to walk without chasing bicycles, children, cars, squirrels, rabbits, balls, other dogs, etc
  4. Can quiet barking on command
  5. Understands nipping and mouthing is not allowed
  6. Able to be left alone at home without destruction, barking or anxiety
  7. Able to play, chew and relax without constant interaction with owner
  8. Able to relinquish food, toys or inappropriate objects at owner’s bidding
  9. Can be groomed or handled without complaint
  10. Is reliable with housebreaking
  11. Veterinarian or groomer can handle dog without a problem
  12. Does not rush through doorways ahead of owner
  13. Interacts appropriately with children
  14. Able to tolerate accidental nudging or grabbing (even when asleep) without snapping
  15. Will move location – even if on furniture or bed – when directed without growling or snapping
  16. Respects leadership of owner
  17. Tolerates at least, and my play or interact appropriately with other dogs

How did you score? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


How To Soothe A Carsick Dog

Most dogs and puppies are hesitant or reluctant when introduced to new situations and new places. This is a normal reaction – part of their survival instinct! Our job as their owner is to teach them that new places can be fun, or at least tolerable.

Carsick dog

The first place an owner should visit after bringing the puppy home is a veterinarian of their choice. The overall good health of the puppy needs to be determined at this time. This is also a good time to start a POSITIVE relationship with the veterinarian, his/her staff, AND the office overall. Find a small, easy to chew treat that doesn’t upset puppy’s stomach (SMALL hot dog bits, Bil Jack treats, Pounce cat treats, some other treat that is small & chewy). These treats will ONLY be available to puppy when encountering a “scary” situation. Give a couple treats to the veterinarian to give to the puppy. Give a couple treats to the technician to give to the puppy and likewise any other staff or people he encounters. He gets the treats when he approaches the person, but NOT when he hides, and NOT as a lure to get him out of hiding. As puppy realizes treats come from all the people at the vet’s, he will become happy and eager to return.

If your dog continues to be fearful and suspicious in subsequent visits, continue bringing treats and have ONLY the staff give them ( NONE from you!). Make extra visits to the vet when you do NOT have an appointment (call ahead to make sure they aren’t too busy!) to have people give treats and cheerful encouragement. Never, EVER stroke your dog and pet him and use what you feel is a reassuring voice to tell him: “It’s OK, Rover! They’re trying to be nice to you! It’s alright!” When you do that, you are reinforcing his fear: you are giving him all the praise signals that tell him his behavior is EXACTLY what you want!! (soft voice, quiet petting, etc.). Instead, with a fearful dog, he will only get a treat OR petting OR both, when he acts less fearful and approaches. Sometimes a favorite toy will get the puppy to forget his fear a little and “loosen up” a bit. Fearful puppies may also try to climb on or claw at their owner in seeming desperation of the situation. This should not be allowed or praised! Inadvertant praise for this can be something as simple as using your hands to gently remove him from your body. Instead us his leash and don’t touch him at all, or turn away, or stand up.

ANY time your dog goes to a new and potentially “scary” place, BE PREPARED!! These places can include: veterinarian, groomer, boarding kennel, pet store, friend’s house, park with other dogs, etc. ALWAYS have your dog ON LEASH – no leash = NO control! Have your “special” treats always handy, and give them to people to give to your dog appropriately.

If your dog is not used to or does not tolerate car rides, then he is already worked up even BEFORE he arrives at his new destination. EARLY and frequent exposure to car rides can make the transportation aspect a WHOLE lot easier. Dogs (and cats!) quickly learn to HATE car rides if they only go to the vet or to the groomer.

The SAFEST way to travel with your dog is in a crate or with a seatbelt. I like to use the plastic enclosed crates (Vari-Kennel or Furrari, for example), because they contain the hair, dirt, drool, and any accidents that might happen. Seat belts allow a little more freedom, but don’t allow the dog to run all over the car. Dog seat belts are sized to fit, and can be found at most pet stores (RC Steele catalog also carries them). Both will protect your dog should you have to stop fast or (God forbid) get into an accident.

A Remedy For Carsick Dogs

Dogs travelling, especially those who tend to get carsick should not eat 6 to 12 hours prior to travel.

Below is a desensitization program to help your dog get over his carsickness:

  • Put dog in car, parked in driveway. Have a desirable to or tennis ball for him to play a little with. Leave car after a couple of minutes. Do this several times a day for several days to a week, depending on how successful the dog is at not getting sick. Increase the time in the car each day (as long as he doesn’t get sick).
  • Put dog in car, car parked with engine running. Repeat for several days to a week, length of time in car increasing again from a short time to longer, as long as dog doesn’t get sick.
  • Put dog in car, idling in driveway, move car down and back up the driveway. This stage may best be done with two people: one to drive, and one to handle dog. Do this stage several days to a week. Perhaps you can end up driving the car up and down the driveway several times before moving to the next stage. (Your neighbors will wonder WHAT you are doing!!)
  • Take the car around the block ONCE – QUIT. Do this several days in a row, then try to go around TWICE.
  • NOTE: ALWAYS back up to the step before if you get any sickness or drooling (sign of nausea!) at all, and work in smaller increments toward the next step, and take a longer time getting there. The object her is to do as MUCH as you can with NO sickness!
  • Take the car to a close convenience store or dry cleaners or such. Leave him in the car (with your helper, especially if he has any tendency toward panic or destruction), come back, drive home.

I think you have the idea, now. This process can take a week or 2 months, depending on the dog! Some dogs may never get over carsickness.

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How To Get Your Dog To Settle Down

PLACE! An effective way to deal with a dog that paces and does not relax is to interrupt that undesirable behavior. This is also an effective alternative to constant pestering.


Using The Place Command:

  1. Use the umbilical leash to stop the pacing
    1. Step on leash and pick it up
    2. Hold leash
    3. Take dog to desired “relax” spot
  2. Teach dog a word for the desired spot, like “in your bed”, “go to your place”, or just “place”…
  3. “Relax” spot should be a comfy bed, a throw rug, or an old blanket or towel. “Relax” spots can be placed in several or many areas of the home!
  4. Take dog to “relax” spot, and enforce “relax” or “settle” with a foot on the leash (which means you need to get comfortable, too, so you can be there with your foot on the leash!).
    1. Dog should relax for at least 5 to 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes with foot on leash to keep him in place.
    2. Release ONLY when he is nicely settled (not settled and revving up for another struggle!).
  5. Praise quietly when he is “relaxed”. Give him a tiny soft-moist treat brought down to his level, firm stroke from head to tail, quiet voice praise.
  6. Give him a special chew (if you choose rawhide, it should be a more durable type like what is called “pressed” or “compressed” rawhide) or a treat-stuffed toy to keep him busy in his place. Offer this only when he starts relaxing with the enforced down.
  7. When he starts to understand the command “go to your place”, he won’t need to be reminded as much with you taking him there with the umbilical leash, and eventually should be able to have it removed.

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How Can I Tell If My Dog Is In Pain?

I know this article isn’t really a training article, but I thought it would still be helpful.

How to tell if your dogs in pain

Lately, with the release of a very nice anti-inflammatory/pain medication (called Rimadyl), people have been wondering if the drug would be appropriate for their dog. I have had calls from owners saying “My dog is favoring his hind end, but he doesn’t seem to be in pain. I wonder if this Rimadyl is something I should try for him?”

Think about us as humans…Many of us suffer from arthritis, or lower back pain, or frequent headaches. Unless the pain is sharp and sudden, you wouldn’t know that the person next to you on the bus is was even in pain! This is the same for dogs!

I guess this is where behavior and training can be a part of this article…

Sometimes you may talk to another person and that person will snap a smart and nasty remark at you. Later, that same person may approach you and apologize for his behavior and explain that he has the worst sinus infection in the world. Pain can drive people and animals to act crossly!

Say you have an older dog (sometimes this can pertain to dogs of any age), and your dog snaps at you for no reason. This behavior has never happened in the past. Have your veterinarian first look for any physical cause and then for a mental or training problem. Growling/snapping because you touch his side may mean pain there (it may also mean “Don’t touch me there!”) .

Dogs cannot tell us when they feel poorly – in words at least.
We veterinary professionals must look at the dog and see what he tries to tell us in his actions and demeanor .

All of the following can indicate pain in dogs:

  • Limping
  • Scratching
  • Favoring
  • Licking an area
  • Unusual mouth movements
  • Turning the head to look at an area frequently
  • Running in circles
  • Erratic movements
  • Snapping at people, other dogs or self
  • Reluctance to get up or lie down
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or climb into a car (usually an older dog)
  • Panting for no obvious reason
  • Sometimes even just an odd look to the eye or face

Remember, more often than not, you will not see your dog cry out or verbally express himself when he is in pain! You need to watch for the signs.