No Pressure!

By Valerie Barry

In Partnership With Dogs

Part of the technique of positive reinforcement training is giving your dog opportunities to offer behaviours so that you can provide instructive feedback.  In order to encourage your dog to offer behaviours, he needs to be confident that your feedback won’t be punishing or painful. Adding punishment to stop a behaviour has the effect of either causing your dog to try the same behaviour “harder” (behaviour becomes worse), or causing your dog to feel worried about the situation or the punisher which will discourage him from wanting to offer behaviours for feedback.

A collar commonly adds punishment – something you might find surprising if you simply walk your dog on a flat collar without any intention of being “punishing”. As soon as there is any tension on your dog’s neck from a collar – whether he adds the tension by pulling or you add the tension by yanking or pulling back – you have a situation that is not conducive to learning.  Tension on a dog’s neck is very uncomfortable and can be physically damaging because the juncture of neck and spine is a relatively fragile part of your dog.  The pressure on your dog’s neck caused by any type of collar (fabric or chain) begins to cut off his air supply immediately causing your dog to start feeling anxious and worried.  The worst thing you can do is start using your dog’s collar as a “correction” device by yanking on it in an effort to stop something like pulling or reacting to another dog.  Worse still, is if you are using a prong, pinch or choke collar or applying a jolt from a shock collar.

dante-harnessWhen you are simply “correcting” your dog vs. teaching your dog how to walk nicely on leash, you are on a path that is far less comfortable for your dog and ultimately less effective.  My years of experience have clearly shown that this path will very likely lead to an anxious dog who begins reacting on leash or whose reactions will get much worse.  Often, these dogs don’t ever learn how to walk nicely on leash.

The best training method is one that teaches instead of punishes.  The best piece of equipment to use when you’re walking your dog is a comfortable, well-fitted body harness instead of a collar or face harness.  A favorite is the Canine Friendly Vest Harness – pictured here.

When I’m helping dogs learn to walk on leash, an important consequence to pulling is an immediate lack of forward movement – I stop walking.  This is a relevant and instructive consequence because your dog’s behaviour – pulling – is motivated by a desire to keep moving.  Briefly stopping until I get a different behaviour is instructive feedback – “when you pull, we stop moving – try something else”.

I use a body harness so that when I stop moving, momentum briefly causes my dog to lean into the “sling” of the harness with his chest and shoulders.  Because there is no discomfort involved, there is no build up of anxiety and my dog begins to think through why he is no longer moving forward or why his forward movement keeps getting interrupted.  If you’re consistent, very quickly your dog begins to offer alternatives to pulling – backing up, turning and looking at you, sitting, etc.  He soon realizes pulling just doesn’t get him what he wants.  There’s no pain and lots of gain!


Shock Collars – The Ugly Truth

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP
In Partnership with Dogs

From the perspective of a competent and knowledgeable dog trainer, training with shock collars is one of the worst methods ever introduced as “training” that continues to persist with alarming intensity.

Shock collars are marketed to unsuspecting pet dog owners as a “quick fix” for serious behavioural issues as well as a fast way to “train” your dog. The perception seems to be that if you’ve tried everything else and nothing worked, this will fix your problem. Or if you have a big or “difficult” breed, you need some serious equipment to “control” or “dominate” them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this whole way of thinking is inaccurate and dangerous. We have come leaps and bounds along the road in understanding dogs – how they think and how they learn – in the past 15 or so years. Science has clearly proven that punishment based methods of training like shock collars (prong collars, choke collars, drowning, choking, dominating, correcting, etc.) do not work as “training” and have some very serious side effects.
Choke chain X
If science doesn’t interest you, how about results? Again, it’s been researched, tested, proven and documented that positive reinforcement training is faster, more efficient, and has longer term retention – something punishment methods cannot accurately claim. Better yet, positive reinforcement promotes good mental health for your dog – it allows them to think, puzzle out solutions, safely offer various behaviours as options, gain confidence and create desirable end behaviours that are happily performed and last a lifetime. Confidence is an important skill for dogs – isn’t that true for all of us? A confident dog knows what is expected of him in all the circumstances that are important to you and he will perform his skills reliably. Problem behaviours can be extinguished (or prevented from ever occurring) and new behaviours can take their place.

Punishment, by definition, suppresses behaviour. Shock collars are punishment. Therefore, shock collars do not eliminate behaviour – they suppress it – very big difference. Behaviours that are suppressed are still there and they are still getting reinforced because the things that cause them are still there too.

When you use a shock collar to try and solve a behavioural problem, you are applying a piece of equipment that itself causes fear and anxiety to a behaviour that is likely rooted in fear and anxiety. That just makes no logical sense. You absolutely must work, instead, to alleviate that fear and create alternatives for the dog – it’s the only way that’s effective – it’s the only way that’s humane.

“But the shock isn’t supposed to really hurt”, you say; “I’ve tried it on my own arm and it’s just a tingle or a small buzz”, you claim; “The shock just startles, it doesn’t hurt at all”, your so-called trainer claims. I have a big problem with these statements. You cannot possibly know how something feels to someone else – animal or human – period – no argument – it’s impossible. Here’s a human scenario: my husband gives me a high- five after a recent Vancouver Canuck’s win. “Ow – that hurt”, I yelp! “That didn’t hurt”, my husband says, “I barely touched you at all!”

Let’s think about this. It really did sting when he slapped my open palm with his own. Why did it hurt? Maybe I have extremely sensitive or extremely thin skin; maybe I have an unusually low pain threshold; maybe my husband has an unusually high pain threshold; maybe the act of him sweeping his open palm toward me when I wasn’t expecting it frightened me so badly that my body registered it as pain. Who knows and why does it matter? To me, it hurt and that’s the only fact worth noting. He cannot tell me it didn’t hurt – it’s impossible for him to know that. He can feel that it shouldn’t have hurt or think I’m being overly dramatic – but that’s different. Because we share the same language, I can attempt to explain to him how it felt – but he still can’t really know because he didn’t feel what I felt. Dogs feel pain and emotions too – that’s a fact.


As a trainer, I have met many dogs who have had shock collars on or live in yards with electric fencing systems (yes, that’s a shock collar too and every bit as damaging). Every single one of these dogs displayed unnecessary and abnormal degrees of anxiety, fear and reactive behaviour – every single one. There is no question in my mind that dogs find this type of treatment scary, hurtful or confusing. You can’t tell them that it’s just a “little tingle” or something that’s just meant to “startle” them – there is zero helpful information being communicated. Just like humans and any other type of animal, there are dogs who are more or less sensitive than others. I have met dogs (and have one myself) who will flinch or cower at a simple “uh, uh” spoken in a mild tone. This may not seem very punishing to us, but it is to them – their body language doesn’t lie, their behaviour doesn’t lie.

This article isn’t just my opinion – there are many facts stated here. But, you don’t have to believe me, you can do your own research – there is tons of it out there. If you are considering using such a damaging piece of equipment like a shock collar, doesn’t your dog deserve to have you put the time and effort into finding out the truth?

  • Read biologist Raymond and Lorna Coppingers’ book, “Dogs – A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution”.
  • Read some of the articles written by David Mech, renowned wolf researcher and his explanation of the new terminology of “Parent Pair” replacing the old and inaccurate terminology “Alpha” or “Dominant”.
  • Read the beautifully written book on dogs and their emotions, “For The Love of a Dog” by Dr. Patricia McConnell.
  • Read the remarkable book, “Reaching The Animal Mind” by renowned marine mammal trainer and scientist Karen Pryor.
  • Talk to Police Officer Steve White who has served as handler, trainer and supervisor for one the largest police K-9 units in Washington State. He specializes in teaching behavior modification, tracking, and scent work through the use of positive reinforcement based operant conditioning.
  • I do believe that there are many, many pet dog owners who truly believe they are doing the best for their dogs and believe they have received good advice when they strap on a shock collar. I hope with all my heart that pet owners search harder for the best advice, the most humane advice and think long and hard about what they want for their companion animals.

Unfortunately, many terrible things and “training methods” are considered “legal” or are not considered at all when it comes to animals and this needs very urgently to be changed. Please be part of the solution not part of the problem. Something to keep in mind when you consider hiring a trainer. Anyone can open a dog training school, anyone can claim to be a dog trainer and anyone can claim titles like “Certified Dog Trainer”, “Certified Dog or Animal Behaviourist” , “Master Trainer”, or “Animal Therapist”.

There are many great trainers and great facilities offering courses for trainers and behaviourists based on correct learning theory, current science and well-researched information. But you need to be careful, you need to inform yourself and you need to know exactly what you want for your dog.

Your dog has no choice but to depend on you.

Any good trainer should be open about the methods they use and should welcome you to attend some of their classes before asking you to commit to them. You should be completely comfortable with how they treat the dogs in their care, and the dogs, themselves, should show you how happy they are to be there and working (or not). I also believe, as with any profession, a dog trainer should be constantly updating their skill and education every way they can – keeping on top of what’s new and what’s changing.


A good place to start to look for a trainer or some good information is to take a look at the website for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers ( This is an organization that is at the forefront of the movement to positive reinforcement dog training methods. It is a large group full of well-known, highly educated and knowledgeable individuals who work hard to provide great resources for pet dog owners. They offer membership to any trainer, promote positive methods and have a continuing education path for trainers to keep themselves up to date and correctly informed. Two other great resources for information on positive training methods are and

The Many Varied Natural Options for my Arthritic Dog!

By Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.

It is amazing to see how many dogs suffer from arthritis. A recent study sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health showed that approximately 20% of adult dogs may be affected by arthritis. The old belief systems that all one could do for arthritis for dogs was to give them aspirin or cortisone, is obsolete. There are many different approaches to help animals suffering from the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Before we look at the different approaches and how to develop a comprehensive holistic approach to keeping your arthritic pet as healthy, happy and pain free as possible, let’s make sure we know what to look for to see if they are arthritic. They don’t just come up to you and say “hey, I am stiff and in pain in my back or in my legs. Or do they?
Animals talk to us in many ways other than English. There is a vast amount of nonverbal and physical communication that we can be aware of to know if our pet is beginning to be arthritic. Some of the first signs include a decrease in their activity level or not wanting to be touched or handled as much or being a bit grouchy or aggressive when being touched. Other mild signs include : slight stiffness or lameness when walking, mild pain around the affected joint, painful yelping when putting weight on an affected leg or when touched there, difficulty going up and down stairs and stiffness when trying to get up and down. Now mind you, these symptoms can also be due to other problems including other types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis as well as Lyme Disease and others, possibly even cancer. If your furry companion shows any of these symptoms, you should take them to your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Make sure they see how they walk and how they get up and down. Murphy’s law may happen and due to their excitement at the veterinarian, they may do better there, but then describe to your veterinarian what they are or are not doing and for how long and if it is progressive or not.

So, let us say that your veterinarian has taken x-rays and performed appropriate blood tests and you have a diagnosis of arthritis. What are the options? In the past, if surgery was not appropriate, your veterinarian would probably recommend cortisone or aspirin or other nonsteroidal medications. Most steroidal and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will help relieve the pain and inflammation, but while doing that, they can actually make the long term deterioration of the joints worse as well as causing other problems. NSAIDs do not treat the underlying condition. Though cortisone may appear to be a miracle drug initially, it has a multitude of potential side effects long term. These include suppression of the immune system, predisposition to bladder infections and infections elsewhere as well as liver and kidney disease and gastrointestinal bleeding. These are serious potential side effects. Nowadays there are some nonsteroidalal medications that have fewer side effects, but they do appear to still have some side effects. One of these new nonsteroidal medications is called carprofen or rimadyl ™ by Pfizer. It helps many animals with fewer side effects. However, recent research suggests that it still may have the potential to cause some long term mild joint deterioration. The verdict is still out on that. But, I have seen some dogs where nothing else has worked without side effects and this medication really works well in relieving pain. It is certainly worth consideration. Additional newer nonsteroidal medications have come available as well including one called metacam.  If you feel that a nonsteroidal is reasonable as part of an integrative approach to helping your arthritic companion, discuss with your veterinarian which of the new nonsteroidal medications has the least side effects and is most appropriate for your dog.
Occasionally I still recommend surgery when the condition is very severe or localized to one area and has a good chance of success with minimal side effects. This is the key question when considering surgery; are the advantages and chance of success much greater than the potential for complications or side effects. All surgery requires anesthesia and if your dog is older or has other significant problems, then anesthesia and surgery may be a significant risk factor. Discuss the percentage success rate, potential for complications and any personal risk factors for your pet with your veterinarian. For instance, if your dog has a sudden rupture of its anterior cruciate ligament in its knee, this often times requires surgery. There are potential complications and your pet may still develop arthritis in the knee, but surgery is the only way to stabilize that knee. However, if someone is recommending a total hip replacement for hip dysplasia and arthritis in a thirteen year old dog, you may want to consult with a holistically oriented veterinarian to explore other options.

What else can we do for our furry friends besides medicine and surgery? Actually, there is so much we can do. Let’s start off with which nutritional supplements may be helpful. Two nutritional supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin, have been found to not only help control pain, but also improve joint mobility and improve the damage to the cartilage that is part of the arthritic process. These two products work together to block the action of cartilage destroying enzymes as well as increase the activity of cartilage producing cells and improve the nutrition to the cartilage. These supplements are available at many veterinary hospitals as well as health food stores and even some drug stores. The general dosage recommendation is 1,000 mg. of glucosamine and 800mg of chondroitin per 50lbs. Combination products are available through your veterinarian. Some products have additional Vitamin C added as well.  There are injectable forms of glucosamines, such as Adequan ™, as well which can be quite beneficial.

Antioxidants may also be extremely beneficial in the treatment of arthritis. Antioxidants are helpful by controlling free radicals which are associated with cartilage damage. The most readily available antioxidants include Vitamins A, C, and E and the mineral Selenium. Dosage suggestions vary, I usually recommend 2,000 IU of Vitamin A per 50lb. dog per day as well as 1000mg buffered Vitamin C twice a day (buffered Vit C), 400 I.U. of Vitamin E and 25-50 micrograms of Selenium.

Bioflavonoids may also be beneficial since they help make collagen which is a primary component of cartilage. There are many herbs that appear to be beneficial for arthritis as well. This is a whole other story. A few of these herbs include yucca, devils claw, alfalfa as well as various Chinese herbal formulas.  We use a number of different Chinese herbal formula’s for dogs depending on their particular condition.  Chinese herbal formula’s offer a broader approach to treating an animal,  looking at and prescribing herbs for the underlying causes based on Traditional Chinese Medicine.  In our practice, we have had excellent results with certain formula’s in not only relieving pain and inflammation, but also improving strength and mobility.

Regular exercise is extremely beneficial also. Exercise helps keep muscles, tendons and ligaments strong and in condition and improves mobility and range of motion. You want to be careful to give enough exercise but not too much. A good general rule of thumb is to do enough that your dog enjoys it and is out frequently but not too much that they are stiff and ache all over afterwards. Shorter more frequent walks and play time or swimming throughout the day are better than one long one.  Physical therapy with underwater treadmills may also be of benefit.  In addition, acupuncture, and chiropractic can be very beneficial for arthritic dogs, not only in relieving pain but in increasing circulation to the muscles and joints and improving overall health.

Another cutting edge therapy for arthritis is stem cell therapy.  I have discussed this in more detail in a blog post on my blog .

Daily massages can also be beneficial and also gives you another great chance to bond with your buddies through the magic of touch! So a comprehensive holistic approach usually works well in keeping our friends healthy and comfortable! Enjoy and be well!

From the Dog’s Perspective

By Valerie Barry

I often find myself saying to people – “Keep in mind that your dog does NOT understand English”. And then, of course, they will usually reply with something like “Yeah, I get that” (like, DUH?!). But if you really stop and think about it, do you ACT like your dog doesn’t understand English? Think about some of the things that you say to your dog or that you ask your dog to do: “Fido, if you do that one more time you are going to drive me insane!”; “If you would just sit still while I put your harness on, we would get to our walk a whole heck of a lot sooner!”; “I said STAY – what part of that is not clear?!”

If you go to a country where few people speak English and you don’t speak the native language are you stupid if you can’t understand what someone is saying to you? Are they stupid for not being able to speak your language?

Picture yourself in that foreign country standing in front of someone on the sidewalk. He keeps saying “fh)izz&ein“, and you just stand there. He says it again and maybe you try smiling. So he says it again, maybe a bit louder and maybe he seems to start getting annoyed – so you reach out to shake his hand in a gesture of good will. He swats your hand away and shouts “fh)izz&ein”, so you think maybe he needs a hug. That’s the last straw for him! He shoves you aside and keeps going, muttering under his breath as he passes. Are you stupid? He thinks you are. Can you honestly view this situation from both sides and fairly say that you’re being stubborn, or ignoring him or trying to dominate him?

He was asking you something very simple – to him. He could say it a thousand times in a thousand different ways and unless you accidentally make the right choice, you’ll never understand what he wants. If you’re a brave sort and start trying things like smiling and hugging you may eventually stumble on the right answer. But if you’re intimidated and frozen in fear, you’ll never get it unless he helps you. Many average pet owners tend to spend very little time actually working on formally training their dog during his or her lifetime.

At the beginning they may take a puppy class and maybe even a basic obedience class – but most actual “training” tends to happen on the fly. Training tends to take place as the need arises and in the moment – for example: – When people come to visit, we may spend a few moments attempting to keep our dog from jumping on them – “Sit, Sit, SIT!!”, endlessly pushing their butt to the ground or ultimately banishing them from the experience altogether. After several months or even years of random visitors, this may become more or less successful depending on many factors – whether you just give up quickly or not, whether there is any reward in it for the dog, how intimidating you can be and how easily intimidated your dog is, etc. Eventually, it becomes good enough or you just become desensitized to it and so do a lot of your visitors.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with approaching training in this way. Everyone is different and everyone has different lives and different expectations of their dogs. It IS important, though, that your results are in line with your expectations. Otherwise, it’s frustrating and not much fun to live with a dog who really doesn’t understand what you want and isn’t capable of doing what you ask. It’s really not much fun for the dog either – living with you but not really confident that he knows exactly what you want. Often, people begin to characterize some less successfully trained dogs as “stupid”, “stubborn”, “willful”, “ignoring us”, “blowing us off”, or the ever-popular “dominant”. “They should just know what they’re supposed to do by now!” – I’ve heard that from people, too.

I think some of the problem is that traditional dog training cues are words for obvious acts like “Sit”, “Stay”, “Down”, “Leave It”, “Off”, etc. We use them and repeat them so often and the action seems so obvious to us that we seem to think our dogs should just begin to understand. Now think about the word “No” and in just how many circumstances we expect our dogs to apply that knowledge! It seems that to some extent dogs are their own worst enemy. Because they have lived with and learned from humans for at least 15,000 years they, more than any other species, are able to interpret some of what we mean with the many gestures and body language cues that we use when we interact with them. They often DO seem to know what we want and almost seem to know what we’re thinking at times. And, they hit it right often enough that it actually reinforces our belief that they do “know” what we want and understand what we’re saying.

But they still can’t understand and aren’t able to speak English. If they knew what we wanted, they would just do it. There is every reason to do what we ask regardless of your choice of training. They either get something they want or they avoid punishment and pain. There is simply NO reason NOT to do what we’re asking. Our dogs don’t become “stupid” or “stubborn” the minute they walk out the door and seem to forget their “Sit” cue. They simply need understanding and help in learning that the “Sit” cue still means the same as it did when they were waiting for dinner – the circumstances are just different – and they don’t understand the word itself.

Next time you’re hanging out with your dog and asking for something, try observing his response and think about the result from his perspective.

For some interesting information on how dogs think, check out and Dr. Brian Hare, an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center where he studies dogs in an effort to better understand their cognitive abilities. Fascinating reading!


By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP In Partnership with Dogs

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Things I Learned From My Dog

by Valerie Barry
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Our oldest dog is closing in on 17, which is amazing – we’re so lucky to have had her with us that long. Reflecting recently on our life with Casey and all the things we have done together, I thought I would share some of what she has taught us. Adopting an adult dog is a good thing. Adopting a rescue dog is always a good thing and choosing an adult can be truly rewarding in many ways. When you adopt an adult, what you see is what you get with no exhausting puppy and adolescent antics. We got Casey when she was 4½ as a companion for our puppy. She was a natural “mother” type and became a wonderful friend and teacher. Casey certainly knew more about dog training than we did and was a big help raising our puppy. She became a fantastic helper in puppy and adolescent classes and was a big part in helping us teach our adolescent, “behaviourally-challenged” doberman social skills and manners.

A raw diet is a good choice.

Casey’s past was not very pleasant and she came into rescue about 20 pounds underweight. Her teeth were actually green – something I had never seen before. Thankfully, my vet recommended a raw diet. We had already been feeding our puppy raw food, so it was easy to do the same for our new girl. We were astonished to find that within a very short time she was a healthy weight, the green teeth were white and her breath was clean and sweet – still the same today! It definitely made my husband and I firm believers in a raw diet.

Tails are important.

I’m not a fan of ear cropping and tail docking. Aside from the critical role of the tail in a dog’s social interactions, I’ve really learned a lot about the many physical uses a tail has from watching my dogs. One of our dogs came to us with a docked tail but our oldest gal has her full tail. Having watched both of them running side by side for many years, it’s clear the tail plays an important role. When a dog is moving in a straight line, the tail follows. Cornering and moving around objects, that’s a different story. It’s fascinating how the tail twists and curves to help maintain the dog’s balance and agility at high speed on twisty trails. In contrast, our dog with a docked tail cannot make a corner without skidding almost to a halt to maintain his balance. As Casey has aged and her structure has weakened, her balance has been severely compromised. Once again the tail plays a critical role. I see it making all sorts of new and different movements to help her maintain balance and prevent falls. I’ve thought many times how grateful I am that she has her full tail.

A (near) perfect recall is possible!

Getting your dog to come when you call is a challenge, no doubt about it. I’ve taught the skill to many people over the years and have had challenges training my own dogs. We scored a win with Casey, though. Until she lost her hearing (at 14), I can’t remember a time she didn’t come when she was called and that includes the time 3 deer broke less than 5 feet in front of us causing complete chaos on an off leash adventure! One time on a neighbourhood walk a squirrel came out of nowhere and ran between her legs and under her nose. As she lunged forward on her leash, her collar broke and she was on the chase. Once again good training prevailed and she came back when we frantically called her off the squirrel. Interestingly, for years after that incident she would always pull at that exact spot on our walks – just waiting for that squirrel!

Mental exercise is essential.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of mental exercise for dogs. I find it important for so many reasons, and most dogs I work with don’t seem to get nearly enough. I know that doctors often recommend that we, humans, use our brains as much as we can as we age, and I believe that dogs are no different. I’ve read a lot of articles that indicate senility in older dogs is on the rise, so I think it makes perfect sense to exercise a dog’s mind as much as possible. My dogs get mentally challenging toys and games daily and thoroughly enjoy them. In the past couple of years, the only activity that Casey could continue to enjoy was working on a stuffed kong and pushing around her treat ball. She is still mentally sound today and interested in play. She hunts for her treat ball every morning without fail!
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A confident dog is what we should all aspire to.

Confidence is not “dominance” and “dominance” is not confidence. Casey is the epitome of what a truly confident dog is. A confident dog is one who has no issues with other dogs. He’s not “friendly” (barging into your dog’s space) – he’s socially skilled and can resolve conflict without confrontation. A confident dog is comfortable being alone for a reasonable length of time. He is happy to meet new people but is polite, not “friendly” (jumping all over you) – he knows how to keep his feet on the ground. He can easily play with or appropriately respond to play invitations from other dogs. He knows how to keep play fun and to take frequent breaks so things stay calm and relaxed. A confident dog is comfortable being handled. He can share toys and treasured items with his family and with other dogs. Any training you plan to do with your dog should focus on positively building and maintaining confidence because a confident dog is a very easy dog to live with!

Keep it positive!

There is nothing more rewarding than having a dog who clearly enjoys working and learning with you. I took Casey through a trick training class when she was 10 and we both had a blast! Her favorite trick was “Bang – You’re Dead!” She would throw herself to the ground with great vigor. She performed with such enthusiasm that we were worried she would break something as she began to age! It’s really only through the use of positive training methods that you can achieve that special kind of partnership so thoroughly enjoyed by both dog and owner.

Have fun with your dog and don’t forget to look for the lessons they have to teach you!

The Wagging Tail

By Cole Hudson

Earlier this week it was reported, by scientists in the Current Biology journal, that “seeing asymmetric tail wagging produces different emotional responses in dogs”. It was put forth that dogs may be sensitive towards certain tail movements, which correlate with either the left or right side of the body.

The scientists showed dogs video of fellow canines wagging their tails. The wagging was always a biased movement to one side of the body. They monitored the dogs cardiac activity and general behaviour. What they found was quite surprising. When the dogs watching the video observed a dog wagging it’s tail predominantly on the left, their cardiac activity increased and they exhibited signs of anxious behaviour, versus a right sided tail wag.

This response supports a hypothesis that there is a link between brain asymmetry and social behaviour in dogs. Are they communicating with their tails? Just how sensitive are dogs to these tail movements? Studies like this are slowly paving the way for increasing our understanding of the canine species.

We know that body language in humans can be attributed to about 80% of our communication. So it really isn’t a far stretch to believe that dogs may do the same. The findings are quite clear that there is indeed a clear response from the dogs, as shown in the diagram from the study.

Speaking to BBC, Prof Georgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist from the University of Trento, said: “It is very well known in humans that the left and right side of the brain are differently involved in stimuli that invokes positive or negative emotions.”

He added, “Here we attempted to look at it in other species.”

As research in this field continues, what else will we find? Dogs and humans have long worked together and increasing our understanding of them will always have a positive impact.

So the next time you are out with your dog, and you are cross paths with another, keep an eye out for which way the tails wag. Watch how your dog reacts and you may just learn something new about your furry friend.

Building a Good Foundation

By Valerie Barry

Whenever I’m asked “what’s the most important thing to teach your dog”, my answer is always “Confidence”. There are many skills you can teach your dog and some of those things will be different depending on where and how you live, but a confident dog is an easy dog to live with. Confidence is the Foundation of good behaviour. Confidence in a dog is not the big, tough, in– your– face kind of dog – the myth of the “dominant dog”.

A confident dog is one who is comfortable with pretty much everything he sees and experiences daily, knows generally what behaviour is expected of him most of the time, has the skills to make good decisions when he’s not sure, and is socially skilled and comfortable with most dogs and people in most places. He’s the dog your friends don’t mind you bringing over to visit, the dog you can hang out with on the patio at the coffee shop, walk through town with, the dog you can leave at home alone or leave in the car while you shop for groceries, find a new hiking trail with and take on vacation. He’s the dog who meets and passes dogs with ease on walks, plays appropriately and doesn’t mind you having guest dogs over to visit.

How do you teach confidence? Well, think of yourself and what makes you feel confident: being successful in your accomplishments builds confidence, learning new things builds confidence, knowing the right answer builds confidence, and so on.

Here are some things you can do that will help your dog to become more confident:

1. Teach your dog the house rules and boundaries by which you would like him to live his life with you then teach him the skills he needs to follow them.

2. Be fair, consistent and reasonable in your expectations.

3. Teach impulse control – the ability to handle frustration and failure.

4. Create a system of communication that is clearly understood by you and your dog – like clicker training or using a verbal marker. Avoid training methods that force behaviours and use painful and aversive equipment that create anxiety and fear. Learning should be fun!

5. Once you have trained some specific skills, allow your dog to make some choices on his own within limited boundaries. Try to avoid constantly prompting or micro managing his behaviour. Wait for that “Sit” before dinner instead of asking for it.
Confidence Building Skills and Activities

Experience and education has taught me that there are certain area s in our life with our dogs that clearly make a difference in a do g’s confidence. Helping an adult dog improve these skills or focusing on these skills as you raise your puppy can make a world of difference to their overall behaviour.

1. Leash Walking
Teach your dog to walk politely on a loose leash. Teach your dog to stay within the boundary of his leash without adding tension regardless of what may be going on around you. A polite walking companion walks on either side of you without dodging back and forth from side to side and impeding your movement. A polite walking companion doesn’t yell at others – barking and lunging. Your dog should be able to turn and give you his attention when you ask (call his name). A dog walking on a loose leash is physically balanced and more confident, presenting a better picture to any oncoming dogs. A dog on a loose leash is paying more attention to you and the speed and direction you’re walking. It’s a win-win!

2. Handling
Teach your dog to be tolerant and easy to handle. Carefully and thoughtfully teach your dog that any and all types o f handling from gentle petting, to quick grabs of the collar are not something to be worried about or something to avoid. Dogs that are comfortably tolerant of handling all over their body are easy t o move around, don’t easily startle, a breeze to take to the vet, tolerant of the “friendly stranger”, don’t mind having their nails clipped or feet wiped off – an all around easier dog. An important part of the handling category is a dog who happily relinquishes any and all food, toys or favored possessions. The key here is “happily relinquishes”. It’s not about whether you can “make” him give it up. It’s all about teaching him to happily give things to you or show no concern about having anything in the presence of any human – that’s a safe dog to be around.
3. Being Alone
Teach your dog to be comfortable on his own. Gradually teach your dog to be comfortable staying on his own for reasonable periods of time. Even if you have more than one dog, each of your dogs should be comfortable on their own. It’s easy to overlook this in a multiple dog household, but the reality is that sooner or later someone will need to be left behind, so prepare for that now. Utilize safe treat dispensing toys like Kongs to help make being alone entertaining and mentally satisfying. Keep your dog’s confinement room or area free from outside distractions like dogs or people walking by, or loud and unsettling construction noises. Keep the blinds closed and utilize the white noise of a radio talk show so your dog can just relax and sleep or quietly play without feeling the need to “be on guard” and monitor what’s doing on. Dogs who are constantly distracted by outside sights and sounds can turn into “barking sentries” and become very worried about doing their “job” causing anxiety to build.

4. Space
Teach your dog to respect personal space. Dogs who have good social skills already understand dog personal space, but we need to teach them to respect human personal space. Teach your dog to wait for an invitation from you to have cuddles or play instead of letting them demand and get your attention – barking, pawing, leaning against your legs. Don’t allow your dog to jump on you or your guests, but instead teach them to “Sit” and wait patiently for a chance to visit. If you have a worried dog, make sure they know that they don’t have to say hi, they can also choose to remain at a distance until they feel more comfortable.

5. Mental Exercise
Provide your dog with plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation and exercise. Make use of the numerous treat dispensing toy options available to feed meals and provide entertainment when he’s alone or when you’re busy. Daily mental exercise just makes for a happier and more content dog whose confidence will be bolstered by each successful de-stuffing. A nice balance of physical and mental exercise each day is ideal.
6. A Big Repertoire
Teach your dog LOTS of stuff! The more things your dog knows how to do that that have a history of positive reinforcement, the more options the y have to offer when they’re in a position to make a choice. Don’t just stop at important (to us) obedience skills – teach some tricks, lots of tricks. The more things your dog knows how to do, the more confident they are that they will make a good choice that will be reinforced. Plus, the act of learning all those great things builds confidence with each success. A “trick” doesn’t have to be elaborate. It’s really just anything that isn’t traditional obedience – “back up”, “put your head on your paws”, “go find your orange ball”, “ring the bell”, “ bring your leash” – the possibilities are endless!

Above all, be instructive not punitive – keep it positive!