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Dealing With Dog Trainers
Negative Effects of Tethering
Barking Dogs
Free Run Dog Parks
Analyzing Sudden Dramatic Behavior Changes
Converting Feral Cats To Indoor Pets
Choosing Your Dog's Name
Using Your Dog's Name
Praise Educationally!

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Dealing With Dog Trainers

I’ve met thousands of people who have dealt with dog trainers but still have complaints. When I ask why they’re still having problems, their answers often are either that the trainer didn’t address their problem or the trainer suggested methods the owners wouldn’t do to their dogs.

To the PEOPLE: Good people, YOU’RE THE BOSS! I may know more about dogs than you do - or I have no value to you - but I WORK FOR YOU! If you hire me to paint your house, do you let me choose the color? Of course not! Than when you hire me to train or handle a beloved pet, why let me use methods you dislike? As your employee, I must achieve your goals in a way you approve of and will do yourself. If I do not do both of those, I do not deserve your money.

To TRAINERS: We work for THEM! Without them we have no business! Our job is to satisfy their goals with their dogs; to get their dogs responding to THEM, not to US! Few hire us because they want to enter competitive obedience rings; the vast majority want problems solved. Did we solve them? A dog can Sit and bark; Down and chew the rug; Come and bite mailmen; Heel for some and drag others. When owners come to you with problems, will obedience solve them? After decades of doing this I don’t need a lecture on the value and benefits of obedience training! But DID YOU SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS?? If not, they have a legitimate complaint - and you make it harder for all of us! Why should they trust or believe you if I and others have taken their money but failed them in the past?

People, why do you pay dog trainers up front? Who else do you pay before they finish the job - or before they do ANYTHING? If the trainer is trying to feed a family, having several students drop out for various reasons is a bad idea, so front money always helps. How about a deposit? Perhaps even half, the remainder upon successful completion using satisfactory methods? That is not unreasonable.

Unfortunately the popular media continues this problem. "The People’s Court" had an owner suing his dog trainer because of unsatisfactory results. In defending himself, the trainer demonstrated the dog’s response to HIS commands. Judge Wapner then said the dog looks trained; what’s the complaint? THE COMPLAINT IS THAT THE OWNER PAID THE TRAINER TO GET THE DOG TO OBEY THE OWNER, NOT THE TRAINER, AND THE DOG DIDN’T! The Judge missed the whole point! You don’t hire ME to get control over your dog; you hire me to get YOU control over your dog. If I don’t, I shouldn’t get your money - especially when solving most problems is so simple many owners do it just with my audio tapes.

Good owners, those of us you hire to work with your dogs - trainers, behaviorists, groomers, veterinarians, boarders, walkers, sitters - work for you! Of course we get to suggest methods; that’s why you hired us. But our choices must meet your standards and bring you success. That’s also why you hired us. You wouldn’t board your dog in a kennel where they physically abused dogs; why pay trainers that do so? Sitting doesn’t cure jumping; Heeling doesn’t cure pulling; Staying doesn’t cure digging; Down doesn’t cure barking. Sure, obeying you can be a constructive means to achieve your goals, but we must address your goals. Get what you pay for - or why pay?

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 Tying or chaining a dog (a fixed-point tether) is the WORST way to restrain it for several reasons.
bulletTethering contributes strongly and directly to aggression and increases the danger to humans and animals that encounter the tied dog.
bulletIt exposes the dog to deliberate and inadvertent teasing.
bulletIt triggers a built-in thigmotaxic (opposition reflex) response to lunge toward stimuli.
bulletIt introduces the pain or discomfort of the restraint into any interaction. Both are common motives for aggression on their own; added to perceived threats and thigmotaxis, they are explosive.
bulletIt reduces the dog's territory to a minuscule size, thereby concentrating pack, den, object and food protectivity.
bulletIt induces aberrational behavior such as having to eat, sleep and eliminate in close proximity.
bulletIt exacerbates defensive aggression by preventing escape but offering no protection from actual or perceived threats.
bulletIt reinforces aggression because passersby "flee" when the dog lunges at them, thereby rewarding the lunge.
bulletIt increases the dog's stress by exposing it to powerful antagonistic responses from passersby.
bulletIt jeopardizes the dog's welfare by exposure to attacks, accidents, direct and indirect poisoning, sick animals, etc.

Preferable options: Have the dog indoors, fence the property, or provide a run or kennel. If alternatives cannot be implemented, a species other than canine is indicated as a pet.

Copyright 1991 Dennis Fetko, Ph.D. PO Box 28176, San Diego, CA 92198

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Excess barking is an annoying problem. Having been San Diego’s Dispute Resolutions Officer, I’m well aware of the scope of the problem! But few realize that excess barking hurts the dog. Chronic, excessive barking has a deleterious effect on the immune system; too much barking for too long can so weaken it that the dog falls victim to infections, stress or pathogens that it would normally shrug off.

To determine if your dog is doing the barking and just how much barking is happening, get an inexpensive portable sound-activated tape recorder and use a c-120 (2 hour) blank tape. Don’t be surprised to learn that your dog isn’t doing the annoying barking, or that the "Barking all day!" is really 8 to 12 minutes! Positioned properly, the tape will tell you that without question.

Dogs can be effectively trained to control barking. I was solving barking problems years before devices were invented. My Audio #5, BARKING, covers this thoroughly.

Some main points:

Consider the welfare of the barker along with the valid complaints of annoyed neighbors. Treat the barking PROBLEM, not just the noise SYMPTOM; treat the DOG, not just the PROBLEM.

NEVER DEBARK. Debarking severs or removes the vocal chords.

Pros: Immediate; reduces noise.

Cons: Immune system damage continues; expense; barks are upsetting raspy "whispers;" must be repeated if severed - scars form; increases likelihood of dog fights because friendly, playful sounds no longer audible; no intruder deterrence or warning; often increases attention-getting soiling, chewing, jumping and pawing; may not awaken sleeping owners in emergency. A bad idea, not a remedial option.

Collars: Avoid electric shock collars; citronella collars are gentler and more effective.  Avoid sonic sensors that "hear" barks; dog gets zapped when ANY sound occurs. Instead choose a tactile sensor that feels throat vibration; only dog wearing it can activate it.

Pros: Immediate; work in owner absence.

Cons: Silence often collar-dependent; expense; demand proper use and regular maintenance.

Warnings and alerts are among our dogs’ most valuable services to us. Treat barking correctly and enjoy its benefits while eliminating problems. Enjoy!

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The concept of free-run, off-lead dog parks, beaches or areas is not new. Many communities have had them for years. The City of San Diego has had two such areas for more than two decades: Ocean Beach's Dog Beach and Fiesta Island. Clairemont and University City now consider creating free-run dog areas.

Coronado has had a designated Dog Beach for years and there are such beaches in North County as well. A few years ago the city of Poway added a free-run dog area to its Community Park. And they did it right. Fencing and water bibs were installed before it opened and recently the city council decided to assist private fund-raising efforts and finance lights so the area can be used after dark. They did it so well the 2-acre park won two prestigious awards from the California Parks and Recreation Society.

Such areas bring many benefits to local citizens. In an area of 320 square miles, San Diego City has little dog-friendly area. In 2,400 square miles, San Diego County has little more. Aside from being beloved and valued pets, many dogs are also Search and Rescue and Therapy Dogs furnishing real and often life-saving benefits. Providing dog-friendly areas enfranchises and pays back devoted human volunteers and hard-working dogs. In many households the dog is the most valued living being and only family; dog areas benefit owners by valuing a beloved companion and providing a major source of human exercise and social contact.

Since a lack of exercise creates stress in dogs and stress is a major cause of aggression, providing areas for vigorous exercise contributes directly to public safety. Dogs taken to such areas regularly are substantially less likely to bite a person or attack another dog than are dogs not provided such prosocial exercise outlets. Every local letter carrier, delivery person, meter reader, beat cop, jogger, bicyclist and paperboy enjoys increased safety because of dog parks.

Almost every area in the county already has a similar accommodation: bike lanes. More households own dogs than have active bicyclists, yet all see the value of dedicated bike lanes. Why then no dog parks?

Many of the claims used to oppose dog parks are false. Opponents say loose dogs mean more injured humans, more dogs injured in fights, loose dogs hit by passing motor vehicles, diseases spread by dog urine and feces, and higher municipal expenses for maintenance and clean-up. But dogs are more aggressive on a lead or tether than when loose so dog parks are less likely to host aggression, not more likely. Having decades of actual experience upon which to draw proves no more injured humans or dogs than other areas. And maintenance to such areas is no more and often less than in grass parks requiring mowing, trimming and clean-up. Disease spread is imaginary; is hasn't happened. In fact, visitors to such areas are invariably struck by the preponderance of human trash over dog waste.

If your local community entertains the idea of a free-run dog area but encounters opposition, remember that opponents must use imaginary arguments but your supporting claims have been realistically established over decades. Given the actual benefits such areas offer human and canine residents, they absolutely deserve support. Careful thought and research will provide all the real experiential evidence to rebut opponent claims. Go for it! We - and our dogs - deserve it!

Congratulations to the City of Poway for winning awards for their Free-Run Dog Park and for approving the required funding for lights for the dog park! Soon it will be able to be used at times other than daylight! Good for you, Poway City Council!

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Analyzing Sudden, Dramatic Behavior Changes

Many pet owners go through the upsetting experience of having their dog suddenly, with no warning, bite or attack them or another family member. It often happens to a person whom the dog knows well and loves deeply. The first questions they ask me: "Why would he DO such a thing, and to ME of all people?" Good questions.

Upon detailed investigation I often learn that the dog indeed gave no discernible warnings. The bite came totally "out of the blue" and the dog is often upset, solicitous or submissively "apologetic" immediately afterward. Such behaviors only add to owner confusion.

An important tip: Sudden, dramatic behavior changes most often have a physical motive. A dog that always tolerated anyone approaching or even touching its food dish during meals but suddenly bites you for reaching for it may suffer from hypoglycemia – low blood sugar. Many food-protective dogs bite due to hypoglycemia. Although it is often successfully treated, it is very difficult to predict.

Another possible physicogenic motive is a seizure. A seizure can show different signs depending upon where in the brain it occurs. If it occurs in the frontal lobe, the dog will likely show typical grand mal signs of severe trembling, loss of balance and muscle control and possible oral foaming. If the same seizure occurs in the temporal lobe, the overt sign may be an attack. Clinical hyperkinesis may also result in aggression, as can hypothyroidism.

The point is that if your dog suddenly attacks you out of the blue, especially for no apparent reason, don’t overlook a possible physical or medical motive. Behavior normally changes in gradual, progressive steps. Sudden, dramatic changes, especially seemingly beyond the dog’s control, may have a physical or medical motive. Since you cannot control an act the dog cannot control, always consider a physical motive before punishing any behavior. Not only can your active punitive response cause further aggression, even if it doesn’t,  it makes no sense to punish an act the dog cannot stop. If you suspect a physical motive, contact me or have your veterinarian or local qualified behaviorist check out and factor for the possibility.

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Converting Feral Cats to Indoor Pets

I’m frequently asked how to convert feral cats to satisfactory pets, and even if it’s possible. Yes, it’s possible, but not easy. Even pet-bred cats can be difficult to totally acclimate to your household rules if they were raised feral, especially since birth.

Most owners wind up compromising their standards or desires to some degree to their cat’s choice of actions. Successfully imposing your choices onto a cat that has spent time living totally by its own choices increases the difficulty. With ferals, you’re not just trying to teach it a new way – yours – but you’re also trying to break very firmly established patterns of its own. When behaviors unacceptable to you have kept the cat alive, there is a definite clash.

First, realize that the cat’s resistance to your choices is not simple contention but the cat’s drive to continue acts that have succeeded for it so far. It knows it’s way of doing things works, but it has no way of knowing your new ways will work. Since its life and comfort are at stake, it’ll take its own way, thanks!

The biggest thing to keep in mind is PATIENCE. Go slowly. You’re trying to convince a cat with perhaps no reason whatsoever to trust humans that your ways will benefit it. That’s not done quickly or simply. We joke about feline independence; imagine how much greater that independence is when it has kept the cat alive. Ferals have no reason to trust or rely upon humans and often have reason to distrust us because of being chased away or assaulted when spotted. Changing conditioned attitudes is a slow process.

An early dilemma is medical treatment. You’ll want your veterinarian to thoroughly examine and immunize it but such treatment can be traumatic to an under-socialized feral. But if you have babies or existing pets, you cannot afford much time getting it used to handling because of the potential spread of disease. But traumatic handling and shots can truly upset the feral. Therefore the dilemma.

Try handling your new feral on your own to determine just how accepting it is of such contact. Let the vet know it’s a feral so more than normal care will be used. With vet guidance you may consider tranquilizing the cat before the visit. But ONLY with medical guidance; drugging a cat of unknown physical or medical condition is dangerous. That’s why few vets agree to such a procedure.

Controlling indoor behavior is best done by eliminating options as much as possible. Whatever you want to happen, try to make it happen but then have it result in a reward for the cat. Keep it in a single room for the first few weeks with its food dishes in one corner and its litterbox in the far corner. When it adapts and its behaviors are normal and acceptable, give it the rest of your home at the rate of one room a week. Slowly, patiently, gently, positively.

 There are groups that can assist you. Contact the Feral Cat Coalition in your area; they’re super – and deserve our support. Local humane societies, departments of animal control and veterinary clinics often have experienced staffers that can also help. Ask. And care well for your new friend.

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Choosing Your Dog's NAME!

 Because dog confusion is a major obstacle to training success, what you name your dog and how you use that name can determine your success in its training and behavior.

Dogs are vocal, not verbal. How words sound is important to them, so consider that then choosing names and commands. To your dog, the words "No," "Know," "Beau" and "Joe" are the same sound; the dog will have trouble knowing which you mean. If you name him "Beau" and use "No!" as a reprimand, saying: "Beau, you know what I want!" reprimands him twice although you didn't intend a single one! You always want your dog to come to you when you call it, so how much sense does it make to name your dog "Beau" and use "NO!" as your reprimand? It'll have trouble knowing whether you called it or yelled at it.

I like to have a dog choose its name. There are two ways to do this. First, spend enough time with the dog to really get to know its personality and select a suitable name. For example, when new to us my Husky-mix not only jumped on me, he pinned me to the wall and took stuff out of my shirt pocket! I said to my wife: "Look at this! I'm getting mugged!" Naturally, he became Mugger! A client had a very rambunctious Great Dane pup and I love the name she chose: Chaos! Let the dog earn its name!

Another way is to make a list of your favorite names and, in a playful and animated voice, try them on the dog. The one to which the dog reacts best is IT! And it WILL react differently to different names! Try it!

Contrary to popular belief, a dog's name should change with every new owner. The old thought was that once a dog recognized its name you couldn't or shouldn't change it. Wrong. Since many owners make the mistake of using the name with a reprimand, or even AS the reprimand, if you keep the old name you tell the dog you're one of THEM - the former crew. If the dog is now yours, you can't presume former owners did everything right. If they did, you probably wouldn't have it. And you're trying to tell the dog this is a new start in a new home, right? Then why use the old name - especially when it was likely used negatively in the past?

Some say changing a dog's name just confuses the dog. HAH! Every dog I know has about ten names now! Depending upon my mood, it may be Mugger, Muggs, Muggsie, Muggeroo, The Mug, Boy-o, Big Guy, Mug-Shot, Handsome, or some other spur-of-the-moment endearment! Just TRY to tell me your dog only hears ONE name EVER from EVERYONE! And no matter what I call Mugger, he has never seemed confused! If you aren't wild about your dog's name or you've thought of a great new one, you can change it now!

Now that we've all named our dogs so appropriately, next we'll talk about how to USE those names correctly. Be prepared for some surprises!

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Using Your Dog's NAME!

 How you use your dog's name can cause it much confusion. Your dog will associate related events and see a relationship between contiguous impressions. It gets excited when you get the leash out, right? Sure, because the leash means a walk, a fun event. The box means treats, the food dish means a meal, a brush means grooming and nail clippers mean getting nails clipped. When you know very well that your dog forms many strong associations, why believe or assume it won't make similar assumptions and learn similar things regarding its name?

For example, I say: "Rover, Come!" and "Rover, Stay!" away from me. The next time I say Rover, do I expect him to break towards me or run away? Because I was just silly enough to teach him it means both! Look at how silly I can be: "Rover, Shut Up!" "Get Down, Rover!" "Rover, NO!" These are great ways to teach him that the word Rover means a reprimand. I then say: "Honey, Rover was so cute today! When Sam visited, Rover played so nicely! Even Carl liked Rover!" Rover just got ignored for paying attention to his name three times because I wasn't talking to him!

What have I done wrong so far here? First, I taught Rover that his name doesn't mean him, so he can ignore it. Second, I taught him it means punishment. Third, I taught him it means to stay away from me. But if he doesn't come to me EVERY time I call him, I'll rip his lips off! Do you see how we confuse our dogs?

The old belief was to use the dog's name to get its attention and then use the command to tell him what to do. Get its attention? What was he doing, worrying about the mortgage? When was the last time you entered the room and DIDN'T get his attention?! This belief also contradicts what we know about dog learning, like contiguous association. You know that he links related events, so why use his name to mean whatever occurs to you? Even without formal explanation, that simply doesn't make sense.

Another common incorrect belief is that you must use the dog's name with any verbal cue if you have more than one dog. Otherwise the dogs won't know which one you're talking to. This, too, will be proven incorrect shortly.

One of the most common desires of dog owners is to have their dog come when they call it. This is much easier and more reliably successful if you first remove any reason it has NOT to come when called. If the name means reprimands or to stay away from you, you sure gave it reasons not to come when called!

Here's the answer: Use a dog's name only when you are directly addressing that dog in a positive way. Say it when giving the dog meals, treats, love, massages, petting, walks and whatever it really likes. And the ONLY command you say it with is "Come!" because coming to you should be among your dog's greatest joys, so that's consistent with all the other positive things its name is linked with. If the ONLY times your dog hears his name is "Yes, Rover! Good Rover! Rover, here's a treat! Have a massage, Rover!" how does he NOT come when you call him?!

A very effective way to verbally correct a dog and avoid its name is to use specific words. "Off!" means stay on the floor or get off of whatever he's on. "Quiet!" means to be silent, not be bark or howl. "Drop!" means to leave something alone or drop it from his mouth. So now you don't need a name! If one or two dogs is/are barking, "Quiet!" not only tells them what to do, it tells all of them exactly who you're addressing! The quiet dogs know you mean the loudmouths! Same with Off, Drop, Back, Out or whatever direction you say.

See? You CAN correct just one dog without using names! Not only can you, it's better to do it this way! If I say: "Dogs, come!" they all come to me. "Girls, come!" and the females come. "Boys, come!" and the males come. Or "Mugger, come!" and Mugger comes. Where's the problem or confusion?

The point is very simple: Don't use your dog's name to mean contradictory or diametrically opposed things. Use it to mean only good things directed to that dog, and make coming to you a very good thing. I've done this for decades with dozens of my own and thousands of client dogs all over the world. I KNOW it works very well.

Given what I hear about training today, the dog's aren't the only ones confused!

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Praise Educationally!

The more sense you make to your dog and the more positive you make the process of learning, the more success you have teaching him or her.

When we give a command and our dog obeys, it's common for us to say: "Good dog!" or "Good boy!" Sounds okay, right? But the last time he defied you, wasn't he a "dog?" And every time he does something you don't like, isn't he a "boy?" My point: Your dog obeys you, and you respond to his correct response, thinking you're rewarding his obedience - but he may not have the vaguest idea what you're rewarding! He's a boy dog whether or not he obeys you! From HIS point of view - and, after all, that's the one that matters most to him - how does he know what he did right and what to do again next time?

You can get better results in less time by using a simple procedure: Use the command word as the praise word. For example, you say "Sit!" and he does. Immediately praise by saying: "Good SIT! Good sit, Fido! Good sit!" Now he knows exactly what he did right! And hearing the word "sit" in a positive and animated tone makes him welcome hearing it again next time! And you just told him what to do to get great praise next time! It eliminates confusion, rewards the correct act, and encourages future performance! All results of using the command word as praise are positive and constructive! There is no down-side; it's all good!

Your dog is across the yard from you and you say: "Fido, come!" As soon as he breaks toward you, begin animated praise such as "Yes! Good come, Fido! Good come!" By then he'll probably be at your side, sitting. Praise him lavishly saying "come" positively and you will very likely achieve a very reliable recall!

Try using the command directive as the praise word and see what good results you get!

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Copyright 1997 Dr. Dennis Fetko
Last modified: January 31, 1998