• But He Goes to Daycare…

    “But he goes to the dog park/ daycare” is a phrase I often hear when people contact me about a reactive dog. 

    Here’s the thing, for your dog, being off leash and playing with a group of dogs is a completely different skill set and emotional requirement than walking past another dog on a leash. I repeat, these are two different skills!

    Taking your dog to the dog park or daycare so that your dog does well around other dogs on leash simply does not make sense; it’s like taking your child to a playground to teach them how to socially interact with humans in the world. 

    Usually dogs are reactive to other dogs on leash for one of two reasons; they are uncomfortable/insecure/fearful of the other dog, or they are over excited about the possibility of engaging with another dog and get overstimulated and/or frustrated that the leash is preventing them from having that physical interaction with that other dog. In either case, there is anxiety. 

    Now, let’s pretend the first example dog is going to daycare or the dog park and they are actually feeling anxious about other dogs but do “ok” off leash because they have the freedom to make choices that result in the freedom to move away from another dog. (Please note: this is not a dog that should be attending these places but that is for another post) 

    However, when on a leash and seeing another dog, this dog, still anxious about seeing other dogs, and is now leashed and has lost his ability to make a choice to move away, will often react. These social “mosh pits” can teach this dog that all dogs invade their space so they need to be reactive to make them go away. 

    Ok, so now let’s say the second example dog goes to the dog park or daycare. They LOVE all the the social interaction and are encouraged to play until they are exhausted. Now this type of dog sees another dog on leash and has full expectations that they can go have a slammn’ good time with them since whenever this dog sees dogs in a social situation the get to go engage and play. The leash in this situation can cause frustration to build. Add that to the over stimulation of seeing the other dog, and this dog becomes reactive to other dogs on leash. 

    It’s also important to note that often reactivity in both types of dogs doesn’t start until after they start attending daycare or dog parks.

    Also important to note, this is not an excuse to not have your dog on leash in public! 

    The moral of the story is that helping your dog feel comfortable around other dogs on leash requires that we put the time in to create the emotional response, and skills, that are needed for your dog to ignore other dogs on leash, not take them to daycare or the dog park for off leash shenanigans with other dogs.

  • Letting Go of Expectations

    Letting Go of Expectations

    Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? What about your parents, did they have something they wanted you to be when you grew up, or a goal they wanted you to achieve, like graduating college? 

    I started ballet classes when I was 3 years old. By the time I was 10 I was working hard, dancing 5 days a week, with a clear vision of becoming a professional ballerina in my future. 

    I was lucky, my parents wholeheartedly supported my dream, even when I moved to a different state to attend a performing arts high school at 15 and dropped out of that high school right before my senior year to get my GED and start dancing professionally with a ballet company. Never once did they tell me that I was making a mistake or that my dreams weren’t going to take me anywhere or make me any money (although money isn’t the reason anyone becomes a professional ballerina). 

    Shall we pivot to dogs?

    Like many human parents, quite a few dog guardians have goals or things they want their dogs to achieve or become. These goals are often set long before these dog guardians even find a dog to call their own.

    I hear it all the time in my work as a dog trainer…
    “I want my dog to go to work with me”
    “I want to take my dog to outdoor restaurants”
    “I want my dog to go for group hikes with my friends and their dogs”
    “I want my dog to become a therapy dog”
    “I want to take my dog to the dog park”
    “I want to be able to walk my dog in crowded places or take them into stores”

    And the list goes on.

    But, how many dog guardians ask their dogs what they want? 

    Sit, take that question in. 

    There seems to be an unspoken list of expectations that most humans have when it comes to things their dogs “should” like such as:

    ~Petting and human touch
    ~Playing with other dogs
    ~Greeting new people
    ~Taking walks
    ~Going for car rides

    When dogs don’t like these things their guardians will often often rush to “help” or “fix” their dogs so that they can be “normal”.
    The truth is that, just like humans, there is a wide range of activities dogs may or may not enjoy, and just because they don’t enjoy one of the above activities, or something similar, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them. 

    I personally prefer an evening in rather than going to a crowded sporting event, bar, or concert. Does that make me introverted, possibly? Does that mean there is something wrong with me? Absolutely not, and I’m glad that my husband doesn’t try to force me to do those things because that’s “what people do”.

    This is not an excuse to not help your dog feel better about things that occur in their daily lives that you can’t avoid, like vet or groomer visits, noises that are specific to your home, or the noises or sight of your neighbors; yes, work with your dogs to feel better about those things! 

    But, the avoidable things like dog parks, daycares, walks in busy neighborhoods, group hikes, or cuddling or hugging at home can absolutely be avoided and replaced with different activities that your dog will enjoy more. 

    So maybe Instead of showing your affection through petting, if your dog head turns, lip licks, or becomes stiff during that touch, you play a fun game with your dog and then enjoy each others company sitting in the sane room together but not touching?

    Instead of a trip to the dog park or a day at daycare where your dog is getting into scuffles with other dogs, or isolating themselves while there, you take your best friend for a walk or play some Noseworks? 

    What if instead of long walks where your dog becomes worried and reactive towards cars, people, or other dogs, you do some backyard agility or parkour?

    Maybe instead of loading your dog up for a car ride while you run errands where he will pant and drool and bark at people and other dogs out the window, you do some extra mental stimulation or a walk with your dog before you leave and let them enjoy a quiet nap at home while you are gone? 

    And if greeting other people makes your dog uncomfortable what if you told those people that you were in training and not taking pets that day while tossing a handful of treats in the grass for your pup to sniff for? 

    Respect is one of the most important building blocks when developing any relationship. So the next time you find yourself creating expectations for your dog(s), take a moment to ask yourself what your dog wants. Really ask, think about it, and learn your dog’s body language so that you can answer that question without any influence from your own expectations, or that of others. 

    The relationship you build with your dog from this day forward will be stronger for it.

  • Piranha Puppies

    Piranha Puppies

    Anyone raising a puppy knows all too well the army of tiny, sharp, soldiers that line the inside of a puppy’s mouth’s.

    Ouch! Puppy teeth hurt! 

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have bad news, puppies nip. Yes, behind those sweet, fuzzy, innocent faces lie rows of piranha teeth just waiting to make an appearance; especially when that puppy is tired, hungry, overstimulated, or just generally having a hard time. 
    I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are things that we can do to help reduce our puppies nipping. The bad news is that only time, patience, and maturity will stop it completely.

    It helps to think of your puppy’s nipping as communication. Yes, puppies will put their mouth on you when you pet them and play with them but those intense, sometimes scary, nipping episodes (sometimes referred to as “The Witching Hour”) that is often accompanied by growling, lunging, jumping, etc. are just your puppy’s way of communicating that they are having a hard time.

     Yes, you heard me, your puppy is having a hard time, not giving you one. They just don’t have the skills to self soothe or communicate in any other way yet. 

    Here are some simple things you can put into practice that will help prevent your puppy from becoming overly nippy. 

    • Make sure puppy is getting enough sleep. Growing puppies need up to 20 hours of sleep a day. An overly tired pup will get very nippy. 
    • Make sure puppy is eating often. Puppies should get at least three meals a day, sometimes more for very small pups. A hungry puppy is a nippy puppy. (I can totally relate to this) 
    • Manage your puppy! Puppies should not have free roam of your house to chase your feet and nip them while you are doing housework or making dinner; an exercise pen or puppy “safe room” is the perfect place for your puppy to hang out, when you are not actively watching or working with them, while they grow and mature. Preventing them from practicing nipping using management is one of the greatest tools that puppy parents have. 
    • Provide a rotation of chews that your puppy likes. I recommend a four-day rotation so that the puppy is getting a different chew each day for four days before the cycle starts again. This will keep the chew items “fresh” and keep puppy’s interest peaked. 
    • Look for patterns. If your puppy is getting nippy at specific times of day get ahead of those moments by preemptively putting puppy in their crate, pen, or safe room with a sniffing, chewing, or licking activity before they become overly nippy. Studies show that these three behaviors help calm dogs of all ages. 
    • Give your puppy plenty of mental stimulation. Food Puzzle toys are a great tool for puppy parents to use. Some of my favorites are Kong and West Paw brands. Your local pet store will also have a great selection. My Boredom Busters downloadable video is also full of activities you can do with your puppy to keep their brain stimulated and happy. A properly mentally stimulated puppy will nip less. 
    • If puppy is getting overstimulated outside, and becoming excessively nippy, shorten your time outside to keep them from getting overwhelmed and toss some kibble in the grass at regular intervals while outside to encourage them to sniff, find, and eat. Remember, sniffing helps calm dogs! 


    • Don’t grab your puppy’s muzzle, hit them, yell no, or use a squirt bottle or shake can when they nip in an attempt to stop them. These activities will only teach your puppy that you cannot be trusted and that you make scary things happen when they are having a hard time. 
    • Don’t yell “Ouch” when puppy nips. This sound will usually excite/overstimulated your puppy and make the situation worse. 

    Putting these tools into play, along with a good sense of humor and a generous dosing of patience, will help you get through your puppy’s nipping months. Remember, this too shall pass, and in no time, you will look at your dog and wonder where that little nipping puppy went!

    Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in West Bath Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 7 years in a row.