Tag Archive for Dog Talk

IndyVet offers free eye exams to service dogs

Owners and handlers of active working animals can register for free eye exams at IndyVet Emergency & Specialty Hospital, on Indy’s southeast side, from April 1-30 as part of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) 7th annual National Service Animal Eye Exam event taking place during the month of May. Dr. Heidi Klein, DVM, DACVO, IndyVet’s […]

Understanding Your Stubborn Dog

Few things are more frustrating than having a dog who “knows the commands” but for some reason, seems to refuse to perform them on cue. Dogs like this are the ones who have owners saying, “She knows how to sit, she just doesn’t always do it,” or, “We went to training classes and he knew everything then, but now he only does it when he wants to.” There are a lot of these dogs out there, and if you happen to share your home with one, just know that there are ways to overcome this.

Before doing anything else, make sure your dog has been to the vet recently for a full exam. Stubbornness could be a sign that, instead of refusing to do a command, perhaps your dog can’t hear the command anymore, or can no longer see well enough to distinguish your hand signal. Not doing a command could also also be a signal of that command causing your dog pain.

If your dog has been cleared by the vet, next on the list is figuring out why your dog won’t listen every time. It is important to understand your dog’s individual personality and motivations. My Basset Hound, Lou, had a problem with coming when called. Sometimes he did, sometimes he just looked at us like we were crazy, and other times he acted like he couldn’t hear us with his head turned away, freezing on the spot and seeming to hope that we didn’t see him.

Lou never really had a strong coming when called foundation. He wasn’t taught as a puppy, he had no set word used every time and wasn’t given motivation to follow through. I tried using all the baby step techniques – walking backwards with tasty treats in my hand, using a leash to ensure he couldn’t get too far away, and more. As it turned out, the only reason Lou was “stubborn” is because his motivation and way of understanding is different from many other dogs. Lou loves treats, but he loves to know what is going on even more. He froze because he didn’t know what was expected of him. He stared at us, waiting for more direction. The key to this stubborn dog was really to just coax him along, praising every single step until his tail wags, his tongue hangs out, and he is happily trotting towards me. As time goes on, he needs less and less direction.

My Great Dane/Coonhound Mix, Daisy, on the other hand, is an entirely different sort of stubborn dog. Daisy’s main motivation in life is to simply avoid punishment. She is a sensitive dog by way of touch, sound, and quick movement, but she is also a take charge and a “make me” sort of dog. Even when I knew Daisy was aware of what commands meant, she would quite simply refuse to do them, as though she did not see the point. Treats and praise meant nothing at all and performing the cue was not worth the tasty morsels of meat or cheese after she had done a few repetitions flawlessly.

Daisy needed constant challenges and a lot of patience. One of the golden rules to dog training is to never let your dog get away with not doing a command when asked. This is the number one golden rule when working with dogs like Daisy. I once found myself standing in front of her on a walk, getting ready to cross a street, asking for a Sit and refusing to move for a good seven or eight minutes before she finally sat down. It now takes only a few seconds for her to decide that sitting is worth it in order to continue on the walk.

These dogs need structure. They need routine and your expectations of them need to remain consistent. I expect Daisy to sit at every street corner before crossing. I haven’t once let her cross without doing so. I expect her to lay down and wait for her food at breakfast and dinner time and have not fed her without her doing so. These behaviors do become automatic in dogs – even ones like her – with enough time and patience.

The key to working with stubborn dogs is to take the time to figure out why they are so stubborn. Do they really, truly, understand the command and have you taken the time to teach it well? (Be honest here because this is the number one reason that dogs appear stubborn!) Is there a physical ailment that has so far been undetected? Is the motivation you’re using in line with what your dog needs (ie. Treats, praise, toys, etc.)? Have you ever let your dog get away without performing the command after you have asked for it? (If you have done this often, it may be time to start at the beginning and retrain your dog to a different word! It is easier to start from scratch than to teach your dog to pay attention to a word she has already decided has no meaning.)

Your stubborn dog just needs a lot of love, some detective work on your part, and a great deal of patience. She is not stupid, or particularly defiant, she is merely operating in a world that is foreign to her and doing the best she can with what she has learned so far. Remember to be diligent, forgiving, calm, and consistent and you’ll have an obedient dog in no time!

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

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Walking the Dog – Stress Free!

Summertime is here! Time to enjoy the “Dog Days of Summer” with your canine pal, whether that means taking leisurely strolls in the cool morning hours, spending an afternoon hiking in the shade of the woods, or going for a run in the evening just before the sun goes down.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It probably does to your dog, too, and I bet he just might show you that excitement with constant pulling, lengthy “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, or barking hello to his human and doggy friends.

If this daydream has started to seem a little less fun because you recognize some of these behavior problems in your dog, rest assured, there are solutions. We’ll cover all of these issues over the next few weeks, starting today with pulling. Be sure to check back next week for tips on ending “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, and the week after for barking during walks!


The number one problem on a walk with a dog is pulling. Believe it or not, if you can retrain your dog to walk beside you instead of out in front, most other walk-time behavior problems will start to take care of themselves. While it may seem like an overwhelming challenge right now to teach your dog (who may already have years of pulling behind him!), there are many safe training tools that can help.

First and foremost – before we get any further – please, please, please stop using your retractable leashes! These are just begging for trouble when walking dogs.  The slight, constant pulling sensation on a dog’s neck actually teaches your dog to pull in order to go forward. Want to solve the problem by simply latching the leash to hold a certain length? True, it can be done, but your dog already has associations of pulling with that leash, not to mention the added degree of difficulty in holding a plastic handle in sweaty hands as opposed to a loop of fabric or leather that can be wrapped around your wrist for extra support. And, that retractable leashes are thinner than standard leashes, leading to a higher potential for breaking during use. But enough about retractable leashes – on to other training tools.

My personal favorite, and the one that is usually right for all the long-legged dogs out there (Dachshund and Basset Hound owners – I’m not talking to you just yet!), is the Easy Walk Harness. Yes, most harnesses actually encourage pulling, even some of the “anti-pull” ones on the market today. They do this because hooking a leash to a dog’s back increases the strength of your dog by allowing them to use more of their body to pull forward. Feeling even a slight pressure of pulling causes an instinctual “keep pulling” response in dogs, unless they are trained differently. This is why dogs do so well with things like pulling sleds and wagons!

The Easy Walk Harness is different. The leash actually attaches on the dog’s chest, which means when Scruffy goes to pull, he finds himself turning sideways, often times away from what he is trying to get to, instead of still moving forward. These harnesses also fit a bit more snug than a standard collar, so be sure to allow only for one finger’s width to fit between the harness and your dog instead of two. You can find these at standard pet stores for around $20-$25. (Not in a hurry? Check online retailers for the best deals.) They come in a variety of color choices and are 100% returnable if you or your dog doesn’t like them.

There are a couple of downsides to the Easy Walk Harness. Some dogs can develop chaffing from where the harness hits around their legs. This can be warded off by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog spends in his harness over a couple of weeks, starting with only 5-10 minutes. Also, some dogs can wiggle their way out of the harness during jumping fits, but this only occurs with improperly fitting harnesses, and an owner who pulls the leash down towards the ground when attempting to control these fits. Size it right and hold the leash up and your dog won’t get out. As with any leash walking training tool, your dog will still be able to pull ever so slightly, so be sure to reinforce the right position and lack of pulling with tasty treats for the first few weeks.

On to the short-legged dogs – While the Easy Walk Harness may not be the right choice for your dog, there is another wonderful tool that will help you regain control of your puller! A Martingale collar might be the right choice for you if you find that your dog constantly slips out of his collar, or if you’re looking for a safe alternative to a standard chain-link choke collar. Martingale collars are designed to give the same tightening sensation around your dog’s neck to make pulling uncomfortable, but has a safety stop in it that doesn’t let it constrict to the point of hurting your dog. Typically, most Martingale collars constrict about 2 inches – just enough for your dog to get the point, but not enough to risk damage to his throat. These can be found pretty much anywhere and run the gamut in prices to fit all budgets. Any color, pattern, design and size is available on the world wide web!

The Martingale is not simply a quick fix. Some dogs don’t much mind the slight constricting, so you will need to be sure to employ plenty of positive reinforcement during walks for a few weeks when your dog shows non-pulling behaviors.

Another training method that works well for the Easy Walk Harness and the Martingale collar is simple. Your dog pulls… You stop. Every. Single. Time. There can be no more, “But it is raining and he is just pulling to his favorite spot. If we stop we’ll get soaked,” or, “Is he pulling too much? Should I stop?” If you feel any kind of pulling, you must stop immediately. It’ll be a little stop and go for awhile, but thankfully, most dogs catch on to this pretty fast (especially if you wait for them to look back at you before you keep moving) and once they learn it, your walks will be pull-free.

Here’s to walking the dog (and not the other way around)!

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Managing a Pack of Household Dogs

Until I married a wonderful man a month and a half ago, my household consisted of just my dog, Karma (and the occasional foster dog), and me. Now, I find myself managing a pack of dogs. Karma now has a sister (4 year old Great Dane/Coonhound mix named Daisy) and a brother (5 year old Basset Hound named Lou) who are constantly in her space, sharing her toys, her person, and eating right by her side.

If you’re planning to add a new dog to your household, or if you already have multiple dogs who are showing signs of behavior problems towards each other, read on!

Anytime a household goes from 1 dog to multiple dogs, expect a bit of chaos! Even the most loving, sociable dogs can get irked with having to constantly share their space with another canine. You may witness power struggles for Top Dog spot, an unwillingness to share food, toys, or affection, or a melding of behaviors (ie. One is a barker and one never has been… until now).

Be aware that your actions will define the status and stability of the pack. There are many things you can do to ensure a smooth process in integrating your dogs into one pack.

First, make sure at least one of the dogs is up to par on basic obedience and the rules of the house. If you want all the dogs to wait at the door, make sure at least one already can! Dogs will model each others behavior – especially if there is a reward for doing so. One of the easiest ways to teach a dog to Sit, for instance, is to have him watch another dog be rewarded for doing so.

Seeing power struggles? These often show themselves by toy stealing/guarding, growling as one dog walks by another, pushing to get out the door first or to greet you first, food guarding, or even a simple movement of one putting her head over the other’s neck in a dominant stance. Rest assured, you can help.

If there are power struggles going on in your house, evaluate your dogs objectively. Which one is the most stable and predictable? Which one does the best with people, outside noises, and general obedience commands? Which one is the natural leader – meaning who wins the most when these things take place? Make sure you identify the most stable dog before continuing with the following advice!

In my household, Top Dog spot goes to Daisy. Yes, Karma is better trained, but she is a fearful-reactive dog who can’t be trusted to tell the other dogs how to react in certain situations. Lou is the most laid-back and sociable, but he has no interest in winning against the other dogs – he’s more of the peace-keeper of the group – always willing to placate and give in. Daisy is the most powerful, most unwilling to back down (yet does not use any more force than is necessary), and is a natural canine leader. Now, Karma believed she was most capable to be leader and power struggles between the girls ensued. Here’s how to step in.

Sometimes, dogs can’t figure it out for themselves. Sometimes, if their power plays are allowed to continue, true dog fighting arises complete with blood and hospital visits. I have many clients who can attest to this.

Take your Top Dog and start doing the following in order to show the rest of your pack who you have chosen as the one in charge. These should help alleviate the pack insecurities of never knowing who is on top:

  • Feed her first. Before any of the other dogs, Top Dog gets her food first.
  • Let her go out the door first. Top Dog leads the way.
  • When giving treats, give them to Top Dog first.
  • Greet Top Dog first.
  • During walks, shorten the other dogs’ leashes and allow Top Dog to walk slightly ahead of the others.

Keep in mind that being Top Dog could go to your dog’s head. If she is not feeling solid in her position, her dominant behaviors could get worse before they get better. Just remember – with great power, comes great responsibility. Top Dog status does NOT mean she gets to get away with any and everything. You must have a great relationship full of respect (on both ends) and obedience with your Top Dog.

She must be a disciplined, well trained and obedient-to-humans dog in order to be a respectable, fair leader. It is important, when she acts up, to correctly put her back in her place in front of the other dogs (without the use of physical force!). Ultimately, YOU still run the pack and the other dogs (and Top Dog) need to see that every day

If you can successfully establish who rules the roost in your absence, all of your dogs will feel more at ease. Not every dog wants to be Top Dog, but the vast majority will vie for it in the absence of a clearly established leader because it is a position that must exist. Dogs just want to know where they fit in and will be content with any position, as long as it is made clear where their order in the pack falls.

For help in properly controlling your Top Dog, you may find the Toy Guarding and the Are These Dogs Playing or Fighting articles helpful.

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.

Stray Dogs – Make Sure Yours Never Is One

While I was washing the dishes earlier today, I looked out the window and thought, “Oh, the dogs are out.” Then, I realized the dog I was watching relieve himself in the backyard was not one of mine.

Long story short, the stray (Spot – changed to protect the frightened!) is terrified of strangers, and even though I went armed with hotdog pieces, he decided fleeing was a better alternative than taking food from a stranger. Not a bad idea if you’re a child, but a terrible idea for a stray dog.

Spot ran away from me, but luckily his owners had placed an ad on Craigslist. I called and, after helping in the search,  they’re still looking for him as I type this. Hopefully, Spot will sleep in his own home tonight.

Turns out, he was a recently adopted rescue dog and had escaped yesterday. The ad even states that he is shy with strangers.

So, how can you stop your dog from winding up like this? Dogs running away is a fact of life – luckily, there are a few things you can do to decrease the chances that your dog will run, and that he will accept help if he does.

Make sure your dog knows the lay of the land! Most dogs escape from their own homes, and those that go on very few walks can’t always find their way home after chasing the neighborhood cat for a mile or so.  Take your dog everywhere, in every direction, around your neighborhood, and those surrounding it. In fact, have someone drop you off a ways away (especially a park, or wooded area that may be enticing to your dog) and walk home together. One time around the block just won’t cut it.

Next, teach your dog the strongest Recall command possible. Make coming to you as much fun as it can possibly be when you say “Spot, Come!” We’re talking treats, praise, toys, anything that gets your dog excited!

When teaching a Recall, remember to use it in positive manners – meaning, do NOT call your dog to you in order to punish him, to bring him inside (thus ending his fun), or to take something away from him that he values. And, if you must call him to bring him inside or to take something from him, practice the Come command 10-15 more times immediately where only positive things happen.

Using a long line (15-20ft. leash) outdoors and in unfamiliar environments will help you gain control over your dog in the event that he should become distracted while learning. Use it to gently remind him to go in your direction, then release him back to his fun after he comes.

If he does not come to you, try running away from your dog. That’s right – away from him. This brings out the dog’s natural chase/prey/play instincts and gives him a good reason to follow!

The next most important thing to teach your dog is that strangers are not enemies, or people to be feared. Strangers may well be your dog’s only hope at ever becoming reunited with you in the event that he gets away.

Socialize your dog to every kind of person you can think of! Have a fearful dog? Approach strangers (start with friends), and ask them to give a few treats to your dog without making eye contact, or speaking directly to him. Once your dog gets used to the idea that people on the street are treat dispensers, have them slowly and gently pet your dog on the chest, or under the chin (still not making eye contact), and work up from there. Practice on the sidewalks and in neighbors yards – anywhere your dog may be if he gets lost.

Have a dog who barks at people? Use treats during walks to distract your dog from looking at the people. Reward your dog any time he looks at someone without barking. Once you can start passing people on the opposite side of the street barkfree, work up to passing on the same sidewalk. Then, start having your dog Sit as people walk by, and you say hello to them. Keep working on it until you can have strangers toss your dog treats.

Any little bit helps. Anything you can do to teach your dog about his surroundings, to teach him to come back when he is called, and to introduce him to all the neighbors will go a long way in leading to a safe return.

(Also – make sure your dog is wearing identification tags. Tags can be broken, so make sure he is microchipped as well. Check the Humane Society of Indianapolis or F.A.C.E. Clinic for cheap prices on microchipping.)

If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.