Black Dog

April 5, 2011

As a lover of all dogs and an advocate for rescue, I continue to be amazed that the dogs that are least likely to be adopted are those that are black. Yes, the color “black”. I am sure studies have been done and surveys been answered about why, but they’re irrelevant to me. It just seems to be a fact, according to rescue and shelter professionals and volunteers to whom I have spoken.

I wonder why.

Is it because they shed black fur? So? White dogs shed white fur. Tan dogs shed tan fur. Brindle dogs shed multi-colored fur.

Is it because they’re scary looking? Are they? Maybe the large ones could resemble bears from a distance, but, they’re not bears.


Beautiful face.

Is it because you can’t see their faces, especially in photographs? Hmm. Betcha can! And what about long-haired dogs whose faces are perpetually covered, like the Bearded Collie, Yorkshire Terriers, or Old English Sheepdogs? As far as photographs go, I have plenty of pictures in which black-faced dogs are seen clearly; and, they are just as expressive as those who don’t have black faces.

Is it because black dogs are considered unlucky if they cross your path? That’s black cats. And a myth, regardless.

None of these answers makes any sense to me. I realize that people have breed preferences, long-hair/short-hair preferences, and size and temperament preferences. But, when it comes to rescuing an animal who would be your best friend for its whole life, what difference does color make? Sounds like a familiar question of the ages, doesn’t it?


"Simon", a Black Lab Mix puppy available for adoption.

When we were preparing to adopt a dog seven years ago, we applied online to various rescue organizations and area shelters. The first and only rescue that responded to us was the local German Shepherd Dog rescue, which is why we now have Hilde. Interestingly, one of the first questions the Rescue Director asked us was, “What color dog do you prefer?” I asked “Why?”, and was told that “most people don’t want black dogs”. I was stunned. My first reaction was that it truly doesn’t matter, but when posed the question, I said, “OK, I’d rather not have black.” (My reasoning was the perceived “shedding of black fur” issue.) Had he not asked, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. If he had offered me a black GSD puppy, I also wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

I offer these questions to readers in preparation for my Facebook post about “Simon”, the black lab-mix puppy available for adoption at The Humane Society of North Myrtle Beach. He’s adorable, smart, and looking for his forever home and family. When I asked why he hadn’t yet been scooped up, the answer was “because he’s black”. I’ll tell you … If I didn’t already have two dogs (who shed every color under sun), I’d scoop him up today. How about you?


Make Your Puppy Earn It!

February 16, 2011

Here’s a common statement from every puppy owner in the whole world: “It’s a good thing he’s cute, or he’d be in big trouble!”

Penry, a Beagle puppy owned by Cynthia & Rob.

Puppies are cute. It’s fun to see them wobbling about, running around in fits with the “puppy crazies”, and curiously exploring new surroundings. It’s even more endearing when they sleep in your bed, or scrunch themselves up on your lap, or climb up to your face for a hug. Aww…

(Insert obnoxious sound of needle scratching across vinyl record!)

Ask yourself this: Did your puppy earn any of these things? Or was being cute enough?

Dog owners, including those who proclaim to know what they’re doing (i.e., blogging dog trainers like myself), always fall victim to a cute puppy. However, when falling victim to the cute factor, owners set the stage for potential trouble in the short and long terms.

Did you know that letting a puppy run around the house unattended is like letting a toddler do the same? You would never allow this because it would be unsafe for the child: he could fall down, hurt himself, put something bad in his mouth, etc. Any number of dangerous things could happen without you knowing. With a puppy, you can also add the potential for property damage – scratched walls, chewed furniture, unstuffed pillows. Need we even mention the housebreaking factor? Wait’ll you later step in the puddle of pee in your master bathroom.

Did you know that letting a puppy climb on you and sleep in your bed undermines your leadership and authority over him? If you let a puppy climb on you when he wants, he’ll surely learn to do that to everybody, including grandma who is frail and 3-year-old Tommy who will get knocked over. (This becomes more obnoxious as they get bigger!) If you let a puppy sleep in your bed, you’re not only allowing a dander-ridden animal on your clean sheets, but you’re teaching him that you’re a pack member just like him and that you and he are on the same authoritative level, i.e., you are not in charge.

So, what do you do? How can you resist?

Make your puppy earn what he wants – your attention, his food, a treat, play time, a walk, a minute to venture with you into a new room. Don’t let him get anything for free. With a young puppy, teaching “sit” before he gets anything is a good start. Telling him “no” for things he’s not supposed to do, and following this with what you would rather have him do (i.e., “sit”, chew a good toy instead of the chair, etc.) is effective.

As far as freedom, the puppy should have very little. Consider using a crate, a baby gate, or a portable doggie playpen to restrict access. Close doors to rooms he shouldn’t be in. Or, simply use a leash, tethering it to a solid item or doorknob in a safe and clear area, or to yourself. This is a great help with housebreaking as well. As he gets older, you can gradually increase his space and freedom if he has proven he can be trusted in the space he already has.

You will be amazed at the grief you will avoid by taking these simple steps with your puppy. And, guaranteed, he’ll still be just as cute! Good luck and hang in there!

Ruca, a very obedient dog.

Treat training can do wonders for a stubborn dog’s obedience level, confidence, and respect for its owners. Take for example, “Ruca”, an adult lab mix who eventually became one of the most obedient dogs we’d seen in a long time. Ruca was four years old when adopted. She was unruly and wouldn’t listen to anybody; but she was highly food-motivated. We started by discussing the value of the treat, how to use a food lure to build trust, and how dogs learn by rote.

In the first few days, Ruca wouldn’t do anything. The owners tried training treats she usually loved, then hot dogs, then raw hamburger. They tried training before Ruca ate a meal so they knew she’d be hungry. They tried always training first thing in the morning before leaving for work, so Ruca would get used to it. No dice. Very frustrating.

First, we recommended that the training schedule be changed: It was possible Ruca wouldn’t obey because she learned that when the attempts were over, the folks would leave. Of course, the value of the treat is always a question, but it’s not usually our practice to ask owners to go out and buy a rib eye.

Here’s what happened: While preparing Sunday dinner, the owners randomly decided to try training with raw pieces off the pot roast. Ruca still wouldn’t budge and they gave up. But later, when they pulled the roast out of the oven, Ruca became interested. With a few small pieces of cooked roast, Ruca did everything she was asked to do. Finally!

Q & A:

Would these folks need to continually cook pot roasts to get Ruca to be obedient? No. But, since they finally found something the dog would respond to, they used it to their advantage in the next few training sessions. Ruca was so interested that she did everything she was asked in all circumstances. The more she was obedient, the more she was praised. And, the more the successful repetitions, the stronger her rote learning – her actions became automatic.

Why didn’t Ruca like the other food items – ones she used to like? Ruca was stubborn and had taken a leadership role in her new situation because her new owners had not yet proven their leadership in ways Ruca could understand. (Dogs need leaders; if they don’t see one, they take it upon themselves.) Ruca knew that by giving in to food treats, she would relinquish the leadership and control that she perceived herself to have. The value of the food treats offered to her was not high enough for her to relinquish control, until the pot roast came out of the oven. This, she couldn’t resist, so she couldn’t help but “give in” and let them lead.

Would Ruca now be spoiled forever and do nothing unless there was pot roast? Absolutely not. After Ruca was repeatedly successful with the initial basic commands, the pot roast was leveled down to chopped hot dogs, then back to Ruca’s original treats for the remainder of the training (new cues, etc.). By then, Ruca knew what she was supposed to do and would do it no matter what, even after she was weaned off treats.

Today, Ruca remains extremely obedient and is thrilled to do what she is asked, even when rewarded with a toy or just a good belly rub. It was reported that she even, when once left outside without a tether, wanted to be around her home and her people and wouldn’t run off. Fantastic! Great job by all!

“Treat training” – luring, shaping and rewarding with dog treats to teach obedience – is a positive reinforcement method employed by many dog trainers to ensure the success of their canine trainees. Questions do arise though as to the value of the treat: Won’t my dog get spoiled? How do I keep my dog from getting fat? Of course my dog will work for the treat, but what happens when I don’t have one? What does it mean when my dog won’t work for a treat?

Sunny Dogs teaches its clients to primarily use treats to positively reinforce good behavior when commanded. Here is the reason and the concept behind it.

Dogs, unlike humans, act based on their primal, instinctive needs – food, elimination, exercise, safety, sleep. Without training, all dogs know is how to go from Point A – “I’m hungry” to Point B: “I will eat food now.” Or, A: “I have to pee” to B: “I’ll pee right here”. Additionally, dogs are “pack” animals, and animals raised in a pack learn a social hierarchy and rules presented and reinforced by the pack leader: “You eat when it’s your turn; you eliminate over there, not here.”

Domesticated dogs are typically removed their canine “pack” shortly after birth and find themselves in a primarily human pack. Now they must learn social hierarchy and rules from humans. Unfortunately for the dogs, humans aren’t canines. Communication structure, rules, and type of leadership is as foreign to the dog as its way is to us.

All is not lost though. As living creatures, we humans know that dogs will work for food. (Heck – we work for food!) What better way to teach dogs the rules than by using their physical need for food. And, what better way to enforce our leadership in a positive manner over that dog. This seems it should be foolproof, elementary, and a “no-brainer”. Right?

Generally speaking, yes, it is right. However, it’s not as cut and dried as that, and here’s where people get confused.

Dogs learn by “rote”: “A memorizing process using routine or repetition, often without full attention or comprehension” or “mechanical routine”. ( If you can get the dog to do exactly the same thing repetitively and treat-reward the dog each time he is successful, he will learn to do that thing automatically. The key: Lure and reward with the treat repetitively enough that it becomes automatic or mechanical. Once it becomes automatic, you begin to wean the dog off the treats randomly and begin to reward with other items such as toys, belly rubs, dinner, exercise, etc. The common error: People try to train without the treats too soon – before the exercise becomes mechanical – and the dog fails.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where questions such as “Is my dog getting spoiled?” and “I have a treat he likes, so why won’t he do what I want him to do?” are answered. Enjoy! Good boy!

Bloat: Who Knew?

January 31, 2011

Have you ever felt bloated after eating? You try to belch or expel gas any way you can, because you know you’ll feel better if you do. You may even consider vomiting to relieve pressure and you try that. But, you can’t do either, and the more your body goes through the digestion process, the more the gases build within. There is no relief. And then comes the pain.

Now imagine a dog going through this, but because of the way the canine’s “innards” are situated, the stomach starts twisting and flipping. Now, there is not only no relief, but blood supply is now being cut off to vital organs as the ends of the stomach are cinched off and it continues to expand. The dog is now in great pain and going into shock. Without immediate medical intervention, there is no hope of survival. Death comes quick, in just a few hours.

Khori at home.

Khori at home, happy on his couch.

This is called canine Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), more commonly called “bloat”. Our Khori just went through this, though we caught it early enough that veterinary professionals could save him from the immediate danger and stabilize him. As of this writing, Khori was stable all weekend since the two “bloats”, and he is awaiting today’s surgery (gastropexy) which will prevent future GDV. Thank God.

Bloat/GDV is common in large breed dogs. Its cause is unknown, though various medical theories exist. It is deadly when untreated and the second most common killer of dogs behind cancer. Here are some measures you can take to help prevent bloat in your dog:

• Give smaller meals (i.e., instead of 1 per day, give 2 or 3).
• Put water in dry food to prevent rapid expansion of wet food within the stomach.
• Find ways to slow the eating process. Special dishes to slow fast eaters are available in pet stores. You can also use very large stones or rubber balls within the dish so the dog must eat around these objects.
• Prevent exercise or any kind of excitement for at least 2 hours after eating. (It is at this time when bloat commonly presents).
• Regarding elevation of the food dish, the jury’s still out. Some vets recommend elevating the dish; others do not. Speak with your vet if you are not sure.

Our vet told us this morning that gastropexy surgery is fairly common as a preventative measure. In fact, dogs with high risk for bloat (i.e., Great Danes), are considered candidates for gastropexy early on – even during the spay/neuter surgery – because the risk is so high in their lifetime.

As for us, we had heard about bloat – specifically in Great Danes – so never gave it a second thought until Friday night, when Khori began unsuccessfully attempting to belch and vomit as his stomach grew to the size of a basketball. Hopefully, this post will help you to prevent the same thing or worse from happening to your beloved pet.

Are You Your Dog’s Leader?

September 7, 2010

Are you your dog’s leader? Many might say “yes” on the grounds that they let the dog live with them, they feed the dog, they make the rules of the house for the dog, and they decide when the dog goes in and out. Good dog owners in fact do these things, strictly by way of ownership. But, are these actual “leadership” qualities?

Consider what a leader is: One who leads. One who goes first. One who doesn’t look back. One who is followed. One to whom others look up. One who commands respect for all of these reasons.

We as humans all have leaders in our lives: world leaders, bosses, parents, clergy. We expect them to “lead” us to the right situations and consequences. We expect them to remain calm and in control. We expect them to set a pace and direction. We see them on pedestals. We don’t see them falter. We expect our leaders to be worthy of our respect.

We don’t ever want to see our leaders become harried or be indecisive. We don’t like it when they lie to us or trick us. We don’t want our leaders to be weak of character or confused or unjust. We don’t want to be at the same level as our leaders because our leaders should be taking the higher ground.

Now, think of your dog. When you decide to take your dog outside, do you go through the door first? When you are walking, are you indecisively sauntering or letting your dog drag you? Do you decide when it is play time, or does your dog? Do you bribe or trick your dog into behavior that you need from him? Do you let your dog sleep in bed with you and wonder why he won’t listen to you during the day?

Dogs are pack animals and packs have leaders. Therefore, your dog needs a leader in your family pack. If he does not have one he respects, he will take over the role himself, which inevitably will cause problems ranging from minor disobedience to severe aggression. If your dog isn’t listening to you — isn’t following your lead – it’s because you have not proven yourself worthy. All is not lost, however! You can gain his respect with positive reinforcement for good obedience, and keeping steadfast rules while rewarding him for following them. It is these actions that will prove your leadership worthiness and will give your dog the comfort of knowing that he doesn’t have to be in charge after all.


Let me begin with a thousand and one disclaimers.

First, this lengthy post is fairly serious — don’t proceed if you don’t think you want to hear it.

Second, I am not a veterinarian. I am not a breed specialist. I am not dog psychologist. And I am not a trainer who specializes in canine aggression.

What I am, however, is a multi-dog owner and a dog trainer who cares about the family dog and the human-to-dog relationship, communication, and overall condition. All that said, I am going to tell you what I know about intra-sexual (female-to-female) canine aggression within the same household.

I received a message from a woman last week who was seeking immediate assistance. Her 8-year-old female JRT had been showing increasingly severe signs of aggression to her 3-year-old female Maltese. She had had the JRT since she was a puppy; and had the Maltese for about a year and a half. The JRT had not acted like this until recent weeks. At this point, the owner was concerned that her JRT would kill the Maltese. (It should be noted, there are two other dogs in the home as well, both male, both unaffected.)

After we played phone tag for about 3 days, I spoke with her and wanted to arrange a consultation. She said, “Well, my immediate problem is solved.” It turns out, she had put her 8-year-old JRT down that very morning because she couldn’t risk the life of the other dog any longer. What had happened was that the dogs had gotten into a severe row over the weekend and the owner herself was bitten 3 times trying to stop the attack. It was at that time she had had enough.

I am not writing this post to open the can of worms that is putting a dog down for lack of knowing what else to do. (I’ll stand on my rescue pulpit another time.) Rather, this is about female-to-female or intra-sexual canine aggression.

Two Dogs

Do your dogs get along?

What I know about female-to-female aggression is that it is a phenomenon that crosses all species of mammals. Jealousy, dominance, etc. come into play when the players have reached sexual maturity. (Think of it – humans are the same way! Ever see a “cat fight”?) This type of aggression is one that I have heard about from others who have experienced pet fatalities as a result of not being able to control it. Sometimes, dogs simply shouldn’t be forced together, just like some people shouldn’t be. Strong canine obedience and structure can help some, but the very nature of the aggression is deeply instinctual and all the time and effort that may be spent on addressing the problems won’t necessarily yield success.

When I opted to rescue a second dog – again from the North Star German Shepherd Rescue in Massachusetts – I was told by the GSD expert: “You cannot add another female GSD in the home because one of them WILL kill the other.” He left no doubt in my mind, as this was a man of vast breed experience and canine knowledge. I believed him and seeing how dominant my Hilde is with her male sibling leaves no doubt to me that she would be completely unaccepting of another female. I’m glad I found out sooner rather than later.

So, what do you do if you have a situation with younger dogs who are now sexually maturing and setting the stage for theirs and others’ behavior? Be prepared. Multi-dog households are difficult enough without this added mess. Certainly, ensure that they are never left alone together. Have every canine in the mix spayed or neutered. Learn about pack mentality and practice communication with each dog as necessary so they understand what you say. Learn the signs – what are your dogs doing that are showing their discomfort? Ensure that your dogs respect you, which does not necessarily mean fear you. And practice practice practice obedience training with all dogs. Get your dogs beyond the distractions and listening to you with 100% clarity and understanding.

Yes, it takes work, it’ll take time, and it may not even fix the problem. But, your assumed commitment is what brought you to those dogs. You owe it to them to consider the situation and not give up on them. My advice to you, the multi-dog owner? Educate yourself about potential risks by seeking advice from dog rescue workers, veterinarians, aggression specialists, etc. You will hopefully not have to regret your decision for your dogs’ lives in your home.