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September 16, 2015

10 Dog Safety Tips for Autumn & A Great Article on Dominance- Personality Trait?

Ten Dog Safety Tips for Autumn

By Victoria Stilwell

The leaves are changing, the cool air is drifting in, and the dog days of summer are making way for a beautiful autumn. As the holiday season approaches, it’s important to keep your dog happy, healthy, and safe.

Here are my top ten tips for keeping your dog safe over the fall months:

  • Keep a collar and tags on your dog at all times.
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended outside, especially during the cold winter months.
  • Holidays usually mean lots of yummy food, but make sure you don’t leave any food out on the counter within reach of your dog. Watch out for foods like chocolate, grapes, and raisins. If you have a counter-surfer, now is a good time to work on that behavior.
  • Your busy holiday season can take a toll on your dog. Make sure you get him out for regular walks and playtime despite your jam-packed schedule.
  • If you’re planning on having guests over and have a dog that dashes when you open the door, teach him a “wait” cue.
  • Keep your dog indoors on Halloween night. It may be a fun holiday for the kids, but it can end up being one traumatic evening for a dog.
  • Don’t forget your dog’s monthly heartworm preventative; it’s just as important in cooler weather.
  • Watch your dog carefully in the snow. The ice in the snow can tear up a dog’s paws.
  • Put your kids’ Halloween candy where your dog can’t find it. That much chocolate could be seriously harmful to him if ingested.
  • Dressing up your dog might look cute, but it can really stress out even the most patient of dogs. Save the costumes for the kids.

Follow these tips and you’re sure to have a fabulous fall with your four-legged friends!


Dominance in Dogs is Not a Personality Trait

By Sophia Yin

Two beagles from the group of dogs studied. Communication by means of postures plays a central role in identifying dominance relationships between two dogs. The display of a lowered posture during an interaction by Zwart (the beagle on the right) is an acknowledgement of the higher status of Witband (left), who adopts a higher posture. Both dogs display mutual aggression (Witband by staring fixedly and Zwart by baring his teeth), which was found not to be a suitable measure of dominance.

Anyone who hangs out with dogs and their owners has probably heard this or similar comments a million times-“My dog is dominant, he ignores our commands and plays too rough with other dogs.” To the general dog owner, this statement seems pretty normal. But, to researchers studying social hierarchies in animals ranging from lions to macaque monkeys to bulls, the statement is likely to solicit a pause followed by a “Huh?”

That’s because while an individual in a group can have a high dominance rank, dominance in dogs, and in any animal for that matter, is not a personality trait.

The Definition of Dominance

So what exactly is dominance?  Dominance is defined in animal behavior as a relationship between individuals that is established by force, aggression and submission in order to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and access to mates. For instance, when a group of sex-hungry bulls are introduced to each other they immediately fight in order to establish rank.

Now, if you’re a woman reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes thinking, “Oh brother. Dumb males at it again.” But in the wild this fighting is actually really important. The bull that wins the encounters with all of the other bulls becomes the highest ranked and, thus, the dominant male of the group. That means that he’ll have priority access to food, resting areas, and, hubba hubba, young, desirable cows. Ideally, these high ranked males aren’t just going to stand around and look. They all want to mate. The highest ranking bull will have the most chances to mate, which will hopefully result in little Juniors that are carrying his genes.

Being the highest ranked means that, during mating season, the other males will make way if the dominant bull is approaching a female in estrus (a.k.a in heat). So, even if a lower ranked bull is planning to mate with a cute cow himself, if the dominant bull approaches, he’ll change his plans fast and head the other way.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because sex is so important for passing one’s genes on, even seemingly bone-headed bulls can play a game as devious as that on your favorite soap opera star. A lower ranked bull may sneak copulations with cows when higher ranked bulls are not looking. As a result, in a pasture of several males and many females, the calves will be sired by more than one bull, but the highest ranked bull will get the most matings.

Similarly, the dominant bull may chase subordinates away from a particular food source or the subordinates may just defer automatically, but the subordinates may also sneak back to the food source when the dominant individual is not available to guard the resource. In both cases, the subordinates are not trying to challenge for higher rank, they are just using an alternate strategy for mating and obtaining other resources. Note to readers. This reasoning works well on paper for bulls, but don’t try using it as an excuse for yourself, since humans tend find out and seek retaliation later.

Dominance Rank Changes Based on the Social Group

Unlike a personality, which by definition is a set of behavioral characteristics that stays the same across different contexts, rank changes depending on the group an animal inhabits. If four individuals who are dominant in their own social group are all placed together, only one will be dominant in the new group. Anyone who owns chickens is familiar with this concept. Once, I had a flock of 3 trick trained chickens-one rooster and two banty (miniature breed) hens. When I added a third hen, Goldie, she immediately pecked the two other hens and established that she was the highest ranked of them all. This sorta made me mad because the original two were cute and knew a lot of tricks. But ultimately, I did get my revenge. When I brought the evil hen Goldie and my rooster over to a friend’s house, her hens, which were full-sized, put them both in their place. Goldie and the rooster had been at the top of the male and female totem poles at my house but were at the bottom at my friend’s.

If Dominance is Not a Personality Trait, Then What About These Behaviors?

You’re probably wondering, if dominance is not a personality trait then what are the traits we’re talking about when we’re incorrectly referring to a dog as being dominant? It depends on the situation.

For instance, I’ve heard one celebrity dog trainer on T.V. describe a light-fixated dog as trying to be dominant to the light. The idea was that the dog must learn to be submissive to the light. In animal behavior, submission and submissive behaviors are those that are meant to turn aggression off, to signal that one individual does not want to fight. Now, if you insert that definition into the trainer’s statement the trainer would be saying that he wanted the dog to perform behaviors that would turn off aggression by the light. Hmm. Sound kinda fishy, like the wrong word inserted into a Mad Lib? It should. As odd as this dog may have been, he did not have a social relationship with the light. What he most likely had was a compulsive disorder causing him to fixate on the light.

Then, there’s the case of the puppy or adult dog who loves to jump on you to greet you exuberantly or who even barks to be picked up and placed in your lap. They aren’t using aggression and aren’t trying to establish high rank and priority access to everything they want. Rather they are just unruly or untrained. Their exuberant jumping and barking have been rewarded when owners finally give in and pet them or acknowledge them when they perform the naughty behaviors.

And there’s the case of my naughty Jack Russell Terrier, Jonesy. When I first got him at 8 months of age, and introduced him to my parent’s Scottie Maggie and my Australian Cattle Dog Zoe, he immediately tried to mount them. Was this a clear cut example of him trying to establish dominance rank? Or was it an example of a silly pup trying to have sex with two spayed females? Actually it was neither. If Jonesy, who was already neutered, were trying to establish high dominance rank, then when the others snapped at him to go away, he would have fought back. What he did instead was to bounce around and play bow. His mounting behavior was inappropriate play behavior. In fact, Zoe was clearly higher ranked. She would sometimes chase him away from chew toys or treats and he’d always back off. But if she wasn’t paying attention, he would sometimes sneak up to her and mount her. So the trait he was exhibiting was that he was socially inept.

The examples go on and on and the cause of the behaviors need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Most likely, if you stick to the scientific definition for dominance and then look more closely at the dog’s behavior, body language, and the reaction of the animals around him, you’ll find dog behavior to be much more nuanced and interesting.

September 5, 2015

Tips on Hiking with your Dog! & How to Keep your Dog from Jumping on your Guests!

Take a Hike

By Casey Schreiner
Editor of

Taking your dog on a hike can be one of the best parts about having a canine companion. It’s great exercise, good for keeping dogs socialized and just a really fun way to spend time together. But if you and your pooch haven’t hiked together before, take a few minutes to go over some basic rules before you hit the trailhead.


Keep Your Dog Vaccinated

Like humans, dogs can get Lyme disease and a host of other nasty critter-spread maladies from the trail. Talk to your vet before hiking season begins to make sure your dog is up to date on all shots. And after the hike, be sure to check thoroughly for ticks, burrs and other undesirable hangers-on.

Know the Laws

The majority of local, state and national parks where dogs are allowed require you to keep them on-leash. Most of the time, those leashes have a maximum length limit, so leave the retractable leash at home.

Some parks will allow off-leash dogs in certain areas, or allow you to go without a leash as long as your dog is within verbal command. But even in these areas, be cautious. Not everyone else on the trail is going to be a dog person — and you never know how other people’s dogs are going to act, let alone the other wildlife. So even if your dog is off-leash, be sure to have a leash handy just in case.

Make Sure Your Dog Is in Shape

If it’s your first time hiking with your dog, don’t go all out on a 12-mile expedition. Just like when you started hiking, start off on the easy trails and work your way up to the big ones … or you might end up packing your pooped-out puppy on your shoulders on the way out.

What to Pack

You wouldn’t go on a hike without food or water, so don’t let your dog go without them, either. Dogs tend to get overheated a lot faster than people do — so make sure you keep them well hydrated along the way. A lot of companies sell dog backpacks, which will take the weight off of your pack. And if your dog is a working breed, it makes them feel like they’re doing something important. As a general rule, dogs can comfortably carry from one-quarter to one-third of their body weight in gear.

Know First Aid

Generally, your dog is going to be fine on the trail — but it’s always best to be prepared. Many outdoor retailers sell first-aid kits tailored to canine companions (and some offer free classes as well). Many dog parents recommend Randy Acker’s book “Field Guide to Dog First Aid” as a helpful emergency guide. It’ll cover what to do if your dog gets injured in the backcountry, and is full of good info to know.


Water Safety

If you’re drinking water along the trail, you’re supposed to sanitize it first to kill any harmful bacteria, parasites or viruses. Make the same consideration for your dog. Make sure your dog doesn’t drink too much from rivers, lakes or puddles, and try to keep your dog only drinking the water you’ve packed for them.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a collapsible water bowl for them, too. They’re light, cheap and fold down quite a bit so they’re easy to pack. If you want to go the extra mile, pack an electrolyte/energy replacement drink formulated for dogs. Search-and-rescue and sled-dog owners use these drinks to keep up their dogs’ energy levels while out in the wilderness.

Paw Safety

When you’re hiking, you’re probably doing it in tough, rubber-soled boots that protect you from sharp rocks, heat and other dangers. Dogs have no such luxury. I know they look ridiculous, but dog boots really are one of the best bets for your four-legged hiking buddy. You always should use them if you’re hiking through ice or snow, rough terrain or on rocks when it’s going to be sunny and more than 70 degrees. Some of my readers also have suggested putting a bit of petroleum jelly on your puppy’s paws before you hit the trail.

No boots? Be sure to stop and check your puppy’s paws every once in a while for cuts, scrapes, bruises or rocks stuck between the toes. In a pinch, liquid bandages are a cheap and quick fix, but if you do notice any cuts on their pads, be sure to take them to a vet after the hike in case they need antibiotics. If your dog ever shows signs of pain or slowing down on the trail, they need your help.

Dog Fashion

I know we’ve all seen tiny dogs in sparkly T-shirts and laughed, but sometimes having an extra layer can be beneficial for a dog. If it’s going to be chilly, a vest with some insulation will help keep your dog comfortable — especially for short-haired breeds. Alternately, if it’s hot, look for vests designed to be dunked in water while the pooch is wearing them. The vest will hold on to some of the moisture and help cool off your pup during hiking.

Camp Comfort

In hot or cold weather, depending on how fussy your dog is, you might want to bring an extra blanket, crash pad or sleeping pad for them. Keeping another layer between your dog and the ground will help keep your dog from getting too hot or too cold.

Poop Etiquette

If your dog has to go on the trail, be sure to pick up after them — especially if it’s on the trail itself. While leaving dog poop off-trail isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s probably not natural to the environment you’re hiking in and it will have an effect. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to step in anyone else’s leftover dog poop, so don’t leave it behind for other hikers, either.


How to Keep Your Dog from Jumping on Your Guests

Victoria Stilwell

The doorbell rings, your dog goes wild, and soon the visitors are flattened against the wall. Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there! Your guests’ arrival is imminent, and there’s no time to put your dog away. The bell rings, your dog goes wild, and as soon as your guests come through the door, they’re flattened against the wall by an exuberant greeting from a highly excitable and energetic bundle of fur.

Having been on the receiving end of many canine jumpers, I know what it’s like. I’ve been pushed over, bruised, and slobbered on. One time, I nearly had my arm broken by an 80-pound bulldog who jumped up on me as I came through the door, grabbed my wrist, and led me hastily to his dog bed. “Don’t worry,” said his person, “he does that to everyone he likes!” I’m pretty sure she meant it as a compliment, but I was in too much pain to feel very flattered.

Woman with Dogo Argentino by Shutterstock.

I love dogs who say hello with energy, and it’s always a relief as a trainer to be greeted by a dog who is pleased to see me. Still, not all dogs who jump are eager for attention or social contact. Sometimes jumping behavior can be a dog’s way of coping with a change in the environment that makes him nervous. It’s pretty easy to recognize an uncomfortable jumper, especially if you know how your dog reacts to new people.

A nervous jumper exhibits much stiffer body language than a dog who is excited to see you and may eye guests warily as they enter his space.
 Regardless of why your dog is jumping, the aim is pretty much the same: Teach your dog that four on the floor is better than two on you.

Here’s how:

1. Be consistent!

 Four on the floor, or in this case eight on the floor. (Dogs looking up at person by Shutterstock.

Four on the floor (in this case eight on the floor).

Teach your dog to keep four on the floor at all times with every person he greets, including you. Sometimes pet parents reinforce jumping behavior by allowing their dogs to jump on them, but telling them “off” when they jump on other people. There needs to be one rule for all.

2. Find alternatives

Harness the power of giving your dog something else to do, especially during times when he is most likely to jump, such as when people come to the door. The energy and adrenaline that drives jumping behavior has to find another outlet.

Teach your dog a different activity for when people first arrive. For example, he could go to fetch a toy or run to a mat or bed and stay there until cued to come off. This requires a certain amount of impulse control and can be difficult for excitable dogs. But if you make learning fun and reinforce success with motivating rewards, you will get the behavior you desire.

Train your dog to go to a certain spot when guests arrive. (Dog sitting on a rug by Shutterstock)

Train your dog to go to a certain spot when guests arrive.

3. Redirect your dog

Teaching your dog cues to find alternate behaviors is key. A sitting dog cannot jump, so utilize family members, friends, and neighbors to help you practice his sitting on greeting.

Here are a few tips:
 Line up your volunteers, and approach each one with your dog on leash. If your dog jumps, simply turn in the other direction, walk away a few steps, turn around, and approach again. If he walks up to a person and sits, give attention and a secondary reward such as food or a toy for complying.

Start by teaching these basics in a quiet environment and with calm volunteers. Later, you can take it to where the jumping behavior usually happens, which in most cases is by the front door.

Once your dog is sitting consistently as a person walks through the door, introduce auditory triggers that get your dog excited, such as a knock or bell ring. Wait for your dog to calm down before opening the door and letting someone in to greet. If he jumps up, your “guest” will turn around and leave, and the secondary reward goes away. If he sits, he gets attention and a reward.

Make sure your dog is calm before opening the door. (Woman with Dogo Argentino by Shutterstock)

Make sure your dog is calm before opening the door.

4. Give him space!

If your dog is wary of strangers, keep everyone safe and comfortable by keeping him behind a baby gate, or in another room or “safe zone,” until your guests are settled. If he is wary but social, allow him to greet calmly; if he prefers his own space, give him an activity toy and leave him in his safe zone.

5. Ignore the bad, reward the good

Sometimes dogs forget what they have been taught and jump on their owners or guests. If this happens, ignore your dog and turn your back, or keep turning around until he gets off. Wait for four seconds of paws on the floor before giving attention. If your dog jumps again when he has attention, repeat your behavior until he realizes that jumping gets nothing, but four on the floor gets him all the attention he desires.

Teach your dog a different activity when people first arrive at your house,
such as running to a mat or bed. 

6.  Don’t be cruel

Don’t knee your dog in the chest, yank his collar, shout, shock, or physically reprimand him for jumping. Even though these actions might “fix” things for that moment, they don’t actually teach a dog anything. Also, you will usually find your dog continues to jump when a similar situation arises. Teaching him what to do instead will encourage him to make better choices the next time he feels the need to jump up.


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