Dog Park Preparation and Etiquette

Dogs have been selectively bred over thousand of years for high energy work, such as hunting, guarding, hauling, tracking, controlling pests and other activities. These jobs require intelligence, large amounts of energy and varying degrees of social interaction.  Unfortunately, many modern dogs lack Dog Parka satisfying way to engage in activities for which they have been bred. Inactive dogs can become fat. Bored dogs become problem dogs. Idle paws are certainly the “Devil’s workshop.” Providing physical exercise and mental stimulation is not only healthy for pets, it can also keep them out of trouble. Families living in urban environments may have limited options for satisfying a young dog’s needs. Dog parks  provide a way to exercise mind and body, as well as social interaction. They can also be a lot of fun for their human friends. But dog parks are not for every dog or all family members. Dogs that are fearful, frail, tiny, aggressive or who play too rough are not good candidates. I’ve outlined below some important issues and tips you should take into consideration before taking your dog to a dog park.

Before you consider taking your dog to a dog park:

  • Realize that there is always some risk in allowing your dog to interact with unfamiliar dogs, such as infections, injuries, worms and fleas
  • Decide if your dog a “Dog Park Dog”
    • Dogs that are aggressive are not suitable to visit dog parks.Dog-dominates
    • Is he a bully at play? Watch your dog interact with other dogs to determine his sociability. Does his play make other dogs anxious or elicit defensive aggression? Does he back off when the other dog is giving submissive or fear signals?
    • Is he unruly and likely to jump all over people?
    • Is he in good health?
    • Is his age appropriate? Dog parks are not the place for young pups or frail older dogs.
    • Is he big enough? Small dogs should only be taken to parks designated for small dogs.

Preparing your dog:

  • Socialize your pet to other dogs frequently, especially during the first four months of life.
  • Teach your dog to Come’, ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave it’ on command.
  • Be sure all vaccinations are up to date, a flea preventive has been applied and he has been tested for intestinal worms. Frequent visits to dog parks warrant more frequent fecal exams for intestinal parasites.
  • Observe your dog’s behavior around unfamiliar dogs to get an idea if he is a candidate for a dog park visit. (See below)
  • Understand dog body language. Read a good book or internet article that describes how to interpret facial expressions, body postures and social behavior of dogs. You want to be able to recognize signs of play, fear, stress and overt, as well as subtle, signals of aggression.

Choose a dog park that has:

  • Enough area for the pets to run about without being too congested.
  • Secure fences and double gates. Clean, safe environment.
  • Separate areas for large and small dogs.
  • Sheltered areas and water for drinking.
  • Posted rules.

Don’t Take:

  • Young children or babies in strollers
  • Highly valuable toys
  • A small dog to a park with large dogs running loose. Small dogs can trigger predatory behavior from other dogs in some situations.
  • A dog that has not been fully vaccinated
  • A dog to the park to treat aggression to other dogs or fear of other dogs

Do Take:

  • Bags for clean up, water, treats, leash, cell phone, something to break up fights (see below)

At the Dog Park:Dog-Chase

  • Before entering, watch the behavior of other dogs in the park. Avoid entering if any dogs are showing behaviors suggesting aggression or inappropriate play behavior.
  • Observe the behavior of owners. Are they supervising?
  • If possible, wait until no dogs are near the gates before entering.
  • Take the leash off your dog before allowing him to enter through the second gate into the park. A leashed dog may lunge excitedly, sending a message that he could be challenging nearby dogs.  Keeping him on a leash might also make your dog feel vulnerable and the need to defend himself since he can’t escape a barrage of rushing dogs.
  • Leave the gate area quickly so the pet is not rushed by a gang of dogs.
  • Don’t forget about your dog. Pay attention to him, the other dogs and the other dog owners (Are they paying attention to their dogs, yelling at dogs or each other?). Be vigilant for potential problems.  Keep your dog safe.
  • Be careful about giving treats or playing with toys near other dogs.

Addressing problems:

  • If a group of dogs seems to be getting too excited, call your dog to another area of the park.
  • If your dog becomes aggressive, plays too rough or is overwhelmed by more assertive dogs, remove him from the area or the park.
  • If another dog is aggressive to dogs in the park, the owner and the pet should be asked to leave. If the dog appears dangerous and the owner will not remove it, remove your dog and call animal control.
  • An occasional light growl can be an appropriate way of telling another dog it is too close or playing too rough. If the behavior appears to be mild and appropriate for the situation, don’t yell or scold as this can create more tension. Use an upbeat recall, “Come”, to call your pet out of the situation.
  • If a fight breaks out:
    • Stay calm. Fights often end up being less serious than they seem.Dog-Fight
    • Yelling and screaming often make the situation worse
    • Grabbing a dog by the collar should be avoided, since you’re likely to be bitten. Dog bites are serious and can result in a deep puncture, laceration or the loss of a finger.
    • Spray Shield is a safe effective product that will break up most fights. It is a small canister containing citronella (non-toxic, non-irritating, exceptionally safe) under pressure. Triggering the product releases a strong stream. The effect is similar to tossing a small bucket of cold water in the dog’s face. A compressed air horn will also occasionally work to interrupt a fight, as may a water hose.
    • There can be some very serious danger in physically pulling the dogs apart. If you are willing to accept the danger, then:
      • Both pet owners should approach their dogs from the rear to separate the dogs at the same time.
      • From behind, grab the front of the upper thighs where they connect to the body (Grabbing the lower legs can cause an injury.
      • Lift the rear legs off the ground and pull the dogs away from each other.
      • Turn your dog, put his leash on and move away from the situation.

A Dog Shouldn’t Bite the Hand That Feeds It


        As a child I was taught to never bother a dog while he’s eating. Certainly good advice since messing with a dog at dinner time can be asking for trouble. Food-related aggression problems are not uncommon. The success rate for treating them is relatively high, but can entail a significant time commitment and some risk. On the other hand, prevention can be safe and relatively easy.  Here are some tips to insure that your puppy will be relaxed and safe around his food:

Things to do:

  • Make dinner time family time – Don’t ignore the pup when he eats.  Sit on the floor with him.  Feed dry food from your hand.  Occasionally hold the bowl in your lap and allow him to eat.
  • Teach the pup to look forward to having people nearby – Every now and then, drop a small chunk of canned food or lean chicken in his bowl as you stand near or walk by.
  • Associate food with gentle touch and handling – During a few dinners each week, practice getting the pet used to being touched while he’s eating. Gently touch him, then promptly hand a few pieces of food.  Repeat, gradually touching him all over.  The pup learns that touch means food is coming, not being taken away.
  • Feed the pup enough – If you have a healthy pup that has plenty of energy and no health problems, but is thin and acts like he’s starved – then he probably is. Feed him more. Hungry dogs are more likely to guard their food.
  • Socialize frequently – Have friends of all ages visit as often as possible. Ask them to hand feed small amounts of dry food or small treats, piece by piece. Do the same thing when you meet people on walks. When the pup learns to sit, request a sit before they give the food. Poorly socialized dogs are usually anxious around unfamiliar people and the anxiety can be manifested as aggression near food.
  • Start obedience early – Teach the puppy to respond to obedience cues as soon as possible. Enroll in a puppy class at eight to ten weeks of age. Take it through a basic obedience class at six to twelve months of age. Obedient dogs are less likely to be aggressive.
  • Establish a relationship in which the family is in control – Remind the pup that you are in charge by asking him to sit before he gets anything he wants or needs (food, toys, play access to outdoors, social attention). Frequently reinforcing deferential behavior is a safe, effective and humane way of accomplishing this.

Things to avoid:

  • Frequently snatching the food away from the pup while he is eating to show him “you own the food  – This will just irritate the puppy and can actually cause food bowl guarding and aggression. I’d think about biting someone who did that to me!
  • Physical “leadership exercises” – Don’t try to teach the pup you are the boss by rolling him on his back, shaking him by the scruff or by using any other rough techniques. This can cause distrust of people, make the pup hand-shy and lead to defensive aggression.
  • Punishment – Physical corrections and harsh training techniques weaken the bond, cause distrust and can lead to aggression. If your pup growls, do not physically discipline him or harshly scold him. Immediately contact a pet behaviorist for instruction on how to handle the problem.

These techniques should only be used with friendly, young puppies.  They should not be attempted with adult dogs or any dogs that are already showing signs of aggression.  If your pet is already exhibiting aggressive behavior, seek the help of a professional.

Pet Stores, Puppy Mills and Breeders Who Don’t Care

Puppy Mill Pup - ASPCA

Puppy Mill Pup – ASPCA

Do you want to support puppy mills?  If your answer is no, then don’t buy a puppy from a pet store. According to the ASPCA, HSUS and other humane organizations, the main suppliers for pet store pups are puppy mills.  If you need a refresher about how bad puppy mills are, then visit the  ASPCA site,, for more information.

What if the owners claim that their puppies come from humane, respected breeders.  My answer is no conscientious breeder who has the best interest of his puppies in mind would ever sell to a store. Puppies are just cash crops for any breeder who routinely ships puppies off to pet stores. The ideal situation for the puppy is to go directly from the breeder’s home to the adopting family’s home. Placing a store in between creates inevitable risks for the puppy:

:  Stress depresses the immune system. Suddenly changing the pup’s physical and social environments causes significant stress.  Bringing individual puppies in from a variety of environments increases the likelihood that dangerous viruses or bacteria will be brought into the store. High stress, young animals and viruses – a risky combination. If the breeders are truly interested in a young puppy’s welfare, why would they take the risk?

Socialization issues:  The critical period for socialization for dogs is between four and twelve weeks of age.  Smack in the middle of this period is when most pups are shipped off to stores. This is the period when the pup should be in a calm environment, learning to trust humans. Not the time to be repeatedly picked by a series of strangers in a strange environment, who may not even know how to properly handle the pup. Puppies not sold immediately may end up spending most of the sensitive socialization period in a cage throughout the day and night with limited human contact.  Pups that don’t receive adequate social exposure in the early months of life may never recover and remain cautious, non-trusting and socially fearful throughout their lives.

Housetraining failures: Puppies that are forced to eliminate on their bedding in a small enclosure for weeks or months at a time can be a real challenge to train.  Housetraining is basically surface and location discrimination training. The strategy is to control the puppy’s feeding schedule and manage the pup in the environment at home, so that it only has the opportunity to eliminate in the yard on grass until that is naturally where the pet wants to go.  Puppies that start eliminating on fabric surfaces may always want to eliminate on fabric, carpets, etc. Dogs that don’t get housetrained run the risk of being mistreated or taken to shelters.  Shouldn’t the breeder care about that?

Genetic problems:  Reputable breeders are knowledgeable about potential genetic problems in the breed. They follow the dogs they adopt out and request feedback on any problems so they do not rebreed dogs that have genetic problems. That is unlikely to happen with pups sold through pet stores.

Please take this important information into consideration the next time you’re ready to adopt, and educate your friends who are not knowledgeable about the perils of puppy mills and pups that are sold in stores. Adopt from a shelter or directly from a breeder because buying from a store supports the puppy mill trade.

ASPCA’s Locator Map for Stores That Sell Puppies

Kansas City area purebred and mixed breed rescue groups

Kansas City area shelters

Socialization Tips for Puppies

Study Shows Pet Store Puppies Have More Behavioral Problems

Teaching Your Puppy To Come To You On Cue

Hunthausen (c)Teaching your puppy to reliably come when you call her is the most important cued-response your pet needs to learn. Besides getting her to come to you when you want to share a little loving, it will help get her away dead things she finds in the yard and out of the street if she gets loose – a real lifesaver. The best time to begin teaching this is when the pup is young. It doesn’t take much time, just repetition, and can be done at the pet’s dinner time. 

To call the pet, you first need the pup across the room from you. Toss a piece of kibble five to six feet so the pup chases after it.  After the pet munches the food, say the pet’s name in an upbeat, excited tone, show her a second piece of kibble and wave your hand toward you so the pet runs back to you. Give the kibble, and then repeat. Do this ten or more times at each meal and the pet will be coming on cue in no time. To really strengthen the response, every once in a while give a tiny piece of lean meat or cheese instead of the kibble. As training progresses, gradually phase out the food, but continue exuberant praise.

Next, you will want to proof the pet in different environments and in the presence of gradually more distracting situations. Practice in all rooms of the home, and then in the yard. Once the pup’s vaccinations are up to date begin practicing away from home in parks and other open areas. Attach 50 feet of training line to the collar as a safety measure in case the pup gets distracted and decides to take off after a rabbit.

Avoid weakening the cue
Returning to you on cue should always be a pleasant experience. Never call the pet to scold her or call her in a harsh tone of voice. Young pups are easily distracted, so you don’t want to make the mistake of repeatedly calling them when they are not completely trained and too distracted to respond. Always say the pet’s name before giving the cue. If you say the name loudly in an upbeat tone and are unable to get the pet’s attention, don’t ask her to come. The pup will be unlikely to come on cue if she won’t even look at you. If you need the pup, go get her, but don’t say “Come” over and over again and allow the pet to fail to respond. Just go back to more practice repetitions until the pet is dependable.

Start early, train frequently and proof in gradually more difficult situations. That’s all you need to do to teach your pet to come to you every time you ask.

Teaching Your Dog to Eliminate On Command

Walking the Dog:  Hurry Up, Rover!

BeauLIftsLegMy dogs have learned a lot of commands, but none is more important than “Hurry up.” Yes, that wonderful command prompts them to get the job done quickly so I can return home to a warm cup of coffee on a cold morning. Now don’t get me wrong. “Come,” “Sit,” and “Lie down” are all important, but none of them will prevent frostbite.

Teaching your dog to eliminate on command is a relatively straightforward and simple process. It does take a little work, but the more you go out with the dog and train, the sooner he’ll learn what you want him to do. This means you should start now.  Besides getting yourself and your pet back inside when the weather is miserable, the command is a real time saver when traveling or visiting any new environment where Bubba might easily be distracted from getting the job done.

Those Special Words

The first step is to chose your command words. You can choose anything you like as long as you consistently use the same words. “Do your thing,” “Download,” “Go poop,” or “Go pee” are all fine. But, you may want to follow my uncle Norm’s advice: Don’t use words you would be embarrassed to call out in the neighborhood.  Because, sure enough, someday you’ll find yourself repeating “Go poop” in front of your daughter’s teacher or a group of nuns. For my dogs, I’ve always used the command words, “Hurry up.”

Consistency is Key

The command must be given every time your pet just begins the act of elimination. Say the words a couple of times in an upbeat tone just as the dog assumes the position. Continue this association phase for about three weeks and then test the pet to see if he has learned. As he starts to wander about sniffing the morning scents in the yard, give the command. If the dog begins pre-elimination sniffing and circling and then eliminates, you can pat him and yourself on the back and go for the coffee. If your pet ignores you, continue making the word-behavior association for a few more weeks and then try the test again. The average dog will learn to eliminate on command within three weeks to three months.

A Cautionary Tale

The owners to whom I have taught this command have been quite excited about teaching their pets—all except for one woman. It seems her young sons were always running late.  She was worried that every time she told her boys to “hurry up,” her dog would urinate in the house!

Don’t Take Good Behavior for Granted

GoldenLeashMouthOne of the most powerful tools you can use to shape your pet’s behavior is positive reinforcement.

All too often, families rely predominantly on punishment to teach their pets. They punish the pets for chewing shoes, scratching the couch, peeing on the bed or barking at the neighbor’s children. Good behaviors, such as chewing the right toy, scratching a scratching post, eliminating in the yard and not barking at critters in the yard are often taken for granted.  A good plan is to make a list of important behaviors you want your pet to display and then actively look for the behaviors to reward. Praise the pet when he is doing a desirable behavior and occasionally give a small treat if the behavior is exceptional – like not jumping on aunt Gladys when she walks through the door.

Parents with young children are quick to brag to friends and neighbors about how good their pets are around the children, when they really should be sharing their pride with their pets. Any and all tolerant or acceptable social behavior around the kids – not jumping on them, not growling near food or toys or when jumped on or pulled by the collar – should immediately be rewarded.

Catching the pet doing something right and reinforcing the behavior is especially important when you’re training against problem behaviors.  Yelling at the dog when he jumps on you just communicates what you don’t want himto do. But more importantly, the pet needs to learn how he is supposed to behave during a greeting. Teaching a solid sit-stay at the door is an important part of training against jumping on people. I emphasize ‘training’ because if you just occasionally attempt to guide the pet into the behavior you want, your progress will be slow. Effectively changing behavior requires practice and repetition. If you really want your pet to behave when you greet him, then you need to practice greetings a dozen time daily, just like you do when you’re teaching the pet to sit or lie down.

Let’s face it, we’re not much different from our pets when it comes to acquiring behaviors and completing tasks. Wouldn’t you rather learn to do something for a tasty dessert rather than because someone is holding a stick over your head?

Do “Invisible” Fences Cause Dogs To Become Aggressive?

IMG_3384I took a call yesterday from a councilman in a nearby city. He had a complaint from one of his constituents who felt threatened by a large dog that was contained in the family’s front yard by an underground fencing system. The dog ran along the edge of the property actively barking and growling in a very threatening manner whenever the woman passed with her pets. She was very concerned for her safety and that of her pets. She thought that perhaps it should be illegal to keep any dog in a front yard using an underground fence.

One of the councilman’s concerns was whether this type of fencing system should be allowed because using it might actually make a dog aggressive. I told him that this type of fence would not, by itself, make a dog more aggressive. But if a dog is confined on a rope in the yard, behind a window, screen door or any type of fencing system and is allowed to bark and growl at people or other dogs in a threatening manner it usually gets more aggressive over time. The reason for this is that when the dog acts aggressive, the person continues walking down the street or may cross the street. In the dog’s mind this makes aggression a successful strategy for keeping unfamiliar people away from the home. In time, the behavior gets worse and worse.  The pet also may become more aggressive to visitors to the home who don’t heed the initial warning (that works with most people) and continue to approach the home. To the dog, this means that these people are not getting the message and that more aggression must be required to protect the home.

The other problem with allowing dogs to be very aggressive at a boundary is that  in the event of  sudden escape (the rope breaks, the door pops open, the glass window breaks, or the electric fence fails) the dog may suddenly find itself free with access to the passerby. All the pent-up energy may then propel the dog into a very vicious attack.

Underground systems are fine in some situations, but they do not protect the pet from roaming dogs or children that might harm it. They also do not protect people who might inadvertently enter the yard of an aggressive dog. Families need to take responsibility for their pets’ behavior. Permitting a dog to run around the yard barking and growling viciously at people who pass is little different than permitting a son to run about the yard cursing and brandishing a knife at passersby.  It may just be bravado and he may never actually hurt someone but you can’t take the risk, and at the very least it’s just plain rude.