Tag Archives: Dog training

Helping Your Dog Through the Aftermath of a Traumatic Experience

I haven’t told this story yet because, well, it was traumatizing for all of us. When Ava was about 5 months old Fiona attacked her. Yes, that Fiona, the one that gave birth to her. We’d just returned from a walk and Ava was being playful; Fiona was in no mood for that. We didn’t know it at the time (but found out the next day) that Fiona was in incredible pain due to pancreatitis. Fortunately there were no injuries but Ava was terrified and Fiona was unforgiving.


Ava celebrating my niece’s birthday


Within a few days Fiona had recovered from her bout with pancreatitis, but her aggression toward Ava only worsened despite the fact that Ava continuously sent appeasement signals. I’d heard from other breeders that this can happen: two females who previously got along suddenly don’t, to the point that they will kill each other. The owner is faced with either lifelong management or rehoming a dog.

After several weeks of dealing with the extreme and stressful management required to house two dogs that don’t get along, we came to the difficult conclusion that Fiona would be rehomed. We were concerned that this might happen again with her next litter, which would make it impossible for us to keep a puppy and continue breeding. Luckily it was the best decision for everyone, especially Fiona. Now she’s carefree and happy living with a retiree who dotes on her, and she’s the only dog so the odds of this happening again are very small.

Rehoming Fiona wasn’t the end of our ordeal, however. This event occurred during a highly sensitive period of Ava’s social-cognitive development. We had to go through the long process of recovery, spending 9 months going to puppy classes in Seattle where she could socialize at her own comfort level. It’s been about a year since the attack and Ava is still uncomfortable around other dogs. She has a very low tolerance for rude or pushy behavior, which makes sense in the context of her history. She’s very protective of herself

I bring this up because I read a recent post on Nancy Tanner’s blog, Top 10 Tips for Dealing With a Traumatic Dog Experience. It reminded me of how important it is to take action after a traumatic event, and also to recognize that your dog may never return to their original baseline of behavior. Remember to love your dog for who they are.


They play so well together

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Posted by on November 17, 2017 in Other Stuff


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Training & Attention: Not What You Thought?

I read this great post by Susan Garrett about training attention, a skill that pretty much every trainer (P+ or otherwise) focuses on. But should we really? Over the years I myself have been a little confused by the various takes on training attention. Initially I thought “yes of course the dog needs to pay attention to you!” But then I realized that asking for constant attention is completely unreasonable; I resent people who demand as much from me. In addition it could be awfully uncomfortable for the dog since they perceive prolonged direct eye contact as aggression. In obedience training we went from training Wally to look at me to training him to look at my hand, all with the same trainer.

So what’s the right answer? I couldn’t tell you, but I do know that it’s whatever is most comfortable and effective for you and your dog. To me it seems most reasonable to expect the dog to check in periodically while performing the job at hand. This would allow him to focus on independently solving the problem while verifying that the request hasn’t changed. What do you think?


Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Training


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Average or better

It’s so easy to get stuck in a training rut. Some days it will seem like you’ve been working on a behavior for weeks and made no discernible progress, which is really frustrating. You might start to question your dogs intelligence, but really you just forgot a very basic tenet of dog training: once a behavior (or step to a behavior) is learned, only reward for average or better.

This prevents backsliding into things like lazy sits or sloppy downs. Wally has been laying down on command since he was 10 weeks old, but it’s not enough to just lay down anymore. Now I pick something specific to reward: only straight downs, only fast downs, etc. He only gets the reward if this down is as fast or faster than the one before. Eventually he will always offer a straight, fast down.

What?! I'm laying down!

Of course, you might not care if your dogs down is fast, straight, etc as long as he’s down. In that case all you have to work on is proofing. But if you want to garner advanced titles in obedience like we do, you’ll have to work on the little details. It’s those details that make the clicker seem like a magic wand to me. Wally doesn’t understand subtly, but the sound of a clicker zings through his ADHD brain. If I just used a word or cookie he would have no idea that I was rewarding something as subtle as a down that’s straighter. He would think “I laid down! WOOT!”

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Training


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