Basic Obedience Outside the Box

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If I had one wish it would be that every dog owned by a human had basic obedience training. If I had two wishes it would be that every shelter could provide dogs with basic obedience training or a list of trainers to contact for training prior to the adoption of a shelter dog. Basic obedience is not just for puppies. Yes old dogs can and should learn new tricks and here’s why…

I’ve owned many huskies throughout my life.  Most Huskies do not like to come to you when they are called BUT if you have trained them to sit/stay you can yell “sit”/”stay” from a distance and walk up to them and retrieve them in many cases.

A dog trainer told a story during one of her seminars that involved an aggressive German Shepherd with a bite history. The trainer was talking to the owners while sitting in a chair with the owners holding the dog on leash. Next thing she knows the owners have dropped the leash and the shepherd now has two feet on her legs and is growling in her face. She knew the shepherd knew sit so she yelled it. He sat and the owners grabbed the leash.

Your dog loves going on walks. You feel the leash tugging behind you and look back to see your dog limping behind you. You tell your dog to sit and shake and discover a piece of glass in your dogs pad. You pull it out and your dog feels so much better.

It is late and your dogs want to go out into the backyard. You let them out and they start chasing something, you realize very quickly that it is a skunk. You have worked for over a year on a solid recall with your dogs. You yell come and they come running back into the house and you have just avoided hours of deskunking. You pat yourself on the back for teaching that recall and give the dogs cookies and lots of praise.

In 2017 make a commitment to your dog to work with a trainer on basic obedience or to practice the skills they already know but that have grown moldy and need some rejuvenation. If your dog already knows the basics consider Rally or Agility to keep their skills solid. You never know when those basic skills might come in handy.


Analysis of Dog Attack in Anaheim


Please note that I am not placing blame on any of the parties involved in this attack. I am solely making observations and interpretations based on the footage and my experience as a canine behaviorist. I am thankful that the mother and child were okay and I hope that this little boy does not grow up with a fear of dogs due to this incident.

Initially both dogs are exhibiting play behaviors with the child. The mother seems at ease as if perhaps these dogs have played with the child before. That information is unknown to me. Then the little boy falls which excites the black dog and sets off trigger number one for him. Trigger number two is set off when the mother picks up the little boy and is swinging him around with his legs dangling down. Trigger stacking commonly occurs with dogs. What this means is that if you are terrified of spiders and one walks in front of you and then one drops out of the sky your fear is going to be uncontrollable. If you were just faced with the one on the floor your fear would be more manageable. In this case if the little boy had gotten back up without the mom picking him up and swinging him around (to get him away from the dogs) the second trigger may not have gone off for the dog. Again, not blaming the mom she is not a canine behaviorist and in the heat of the moment was protecting her child the best way she knew how. After that the trigger stacking just continued with collar grabs and releases, fast movement, swinging of the child, fast body movements, etc. Once the dogs were ignited whether it started out as play or not the situation took a turn for the worse and the only option left was to shield the child just as she did in the video and wait for help.

What could you do if you found yourself in a similar situation?

Try not to pick up your child or small dog, that often incites a reaction in dogs. If you have to pick them up pick them up by leaning to the side not head on with the dog. Try not to swing your body back and forth, less movement is better.

There was a pickup truck in the driveway. If you were to pick up your child put them in the back of the truck and tell them to lay down and be still. Then walk into the dogs and firmly tell them to go home with very little movement from your arms.  This could also be done with your child behind you.

If this does not diffuse the dogs become a turtle with your body acting as shell over the top of your child and your hands clasped behind your neck. You need help to arrive at this point you are not going to get the dogs away from you. This mother did this as it escalated in the video.

I have received several emails regarding this attack and that is why I am addressing it in this newsletter. The mother did what she had to in the heat of the moment and I’m so glad they will be okay. It is good to know what you might do in a similar situation that we hope never happens but if it does you will be prepared.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia in Dogs


At the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants conference in April I attended a seminar on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction presented by Dr. Rachel Malamed. Dr. Rachel Malamed is a Veterinary Behaviorist with the passion and understanding to improve the lives of pets and their human companions. After obtaining her veterinary degree (DVM), Dr. Rachel completed a three-year clinical behavioral medicine residency at the University of California, Davis and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Dr. Rachel is one of a limited group of Veterinary Behaviorists; there are fewer than 60 board certified practitioners in the country.


Dogs can show signs of dementia as early as 8 years old. In order to diagnosis your dog Dr. Malamed recommends that every dog over the age of 8 have a wellness exam twice a year. Also, she suggests that owners watch closely for the following changes and take your dog to your veterinarian if you notice any of these changes in your older dog:

  • Disorientation
  • Social Interaction changes – suddenly aggressive with a life long cat friend, etc.
  • Sleep/Wake cycle is reversed or changed dramatically
  • House soling in a potty trained dog or in your dog’s bed
  • Activity – either a decrease or an increase that is very noticeable
  • Anxiety – pacing, barking, paw chewing
  • Sudden aggression towards people or other animals

According to Dr. Malamed treatment and early intervention is the best way to slow the process. Dementia is progressive so you can’t stop it but you can slow the process. Studies do show that humans get a much more advanced dementia than dogs. Further studies into canine dementia may give humans with dementia hope in the future.

There are quite a few options available for actual treatment of dementia. Check with your veterinarian for options that are right for you dog.

My Dog’s Close Call with Heatstroke

On the morning of July 3rd Yukon (dog) and I headed up to Inspiration Point (IP) in Wrightwood to hike from IP to Vincent Gap (VG) and back. This is an 8 mile hike, mostly in shade and the weather was in the mid 80’s. Yukon has hiked this with me before and he has the endurance because we hike 3 times a week. I had plenty of water for the roughly 4 hour trek for Yukon and myself as well as snacks for both of us. We were prepared, so I thought.

When we got out of the car at IP we were met with a strong wind that was chilly enough to require a light jacket. As we progressed out on the trail we were sheltered from the wind and the temperature was not too bad, especially in the shade. Yukon was having a great time on the hike. Lots of smelling and happy dog smiles. We made it to VG and rested there awhile refueling and drinking water while talking to a couple who had spent the night up at Baden Powell. After about 15 minutes we started back to IP.

The first 2 miles or so of trail heading back is steep and sunnier than most of the trail. About 1 ½ miles in Yukon suddenly raced ahead of me and dove for the bushes. I thought he had gotten stung by a bee, but could not find evidence of a bee sting. He calmed down, I gave him some water and we continued. At 2 miles he did it again but this time he staggered and his tongue was blood red. At this point I knew he was heat stroking.  So we took cover under a large pine tree and I used some of my water to try and cool him down and gave him water to drink. We sat there for about 15 minutes. When his tongue returned to a better color we continued resting in the shade as we went. Yukon continued to decline.

Cell coverage is limited on the trails in Wrightwood but I was able to reach my husband and let him know we were in trouble and water was running low due to my attempts to try and cool Yukon with our water supply. My goal was to get Yukon to Grassy Hollow where there would be people and I could get a ride back to my car at IP which is about a 3 minute drive from Grassy Hollow. I knew we would never make the last mile in the sun over the hill to get back to IP, if I attempted it I would lose Yukon. At this point I spotted a group of 6 hikers. When they reached us I told them my dog was in trouble. Yukon was collapsed in the middle of the trail. They told me I was about 20 minutes from Grassy Hollow but maybe I should take the fire road but they had no idea where it went and it was solid sun. Apparently, they did not have any water to spare either and were eager to get on with their hike. So each one of them stepped over my dog and continued on with their hike. I knew that the advice to take the fire road would result in a bad situation getting even worse. I was starting to dehydrate because I was saving my water for Yukon. So we continued on the trail and Yukon was a trooper when I had to push him he looked at me with those big brown eyes and he understood I was trying to get him help.

On up the trail another group of hikers came up on us as Yukon was again collapsed in the middle of the trail. They said oh “happy dog”, I explained that he was heat stroking and I was trying to get him as fast as possible to Grassy Hollow. They said “oh that’s too bad” and stepped over him and continued on their way. I was shocked! Finally we made it to Grassy Hollow and I went to the first picnic bench where Yukon collapsed and a couple was eating lunch. I told them that my dog was having a heat stroke and I needed to get him to my car at IP, 3 minutes up the road to air conditioning and possibly to a vet as quickly as possible would they mind giving me a ride. They responded with well we just got here and we are going to take a mountain bike ride when we finish our lunch and so if you can wait a few hours we can take you then. Well Yukon would be DEAD in a few hours. So I went to another couple who was filling up water and they immediately grabbed a water bowl and fresh water from their truck for Yukon and said of course we will take you we have dogs too we understand. So Yukon rode in my lap in the front of the truck up to the car and I thanked this couple over and over again. Multiple people could have gotten involved and this couple was the only one that did. I got Yukon in the air conditioning and I always carry water in my trunk so I had him drink and drink. When we got him I took his temperature and we were out of the danger zone but I still applied cold packs underneath his arms and he drank more water. For dinner he got an In N Out hamburger because he was one tough dog out on that trail and if it was not for his willpower he would not have made it off that trail.

The temperature up in Wrightwood was nothing that we have not hiked in before and we had shade and water. The heat stroke symptoms came on fast. He first started running forward frantically, running into weeds, trees, bushes. Next his tongue became bright red, panting was heavy and he began to stagger. Finally he collapsed. I felt helpless out there on the trail and was happy when people approached hoping for help to get him off the trail. So I’m writing this in hopes that people will see that this can happen to even the most experienced dog handler. Also, if you meet someone on the trail in my situation there are some things you can do. Offer water to them and their dog, even if it means you have to cut your hike short, offer them water! Ask if there is anything you can do to help like carry the dog out with them. I could have known my surrounding area better as far as sources to get help. I knew there was a campground that I passed but did not know how far up it was, if I had known that I could have gotten to help sooner. So when hiking with your dog’s know campground locations, distances and distances to the road. Also, do not deviate from the trail you know, if I had done what that first group suggested we may not have made it off the trail alive. Also, on your phone you can go to Google maps and pin your location and get a latitude/longitude reading in case you do have cell coverage that way you can give that to rescuers. You can also text 9-1-1 and sometimes when a call won’t go through a text will.

If this helps one person out on the trail with an injured dog or makes someone think about forgoing there plans to help a fellow human than it is worth writing. I hope that we are not becoming a society that turns there back on fellow humans and animals but I was very disappointed in mankind on this hike that could have ended in tragedy. I cannot thank the couple enough who helped us out and if I can ever pay it forward I will in a heartbeat.

Stay safe out there and help others.



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Dogs and Cats – Keeping Everyone Safe


Siberian huskies have a strong prey drive and generally do not interact well with cats or other small animals, including small dogs.  We have always known this however we have always owned huskies and our huskies and our cats have always coexisted.  So when we adopted Alusia Sue our current husky in 2010 we were well aware of the prey drive.

When we brought Alusia home from the rescue she immediately latched hold of one of our cats and we were able to intervene with no damage.  A few days later she repeated the behavior.  I worked with her on modification of the behavior.  She continued to kill birds in the yard but would not even look at the cats. However, I always warn my clients that they can never trust training to override a prey drive. So in 2013 Alusia nearly killed our Tonkinese cat when we mistakenly closed her in our bedroom with the cat.  Again, I worked on modification and we were careful.

This brings us to 2015.  We had been on vacation the previous two weeks and came home and a few days later I let Alusia into the bedroom and one of our cats was lounging under the bed.  In seconds she grabbed hold of him and began the death shake.  I was able to make her drop him and remove her from the room.  Unfortunately, the cat (Taz pictured above) suffered nerve damage to his hind leg from the attack.  He is currently undergoing acupuncture treatment and his prognosis is very guarded.

Alusia will no longer have any contact with our cats. If she is inside no cats will be in the same room with her and the door will be closed.  We knew what we were getting into when we adopted a husky and she has a home with us for as long as she lives.  It will take lots of work, be stressful and we have to constantly be aware but this was the commitment we made. Following the attack on our cat I was asked by a family member whether or not I would consider her dangerous to children or humans.  In her case my response was no.  Alusia loves people and in fact is quite tolerant of our kids. High prey drive does not equal human aggression. However, I always evaluate that for my clients when children are involved on a case by case basis.

Just remember that if your dog has a high prey drive and you have small critters such as rabbits, cats, small dogs etc. you must always be vigilant.  I am a canine behaviorist not a magician and unfortunately that means that I can modify the behavior but I can never guarantee that instinct won’t override the training and tragedy is very likely to occur if it does.

Basic Obedience Class Safety Tips Sheet

Dog to Dog Play What You Need to Know


You need to know that not all dogs like to play with other dogs. Some dogs prefer humans, some dogs prefer cats and the preferences could go on and on.  With dog parks, dog cafe’s, dog play groups, dog pool parties, dog hiking clubs it has been ingrained in us that dogs are social animals but I’m here to tell you that dogs are just like us.  Some of us love hanging out with a large group of friends while others of us prefer to be in solitude.  Not all dogs like to play with other dogs, and not all dogs are pack animals.  As a dog owner get to know your dog and their preferences.  You are not doing your dog an injustice by not taking them to the dog park, if your dog is happier exploring the neighborhood on walks with just you, listen to your dog.

For those dogs that love to play and play and play with other dogs here are some things to keep in mind:

Dogs do not play silently.  They are noisy and sometimes it can sound like they are fighting. Familiarize yourself with dog to dog play by watching dogs play at a local dog park.  If both dogs are actively participating and no one is getting hurt then this is just dogs being dogs.

Dogs will hump each other occasionally and this can mean many things.  It does not just mean that one dog is trying to dominate or mate with the other dog.

Dogs pin each other on the ground while playing and bite at necks.  As long as both dogs are being pinned at one time or another they are generally fine.  However, if one dog is always on the bottom it is time to break it up.  Generally, the dog on the bottom is being bullied and not having a good time.

Dogs chase each other.  Some dogs like to chase and others like to be chased.  Watch body language if your dogs body is moving fluently and the mouth is open this generally means they are happy.  If the dog being chased has a stiff body, tail between the legs then move in quickly this dog is being bullied and needs to be removed from the situation.

If you are interested in learning more about dog body language I do offer sessions at dog parks for owners and their dogs where I break down the behaviors of your dog and other people’s dog so you too can speak dog.  Also, check out Nicole Wilde’s Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play for an in depth look at dog play and communication.