Finding a Reputable Breeder

Dog Breeders: What to Look For

When it comes to adding a new dog to your family, you have several different options. You can find a rescue organization, drive down to your local shelter, get a dog from a family friend, or find a breeder to purchase a puppy from. The latter option is one that has a bit of a bad reputation. We’ve all seen the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” bumper stickers, and that mentality is pervasive in some areas of the dog community. But not all breeders are the bad guys. There are many people out there who are breeding dogs due to their passion for the breed, who care very much about every dog that they produce, and who actually contribute a great deal to rescues that work with their breed of choice. 

There are several reasons why you might choose a breeder over getting a dog from a rescue situation. When you get a purebred puppy, you have a relatively good idea about what they are going to turn out like. You know what they will look like, how big they will get, what their grooming needs will be, what temperament traits to expect, and how much exercise they will need. This is much harder to ascertain with a Heinz 57 from the local humane society.

Health is another concern, and a common strike against purebred dogs is that they have a higher incidence of genetic health concerns. Health is certainly a valid concern, but  reputable breeder will health test their breedings dogs and will know a thorough history of all the dogs in a litter’s pedigree so that they can work to eliminate such issues from the breed. Your shelter dog may be extremely healthy, or he may have a condition lurking under the surface that will come as a total surprise to you. Another huge perk to buying a dog from a breeder is that you will receive abundant support for the lifetime of your dog, whether for a training concern or for nutrition information, all the way down to what brushes to use for grooming. Shelters have limited resources as it is, and may not be able to provide you with the same support. 

If you find yourself in the category of people that like the pros of going with a breeder, here are some things to look for when you begin doing your research.

Why Are They Breeding?

One of the main things to find out is why someone is breeding dogs in the first place. Are they looking to make a quick buck or are then genuinely invested in breeding a better generation of a breed they are passionate about? Ask your breeder how long they have been involved with their breed, and what got them interested in the breed in the first place. Find out how many breeds they are involved in and how many litters they breed a year. Involvement in multiple breeds or breeding a few litters a year are not necessarily red flags, but if you see that someone is breeding 5 different types of dogs and is having frequent litters, you may be looking at a puppy mill situation.

When you talk to your breeder about their dogs, they should be very familiar with their lines and readily be able to tell you the ins and outs of the breed and their individual dogs. They should also be involved in activities that demonstrate the temperament of their dogs. For a Shih Tzu, that might be as simple as the breeder taking the dog to nursing homes to visit and do therapy work. If you are looking for more of a working type dog, you will want to work with a breeder who is active in the same activities that you would like to do with your new puppy. Your breeder should also demonstrate commitment to every dog they breed, whether it stays with them or goes into a new home. A reputable breeder will always take back a dog that they bred rather than see it enter the shelter system, and many breeders also give back by helping with breed rescue and trying to put even more dogs into excellent homes.

​You also want to verify how the breeding dogs and puppies are cared for. Some breeders house their dogs in their home and others house them in a kennel environment, but all should be in good physical and mental condition. The breeder should be feeding a high quality food, providing quality vet care, supplying a clean and comfortable environment, and the dogs should all receive plenty of physical and mental stimulation. If your research uncovers that a breeder’s dogs are not well kept, that person may be breeding dogs for the wrong reasons.

Belgian Shepherd

The breeder’s dogs should appear healthy and well taken care of.

Health Matters

There are two areas of veterinary care that a reputable breeder should take care of: quality health care for both dogs and puppies and health testing for diseases common to their breed. The first item is pretty straightforward, and is one that you should follow up with once your puppy comes home. Breeders should be providing veterinary care to all of their dogs, and their litters should be getting examined by a veterinarian. Each litter should be vaccinated and dewormed as is deemed appropriate, and the puppies should be fed a quality diet and be in good body condition. 

The next area varies quite a bit by breed. Some breeds are more prone to genetic diseases than others, so the testing that breeding stock should receive will vary quite a bit. Von Willebrand’s testing is very important in a Doberman, but not at all for a Border Collie. You can check the OFA website for the tests that are recommended for your breed, and you should research the conditions on the list so that you can be educated when searching for a healthy litter.

Bringing Up Baby

Another key aspect when choosing a breeder is looking at how the breeder raises their litters. Your breeder should be able to tell you the steps that they take while the puppies are still young to build their confidence and social skills. If the puppies are raised in the home, they should be getting exposed to all kinds of sights and sounds that they will likely encounter with you, such as a television or vacuum cleaner. Dogs raised in a kennel environment also need exposure to different environmental stimuli. Your puppy should also have started socialization with people and dogs, though within reason, as they still need to be protected from diseases at this stage in their life. Your breeder should be interacting with the puppies quite a bit, and they should be able to tell you about your puppy’s personality and why that puppy is a good fit for you.

Cattle dog puppy

Puppies should be receiving plenty of age appropriate physical and mental stimulation.

Making You Work For It

Just as you are interviewing and researching your breeder, they should be doing the same for you. A good breeder will be very careful about the homes that they sell puppies to, and they should ask you lots of questions about your lifestyle and your goals for the puppy. They should find out if their are children in the home, how many other pets you have, whether you life in an apartment or own a house, and what you would do if you had to give up your puppy for any reason. If the breeder seems very nonchalant about your information and how it pertains to their puppy, you should probably look elsewhere.

We All Have to Get Along

Another thing to look for is how well you mesh with the breeder whenever you talk to them. You are about to get a dog from this person that will hopefully be part of your life for the next 12-15 years. Over the course of those years, this is the person that you should be able to send cute pictures of your puppy, seek advice from on how to trim nails, and they should be available as a shoulder to cry on when those years of companionship come to an end. If you do not feel that you will be capable of having a harmonious relationship with a given breeder, they are probably not the best person for you to work with. Be patient, and find someone who you love to talk to about their dogs, and who is thrilled to have you as an owner of one of their puppies.

The Right One is Out There

You will come across many different breeders in your quest to find your new puppy. Some will not be the perfect fit, but you will know when you find the one that is. Be sure to ask lots of questions, get familiar with a breeder’s program, and make sure that they know enough about you and your goals to provide you with a wonderful dog that will mesh well with your lifestyle. Finding a good breeder can take some work and some patience, but the rewards are well worth it.

Great Places to Bring Your Dog in Lexington, KY

This post is all about training in and around Lexington. One of the things that I really enjoy about being a trainer in central Kentucky is that there are so many cool places to take dogs for environmental proofing. While not in any particular order, this is a list of the top 10 places that I love to train dogs in Lexington, the pros and cons of each place, and which locations are appropriate for each kind of dog. 

1. Jacobson Park

Jacobson Park is one of my absolute favorite places to train. The location is fantastic, and this park is easily accessed from Richmond Road and is just off I-75. Open from dawn to dusk, the park is a popular location for dog walking, flying kites, fishing, and all kinds of other outdoor activities. Parking is available all over the park, though individual lots are small. In the front of the park, there is a massive open field that is popular with kite enthusiasts as well as the local schutzhund club, who teach dogs to track there. The water at the park is beautiful, and there is a large reservoir in the middle of the park, in addition to small creeks.

Fishing and paddle boat rentals are popular in the warmer months, and the waterfowl provide a great training distraction. There is also a playground that has recently undergone a renovation, and is generally pretty busy. If you are going to train around the playground, respect the safety and space of the families that are hanging out. Another big area of this park is the dog park. As I have said in a previous blog post (and to all of my clients), I do not like dog parks and I do not recommend that you take your dog inside the dog park. That having been said, dog parks can be a great training tool if you stay outside of the fence. The dogs inside can provide a great obedience distraction, and by staying outside of the fence you can still remain in control of the environment and your dog’s proximity to distractions.

Picturejacobson

Modoc relaxing at Jacobson Park.

Picture- jacobson

Modoc and Temper chilling on the dock.

2. Masterson Station Park

Masterson Station Park is on the other side of Lexington, and is another great place to enjoy the outdoors with your dog. There are some massive open fields all over the park, and this is a great place to work on tracking. The dog park here is a great place to practice obedience outside of, as are the soccer fields. Many people do walk their dogs off leash in this park, so that is something to be aware of. There are two entrances to the park, one in the front off the main road and another in the back off of Spur Road. Be sure to drive carefully, especially if you come in the Spur Road entrance, as people ride their horses along this road.

Speaking of horses, they are some of the coolest patrons of this park. Masterson Station features a large cross country course, as well as dressage rings, an indoor arena, and other equine facilities. The cross country field is a fun place to explore with your dog. The picture below is of Wild checking out the water jump. If you do take your dog onto the cross country course, be sure to have complete control over him and do not get in the way of horse and rider teams. Some horses are easily spooked by dogs, so if you see a rider on the course, take your dog and wait up by the road until the team is finished working.

Picture-masterson station

Wild exploring the cross country course at Masterson Station.

3. Downtown Lexington

Downtown Lexington is a great environment for proofing your obedience, especially if you live in the city itself. There are lots of noises, smells, and sights that are hard to replicate in other environments. That also means that this can be an overwhelming place for dogs, so be sure your dog is ready for this type of environment before you introduce them. Different places around town will generate different types of distractions. Training around the hospital will give you the chance to practice around lots of sirens and, typically, construction noises. Training around the perimeter of the University of Kentucky campus will ensure that you get lots of foot traffic to train around. Other places to work with your dog downtown are all of the restaurants with patios that will allow you to eat with your dog. Parking can be tricky, and that is one of the largest downsides to training downtown.

4. The Arboretum

The Arboretum at the University of Kentucky is a beautiful, idyllic place to go on walks with your dog. Beautiful plants decorate the trail, as well as beautiful pieces of stone and wood that form sculptures along the walkway. Squirrels and birds are common place, and the arboretum guarantees you will get to practice passing small animals. This is a pretty popular destination for joggers as well as dog walkers, but the amount of foot traffic is highly variable based on the time of day. Parking is easy, there are bathrooms on site, and you can get an education to by reading various placards on different exhibits. Although we have not mentioned it yet in this blog, it is extremely important that you always pick up after your dog when training in public. In the interest of keeping the arboretum beautiful and open to dogs for years to come, please always carry bags with you when you are out for a walk.

5. Pet Stores- IncrediPet, Bluegrass Barkery, PetWants

There is a wide array of pet stores in the Lexington area. Some are the more traditional big box stores (PetCo, PetsMart), while others are more boutique style (PetWants, The Bluegrass Barkery). These stores are all open to friendly, well behaved pets. We do recommend that you wait to bring your dog into a pet store until they have finished their initial vaccine series. There are a few reasons for this. First off, these places have lots of dog traffic, and there is the potential that unvaccinated dogs have been through there, and your puppy could catch a disease that he has not yet been vaccinated for. Puppies are also in very serious need of positive experiences that build them up, and pet stores can be a bit too overwhelming for very young puppies. Lastly, I am not a fan of taking dogs into stores unless they are already house trained. Puppies can get very excited in stores, and by waiting until they are around 4 months of age, you are ensuring that they have developed more bladder control and that your experience will be potty free.

As far as specifics go, there are some general environments that you are likely to encounter at each store. Big box stores are generally louder, higher traffic, and have a wide selection of items if you are shopping during your visit. IncrediPet is a hybrid kind of store, with a larger store, more foot traffic than the boutiques, but still not the same traffic level as a big box store. One of my favorite things about IncrediPet is the dog wash, which is really nice to have during rainy Kentucky springs! Next comes The Bluegrass Barkery and Pet Wants. For people like myself who are dog food snobs, these are great places to shop. Pet Wants sells locally produced dog food that has very high quality standards, and The Bluegrass Barkery produces their own dog biscuits. Both stores are smaller, generally do not have much foot traffic, and are a good introduction to pet stores for dogs starting to go on outings.

pet store Picture

The dog wash at Incredipet is awesome!

6. Hardware Stores

Hardware stores are another great option for working your dog in public. Double check with the manager of the store you want to go to and make sure that they are dog friendly. The puppy rules still apply here, even more so as far as potty training and overwhelming traffic go. Be careful the first time your dog sees a forklift or big loud cart so that you can address any fear response that they may have. This is also one of the places where you really can make dog training a part of your day to day life. Need to get some paint for your new house? Bring the dog along and practice a nice, long down stay while your paint gets mixed.

7. Rural King and Tractor Supply

In Winchester, you can visit both Rural King and Tractor Supply Company, as they are within a few miles of each other. There are also TSC locations in Nicholasville, Richmond, and Georgetown. All of these stores are dog friendly, and will give your dog exposure to a wide variety of things. Rural King sells both rabbits and chicks, and TSC sells chicks in the spring. Working around these areas provides a great small animal distraction, as long as your dog being around is not distressing the animals at the store. The experience in Rural King is like a hybrid between Home Depot and a pet store, and there is often quite a bit of foot traffic. TSC tends to be a bit quieter, and I have found that employees at TSC are always happy to volunteer as training distractions for the dogs.

rural king Picture

Wild doing a down stay in Rural King in Winchester, KY.

8. Kentucky Horse Park

An iconic place in the Lexington landscape is The Kentucky Horse Park. This beautiful facility is one of the premier equestrian centers in North America, and hosted the World Equestrian Games in 2014. The park features a museum, gift shop, massive show facilities, a cross country course, a campground, and some unique barn attractions, including the Hall of Champions, which features retired racehorses. Dogs are not allowed in the museum or gift shop, but they are allowed on the grounds of the park. The time of year when the most dogs are on the grounds is in early September, when the Bluegrass Classic Dog Show comes to the Alltech Arena. Several AKC tracking tests are also held here, as well as a German Shepherd sieger show, dock diving, and a stock dog trial.

When you take dogs to the park, be very respectful of the horses. Do not allow your dog to get close enough to the horses to spook them. Lots of horse show people let their dogs roam around the stable area off leash, so be aware of that if you are bringing a dog that does not have a high tolerance for other dogs. There are countless proofing opportunities at a horse show: horses, lots of people, golf carts, dirt bikes, loose dogs, horse poop, loudspeakers, tractors. Gradually introduce your dog to these distractions so that she does not become overwhelmed by the environment.

horse park Picture

Wild hanging out by Rolex Stadium. The Horse Park is one of my favorite places in Lex.

9. Evans Orchard

A great place to visit in the fall, Evans Orchard is always a fun place to visit. Located in Georgetown, this orchard is a must see when the pumpkins are finished growing and ready to be carved. Take your dog apple picking with you, or just enjoy the beautiful landscape. I only bring service dogs into the shop itself, but on the grounds you can have tons of fun with your family pet.

orchard Picture

One of puppy Wild’s first socialization outings was to the Evans Orchard pumpkin patch.

10. Cabela’s

I was so excited when Cabela’s came to Lexington. In addition to being a generally awesome store, Cabela’s is a pet friendly store. The puppy rule most certainly applies here, especially on carpeted areas where a young dog might be tempted to take a quick potty break. This is a store that can be high traffic at times, and at others is pretty quiet. Some unique things in the store that might throw your dog off include the stuffed animals around the store (one of my dogs was particularly concerned about the mountain lion on his first visit.) The big fish tank can also be an area where dogs might get distracted. You can also do some dog supply shopping at Cabela’s, and they have some pretty cool toys, especially for working dog breeds.

Enjoy the Bluegrass

Even though Kentucky is a generally rural state, there are no excuses when it comes to having new places to train. Some places and events that did not make the list, but are pet friendly and fun: Coldstream Park in Lexington, Wellington Park in Lexington, Lake Reba Park (Richmond, KY), Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Thursday Night Live in downtown Lexington, Charlie Brown’s Restaurant, Blue Stallion Brewing, West Sixth Brewery.

Confessions of a Former Dog Park Regular

Lexington is a fairly dog friendly town, and it it home to some of the most popular dog parks in Kentucky. Every time one of my clients tells me that they take their dog to one of these parks, my response is that they need to find another activity to do with their dog. Many of these clients are upset at this suggestion. When I dig a bit deeper and listen to their dog park stories, I often find that they have experienced the very things that dog trainers are concerned about when it comes to the dog park environment. I have experienced these situations first hand when I got my first dog. I used to be a dog park regular.

My Dog Park Journey

My first dog, Zoe, was a bit of a mess when I got her. She was 4 months old and had never left the farm that she was born on. I wanted to make sure that she relieved plenty of socialization, and I was thrilled when I saw that they were building a dog park just down the road from my house. I am grateful to this day that the park was not operating when Zoe first came home (more on dog parks and puppies later). As soon as the park was built, I started to take Zoe a few times every week. It looked idyllic when I would drive up; dogs frolicking in a wide open field, little agility tunnels for the dogs to play on, and people relaxing at picnic tables while their dogs played.

Reality, however, was much different from my idealistic idea of the park. The first few times that I went, things went well. However, with each visit I started to notice more and more items of concern. It started with a dog that would not leave Zoe alone. By this point, Zoe had become quite social with other dogs, and played very appropriately with dogs at the park. This particular dog started playing with her, and it began as a mutually fun game. However, when Zoe decided she wanted to take a break, this dog kept harassing her. The owner of the dog was off chatting with his friends, completely oblivious to his dog’s behavior. Not wanting to interfere with somebody else’s dog, I allowed it to continue until the dog pushed Zoe to her breaking point, and she snapped at him. After that situation, I started being more of an advocate for Zoe, to make sure that the park was fun for her and she did not get overwhelmed.

My eyes also got opened to more issues. People started to get too comfortable in the dog park, and would bring all kinds of delightful things, including tennis balls, frisbees, dog treats, and squeaky toys. Resource guarding became a common occurrence, and one dog was banned from the park for attacking another dog over a ball. The aggression from some of the dogs was not just occurring in these situations. Some people were taking blatantly aggressive dogs to the park, hoping that some free play time would be the key to socializing Cujo. More dogs were banned, and I stopped taking Zoe to that dog park. I found a dog beach with lots of well adjusted dogs, and that became our new spot.

dog beach

The incident that led me to never enter a dog park again happened when I was at the dog beach with Zoe. At this point I was trying to be more careful with her, scoping out all of the dogs and owners before I let her play. On this particular day, we had come to the beach and I recognized all of the dogs there as being well trained, social dogs who we regularly hung out with.

I had been playing with Zoe for about 15 minutes, when a new dog walked onto the beach. As soon as this dog saw the others, he started to hackle up and key in on the most active of the dogs. I did not want to be anywhere near this dog with Zoe, and I called her back to me so that I could take her off the beach. Right before she got to me, the people let the new dog off the leash. He made a beeline for Zoe, and grabbed her by her back, refusing to let go of her. Fortunately I was close enough to her that I could pull the dog off, and a park ranger witnessed the entire thing. After making sure that Zoe and I were okay, he took control of the situation and made these people remove their dog from the beach.

I am extremely grateful that the situation was not worse than it was, and that Zoe escaped any serious harm during our dog park days. I pass by a dog park regularly when I am training client dogs downtown, and I often observe the dogs inside. So many of the things I see could rapidly turn into dangerous situations, and in the past few months alone I have seen two serious dog fights occur at the park. Some of the horror stories that I hear from clients describe even worse situations.

Dog Park Problems

From a training and socialization perspective, the dog park environment does far more harm than good. Even if every dog in the park was a social butterfly, you are placing your dog into a totally uncontrolled environment. When you let your dog be totally free in an uncontrolled environment, bad habits often start to form. Your once picture perfect recall will fall apart if your dog realizes that these other dogs are way more fun than you are. You have no control over who brings their dog in, and what the dog’s temperament will be like, so frequently there will be incompatible dogs that are thrown together without ever having a proper introduction. Socialization should occur in a controlled manner so that you can ensure that your dog has a positive experience, and that is not possible in a dog park.

Coming from a vet tech background, I have another huge concern with dog parks: disease. There is nothing more heartbreaking than when a puppy comes into the clinic with parvo. It’s expensive, it’s difficult to treat, and it is often fatal. More often than not, parvo puppies that I saw were regularly around unfamiliar dogs of unknown vaccine history, and many of them had visited the dog park several times before they contracted the disease.  When you socialize your puppy at a reputable training facility, the vaccine history of the other dog’s is verified, and the facility is regularly sanitized. At the dog park, you have no idea what a given dog is vaccinated for, what they might be carrying, and where they have been previously. Many park goers do not pick up after their dog, and the ground in there is a dangerous place for a puppy to be.

Big Risks, Small Rewards

Another major concern with small dogs and puppies is risk of injury with uncontrolled play. Even though many parks have a small dog section, I see people bringing their small dogs into the large dog area. Dogs with high prey drive, such as sighthounds, herding breeds, and larger terriers, can see a small dog as a potential prey item. This can lead to dangerous situations, and the size difference means that the small dog is not coming out on top. Small dogs can also be victim of simple over exuberance, and more than a few puppies have broken legs by being trampled by larger dogs.

​Some of the worst dog park stories that I’ve heard involve people being bitten or mauled. I cringe whenever I see people bringing small children into the dog park. Even if every dog in the park is friendly with children, the risk of being run over and knocked to the ground is high. And that is a pretty big if. Children are the number one victim of dog bites, and most of the dogs that you will encounter at a dog park do not have enough manners and obedience to respect your child’s space. If a large, unfamiliar dog ran up to your child on the street, you would likely be very concerned, but the same concern does not seem to register with dog park visitors.

park running

There are so many wonderful activities that you can do with your dog that are far safer than going to the dog park. Zoe spends her days playing frisbee, swimming in the pool, and playing with dogs that I know and am comfortable with her being around. Never again will I take a dog into a dog park, and I strongly recommend that you adopt the same policy with your dog. It only takes one incident to leave your dog seriously injured and afraid of other dogs. Let your dog get free running time on a long line or after teaching an off leash recall. Let him play with other dogs that you know and that match his personality type. Find fun games to play with him to burn both his physical and mental energy. The dog park is just not work the risk.

Success Story: Gracie the Newfoundland

Gracie the Newfoundland joined us for training when she was 6 months old. She had developed major issues with jumping on people, and had injured a young girl with her over exuberance. She also pulled on leash, would bark in the yard, and was difficult to manage in the house. This increasingly frustrating behavior left her owners searching for help, and that is where we came in.

We had to solve these issues a few different ways. We had to teach Gracie how we wanted her to act, introduce her to consequences for bad behavior, and also give her outlets for her energy so that she was not likely to seek out her own ways to relieve boredom. We also had to make sure that all of these new behaviors and skills transferred back to her home environment.

Newfoundlands are a working breed, developed to work in tough conditions for long periods of time. This type of work required a dog with plenty of energy and the drive to work for long periods. If left to their own devices, the energy that made them great at their jobs in Canada can lead to a Newfoundland trying to find their own “jobs”. We use obedience as a way to give these dogs a job to perform, while also making them easier to handle and making their owner’s life easier.

Gracie’s owners did the right thing by sending her to us as a six month old puppy. Behavior issues tend to get worse over time, and can be harder to stop in older dogs because the habits get so ingrained in the dog. By getting out hands on Gracie at a younger age, we were able to stop the behaviors before they got worse, and were able to lay a foundation of obedience that will last for the rest of her life.

Success Stories: Merlin the Pit Bull

Merlin is a lovely young pit bull who was rescued by his owners after he was abandoned by his previous owners. He is generally a good boy, but had a few issues with impulse control. This was especially true around food. He struggled with behaving during meal times at home. My job was to go in and teach him reliable obedience and establish some new rules for him. Merlin also needed to be shown that those rules are still in place even under heavy distractions.

Merlin’s Training Plan

Merlin made great progress with us during his time in training. As with all dogs, he started his training with some “home field” advantage, and then we gradually added more and more distractions. Once he was highly reliable at the kennel, we took things on the road and started working obedience in public. Our field trips included local parks, pet friendly stores, and his own neighborhood.

We also tailored the training to his individual needs. We did lots of food refusal exercises and impulse control around food and toys. This is a common issue that we see with working type dogs, but it can be easily worked on. Training like this also transfers over into other areas, and helps dogs to ignore anything the environment throws at them.

Once Merlin was able to perform the same in a new public place as he was at our facility, we then started taking him back to his home environment. We also started his go home lessons with his owners, and showed them how to handle him and how to speak his language. Now he is an excellent role model for the pit bull breed, and is thriving back home.

If you want your dog to be trained to the same standard that Merlin was, contact us to schedule a consultation with Sam.

Should I Allow My Dog on Furniture?

Dogs on Furniture: The Controversy

When people bring home a new dog or puppy, sooner or later they will see that dog clambering onto the sofa. Some people are delighted, and are happy to cuddle up with Fluffy for TV time. Others are horrified and do not want to risk the dog damaging their living room furniture. Some people may even be worried that their dog getting on the couch is a sign of dominance, or the dog trying to be the “alpha”. The real answer is that there is no one rule that suits all dogs when it comes to this area. Different situations require different rules and boundaries for sharing your furniture with a dog.

Possessive Dogs

The group that I say across the board should not be on your couch or bed are dogs who have demonstrated possessiveness of your stuff. As a dog trainer, I get calls from people where the dog isn’t allowing a spouse into bed, and is keeping guests from getting onto the couch. This type of behavior is a sign of deep relationship problems with the dog that extends way beyond just furniture. It needs to be addressed with a trainer, but in the mean time, the dog needs all furniture privileges to be revoked. This behavior is inappropriate and dangerous.

The cause of this type of behavior is often too much freedom in the dog’s life. Dogs thrive when given structure, and some dogs need more than others. Many people want to let their dog have free reign of the house, and this can lead to the dog developing the wrong idea about who is in control of the couch. This is an especially big issue when the dog is new to the household, and is establishing what your household is all about. Dogs are opportunists, and a new dog with a pushier temperament may try to stake claim to the most comfortable spot in the house.

Dogs with possessiveness issues over furniture often show behavioral issues in other areas. They may resource guard other things, such as food, toys, or even their personal space or their owner. This behavior can worsen over time, and lead to the dog becoming more and more aggressive in their responses. Stopping this behavior is not a cookie cutter process, because each dog is an individual, but in all cases it involves establishing a management plan around the house. This plan can include obedience training, more rules and boundaries, off limits areas, controlling how resources are given, consequences for bad behavior, and giving the dog appropriate outlets and “jobs”.

Living Room Parkour

We also see another type of behavior issue surrounding furniture. This one can actually be amusing to those on the outside looking in, but isn’t nearly as funny to those who are living with it. Commonly seen with young, high energy dogs, “living room parkour” is my affectionate term for the behavior of sprinting around the room, leaping onto and over furniture, and basically turning your house into an obstacle course.

This behavior rarely is present all the time, and the dog may be very laid back and sleep on the furniture at times. When the mood strikes though, these dogs start bouncing off the walls, and can do a lot of damage. I’ve seen couches with big gouges in them, upholstery ruined, and people injured when the dog tries to use the couch as a trampoline.

This group of dogs can be managed a little differently. We may institute a protocol where the dog is allowed onto furniture only when invited, and that they are crated when alone, to prevent this behavior. Another possibility is giving the dog a place bed near to the couch and giving them a structured job to do while also allowing them to relax with you. Most of these dogs will be able to have furniture privileges when they have matured some and when rules are in place.

The Good Dogs

Some dogs will never give you issues about your furniture. They will lay there calmly, move over when you want to sit down, and be a pleasant addition to any family night or afternoon siesta. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these dogs, the option is up to you. If you don’t want dog hair in your bed, no worries. Your dog will be just fine not being allowed on furniture, and will adapt very quickly to that rule being in place. If you do want to let your dog sleep with you, go right ahead. Some people are surprised that a dog trainer would allow their dogs onto furniture, but my competition dog sleeps at my feet most nights.

malinois-wild

If you do fall into this category, there are a few boundaries that I would still recommend you put into place. You should always be able to ask your dog to leave a piece of furniture, which we teach as the “off” command in our programs. Sometimes you should have your dog sleep somewhere else, whether that be a different room, a crate, or an x-pen. This helps the dog keep a healthy frame of mind when separated from you, and helps prevent co-dependency issues.

Which Category is Your Dog?

Your dog is an individual, and so are you, so the rules surrounding furniture can vary quite a bit. Pay attention to your dog’s mannerisms when sitting on the couch with you, and work with a professional trainer to help you determine if any issues need to be addressed. If you have just brought home a new dog, especially a dog with an unknown background, make a point to not allow the dog onto furniture for the first month or two. Let them earn that privilege once they have consistently demonstrated appropriate behavior in other areas.

Let’s Talk About Harnesses

Harnesses Are A Common Sight

More and more people are becoming dog owners in the United States, and at some point they have to decide what kind of restraint to use on their dog during walks. Some people go with a regular buckle collar, some choose a martingale, and many decide to go with one of the various harness designs available on the market. Harnesses have many great applications, but their real purpose is poorly understood by most dog owners.

Dogs Who Pull On Leash

A common reason that people switch to a harness from a flat collar is that their dog is pulling hard into the leash, and they are worried about them chocking themselves. This is a concern that is not unfounded, and it isn’t appropriate for a dog to constantly be having pressure on their throat. However, harnesses do not impede pulling. In fact, harnesses make it much easier and more comfortable for a dog to pull.

A typical harness distributes body weight evenly across the chest, which does not press on sensitive areas, and allows the dog to put their full strength into pulling. This can be a great thing for working dogs such as sled dogs, who we want to be able to pull comfortably for long distances. This is not, however, a good thing for your family pet.

No Pull Harnesses

In an attempt to change the fact that harnesses make Pulling more comfortable, some manufacturers have developed “no pull” harnesses. There are several different models, but the general idea is that they restrict movement and make it harder for a dog to pull into the leash. Unfortunately, these harnesses very rarely achieve what they are supposed to.

There is some concern amongst the veterinary community that no pull harnesses cause damage to shoulders and can alter your dog’s gait. This makes sense when you consider the fact that the harnesses typically tighten on the chest and pinch the front legs closer together.

The no pull harness is also a training tool that is not well suited for teaching a solid loose leash walking or heel command, which is the gold standard for a truly well mannered dog. The harness does not allow control of the head, is not precise, and can be hard to fade down to a collar because the harness itself is a big cue to the dog. There are several other tools that are easier to use, easier to fade, and are less likely to confuse the dog.

dog pulling
Harnesses encourage pulling.

Good Uses for Harnesses

There are some fantastic uses for harnesses and you will find harnesses specially designed for these purposes. Sled dogs are perhaps the biggest one, as these dogs could not perform their jobs at all without them. Weight pull and draft dogs are in a similar boat, and each sport has a type(s) of harness specific to them.

Harnesses are super useful for sports like AKC tracking where the dog is supposed to lead the way and may be pulling quite hard. The same is true for detection dogs in various fields. Sometimes people in the sport of flyball will use harnesses with a handle on the back to make it easier to hold onto a dog who is fired up and ready to run.

Harnesses are also a big tool used by people training protection dogs, for both sport and working applications. Puppies doing bitework are encouraged to be very excited and the harness makes it comfortable for them to express themselves through pulling and barking. Harnesses are also good for protection work because of one of the reasons they are a poor choice for teaching heeling: just wearing a harness is a big cue that the dog can use to predict that something he is familiar with will happen. This can help build up motivation for an activity that we want to be fun and high drive.

dog harness
Cash the Rottweiler. We were working on his grip, and back pressure on the harness makes him work harder to hold onto the bite pillow.

Guide dogs have specially designed harnesses that allow them to guide their visually impaired partner. Mobility dogs usually wear a design of harness with special padding that allows them to take on the weight of their handler to assist with balance or to pull them up the stairs.

Lastly, the harness has great uses in the veterinary field. Some dogs physically cannot wear collars due to throat or back issues, and harnesses are perfect for those dogs. Special harnesses can also allow owners to help support a dog who is recovering from orthopedic surgery.

Find the Best Tool for Your Dog

Not every training tool is well suited for every dog, but we rarely recommend harnesses for dogs who are not doing one of the sports listed above. Their propensity to encourage behavior problems makes them a poor choice for most pet dogs. If you cannot decide what type of collar to get for your personal dog ,contact a trainer who can help you make the right decision.

Board and Train: Why Three Weeks?

Keeping High Standards for Board and Train

We frequently get asked why our board and train programs are three weeks long while other companies promise to have your dog trained in as little as seven days. It can be hard to leave your dog with someone for three weeks, and it’s only natural to want them home as quickly as possible.

It is certainly possible for a dog to learn basic commands in one week. Sit and down and heel are not that complicated to teach to a dog. However, when these commands are rushed, sometimes it isn’t possible to use the best training methods. The dog might still be confused on aspects of a command, and they definitely have not yet generalized it to multiple high distraction environments.

We spend the first week of our program working on showing your dog obedience commands, how to walk nicely on a leash, what corrections and rewards mean, and appropriate social skills with people and dogs.

gracie-gsd

The second week is spent building distance and duration in all of the commands. Instead of doing a down stay for thirty seconds, dogs will be able to hold one for 15-20 minutes at a time. Instead of doing a place while I’m 15 feet away, they can hold a place while I go out of sight.

Week three is spent building on the foundation and taking training on the road. We go to local parks, hardware stores, sit outside of coffee shops, walk around horse shows, and a bunch of other places where we can expose your dog to distractions in the real world. At the end of this week, you start your transition lessons so that you can take over and handle your dog like a pro.

When your dog graduates from a Kentucky Dog Training board and train, they have not just learned a handful of new words. They will have learned to perform commands reliably in busy environments. They will have a solid communication system, so that you will be able to show your dog right versus wrong. You and your dog will have all of the tools in your toolbox to handle whatever life throws at you.

down-stays

Success Story: Denali the Doberman

From Fearful to Full of Confidence

Denali came to us at 9 months old with some severe fear issues. If put out in the backyard with other dogs, she would go into a blind panic and try to flee or escape. This was a really sad thing to see, especially for a puppy with her whole life ahead of her. A Doberman should be confident and happy everywhere they go, and we set a goal to get Denali to that point.

Fortunately, Denali had fantastic food and toy drive. This allowed us to teach her obedience commands very quickly, and we used this obedience to build her confidence. Instead of her having to deal with dogs trying to play with her, I would heel her around the yard with two neutral dogs out who ignored her completely. This allowed her to gradually get more comfortable, and frequent rewards for nice heeling built a positive correlation.

Pretty quickly Denali started to be curious about dogs, and started to play with other boarding dogs. She actually got so rambunctious playing that we had to help her learn appropriate play skills with dogs smaller than her. Having made great strides on home turf, we then took things on the road.

When Denali first went off property, she reverted back to her old ways. This wasn’t a surprise, and is one of the biggest reasons that we make frequent field trips with board and train dogs. The obedience and reinforcement history allowed us to quickly push through her issues, and soon she was reliably performing her commands in public. We also started to work her around her brother, another Doberman, to make sure she would listen with him around.

Denali is a classic case where having structure and rules gave a dog confidence and comfort. It also allowed us to channel her energy into healthier “jobs” than the ones she had created for herself. Now she is thriving with her owners and her Doberman brother. We are so happy that we got to help her live a happier life.

Call Now