Traveling With Dogs

Travel Tips with Dogs by Kendra Thornton.

I’m happy to have a guest blogger joining me this time around. Please welcome Kendra Thornton.  Kendra will be dishing some tips on traveling with dogs, to which I have a few additional tips at the end of her post.  (You didn’t really think I could hold my typing fingers that long, did you?)–KP

Vacations are a thrilling experience that our whole family loves to do. While we are on vacation, we like to take our dog with us. In fact, he feels like he is at home when he is on the road with us. Next month, some family will be visiting with their dog. Here are some tips that I will be sharing with them that have worked with my family and our dog.

Java the Black Lab

Resident Adventure Dog, High Octane Java, at the beach during our last family vacation

Beneficial Preparations

Before we go on vacation, I make sure that laws and restrictions concerning animals are followed precisely. When we first started to travel with our dog, we made sure he had a microchip implanted. I believe that each dog should have a microchip. Visiting a vet is a great idea before going on vacation. A vet can provide any vaccinations that are necessary.

Calming Reassurances

Be sure to bring a favorite toy that the dog loves. There are times that we bring a favorite blanket or bone. Make sure item is familiar to the dog. This can bring the dog comfort and will help relax it. Furthermore, I have found that lavender oil has done tremendous wonders in calming our pooch.


Dogs and Planes

Traveling by plane is a quick way to go, but it is not a good idea for a dog. A journey by plane can be extremely stressful for a dog that is riding in the cargo hold. I firmly believe that there is only one exception for dogs riding in planes. That exception is relocating to another part of the country, and all other travel options have been used up. PETA has some excellent guidelines in this area.

Hotel Options

It can be difficult to find a decent hotel that will be willing to host my family and our dog; there are however, some who do. There are hotels that have activities that dogs will appreciate, such as parks and hikes. Some hotels include a tasty breakfast for a dog. This is great, and it reduces the amount of dog food that I have to pack. I suggested my family stay right in downtown Chicago, not only are there a ton of great hotels, but they are close to all the sites!

Comfort is important when all of us travel. When we are comfortable, we feel at home. I try to make sure our family routine stays the same when we are on vacation. This routine includes walks in the morning and evening. Our dog especially likes eating meals at the same time wherever we go.

Kendra Thornton is a mother of 3. Before being promoted to the position of full-time mom, she was the Director of Communications at Orbitz. She now lives in Chicago where her family is her number one priority in everyday life.

More on Traveling with your dog. The Good, Bad and The Downright Ugly. 

Ask Permission First.

Always ask if it’s okay to bring you dog(s) along before visiting friends, family or destinations. Believe it or not, but not everyone is a “Dog person.”  Many people have allergies, pets that may not be dog friendly, children that may be afraid of dogs or just more than your pooch can handle.  It’s much better to ask if it’s okay in advance rather than be scrambling for new accommodations for either your 4 legged friends or your entire family, when it becomes painfully clear that one member of your family isn’t welcome. Also ask about pet hotel fees.


Shiba Inu Samurai

Samurai shows his tree climbing skills and a bit of attitude

Think closely about your agenda.

Some vacation destinations are more “dog friendly” than others.  If you plan on going hiking a lot great! Your dog will love that, but if you plan on going to Disneyland, think long and hard about what your dog is going to do when you’re gone for 8 to 10 hours straight.

Many hotels do not allow pets to be left unattended in the rooms, barking & whining can be annoying to other guests and dogs left in an unknown environment have been known to do things that they would never do at home, like chew up furniture and scratch through doors.  If a human member of your pack needs to stay behind to watch over the dog that can create some hard feelings.

Many doggy daycare facilities may be willing to take your dog for a day with a referral from your current cage-free boarding or daycare facility. However, most reputable dog daycare facilities will not accept a new dog without an in person (or in canine?) interview.

Plan accordingly, call ahead and see exactly which requirements need to be met. Maybe even take your dog to a local dog daycare a couple of times to get such a referral before you go. This will free you up in case you do have some unforeseen agenda issues. It’s always wise to have a backup plan just in case something goes awry. It may be a good idea to call a daycare or boarding facility at your destination to find out what it would take to have them boarded just in case things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

Vaccinations and records & Identification!!!

Never travel out of your vicinity without proper vaccinations and vaccination records and a recent photo of your pet. Laws may vary from state to state and you want to know your dog is protected for the local area’s risks as well as to be able to prove you dog is in compliance. It would be heartbreaking to return from a vacation only to find out that your dog contracted Heart-worm on your trip.

Make sure your dog has a proper ID tag with your cell phone # on it, even a luggage tag will do in a pinch. Don’t trust the dog’s well being to that cheap wire tag holder either, use an actual high quality key fob ring, pony up the extra dollar, use a zip tie or even better, write the dog’s name and your cell # directly on your dog’s collar with a sharpie.  Tags can get lost during play, collars usually stay in place unless a nefarious human removes it. (Micro-chipping is also highly recommended.)

Exercise is crucial to the plan

Make sure Fido gets plenty of exercise the day before embarking on a family adventure. He won’t have the energy to cause much of a fuss in the car if he’s good and worn out.  This goes double if you plan to introduce him to new dogs or leave him crated at your friend’s home while you go out to dinner.  A Tired dog is a good dog.

Proper Introductions:

Chances are if it’s okay to bring your dogs to visit, your hosts may have dogs of their own.  Take the time to do introductions properly. Start with a pack walk, and then introduce them off leash, in neutral territory. (An empty but securely fenced school yard can be just the ticket.) Even the most laid back dog can act aggressive if he feels his territory is being invaded. No one wants to spend their vacation at the emergency vet.

Don’t forget to pack for your dog too!

Make certain that you bring plenty of your dog’s usual food, medicines and fresh water with you.  You don’t want to change your dogs brand of food on a long car trip… it could get messy.  Also pack a collapsible water bowl, a 1st aid kit, poop bags, paper towels, moist wipes, Tweezers if going near tick country, a reflective or lighted leash and collar for night-time walks and paper towels. (I run a dog boarding facility, so believe me when I tell you, there is no such thing as being over prepared.) I also don’t suggest letting your dog eat the hotel’s breakfast if he or she has a sensitive stomach, you don’t want your pet to have an accident on a friends’ carpet or in your car.

A travel crate and a doggy seat-belt harness can literally be lifesavers on a long road trip.  I’ve seen you tube videos displaying what can happen to an unsecured pet in an automobile accident.  Don’t let your pet be a statistic.

Do your research first. Program the local emergency veterinarian’s phone # into your cell phone. Travelling with a dog is exciting, but you don’t know what kind of things they can get into at your destination.  I prefer to travel with a plan.

If all this sounds like too much work, maybe travelling with your dog is not for you. Consider boarding your dog at one of the new, Cage-Free dog boarding facilities. Dog Friendly dogs can have their own vacations too.

For more excellent tips on traveling with your dog, visit

Until next time,

The Alpha Dog’s Wife

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dogs, Traveling with Dogs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flee Fleas,Flee! Tips for helping your dog (and you) survive flea season in the Great Pacific Northwest.

Flea Season has officially arrived and these little bleeper’s are lurking in the tall grass, on trails and in shady spots all over, outside… and they are just waiting to hitch a ride inside your home to find a nice spot to start their little flea families and it drives me, the Alpha Dog’s wife, crazy.

Max Scratching
Resident Adventure Dog, Maxshadow found fleas in the long grass on a sunny day.

If your dog needs relief immediately, your veterinarian has several oral and topical options to keep fleas off your pet, including the popular topicals “Frontline Plus” and “K9 Advantix II.”

**IMPORTANT**  If you have CATS and are using K9 Advantix II on your dog, you will have to separate Fido from Kitty for at least a day as the chemical in K9 Advantix is extremely toxic to cats. Frontline Plus uses a different chemical and this precaution does not have to be taken.

However, if you really don’t like the thought of putting pesticides on your best friend, there are a couple organic options that can really help.

1. Vacuum EVERYTHING in your home, and I do mean everything. Pay really close attention to where the dog likes to lounge… then get under the couch, in between and under couch cushions, under the bed, on top of the bed etc. Fleas lay their eggs everywhere and you’re not going to see them. They can lay in their pupae state for a month or longer, so this is going to have to be done frequently during flea season. Remember to remove and dispose of the vacuum bag, (preferably in a sealed plastic bag in your outside trash can, as soon as you’ve finished. You don’t want these blood suckers to make the escape out of their vacation buffet and they could survive a long time in a vacuum bag.

2. Diatomaceous Earth is awesome stuff… after you complete step #1 sprinkle this stuff under couch cushions, on carpet and let it sit there for a day or two… it has a knack for dehydrating the little beasties. It is also inexpensive and available online or at many local feed and tack stores. I bought 5 Lbs of it at Strotz’s Country Feed Store and believe it was under $1 a pound.

3. Consider treating the outside of your home too. Beneficial Nematodes can be sprayed in the yard where your pet roams… they’re actually come down a bit in price over the last few years as the word is getting out that sometimes the best way to get rid of certain pests is with beneficial insects. These do a wonderful job of eating flea larvae if applied correctly. (Do not apply in direct sunlight and verify that soil temperature is above 45 and 100 F degrees. You can sometimes find them at local nurseries or order them online here, these things really work, we use them at the ranch in the dog yard:

4. Give your dog a nice long bath so that those little flea beasties drown. Then finish with a full brushing or better yet, combing with a flea comb. Keep a bowl of soapy water handy to dunk the flea comb (and any stubborn hanger=on-er’s in.) You can even add a couple of drops of neem oil to the shampoo if you can stand the smell. Other essential oils that are rumored to help are rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, and citronella. These oils are very, very strong so if you go this route, use care as these are really concentrated.

5. Wash all bedding (Both yours and the dogs,) in the hottest water you can.

REPEAT Steps 1-5 until the dead of Winter…

For a few more ideas like dietary changes that may help, check this out
Some new items on the market that I haven’t tried yet are:

Electric Flea traps:

And Ultra Violet or Sanitizing Vacuums

If you have a solution I didn’t list, Share it with me… I always love to learn.

Until next time….

 Kerri Pinkston

The Alpha Dogs’ Wife

Bella the sweet PBT mix

Bella enjoying a sunny day at Adventure Dog Ranch

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, Canine Training, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Joining the ranks of the single handed. Kerri takes a trip.

Most comical moment of the day… Kerri (okay, me Smile) trying to hit a ball with a tennis racket, left handed.

This was written last Fall, but never posted.  It has it’s funny spots, it’s not so funny spots some of that awful truth stuff and a couple loving dogs that make everything seem worthwhile. I decided to release it from the trash bin. KDKP 7/29/13


A quick history note: I have been on hiatus for a while. It started with 14 hour days throughout the late spring and summer months and ended, with the awful truth that I am a horrible klutz.


The morning of August 15th 2012,  Coffee cup in hand, I walked out of my front door and stepped directly into the path of a 70 pound, Canine Locomotive, named “High Octane Java.”  Her ears were flapping in the wind; Locked into the retrieve like a laser-guided missile, dog slobber flying,and she was NOT looking in my direction.


She was less than 20 feet away and closing at an incredible rate. Just before the instant of impact, she looked up at me and in her eyes I saw human grade fear , an emotion so real etched on her face that I don’t think I will ever forget it. In that instant where we both realized we were physically committed to this collision I saw a very real, non verbal, “OH Holy SHIT!” in her eyes. I knew at that moment and for the rest of our lives, the last thing in the world she ever wanted to do was cause me pain.  I saw that in her eyes and I still do, every single day.


She pulled up at the last possible second and that saved me big time… Our collision was much more gentle than it would have been. (If she would’ve hit me full force, you’d still be picking pieces of me up of the aggregate.


I keep wondering why I couldn’t react… If I would’ve simply yelled “Sit” I’d probably still be smelling the scent of burning dog-ass hair on concrete, but the words didn’t come.  I blame the fact that I was still on cup of Joe #1.  I simply did not have time to react and I was about 3 inches from the stairs, knowing that when I fell, I was going to land on them and probably break my freaking neck or worse, my face and teeth. (I have issues.)


Thanks to Java’s quicker reaction time than mine, I landed quite gently… in fact had I not been so damned afraid of falling on the stairs and not fought so hard to regain my balance, I might have only broken my wrist in one or two places rather than 6. 


The Surgeon said I was a very talented bone crusher. (Yes, Crusher, keep in mind he has had the privilege of viewing several of my previous x-rays too. That nasty fractured and dislocated humerus last year was no picnic either.    He said that my wrist was literally crushed in no less than 6 places. How? Because I walked outside when a friend was playing ball with my own dog.  Note to self, finish your coffee before venturing outside to the real world.


So here I am almost a month later, an ER visit and 1 surgery later.  Like the new hardware?


kerri's wrist August 2012 7 screws and a bottle opener.\


I got off track there for a moment, but I felt it was important to cover the “Why’s?” as in, “Why is she just now learning to hit a ball left handed? After all isn’t she like… (groan)… Middle Aged?” (Groan, creak,crunch  & pop… the sounds my body makes when it moves.)


With the trusty and now somewhat oxidized tennis racket that I bought for $2 at the thrift store 7 years ago in my non dominant hand, I walked out into the daylight.  I did better than anticipated! Only completely missing the ball 3 times in 15 minutes.  (I also scored 3 foul tips, 2 of which would’ve been legal in women’s softball..) The rest of my connections didn’t travel very far…  only a few feet farther than I could’ve thrown it right handed (and with much less accuracy.)


It did give me an opportunity to work a little on obedience, the ‘wait’ command. Usually both dogs heel on my left side and ‘sit’ until I give the command to “Retrieve.”  (The command for a single dog is their name, both dogs together is ‘Fetch.’ )  


Since I am still very wild with the racket left handed, (although a seasoned pro with my dominant hand,) I wanted my two K9 kids, at least 7 feet away from me until after I swung at the ball… 


I must say, Max and Java were very patient with me… much more so than I am with myself.  I would’ve given up as soon as my sinuses packed with grass pollen, but with those 4 soulful, anticipatory, puppy eyes, brightly shining and begging me to continue; How could I refuse?


It’s simple, I couldn’t.  (How does a 14 year old dog with cataracts pull off the puppy dog eye thing?)


Java at the beach with Dad working the "puppy eyes magic" May 2012


Java needs to retrieve almost as much as she needs food. (She would convince the layman that she is always hungry, starving as a matter of fact, but she needs to retrieve more than she needs to eat, that is if you want to sleep at night. If she doesn’t get to retrieve for at least 20 minutes twice a day, she will take it out on me by whining, licking my face, jumping up and down on the bed, poking me with her nose and basically, just being an obnoxious pest.  If she retrieves, she’s the best dog in the world. )


She has been very patient with me during my recovery. She’s been totally getting the short end of the stick as exercising her is MY JOB.. I don’t hold her responsible for my injury… I could have yelled “SIT!”  but I didn’t think that fast. I am certain that I still would have been knocked down, but it would’ve been by a dog whose butt was smoking on the concrete, not one in laser locked retrieve mode. She knows that Sit means Sit and that faster is better.


I will never be as good left handed with a racket as I am with my dominant (right) hand.. The Left wrist has 6 screws, a 5 inch plate and 3 bone grafts left over from the 7 surgeries required to put it back together. All courtesy of severe ligament injury that I really don’t recall and more importantly, the obscene physical therapy sessions to fix something that they said was “all in my head,”  Lets just say I don’t like doctors much anymore…. and that I’m thrilled with the advance in medical imaging since 1988 when that all happened.


I’d like to say all my bitterness is gone,  most of it is, (as well as the music career I lived, breathed and died a little bit for.) But then again I don’t plan to join the tennis club either. It is simply nice to be able to exercise my dogs again without it doing me more harm than good.


It’s quiet now. My Java Bean is sprawled on the square of linoleum by the front door (it seems to cool her hot, overheated belly, especially after a run or a game of fetch.) She’s breathing in a style that I’ve always called ‘Locomotive breath’ after the Jethro Tull song of the same name.  MaxShadow (as always,) is within reach of an arm or leg, crammed in the space under my desk, crowding my feet.  Dad (the big dawg,) is done feeding the boarding dogs and is working on cleaning up the BBQ for what could very well be, the last rib eye steak of the grilling season.


I am hoping that Steve will do me the honor of cutting up my steak once again.  It’s hard being single handed in a two handed world.  I am thankful that the dogs were patient enough to allow me to learn to hit the ball left handed… and never once did they laugh out loud at my lack of coordination (although I may have seen a little smirking coming from the peanut gallery inside the house.)  I however can, and do laugh at myself, in between sneezes. I’ve learned the hard way that life without laughter, well it’s simply not my way of doing things.   It’s just nice to be on the mend and able to do something fun with my best friends.


This was originally written in the Fall of 2012, Kerri is back in action, healed pretty well and now a non smoker since September 1st 2012.  She is hoping to find more time to dedicate to this blogging thing… it’s almost as good as having a shrink without the monthly bills. I am a little concerned that I continue to refer to myself in the third party…. Is that something I need to worry about?





Kerri Pinkston

The Alpha Dogs’ Wife

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs, Obedience | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Dog Trainers Give Commands in Foreign Languages

I  read an article about why many dog trainers give commands in German even if they don’t actually speak the language. I started thinking and it set me off on a quasi verbal adventure of my own.. here’s my round about take on it… (I can never get straight to the point, then you’d miss out on all my unique and crazy ramblings.)

Our personal dogs are strictly pets these days. Java hasn’t been in competition since we opened our Ranch, but when she did compete, she was something to behold. 


High Octane

Even though she’s no longer competing, she still knows a few hand signals, which I can tell you is very handy when you’re 150 yards from your dog and want them to do something. 

Training your dog to respond to commands in a different language cuts down on the whole, selective hearing thing. You know,  Selective Hearing. It’s when you tell your dog to do something and they pretend that they either didn’t hear you or assumed that you were talking to yourself, another human or in some cases, another dog and didn’t know it was directed at them.

When you use the common conversation words for commands, it can get very confusing for the dog which is one of the reasons we do not use “Ok” as a proper release command. What’s a release command?  Yikes this is turning into an entire blog article, not just a quick, “here’s something fun to do,” Facebook post. 

If you don’t know what a release command is, here’s an example.  You tell your dog to Sit. A well trained dog will sit there until it gets another command or until he or she is released to do their own thing.  (Yes, a well trained dog will REALLY DO THAT.) After your dog has done a brilliant sit, you should praise them and release them to go on about their business.

The Sit means sit until I tell you differently / release command style of training is good in many different ways.  Imagine for example, how awesome it would be to be able to put your dog in a sit and actually be able to unload an entire carload of groceries without having your dog underfoot. It can be done. By establishing a release command, it relieves the dog of having to decide if we’ve forgotten about his 25 minute sit, or if he’s supposed to lay down and go to sleep. This in a nutshell is why you need a release command. 

Problem is, you’ve got to remember to release the dog, every single time you put them in a sit or a down.  Your dog won’t hold a down stay or a sit for that long unless you remember to praise and reward him and to release him. 

At one point in time I could put Java in a down stay and walk away…  I would come back 20;to 30 minutes later and she would still be there.   Sure I had to practice it and it took a while to build up to that duration, but she could do it.  I on the other hand had to set an alarm on my cell phone to remember to go back and praise and release her.  As far as command choices, we use the word “Release,” for the release command. It makes sense to us.

It’s very common to use the word, “Okay” for the release command.  I feel that comes up too frequently in conversation to be a safe and effective release word.  If you’ve got your dog sitting alongside your car in a downtown parking lot and your talking on your cell phone and someone says, “Meet you there in fifteen minutes” and you reply “Okay”  the choice of that release word could cost your dog its life.  Now you completely understand  and I’ve demonstrated an excellent reason why some dog trainers train commands in German.

Here’s another reason for using a different language to give commands. If all conversation is in English, Dogs can’t tell if you’re talking to them, another human or even another dog. 

Don’t be afraid to have some fun with this, If you add hand Signals to the current commands before you start using foreign language words, your transition will go much, much faster. The words you use for the commands are nothing more than a marker for the behavior as is the hand signal.  By adding the hand signal first, you’ll remove the ambiguity of training a brand new command.  Dogs don’t  think in words like people do and you’re not likely to confuse them if as long as you’re consistent.

Below is a link to a PDF file which contains a list of German Translations for Common Dog Commands. (Don’t forget to use and choose a release command, to release your dog from a sit or down… we use Release.)

There’s one other command  we use for when our work or play time together is over. It’s a command I use to let them know that they are welcome to do as they please. The one we use is “Take a Break”  This is the phrase that sends Java straight for her kiddie pool this time of year and always with a HUGE SMILE on her face.  I think I may “Take a Break” myself, but mine is much more apt to include a tasty adult beverage and just maybe a game of fetch with my pretty girl, Java.


High Octane Java, Adventure Dog Ranch


Until next time, enjoy the time you’ve got with your pets… you never know when they’ll be called home to heaven. Steve’s Cousin Dale (One of the “Adventure Boys,”) and the entire Larsen Family,  has had a real rough time of it this summer, losing 2 beloved pets in less than a two month span.  It’s made me sit up and take notice that any day could be their (or frankly, my,) last.  It drives me to tell people how I feel more openly and cry a lot more than normal.  I guess I’m only human after all.  To Err is human, to Forgive, Canine.

                                                            –Kerri  “The Alpha Dogs’ Wife”

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, Canine Training, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs, Obedience | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Basic Obedience, why it’s important and how a solid “Sit” can save your dogs’ life!

Everyone wants a dog that will obey, but most people don’t have a clue how to get there. It’s relatively simple, BE CONSISTENT.

Don’t change the rules on a daily (or in some cases, an hourly basis.) Dogs are incapable of understanding subtle differences in scenario… If jumping up on you is okay when you’re wearing your sweats but not okay when you’re wearing your good clothes, then all your really managing to do is confuse the hell out of your dog. Luckily, most dogs aim to please. They love to see their owners happy. Happy owners=affectionate owners and what red- blooded American dog won’t do a little work for some attention, affection and play time?

One of the most crucial lessons that I can teach you is: Limit the affection you often give for free. Dogs really want to earn their keep, as well as your love. If there is no work involved, you’re fulfilling yourself and not your dog. This is backwards and it’s not at all effective in maintaining that happy, obedient relationship with your dog.

I won’t go into the “free love and affection” scenario right now, (that’s a whole blog post on its own,) however; I am going to repeat something my mother told me when I started dating. “He won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.” I didn’t get it then, but after working with dogs over these last several years, it finally makes some sense.

Something as simple as asking your dog to sit before you pet him or feed him, can go a long way towards having that wonderfully obedient dog we discussed earlier. In fact I would go as far as saying this bit of sage advice is probably a little more apropos in canine training than it is in the dating world.

Sit is a very basic command. Once mastered, most dogs will comply without even thinking about it. It actually becomes a reflex action if it is practiced enough. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I see on a regular basis that completely forget that this command is in their dog-care tool box.

I see people chasing their dogs all over the dog park, trying to get their dog to come to them. This brings me to rule # 1: Don’t chase the dog. (No rules are absolute in the dog world. I am certain that there are many situations where people should chase their dogs, but in most typical cases we’ll just say, it is not recommended, unless of course the consequences are life threatening or you really enjoy doing it.)

When I see this “Human Chasing Dog” game in action and notice the frustration and embarrassment on a dog owner’s face, I often ask this simple question. “Can your dog sit?” Pet owners often look at me like I am totally nuts. That’s usually where I introduce myself and kindly suggest, “Try yelling Sit and see what happens.” The frustrated dog owner then yells “sit” and magically the dog that they’ve been chasing for the last 20 minutes, obediently sits and awaits their next command, allowing a tired and frustrated dog owner to calmly approach and clip on the lead.

This brings me to Rule #2 do NOT punish your dog for a transgressions such as these chase games. If it’s been more than 2.5 seconds since the offensive behavior, it is too late for attrition… Nuff said?

For those of your keeping score:

Rule #1: DON’T CHASE YOUR DOG… (Unless of course, you happen to really enjoy it…) I can guarantee that your dog enjoys this, but most humans? Not so much. It just proves over and over how much more maneuverable they are than us. Once the chase game is on, it’s on until the dog is tired of the game. Trust me, your dog can play chase for way longer than any human wants to.

This is rule #3. Never, EVER punish your dog for coming to you. This is something I see far too frequently. The dog does what the owner wants, (finally comes to them,) but It simply didn’t happen within the time frame that the human found acceptable and a verbal punishment was delivered to the dog. The way the dog sees it, he did what was requested, when it was convenient for the dog and he got yelled at for it. He likely won’t make that mistake again, command is broken. Dogs have a much different concept of time than we humans do. Continuing this practice will destroy any success you’ve previously had with the come command. Just don’t do it. Try instead to be more exciting than the environment and or deliver bigger, better or surprisingly delectable rewards for more prompt responses.

Wow… I’m already 500+ words into this post and I still haven’t explained how Sit can save your dogs life. I guess I truly am a world class procrastinator…. I am getting there… It begins with yet another story about the late, great, Starbuck.

Starbuck was the first dog that Steve & I had together and the one that inspired me to learn about training dogs. She had an independent streak a mile wide. She loved to “perform” her repertoire of tricks for everyone but she was also an incorrigible escape artist. She loved other dogs and little children so much that she was willing to travel to find them whenever she could. This often meant hopping fences, waiting until my back was turned for a split second and basically being very sneaky, all to get to the prize: The companionship of kids, canines or an opportunity to meet new people.

I was not yet an experienced pack leader… I’d had dogs as a kid, but they were little, yappy things. Yep, the kind of dogs that ran the entire household. All of a sudden I realized, I’d never owned a dog that knew how to walk on a leash, sit, stay, lay… and I wanted Starbuck to be a good dog.

Luckily, I wasn’t in this alone. Steve and I were both injured at the time we got Starbuck, being off work to rehabilitate gave us the time needed to get a handle on this willful dog. I also had Steve, Debbie (Steve’s sister,) and his dad, Paul to help guide my way.

It was in this same time frame that I met Stormy. Stormy was a beautiful, pedigree Black lab from championship lines. Stormy belonged to Debbie, Steve’s sister. I knew right then, I’d never seen humans with such command over a dog. A typical heel wasn’t good enough; Debbie and Paul had done the work to turn Stormy into a precision, polished, dog-on-a-string, kind of dog and Stormy loved every minute of it! Stormy’s field trial trophies and ribbons still line the walls and mantle of Debbie’s living room.

Sami and Starbuck

‘Heel’ meant line up perfectly with my left heel, ‘here’ meant turn to the right, ‘Sit” meant your butt doesn’t leave the ground until I say so. It was heady, amazing stuff. Stormy was the precision machine dog owners dream about… all with keeping her happy dog attitude. Starbuck on the other hand, was a Heinz 57 variety mutt, and frankly, Starbuck had other plans.

So I hit the book store. I wanted to understand the terminology that flowed out of these 3 experienced dog owners mouths and I wanted a taste of that Stormy like control over my feisty young puppy, Starbuck. Luckily, the first dog book I picked up was Nancy Baer’s “Leader of the Pack.” This book opened up my eyes to the “Dogs crave & need leadership” concept. While it didn’t explain in detail why dogs do the things they do, it did provide me with a starting point on my quest for knowledge and it helped me to be a better leader.

Starbuck was one of the friendliest, happiest, most playful and fiercely independent dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure to have known. This comes with its own unique set of challenges. Independent dogs put a higher value on their agenda than that of their owners. This doesn’t mean that she didn’t want to please us, because she did. She learned very quickly that certain behaviors have consequences, but if the payoff was great enough, she’d do them anyway. What it really meant is that I had to really control her environment as well as ensure that the rewards for good behavior included the things that Starbuck wanted to do, instead of simply relying on treats as so many dog training books recommend.

Starbuck was also very smart and intuitive. I had a friend teach her to “Speak” while I was in the bathroom. That command was instantaneously and permanently ingrained by the time I returned less than 3 minutes later. One of the problems with raising smart dogs is that the handler has to be smarter than the dog they’re training. This wasn’t always the case with Starbuck and me.

Starbuck taught me so many things. They say that you don’t get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need. I do believe that statement to be absolutely true.

I quickly learned that a game of fetch was far too boring for the likes of Starbuck. Sure she’d do that long enough to please me and burn a little energy, maybe 6 or 10 throws, but that was it, even though she was mostly lab, retrieving simply wasn’t her passion. Once I discovered she craved mental stimulation, socialization and play time with children and other dogs more than anything else; things went much more smoothly. Luckily Steve, Paul and Debbie helped me to identify what motivated Starbuck or her energy could have very easily turned into destructive behaviors.

Enough reminiscing about my girl, it’s time to tell the story of how the Sit command saved Starbucks life.

We were living in a dumpy apartment building s on the corner of 116thand Bothell Everett Highway right across from Silver Lake. Starbuck was still a young puppy, (maybe 5 months old,) and although not well trained yet, she knew the basics. (Sit, Stay, Lay, etc.) The sounds of children playing down the street had wafted into the yard. I had turned my back for less than 5 seconds and she was gone off to investigate. I too heard the sounds of children playing and yelled for Steve to help me locate and gather the dog. To cover all of our bases, Steve went one way & I went the other. Steve spotted her immediately and she was already in dire trouble.

Apparently Starbuck had trespassed in the wrong yard where she encountered two large, viciously protective and territorial German Shepherds. These two dogs were hot on her trail and they were chasing her straight towards the busy traffic on 116th. Starbuck was in full flight/survival mode and wasn’t responding to Steve’s “Come” command. The Shepherds owner was also in pursuit, trying to call his dogs off, but they too were caught up in the moment and in full chase mode. With mere seconds to spare before her trajectory intersected with busy traffic, Steve used his most effective command voice and yelled “Starbuck SIT” at the top of his lungs. (She knew Sit and was very solid with this command, but it had never been tested in such an intense scenario.) To Steve’s relief and the amazement of the owner of the pursuing dogs, Starbuck sat so quickly that she actually skidded almost 10 feet on her butt. Steve caught up to her, put the leash on and walked her back home. The owner of the other dogs got them under control and all ended well for us. It could’ve easily gone the other way and to this day the thought of it makes sweat bead up on my brow.

I felt incredibly guilty for a long time after that day and my heart pounded in galloping rhythms each time I couldn’t see her in the yard. Training Starbuck to sit saved her life that day, of that I have no doubt. So please keep this story in mind whenever your dog won’t respond to the come command. It’s probably that come isn’t ingrained as a reflex yet… (Or the rewards for coming to you have not been high enough.) Keep working on it with happy voice and energy, and it will be. Practice “sit” in a variety of situations and environments and practice it every day. You’ll never know when it very well could save your dogs life.

One last tip before I sign off… Professionals train their dogs to sit until released. Why train two commands when one will do the trick? A well trained dog will “Sit” until the handler gives the “Release,” “ Free,” or “Okay” command. (Your command, your choice.) Remember that “Okay” comes up frequently in casual conversation so you may want to think about choosing a less common command word. Practice long sits frequently and always remember to praise and always release your dog after a good “Sit”


Kerri — The Alpha dog’s wife

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, Canine Training, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs, Obedience | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tales a dogs’ tail can tell

This is a re-post as the original source, my guest blogger appearance on Fido Friendly Magazine’s blog is gone and I wanted my article to survive. I apologize for the redundancy if you’ve already seen this and I welcome you if you haven’t.

Did you know that your dog’s wagging tail, tells tales?

Golden Retriever Andy and BFF Owen the Corgi at play
Andy (Golden Retriever) & Owen (Corgi) Daycare at Adventure Dog Ranch

A dog rarely wags their tail when they are alone. Why? Because it’s a method of communication, and dogs’ rarely talk to themselves. (We human’s have cornered the market on that particular level of neurosis.)

What we human’s forget to recognize is that a major form of dog communication is based on scent. We humans tend to forget about scent. By comparison, our olfactory abilities are pretty darned pitiful but the capabilities of a dogs’ nose is nothing short of amazing. When you take into consideration that for the first week of a dogs’ life, it’s their primary sense and interface to the world, the importance of scent becomes a little more clear.

By now you’re thinking, “Hey Kerri, I thought this article was about tails! You’ve gone off on one of your obscure tangents again.“ Well Yes, but really no. You see, the tail plays an important part in scent too.

Dogs use their tails to disperse their scent. They have a gland called the “Anal Gland,” that is located right under the base of the tail, next to the anus. It emits pheromones and other scents that pretty much broadcast everything another dog could possibly want to know about them: From age, health, sex, social status to emotional state.…& that wagging tail can send these signals a long, long ways.

Maybe even more importantly, dogs also leave “Pee-Mails” for each other in the form of urine markings that your dog can read and reply to later. Ever see a dog at the dog park sniffing and marking every tree and lamp post? That’s the equivalent of a canine’s email inbox, And their Pee-Mail messages contain a lot more crucial information and data than the YouTube video de ‘jour. It’s more like us exchanging our drivers license info, personal diaries, Trans-union credit reports and years of medical records, but it’s all accomplished in one simple puddle of piddle.

Of course some dogs prefer to read all of their Pee-mail first and then selectively reply. I think this is more of a learned behavior, taught by us unforgiving human’s that tend to bring Fido inside as soon as he or she has completed doing their “Business.” Either that or they’re making certain they don’t run out of ink in the middle of a message.

Some dogs take revealing their social status a step further by scratching at the ground next to their fecal or urinary deposits. Some Dog Behaviorists feel that’s the canine equivalent of taking a highlighter to their personal information or adding a post-it note that says, “HEY, READ THIS!”

A shy or insecure dog, may choose not to wag his tail. Why? because he or she doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. A tucked tail can actually work to stifle some of the info that is usually broadcast!

So you see, a dog’s tail really does tell tales!

Until next time,

Kerri P., The Alpha Dogs’ Wife




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Impulse Control in Dogs

In our environment, it can get kind of crazy with all the dogs running and playing at the same time.  Since our dogs are screened to weed out aggressive types, we enjoy a lot of high stimulation play time. It also becomes very important that we control the aspects of the play that we can.  Even with the best of dogs, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. We work hard at controlling our environment, controlling the tempo as well as teaching and reinforcing impulse control.

Kirby the boxer mix

Kirby the boxer mix up close and personal

With many working breeds, these impulses are ingrained in their DNA…  Things like chasing after moving items, herding, running and barking (while tracking a scent,) flushing birds, pointing & retrieving.  Breaking the “act without thinking first” mold isn’t easy, but it is necessary if we want a pet that fits in well with our human lifestyles. Like many desired traits, impulse control is a learned behavior and often goes against the very nature of a dog, so patience is required.

Things to practice: (most of these are pretty self explanatory, but I’ve provided links to instructions for teaching a few that you might not have heard of or thought to try.)

  •  Basic Sit: Sit = Dog’s butt remains on the ground until you give the release command. If the dog breaks the “sit” before being released, put him back in the same physical location you had him sit in before and make him sit again.  Give the release command after a few seconds of compliance.
  • Eye contact (training this is very similar to name recognition but you’re rewarding the dog for making eye contact and checking in with you without using verbal cues. If you can get eye contact in association with your dog’s name, you’re doing great!
  • Long Sit (dog must sit quietly until released. Practice until the sit is rock solid and build duration to 20 minutes or more. This comes in very handy when you’re unloading groceries from the car.)
  • Long Down Stays (Just like above but the dog is laying down, work up the duration until your dog is comfortable holding that down stay for 20 minutes!)
  • Sit and Wait: For safety’s sake, please teach your dog to “sit and wait” before going through doors, helps reduce risks caused by bolting dogs. Sit / Stay  or Wait  should also be practiced prior to feeding dinner and/or treats.  The Dinner and treats can be the reward for the sit and stay (until released,) giving the pet the pleasure of working for his food. (Don’t you know that treats taste better when they’re earned?)
  • Leave it:  Leave it can also be practiced on leash with a trail of dog food.   Sprinkle a couple of treats in the area and walk by them on leash while giving the command “Leave it”   Come back by these treats a couple of times and when the dog starts to understand that he gets better stuff  by ignoring the trail of food,  reward the dog with a treat or an activity he enjoys.

When performing these or any other dog training exercises, start simple. Start inside with no other distractions and slowly, work towards success in more stimulating environments.  Add in a distraction or two at a time. There are few dogs that can maintain total impulse control at the dog park, but ideally, that’s what we’re working towards; a dog that is responsive to us even in utter chaos. A little success will bond you together, building a relationship based on trust.  You may think that since Fido has mastered all of these in the living room, he should be fine outside, but dogs do not generalize well, these exercises should be practiced in a myriad of different locals adding as many different new distractions (children, other animals, other textures, other smells) as you can think of while maintaining a safe environment for everyone.

Keep in mind that we need our dogs to both maintain a healthy weight as well work for things other than food, so try not to get too hung up on using dog treats as rewards. There are a multitude of other rewards that can be used as currency.  A toss of a ball, a belly scritch and your attention are all things that most dogs value as much as we humans value our currency, money.  Your attention / affection is incredibly valuable to your dog.  Trust me, 99% of dogs will work for it.  If you have one of the 1%’ers you already know that your dog is not “Lassie” but rather a unique and independent pooch. Relax, you will eventually figure out what motivates your dog.

Your dog should not be demanding of your attention, he should be willing to work for it.  Training should be fun for both of you. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Always stay calm during these exercises. Most dogs will get over stimulated if you act too happy and many will cower when you get angry, you want a dog that will respond to a whisper, so practice that too.

Here’s a great article with more training tips from the ASPCA

Until Next time,


The Alpha Dogs’ Wife

Posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, Canine Impulse Control, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments