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USA Dog Behavior Blog

California Makes a Mess of Just About Everything, but They Got This Right

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©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

"I’ve observed the AKC increasingly turn a blind eye to puppy-mills and the physical and behavior issues they cause."

There are probably a number of reasons why the population growth rate of California has continued to decline over the last 30 years (1). Excessive government regulation is one of the reasons that is frequently cited.

However, on October 13 California governor Jerry Brown and the California assembly got it right with a new regulatory change. On that date, governor Brown signed AB485 into law. AB485 makes amendments and additions to California state law that requires pet stores to source their dogs exclusively from animal shelters or animal rescue organizations. The law takes effect on January 1, 2019.

This will be a significant change for pet stores that sell puppies; they have historically purchased 100% of their puppy inventory from puppy-mills. For more information on puppy-mills, please see Puppy Mills 101 .

This may sound like a new idea to stem the number of puppy-mill puppies being bred across the US like livestock, but it isn’t. Thirty-six cities already have such laws; California is the first state to make it a state law.

Why is AB485 so important when it comes to animal welfare?

  • Puppy-mills have negatively impacted every breed of popular dog because they only breed for appearance with little to no regard for physical or behavioral health. For an example of what I’m talking about, please see German Shepherds are the Second Most Popular Dog in America. Why do you Rarely See Them in Public?
  • Puppy-mills raise dogs in such large numbers that supply grossly exceeds demand. Unwanted puppy-mill dogs are ultimately dumped into shelters by their owners in such large numbers that 670,000 dogs are euthanized at shelters each year in the US (2) . This law should significantly reduce the number of dogs being euthanized in California.
  • The breeding male and female dogs in puppy-mills are virtual prisoners-of-war. They're kept for years in horrible conditions with virtually no interaction with humans or dogs. The abusive way the breeding females are managed in order to pump out as many litters as possible is almost unspeakable. And guess what happens with these breeding male and female dogs when they are no longer “producers”? They are frequently euthanized or abandoned in a field. This law will hopefully reduce the amount of animal abuse found at puppy-mills.

Unfortunately, the AKC (American Kennel Club) is adamantly against AB485. You have to understand that the AKC’s very existence is predicated on breeders producing puppies.  California is not saying that breeders can’t breed puppies for sale; the new law simply specifies that pet stores can’t sell these dogs. Individuals can continue to buy directly from breeders if they wish. I’ve observed the AKC increasingly turn a blind eye to puppy-mills and the physical and behavior issues they cause. I’m bothered, but not surprised, that they don’t support this regulatory change.

I've always been a fan of rescuing dogs since so many are euthanized simply because of oversupply – primarily caused by puppy-mills. Until these regulations are instituted in your city or state – and hopefully they soon will be – please encourage your friends, family and co-workers to rescue a dog instead of purchasing from a pet store. For more information, please see Buying a Puppy Instead of Rescuing? Consider These 7 Facts Before You Do.

(1) First Tuesday Journal
(2) ASPCA estimate

A Dozen Reasons to do Your Homework Before Sending Your Dog Away for Training


©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

It sounds so convenient. Just ship your dog to a dog training facility for two weeks and she’ll come back the dog you’ve always envisioned.  If only it was that easy.

"Some of my professional peers manage reputable and competent board-and-train facilities. I have no problem whatsoever referring dog owners to them."

This concept is known as “board-and-train”. There are certainly good board-and-train dog trainers and dog training facilities; unfortunately, some use techniques and practices that make me, and should make you, uncomfortable.

I’ve provided a 12-point checklist below for you to consider before sending your dog to a board-and-train facility. These are presented in no particular order.

  1. Board-and-train facilities can charge in the thousands of dollars for training your dog. They can be very expensive. Dog trainers and dog behavior specialists typically charge a total of $300 - $1,000 to work one-on-one with a dog and owner at the owner’s home for a total of five sessions. Investigate what you are actually getting for your money.
  2. How much time are they going to give your dog? Are they going to work multiple hours a day with your dog or are they only going to work a few minutes a day and “cram” a day or two before you pick him up? Ask yourself; does your dog really need to be gone for two weeks to get this training?
  3. Remember, behind closed doors, no one cares for your dog more than you. Are you confident they will treat your dog humanely and properly in your absence?
  4. Any dog trainer or dog training school knows the quick-and-easy way to training results (or what looks like results) is through the use of aversive punishment such as shock collars, prong collars, etc. While this may be a time efficient technique for the board-and-train, it can cause all kinds of long-term behavior issues that revolve around fear. Ensure they only use positive reward training.
  5. Dog training is really people training. If a dog’s human family is not intimately involved in the training process, how can the family adequately reinforce what has been trained? A one-hour session with the owners after two weeks of boarding in order to “show what has been trained” is not enough. Ask what kind of “transfer-of-knowledge” training the facility provides.
  6. It’s common knowledge among dog behavior consultants and behaviorists that dog owners sometimes come to us for help after their dog has spent a stressful two weeks at a questionable board-and-train. Don’t just look at the marketing materials regarding a facility’s reputation; check multiple external sources.
  7. Larger board-and-train schools can employee part-time trainers who are relatively new to the business. Find out who will be training your dog and what his or her experience and dog training credentials are.
  8. Buying a puppy from a dog breeder? Be extremely careful if they offer to keep your new puppy an additional few weeks for training (i.e., board-and-train) before you pick up the new bundle. This is not the best way to train a puppy and can cause the young puppy to miss important social interaction periods with the public that are needed for behavioral development – just missing two weeks can be detrimental. Find out why the breeder offers these services and why he or she is recommending this. These additional services can be extraordinarily, and unnecessarily, expensive too.
  9. For dogs dealing with separation anxiety, aggression and fear issues, taking the dog out of the home can introduce anxiety into the training process that works against positive progress. Ask how they will recognize and deal with this issue.
  10. Generalization is a term used by dog trainers to indicate that a dog will perform certain behaviors in multiple contexts. For example, a dog that has generalized the “sit” cue will perform it in multiple locations and for anyone who asks the dog to sit. Your dog may learn to heel when walked by Sally at the board-and-train but has no idea what you are talking about when you ask for the same thing when you are walking your dog. Board-and-trains frequently video their training sessions. They do this to prove that your dog has learned a specific cue so you can’t claim they didn’t teach your dog this cue when your dog gives you a deer-in-headlights look. Inquire as to what they do to ensure that learned behaviors are generalized.
  11. It’s possible that your dog could spend 22+ hours per day in a crate or kennel when at a board-and-train. Investigate what they do with your dog when not actively training.
  12. It’s one thing for board-and-train facilities to train dog obedience. It’s another for them to take on significant behavior cases such as separation anxiety and aggression. For example, some forms of separation anxiety simply can't be treated properly at a board-and-train facility. Many of these facilities just don’t have the trained personnel to take on these cases. Using shock collars, for example, to treat these kinds of cases almost always makes things worse. All too often, owners bring me their dogs to clean up the behavioral mess created after two weeks of this. Investigate who in their facility has the proper canine behavior experience and certifications before turning your dog over to them for these kinds of issues.

Are there good board-and-trains? Yes. Some of my professional peers manage reputable and competent board-and-train facilities. I have no problem whatsoever referring dog owners to them.

However, before you send your dog away for training, please do your homework.

8 Indicators You’re Taking Good Care of Your Dog


©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Animal professionals such as behaviorists, groomers, daycare workers, rescue workers and veterinarians should be concerned for dogs’ welfare in all areas (e.g., general health, behavior, nutrition, preventive medicine, environment).

While my expertise is in behavior, that doesn’t preclude me from checking with the client about other areas to ensure that there aren’t any possible issues that may impact behavior or general well-being. Every time I work with a new dog, I ask a lot of questions.

" is my responsibility as an advocate for the dog to educate the guardian."

Let me be rather blunt. Dog guardians who aren’t properly taking care of their dogs usually have a poor prognosis for any behavior modification program. Behavior modification can be difficult and time consuming; guardians with the highest level of commitment to their dog have the highest chance of success.

These are some key indicators I look for to assess a dog’s general level of care. If I feel that a guardian may not be providing an adequate level of care in one or more of these areas, it is my responsibility as an advocate for the dog to educate the guardian. Frequently that is all it takes; most people want the best for their dogs.

  1. Is the dog getting regular heartworm preventive? This easily preventable and common disease causes long-term suffering and ultimately death to dogs if not treated. Heartworm, once diagnosed, requires a long and expensive treatment program. This is probably my biggest warning flag that the guardian is not particularly committed to his or her dog.
  2. Are the dog’s nails properly clipped? Long nails and nails that curl under can be painful and uncomfortable for the dog. It can also indicate that a dog is rarely, if ever, walked.
  3. Is the coat dirty and uncared for? It’s not a good sign when I see a dog with a chronically dirty and bad smelling coat. It can also indicate that a dog is spending a lot of time outside – time away from the guardian’s family.
  4. Do the guardians walk their dog? Pet dogs need the mental and physical exercise of frequent long walks. Most people claim they walk their dogs; however, the devil is in the details. My follow-up questions usually tell me the reality, “How far/long do you walk the dog?, Who walks the dog?, How often do you walk the dog?”
  5. Does their dog know any basic cues such as sit or stay? I’m not concerned if a dog knows 58 cues – my dogs certainly don’t. But, there are some basic cues such as “sit”, “stay” and “come” that every dog needs to know.
  6. What veterinary practice do they use and when did their dog last see a vet? I don’t care if they don’t know their vet’s specific name; most vet practices don’t assign vets to specific dogs anyway. What concerns me is when they don’t know the vet’s business name or when their dog last saw a vet.
  7. Is the family engaged with the dog? Dogs are social animals and need to have their lives interwoven with ours. There needs to be at least one person in the family who is intimately involved with the dog.
  8. What is the family’s approach to training? Too many positive references by the client to Cesar Millan can be a red flag. Lots of references to things such as alpha, pack and dominance are also concerning sometimes. Punishing a dog as a way of training can poison the dog’s relationship with the family.

Dog lovers know that dogs aren’t “things”, but are complex living animals that require a multi-faceted approach to their care. For the time and resources that we put into our dogs, they give us back many times our investment.

7 Things you Must do When you Rescue a Dog

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Rescue dogs are great. They come in every flavor and each has quite a story to tell. My Great Pyrenees, Luke, is a recent rescue (from SPIN rescue) and I’ve had other rescues.

Let your dog just nest, relax, chill and cocoon.

As a professional dog behavior specialist who works with many rescue organizations, I have a few recommendations that will make your newly adopted rescue dog’s transition from foster/shelter to your home much easier.

Before I provide the list, let me give you the most important rule that will guide your dog’s first three weeks with you: Let your dog just nest, relax, chill and cocoon.

1. Most rescue organizations want you to do a test introduction at the shelter/foster location with the dogs that already live with you. While this idea is not bad, it’s not always the best predictor of how a new dog may do in your home. Your job is to properly introduce the new dog to each of the dogs at your household. Please, do not just bring a new dog in the front door – even if this dog has been previously introduced to your other dogs at a foster or shelter facility.

2. Avoid dog parks for at least the first three weeks, and if/when you do take the newest addition to your home to a dog park, please watch him carefully for stress. If he’s showing signs of stress, go home.

3. Your new dog probably does need a good cleaning and trimming; however, waiting a few weeks before you take him to a groomer isn’t going to kill him. New dogs to your home do not need the trauma of a groomer.

4. Veterinarians can be a bit tricky. Many rescue dogs are not completely comfortable with veterinarians (that’s putting it mildly) for a number of reasons out of your control. You probably won’t need to take your new dog to the vet on his first day in your home. After checking with your veterinarian on when you need to schedule your dog’s first visit (wait a few weeks if possible), do the following once there:

  • Go at a time when there won’t be a lot of other animals in the clinic.
  • Use a side door when entering the clinic to avoid the drama and trauma of the waiting room.
  • Use plenty of treats to help make the experience pleasurable.
  • Watch your dog for signs of stress; if your dog is overly stressed at the vet’s office it can make him forever fearful of vets (vet phobia). If things are getting overwhelming for your new dog, leave and try again later. Traumatizing vet visits, especially early on, can have negative long-term behavioral effects.

5. Your new puppy doesn’t yet know the 100 rules that your other dogs have learned about living with you in your home. Be patient as he learns all of the rules required to live in your household. For more information, see 100 Reasons Why You Need to Give Your Dog More Respect.

6. I don’t know of one dog trainer or dog behavior consultant who doesn’t use crates for his or her personal dogs. They are a valuable safe haven and a great way to introduce new dogs to your home. Immediately start to acclimate your new dog to a proper crate. And by “proper crate” I mean one that is enclosed, not the open-wire kind.

7. Select a positive rewards dog trainer or dog training school and get you and your dog enrolled. This is critical for many reasons and will pay dividends for years to come for you and your new dog.

Whether you are thinking about rescuing a dog or even buying a puppy, for more information about breed selection see How to Select the Right Dog for You.

Did you know there are 8 types of dog aggression?

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Most people think of dog aggression as the only diagnosis needed when assessing a dog that is presenting with agonistic behaviors such as barking, growling, biting, lunging, etc. The reality is more complicated.

There are eight major types of dog aggression and each has a unique root cause. To effectively treat aggression in dogs, it’s important to understand the details of each case because each kind of aggression requires a different treatment plan. In many cases, dogs simultaneously present with more than one type – known as a comorbid diagnosis.

"After seeing literally hundreds and hundreds of dog aggression cases, I’ve seen only one case of human directed prey aggression - and it was quite disturbing."

Using an independently certified dog behavior specialist or behaviorist is the best way to ensure that dogs receive appropriate behavior modification specific to their specific type(s) of aggression. All too often I deal with aggression cases that were initially treated by dog trainers or dog training companies that, quite frankly, were in over their heads and used contraindicated techniques, only making things worse. See Pretenders Who Claim to Treat Aggressive Dogs, Buyer Beware for more information.

I’ve identified eight major categories of canine aggression below.

Fear aggression is the most common type of aggression that I treat.

  • An offensive posture is taken by the dog to increase the distance from the trigger (e.g., human, dog, etc.). In short, the dog takes an offense-is-the-best-defense approach.
  • This type of aggression can also be directed at inanimate objects (e.g., vacuum cleaners, skateboards, cars in motion, etc.).
  • Fear aggression can also simultaneously present with avoidance behaviors (i.e., dog tries to escape from the trigger) in addition to agonistic behaviors and is known as an ambivalent presentation.

Territorial fear (also known as sentry dog or junkyard dog) aggression is a type of fear aggression that is directed toward humans in the dog’s designated “territory”.  It is the second most common type of aggression I see.

  • Dogs presenting with this type of aggression can appear perfectly normal outside of their “territory”.
  • The intensity of the aggression is normally fairly significant.
  • The dog’s “territory” is typically the inside of the owner’s home but frequently extends to the property surrounding the owner’s home and even beyond that.

Idiopathic (also known as rage) aggression is an unpredictable type of aggression because the triggers aren’t known or understood. The word “idiopathic” is defined as, “relating to or denoting any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown”.

  • This type of aggression can be very dangerous because it includes sudden and severe outbursts with little to no warning.
  • Treatment options are limited.
  • Some of the most aggressive dogs I deal with are in this category.

Prey aggression is really not aggression at all in my opinion. Your dog is not angry or afraid of that squirrel or rabbit; he just wants it for lunch.

  • Considered extremely pathological if directed toward humans.
  • A common diagnosing attribute is silence and slow, deliberate movements.
  • After seeing literally hundreds and hundreds of dog aggression cases, I’ve seen only one case of human directed prey aggression - and it was quite disturbing.

In-home (also known as sibling or intra-household) aggression is the third most common type of aggression that I treat.

  • Indicated when two or more dogs living in the same home display chronic agonistic behaviors toward one another.
  • The probability of in-home aggression increases exponentially as the number of dogs increase; four dogs in one home is a common tipping point.
  • Can be challenging to treat because the dogs are constantly in close proximity.

Control related (also known as dominance or owner directed) aggression presents as a learned aggregate of agonistic behaviors that have been taught to the dog through improper handling and management of the dog.

  • Have you ever been in a home where their five-year-old child is a screaming tyrant while the parents stand around with a deer-in-headlights look on their faces? Substitute the dog for the child and you get the idea.
  • Aggression is primarily directed at owners or those with whom the dog frequently interacts.
  • Can appear terrifying to dog owners but frequently has a good prognosis with a proper behavior treatment plan.
  • A common mistake dog trainers and dog training companies make in treating this type of aggression is using punitive or aversive measures. This error is caused by misdiagnosis and lack of understanding of proper treatment protocols for this type of aggression.

Dogs with conflict aggression present with both affiliative (i.e., friendly) and agonistic behaviors simultaneously. This is a difficult to diagnose type of aggression in some instances and is somewhat rare.

  • The root cause is a result of confusing interactions by the owner with the dog. The dog doesn’t understand the intentions of the owner.
  • Commonly seen in first-time or inexperienced dog owners.
  • A sad and normally preventable type of aggression.

Possession (also known as resource guarding) aggression is when dogs keep other dogs and humans away from their food, treats, toys, space, owners, other dogs, etc.

  • While it appears not to be a fear-based aggression, some argue that the dog is fearful of losing a valued resource thus making it fear-based in actuality.
  • A sub-type of possession aggression is distance resource guarding. In this form the dog will monitor things from a distance and rush to the dog or human near the resource-guarded item and aggress.
  • This type of aggression is particularly susceptible to escalation.

If your dog is presenting with one of the types of aggression noted above, please seek the help of an independently certified dog behavior professional. Since aggression in dogs almost always escalates, the early stages are the best time to start a treatment plan.