The Best Way to Respond to Your Dog

Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate give a great example of the difference between responding and reacting in their book The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training. I think most of us who have dogs can relate to the following scenario they describe:

An owner is peacefully hanging out with his dog while at home. Suddenly, the mail carrier arrives and the dog goes berserk, barking loudly and disturbing the peace. The owner reacts by yelling at the dog, poking it or pulling on its leash.

Think of this from the dog’s perspective. The dog, already spooked by the stranger, now will associate the mailman with punishment -- coming from you. The next time the mail carrier arrives, it will likely bark even more.

An owner should instead reinforce proper training, manners and good behavior. The goal in this -- and many other training situations -- is to get the dog to stop and pay attention to you and not to the distraction, which in this case is the mail carrier.

According to Owens and Eckroate, the best response is for the owner to call out something like, “Who is that?” to the dog. When the dog pays attention to the owner, the latter rewards the proper behavior with a treat, thus ending the barking. It’s a win-win, nonviolent solution that you can apply to many different situations.

Teach Your Dog Self-control

Some dogs may inherently have more self-control than others, but proper training can solve most canine behavioral issues.

Self-control is a complex behavior that involves many components. For example, it’s tied to an individual’s state of mind. If you -- or your dog -- are anxious, you will likely feel more jittery and less in control. This can be connected to thyroid function and other health issues, helping to explain why some people may seem more anxious than others.

Self-control, however, is also a product of teaching. When you were younger, your mother probably taught you to sit up straight, be quiet under certain circumstances and more. Without such teaching, you may fall back on other behaviors. The same is true for dogs. As Gerilyn Bielakiewicz and Andrea Mattei point out in their book The Only Dog Training Book You’ll Ever Need: From Avoiding Accidents to Banishing Barking, the Basics for Raising a Well-Behaved Dog, dogs will never develop proper concentration, which is critical to obedience skills, if they do not learn self-control.

Bielakiewicz and Mattei suggest playing the following game with your dog to help teach or reinforce self-control:

1. Go into a quiet room with your dog and sit down. Have a clicker, some dog food treats, a radio or TV, and toys nearby.

2. Wait a while. Appear to ignore your dog, but then suddenly click. When your dog pays attention to you, offer a treat snack.

3. Repeat this a few times.

4. Now, create a distraction. You could turn on the radio, roll a ball on the floor or do something else. The goal is just to distract your furry pal.

5. Now use the clicker. Per before, when your dog pays attention, offer the food reward.

Repeat with various types of distracters.

6. While outside, you might also use the clicker in a controlled situation with another dog, or even a cat, present. The next step would then be to reinforce the “Sit” and “Stay” commands after your dog has learned to pay attention to you. Even if your dog is thinking, “I want to get at that dog!” it will use proper self-control and restraint if it is trained correctly.

Summer Activities for Dogs

Fun in the sun has never been better for dogs thanks to the warmer weather and special gear designed just for dogs. Both you and your canine Olympian may have many different options. Here are some popular Summer Olympics events, along with a few of my favorite dog products to make related activities possible:

If your dog likes to swim, consider getting it a special dog lifejacket, which most large pet stores now carry. Made for dog flotation, these jackets can improve your pet’s safety during boating trips, water sports adventures and other outdoor activities. They also now come in bright colors for improved visibility and added fashion coolness.

Beach Volleyball
Dogs may not be able to serve or do other moves associated with the human version of beach volleyball, but ball and Frisbee games on the beach with your pet can be a blast. Look for the balls that come with a plastic arm-holder, which allows you to throw the balls farther and to pick them up easily out of sand and water.

Water Polo
A plain beach ball can get a swim-happy dog going, but I also like the new amphibious pet toys. They come in fun shapes, like a boomerang, which aid mouth catches. These toys both float and sail through the air with ease, and they’re also easy on your dog’s mouth.

Dog agility puts dogs through an obstacle course in which they must jump and show off their balance skills and other talents demonstrated by Olympic gymnasts. Check out a local dog agility club or buy a set to turn your own backyard into an agility course.

Post-Olympics Viewing
If you and your dog decide to watch the Olympics and would rather go out at night, try a game of fetch using a glow-in-the-dark tennis ball or Frisbee. For an added challenge, include one of the new whistling tennis balls for dogs. In the dark, only the whistle will inform you and your pet where to find it.

The dog version of the Olympics might also be within reach. This October, the CSJ CanineMax Dog Games, held in Gloucestershire, England, will include dogs and their owners from around the world. Maybe you and your pet could represent the USA?

Should You Train With a Head Halter?

If your dog gets a bit overeager on walks, it might pull you along, making it hard for you to control it. That’s where a head halter comes in handy. These devices are also used by people who have service dogs, again for better control.

The Humane Society of the United States provides instructions on how to use head halters, which consist of a strap that fits around your dog’s nose, and a second strap that fits around your dog’s neck and behind its ears. You attach the leash under your dog’s chin. It’s also connected to the nose strap. While this might all seem a bit severe, the device is actually quite safe and is considered to be a “humane method of restraint,” according to The Humane Society.

Make sure the device fits properly, and give your dog some time to get used to it -- but not too much time. Dogs that are left with a head halter on while inside the home usually find a way to remove it. Once your pet learns how to do this, it can be difficult to keep the halter on.

The Humane Society advises that you should not:

  • Think of the halter like a muzzle; they are two entirely different things
  • Jerk the leash hard while your dog is wearing the halter
  • Use the head halter with a retractable lead
  • Allow your dog to run speedily to the lead’s end, because your dog could be jerked backward

Do, on the other hand, only use the head halter during on-leash walks when you are present for supervision. Additionally, take time to read the informational sheet that comes with your particular halter.


Get Your Dog Comfortable With a New Name

It’s not too hard to figure out why changing a dog’s name would be confusing to the canine. Imagine if you moved into a new home and everyone started calling you something other than your actual name. If you did not understand that the new name referred to you, you would probably wonder what was going on.

The situation you describe is a common one, especially with pets that are adopted from shelters or from other owners. “Lovey” or “Precious” might sound great to one person, but to another, the dog looks more like a “Fido” or a “George.” Names often reflect our own taste and how we perceive our pets. Sometimes, new owners just keep the dog’s older name, but since you want to change it, you can do so over a relatively short period of time.

Dogs of any age, from puppies to seniors, can learn a new name in just a few days with proper training. suggests following these four steps:

1. Choose a new name for your pet. Shorter, easier-to-say names are best. Even dogs with long pedigreed names usually have short nicknames too.

2. Make a point of carrying some of your dog’s favorite treats with you. These can be doggy biscuits broken into pieces.

3. When time allows and when you want to grab your dog’s attention, call out the new name. When your dog looks back at you, immediately provide verbal praise and pet your dog. As you do so, offer a small food treat.

4. Offer the above praise even if your dog does not respond to the new name. says that soon your dog “will know that hearing that word means great things are coming, and he will respond as if that word is his own!”